BAGHDAD: On the banks of the Tigris River one recent evening, young Iraqi men and women in jeans and sneakers danced with joyous abandon to a local rap star as a vermillion sun set behind them. It’s a world away from the terror that followed the US invasion 20 years ago.
Iraq ‘s capital today is throbbing with life and a sense of renewal, its residents enjoying a rare, peaceful interlude in a painful modern history. The wooden stalls of the city’s open-air book market are piled skyward with dusty paperbacks and crammed with shoppers of all ages and incomes. In a suburb once a hotbed of Al-Qaeda, affluent young men cruise their muscle cars, while a recreational cycling club hosts weekly biking trips to former war zones. A few glitzy buildings sparkle where bombs once fell.
President George W. Bush called the US-led invasion on March 20, 2003, a mission to free the Iraqi people and root out weapons of mass destruction. Saddam Hussein’s government was toppled in 26 days. Two years later, the CIA’s chief weapons inspector reported no stockpiles of nuclear, chemical or biological weapons were ever found.
The war deposed a dictator whose imprisonment, torture and execution of dissenters kept 20 million people in fear for a quarter of a century. But it also broke what had been a unified state at the heart of the Arab world, opening a power vacuum and leaving oil-rich Iraq a wounded nation in the Middle East, ripe for a power struggle among Iran, Arab Gulf states, the United States, terrorist groups and Iraq’s own rival sects and parties.
For Iraqis, the enduring trauma of the violence that followed is undeniable — an estimated 300,000 Iraqis were killed between 2003 and 2019, according to the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown University, as were more than 8,000 US military, contractors and civilians. The period was marred by unemployment, dislocation, sectarian violence and terrorism, and years without reliable electricity or other public services.
Today, half of Iraq’s population of 40 million isn’t old enough to remember life under Saddam or much about the US invasion. In dozens of recent interviews from Baghdad to Fallujah, young Iraqis deplored the loss of stability that followed Saddam’s downfall — but they said the war is in the past, and many were hopeful about nascent freedoms and opportunities to pursue their dreams.
In a marbled, chandeliered reception room in the palace where Saddam once lived, seated in an overstuffed damask chair and surrounded by paintings by modern Iraqi artists, President Abdul Latif Rashid, who assumed office in October, spoke glowingly of the country’s prospects. The world’s perception of Iraq as a war-torn country is frozen in time, he told The Associated Press in an interview.
Iraq is rich; peace has returned, he said, and there are opportunities ahead for young people in a country experiencing a population boom. “If they’re a little bit patient, I think life will improve drastically in Iraq.”
Most Iraqis aren’t nearly as bullish. Conversations begin with bitterness that the ouster of Saddam left the country broken and ripe for violence and exploitation by sectarian militias, politicians and criminals bent on self-enrichment or beholden to other nations. Yet, speaking to younger Iraqis, one senses a generation ready to turn a page.
Safaa Rashid, 26, is a ponytailed writer who talks politics with friends at a cozy coffee shop in the Karada district of the capital. With a well-stocked library nook, photos of Iraqi writers and travel posters, the café and its clientele could as easily be found in Brooklyn or London.
Rashid was a child when the Americans arrived, but rues “the loss of a state, a country that had law and establishment” that followed the invasion. The Iraqi state lay broken and vulnerable to international and domestic power struggles, he said. Today is different; he and like-minded peers can sit in a coffee shop and freely talk about solutions. “I think the young people will try to fix this situation.”
Another day, a different café. Noor Alhuda Saad, 26, a Ph.D. candidate at Mustansiriya University who describes herself as a political activist, says her generation has been leading protests decrying corruption, demanding services and seeking more inclusive elections — and won’t stop till they’ve built a better Iraq.
“After 2003, the people who came to power” — old-guard Sunni and Shiite parties and their affiliated militias and gangs — “did not understand about sharing democracy,” she said, tapping her pale green fingernails on the tabletop.
“Young people like me are born into this environment and trying to change the situation,” she added, blaming the government for failing to restore public services and establish a fully democratic state in the aftermath of occupation. “The people in power do not see these as important issues for them to solve. And that is why we are active.”
Signs of the invasion and insurgency have been largely erased from Baghdad. The former Palestine Hotel, Ferdous Square, the Green Zone, the airport road pockmarked by IED and machine-gun attacks have been landscaped or covered in fresh stucco and paint.
The invasion exists only in memory: bright orange flashes and concussions of American “shock-and-awe” bombs raining down in a thunderous cacophony; tanks rolling along the embankment; Iraqi forces battling across the Tigris or wading into water to avoid US troops; civilian casualties and the desperate, failed effort to save a fellow journalist gravely wounded by a US tank strike in the final days of the battle for Baghdad. Pillars of smoke rose over the city as Iraqi civilians began looting ministries and US Marines pulled down the famous Saddam statue.
What appeared to be a swift victory for the US-led forces was illusory: The greatest loss of life came in the months and years that followed. The occupation stoked a stubborn guerrilla resistance, bitter fights for control of the countryside and cities, a protracted civil war, and the rise of the Daesh group that spread terror beyond Iraq and Syria, throughout the Middle East, Africa, Asia and Europe.
The long, staggeringly costly experience in Iraq exposed the limitations of America’s ability to export democracy and chastened Washington’s approach to foreign engagements, at least temporarily. In Iraq, its democracy is yet to be defined.
Blast walls have given way to billboards, restaurants, cafes and shopping centers — even over-the-top real estate developments. With 7 million inhabitants, Baghdad is the Middle East’s second-largest city after Cairo, and its streets teem with cars and commerce at all hours, testing the skill of traffic guards in shiny reflective caps.
Daily life here looks not so different from any other Arab metropolis. But in the distant deserts of northern and western Iraq, there are occasional clashes with remnants of the Daesh group. The low-boil conflict involves Kurdish peshmerga fighters, Iraqi army troops and some 2,500 US military advisers still in country.
It is but one of the country’s lingering problems. Another is endemic corruption; a 2022 government audit found a network of former officials and businessmen stole $2.5 billion.
Meanwhile, digital natives are testing the boundaries of identity and free speech, especially on TikTok and Instagram. They sometimes look over their shoulders, aware that shadowy militias connected to political parties may be listening, ready to squelch too much liberalism. More than a dozen social media influencers were arrested recently in a crackdown on “immoral” content, and this month authorities said they would enforce a long-dormant law banning alcohol imports.
In 2019-20, fed-up Iraqis, especially young people, protested across the country against corruption and lack of basic services. After more than 600 were killed by government forces and militias, parliament agreed to a series of election law changes designed to allow more minorities and independent groups to share power.
The sun bakes down on Fallujah, the main city in the Anbar region that was once a hotbed for Al-Qaeda of Iraq and, later, the Daesh group. Beneath the iron girders of the city’s bridge across the Euphrates, three 18-year-olds are returning home from school for lunch.
In 2004, this bridge was the site of a gruesome tableau. Four Americans from military contractor Blackwater were ambushed, their bodies dragged through the streets, hacked, burned and hung as trophies by local insurgents, while some residents chanted in celebration. For the 18-year-olds, it’s a story they’ve heard from their families — distant and irrelevant to their lives.
One wants to be a pilot, two aspire to be doctors. Their focus is on getting good grades, they say.
Fallujah today is experiencing a construction renaissance under former Anbar Gov. Mohammed Al-Halbousi, now speaker of Iraq’s parliament. He has helped direct millions of dollars in government funding to rebuild the city, which experienced repeated waves of fighting, including two US military campaigns to rid the city of Al-Qaeda and the Daesh group.
Fallujah gleams with new apartments, hospitals, amusement parks, a promenade and a renewed gate to the city. Its markets and streets are bustling. But officials were wary of letting Western reporters wander the city without an escort. The AP team’s first attempt to enter was foiled at a checkpoint.
The prime minister’s office intervened the next day, and the visit was allowed, but only with police following reporters at a distance, ostensibly for protection. The disagreement over security and press access is a sign of the uncertainty that overhangs life here.
Still, Dr. Houthifa Alissawi, 40, an imam and mosque leader, says such tensions are trifling compared with what his congregation lived through. Iraq has been engulfed in war for half of his life. When the Daesh group overran Fallujah, his mosque was seized, and he was ordered to preach in favor of the “caliphate” or be killed. He told them he’d think about it, he said, and then fled to Baghdad. He counted 16 killings of members of his mosque.
“Iraq has had many wars. We lost a lot — whole families,” he said. These days, he said, he is enjoying the new sense of security he feels in Fallujah. “If it stays like now, it is perfect.” ___
Sadr City, a working-class, conservative and largely Shiite suburb in eastern Baghdad, is home to more than 1.5 million people. In a grid of thickly populated streets, women wear abayas and hijabs and tend to stay inside the house. Fiery populist religious leader Moqtada Al-Sadr, 49, is still the dominant political power, though he rarely travels here from his base in Najaf, 125 miles to the south. His portraits, and those of his ayatollah father, killed by gunmen in Saddam’s time, loom large.
On a clamorous, pollution-choked avenue, two friends have side-by-side shops: Haider Al-Saady, 28, fixes tires for taxis and the three-wheeled motorized “tuk-tuks” that jam potholed streets, while Ali Al-Mummadwi, 22, sells lumber for construction.
Thick skeins of wires hooked up to generators form a canopy over the neighborhood. City power stays on for just two hours at a time; after that, everyone relies on generators.
They say they work 10 hours every day and scoff when told of the Iraqi president’s promises that life will be better for the young generation.
“It is all talk, not serious,” Al-Saady said, shaking his head. Sadr City was a hotbed of anti-Saddam sentiment, but Al-Saady — too young to remember the fallen dictator — nevertheless expressed nostalgia for that era’s stability.
His companion echoes him: “Saddam was a dictator, but the people were living better, peacefully.” Dismissing current officials as pawns of outside powers, Al-Mummadwi added, “We would like a strong leader, an independent leader.”
When news spread recently that a musician born and raised in Baghdad whose songs have gotten millions of views on YouTube would headline a rap party hosted at a fancy new restaurant in western Baghdad, his fans shared their excitement via texts and Instagram.
Khalifa OG raps about the difficulties of finding work and satirizes authority, but his lyrics aren’t blatantly political. A song he performed under strobe lights on a grassy lawn next to the Tigris mocks “sheikhs” who wield power in the new Iraq through wealth or political connections.
Fan Abdullah Rubaie, 24, could barely contain his excitement. “Peace for sure makes it easier” for young people to gather like this, he said. His stepbrother Ahmed Rubaie, 30, agreed.
The Sunni-Shia sectarianism that led to a pitched civil war in Iraq from 2006 to 2007, with bodies of executed victims turning up each morning on neighborhood streets or dumped into the river, is one of the societal wounds that the rappers and their fans want to heal.
“We had a lot of pain ... it had to stop,” Ahmed Rubaie said. “It is not exactly vanished, but it’s not like before.”
Secular young people say that unlike their parents who lived under Saddam, they’re not afraid to make their voices heard. The 2019 demonstrations gave them confidence, even in the face of backlash from pro-religious parties.
“It broke a wall that was there before,” Ahmed Rubaie said.
Iraq’s prime minister, Mohammed Shia Al-Sudani, took office in October. A former government minister for human rights and governor of Maysan province, southeast of Baghdad, he won support from a coalition of pro-Iranian Shiite parties after a yearlong stalemate. Unlike other Shiite politicians who fled during the Saddam era, he never left Iraq, even when his father and five brothers were executed.
Working in a former Saddam palace that US and British officers and civilian experts once used as headquarters for their frenetic attempts at nation-building, Al-Sudani still grapples with some of the issues that plagued the occupiers, including restoring regional relations and balancing interests among Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds. He said building trust between the people and government will be his first priority.
“We need to see tangible results — job opportunities, services, social justice,” Al-Sudani said. “These are the priorities of the people.”
One of the Shiite militias that took part in that campaign against the Daesh group is Ketaib Hezbollah, or the Hezbollah Battalions, widely viewed as a proxy for Iran and a cousin to Hezbollah in Lebanon and Syria. It also is part of the political coalition that established Al-Sudani’s government.
Ketaib Hezbollah’s spokesman, Jafar Al-Hussaini, met AP at an outdoor restaurant in Baghdad’s Dijlas Village, an opulent, 5-month-old complex of gardens, spas and a dancing fountain overlooking a bend in the Tigris, an idyllic Xanadu that looks like a transplant from uber-wealthy Dubai.
Al-Hussaini voiced optimism for the new Iraqi government and scorn for the United States, saying the US sold Iraq a promise of democracy but failed to deliver infrastructure, electricity, housing, schools or security.
“Twenty years after the war, we look toward building a new state,” he said. “Our project is ideological, and we are against America.”
Far from such luxury, 18-year-old Mohammed Zuad Khaman, who toils in his family’s kebab café in one of Baghdad’s poorer neighborhoods, resents the militias’ hold on the country because they are an obstacle to his dreams of a sports career. Khaman is a talented footballer, but says he can’t play in Baghdad’s amateur clubs because he does not have any “in” with the militia-related gangs that control sports teams in the city.
He got an offer to train in Qatar, he said, but a broker was charging $50,000, far beyond his family’s means.
War and poverty caused him to miss several years of school, he said, and he’s trying to get a high school degree. Meanwhile, he takes home about $8-$10 a day wiping tables and serving food and tea. He is among those Iraqis who would like to leave.
“If only I could get to London, I would have a different life.”
In contrast, for Muammel Sharba, 38, who managed to get a good education despite the war, the new Iraq offers promise he did not expect.
A lecturer in mathematics and technical English at the Middle Technical University campus in Baquba, a once violence-torn city in Diyala, northeast of Baghdad, Sharba left in 2017 for Hungary, where he earned a Ph.D. on an Iraqi government scholarship.
He returned last year, planning to fulfil his contractual obligations to his university and then move to Hungary permanently. But he’s found himself impressed by the changes in his homeland and now thinks he will stay.
One reason: He discovered Baghdad’s nascent community of bicyclists who gather weekly for organized rides. They recently rode to Samarra, where one of the worst sectarian attacks of the war happened in 2006, a bombing that damaged the city’s 1,000-year-old grand mosque.
Sharba became a biking enthusiast in Hungary but never imagined pursuing it at home. He noticed other changes, too: better technology and less bureaucracy that allowed him to upload his thesis and get his foreign Ph.D. validated online. He got a driver’s license electronically in one day. With infrastructure improvements, he’s even seen some smoother roads.
Security in Diyala isn’t perfect, he said, but it’s less fraught than before. Not all his colleagues are as optimistic, but he prefers to focus on the glass half-full.
“I don’t think European countries were always as they are now. They went through a long process and lots of barriers, and then they slowly got better,” he said. “I believe that we need to go through these steps, too.”
On a recent evening, a double line of excited cyclists threaded a course through the capital’s busy streets for a night ride, Sharba among them. They raised neon-green-clad arms in a happy salute as they headed out.
As daylight ebbed into a crimson sunset, it wasn’t hard to imagine that Iraq, like them, could be on the way to a better place.
20 years after US invasion, young Iraqis see signs of hope
20 years after US invasion, young Iraqis see signs of hope
BAGHDAD: On the banks of the Tigris River one recent evening, young Iraqi men and women in jeans and sneakers danced with joyous abandon to a local rap star as a vermillion sun set behind them. It’s a world away from the terror that followed the US invasion 20 years ago.
180 dead from Sudan fighting buried unidentified: Red Crescent
- Volunteers have buried 102 unidentified bodies in the capital’s Al-Shegilab cemetery and 78 more in cemeteries in Darfur
KHARTOUM: Persistent fighting in Sudan’s twin flashpoints of Khartoum and Darfur has forced volunteers to bury 180 bodies recovered from combat zones without identification, the Sudanese Red Crescent said.
Since fighting between Sudan’s warring generals erupted on April 15, volunteers have buried 102 unidentified bodies in the capital’s Al-Shegilab cemetery and 78 more in cemeteries in Darfur, the Red Crescent said in a statement Friday.
Both regular army chief Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan and his deputy-turned-rival, paramilitary commander Mohamed Hamdan Daglo, have issued repeated pledges to protect civilians and secure humanitarian corridors.
But Red Crescent volunteers — supported by the International Committee of the Red Cross — have found it difficult to move through the streets to pick up the dead, “due to security constraints,” the Red Crescent said.
In cease-fire talks in Saudi Arabia last month, the warring parties had agreed to “enable responsible humanitarian actors, such as the Sudanese Red Crescent and/or the International Committee of the Red Cross to collect, register and bury the deceased in coordination with competent authorities.”
But amid repeated and flagrant violations by both sides, the US- and Saudi-brokered truce agreement collapsed.
Entire districts of the capital no longer have running water, electricity is only available for a few hours a week and three quarters of hospitals in combat zones are not functioning.
The situation is particularly dire in the western region of Darfur, which is home to around a quarter of Sudan’s population and has never recovered from a devastating two-decade war that left hundreds of thousands dead and more than two million displaced.
Hundreds of civilians have been killed, villages and markets torched and aid facilities looted, prompting tens of thousands to seek refuge in neighboring Chad.
More than 1,800 people have been killed in the fighting, according to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project.
Medics and aid agencies have said repeatedly that the real death toll is likely to be much higher, because of the number of bodies abandoned in areas that are unreachable.
UN agency for Palestinian refugees raises just a third of $300m needed to help millions
- UNRWA chief grateful for the new pledges but they are below the funds needed to keep over 700 schools and 140 clinics open from September through December
UNITED NATIONS: Despite a dire warning from the UN chief that the UN agency for Palestinian refugees “is on the verge of financial collapse,” donors at a pledging conference on Friday provided just $107 million in new funds — significantly less than the $300 million it needs to keep helping millions of people.
Philippe Lazzarini, commissioner general of the agency known as UNRWA, said he was grateful for the new pledges but they are below the funds needed to keep over 700 schools and 140 clinics open from September through December.
“We will continue to work tirelessly with our partners, including host countries — the refugees’ top supporters — to raise the funds needed,” he said in a statement.
At the beginning of the year, UNRWA appealed for $1.6 billion for its programs, operations and emergency response across Syria, Lebanon, the Israeli-occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip and Jordan. That includes nearly $850 million for its core budget, which includes running schools and health clinics.
According to UNRWA, donors on Friday announced $812.3 million in pledges, but just $107.2 million were new contributions. The countries pledging new funds were not announced.
Lazzarini told a press conference Thursday that UNRWA needs $150 million to keep all services running until the end of the year, and an additional $50 million to start 2024 without liabilities. In addition, he said, the agency needs $75 million to keep the food pipeline in Gaza operating and about $30 million for its cash distribution program in Syria and Lebanon.
UNRWA was founded in the wake of the creation of the state of Israel in 1948 to provide hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who fled or were forced from their homes with education, health care, social services and in some cases jobs. Today, their numbers — with descendants — have grown to some 5.9 million people, most in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, as well as neighboring countries in the Middle East.
UNRWA has faced a financial crisis for 10 years, but Lazzarini said the current crisis is “massive,” calling it “our main existential threat.”
“It is deepening, and our ability to muddle through is slowly but surely coming to an end,” he said. “The situation is even more critical now that some of our committed donors have indicated that the will substantially decrease their contribution to the agency.”
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a speech read by his chief of staff at the start of the pledging conference that “when UNRWA’s future hangs in the balance so do the lives of millions of Palestine refugees relying on essential services.”
Those services include education for over half a million girls and boys, health care for around 2 million people, job opportunities for young people in Gaza and elsewhere, psycho-social support for hundreds of thousands of children, and a social safety net for nearly half a million of the poorest Palestinians, he said. More than 1.2 million Palestinians also receive humanitarian assistance.
Turkiye: Erdogan to be sworn in for third term as president
- Erdogan’s inauguration in parliament will be followed by a lavish ceremony at his palace in Ankara
ANKARA: President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is set to be sworn in on Saturday as head of state after winning a historic runoff election to extend his two-decade rule for another five years as Turkiye’s economic woes worsen.
The inauguration in parliament will be followed by a lavish ceremony at his palace in the capital Ankara attended by dozens of world leaders.
Turkiye’s transformative but divisive leader won the May 28 runoff against a powerful opposition coalition, and despite an economic crisis and severe criticism following a devastating February earthquake that killed more than 50,000 people.
Erdogan won 52.18 percent of the vote while his secular rival Kemal Kilicdaroglu 47.82 percent, official results show.
Turkiye’s longest-serving leader faces immediate and major challenges in his third term driven by a decelerating economy and foreign policy tensions with the West.
“From a geopolitical point of view, the election will reinforce Turkiye’s recent pursuit of an independent foreign policy,” said Matt Gertken, chief geopolitical strategist at BCA Research.
“This policy aims to extract maximum economic and strategic benefits from eastern and autocratic states while still preventing a permanent rupture in relations with western democracies,” he said.
“Tensions with the West will likely increase again, within that framework, now that Erdogan has a new mandate.”
Addressing the country’s economic troubles will be Erdogan’s first priority with inflation running at 43.70 percent, partly due to his unorthodox policy of cutting interest rates to stimulate growth.
Late on Saturday the president is due to unveil his new cabinet with media speculating that former finance minister Mehmet Simsek, a reassuring figure with international stature, could play a part.
A former Merrill Lynch economist, Simsek is known to oppose Erdogan’s unconventional policies.
He served as finance minister between 2009 and 2015 and deputy prime minister in charge of the economy until 2018, before stepping down ahead of a series of lira crashes that year.
“Erdogan’s government looks like it will pursue an orthodox stabilization program,” said Alp Erinc Yeldan, professor of economics at Istanbul’s Kadir Has University.
“What we see now is that the news about Mehmet Simsek and his team is greeted with enthusiasm by the markets,” he said.
Turkiye’s new members of parliament started being sworn in on Friday in a first session after the May 14 election, also attended by Erdogan.
His alliance holds a majority in the 600-seat parliament.
Erdogan’s victory came against a unified opposition coalition led by Kilicdaroglu, whose future as leader of the CHP party remains in doubt following the defeat.
UNSC condemns Sudan violence, calls on parties to honor ceasefire agreements
- Council members urge Burhan and Dagalo to honor Jeddah Declaration and African Union Roadmap
- More than 700 Sudanese have died and thousands have been injured in six weeks of clashes
NEW YORK: The UN security council on Friday expressed concern over the continued fighting in Sudan between the Sudanese Armed Forces and the Rapid Support Forces and condemned attacks on civilians and UN and humanitarian workers, as well as on medical workers and facilities, and the looting of humanitarian aid.
In a statement issued after a meeting on Sudan late on Friday afternoon, council members called on the warring parties to grant humanitarians safe and unimpeded access across the country, in line with international law and UN principles.
According to the UN, at least 730 people have been killed and 5,500 injured since the outbreak of hostilities last month. The actual toll could be much higher.
Clashes between military leader Gen. Abdel Fattah Burhan’s Sudanese Armed Forces, or SAF, and the Rapid Support Forces, or RSF, a paramilitary group led by Gen. Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, have continued across several parts of the country, including in the capital Khartoum, and in Zalingi, Central Darfur, Al-Fasher, North Darfur and Al-Obeid.
Security Council members stressed the need for an immediate ceasefire to allow for humanitarian access, and to arrange for a permanent ceasefire as well as “resume the process toward reaching a lasting, inclusive, and democratic political settlement in Sudan.”
Their statement reaffirmed the council’s support of the United Nations Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan, or UNITAMS, and urged its continued engagement in the war-ravaged country.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Wednesday rejected a request from Gen. Abdel Fattah Burhan to remove his office’s special envoy, Volker Perthes, who serves as the special representative for Sudan and head of UNITAMS. Guterres said that the Security Council had the final say on the fate of the mission.
The 15-member body, tasked with the maintenance of international peace and security, underscored the need for “strengthened international coordination and continued collaboration,” and reiterated its support for African Union, or AU, efforts to establish mechanisms to address the conflict.
They also welcomed UN and Arab League efforts toward a viable peace process and the resumption of the transition to democracy in Sudan. They also backed the AU Roadmap toward those goals.
The Security Council statement welcomed the May 11 signature in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, by the SAF and RSF, of the Declaration of Commitment to Protect the Civilians of Sudan — or the “Jeddah Declaration” — and called on both parties to implement its provisions.
Council members encouraged international support for the 2020 Juba Peace Agreement, which “remains binding for all its signatories (and) must be implemented in full, in particular its provisions on a permanent ceasefire in Darfur.”
The statement concluded by reaffirming the Security Council’s “strong commitment to the sovereignty, unity, independence, and territorial integrity of the Republic of Sudan in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations and the principle of good neighborliness, non-interference and regional cooperation.”
Iran releases 1 Danish, 2 Austrian citizens in operation involving Oman, Belgium
- Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg said he was “very relieved” that Kamran Ghaderi and Massud Mossaheb were being brought home
- Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg thanked the foreign ministers of Belgium and Oman for providing “valuable support”
BERLIN: Iran has released one Danish and two Austrian citizens, the European countries said Friday, thanking Oman and Belgium for their help in getting the trio freed.
Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg said he was “very relieved” that Kamran Ghaderi and Massud Mossaheb were being brought home after “years of arduous imprisonment in Iran.”
Denmark’s foreign minister, Lars Løkke Rasmussen, said that he was “happy and relieved that a Danish citizen is on his way home to his family in Denmark after imprisonment in Iran.” He didn’t name the person, saying their identity was “a personal matter” and he couldn’t go into details.
Schallenberg thanked the foreign ministers of Belgium and Oman for providing “valuable support,” without elaborating on what form it took. Løkke Rasmussen also thanked Belgium and said that “Oman played an important role.”
Last week, a prisoner exchange between Belgium and Iran returned to Tehran an Iranian diplomat convicted of attempting to bomb exiles in France, Assadollah Assadi. Belgian aid worker Olivier Vandecasteele, looking visibly gaunt, headed back to Brussels as part of the swap.
There was no immediate word on what, if anything, Iran obtained in return for the latest releases.
On Friday, Belgian Foreign Minister Hadja Lahbib tweeted that her country was “unwavering in our dedication to advocating for other Europeans who are being arbitrarily detained” and had “successfully secured the release of two Austrians and one Dane who were unjustly held in detention in Iran.”
Belgium’s prime minister, Alexander De Croo, said he had briefed his Austrian and Danish counterparts at a Thursday meeting in Moldova on the “imminent release” of the three prisoners “heading to Belgium via Oman.”
Iranian state media and officials did not immediately acknowledge a release on Friday, which is part of the weekend in the Islamic Republic.
Oman often serves an interlocutor between Iran and the West and brings released captives out of the Islamic Republic. An Oman Royal Air Force Gulfstream IV, which had been on the ground in Tehran for several days, took off shortly before news of the European trio’s releases came out. It landed later Friday in Oman’s capital, Muscat.
The releases also come after Oman’s Sultan Haitham bin Tariq visited Iran on his first trip there since becoming the Arab nation’s ruler in 2020.
Ghaderi is an Iranian-Austrian businessman who was arrested in 2016 and later sentenced to 10 years in prison for allegedly spying for the US, charges strongly rejected by his supporters. His family had criticized Austria for being silent on his case in recent years.
Mossaheb, also an Iranian-Austrian businessman, was arrested in 2019 and received a 10-year prison sentence after what Amnesty International called “a grossly unfair trial for vague national security offenses.” Amnesty had said Mossaheb suffered from heart failure and diabetes, making his imprisonment that much more dangerous for him.
Iran has detained a number of foreigners and dual nationals over the years, accusing them of espionage or other state security offenses and sentencing them following secretive trials in which rights groups say they have been denied due process.
Critics have repeatedly accused Iran of using such prisoners as bargaining chips with the West.
Schallenberg said his ministry would spare no effort to secure the release of a third Austrian national who remains in detention in Iran and whose case is currently on appeal.
Iran, facing Western sanctions over its rapidly advancing nuclear program, has experienced protests in recent months and economic strain. However, it also reached a detente with Saudi Arabia through Chinese mediation, and the International Atomic Energy Agency dropped two inquiries into the country’s nuclear program.