Rockets target Baghdad's Green Zone for second successive night

Baghdad, January 5 (RHC)-- Six Katyusha rockets fell in Baghdad, including three inside the capital's heavily fortified Green Zone housing government buildings and foreign missions, the Iraqi military said.

The three other rockets fell in the nearby Jadriya area, the military's statement said on Sunday.  Police sources said six people were wounded in the attacks.  Witnesses told AFP news agency two rockets hit near the U.S. embassy in Iraq's capital hours after the ambassador was summoned over the U.S. attack that killed Qassem Soleimani on Friday.

Sunday's attack was the second night in a row that the Green Zone was hit and the 14th time over the last two months that U.S. installations have been targeted.   A third rocket simultaneously hit a family home outside the Green Zone, wounding four, medical sources told AFP.

Edited by Ed Newman
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At least 31 killed, 100 injured during Islamic holiday in Iraq’s Kerbala

At least 31 people were killed and a further 100 injured in a stampede during the Shia Muslim ritual of Ashura in Kerbala, Iraq, according to the health ministry.

Initial reports suggested that a pedestrian walkway had collapsed, but additional bulletins suggest there was a stampede, though Iraqi officials have yet to confirm this. 

Video from the scene shows the injured being stretchered away. While harrowing photos show piles of bodies among the dispersing crowds.

Ashura is a Muslim holiday commemorating the death of the prophet Mohammed’s grandson, Imam Hussein, at a battle near Kerbala in the year 680. Every year, Shiite Muslims carry out a pilgrimage from all over the world to the holy site.

@Kbestansuri90 Iraqi Health Ministry: 31 dead in stampede at Iraqi Shia shrine. #Karbala#Ashura#كربلاء

 

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Netherlands joins Germany in halting Iraq mission due to security threat

The Netherlands has followed Germany in suspending its mission in Iraq amid heightening tensions between the US and Iraq’s neighbor, Iran.

The Netherlands decided to halt the mission which provided assistance to the Iraqi authorities because of a security threat, the Dutch ANP news agency said.

The Dutch Defense Ministry confirmed the suspension of the mission to the media. The ministry’s spokesperson told ANP that withdrawal of Dutch forces from the area is “currently not discussed.”

Also on rt.com Germany suspends training Iraqi troops amid US-Iran tensions in the Gulf...

Around 50 Dutch soldiers train Kurdish forces in Iraq’s northern city of Erbil, others are stationed in Baghdad. According to some reports, the decision to suspend the training mission was taken by the commander of the international coalition which currently operates in Iraq.

The report gave no details about the alleged danger. The Dutch military take part in a training mission, alongside other foreign nations, including Germany.

The German Defense Ministry has earlier announced that it halted its mission aimed at training the Iraqi soldiers, citing increasing tensions on the ground. The developments came after Washington ordered all the non-essential personnel of the American embassy in Bagdad and a consulate in Erbil to leave Iraq as soon as possible.

Also on rt.com US war with Iran would be a disaster with ripple effects that ‘could last decades’...

The US evacuation alarmed some EU politicians, who expressed concern that Washington might go to war against Tehran and called on Europe to prevent such an outcome.

The US is poised for war with Iran,” a leader of the Left Party’s faction in the German parliament, Sahra Wagenknecht, warned. She called on those, “who want to save the international peace and the Iranian nuclear deal,” to “make it clear that they are against these war plans, arbitrary US sanctions and the use of the US military bases in Europe [in a potential war with Iran].”

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Baghdad won’t let Washington use its territory in war against Iran – Iraq’s envoy

Iraq does not want a “devastating” new war in the Middle East and will not allow the US to use its territory for military action against neighboring Iran, Baghdad’s ambassador to Moscow has said.

“Iraq is a sovereign nation. We will not let [the US] to use our territory,” Haidar Mansour Hadi, the Iraqi envoy to Russia, told journalists at a press conference in Moscow when asked about Iraq’s stance on the rising tensions in the region, fueled by the feud between Washington and Tehran.

US plans to deploy 120,000 troops in to counter – report

The ambassador expressed his hope that “nothing will happen” eventually, adding that his nation “does not want a new devastating war in the region." He also said that Baghdad could try to use its close ties with both the US and Iran to ease tensions.

Iraq made it clear that we want to be part of a solution and not part of the problem.

His words came amid fears that a new war is brewing in the Middle East. On Wednesday, the US ordered the partial evacuation of its embassy in Baghdad and a consulate in Erbil, in Iraqi Kurdistan, after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo claimed that “Iranian activities” endanger American sites and troops in Iraq.

The move prompted Germany and the Netherlands to halt its missions in Iraq aimed at training the local forces.

Also on rt.com War with Iran would be ‘like Christmas’ for John Bolton – Tucker Carlson...

Last week, the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Baghdad, telling reporters the US is concerned that Iran’s supposedly-increased activities might compromise Iraq’s sovereignty.

Tensions between Washington and Baghdad flared after the US unilaterally withdrew from the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal and re-imposed all sanctions against Tehran while also threatening other nations, which continued to trade with Iran, with some restrictive measures.

America’s increased pressure angered Tehran. Most recently, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said his nation would not enter any talks with Washington about any new nuclear deal. He expressed his belief that the two nations would not engage in a military conflict as neither side “seeks a war.”

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Iraqi Artist Will Exhibit for First Time in Cuba (+Photos)

Havana, Nov 2 (Prensa Latina) The artist of Iraqi origin and Dutch nationality Athar Jaber will be exhibiting for the first time in Cuba, as part of the program of the 13th Belgian Week in Havana, the organizers announced at a press conference.

Offerings, title of the exhibition, will be open to the public on November 9 in the Flemish and Dutch painting collection room of the National Museum of Fine Arts, located in this city.

The exhibition is composed of 27 pieces that mark the artistic journey of the creator and his work with figurative sculptures and interactive pieces marked by the performance component.

As explained by the sculptor, his fundamental objective is to focus the attention of the spectator on the actions of offerings and ritual practices that are present in our daily life and, however, often go unnoticed.

In addition, he said, many of these pieces are made with all intention for Cuba, after a study he made on local culture and Afro-Cuban religion, which were interesting in his artistic practice.

According to the curator of the show, Oscar Antuña, the most frequent themes in his work are violence, identity, entropy and migrations, usually using nude, unfinished, ambiguous and distorted bodies that do not respond to a specific context.

In addition to this exhibition, Jaber will have the opportunity to exchange with plastic arts students in a creation workshop between Cubans and Belgians that will take place at the Higher Institute of Art.

He is currently professor of sculpture at the Antwerp Academy of Fine Arts and has participated in important exhibitions in European art centers such as the Medici-Riccardi Palace, in Florence, Italy (2015), and the Monchengladbach gallery in Germany (2016)

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Iraqi militias spill blood for their country while US is playing its own game – FM

Iraqi militias have made huge sacrifices for their country and has become a legitimate force on the ground, Iraq’s FM told RT, describing as hypocritical the US demand for Iranian-backed militiamen to “go home.”

The Popular Mobilization Forces (PMU/PMF) militias are sons of Iraq, whose sacrifices in the war against Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) terrorists are immeasurable, and they deserve the “highest merits,” Ibrahim al-Jaafari told RT in an exclusive interview.
 
“Al-Hasd Al-Shaabi [the Arabic name for the PMU] fighters suffered huge losses, shed their precious blood for the sake of saving the Fatherland,” the official said.
 
“These fighters voluntarily went to other parts of Iraq and have been dying there. For what? What did they want to get there? They deserve the highest merits. These formations have the constitutional status and the real military presence on the ground.”
 
Recent demands by the US urging the “Iranian militias” to “go home” are a glaring example of US hypocrisy, al-Jaafari stated.
 
“The US is playing its own game, by own rules and relying on certain factions. Iraq, though, operates in its own territory within its own powers, relying on support of it sons, its political parties and movements, on support of those who sacrifice themselves for the good of their country,” the minister told RT.
 
The demands were voiced by US State Secretary Rex Tillerson last Sunday at a joint news conference with Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Jubeir in Riyadh following a meeting with senior Saudi and Iraqi officials.
 
“Iranian militias that are in Iraq, now that the fight against… ISIS is coming to a close, those militias need to go home,” Tillerson said, referring to the PMU units, some of whom, to a certain extent, are backed by Tehran. “The foreign fighters in Iraq need to go home and allow the Iraqi people to regain control.
 
Tillerson’s demand was met by a firm rejection from Baghdad, which condemned Washington’s interference into internal affairs of their country.
 
“No party has the right to interfere in Iraqi matters,” Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s said Monday, according to a Facebook statement issued by his office.
 
Tens of thousands of Iraqis joined militia units in 2014 after Iraqi Shia cleric Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani called for a national uprising against IS terrorists by issuing a non-sectarian fatwa. Though there are no official statistics, PMU units numbered up to 100,000 fighters, according to some estimates. Iran has been funding and training some of the PMU units which fought alongside the Iraqi Army in the battle of Mosul and other northern Iraqi cities.
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UN investigates reports of up to 80 civilians killed by airstrike in ISIS-held part of Mosul

The UN is investigating reports which say up to 80 civilians have been killed by an airstrike in a terrorist-held part of western Mosul. It also accused the jihadists of killing at least 231 residents attempting to flee the Iraqi city.

The airstrike happened in the Zanjilly neighborhood of the war-torn city on May 31, and is one of several reported incidents in which airstrikes caused civilian deaths in Mosul, the UN Human Rights Office said in a statement on Thursday.

The organization said its Iraqi office was seeking additional information on the incidents and called on the Iraqi Security Forces and the US-led coalition to take all measures to minimize civilian casualties in the ongoing conflict.

READ MORE: 100k children trapped in ISIS-held Mosul, some forced to fight for terrorists – UNICEF

Reuters cited a young man in Mosul, who said he was wounded in an airstrike which hit a group of between 200 and 250 civilians collecting water. The witness said the strike apparently targeted a fighter from the terrorist group Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) who was hiding among them.

The UN also accused the jihadists of escalating the violence against the civilian population trying to flee the parts of Mosul remaining under IS control. It is estimated that since May 26, more than 231 civilians have been killed by IS fighters, with 204 reported deaths occurring over just three days last week.

WATCH MORE PHOTOS FROM MOSUL

The statement cited several instances of such mass killings by IS, which happened recently in the al-Shifa neighborhood, adding that an undetermined number of civilians have gone missing.

“Shooting children as they try to run to safety with their families – there are no words of condemnation strong enough for such despicable acts,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein was cited by the statement as saying.

 
© Ali Arkady/VII/Redux

“I call on the Iraqi authorities to ensure that those who are responsible for these horrors are held accountable and brought to justice in line with international human rights laws and standards. The victims of such terrible crimes must not be forgotten.”

The Iraqi forces announced a new push two weeks ago to capture several neighborhoods of western Mosul remaining under IS control, with an estimated 200,000 civilians trapped there. According to UNICEF, 100,000 children are living in harrowing conditions in western Mosul, and some of them have been used as soldiers by the jihadists.

The UN high commissioner also called on the Iraqi authorities to investigate any allegations of human rights violations committed by Iraqi Security Forces, without specifying any particular allegations.

It comes after freelance photographer and filmmaker Ali Arkady began to publish footage and images of the torture of prisoners, executions and other crimes allegedly committed by the Iraqi Emergency Response Division (ERD) in December 2016. Arkady said he was embedded with the unit at the time.

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Trump & 55 Muslim-majority states sign pact pledging 34,000 troops to fight ISIS in Iraq & Syria

The US and Middle Eastern countries have backed a new pact that promises to provide extra troops for defeating Islamic State, singles out Iran for destabilizing the region, and says that Riyadh is to become the heart of the region’s counter-terrorism operations.

Described as the Riyadh Declaration, the document was signed following US President Donald Trump’s visit to the Saudi capital for a summit that brought in Islamic representatives from 55 countries, and vowed “to combat terrorism in all its forms, address its intellectual roots, dry up its sources of funding and to take all necessary measures to prevent and combat terrorist crimes in close cooperation among their states.”

 
U.S. President Donald Trump and Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud (R) May 21, 2017. © Jonathan Ernst

“The leaders welcomed the establishment of a global center for countering extremist thought to take base in Riyadh, and praised the center's strategic objectives of combating intellectual, media and digital extremism and promoting coexistence and tolerance among peoples,” said the text of the document, published by the Saudi Press Agency.

The exact membership of what the communique called the Middle East Strategic Alliance will be decided next year, but putative members have committed to assembling “a reserve force of 34,000 troops to support operations against terrorist organizations in Iraq and Syria when needed.”

Currently the burden of anti-IS combat in both states is being shouldered mostly by local troops and Kurdish forces, with the international coalition providing air support, equipment and funding.

Despite a stated desire for inclusivity and tolerance – the declaration advocates “a rejection of any attempt to draw a link between terrorism and any religion, culture or race, affirming their determination to protect and promote a culture of tolerance, coexistence and constructive cooperation among different countries, religions and cultures” – an entire third of the resolution was aimed specifically against Iran, a Shia-majority state, and its “sectarian agendas.”

READ MORE: ‘Encouraging’: Ivanka & Melania Trump praise Saudi Arabia’s progress on women’s rights

“The leaders confirmed their absolute rejection of the practices of the Iranian regime designed to destabilize the security and stability of the region and the world at large and for its continuing support for terrorism and extremism,” said the final communique, which also accused the Islamic Republic of running a “dangerous ballistic missiles program” and “continuing interference in the domestic affairs of other countries.”

While rich in specific epithets, the declaration broadly followed the agenda of Sunday’s Sunni-dominated Riyadh summit, and the speech delivered by Trump, which mentioned Iran a dozen times, and accused it of “spreading destruction and chaos across the region.”

‘Drive them out’

Trump’s speech called on the leaders of the Muslim world to join their efforts in fighting terrorism and extremist ideologies, and pledged unconditional support to the US’s old and new allies in the region.

“Our goal is a coalition of nations who share the aim of stamping out extremism and providing our children a hopeful future that does honor to God,” Trump said.

“This is a battle between barbaric criminals who seek to obliterate human life, and decent people of all religions who seek to protect it. This is a battle between good and evil,” Trump adding, stressing that the Muslim countries should take an active role in this battle and make a choice that no one else can make for them.

“A better future is only possible if your nations drive out the terrorists and extremists… Drive them out of your places of worship. Drive them out of your communities. Drive them out of your holy land, and drive them out of this Earth,” Trump said.

Israeli ministers concerned over ‘troubling’ US arms deal with ‘hostile’ Saudi Arabia

 
© Global Look Press

He then announced establishment of several international anti-terrorism centers, including two Riyadh-based groups joined by Gulf Cooperation Council members and co-chaired by the US that will be tasked with preventing the financing of terrorism.

Trump then went on to accuse Iran of providing terrorists with “safe harbor, financial backing, and the social standing needed for recruitment” as well as of being “responsible for so much instability in the [Middle East].”

He blamed Tehran for aggravating the Syrian crisis through what he called a “destabilizing intervention,” before calling on “all nations of conscience” to “work together to isolate Iran, deny it funding for terrorism.”

Trump separately thanked King Salman, the leader of the Saudi Arabia, for his “massive investment in America, its industry and its jobs” as well as for “for investing in the future” of the Middle East, as he spoke about a recent arms deal signed by the US and Saudi Arabia, which is worth $350 billion over 10 years, with nearly $110 billion to take effect immediately.

READ MORE: Trump strikes arms deal with Saudis worth $350bn, $110bn to take effect immediately

While news agencies of the Gulf States presented the news on the signing of the alliance as a milestone event, critics were not impressed with the facade, saying it all boiled down to pragmatic interests, notably those of the US military-industrial complex.

Trump’s speech was “all about defense procurement,” Martin Jay, a Beirut-based journalist and a Middle East expert, told RT, adding that Trump basically told all the Muslim leaders who attended the summit that the US would support them as long as they bought US weapons.

READ MORE: America’s cash cow: ‘Trump does not value the Saudis, only their money’

“What [Trump] was basically saying to all of these [leaders], some of whom had poor human rights records in their own countries, is that the [US] does not care about their human rights records and does not care about what they do to their own people and would even help them stay in power… if they buy American guns,” Jay said. 

Tehran’s initial reaction to the Riyadh declaration and Trump’s speech was sarcastic, with Foreign Minister Javad Zarif tweeting: “Iran – fresh from real elections – attacked by @POTUS in that bastion of democracy & moderation.”

Zarif then wondered if the anti-Iran text could be explained by: “Foreign Policy or simply milking KSA of $480[billion]?”

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