Middle East & Africa

How Iraq continues to be bombed amidst virus spread
Middle East & Africa

How Iraq continues to be bombed amidst virus spread

While the world is busy tackling the pandemic like situation created by the Coronavirus, America has yet again busied itself with some more military offensive. The United States waged a series of precision air strikes against an Iran-backed militia in Iraq itself. Apparently, the US has blamed the militia for having been responsible for a major rocket attack a day earlier that killed two American troops and a 26-year-old British soldier.

The US strike seems to have been in low intensity, targeting the five weapon storage facilities used by Kataib Hezbollah militants, including stores of weaponry for past attacks on U.S.-led coalition troops, the Pentagon reports have confirmed.
However, the Iraqi counterparts have blamed the US for heavy attack that hit four locations in Iraq that housed formal Iraqi police and military units, in addition to the paramilitary groups.

While Iraq has said that the attack was nowhere of low intensity, the pentagon said it was not aware of the kind of damage due to the fact that it was carried out by a piloted aircraft. According to Iraqi religious authorities too, one strike hit an Iraqi civilian airport under construction in the holy Shi’ite Muslim city of Kerbala and killed a worker.

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Iraq is currently reeling under severe economic crises. It is also battling the onset on the Coronovirus, but the skirmish between the militia and American forces continues to torture the civilian population too. This is for the third time in recent months the U.S. military has lashed out against Kataib Hezbollah, the Iranian backed militia. It killed more than two dozen militants in December in response to an attack on an Iraqi base that killed a U.S. contractor.

Sadly, as Iran and the US are busy keeping their people safe, their ego wars are being fought on Iraqi soil. Tensions between Washington and Tehran have therefore mostly been played out on Iraqi soil in the recent months. Iran-backed paramilitary groups have regularly been rocketing and shelling bases in Iraq that host U.S. forces and the area around the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.

Some prominent Iraqi clerics mislead masses and did not cooperate with the civic authorities when sparing cases of infection were reported in the country. They went onto remind Muslims that the Quran promises a martyr’s reward for the faithful who trust in Allah despite pestilence like Covid-19. A similar situation was faced in Iran as well.

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Turkish Defence Ministry confirms the killing of five senior PKK members via airstrikes in northern Iraq
Middle East & Africa

Turkish Defence Ministry confirms the killing of five senior PKK members via airstrikes in northern Iraq

On Thursday, five senior members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) were killed in an airstrike in Northern Iraq, Turkey’s state-run news agency reported.

Prior in the day, the Defense Ministry announced that three PKK individuals were killed in the Metina and Gara districts after being identified by observation and surveillance devices. It is unclear if the two episodes are connected. The announcement said one of the slain individuals was a female.

The declaration goes ahead the impact points of heightened Turkish air attacks in the area, with the Defense Ministry certifying yesterday their tasks against the PKK will proceed “unflinchingly.”

One day earlier, four PKK members were killed by Turkish airstrikes in northern Iraq‘s Hakurk district as Turkey has been carrying weekly airstrikes on PKK targets, The National reported.
Turkey and the PKK have been caught in a progressing insurgency against Turkey over Kurdish rights and self-rule for more than 30 years. A dispute that has resulted in the demise of over 40,000 people on both fronts. The Kurdish PKK group is listed as a terrorist group by Turkey, the European Union, and the U.S.
On Monday, a Turkish court condemned the ex-mayor of a famous Kurdish city to over nine years in jail after sentencing him for “membership in an armed terror organization,” The National reported.

Turkish authorities expelled 31 mayors from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) a year ago over supposed connections to the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), only months after they won local polls in March.

Analysts state the suspensions were planned for evacuating political restriction to Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party in the nation’s southeast following lousy election results.

Article Credit: The National

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Tunisian authorities arrest 5 people for the attack on the US embassy
Middle East & Africa

Tunisian authorities arrest 5 people for the attack on the US embassy

Tunisian authorities arrested five people over a double suicide attack that killed a police officer at the entrance of the US embassy in Tunis last week, the prosecution said Tuesday. Two suicide bombers struck outside the embassy last Friday, wounding six other people and again shaking a city repeatedly hit by jihadist violence. The five persons were arrested on Saturday and are being held at a police station in the capital’s El Gorjani district by anti-terrorism forces, spokesman Sofiane Sliti said. Tunisian media have reported that the two suicide bombers were men from Tunis who had served their sentences after being found guilty on terror charges in 2014.

The attack on Friday at midday rocked the Berges du Lac district hosting the highly fortified embassy, causing panic among civilians. Videos spreading online show two men in sports clothes and with caps on their heads riding a scooter up to a police van then pausing for a few seconds before a big explosion. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack and authorities have not announced any other advances in their investigations. Tunisia has been hit by multiple jihadist attacks since the 2011 uprising against the former president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, recently dead in Saudi Arabia. In the country there is a state of emergency proclaimed after deadly attacks in 2015 killed dozens of foreign tourists and security personnel and the attack that year killed 12 presidential guards on a bus.

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Lebanon announcing the impossibility of paying the country debts
Middle East & Africa

Lebanon announcing the impossibility of paying the country debts

Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab announced on Saturday that the country would not be able to repay 1.2 billion of its debt due.

Lebanon is crumbling under a debt of 92 billion dollars, or about 170% of its GDP. Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab announced on Saturday that the country would not be able to repay 1.2 billion of its debt maturing in two days.

“Our foreign exchange reserves have reached a worrying level (…) pushing the Lebanese government to suspend the payment of a debt maturing on March 9,” said Prime Minister Hassan Diab in a live broadcast speach from the local channels. “This is the only way to stop the bleeding (…) with the launch of a vast plan of necessary reforms” including a “reduction in public spending,” added Hassan Diab.

It is the first major decision of the government, formed in January after weeks of demonstrations demanding the departure of a political class unchanged for decades and structural reforms. And this is the first default in the history of Lebanon.

Beirut is facing its worst economic crisis since the end of the civil war (1975-1990), in a context of recession, shortage of liquidity but also of rising prices and persistent unemployment. On March 9, the State was supposed to reimburse 1.2 billion Eurobonds, Treasury bills issued in dollars by the State, part of which is held by the banks and the Central Bank.

Two other repayment deadlines are scheduled in April and June, for a total amount of $ 1.3 billion. Meeting at the presidential palace on Saturday, the Ministers Council ruled in favor of non-payment of its debt after weeks of negotiations. Shortly before, the Head of State, the Prime Minister, the Head of Parliament, the Minister of Finance and the Governor of the Central Bank had already suggested that the State would not reimburse.

Lebanese banks, which hold a large part of the public debt – including almost half of the 30 billion Eurobonds issued by Lebanon – had recently called on the state to avoid a default, which would deepen their liquidity shortage especially in dollars.

Fearing a depletion of their foreign exchange reserves, banks have already imposed drastic restrictions in recent months, with several establishments capping withdrawals at $ 100 per week and prohibiting money transfers abroad. In Lebanon, the dollar is used daily as the Lebanese pound and the Lebanese fear the acceleration of the loss of value of their currency.

The Lebanese pound, indexed to the greenback since 1997 at the fixed rate of 1,507 pounds for one dollar, recently came close to 2,700 pounds for one dollar on the parallel market, prompting the central bank to issue a circular Friday limiting the rate in offices. exchange rate at 2,000 pounds for one dollar.

The street blames the current situation for a combination of bad policies over the past three decades. The country began to go into massive debt at the end of the civil war to rebuild the country. But in the absence of reforms and good governance, the public deficit has widened, local banks have continued to buy treasury bills and public debt has jumped from a few billion dollars in the early 1990s to more than 90 billion dollars.

At the request of the state, an emergency mission from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) was dispatched last month but no financial assistance from the institution has yet been announced. This Saturday, demonstrators marched in several cities of the country, including Beirut and Tire, in the south of the country.

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Libyan crisis, Haftar yesterday in Paris and today in Berlin
Middle East & Africa

Libyan crisis, Haftar yesterday in Paris and today in Berlin

The Libyan National Army (LNA) general command’s information office confirmed that Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar arrived in Paris on Monday to visit the Elysée at the invitation of French President Emmanuel Macron. According to the information office, Haftar discussed the latest developments in the fight against terrorism and illegal immigration with French Foreign Minister, Jean Yves Le Drian. Field Marshall Haftar had received the invitation of President Macron on 12 February from the Director of the Middle East and North Africa Department of the French Foreign Ministry, Cristophe Farno.

Haftar also discussed with the French Interior and Defense Ministries the possibility for the army to take control of Tripoli and the rest of Libyan regions. It is interesting to note that the Minister of the Interior, Fathi Pashagha, had recently anticipated a change in the policies of Paris in the approach to the Libyan file, revealing that the Tripoli based Government of National Accord (GNA) would have signed bilateral agreements with the Elysée next month. According to the newspaper “Al-Sharq Al-Awsat”, the general commander of the Libyan army, Khalifa Haftar, had previously travelled to the Syrian capital Damascus for a secret visit at the invitation of the president Bashar al-Assad. General Haftar is in Berlin today for talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, so far there has been no official report from the Hafter or European sides.

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IAEA head calls on Iran to provide access to undeclared nuclear facilities
Middle East & Africa

IAEA head calls on Iran to provide access to undeclared nuclear facilities

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) calls on Iran to provide access to facilities for the possible storage of undeclared nuclear material. This was announced on Monday by the IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi at a meeting of the Agency’s Governing Council in Vienna.

“The Agency identified a number of issues related to possible undeclared nuclear material and nuclear activities at three sites that were not declared by Iran. The Agency requested access to two facilities. Iran did not provide access to these facilities and did not participate in substantive negotiations to clarify the agency’s issues.” – said Grossi.

“This negatively affects the ability of the agency to clarify and resolve these issues, to ensure confidence in the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran. I urge Iran to immediately and fully cooperate with the agency, including providing quick access to facilities designated by the agency,” he stressed.

Grossi also said that the IAEA did not record changes in Iran’s fulfillment of its obligations under the nuclear deal after Tehran’s announcement of the fifth step of deviation from the implementation of this agreement.

“To date, the agency has not recorded any changes in Iran’s implementation of its nuclear obligations under the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action for the Iranian Nuclear Program) due to its earlier announcement, as well as in the level of cooperation of Iran regarding the agency’s verification and monitoring the implementation of the JCPOA, ”said Grossi.

According to him, the IAEA continues to ensure that nuclear materials declared by Iran in accordance with the Safeguards Agreement are not sent for other purposes. “The ongoing verification of the absence of undeclared nuclear materials in Iran and other activities,” Grossi added.

On March 3, the IAEA sent a report on the status of nuclear inspections in Iran to countries participating in the Board of Governors of the Agency, which indicated that the amount of enriched uranium in Iran was more than five times the limit set by the nuclear agreement. The IAEA criticized Iran for refusing to provide experts with access to two nuclear facilities for conducting inspections, as well as unwillingness to answer questions related to the possible presence of undeclared nuclear materials.

The next day, the Permanent Representative of Iran to international organizations in Vienna, Kazem Garib Abadi, said that the United States and Israel are trying to put pressure on the IAEA. According to him, Tehran is not obliged to consider the IAEA requests for access to its nuclear facilities based on fabricated information.

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Saudi and Russia Refuse To See Eye-to-Eye As Market Floods With Crude
Middle East & Africa

Saudi and Russia Refuse To See Eye-to-Eye As Market Floods With Crude

Saudi Arabia and Russia’s skirmish over the oil prices has rocked the whole oil economy worldwide. The OPEC leader has been able to convince investors to move ahead with its decisions to pull down prices and escalate output, a decision that Russia has been completely against.

It is now confirmed that investors are responding to Saudi Arabia’s decision over the weekend, despite existing threats to demand from the coronavirus epidemic. The decision has petted both heavy weights against each other.

Earlier it was the US against Iran and now it’s the Kingdom against Moscow. It is extremely important that Russia comes back to the negotiation table soon. Else, investors worry companies will default, making banks less willing to lend, and causing the economy to stutter.

Saudi Arabia has made the deepest cuts ever in the last 20 years, as a country which thrives on the sales of its hydrocarbons. With Russia vetoing the Kingdom’s decision, an evitable collapse of the OPEC is being preempted. A four year long alliance between Saudi Arabia and Russia has formally come to an end.

Political analysts believe that the cataclysmic collapse will resonate through the energy industry, from giants like Exxon Mobil Corp. to smaller shale drillers in West Texas. It will hit the budgets of oil-dependent nations from Iraq to Nigeria and could also reshape global politics, eroding the influence of countries like Saudi Arabia. The fight against climate change may suffer a setback as fossil fuels become more competitive versus renewable energy.

Economies are going down miserably all over the globe. The yield on the 10-year Treasury tumbled to 0.387%. Yields move inversely to prices. In Europe, the pan-continental Stoxx Europe 600 index dropped 2.8% with France’s CAC 40 benchmark dropping 2.7% and the U.K.’s FTSE 100 off 8.4%

Australia saw its worst again after 2008 recession when the S&P/ASX 200 index dropped 7.3%, taking it back to its old memories of being caught in the depths of the global financial crisis. The story in Japan is no better. Japan’s Nikkei 225 declined 5.1%, its biggest daily drop since 2016. The yen, which often rallies in times of market stress, surged to trade below 103 to the dollar, at its strongest levels since 2016.

It is also looking like that desperate to keep the inventories into check and hammered by withering demand due to the coronavirus, the oil market is quickly flooding the market with crude, leading to a situation of a supply free-for-all. Long term repercussions could be catastrophic on each and every partnering nation economy.

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Prolonged police custody for a Hirak activist and a journalist in Algeria
Middle East & Africa

Prolonged police custody for a Hirak activist and a journalist in Algeria

According to AFP, Algerian police arrested around ten demonstrators at an anti-government protest in Algiers on Saturday. Nearly 300 protesters tried to march in the capital, prompted by calls online by the “Hirak” protest movement that has gripped Algeria for over a year. But large numbers of police dispersed the marchers. The Hirak activist and the director of the Casbah Tribune site, also a correspondent for Reporters Without Borders (RSF) in Algeria, were among those detained. And their detention has been extended by 24 hours. They appeared this Sunday March 8 in the morning at the Algiers court, as well as around thirty people. Most of those arrested on Saturday, March 7, 2020, who appeared the next day before the public prosecutor of the Algiers court were released, but are prosecuted for “incitement to unarmed assembly”. They are to be tried on April 26.

However, the prosecutor asked for the 24-hour extension of the police custody of activist Samir Benlarbi, a figure in the Hirak movement, and journalist Khaled Drareni, saying that the police investigation should be completed. According to ‘RFI’, in recent months journalist correspondent for Reporters Without Borders and TV5 Monde and spokesperson for the collective “Algerian Journalists United”, has been arrested several times, but he was brought before a judge for the first time. On March 8, dozens of journalists were gathered in court to demand the release of their colleague and respect for press freedom in Algeria. Mobilization also goes through social networks. In a tweet, Christophe Doloire, secretary general of Reporters Without Borders, denounces “unacceptable harassment” affirming: We will do everything for his release thanks to massive solidarity. In a press release, the Algerian General Directorate of National Security (DGSN) believes that the demonstration was unauthorized and that the police intervened in accordance with the local law.

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UAE’s admirable initiative in helping friendly countries like Yemen and Sudan save their citizens from coronavirus
Middle East & Africa

UAE’s admirable initiative in helping friendly countries like Yemen and Sudan save their citizens from coronavirus

About 200 Sudanese from China left the country to UAE, on Emirates Airlines, to put them in quarantine for 25 days, before returning to the capital, Khartoum. Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, has spared no effort to help the most troubled countries like Sudan and Yemen to save and protect their citizens from the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak in China. The United Arab Emirates has coordinated with Sudan, Yemen and other Arab embassies for the evacuation of their nationals from Wuhan City in China. The evacuees have been transferred at the newly established Emirates Humanitarian City in the UAE, and will undergo medical testing and monitoring to ensure their health and safety before they go back to their home countries. Sheikh Mohamed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, immediately decided to establish a healthcare facility that will provide the individuals hailing from neighbouring countries with the necessary monitoring and preventative medical care following their evacuation from the epicentre of the COVID-19 outbreak.

The UAE’s decision to transfer stuck Sudanese and Yemeni students comes as part of an unending effort to help the Arab brothers. Several Arab ambassadors praised the UAE’s humanitarian initiative to evacuate citizens of friendly countries from Wuhan, and host them in the UAE humanitarian city. The ambassadors added that this humanitarian gesture is not strange for the UAE’s leadership, government and people, who always lead in providing humanitarian assistance everywhere. Fahad Saeed Al Menhali, Ambassador of Yemen to the UAE, thanked Abu Dhabi and its leadership for the humanitarian initiative, stressing that the Yemeni people will remember its supportive stance to stand by them during good and bad times. Also, Mohammed Amin Abdulla Al Kareb, Ambassador of Sudan to the UAE, praised the rapid response of the UAE’s government to the request of the Sudanese government to evacuate Sudanese students studying in China. who thanked the UAE’s leadership for its humanitarian actions while expressing his gratitude to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, UAE Ambassador to Sudan, and the staff of the UAE Embassy in Khartoum, who fully coordinated with the Sudanese government during the evacuation process.

Zaid Ezzeddine Mohammed Nouri, Ambassador of Iraq to the UAE, He praised the UAE’s efforts to help Iraqis who are in China and suffering from difficult conditions and their keenness to cooperate with Iraq while affirming that the UAE leads in supporting Iraq after 2003. The World Health Organization on Monday sent its first planeload of assistance to Iran to help fight coronavirus, dispatching six medics with tonnes of medical equipment and test kits aboard a UAE military aircraft. As the supplies worth more than $300,000 – including gloves, surgical masks and respirators – were loaded onto the United Arab Emirates military transport plane in Dubai. WHO operations manager Nevien Attalla said some 15,000 health workers in Iran would benefit from the UAE supplies which were the “first big shipment which supports the response to coronavirus”.

The Emirati’s efforts to help humanity overcome the Coronavirus challenge continue uninterruptedly. Mohamed Bin Zayed and Bill Gates, Co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, yesterday discussed over a phone call, ways to enhance humanitarian cooperation in health as well as disease and epidemic control in the light of the success they have achieved in several previous global partnerships and initiatives. According to WAM news agency, Sheikh Mohamed and Gates also spoke about the possibility of intensifying cooperation and joint work between UAE’s humanitarian institutions and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to tackle the spread of the coronavirus, COVID-19, and support the efforts of the international community, governments and societies to limit its spread. They reviewed the most important humanitarian initiatives and partnerships between the two sides which aim to reduce the spread of diseases and epidemics that hinder social and economic development.

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Saudi Arabia Pushes For Oil Cuts As Russia Opposes From Other Side
Middle East & Africa

Saudi Arabia Pushes For Oil Cuts As Russia Opposes From Other Side

Russia doesn’t seem to be seeing eye-to-eye with its OPEC counterparts on oil cut issues erupting due to the COVID-19 pandemic hitting the world.
Moscow is said to have opposed a Saudi plan that intends to ask OPEC and its allies to make drastic crude-production cuts.
It has been confirmed that the coronavirus outbreak has further eroded demand amid a global oil glut.

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and its allies are trying to reach a 23-nation consensus on oil production cuts. This would be decided over a special gathering this week in Vienna where the virus COVID-19 virus’ impact on oil demand worldwide will be a key point of discussion.

Under its position as the de-facto leader, Saudi Arabia has the muscle strength to push all its partners and is now pushing for a reduction in collective output by 1.2 million barrels a day. Industry experts feel that while the cut by OPEC will help normalize oil demands and inventories later, it will lead to the challenge of stockpiles as well.
Further, even additional production cuts of 1 million barrels a day from the group would fall well short of the 2.1 million barrels a day of expected global demand loss in the first half of 2020 from the coronavirus.

But this seems to be the only way to balance out the steep divide between the demand and supply. However, Russia is not willing to side on this settlement. Despite its best efforts, Saudi Arabia has not been able to get Russia on its side and is now considering going ahead with a large portion of the production curbs on its own, possibly with key allies Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates.
Russia is wishing to resist a price cut till the last minute. But technically, this will not work in their favour because the higher price bracket is what helps them finance their military operations abroad, a source confirmed to the media.

Saudi Arabia needs prices at least $10 higher to cover its national spending. It also fears a further reduction if the pandemic hits the big oil consuming centres in Western Europe and the U.S.

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