THE Iraqi prime minister says as many as 2,500 US troops have left the country as part of agreements reached with Washington to enable a full withdrawal of American troops.
Mustafa al-Kadhimi made the announcement on Saturday in an interview with the state al-Iraqiya television.
He called the development a great success that had come by as a result of strategic talks with the United States.
Al-Kadhimi travelled to Washington at the head of a ranking delegation on August 20 to hold talks with American officials.
US President Donald Trump announced back then that the two sides had agreed that American forces would leave Iraq over a three-year period.
Al-Kadhimi said, before going on the trip, he had met with all of Iraq’s political officials and that some of them had urged him to negotiate an eight-year withdrawal plan.
The premier then expressed delight that he had been able to negotiate a shorter timetable.
The US invaded Iraq in 2003 opening a second major front in its so-called war on terror that had seen it attacking Afghanistan two years earlier. The invasion toppled Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, but was followed by rampant instability as well as deadly and ruinous ethnic violence.
In 2014, the Arab country was overrun by the terror group Daesh that emerged amid the chaos resulting from the invasion. The United States and scores of its allies then reinforced their presence in Iraq, this time under the pretext of seeking to uproot the terrorists.
Despite its sheer size, the coalition was, however, surprisingly slow in making advances against Daesh.
Baghdad eventually defeated the terrorist outfit in late 2017, with military advisory support from its closest regional ally Iran playing a central role in the victory.
In early January, the US assassinated Lieutenant General Qassem Soleimani, former commander of the Quds Force of Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC), who steered the provision of advisory assistance to both Iraq and Syria.
The Iraqi parliament voted overwhelmingly soon afterwards in favour of legislation that ordered the full withdrawal of all US-led forces from the country.
Al-Kadhimi, meanwhile, addressed Washington’s threat of closing down its embassy in Baghdad in response to rocket attacks that sporadically target the diplomatic mission’s compound and its vicinity.
He said Baghdad realised Washington’s unease with the situation, but added that threatening to isolate Iraq would directly impact its economy, most of whose overseas deposits are held in the United States.
- A prominent Islamic research centre in Egypt has denounced French President Emmanuel Macron’s recent Islamophobic remarks as an ‘explicit call for racism and hate’.
Macron said on Friday that his government was working to propose a bill to France’s parliament next year to address what he called ‘Islamist isolationism and separatism’.
Under the plan, France will fight what Macron described the favouring of religious laws over France’s republican, secular ‘values’.
Macron described Islam as ‘a religion that is today in crisis all over the world’.
‘Islam in France must be freed from foreign influence,’ he said.
The Islamic Research Academy at a-Azhar (AIRA) reacted to his remarks in a statement on Sunday, saying the French leader has directed ‘false accusations that have nothing to do with the true context of religion’.
The religious body said it totally rejects Macron’s remarks, which ‘destroy all joint efforts by religious figures to eliminate racism and bullying against religions’.
The academy further said that Islam calls for ‘tolerance and peace’ among people, even among those who do not believe in the religion.
It further called for abandoning attacks against religions, as they obstruct constructive dialogue and back hate speech.
The Macron government recently came under fire when it failed to condemn French magazine Charlie Hebdo’s republication of defamatory cartoons of Islam’s prophet.
Many believed that the government’s silence was not to defend freedom of speech, but meant to stoke freedom of hate speech against Muslims.
- Amnesty International has warned against life-threatening conditions at Saudi Arabia’s squalid detention centres, where thousands of Ethiopian migrants are languishing, stating that the African detainees are enduring ‘unimaginable cruelty’ during the coronavirus pandemic and some of them have lost their lives.
Thousands of African migrant workers who fled war and famine in their own countries in search of a better life are being kept in appalling conditions by the Saudis.
The New York-based rights group, in a report published on Friday, stated that it had interviewed detainees who described a catalogue of cruelties at the hands of Saudi authorities, including being chained together in pairs, forced to use their cell floors as toilets, and confined 24 hours a day in unbearably crowded cells.
Amnesty International, based on consistent eyewitness testimonies, documented the deaths of three people – an Ethiopian man, a Yemeni man and a Somali man – at al-Dayer detention centre in Saudi Arabia’s southern Jizan province.
Other detainees reported at least four more deaths. Even though the organisation could not independently corroborate the claims, the prevalence of disease and the lack of food, water and healthcare indicate the true number of deaths could be much higher.
Two people told Amnesty International they had prevented cellmates from committing suicide in Jizan central prison as well as Jeddah detention centre. They cited the uncertainty of the situation, heat and insufficient food as key factors in driving detainees to take their own lives.
Abeba, 24, described the acute mental distress of some of those she was detained with at al-Dayer.
Amnesty noted that several women have given birth during their detention, and that they are returned to the same unsanitary conditions after a short stay at a medical facility.
Three women reported that two babies and three toddlers had died in al-Dayer, Jeddah and Mecca prisons.
‘The children became sick in al-Dayer because we were sleeping in a dirty place. It was too hot and we didn’t receive enough food. They had diarrhoea and they were very thin. Children were taken to the hospital, where they died,’ Abeba told Amnesty International.
Two detainees reported that prison guards had administered electric shocks to them and other detainees as punishment after they complained about conditions.
‘They used this electric device … It made a small hole on my clothes. I saw a man whose nose and mouth were bleeding after that. Since then, we don’t complain anymore because we’re afraid they’ll do again the electric thing on our back,’ Solomon, 28, told Amnesty International.
Eight detainees said they had experienced and seen beatings by prison guards, and shootings during escape attempts.
One man said he had seen the body of a man who had been shot after trying to escape.
Amnesty called on Saudi Arabia to release the migrants and work with Ethiopian authorities to facilitate their repatriation.
‘Thousands of Ethiopian migrants, who left their homes in search of a better life, have instead faced unimaginable cruelty at every turn,’ Amnesty researcher Marie Forestier said in a statement.
‘We are urging the Saudi authorities to immediately release all arbitrarily detained migrants, and significantly improve detention conditions before more lives are lost,’ Forestier said.
Up to half a million Ethiopians were in Saudi Arabia when officials there launched a crackdown on illegal migrants in 2017, according to the UN’s International Organisation for Migration (IOM).
Around 10,000 Ethiopians were on average deported monthly until Ethiopia requested a moratorium earlier this year, because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Ethiopia appears careful not to antagonise Saudi Arabia, which is a key source of foreign remittances.
Three migrants reported last month that visiting Ethiopian diplomats had warned migrants to stop speaking out about detention conditions.
Tsion Teklu, a state minister at Ethiopia’s foreign ministry, said in September that the total number of Ethiopian migrants in Saudi detention facilities was 16,000 earlier this year, but that it had since gone down.