Posts Tagged ‘Iraq’

Israel mum on US claims it hit Iraq militia in Syria

June 19, 2018

Israel declined to comment on Tuesday on a weekend air strike against an Iraqi paramilitary base in eastern Syria after its US ally implicated it in the attack.

The Sunday evening strike against the Al-Hari base on the Syrian side of the border with Iraq came less than 24 hours after Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel would strike Iran’s “proxies” anywhere in Syria.

© AFP | Map of Syria locating air strike in Al-Hari.

Fighters of Iraq’s Hashed al-Shaabi paramilitary force, mainly composed of Iran-trained Shiite militia, have played a major role in the war against the Sunni extremists of the Islamic State group in Syria as well as Iraq.

But their presence has sparked confrontations with both Washington, which has been supporting a Kurdish-led alliance that controls other parts of eastern Syria, and Israel, which fears Iranian-inspired attacks on its forces in the occupied Golan Heights.

Syrian authorities and the Iraqi paramilitaries both blamed Washington for the strike, which killed at least 52 fighters, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

But US officials denied any involvement and instead pointed the finger at Israel.

“We have reasons to believe that it was an Israeli strike,” one US official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

The Israeli military declined to be drawn on the US claims. “We are not commenting on foreign reports,” a spokeswoman said.

The military has carried out previous strikes against Iranian targets in Syria, but most have been significantly closer to Israel or the Israeli-occupied Golan.

Last month, Israel launched a large-scale attack on what it said were Iranian targets in Syria, raising fears of a major confrontation.

Those strikes followed a barrage of rockets that Israel said was fired towards its forces in the occupied Golan by Iran from Syria.

Even before that, Israel had been blamed for a series of recent strikes inside Syria that killed Iranians, though it has not acknowledged them.

Speaking at a cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on Sunday morning, Netanyahu reiterated his position that “Iran needs to withdraw from all of Syria”.

“We will take action -? and are already taking action -? against efforts to establish a military presence by Iran and its proxies in Syria both close to the border and deep inside Syria,” the prime minister said.

“We will act against these efforts anywhere in Syria.”

Israeli seized a large swathe of the Golan Heights from Syria in the Six-Day War of 1967 and later annexed it in a move never recognised by the international community.

Iran has been a close ally of the Syrian regime for some four decades and, with Russia, has been a key supporter in the civil war that broke out in 2011.

AFP

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Iraq denounces mysterious Syria airstrike attributed to Israel

June 19, 2018

Iraqi military denies positioning Iran-backed fighters in Syrian territory after paramilitary group says 22 of its members among the dead

Iraqi forces, supported by members of the Hashed al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilization units), advance in the western desert in the northern Iraqi region of al-Hadar, 105 kilometers south of Mosul, on November 23, 2017, as they attempt to flush out remaining Islamic State group fighters (AFP/Stringer)

Iraqi forces, supported by members of the Hashed al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilization units), advance in the western desert in the northern Iraqi region of al-Hadar, 105 kilometers south of Mosul, on November 23, 2017, as they attempt to flush out remaining Islamic State group fighters (AFP/Stringer)

Iraq on Tuesday denounced an airstrike in Syria attributed to Israel in which over 50 pro-regime fighters, including some 20 members of an Iran-backed Iraqi paramilitary group, were killed.

The Iraqi foreign ministry said it “expresses rejection and condemnation of any air operations targeting forces in areas where they are fighting ISIS, whether in Iraq or Syria or any other area where there is a battlefield against this enemy that threatens humanity,” according to the Reuters news agency.

The ministry also called for countries to work together against “extremist groups.”

The bombing raid hit Al-Hari, a town near the Iraqi border controlled by regional militias fighting in Syria’s seven-year war alongside President Bashar Assad’s forces.

Both Syrian authorities and Iraqi forces pointed the finger at the US-led coalition, which denied it was involved in Sunday night’s attack.

“We have reasons to believe that it was an Israeli strike,” a US official told AFP on condition of anonymity on Monday.

Illustrative: A masked fighter of the Hashed al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilization) paramilitaries poses for a picture carrying a Kalashnikov assault rifle by defensive positions on the outskirts of Tal Afar west of Mosul, on February 18, 2017. (AFP Photo/Ahmad Al-Rubaye)

Israel declined to comment, but a strike so far from its border would veer from most other raids in Syria that are attributed to Israel, which have largely taken place closer to Syria’s borders with Israel and Lebanon.

The target, apparently Shiite Iraqi militia fighters loyal to Assad, would also mark a shift for Israel, which has previously only carried out airstrikes against Iran’s forces and its proxies, according to reports.

At a cabinet meeting on Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned that Israel was “taking action — against efforts to establish a military presence by Iran and its proxies in Syria both close to the border and deep inside Syria. We will act against these efforts anywhere in Syria.”

Sunday’s raid slammed into a regime-controlled position in the border town and left at least 52 fighters dead, according to a Britain-based monitor.

Among them were fighters from Iraq’s powerful Hashed al-Shaabi military alliance, some of whom have crossed into Syria to fight against IS.

The Iran-backed Hashed claimed that “US planes fired two guided missiles at a fixed position of Hashed al-Shaabi units on the border with Syria, killing 22 fighters and wounding 12.”

The bodies of three Iraqi fighters killed in the raid were returned to their hometowns for burial, said AFP’s correspondent in the southern Iraqi city of Nasiriyah.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said a total of 30 Iraqi forces were among the dead in Al-Hari, as well as 16 Syrian forces and six unidentified fighters.

Hashed said its fighters had been deployed along the porous frontier with Syria on the orders of the Iraqi authorities.

However, late Monday the Iraqi military command denied it had positioned forces in Syrian territory, implying the dead fighters had acted without its consent.

Regretting the deaths, the command said it had been assured by the coalition that it was not responsible for the strikes.

Hashed is vital to the fight against IS in Iraq, but has also battled the jihadists across the border in their eastern Syria bastions.

https://www.timesofisrael.com/iraq-denounces-mysterious-syria-airstrike-attributed-to-israel/

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Record 68.5 million people displaced worldwide: UN

June 19, 2018

A record 68.5 million people have been forced flee their homes due to war, violence and persecution, notably in places like Myanmar and Syria, the UN said on Tuesday.

By the end of 2017, the number was nearly three million higher than the previous year and showed a 50-percent increase from the 42.7 million uprooted from their homes a decade ago, according to a report by the UN refugee agency.

The current figure is equivalent to the entire population of Thailand, and the number of people forcibly displaced equates to one in every 110 persons worldwide, it said.

© AFP/File / by Nina LARSON | A UNHCR report showed 16.2 million people were freshly displaced last year, equating to some 44,500 people being pushed out of their homes every day — or one person every two seconds

“We are at a watershed, where success in managing forced displacement globally requires a new and far more comprehensive approach so that countries and communities aren’t left dealing with this alone,” said UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi.

But around 70 percent of that number are people from just 10 countries, he told reporters in Geneva ahead of the report’s launch.

“If there were solutions to conflicts in those 10 countries, or in some of them at least, that huge figure, instead of rising every year, could start going down,” he said, calling for more political will to halt the crises driving so many from their homes.

– Every two seconds –

The report showed that 16.2 million people were freshly displaced last year, and included those forced to flee for the first time as well as those who had been previously displaced.

This equates to some 44,500 people being pushed out of their homes every day — or one person every two seconds, UNHCR said.

Most people flee within their own country, and are defined as internally displaced people, or IDPs.

By the end of 2017, there were some 40 million IDPs worldwide, down slightly from previous years, with Colombia, Syria and Democratic Republic of Congo accounting for the greatest numbers.

Another 25.4 million people — more than half of them children — were registered as refugees last year.

That is nearly three million more than in 2016, and “the highest known total to date”, it said.

– South Sudan numbers soar –

Syria’s seven-year conflict alone had, by the end of last year, pushed more than 6.3 million people out of the country, accounting for nearly one-third of the global refugee population.

Another 6.2 million Syrians are internally displaced.

The second largest refugee-producing country in 2017 was Afghanistan, whose refugee population grew by five percent during the year to 2.6 million people.

The increase was due mainly to births and more Afghans being granted asylum in Germany, UNHCR said.

South Sudan meanwhile saw the largest increase last year, with the number of refugees fleeing the world’s youngest nation soaring from 1.4 million at the beginning of the year to 2.4 million at the end.

Grandi said South Sudan was experiencing “a very bad emergency” which had apparently escaped the notice of both the government and the opposition who did not appear to be “taking seriously the desperate situation of their own people.”

– Most refugees in poor countries –

Refugees from Myanmar more than doubled last year to 1.2 million, as a brutal army crackdown forced hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims to pour across the border into Bangladesh.

Tuesday’s report also highlighted large-scale displacements in Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, and DR Congo among others.

And as Israel marks 70 years of independence, there are some 5.4 million Palestinians still living as refugees, it said.

Despite the focus on migrant numbers arriving in Europe and the United States, a full 85 percent of refugees are living in low- and middle-income countries like Lebanon, Pakistan and Uganda, Grandi said.

Turkey was hosting by far the largest number of refugees, with 3.5 million registered there by the end of 2017, most of them Syrians.

by Nina LARSON
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AFP

Saudi-led coalition ‘frees’ Yemen’s Hodeidah airport, begins de-mining operations

June 16, 2018

Image result for Houthi, photos

Forces from the Arab Coalition entered the airport in Yemen’s main port city on Saturday, the coalition-backed Yemeni military said, in the biggest offensive of the coalition’s war against the Iran-aligned Houthis.

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Victory for the coalition in their first attempt to capture a strategic part of a well-defended city could put the Houthis in their weakest position since the conflict erupted three years ago.

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A defeat would also cut off supply lines to the Houthi-controlled capital, Sanaa, and possibly force the movement to negotiate.

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“Army forces backed by the resistance and the Arab coalition freed Hodeidah international airport from the grip of the Houthi militia,” the media office of the pro-alliance Yemeni military said on Twitter on Saturday.

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Troops have surrounded the main airport compound but have not seized it, a Yemeni military source and residents said.

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“We need some time to make sure there are no gunmen, mines or explosive in the building,” the military source said. The military’s media office said technical teams were de-mining the surrounding area.

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Fighting in the airport area led to the closure of the northern entrance of Hodeidah, which leads to Sanaa, residents said.

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That has blocked a key exit out of the city and made it more difficult to transport goods from the port, the country’s largest, to mountainous regions.

UN envoy lands in Hodeidah

The UN envoy for Yemen arrived in the militia-held capital Sanaa for talks on the key aid port.

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Martin Griffiths is expected to propose to militia leaders that they cede control of the Red Sea port to a UN-supervised committee to avoid further fighting with advancing government troops which are backed by the Arab coalition.

Seized entrance

Yemeni forces backed by Arab states seized the entrance to the airport in Yemen’s main port city on Friday, in an offensive against the Houthi militia.

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The swift advance was an important early success for the Yemeni forces, which launched the operation in Hodeidah four days ago and says it can liberate the city quickly enough to avoid interrupting aid to millions facing starvation.

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“We saw the resistance forces in the square at the northwestern entrance to the airport,” said a Hodeidah resident, referring to Yemeni allies of the coalition. Two Yemeni military officials allied to the coalition confirmed it.

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Yemeni forces tweeted that they had also seized the airport’s southern entrance, advancing down a main road toward the seaport.

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Residents in the city, controlled by the Houthis, said battles had been fought in the Manzar neighborhood, which abuts the wall surrounding the airport.

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“There have been terrifying bombing runs since the morning when they struck Houthi positions near the airport,” said fish vendor Ammar Ahmed.

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Apache attack helicopters hovered over Manzar, firing at Houthi snipers and fighters in schools and other buildings, said another Hodeidah resident, who asked not to be identified.

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Houthi militia had entered homes overlooking the main road to go onto the roofs. Dozens of Manzar residents fled to the city center on motorcycles, the resident said.

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Streets elsewhere in the city were empty despite the Eid holiday.

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“We are at the edges of the airport and are working to secure it now,” the Arab coalition said in a statement.

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“Operational priority is to avoid civilian casualties, maintain the flow of humanitarian aid, and allow for the UN to press the Houthis to evacuate the city.”

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“I urge all parties to the conflict to meet their obligations to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure and take active steps to respect international humanitarian law,” said David Beasley, executive director of the UN World Food Programme.

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Liberating Hodeidah would give the Arab coalition the upper hand in the war, which it has fought since 2015 to restore the internationally recognized government led by President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi. But a successful operation would require swiftly liberating a city of 600,000 people, without inflicting damage that would destroy the port.

http://www.arabnews.com/node/1321981/middle-east

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French special forces on the ground in Yemen

June 16, 2018

French special forces are present on the ground in Yemen with forces from the United Arab Emirates, French newspaper Le Figaro reported on Saturday, citing two military sources.

The newspaper gave no further information about their activities. The Defence Ministry was not immediately available for comment, but its usual policy is not to comment on special forces’ operations.

A French parliamentary source recently told Reuters French special forces were in Yemen.

Forces from an Arab alliance entered the airport in Yemen’s main port city on Saturday, in the biggest battle of the coalition’s war against the Iran-aligned Houthi movement.

Image result for France, special forces, photos
File Photo

The French Defence Ministry said on Friday that France was studying the possibility of carrying out a mine-sweeping operation to provide access to the port of Hodeidah once the coalition had wrapped up its military operations.

The ministry stressed that France at this stage had no military operations in the Hodeidah region and was not part of the Saudi-led coalition.

France, along with the United States and Britain, backs the Arab coalition in the Yemen conflict and provides weapons to both Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Reporting by Leigh Thomas and John Irish; Editing by Adrian Croft

Reuters

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Turkey to fight terror with allies or alone: Erdogan — But is this just last minute re-election talk?

June 16, 2018

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Ankara is determined to pursue its cross-border military operations from its southern borders to northern Iraq, stating that the operation in the Kandil region is ongoing.

“We are bombing Kandil right now. We are telling those who call themselves a friend that if you are a friend, you deal with it. If you will not, we will,” Erdoğan said in a speech he delivered following Friday prayers in Istanbul’s Sultangazi Mosque on June 15.

“We will have further good news for you in following days,” he added.

Image may contain: one or more people, crowd and outdoor

The Turkish president’s comments came after the Turkish military announced on June 15 that 26 outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militants were killed or surrendered in operations since June 12.

Erdoğan on June 11 said an operation against the PKK has begun in Kandil on the Iraq-Iran border as well as the Iraqi-controlled Sinjar region, which is a Yezidi Kurdish region.

“We have destroyed 14 important targets using 20 of our [warplanes]. They have hit [their targets] and they have returned. We are not done. This will continue,” the president said during an election rally in the central province of Niğde.

“Kandil will not be a threat or a source of terror for our people anymore. We will drain the terror swamp in Kandil as we have done in Afrin, Jarablus, Azaz, al-Bab,” he said, referring to the northern Syrian regions where the Turkish military had pursued military operations with Free Syrian Army (FSA) forces.

Turkey was concerned about the presence of Syrian Kurdish forces in its northern border region, especially the United States-backed Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its military wing, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), which Ankara deems an offshoot of the outlawed PKK and an imminent threat to its territorial integrity.

Erdoğan has also vowed to extend military operations in Syria if need be, a stance that has caused friction with the NATO-ally United States, which has backed the YPG in the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

“We have demolished the terror corridor in northern Syria. Now, we are bombing Kandil,” Erdoğan said on June 15.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said last week Baghdad was ready to cooperate with Ankara to prevent attacks from Iraq into Turkey. He also called on Turkey to “respect Iraqi sovereignty” and accused Turkish politicians of raising tensions for domestic purposes ahead of the June 24 elections.

Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu also announced on June 13 that Turkey is in contact with Iran about conducting an operation against the PKK in Kandil.

“We are in contact with Iran,” Çavuşoğlu told private broadcaster Habertürk.

“The PKK is a threat to them as well. Kandil is very close to the Iranian border. We will improve cooperation with Iran,” he said.

http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/turkey-to-fight-terror-with-allies-or-alone-erdogan-133375

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In Turkey, the opposition finally unites in bid to end Erdogan’s dominance

Muharrem Ince, a former high school physics teacher who is a Turkish presidential candidate, hurled taunts at his main opponent, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, with the reckless abandon of a competitor who smelled blood.

He paced with a microphone on top of his campaign bus on a recent afternoon, surrounded by enchanted supporters as he mocked Erdogan’s economic policies, accused the president of ginning up security threats for votes and chided him for spending lavish sums on palaces, calling it a “sin.”

“The state is collapsing. The state!” Ince said.

“President Ince!” the crowd roared, mimicking his cadence. “President Ince!”

These are heady days for Turkey’s opposition parties, which are charging toward elections for president and parliament in just over a week with a rare sense of unity and a hunch that Erdogan, who has dominated Turkish politics for a decade and a half, may be more vulnerable than he has been in years.

Their sense of optimism has been fueled by what they say are gaffes by the president, including comments he made that sent the Turkish currency tumbling and revived questions about his stewardship of the economy — a pillar of the president’s appeal.


Muharrem Ince, Presidential candidate of Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), delivers a speech from the roof of a bus during a campaign meeting in Istanbul on June 10, 2018, ahead of the Turkish presidential and parliamentary elections which will be held on June 24, 2018. (Yasin Akgul/AFP/Getty Images)

Opposition leaders have also cited encouraging poll numbers that they say reflect voter fatigue with the president after a tumultuous few years in Turkey marked by growing tensions with some of the country’s NATO allies and intensifying social polarization at home. The results suggest a possible opposition victory — if not in the presidential race, then in the parliament, where they hope to roll back the majority held by Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party, or AKP.

Then there is Ince — pronounced Een-jay — the candidate from the Republican People’s Party, or CHP, who has gained popularity as a surprisingly nimble candidate, snatching some of Erdogan’s populist thunder by presenting himself as a Turkish everyman with working-class roots able to bridge the country’s deep divides.

“His family is religious. He’s more secular,” said Kaan Ercan, a 23-year-old recent university architecture graduate who was one of many young people attending an Ince rally last week. “It’s different, the way he talks. His approach is aimed at all of society.”

The president’s loyalists say that the optimism of his opponents is misplaced and that voters continue to have faith in Erdogan’s ability to deliver economic growth, and trust the president’s assertions that the currency was being manipulated by foreigners. “We are on the streets,” said Harun Armagan, the 33-year-old vice chair of human rights for the AKP. “We are very hopeful about the results.”


The presidential candidate of Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), Muharrem Ince (L) and his wife Ulku Ince, wave to supporters during a campaign meeting in Diyarbakir on June 11, 2018, ahead of the Turkish presidential and parliamentary elections which will be held on June 24, 2018. (Ilyas Akengin/AFP/Getty Images)

For both sides, the stakes in the election are high. Erdogan, who has served both as prime minister and as president, will assume even greater authority should he win reelection because of constitutional amendments that were narrowly approved by voters during a bitterly contested referendum last year.

Erdogan’s supporters say the changes, which created an “executive presidency” diluting the power of the judiciary and the parliament, will give the president more latitude to impose his will on an unruly system and leave him better equipped to govern.

The opposition views the new system as a nightmare scenario that has weakened checks on the president’s power as he has become more authoritarian after a coup attempt in July 2016, arresting thousands of enemies and opponents and silencing critics of his government’s rule.

The odds in the coming election are not in the opposition’s favor. Erdogan remains a savvy campaigner and an instinctive populist whose appeals to nationalists and religious conservatives have won him a large and loyal base of supporters.

He also brazenly deploys the levers of state to his advantage, his critics say — shuttering independent media outlets that would provide balanced coverage of the election campaign and jailing opposition political figures. These include Selahattin Demirtas, a candidate from a pro-Kurdish party who is running for president from prison.

“There is no level playing field in the pre-election period,” Human Rights Watch wrote in a recent briefing on the election.

Despite those obstacles, the opposition saw a glimmer of hope in the president’s thin margin of victory in the referendum, which suggested that some disaffected Erdogan supporters had stayed home. The opposition’s attempts to energize its base started in the months after the referendum, when the CHP led a “justice” march over hundreds of miles intended to highlight the government’s arrests of opposition figures, journalists and dissidents.

As thousands of people joined the march,government officials, unnerved by the spectacle, likened the participants to terrorists.

In April, when Erdogan called for early elections, he framed them as necessary to make Turkey’s government “stronger and more effective” at a time when the country’s military was fighting against Kurdish groups across its borders in Syria and Iraq. But he was also preoccupied with the economy and anxious to stage the elections before it took a turn for the worse, analysts said.

The economic news did worsen after the president voiced his unorthodox view that high interest rates cause inflation and suggested that he would take greater control of monetary policy after the elections, sending the Turkish lira plummeting to record lows.

The currency has slightly ­recovered, but the economy’s problems run far deeper, said Atilla Yesilada, an analyst with ­Istanbul-based Global Source Partners. “Years of irresponsible policies have overheated the Turkish economy. High inflation rates and current account deficits are going to prove sticky,” he said. “I think we are at the end of our rope.”

Sensing an opening, Turkey’s often divided opposition parties have started to come together. Four parties, including the CHP, the nationalist Good Party and the Islamist Felicity Party, formed a coalition to compete in the parliamentary elections, broadening their ideological appeal. The pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party, or HDP, did not join the coalition. But Ince, the CHP candidate, visited Demirtas in prison and has recently reached out to Turkey’s Kurds, a critical voting bloc, during his campaign rallies.

The coalition is “a big deal” and a possible counterweight to Erdogan’s own alliance with another nationalist party, said Omer Taspinar, a Turkey expert at the Brookings Institution. “If the opposition can maintain some sense of unity, they will improve their chances.” The opposition also stands to benefit from the “worsening economy, and the emergence of a charismatic, center left-wing leader,” he said, referring to Ince.

 There were also signs of fatigue among AKP voters, to the apparent frustration of Erdogan, “who blamed them for not being active enough,” he said.

But the opposition has not presented a broader plan for Turkey and its future that would rival Erdogan’s grand vision for transforming the country into an economic powerhouse by 2023, a vision punctuated by plans for megaprojects and sprinkled with nationalist rhetoric.

“The opposition’s main message is, enough is enough. You have been in power too long, you represent the past. Maybe that would work if he was 80 years old,” Taspinar said. “Erdogan is still a force to reckon with, despite his vulnerabilities. He has done well for the middle class.”

Armagan, the AKP official, said that as he had campaigned for the party’s candidates in recent weeks, voters he encountered “see a lack of vision,” from the opposition.   “Maybe Muharrem Ince made a lot of noise and took some attention,” he said, but added: “You should tell people how you will take this country further.”

https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/in-turkey-the-opposition-finally-unites-in-bid-to-end-erdogans-dominance/2018/06/14/aaa294c4-699c-11e8-a335-c4503d041eaf_story.html?utm_term=.e35b8d252fd7

By Kareem Fahim

Saudi-led coalition claim control of airport in Yemen’s port city of Hodeidah

June 16, 2018

Forces from an Arab alliance have seized control of the airport in Yemen’s vital port city of Hodeidah, the media office of the Yemeni military allied with the Saudi-led coalition said Saturday.

© AFPTV / AFP | Image grab taken AFPTV shows Yemeni pro-government forces firing a heavy machine gun at the south of Hodeida airport on June 15, 2018.

“Army forces backed by the resistance and the Arab alliance freed Hodeidah international airport from the grip of the Houthi militia,” the media office said on Twitter on Saturday.

It said technical teams were now de-mining the area.

The Saudi-Emirati coalition began an offensive to capture Hodeidah from the control of the Yemeni Shiite Houthi militia on Wednesday amid mounting international concerns over the humanitarian situation in the world’s poorest Arab nation.

Yemeni officials said dozens of pro-government fighters have been killed since the assault began, mainly from land mines and roadside bombs disguised as rocks or sacks of wheat. On the rebel side, bodies of Houthi fighters were strewn across the front lines.

‘Mouth of Yemen’

Aid workers have warned the assault on Hodieda’s port, known as the “mouth of Yemen,” could shut down the vital route for some 70 percent of Yemen’s food and humanitarian aid. Two-thirds of Yemen’s population of 27 million relies on aid and 8.4 million are already at risk of starving.

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The Saudi-led coalition accuses the Houthis of using the port to smuggle weapons and missiles from Iran. The rebels have been raining ballistic missiles down on Saudi cities from across the border. The port is also a lucrative source of revenue for the Houthis, who have controlled most of northern Yemen since 2014.

The United Arab Emirates’ minister of state for foreign affairs, Anwar Gargash, said that the battle over Hodeida is essential to break a stalemate in the civil war, which otherwise could drag on for years.

Seizing the port “means that the Houthis will no longer be able to impose their will at the barrel of a gun,” he said in a post on Twitter. “If they keep Hodeida and its revenues and its strategic location, the war will last a long time and (add to) the suffering of the Yemeni people.”

د. أنور قرقاش

@AnwarGargash

Depriving the Houthis of their control of Hodeida port, at the Yemeni government’s request, means that the Houthis will no longer be able to impose their will at the barrel of a gun.

Hodeida, home to nearly 600,000 people, is some 150 kilometers (90 miles) southwest of Sanaa, Yemen’s capital, which is under Houthi control.

Red Cross warnings

The Saudi-led coalition has imposed an air, sea, and land embargo on Yemen since March 2015, aiming to dislodge the Houthis from the territory they control, paralysing trade and access to the country. The coalition air campaign and Houthi bombardment have left more than 10,000 people dead and 2 million displaced, and devastated the country’s already fragile infrastructure, including the health sector, which has helped spawn a cholera epidemic.

In a series of tweets, the International Committee of the Red Cross said the people in Hodeida were “bracing for the worst,” and tens of thousands were expected to flee in the coming days, some for a second time.

“People live in slums in the outskirts surviving on bread crumbs they find in the garbage. With the little money they do have, they buy cooking oil in plastic bags – just enough to cook one meal a day,” the group said, citing the accounts of staffers.

France contemplates demining effort

Meanwhile, the US, which has backed the Saudi-led coalition with intelligence, logistical support and aerial refueling of fighter jets, has not publicly opposed the assault but has urged the coalition to ensure that humanitarian aid deliveries to the port continue.

Washington however rejected three requests by the UAE to increase its support to the coalition with logistics, intelligence, and mine-sweeping operations.

Marine Maj. Adrian Rankine Galloway, a Pentagon spokesman, said the US has continued to provide aerial refueling for coalition aircraft and intelligence assistance. That aid includes information on key civilian sites that should not be targeted in order to avoid civilian casualties.

“We are not directly supporting the coalition offensive on the port of Hodeida,” Rankine-Galloway said. “The United States does not command, accompany or participate in counter-Houthi operations or any hostilities other than those authorized” against al Qaida and Islamic State (IS) group militants in Yemen.

The request for mine sweepers was diverted to France, which said it was considering minesweeping in Hodeida after the end of military operations there.

“Its purpose would be to facilitate the safe transport of humanitarian aid to the city’s population,” the French Defense Ministry said in a statement.

The rebels have planted thousands of land mines and roadside bombs on the outskirts of the airport that have killed dozens of coalition-backed fighters, Yemeni officials said.

“Nearly 95 percent of the causalities are because of land mines and roadside bombs,” said a medical official, who like the others spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak to the press.  He shared pictures of land mines and roadside bombs that were disguised as rocks and sacks of wheat.

The Conflict Armament Research Center said earlier that the bombs are similar to those used by the Iranian-backed Hezbollah in southern Lebanon and by insurgents in Iraq and Bahrain.

Human Rights Watch urged the UN Security Council on Friday to warn the warring parties that they will face sanctions if they fail to provide civilians access to desperately needed aid.

In the face of international concerns over the humanitarian situation, the UAE said on Friday that it would begin sending aid by air and sea to Hodeida, the state-run WAM news agency said. At least 10 UAE ships carrying 13,500 tons of food and aid, as well as three flights, were planned for Hodeida, it said.

China and India Want to Buy More U.S. Oil to Counter OPEC

June 14, 2018

Two of Asia’s largest crude buyers are considering teaming up to buy U.S. supplies and counter OPEC’s dominance in the world’s biggest oil market.

Image result for U.S. oil wells, sunset, photos

India and China are discussing ways to boost imports of U.S. crude to Asia, a move aimed at reducing their dependence on cargoes from members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, according to an Indian government official. The two nations want to put pressure on OPEC producers to keep prices under control, he said in New Delhi on Wednesday, asking not to be identified because of internal policy.

Image result for Interfax Global Energy, photos

The potential collaboration between the two major oil buyers would present another challenge for OPEC, which is facing competition for market share in Asia from the flood of crude pumped in the Gulf of Mexico and shale fields of Texas. The group is also contending with internal differences: Saudi Arabia favors easing output curbs implemented last year after they succeeded in shrinking a global glut, while Iran, Iraq and Venezuela oppose boosting production.

“Diversification of supply sources will benefit both India and China by increasing competition among oil producers,” said Abhishek Kumar, an analyst at Interfax Global Energy in London. “Procuring oil at the cheapest price is vital for the two energy hungry Asian consumers.”

The output reductions by OPEC and allies including Russia helped oil rebound from the worst crash in a generation, weighing on the economies of consuming nations. Prices last month were further boosted to the highest level since 2014 after a U.S. decision to reimpose sanctions on Iran threatened to curb exports from the Islamic Republic and as economic turmoil in Venezuela hurt the Latin American nation’s output.

For the International Energy Agency view’s on Iran and Venezuela output, click here.

Indian oil minister Dharmendra Pradhan said last month that he had expressed concern about rising crude and its negative impact on consumers and the Asian nation’s economy to Saudi energy minister Khalid Al-Falih. The trading unit of China’s biggest refiner has cut supplies from OPEC’s biggest producer in recent months, citing costly oil pricing by the Middle East nation.

Oil Alliance

The oil-buying alliance may initially be made up of India and China, with South Korea and Japan — also major buyers — joining the club later, the Indian government official said on Wednesday. While OPEC countries are still the dominant suppliers to Asia, almost all big importers in the region have increasingly turned to U.S. crude after a four-decade ban on American exports was lifted in late 2015.

China’s Ministry of Commerce didn’t immediately reply to a fax seeking comment. Nobody responded to two calls made to South Korea’s Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy. Masato Sasaki, the director of Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry’s oil and gas division, said he wasn’t aware of the India-China talks or any request for his nation to join the potential alliance.

Wang Yilin, the chairman of state-owned China National Petroleum Corp., the nation’s biggest energy company, met with the chairman of refiner Indian Oil Corp. in Beijing and talked about deepening cooperation in oil and gas businesses, according to a post on the Chinese company’s website on June 11.

American President Donald Trump, meanwhile, on Wednesday renewed his Twitter assault on OPEC, pushing the case for oil to be lower a week before the cartel meets to discuss production policy. The U.S. is said to have lobbied Saudi Arabia and other members, arguing they need to raise output by 1 million barrels a day to keep prices in check.

— With assistance by Heesu Lee, Sarah Chen, Aibing Guo, and Tsuyoshi Inajima

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-06-14/prized-oil-buyers-mull-uniting-on-u-s-crude-to-fight-opec-clout

Iraqi cleric Sadr and pro-Iran Amiri announce alliance

June 13, 2018

BAGHDAD: Nationalist cleric Moqtada Al-Sadr and Iranian-backed militia chief Hadi Al-Amiri, who won first and second place respectively in Iraq’s May parliamentary election, announced on Tuesday an alliance between their political blocs.

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File photo showing Iraqi cleric leader Moqtada al-Sadr takes part in Friday prayers at the Kufa mosque near Najaf,Iraq. (Reuters)

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The announcement came at a joint press conference in the Shiite holy city of Najaf, state television said.

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Earlier in the day, Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi said he opposed any repeat of the May 12 parliamentary election, and warned that anyone who tried to sabotage the political process would be punished, after allegations of electoral fraud raised tensions.

Reuters

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Hadi Al-Amiri

Quitting Syria too soon would be a ‘blunder’: Mattis

June 9, 2018

US Secretary of Defence Jim Mattis warned Friday it would be a “strategic blunder” to pull out of Syria before UN-led peace efforts had made progress.

A US-led coalition is conducting military operations against the Islamic State group in Syria and Mattis said they must not leave a “vacuum” that President Bashar al-Assad and his Russian and Iranian allies could take advantage of.

© POOL/AFP | US Secretary of Defence Jim Mattis warned that coalition forces leaving Syria could create a “vacuum”

Talks in Geneva led by UN Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura have made little headway, but Mattis said they must be given the chance to succeed.

“In Syria, leaving the field before the special envoy Staffan de Mistura achieves success in advancing the Geneva political process we all signed for under the UN security council resolution would be a strategic blunder, undercutting our diplomats and giving the terrorists the opportunity to recover,” Mattis said at a meeting of coalition defence ministers at NATO headquarters in Brussels.

IS seized parts of a town on the Syria-Iraq border on Friday in the latest in a string of attacks that comes as the continued presence of coalition forces in Syria is coming into question.

US President Donald Trump has vowed he would pull out his troops from Syria but Mattis has pleaded for a more patient approach.

“As the operations ultimately draw to a close, we must avoid leaving a vacuum in Syria that can be exploited by the Assad regime or its supporters,” Mattis said.

AFP