The populist cleric's announcement came amid behind the scenes talks aimed at steering Iraq out of crisis
Sadr wants parliament dissolved to pave the way for new legislative elections
Updated 26 August 2022
BAGHDAD: Iraq’s firebrand Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr backtracked Tuesday after earlier urging his supporters to join a massive rally as a standoff with his political rivals appeared to be getting worse.
The populist cleric’s announcement came amid behind the scenes talks aimed at steering Iraq out of crisis, with the country’s two branches of Shiite Islam jockeying for supremacy.
More than 10 months on from elections, Iraq still has no government, new prime minister or new president, because of disagreement between factions over forming a coalition.
Sadr wants parliament dissolved to pave the way for new legislative elections, but his rivals the pro-Iran Coordination Framework want to set conditions and are demanding a transitional government before new polls.
The cleric’s bloc emerged from last October’s elections as parliament’s biggest, but still far short of a majority.
Sadr, whose supporters have been staging a sit-in protest outside parliament in Baghdad’s high security Green Zone for more than two weeks, had called for a “million-man demonstration” in the capital on Saturday.
But on Tuesday he announced on Twitter “the indefinite postponement of Saturday’s protest.”
“If you had been betting on a civil war, I am betting on preserving social peace. The blood of Iraqis is more precious than anything else,” Sadr said.
Late on Monday, a committee organizing demonstrations in support of the Coordination Framework also announced new gatherings, but without setting a date.
The Coordination Framework launched their own Baghdad sit-in on Friday, camping out on an avenue in the capital.
The Coordination Framework comprises former paramilitaries of the Tehran-backed Hashed Al-Shaabi network and the party of former premier Nuri Al-Maliki, a longtime Sadr foe.
So far, the rival Shiite protests have been peaceful, with attempts at mediation ongoing.
Hadi Al-Ameri, leader of a Hashed faction, has also called for calm and for dialogue. He has had a series of meetings with political leaders including allies of Sadr.
Also on Tuesday, Finance Minister Ali Allawi who is in the current government submitted his resignation to the Council of Ministers, the INA state news agency reported.
Iraq has been ravaged by decades of conflict and endemic corruption.
It is blighted by ailing infrastructure, power cuts and crumbling public services, and now also faces water shortages as drought ravages swathes of the country.
Despite its oil wealth, many Iraqis are mired in poverty, and some 35 percent of young people are unemployed, according to the United Nations.
Eritrean diplomat asks: ‘Why is the Sudan conflict not an important issue’ for the UN?
Permanent Representative to UN Sophia Tesfamariam urges Africans to strengthen their institutions, find their own solutions in interview with Arab News
Candidly discusses challenges facing the continent, underscores need for reforms to make the UN a more effectual organization
Updated 1 min 19 sec ago
NEW YORK CITY: Even as the 78th session of the UN General Assembly came to an end on Tuesday, it was clear that the curtain was not about to come down on the conversations about the tensions between the Global North and the Global South, the UN’s role in an emerging multipolar world order, and the stubborn persistence of conflicts and inequalities worldwide.
In a candid interview on the sidelines of the event in New York, Sophia Tesfamariam, the permanent representative of Eritrea to the UN, shared with Arab News her insights on the current state of affairs in the world, with a particular emphasis on the situation in violence-torn Sudan and the dynamics of African diplomacy.
A seasoned diplomat, she pulled no punches in discussing the myriad challenges facing her region and the wider world, while underscoring the need for reforms to make the UN a more effectual institution, for the forging of true partnerships that respect African voices, and for African nations to take charge of their own destinies.
Tesfamariam also offered her perspective on the origins and consequences of the conflict in Sudan, Eritrea’s neighbor to the west, which continues to escalate and shows no sign of abating amid continual reports of atrocities and human rights violations, including sexual violence and the disposal of corpses in mass graves.
Eritrea, which gained independence from Ethiopia in 1993, occupies a strategically important area in the Horn of Africa.
The country’s representative to the UN, Sophia Tesfamariam, wants UN chief Antonio Guterres to be vocal about African issues.
The conflict in the country between the Sudanese Armed Forces and the Rapid Support Forces has so far killed more than 4,000 people and wounded at least 12,000. It has displaced 5.3 million within Sudan and sent a human tide of refugees into neighboring countries, including Eritrea. In the western Darfur region, the scene of a genocidal campaign in the early 2000s, the conflict has morphed into ethnic violence, with the UN and rights groups reporting that the RSF and allied Arab militias are attacking African tribes and clans.
Tesfamariam described the shock that was felt in the region as Sudan descended into turmoil, saying it was something “that should have never happened” because it goes contrary to “the culture of the Sudanese people, their history, their background.”
She added: “For Sudanese people to have warring in the middle of their towns, the middle of the cities, this urban warfare is new. It’s not something that anybody can get used to.”
The crisis cannot be attributed solely to a battle of egos between the leaders of the two military forces, Tesfamariam said. Rather, she believes “this final act” is the result of the external interventions, historical and more recent, often driven by military and economic interests, that have hindered the ability of the Sudanese people to take charge of their own destiny and development since gaining independence.
Although the Sudanese people initiated the revolution that led to the overthrow of President Omar Bashir in April 2019, their aspirations were seemingly hijacked by various external interests, regional and international, which contributed to the ongoing clashes between factions within the country, according to Tesfamariam.
“And this, to me, looks like what triggered these two sides (the SAF and RSF) to finally see who gains an upper hand,” she said.
“If you’re going to peel back the pieces like an onion to see where the source of this conflict is, at the source of all this you will find intervention to be the culprit.”
The conflict, which began on April 15, came on top of an already dire humanitarian crisis that has been ravaging Sudan for decades. Things have become so desperate that about 25 million people need aid just to survive, but humanitarian agencies are hamstrung by lack of access, precarious conditions on the ground, and bureaucratic restrictions on their movement both into Sudan and then to the places where the needs are most acute.
Tesfamariam highlighted the historical relationship between her country and Sudan. There was a time, for example, when Sudan was a welcoming host of refugees from Eritrea, during the latter’s struggle for independence from Ethiopia, which lasted for decades and ended in 1991.
As Sudan plunges ever deeper into crisis, some of those refugees have returned to Eritrea, along with tens of thousands of Sudanese, displaced by the violence, who have sought shelter there.
Despite the challenges, Tesfamariam said the Eritrean government has decided not to create refugee camps.
“We don’t do refugee camps,” she said. “These are Sudanese. This is their home. They can come any time. And if they need to take refuge in Eritrea today, the communities of Eritrea will welcome them as one of their own as they welcomed us when we were going to Sudan.
“So, the humanitarian situation for us is something of a historical necessity, almost, an opportunity to pay back the Sudanese people for what they did for us and are continuing to do for us all these years.”
As for the international community, Tesfamariam voiced disappointment about its failure to force the feuding factions to agree to a lasting truce, despite many attempts.
“24-hour ceasefire, 48-hour ceasefire — what do these mean?” she said. “How does it give you hope as a person living in a city to know that the guns are going to stop for 24 hours? And then what happens after 24 hours?
“So, these meaningless, endless ceasefire negotiations that go nowhere tell me the international community is not serious about bringing an end to the conflict in Sudan, and the warring parties are not serious in their commitments to their people.”
Tesfamariam reflected on what she described as “the total ineptitude and total failure” of the UN system, including the Security Council, where, in her view, double standards are now the order of the day.
“Where is the interest?” she asked. “There are people dying on the streets of Sudan. But you have spent many, many meetings, and even many General Assembly meetings, on Ukraine. Why is Sudan not an important issue for you?
“I think this total lack of interest says a lot about the UN and its structures, and the way it works and its failures and its inadequacies to resolve issues for which it has been created.
“(The total lack) of any credible action by the (Security) Council tells me that it may not be what we think it is — this governing body that can bring peace and security to all of us — and maybe they’re leaving us to our own devices. And that’s a dangerous way to go.
“What exactly is the UN here for? It makes me wonder. So this continuous call for reform of the Security Council, reform of the General Assembly and what it can do and what is viable to do, I think, will continue. And these will be the examples that we will raise in the future to say, ‘Where was the UN?’ And I am sure future generations will also be inquiring about that.”
Tesfamariam called on Antonio Guterres, the UN’s secretary-general, to “pay attention” and be vocal about African issues.
“Right now, there is no voice for Africa,” she said. “Yes, it is good they tell you ‘African solutions for African problems.’ But when you come right down to it, if there’s no third party involved, nothing happens. Nothing moves.”
While there is indeed a growing sense that African issues should primarily be addressed by the African Union and sub-regional organizations, Tesfamariam said she has noticed a big discrepancy between theory and reality.
Despite the rhetoric of “African solutions for African problems,” she contended, the AU does not seem to be afforded the same weight or resources as its European counterparts, including the EU.
“Is the AU office here (at the UN) as fortified and given all the resources and attention and ability, and even the mandate, to interact with the UN the same way as the EU is?” she asked.
“I don’t think so. I don’t think it’s there. But can we just blame it on the EU or the UN and others for not taking an interest? What are Africans doing, also?”
She continued: “Why is it that when the AU meets every year, the first wave of people who come in, sit down to listen to your discussions are the Europeans and the Americans? Do you get the same respect and luxury to go and sit in the EU meetings in Europe to find out what they are discussing? No.
“So why do you continuously relegate yourself to these kind of positions for Africans? But when you cannot pay your own bills, when everybody else is funding every single project that you have all over the place, he who pays the piper picks the tune.
“How do you say no to the largesse that’s coming from EU, from the UN and other agencies that will dictate what should be done with your agency? Why does finance have to be the center of it all? I think if Africans come up with the solution, they will also find ways to finance the projects and initiatives they are trying to push.”
To start with, according to Tesfamariam, the AU needs to strengthen itself, grow more assertive and become a vocal advocate of African interests. Next, she underscored the need for Africans to take responsibility for their own issues, strengthen regional and continental institutions, and find their own solutions to problems.
She criticized the current financial dependency in Africa on external entities, arguing that it often leads to the dictation of terms by donors that might not align with Africa’s interests.
“Africans themselves have got to take responsibility,” said Tesfamariam. “We need to start looking at ourselves, to do some soul-searching and say, why are we not doing more to strengthen our own regional and continental institutions?
“These institutions can’t just be a talking shop anymore. In practical terms, what are we doing to respond to the needs of our people, of our region? How do we form partnerships — not ‘who-gives-and-who-receives’ kind of partnerships but real partnerships, where we share interests and then do things together for the benefit of global security?”
While conceding that efforts to make a dent in the “entrenched” international architecture is still “a work in progress,” Tesfamariam added: “We are not giving up now.”
She pledged to continue to work to amplify Africa’s voice in international forums, taking heart from the fact that “over the years we’ve been able to find more like-minded people.”
She added: “I am not here alone. If I felt alone before, I now have a mutual grievance society at the UN whose members feel exactly the way Eritrea feels — that same frustration with the UN and its ineptitude in some of the things, and with our failure to coalesce as a group to make a difference, to bring change to some of the issues that we have raised here.”
Israel’s top court weighs rules on removing prime minister
Premier Benjamin Netanyahu faces protests against the government’s judicial overhaul
Updated 28 September 2023
JERUSALEM: Israel’s top court heard appeals on Thursday against a law restricting how a prime minister can be removed from office, as current Premier Benjamin Netanyahu faces protests against the government’s judicial overhaul.
The hearing got underway as Israel is deeply divided over the judicial reforms, which have triggered one of the country’s biggest ever protest movements against the hard-right government.
Eleven of the Supreme Court’s 15 judges heard three appeals against the incapacity law that was passed in March as an amendment to one of Israel’s Basic Laws, the country’s quasi-constitution.
Under the law, a prime minister can only be declared unfit for office by themself or a two-thirds majority of the Cabinet, and the decision must be supported by at least 80 of parliament’s 120 lawmakers.
Supreme Court Judge Yitzhak Amit argued it amounts to a “personal” amendment intended to protect Netanyahu from impeachment proceedings.
A lawyer representing the government, Yitzhak Bart, acknowledged the law was passed for “political reasons linked to the prime minister” but argued the move was to “fill a gap in the law.”
Justice Minister Yariv Levin declared the hearing “an attempt to overturn the elections, in a statement published by his office.
Netanyahu in May 2020 became Israel’s first sitting prime minister to stand trial over a series of graft allegations, which he denies.
In February, an anti-corruption group lodged a petition with the Supreme Court aimed at declaring Netanyahu unfit for office over his trial.
Ahead of the Supreme Court session, dozens of protesters rallied outside Netanyahu’s Jerusalem residence, where four people were arrested, according to the police.
Demonstrations have been held at least weekly since January and have consistently drawn tens of thousands to rally against the government, which took office in December and includes extreme-right and ultra-Orthodox ministers.
Netanyahu’s Cabinet argues the reforms are necessary to rebalance powers between elected officials and judges, while opponents say they pave the way for authoritarian rule.
Before its amendment, the incapacity law lacked detail on the justifiable reasons to remove a premier from office, or on the procedure required.
Petitions to the court demand the amended incapacity legislation either be scrapped or deferred until after the next election.
Any amendment to a Basic Law carries the same quasi-constitutional legal status and the Supreme Court has never struck down such a law in the past.
Israeli media nonetheless reported that the judges could postpone application of the amendment until the next election, as requested by Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara.
The question would then arise as to whether she could dismiss Netanyahu over the graft allegations.
An Israeli prime minister has been declared unfit for office only once, when Ariel Sharon was hospitalized in 2006 and replaced by his deputy Ehud Olmert.
The opposition subsequently sought to have Olmert removed, as he was prosecuted while in office, but the Supreme Court rejected their complaint.
Judges reached a similar conclusion in 2021 when they ruled Netanyahu could stay in power despite the corruption charges against him.
He was subsequently voted out of office, only to return to the premiership following November’s election.
Earlier this month, the Supreme Court held a landmark hearing on a law which curtails judges’ ability to strike down government decisions.
Iraqis who fled Daesh blame political rot for tragic wedding fire
Updated 28 September 2023
HAMDANIYA, Iraq: Iraqi Christians once driven from their village by Daesh are blaming another enemy for an inferno that killed more than 100 of their friends and relatives at a wedding this week: chronic political rot and lax governance.
After returning from years of exile during Iraq’s war with the extremist forces, residents rebuilding their lives in their hometown of Hamdaniya said that where the vanquished terrorists had failed to kill them, corruption succeeded.
Daesh “didn’t kill us, this catastrophe killed us,” Priest Boutros Shito said, speaking at a local church hall while mourners buried the remains of their loved ones.
Shito lost both his parents, two of his sisters and two nephews to the fire, which tore through a packed wedding hall in Hamdaniya, also called Qaraqosh, on Wednesday. More than 100 people died, government officials said.
“In this country, we always wait until a disaster occurs and then deal with the results,” Shito said.
“Our home is now empty of family because of greed and corruption.”
Government officials have announced the arrest of 14 people over Tuesday night’s fire, including the owners of the events hall, and promised a swift investigation with results announced within 72 hours.
Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al-Sudani visited victims of the blaze at two local hospitals on Thursday and said he directed that the strictest-possible legal penalties be imposed “on those who were negligent and responsible for the tragic fire incident.”
Witnesses said the blaze began about an hour into the event when flares set fire to a ceiling decoration.
They said the hall had no visible fire extinguishers and few emergency exits and that it took firefighters half an hour to get there.
It is the latest in a series of tragic accidents across Iraq that have killed hundreds of people in the last few years, including a fire at a Baghdad hospital in 2021 and a capsized river ferry in Mosul in 2019.
All the accidents have been blamed on negligence, lax regulations and corruption.
Criticism of a lax approach to public safety is common in Iraq, a country where the state has been weakened by recurring conflict since the 2003 US invasion, and where services are impaired by pervasive corruption.
After decades of dictatorship and internal oppression, the 2003 invasion unleashed violence and civil war that fueled extremist groups such as Al-Qaeda.
In 2014, in a spillover from the Syrian civil war next door, Al-Qaeda successor Daesh marauded into northern Iraq and took over a third of the country.
Majority-Christian Hamdaniya was among the scores of towns and cities Daesh fighters captured after declaring an Islamic caliphate from nearby Mosul, Iraq’s second-biggest city.
Most of Hamdaniya’s inhabitants fled, fearing persecution and death at the hands of the extremists.
Iraqi and international forces expelled the terrorists from Hamdaniya in 2016 during a campaign to defeat the group in Iraq and Syria. Many residents have since returned with the Daesh threat gone.
But after the wedding fire this week, some say any hopes for a better future are being crushed by the reality of a haphazard and dysfunctional effort to rebuild their homeland. The events hall where the fire took place this week was built in 2016 right after the Hamdaniya was recaptured as a way to encourage the return of normal life.
Lebanese Army kills van driver smuggling Syrians into the country
Meanwhile, soldiers raid refugee camps for Syrians in Al-Aqbiyah and Al-Baysariyah, seizing weapons and arresting several people
Army patrols have been stepped up after a recent increase in attempts by Syrians to enter Lebanon illegally in search of work or onward travel to Europe
Updated 28 September 2023
BEIRUT: The driver of a van being used to smuggle people from Syria into Lebanon was killed on Thursday after he attempted to run over a soldier from a Lebanese Army patrol that was trying to stop the vehicle. He was identified as Hatem Saleh, 35, a Lebanese citizen from the border town of Mashta Hammoud.
“When an army patrol in Al-Qbor Al-Bayd area, near the banks of Nahr Al-Kabir near the northern border, tried to stop a Hyundai van carrying Syrians who had entered Lebanon illegally, the driver hit a soldier from the patrol and tried to run him over and flee the scene, despite soldiers firing warning shots, thus forcing them to fire at the van’s tires,” the army said.
“This resulted in the driver being injured, losing control of the vehicle and colliding with an electric pole, leading to his death.”
Meanwhile, a large force of Lebanese soldiers and intelligence officers raided Syrian refugee camps in Al-Aqbiyah and Al-Baysariyah on Thursday morning. Army officials said they seized about 100 motorcycles and 13 rifles, and arrested several suspects.
Army patrols have been stepped up in recent weeks after an increase in attempts by Syrians to enter Lebanon illegally in search of work, sparking protests in a country that is suffering the effects of a prolonged economic crisis. Authorities estimate that thousands of people have crossed the border.
A resident of Mashta Hammoud called Ahmed, who is a teacher, told Arab News: “The victim worked in transporting infiltrators due to the unavailability of other jobs. We live in a town directly located on the border and there are no job alternatives.”
He claimed that as much as 25 percent of the population in the region is involved in people smuggling. He estimated that up to 300 people entered the country each day in the local area, though some days there are none.
“Most of the infiltrators are registered with UNHCR (the UN Refugee Agency) and come at the end of the month to receive financial or in-kind assistance or to extend their stay in Lebanon before sneaking back into Syria, or they intend to travel by sea from Lebanon’s coasts to Greece,” said Ahmed.
Three days before the incident on Thursday, the Lebanese Army thwarted an attempt to smuggle 90 Syrian nationals into Lebanon at Haret Al-Samaqa, in Baalbek-Hermel Governorate on the border between the countries. A Lebanese national was arrested, the army said.
Since mid-August, the Lebanese Army has arrested more than 6,000 people who illegally crossed the border from Syria on foot through rugged passages that are difficult to monitor. The routes extend along Lebanon’s northern border, stretching for about 375 kilometers, and are used for smuggling drugs and goods as well as people. The illegal crossings bear the names of local tribes, as a result of their influence in the region, which is protected by Hezbollah.
A military source said that Lebanese and Syrian organized crime syndicates arrange for hundreds of Syrians, mostly young men and their families, to sneak into Lebanon to work there or travel on to other countries by sea.
“Human traffickers take advantage of the calm waters of the season to sail in boats, that are mostly unsuitable for such trips, toward European countries’ coasts in exchange for large sums of money,” the source added.
The Lebanese Army’s Land Border Regiments, in cooperation with its intelligence services, have intensified their efforts to monitor known illegal border crossings. Their operations include patrols and mobile security checkpoints along the border to inspect vehicles and check the identities of the people they are carrying.
A source from Lebanese General Security told Arab News: “Lebanon still awaits UNHCR’s data to regulate the Syrian refugee situation in Lebanon.
“While the UN agency suspended the registration of refugees in 2015, at the request of the Lebanese authorities, it resorted to providing asylum seekers with ‘codes’ to facilitate dealing with them in terms of providing assistance.
“Therefore, the number of refugees holding a code is equivalent to, or even exceeds, the number of registered refugees.”
The number of registered refugees now stands at under 800,000, according to the source.
Lebanese General Security said that the number of groups and organizations involved in assisting refugees has increased but some have not obtained the necessary licenses or authorization to engage in such activity or are carrying out activities for which they do not have permission. The agency is therefore demanding that they present their documentation for verification.
“Some of these associations are engaging in activities that violate the nature of their work,” the agency said.
“Therefore, nongovernmental associations and organizations, notably those working in the field of aiding and assisting Syrian refugees, are requested to refrain from practicing any activities that violate the content of licenses and authorizations granted to them, and to provide to the regional center affiliated with the place of their activity a copy of the license for verification of their work.”
Lebanese Armenians scuffle with riot police during protest outside Azerbaijan Embassy
Protesters waved flags of Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh, and burned posters of Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan
Lebanese riot police lobbed teargas canisters at the protesters after they hurled firecrackers toward the embassy building
Updated 28 September 2023
EIN AAR, Lebanon: Hundreds of Lebanese Armenians scuffled with riot police on Thursday outside the Azerbaijan Embassy in northern Beirut during a protest against the Azerbaijani military offensive that recaptured Nagorno-Karabakh from the enclave’s separatist Armenian authorities.
Protesters waved flags of Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh, and burned posters of Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the demonstration in the Ein Aar suburb of the Lebanese capital.
Lebanese riot police lobbed teargas canisters at the protesters after they hurled firecrackers toward the embassy building.
The 24-hour Azerbaijan military blitz last week forced Armenian separatist authorities to agree to lay down weapons and sit down for talks on Nagorno-Karabakh’s “reintegration” into Azerbaijan. The separatist government said Thursday that it would dissolve itself and the unrecognized republic will cease to exist by year’s end after a three-decade bid for independence.
More than 50 percent of Nagorno-Karabakh’s population of 120,000 have left the region for Armenia as of nightfall Wednesday. Though Azerbaijani authorities promised to respect the rights of ethnic Armenian, many fear reprisals. The former head of Nagorno-Karabakh’s separatist government was arrested as he tried to cross into Armenia alongside tens of thousands of others who have fled.
During the enclave’s independence bid, Lebanese Armenians have sent money and aid, and have actively campaigned in the media in support of Nagorno-Karabakh, which they refer to as Artsakh.
Lebanon is embroiled in an unprecedented economic crisis, which has lately restricted the financial support of the Lebanese Armenians for Nagorno-Karabakh because of banks imposing tight withdrawal limits.
Lebanon, a tiny Mediterranean country of about 6 million people, is home to some 150,000 Armenians. It’s one of the largest Armenian communities in the world outside Armenia, most of them descendants of survivors of the 1915 mass killings during the last days of the Ottoman Empire.
At the time, an estimated 1.5 million people were killed in the events that are widely viewed by scholars at the first genocide of the 20th century. Turkiye denies the deaths constituted genocide, saying the toll has been inflated and that those killed were victims of civil war and unrest.