Tag Archives: West Asia

Pope Francis lauds dialogue ahead of meeting with Iraqi Grand Cleric

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Iraq once counted more than 1.5 million Christians but today only an estimated 400,000 Christians remain after being ravaged by violence

Pope Francis hailed the power of inter-religious dialogue on Monday as the Vatican confirmed he would meet Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani during his forthcoming trip to Iraq.

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The March 5-8 visit — the first-ever by a pope — will include stops in Baghdad, Najaf, Nasiriya, Erbil, Mosul and Qaraqosh, according to the official itinerary published by the Vatican.

On March 6, the pontiff is scheduled to make a “courtesy visit” to the 90-year-old Sistani in Najaf.

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The pope had previously suggested his visit to Iraq might be cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic, but on Monday, made clear his desire to go.

This photo taken on February 7, 2021 and handout by the Vatican Media on February 8, 2021 shows Pope Francis waving from the window of the apostolic palace overlooking St. Peter’s Square during the weekly Angelus prayer in the Vatican, during the Covid-19 pandemic. (Photo by Handout / VATICAN MEDIA / AFP) / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE – MANDATORY CREDIT “AFP PHOTO /VATICAN MEDIA / HANDOUT “

“I myself wish to resume my Apostolic Visits, beginning with that to Iraq,” he told ambassadors to the Holy See.

“These visits are an important sign of the solicitude of the Successor of Peter (the pope) for God’s People spread throughout the world and the dialogue of the Holy See with states,” he said.

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“They also frequently provide an opportunity to promote, in a spirit of sharing and dialogue, good relations between the different religions.”

Inter-religious dialogue, he added, “can become an opportunity for religious leaders and the followers of different confessions, and can support the responsible efforts of political leaders to promote the common good”.

Last month, the patriarch of Iraq’s Chaldean Catholic Church Louis Sako said the pope would have a private visit with Sistani, who is never seen in public and rarely accepts visitors.

Sako said then he hoped the two religious leaders would sign the document on “human fraternity for world peace”, an inter-religious text condemning extremism that Francis signed in 2019 with the leading Sunni cleric Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, the grand imam of Al-Azhar.

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Iraq once counted more than 1.5 million Christians but today only an estimated 400,000 Christians remain after being ravaged by violence, most recently sectarian warfare that followed the 2003 US-led invasion and attacks by Islamic State.

Francis plans to celebrate Masses at Baghdad in a cathedral that was the site of a 2010 bloody attack and in a stadium in Erbil, the capital of Iraq’s Kurdish region, where many Christians have fled after being displaced by Islamic State.

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#Newsworthy

COVID-19: Hospitals in Iraq fear ‘losing control’ as cases surge

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Authorities warn hospitals may ‘lose control’ amid record rise in single-day COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began.

Iraq has recorded its highest single-day rise in COVID-19 cases since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, prompting authorities to warn hospitals may “lose control” in the coming days.

According to the Iraqi health ministry, 5,036 new coronavirus infections were confirmed within 24 hours on Friday, bringing the total number of cases across the country to 252,075, of which 7,359 had died.

The health ministry attributed the spike to recent “large gatherings” that took place without recommended safety measures, including mask-wearing or social distancing.

The events included the marking on August 30 of Ashoura, a significant Muslim day of mourning that commemorates the killing of Prophet Muhammad’s grandson Hussein in 680 AD.

On that day, tens of thousands of Shia Muslims converged on the holy city of Karbala in southern Iraq.

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Karbala’s authorities introduced new measures to stem the spread of the virus, including restricting access to areas of worship and widespread spraying of disinfectants.

Northern Iraqis protest over salary arrears
But the health ministry warned the measures were not enough.

The health ministry attributed the spike to recent ‘large gatherings’ [Murtadha Al-Sudani/Anadolu]

“The number of cases is expected to escalate further in the coming days, which we fear will lead our health institutions to lose control as they try to deal with these large numbers,” its statement said on Friday.

“This will lead to an increase in the number of deaths, after we made headway in reducing them over the past few weeks.”

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Iraq’s hospitals have already been worn down by decades of conflict and poor investment, with shortages in medicines, hospital beds and even protective equipment for doctors.

Before Ashoura, the World Health Organization had warned that COVID-19 cases in Iraq were rising at an “alarming rate” and said Iraq should take action to end the community outbreak “at all costs”.

“The country is already in a semi-lockdown. There is a partial curfew,” Al Jazeera’s Dorsa Jabbari, reporting from Baghdad, said on Saturday.

“Twenty-five percent of government employees are allowed to go to work. Schools are still not reopening until probably the end of October.”


#Newsworthy…

Emmanuel Macron backs Iraq sovereignty on first visit.

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In first foreign visit since PM Mustafa al-Kadhimi formed gov’t in May, French president pledges support for Iraq.


French President Emmanuel Macron has pledged support for Iraq and said the main challenges facing the country are Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) group fighters and foreign interference in its affairs.

Macron is the first head of state to visit the Iraqi capital since Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, Iraq’s former intelligence chief, formed a new government in May.

“We are here for and we will continue to support Iraq,” Macron said at a news conference in Baghdad with his Iraqi counterpart Barham Salih.

“Any foreign intervention may undermine the efforts exerted by you as a government.”

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Iraqi officials should continue to share the vision of restoring “Iraq’s sovereignty,” he said, adding that this is a “very significant enterprise not only for Iraq, but also the entire region”.

“I would like to reiterate that France totally supports the Iraqi state and institutions.”

Macron had earlier said he was heading to Baghdad “to launch an initiative alongside the United Nations to support a process of sovereignty”.

Later on Wednesday, the French leader met al-Kadhimi during his day-long trip, which comes amid a severe economic crisis and coronavirus pandemic that has put a huge strain on Iraqi economy and politics. He is also expected to meet Nechirvan Barzani, president of the semi-autonomous northern Kurdish region.

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Al-Kadhimi was selected by parliament in May to head a government that would guide the country towards early elections and has called for one to be held in June 2021.

His predecessor Adel Abdul Mahdi quit under pressure from protests against corruption and foreign interference in December last year.

Salih told Macron the Iraqi leadership is looking forward to a future where Baghdad will claim an ‘essential and a central role in the region’. [The Presidency of the Republic of Iraq Office/Handout via Reuters]

Early elections are a main demand of anti-government protesters who staged months of mass demonstrations last year and were killed in their hundreds by security forces and gunmen suspected of links to Iran-backed armed groups.

Salih told Macron the Iraqi leadership is looking forward to a future where Baghdad will claim an “essential and a central role in the region”.

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“This area must be in a peace and stability situation, and the base of this stabilities proceed from the strengthening of Iraq’s role as a competent country with sovereignty,” he said.

President Salih said he looked forward to a longer visit by Macron in 2021, and al-Kadhimi said he hoped France and Europe as a whole could help “restore stability” to the rocky region.

“We do not want to be an arena for confrontations but a zone of stability and moderation,” al-Kadhimi said in a news conference, adding that France and Iraq would sign energy agreements in the future and deepen military cooperation.

“We talked about a future project, using nuclear energy to produce electricity and peaceful projects, which will be under the supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency … which will create jobs and address electricity shortages.”

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US-Iran tensions
After a United States-led invasion toppled former president Saddam Hussein in 2003, Iraq was ravaged by waves of sectarian conflict that culminated in ISIL capturing swaths of the country six years ago.

At the same time, the country has been caught for years between its two main allies, Iran and the United States, a balancing act that has become increasingly tortured since Washington’s withdrawal in 2018 from a multilateral nuclear deal with Tehran.

France is among the European nations that remain key backers of the 2015 agreement.

Reporting from Baghdad, Noble Reporters Media learnt Macron’s visit was an “important step”, especially since the country is caught between two allies who are at odds with each other.

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Al-Kadhimi, who is backed by the US, assumed office on May 7 when Baghdad’s relations with Washington were precarious. Like previous Iraqi leaders, he has to walk a tightrope amid the US-Iran rivalry.

The January assassination of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani and top Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis by the US in Baghdad prompted demands by Shia legislators that US forces leave Iraq.

Al-Kadhimi visited Washington last month, where he held talks with President Donald Trump. He said his administration is committed to introducing security reforms as rogue militia groups stage near-daily attacks against the seat of his government.

Other crises for al-Kadhimi include slashed state coffers in the crude oil-dependent country following a severe drop in prices, adding to the woes of an economy already struggling amid the pandemic.


#Newsworthy…

France president, Macron, first foreign leader to visit Iraq since May.

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French president is the first foreign leader to visit Iraq since PM Mustafa al-Kadhimi formed a government in May.


French President Emmanuel Macron has landed in Baghdad on his first official trip to Iraq, where he hopes to help the country reassert its “sovereignty” after years of conflict.

Macron is the first head of state to visit the Iraqi capital since Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, Iraq’s former intelligence chief, formed a new government in May.

The French leader is expected to meet al-Kadhimi and President Barham Salih at the presidential palace during his day-long trip on Wednesday, which comes amid a severe economic crisis and coronavirus pandemic that has put a huge strain on Iraqi economy and politics.

The visit would be of “great importance, as it’s the third by French officials in a single month,” said Husham Dawood, an adviser to the Iraqi premier.

Speaking in Lebanon on Tuesday night while concluding his two-day visit there, Macron said he was heading to Baghdad “to launch an initiative alongside the United Nations to support a process of sovereignty”.

In Lebanon, Macron offers the carrot or the stick
“The fight for Iraq’s sovereignty is essential,” Macron had told reporters on Friday, before departing for Lebanon.

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He said Iraqis, who “suffered so much”, deserved options besides domination by regional powers or groups such as ISIL (ISIS).

“There are leaders and a people who are aware of this, and who want to take their destiny in hand. The role of France is to help them do so,” Macron said.

Macron will hold a series of high-level meetings during his visit [Thaier Al-Sudani/Reuters]

He said he would also discuss the case of French citizens who fought with ISIL, which was defeated in Iraq in 2017 with international support. Nearly a dozen French ISIL members have been sentenced to death before Iraqi courts.

Macron is also expected to meet Nechirvan Barzani, president of the semi-autonomous northern Kurdish region.

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Soon after winning the presidency in 2017, Macron had tried to mediate between the Kurdish north and the federal government, but financial and security disputes between the two sides remain unresolved.

US-Iran tensions
After a United States-led invasion toppled former president Saddam Hussein in 2003, Iraq was ravaged by waves of sectarian conflict that culminated in ISIL capturing swaths of the country six years ago.

At the same time, the country has been caught for years between its two main allies, Iran and the United States, a balancing act that has become increasingly tortured since Washington’s withdrawal in 2018 from a multilateral nuclear deal with Tehran.

France is among the European nations that remain key backers of the 2015 agreement.

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Al-Kadhimi, who is backed by the US, assumed office on May 7 when Baghdad’s relations with Washington were precarious. Like previous Iraqi leaders, he has to walk a tightrope amid the US-Iran rivalry.

The January assassination of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani and top Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis by the US in Baghdad prompted demands by Shia legislators that US forces leave Iraq.

Al-Kadhimi visited Washington last month, where he held talks with President Donald Trump. He said his administration is committed to introducing security reforms as rogue militia groups stage near-daily attacks against the seat of his government.

Other crises for al-Kadhimi include slashed state coffers in the crude oil-dependent country following a severe drop in prices, adding to the woes of an economy already struggling amid the pandemic.


#Newsworthy…

Group chooses Mustapha Adib to run for Lebanon PM

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Ambassador to Germany set to be named crisis-hit Lebanon’s prime minister-designate at Monday’s nomination process.


An influential group of former Lebanese prime ministers has picked little-known diplomat Mustapha Adib to head the country’s next government, all but ensuring his appointment at a nomination process on Monday.

Fouad Siniora, speaking on behalf of the group which met on Sunday, said Adib should rapidly form a government capable of implementing long-overdue reforms and overseeing Beirut’s reconstruction following a massive explosion that killed at least 190 people and damaged large parts of the capital earlier this month.

The group of four former prime ministers represents the largest number of Sunni Muslim MPs in Lebanon’s parliament, including the Future Movement bloc of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri. Their support is seen as essential for the success of the prime minister, who under Lebanon’s sectarian power-sharing pact must always be Sunni.

Former Prime Minister Hassan Diab had the support of just a handful of parliament’s 27 Sunni MPs in addition to little popular support. His six-month government, which resigned in the wake of the August 4 explosion, is widely seen as having failed to make headway on vital economic and political reforms demanded by massive protests that led to Hariri’s resignation last year as prime minister.

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On Monday morning, President Michel Aoun is due to hold binding consultations with MPs to go through the formal motions of picking the next prime minister, who must then form a government – a process which in the past has taken many months.

The consultations will begin with three of the four former prime ministers and Hariri’s Future Movement bloc, all of whom are set to nominate Adib, Lebanon’s ambassador to Germany. Most other major blocs, including Hezbollah, the Amal Movement and the Free Patriotic Movement, have indicated they will follow suit, easily giving Adib the largest share of votes.

Mustapha Adib, a little known academic and diplomat, is expected to become the troubled country’s next prime minister [File: Wolfgang Kumm/DPA via AFP]

A ‘gift’ for Macron
Adib’s designation will come on the eve of French President Emmanuel Macron’s second trip to Lebanon in under a month – a visit set to focus on the need for reform in order to unlock foreign support.

“A gift for Macron, got to love it,” Lebanon analyst Karim Makdisi said on Twitter.

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In Beirut just a few days after the devastating explosion, Macron had proposed Lebanese leaders come to a new political understanding and warned failure to change could lead to deep unrest.

Lebanon is drowning in the worst economic and financial crisis in decades, which has pushed more than half of the population under the poverty line and has left the currency worth only about 20 percent of what it was last summer.

The crisis is fuelled by decades of rampant corruption and mismanagement by the same political leaders who are due to nominate the next prime minister.

If picked, Adib’s government will have to resume stalled negotiations with the International Monetary Fund for a roughly $10bn programme – a key demand of international donors – and push through reforms to the electricity and the financial sectors that have previously been bogged down by disagreements between Lebanon’s sectarian leaders.

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Diab had failed to make headway on this process because of high-level disagreements. And although the next government will be under heavy international pressure to push through reforms, few in Lebanon are inclined to believe Adib’s government will be much different – and some were quick in making parallels between him and Diab.

“Mustapha Adib seems like another Hassan Diab,” Lebanon analyst Ramez Dagher wrote on Twitter.

Like Diab, Adib is an academic and is not well known among the public.

Adib has a PhD in law and political science and has taught at the state-funded Lebanese University since 2010.

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Both have ties to former Prime Minister Najib Mikati, with Adib serving as an adviser to him since 2000, while Diab served as education minister in his cabinet.

Even Adib’s four-letter name is an acronym of Diab.

“This is another attempt to beautify the system with a new face that very few people know and project the image that something is going to change,” Sami Atallah, the director of the Lebanese Center for Policy Studies, told Al Jazeera.

“I doubt anything will, because we’ll see how this government will be formed with representatives of different political parties, just like Diab,” he added, noting one marked difference was that Adib will be nominated by a large number of Sunni MPs, giving him a wider backing.


#Newsworthy…