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20 Islamic State members, planning to target parliamentary elections, arrested in Nineveh

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Police troops have arrested 20 Islamic State militants as they were planning to carry out terrorist operations during the parliamentary elections in Nineveh, a security source said on Thursday. “Information from the intelligence helped in arresting 20 terrorists who were planning to carry out terrorist operations during elections in Mosul city and its vicinity,” the police source told Alghad Press. The troops, according to the source, “managed to arrest the terrorists in several regions in al-Shuhadaa al-Thaniya district in Mosul.” Moreover, the Nineveh Police Command announced arresting an IS member in an operation in west of Mosul. Maj. Gen. Hamad Namis al-Jabouri, the commander, said troops arrested “IS member, known as Khaled al-Loweizi, in the market of Sumar district in west of Mosul.” Islamic State continues to launch sporadic attacks across Iraq against security troops. Security reports indicate that the militant group still poses threat against stability in the country.

Zarif: U.S. must accept consequences if nuclear deal is ditched

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Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif warned Thursday that Iran reserves the right to respond should the US, as a party to the 2015 nuclear deal, withdraw from the landmark agreement. Zarif compared Tehran’s full commitment to its side of the bargain to Washington’s breach of the deal, which is officially called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Press TV reported. On 11 occasions, he said, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has confirmed that Iran has implemented all its obligations under the JCPOA, but “the US has consistently violated the agreement especially by bullying others from doing business with Iran.” Zarif also slammed the European countries’ appeasement to US President Donald Trump as a deadline looms for Washington to announce whether it will continue suspending anti-Iran sanctions that were lifted under the nuclear accord.

“In the last year or so, we’ve been told that President Trump is unhappy with the deal and it now appears that the response from some Europeans has been to offer the United States more concessions from our pocket,” he said. “This appeasement entails promises of a new deal that would include matters we all decided to exclude at the outset of our negotiations, including Iran’s defensive capabilities and regional influence. But please understand on both issues, it is Iran, not the West, that has serious grievances and much to demand,” he added.

UN agency says 68 Iraqis killed and 122 injured in April clashes

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A total of 68 Iraqis were killed and another 122 injured in acts of terrorism, violence and armed conflict in Iraq in April, according to casualty figures recorded by the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI). Of the overall figures, the number of civilians killed, excluding police, was 64, while the number of injured was 122, the UN agency said in its monthly statement released on Wednesday. Anbar was the worst affected Governorate, with 53 civilian casualties (24 killed, 29 injured), followed by Baghdad with 8 killed and 30 injured, and Kirkuk with 10 killed and 21 injured. “The casualty figures reported continue steadily to decline after the military defeat of Dae’sh (Islamic State) last year. This is good news, but the best news will be when Iraq is completely free of the threat of terrorism and is at peace,” said the Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG) for Iraq Ján Kubiš.

US-led coalition signals end of major operations against Islamic State in Iraq

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The coalition has closed down its land forces command headquarters in Baghdad, “signifying the end of major combat operations against ISIS in Iraq,” the 75-member global alliance announced on Monday. The Combined Joint Forces Land Component Command supported Iraqi forces in the war against ISIS. Its train, advise, assist, and equip missions will now be consolidated within a single headquarters “as the nature of its support to the [Iraqi Security Forces] evolves from supporting and enabling combat operations to the training and development of self-sufficient Iraqi security-related capabilities.”

“Thanks to our partnered success, we are able to continue our support to the Government of Iraq under the unified command of CJTF-OIR,” said outgoing commander of the force Maj. Gen. Walter Piatt. The coalition has increasingly scaled back its activities in Iraq, focusing on training and advising Iraqi forces with the locals taking the lead in active combat missions.

 

Iran calls Netanyahu ‘infamous liar’ over nuclear allegations

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Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Bahram Qassemi condemned Monday’s remarks by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu against Tehran and said the Zionist regime sees its existence in demonizing others and using the “shabby” policy of “charlatanism”. In a statement, Qassemi deplored Netanyahu’s comments against the Islamic Republic as “a ridiculous propaganda show” and said his recent television presentation was “one of the latest repetitive episodes of fruitless and shameful shows about Iran’s ‘secret’ nuclear program. The Zionist leaders see the survival of their illegitimate regime, which is based on lies, in portraying others as threats through using shabby charlatanism in the era of ignorance of the world’s public opinion,” the spokesman said. He further emphasized that the futility of the Israeli regime’s policies is becoming more and more obvious to the world. Netanyahu on Monday delivered a televised address in which he accused Iran of violating the JCPOA.

Iran, Russia, Turkey hold talks on Syria situation

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Moscow, Tehran and Ankara denounce attempts to divide Syria into parts as unacceptable, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Saturday following a meeting with his Iranian and Turkish counterparts Mohammad Javad Zarif and Mevlut Cavusoglu. “We agreed that attempts to split Syria on ethnic and religious grounds were totally unacceptable,” Lavrov said after the trio meeting on Syria. The three countries have been attempting to find a political solution to the Syrian conflict at talks that started last year in Astana, Kazakhstan, in competition with the US and UN-backed Geneva initiative. “We have stated that we will counter attempts to undermine our joint efforts and pointed out that the Astana process is stable,” he said. Lavrov said the recent US-led missile strikes on Syria “seriously aggravated the situation” and that statements about supporting the territorial integrity of Syria “are only words that, apparently, cover plans for reformatting the Middle East and plans for dividing Syria into parts.”

According to him, the attack “not only significantly raised tensions on the international stage but also considerably damaged the prospects for a political settlement.” Lavrov said Russia, Turkey and Iran need to help Syria’s government clear its country of terrorists. In a joint statement, the three foreign ministers said they have agreed to increase joint efforts to help achieve “a lasting political settlement in Syria”. The ministers “agreed to increase joint efforts aimed at facilitating the achievement of a lasting political settlement in Syria envisaged by” a UN Security Council resolution and “through full use of multi-level mechanisms of the Astana format.” They also “reaffirmed their strong commitment to the sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity of” the Syrian Arab Republic”.

The leader of the New Generation Movement says new politicians will emerge in Iraq

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The President of the New Generation Movement, Shaswar Abdulwahid said that new people will emerge and become influential in Iraq’s political affairs, as the country approaches the parliamentary election on May 12. New Generation Movement held a rally in Baghdad on Friday, saying Iraqis should try and choose a new group of politicians as the older parties have already been tested. The Movement wants youths to participate in the political arena, Abdulwahid added. The New Generation also wants to harness youth’s energy and ability in all the provinces of Iraq.

“Whatever youths have, they should give it to the Iraqi nation,” he said. The lives of the Iraqis should be changed as the country has “great revenue”, the Movement’s president noted. Iraq must progress in order to have a strong economy. “We must co-exist. There must not be religious and national differences.” The New Generation Movement is fielding 150 candidates across Iraq in the upcoming elections.

Iran says Israel policies cause of regional problems

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Iran’s permanent representative to the United Nations reaffirmed his country’s longstanding solidarity with the Palestinian people, saying the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories is the root cause of all conflicts in the Middle East. In a statement at the UN Security Council open debate on the “Situation in the Middle East,” on Thursday, Gholamali Khoshroo said that no political theater by the US and Israeli regime can cover up the aggressive and expansionist policies of this regime and its behavior towards its neighbors as the main source of threat to the peace and security in this region, IRNA reported. “Indeed, Israel is a rogue regime, by definition – this is an undeniable fact for the international community, except for those who believe illegal occupation, illegal settlements, apartheid, siege, and regular attacks of mass murder are the legitimate actions of a regime that proclaims itself as the only democracy in the Middle East,” Khoshroo said.

He criticized the United States and other members of the council for granting Israel a sense of “exceptionalism” that has allowed Tel Aviv to constantly undermine peace in the region without ever having to worry about the consequences. “The impunity this regime has enjoyed for so long wouldn’t have been possible without the help it receives from the US and certain interest groups,” he added.

29th Arab League Summit– Leaders united on Palestine and Iran

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On 15th April the 29th edition of the Arab League Summit ended. The meeting, held in Dharan (Saudi Arabia), has gathered the 21 active members of the Arab League and some key personalities of the International arena, such as the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini, the chairman African Union Commission Moussa Faki and the Secretary-General of the United Nations Antonio Guterres. The only missing member was Syria, suspended by the League in November 2011, when protests arose in the country and the regime reacted with violence over civilians.

Most of the countries were represented by heads of State or Government; Qatar, instead, sent his representative to the Arab League. The rest of the Arab community did not take the decision so well. As we know, the relationships between the Gulf monarchy and several Arab and Middle Eastern nations have sharply deteriorated in the past few months, thus causing a diplomatic crisis among neighbours. In particular, on 5th June, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt broke their diplomatic relations with Qatar, accusing the country of supporting extremist and terrorist groups. Anyways, the Gulf nation received the invitation to the summit, also being ensured that the diplomatic crisis would not have been a topic on the summit’s agenda. Therefore, the absence of the Emir of Qatar has been seen as a sign of arrogance, thus fuelling the already tense relations.

The meeting focused on the topics on the agenda, showing alignment among leaders on major and essential issues related to the balance of power in the region but also to the relations among the Arab community and other external actors.

Three main topics on the table: the Arab-Israeli dispute, the war in Yemen and the dangerous influence of Iran. Not on the list, instead, neither the diplomatic crisis with Qatar nor the war in Syria.  However, in a statement published by the Arab League after the summit, the League called for “independent International investigation to guarantee the application of the International law against anyone proven to have used chemical weapons”. To be noted that the summit started 24 hours after the US, UK and France launched air strikes on Syrian military installations in response to a chemical attack on rebels in Eastern Ghouta. Both Syria and Russia denied the action.

 

PALESTINE AND ISRAEL

Lights on Palestine and Israel. The Arab community showed an interesting position. On one hand, the countries have unanimously condemned president Trump’s decision to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, thus officially recognising the latter as the capital of Israel. The US has traditionally played the role of mediator in the dispute between Palestine and Israel; hence, such a decision was seen by the Arab leaders as a significant shift from a neutral position, to the one of a direct stakeholder. Given the volatile situation in the Middle East, this move is not only relevant but potentially dangerous. King Salman -who named the meeting “Jerusalem Summit” to stress the solidarity of Arab countries towards the Palestinian people- reaffirmed during the day that Arab leaders recognise the right of Palestinians to establish their own independent nation, with Jerusalem as the capital. According to them, East Jerusalem belongs to the Palestinian territory. Moreover, King Salman announced the donation of $ 150 million to the religious administration that runs the Islamic religious sites in Jerusalem, such as the Al-Aqsa mosque and other $50 million to the programmes conducted by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNWRA).

On the other hand, the Arab leaders- all but the Palestinian president Abbas- supported the peace plan presented by Trump. Although the details of this plane have not been notified yet, it is likely that it would be printed on a two-state solution.

 

WAR IN YEMEN

Another hot topic was the war in Yemen. After three years, this civil conflict is still on and involves several nations, both Arab and foreign ones, such as the US and Russia, both on a military level and a political one. The fight sets forces supporting the government of President Hadi, who, however, has lost control of several areas of the country against the Houthi rebels, who fight along with the former president Saleh and are militarily and financially supported by Iran. To complete the picture, we should add the Saudi-led military coalition, which involves also Western powers such as France and the UK, and Middle Eastern allies, as the United Arab Emirates. Once again, the Arab leaders reiterated their commitment to restore the unity, integrity, security, sovereignty and independence of Yemen. According to them, the Houthi bear the full responsibility for the situation and this assumption leads to the third main topic of the summit, that is Iran’s aggressive behaviour in foreign policy.

 

IRAN’S AGGRESSIVE POLICY

The summit was also an opportunity to condemn Iranian foreign policy, too often driven by an aggressive behaviour and persistent violation of the principles of the international law. First and foremost, Teheran’s support to the Houthis in Yemen, but also to President Assad in Syria. It seems clear that King Salman took the summit as a chance to align his Arab friends against his historic rival, Iran. To date, Iran is seen as the main cause of instability in the region, “guilty” as it is of using its military and financial resources to foster proxy wars in countries already devastated by a civil war, such as, indeed, Syria and Yemen. As already mentioned, the Iranian Shiite militias are fighting in Syria along with Assad’s regime, Shiite as well.  Similarly, in Yemen, Iran’s military experience and weapons offer a valuable help to the Houthis, who have managed to take control of several areas of the country, included the capital Sana’a. The replay came almost immediately from Tehran. The spokesperson of the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs Bahram Qasemi clearly stated that the accusation lifted during the summit was just the result of the pressure of Saudi Arabia, his main foe but also the host of the summit.

 

As we can see, the situation in the Middle East is still very tense. Though countries share some objectives and intentions, there are lots of hot topics still on the table but most of all there is no plan or clear “course of action” to achieve these aims. It is desirable that this unity of thoughts will soon turn into practical actions, which would lead –step by step- to improve the security and stability in the region.

 

Paola Fratantoni

Three Islamic State members killed in confrontations against troops, southwest of Kirkuk

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Three Islamic State members were killed in confrontations with security troops, southwest of Kirkuk, a security source from the province said on Thursday. Speaking to AlSumaria News, the source said, “armed confrontations occurred between the Federal Police and al-Hashd al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilization Forces) against Islamic State members in al-Khadra village in al-Zab town, southwest of Kirkuk.” The clashes, according to the source, who preferred anonymity, added that “three militants have been killed so far as the confrontations are still ongoing.” Security troops carry out operations, every now and then, in search for the dormant cells of IS.

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