Six Dead As Scaffolding Collapses At Iraq Pilgrimage Site

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Six people were killed as scaffolding collapsed at a Shiite Muslim mausoleum near the central Iraqi town of Hilla on Thursday, officials said.

The accident struck at the shrine of Imam Hamza, connected to the family of the Prophet Mohammed.

“Scaffolding being used for renovation work collapsed inside the mausoleum, killing six men aged between 20 and 35,” an official of the pilgrimage site said, asking not to be named.

Medical and security sources confirmed the toll, with the latter adding that a woman and three-year-old child were injured.

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A security source, also on condition of anonymity, said an investigation had been opened and that the accident was suspected to have been “the result of negligence on the part of people in charge of installing the renovation structures”.

Corruption and lack of finances in both Iraq’s private and public sectors often lead to the use of poorly equipped and under-qualified maintenance crews in buildings and on infrastructure used by the general public, with safety procedures flouted.

AFP

Two Drones Shot Down Targeting Iraq Base – Anti-IS Coalition

A picture obtained from a senior coalition official shows the remains of two armed drowns at the site where the US-led coalition against the Islamic State (IS) group in Iraq said it shot down two drones targeting a compound hosting coalition troups at Baghdad airport early in the morning on January 3, 2022. Handout / AFP

 

Two armed drones targeting an air base in western Iraq were shot down on Tuesday, an official of the US-led coalition fighting the Islamic State group said.

“Two fixed-wing drones rigged with explosives were engaged and destroyed by defensive capabilities at the Iraqi Al-Asad Air Base early this morning,” the official said.

“The attempted attack was unsuccessful. All forces are accounted for.”

It is the second such attack in 24 hours targeting the coalition in Iraq. On Monday, the coalition shot down two armed drones targeting its compound at Baghdad airport.

The attacks come as Tehran and its allies across the Middle East held emotional commemorations marking the second anniversary on Monday of the assassination of Iranian commander General Qassem Soleimani and his Iraqi lieutenant in a US drone strike at Baghdad airport.

Coalition troops switched to a training and advisory role with the end of their combat mission early last month.

“While we have ended our combat mission, we maintain the inherent right of self-defence,” the official said.

“These are attacks against Iraqi installations, and an attack against the Iraqi people and the military that protects them. We maintain a minimal footprint on Iraqi bases —- the coalition no longer has its own bases in Iraq.”

Chinese Firms Build 1,000 Schools In Iraq

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Iraq has signed agreements with two Chinese companies to build 1,000 schools in the country in the space of two years, an Iraqi government official said on Sunday.

The country needs To a total of 8,000 schools “to fill the gap in the education sector”, a housing ministry official, Hassan Mejaham, was quoted as saying by the official Iraqi News Agency.

The deals were signed on Thursday in the presence of Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhemi, with Power China, to build 679 schools and Sinotech the remaining 321.

READ ALSO: China’s Xi’an Tests Millions As COVID-19 Cases Rise

Despite being rich in oil, Iraq has suffered for decades from crumbling infrastructure because of successive wars and endemic corruption.

Construction of the schools is due to be completed in two years, with the first delivered a year after work begins “very soon”, Mejaham said.

He added that Iraq would pay for the project using oil products.

A second phase will see the construction of an additional 3,000 schools, with 4,000 more to be built in a final phase.

“Decades of conflict and under-investment in Iraq have destroyed what used to be the best education system in the region,” UNICEF said on its website, adding that “one in every two schools is damaged and needs rehabilitation”.

In the country of 40 million people, “there are close to 3.2 million school-aged Iraqi children out of school”, it said.

The World Bank warned in October that already low levels of education levels were further threatened by the coronavirus pandemic, and called for international investment in the sector.

AFP

12-Year-Old Girl’s Marriage Causes Stir In Iraq

Women demonstrate near the Kadhimiya court in Iraq’s capital Baghdad on November 21, 2021, in protest against the legalisation of a marriage contract for a 12-year-old girl. AHMAD AL-RUBAYE / AFP

 

 

An Iraqi court adjourned a hearing Sunday to allow a man to formalise his religious marriage to a 12-year-old girl, according to a lawyer for the girl’s mother, who opposes the union.

Rights activists protested outside the Baghdad court with banners such as “the marriage of minors is a crime against childhood”, while lawyer Marwan Obeidi told AFP the case had been postponed until November 28.

The legal age for marriage in Iraq is 18 but can be lowered to 15 in cases of parental or judicial consent, according to charity, Save the Children.

“Religious marriages are not permitted outside civil or religious courts but these types of marriages still happen regularly and can be formalised on the payment of a small fine,” it said in a recent report.

The mother, who refuses to be identified, said her daughter Israa had been “raped” and that the girl’s father kidnapped her.

But a department of the interior ministry dealing with violence against women said in a statement that it had met with Israa, her father and husband, seen the religious contract, and said she had assured them she had not been coerced.

Child marriage is not uncommon in conservative and rural areas of Iraq, as well as in other Arab countries.

Iraq Gets 1.2 Million Doses Of Pfizer COVID Vaccine

File photo of the outside view of the quarantine zone at an hospital in the central Iraqi holy shrine city of Najaf where the first case of COVID-19 documented in Iraq is being treated. PHOTO: Haidar HAMDANI / AFP

 

Iraq said Saturday it has received 1.2 million doses of Pfizer-BioNTech’s Covid-19 vaccine through the Covax sharing scheme, amid fears of a fourth wave in the country.

Nearly seven million Iraqis have received at least one dose of coronavirus vaccine, amounting to 17.5 percent of the country’s 40 million population, based on government figures.

Plagued by years of conflict, corruption, and neglect, Iraq’s health system has struggled to cope with the pandemic.

The health ministry announced on Saturday the arrival of a shipment of more than 1.2 million doses of “Pfizer’s anti-Covid vaccine through the Covax programme and UNICEF”, the UN Children’s Fund.

“Iraq is still facing danger from the coronavirus pandemic,” ministry spokesman Saif al-Badr said on Thursday.

“We expect to enter a fourth wave, (and) it could be a new variant,” he told state television.

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More than two million Iraqis have been infected with Covid and 23,628 have died in Iraq since the outbreak of the pandemic, according to official figures.

Despite an increase in the number of people getting jabbed, Iraq’s government has been unable to overcome general scepticism about vaccines and measures aimed at preventing the spread of the virus.

There is a high level of public mistrust of institutions in Iraq amid the circulation of misleading information about the pandemic.

Covax was set up to ensure equitable distribution of vaccines, particularly to low-income countries, and has already delivered more than 80 million doses to 129 territories.

AFP

‘Hundreds’ Of Fake Lebanese Degrees Sold To Iraqis

Lebanon map.

 

Iraq has summoned its cultural attache in Beirut for an investigation into the alleged sale of “hundreds” of fake Lebanese university degrees to Iraqis, including MPs.

“At least three private Lebanese universities are implicated,” an Iraqi academic source, who requested to remain anonymous, told AFP on Thursday.

Lebanese authorities have also launched an investigation into degrees sold to Iraqis enrolled in remote learning courses, the source said.

Several MPs and high-ranking officials paid to obtain master’s or doctorate degrees, particularly in religious subjects, according to another Iraqi official who also requested anonymity.

The fake degrees, numbering in their hundreds, cost “between $5,000 for a master’s degree and $10,000 for a Ph.D.”, the official added.

Higher education degrees are often a prerequisite for coveted government posts in Iraq.

The cultural attache, Hashem al-Shammari, has been summoned to Baghdad, higher education ministry spokesman Haidar al-Aboudi told AFP.

According to Lebanese media reports, the Islamic University of Lebanon — affiliated with the country’s Supreme Islamic Shia Council — has sacked its president and four department heads over the scandal.

Lebanon has 36 private universities, including prestigious institutions such as the American University of Beirut.

It also has many institutions with religious affiliations authorised by the government after Lebanon’s 1975-1990 civil war.

AFP

Biden Condemns ‘Terrorist Attack’ On Iraqi PM

File photo of US President Joe Biden. Credit: AFP

 

US President Joe Biden on Sunday condemned the attack that targeted Iraq’s Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhemi and said his administration would help Iraqi security forces identify those responsible.

“I strongly condemn the terrorist attack targeting the residence of Iraqi Prime Minister al-Kadhemi,” Biden said in a statement.

“I am relieved the Prime Minister was not injured and commend the leadership he has shown in calling for calm, restraint, and dialogue to protect the institutions of the state and strengthen the democracy Iraqis so richly deserve.”

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Kadhemi escaped unhurt when an explosives-packed drone struck his Baghdad residence early Sunday. But the attack marked a substantial escalation in the country’s post-election turmoil.

The prime minister’s office described the attack as a “failed assassination attempt,” while Iraqi President Barham Salih called the strike, which was not immediately claimed by any group, an attempted “coup against the constitutional system.”

Biden said that “the perpetrators of this terrorist attack on the Iraqi state must be held accountable,” as he condemned “in the strongest terms those using violence to undermine Iraq’s democratic process.”

The US leader said he instructed his national security team “to offer all appropriate assistance to Iraq’s security forces as they investigate this attack and identify those responsible.”

Iraq PM Unharmed After ‘Failed Assassination Attempt’ By Drone – Official

A handout picture released by the Iraqi Prime Minister’s Press Office on November 7, 2021, shows damage to the residence of Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhemi following a drone attack, in the capital Baghdad. The attack in Baghdad’s Green Zone was the first to target the residence of the prime minister, who has been in power since May 2020. Khademi said he was unhurt and appealed for “calm and restraint” after the attack, as political tensions mounted in the country. Handout / IRAQI PRIME MINISTER’S PRESS OFFICE / AFP

 

Iraq’s Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhemi was “unharmed” in a “failed assassination attempt” after a drone attack on his official residence Sunday night, his office said.

“A drone tried to target the residence” of the premier, who was not injured, his office said in a statement.

Earlier, two security sources confirmed the attack, which came as several hundred supporters of pro-Iranian groups protested near the entrance of the Green Zone against the results of general elections on October 10.

Colin Powell: War Hero, Historymaker Haunted By Iraq

(FILES) In this file photo taken on January 7, 2005, former US Secretary of State Colin Powell addresses a press conference at Katunayake Military Airport in Colombo. AFP

 

As much of the world remembered Colin Powell with respect and affection, Donald Trump on Tuesday attacked the late US statesman, calling him a disloyal Republican who made the case for war in Iraq.

Powell, who died aged 84 on Monday, was a frequent critic of Trump and called on him to resign after the January 6 Capitol insurrection that the then-president instigated.

“Wonderful to see Colin Powell, who made big mistakes on Iraq and famously, so-called weapons of mass destruction, be treated in death so beautifully by the Fake News Media. Hope that happens to me someday,” Trump said sarcastically in a statement.

Powell, who was the United States’ first Black secretary of state, died of complications from Covid-19 after suffering cancer.

He was widely hailed a national war hero, global diplomat and trail-blazing African-American leader.

Trump branded Powell a “classic RINO” — Republican In Name Only — and added, “He made plenty of mistakes, but anyway, may he rest in peace!”

Powell found it hard to live down his February 2003 speech to the UN Security Council about the alleged existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq — evidence which was later proven to be false.

Trump rarely holds back from attacking former enemies even immediately after their death.

After Senator John McCain died in 2018, Trump repeatedly disparaged the much-admired Arizona Republican who was also among his fiercest detractors.

“I have to be honest: I’ve never liked him much,” Trump said about McCain in one address in Ohio that was nominally about a rise in manufacturing jobs.

 

IS Attack Kills 13 Iraqi Police – Security, Medics

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Thirteen Iraqi policemen were killed in an Islamic State group attack against a checkpoint in the country’s north early Sunday, security and medical sources said.

The attack, in the region of Al-Rashad around 65 kilometres (40 miles) south of Kirkuk city, took place just after midnight, a senior Iraqi police officer told AFP.

“Members of the Islamic State organisation targeted a federal police checkpoint,” said the officer, who did not want to be named.

“Thirteen were killed and three wounded” among the security forces, the officer added.

A medical source based in Kirkuk confirmed the toll.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility.

IS seized swathes of Iraq in a lightning offensive in 2014, before being beaten back by a counter-insurgency campaign supported by a US-led military coalition.

The Iraqi government declared the Sunni extremists defeated in late 2017, but they retain sleeper cells which continue to hit security forces with asymmetric attacks.

Jihadist cells regularly target the Iraqi army and police in northern Iraq, but this attack was one of the most deadly this year.

READ ALSO:Biden Announces ‘New Phase’ In Iraq Relations, End Of ‘Combat Operations’ 

A July 19 bombing claimed by IS officially killed 30 people in the Al-Woheilat market in Sadr City, a Shiite suburb of Baghdad.

International coalition troops in Iraq currently number around 3,500, of which 2,500 are US troops.

But Washington has been drawing down its military presence amid attacks on facilities it uses by Iran-aligned armed groups and has said that from next year the role of US troops will be limited to training and advising their Iraqi counterparts.

Last Sunday, French President Emmanuel Macron visited Iraqi Kurdistan and expressed concern about an IS “resurgence” in both Iraq and Syria.

He also said that French soldiers deployed in Iraq as part of the international coalition will remain in the country “no matter what choices the Americans make”.

AFP

Biden Announces ‘New Phase’ In Iraq Relations, End Of ‘Combat Operations’

File photo: US President Joe Biden speaks on the American Jobs Plan, following a tour of Tidewater Community College in Norfolk, Virginia on May 3, 2021. MANDEL NGAN / AFP

 

President Joe Biden opened talks with Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhemi on Monday saying relations were in a “new phase” that would include the end of US combat operations in the country.

With Kadhemi at his side in the White House, Biden said that the US is “committed to our security cooperation” and will “to continue to train, to assist, to help, to deal with ISIS (Islamic State) as it arises.”

“But we’re not going to be, at the end of the year, in a combat mission,” he said.

Biden also stressed US support for elections in October in Iraq, saying Washington is working closely with Baghdad, the Gulf Cooperation Council and the United Nations to ensure the elections are fair.

Kadhemi said the US and Iraq have a “strategic partnership.”

“America, they help Iraq. Together we fight, fight and defeat ISIS,” he said.

“Today, our relation is stronger than ever — our partnership in the economy, the environment, health, education, culture and more.”

Biden is currently also overseeing the United States’ withdrawal from Afghanistan after 20 years of war, with the Taliban on the offensive amid fears they could even topple the Kabul government.

Political support 

Biden’s comments confirmed his readinesses to further limit US involvement in Iraq, but without removing the remaining 2,500 troops in the country, 18 years after the United States invaded to remove strongman Saddam Hussein.

The move could lend political support to Kadhemi, in power for little over a year and under pressure from Iran-allied political factions to push US troops from his country.

The two leaders’ meeting came after weeks of preparations which included discussions on support for fighting Covid-19, aiding the Iraqi private sector and cooperation on climate change.

Ahead of the meeting a senior US official who would not be identified praised Kadhemi for being pragmatic and “a problem solver rather than someone who tries to use problems for his own political interests.”

The main concern from Washington is to lend enough support to Iraqi security forces to keep up the fight against the remnants of the Islamic State group — while also keeping a damper on Iran’s influence in Iraq.

Since last year the principal role of the remaining US troops in Iraq has been to train, advise and support their Iraqi counterparts to battle Islamic State.

But Biden’s statement made clear that their involvement in actual fighting Islamic State would end.

“Iraq has requested, and we very much agree, that they need continued training, support with logistics, intelligence, advisory capacity building — all of which will continue,” the US official said.

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October elections 

File photo: US President Joe Biden holds a press conference after the US-Russia summit in Geneva on June 16, 2021. (Photo by PETER KLAUNZER / POOL / AFP)

 

“We support strengthening Iraq’s democracy and we’re anxious to make sure the election goes forward in October,” he said.

In the vote Kadhemi is hoping to regain ground with powerful pro-Iran political factions, which are overtly hostile to the US presence.

He was expected to persuade Washington to ease some sanctions relating to Iran, to help Iraq honor crucial transactions with its neighbor and tackle power shortages.

Ramzy Mardini, an Iraq specialist at the University of Chicago’s Pearson Institute, said the meeting that it could be cosmetically “shaped” to help the Iraqi premier alleviate domestic pressures.

“But the reality on the ground will reflect the status quo and an enduring US presence.” said Mardini.

Remaining, however, has its risks.

“If there is no significant announcement on the withdrawal of troops, I fear that the pro-Iran groups may… increase attacks on the US forces,” Iraqi researcher Sajad Jiyad told AFP.

The Iraqi Resistance Coordination Committee, a group of militia factions, threatened to continue the attacks unless the United States withdraws all its forces and ends the “occupation.”

AFP

Iraq Market Blast Kills At Least 21, Injures 33


Iraqis inspect the site of the explosion in a popular market in the mostly Shiite neighbourhood of Sadr City, east of Baghdad, on July 19, 2021. AHMAD AL-RUBAYE / AFP

 

At least 21 people were killed and 33 wounded Monday in a bomb blast in a busy market in the Iraqi capital Baghdad, a medical source told AFP.

The blast in the densely populated majority-Shiite suburb of Sadr City came as shoppers crowded the market buying food ahead of the Islamic festival of Eid al-Adha.

Video footage shared on social media after the blast showed bloodied victims and people screaming in terror.

An interior ministry source said four women and four children were among those killed.

“A terror attack using a locally-made IED (improvised explosive device) in Woheilat Market in Sadr City, in east Baghdad, left several victims dead and others injured,” Iraq’s interior ministry said in a statement.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility.

Baghdad Operations Command, a joint military and interior ministry security body, said it had launched an investigation into the blast.

In January, the Islamic State group claimed responsibility for a rare twin suicide bombing that killed 32 people — also at a crowded market in Baghdad.

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Iraqis inspect the site of the explosion in a popular market in the mostly Shiite neighbourhood of Sadr City, east of Baghdad, on July 19, 2021.  AHMAD AL-RUBAYE / AFP

 

That blast was the city’s deadliest attack in three years.

Such violence was commonplace in Baghdad during the sectarian bloodletting that followed the US-led invasion of 2003, and later on as IS swept across much of Iraq and also targeted the capital.

But after years of deadly violence, militant attacks have become relatively rare in the capital Baghdad.

Iraq declared IS defeated at the end of 2017 after a fierce three-year campaign.

Yet the group’s sleeper cells have continued to operate in desert and mountain areas, typically targeting security forces or state infrastructure with low casualty attacks.

The US-led coalition that had been supporting Iraq’s campaign against IS has significantly drawn down its troop levels over the past year, citing the increased capabilities of Iraqi forces.

The United States, which provides the bulk of the force, has 2,500 troops left in Iraq — down from 5,200 a year ago.

They are mainly in charge of training, providing drone surveillance and carrying out air strikes while Iraqi security forces handle security in urban areas.

Sadr City, where Monday’s bomb blast took place, is named after revered Shiite cleric Mohammed al-Sadr.

His son, Moqtada Sadr — a firebrand cleric with millions of followers and in command of paramilitary groups — is a crucial player in Iraqi politics who has often protested against the influence of both the United States and Iran.

The boycott by Sadr of upcoming elections slated for October is a blow to Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhemi, who had called the early vote in response to demands by pro-democracy activists.

AFP