Justice, Lifestyle, News, Politics

Iraq: protests to demand US troops to leave the country

Thousands of supporters of populist Iraqi cleric Moqtada Sadr gathered on Friday in Baghdad to demand the ouster of US troops.

The march has gripped the capital and the Shiite-majority south since October, demanding a government overhaul, early elections and more accountability.

In the early hours of Friday, thousands of men, women and children of all ages in the Jadiriyah district of east Baghdad ask to “Get out, get out, occupier!” some shouted, while others chanted, “Yes to sovereignty!”

Protests in Baghdad, Iraq

A representative of Sadr took to the stage at the protest site and called for all foreign forces to leave Iraq, the cancellation of Iraq’s security agreements with the US, the closure of Iraqi airspace to American military.

“If all this is implemented, we will deal with it as a non-occupying country — otherwise it will be considered a country hostile to Iraq,” the statement said.

The American military presence has been a issue in Iraq since a US drone strike killed Iranian general Qasem Soleimani and Iraqi paramilitary leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis outside Baghdad airport on January 3.

Two days later, parliament voted for all foreign troops, including some 5,200 US personnel, to leave the country.

The vote was non-binding and the US special envoy for the coalition against the Islamic State group, James Jeffrey, said Thursday there was no “real engagement” between the two governments on the issue.

Joint US-Iraqi operations against IS have been on hold since the drone attack, which triggered retaliatory Iranian missile strikes against US troops in Iraq.

Sadr, 46, battled US forces at the head of his Mehdi Army militia after the US-led invasion toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003. He later branded himself a reformist and backed the recent anti-government protests when they erupted in October in Iraq.

Sadr controls parliament’s largest bloc and his followers hold top ministerial positions. His spokesman Saleh al-Obeidy hinted that while others in Iraq unequivocally blamed either the US or Iran for instability, Sadr would choose a middle path.

Harith Hasan of the Carnegie Middle East Center said Sadr was trying to sustain various protests.

Sadr position himself as the leader of a reform movement, as a populist, as anti-establishment. He also wants to sustain his image as the leader of the resistance to the ‘American occupation’,” partly to win favour with Iran.

This protest will show Sadr is still the one able to mobilise large groups of people in the streets — but it’s also possible he wants other groups to respond by giving him more space to choose the prime minister.

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Justice, News, Politics

Impeachment: Donald Trump and Lev Parnas

President Donald Trump and aides sought Thursday to distance him from a Soviet-born businessman who said Trump knew all about efforts to pressure Ukraine into investigating U.S. political rival Joe Biden – a pivotal point in the Senate impeachment trial of the president.

“I don’t believe I’ve ever spoken to him,” Trump told reporters about Lev Parnas, taking questions after an event announcing new federal guidance he has said will “safeguard” the rights of students to pray in school.

Parnas, who once worked with Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani, has provided House investigators with documents to buttress his claims that Trump sought political dirt from a foreign country on Biden and on his son Hunter Biden, who once worked for a Ukrainian gas company called Burisma.

“It was all about Joe Biden, Hunter Biden,” Parnas told MSNBC host Rachel Maddow, adding that “it was never about corruption. It was strictly about Burisma, which included Hunter Biden and Joe Biden.”

Parnas said Trump knows him well and there are pictures of the two of them at various events.

In an interview with CNN, Parnas said that every time Trump denies knowing him, “I’ll show him another picture. He’s lying.”

Trump spoke about his latest accuser as the Senate formally began preparing for trial on impeachment charges that he abused power and obstructed a congressional investigation into his actions regarding Ukraine.

Downplaying Parnas’ claims, a series of Trump administration officials stressed that Parnas is under indictment, and claimed that he is trying to get a lighter sentence by accusing others.

“These allegations are being made by a man who is currently out on bail for federal crimes and is desperate to reduce his exposure to prison,” said White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham.

Parnas also said Vice President Mike Pence knew about the effort to lean on Ukraine to investigate Biden. He said Pence decided not to attend the inauguration of President  Volodymyr Zelensky because Ukraine had not announced an investigation of the Bidens.

Marc Short, Pence’s chief of staff, said that witnesses during the House impeachment investigation “have testified under oath in direct contradiction to Lev Parnas statements.”

It’s “very simple,” Short added: “Lev Parnas is under a multi-count indictment and will say anything to anybody who will listen in hopes of staying out of prison.”

In the wake of Parnas’ claims, Ukraine’s Interior Ministry announced Thursday it would investigate evidence that Parnas knew about surveillance of Marie Yovanovitch, who was then U.S. ambassador to Ukraine.

Parnas’ submission to House investigators included text messages between Parnas and a Trump supporter named Robert Hyde discussing what appeared to be efforts to track Yovanovitch’s movements in Kyiv.

On another front, the U.S. Government Accountability Office issued a legal opinion saying that Trump’s Office of Management and Budget “violated the law” in withholding $214 million in security assistance to Ukraine.

During the impeachment investigation, Democrats said Trump used the withheld aid in an attempt to extort Ukraine into announcing an investigation of Biden.

U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., who requested the GAO investigation, said the GAO report proves that “the Trump Administration illegally withheld assistance from Ukraine and the public evidence shows that the president himself ordered this illegal act.”

OMB spokesperson Rachel Semmel said the administration disagreed with GAO’s opinion.

“OMB uses its apportionment authority to ensure taxpayer dollars are properly spent consistent with the President’s priorities and with the law,” she said.

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News, Politics

Germany has initiated the withdrawal of the military from Iraq in the context of the US-Iran crisis

Germany began withdrawing military troops from Iraq on Tuesday in the context of the crisis between the United States and Iran, the publication Süddeutsche Zeitung reports, MEDIAFAX announces.

German military presence in bases in Baghdad and Taji will be “temporarily reduced”, a letter sent by Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer and Foreign Minister Heiko Maas Bundestag to the lower house of the German Parliament.

German chancellor Angela Merkel withsoldiers

In the two military units, there are about 30 German soldiers, who have the role of training the Iraqi security services to counter the Islamic State terrorist network.

Another 90 German troops are in Kurdish areas in northern Iraq.

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News, Politics

Vladimir Putin: Russia has hypersonic rockets that can destroy any US anti-ballistic system

Russia is the only nation that has hypersonic missiles, President Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday, warning that the Russian army can destroy any existing anti-ballistic system or that can be installed by the United States in Europe or in another part of the world.

“This year, the United States has virtually destroyed the Treaty on Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF), which is why we need to monitor the possible installation of rocket systems in various parts of the world,” said Vladimir Putin, quoted by the Sputnik agency.

Russia’s Kinzhal Mach 10 hypersonic weapon is a single stage Pegasus Rocket

The Kremlin leader emphasized that Russia is the only country in the world that has hypersonic missiles. The first Avangard hypersonic missile unit will become operational this month, and Kinzhal hypersonic missiles, launched from MIG-31 aircraft, are in service with the Russian Army last year.

Vladimir Putin emphasized that Avangard missiles exceed 20 times the speed of sound, and Kinzhal ten times, capable of carrying conventional or nuclear warheads. “The Avangard system is a weapon of the future, capable of moving beyond both existing and future anti-ballistic systems,” said Vladimir Putin, according to the Associated Press.

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News, Politics

US decided how they will tackle Iran: Mike Pence held a press conference to explain

Mike Pence, the Vice President of the United States, will announce the Donald Trump administration’s policy on Iran next month, says a Presidency official quoted by the Reuters news agency.

Mike Pence will speak at the National Security Summit organized by the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies in Washington.

US policy toward Iran will focus on disagreements between Iranian citizens and Tehran regime leaders, a White House official said on condition of anonymity.

Iran has threatened the United States to respond to the assassination in Baghdad of General Qassem Soleimani, the commander of the Quds of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.

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News, Politics

World reaction to the killing of the General Qassem Soleimani: It was assassination ?

General Qasem Soleimani, head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ elite Quds Force, has been assassinated by US forces in Iraq.

Iran has vowed retaliation, but so far there is no indication of what form that might take.

President Trump said the strike was carried out to “stop a war, not to start a war” and that Iran was planning an imminent attack on the US.

Trump’s decision to authorise an air strike that killed Iran’s most powerful military commander has seen tensions between the two nations escalate.

US military draft website crashes

So many Americans are afraid of being drafted to fight a war against Iran that they have crashed the website of the US Selective Service – the defence department agency that tracks information about American men who are eligible for military enlistment.

New York City mayor warns of ‘threat’

The Mayor of New York City, Democrat Bill de Blasio, has held a news conference to warn city residents they are “now potentially facing a threat that’s different and greater than anything we have faced previously”.

Previous attacks in the city have come from non-state actors, he noted, adding that “as of last night, we are dealing with a different reality”.

He adds that “at this point” there is a “de facto state of war between the United States of America and Iran”.

Other cities, including Los Angeles, Washington DC and Miami have also announced a heightened security threat.

EU warns of ‘spiraling violence’

The EU’s Foreign Minister Josep Borrell warns that the cycle of violence in Iraq must end before it “spirals out of control”.

“Another crisis risks jeopardising years of efforts to stabilise Iraq,” he said in a new statement.

“Furthermore, the ongoing escalation threatens the whole region, which has suffered immensely and whose populations deserve life in peace.”

I killed him to stop a war, not start a war, Trump said

In the brief news conference Trump said

“We will find you. We will eliminate you. We will always protect American service members,” Trump says.

Gen Qasem Soleimani “made the deaths of innocent people his sick passion”, he says, and adds that the attacks affected people “as far away as New Delhi and London”.

“We can take comfort knowing that his reign of terror is over,” Trump says, adding that he made the decision to kill him to “stop a war”.

“We do not take action to start a war,” he added.

“I am ready and prepared to take whatever action is necessary. And that particularly refers to Iran,” he continues.

Iran Foreign Minister: ‘We will launch international legal action’

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has been speaking in Dubai, telling state TV that the US airstrike “was clearly a terrorist action”.

“Iran will launch various legal measures at the international level to hold America to account for Soleimani’s assassination,” Mr Zarif said, according to Reuters news agency.

In a tweet sent soon after the strike, Mr Zarif accused the US of “international terrorism”.

Democratic Elizabeth Warren said on Twitter : Donald Trump ripped up an Iran nuclear deal that was working. He’s repeatedly escalated tensions. Now he’s assassinated a senior foreign military official. He’s been marching toward war with Iran since his first days in office—but the American people won’t stand for it.

We’re on the brink of yet another war in the Middle East—one that would be devastating in terms of lives lost and resources wasted. We’re not here by accident. We’re here because a reckless president, his allies, and his administration have spent years pushing us here.

Democratic Senator and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said the “gang of eight” – those leaders within Congress who are usually briefed on classified matters in advance – had not been briefed on the air strikes.

He said President Donald Trump would need congressional approval for further long-term action on Iran.

“It is my view that the president does not have the authority for a war with Iran,” he says.

Why did the US kill Qassem Soleimani?

US President Donald Trump accused “the number one terrorist anywhere in the world” of “plotting imminent and sinister attacks on American diplomats and military personnel”.

But no details were given of the alleged planned attacks and a New York Times correspondent has quoted two unnamed US officials as telling her that evidence of such plotting was “razor thin”.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told his Iranian counterpart, Javad Zarif, that the US killing of Soleimani was an abuse of military power, while Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who also phoned Mr Zarif, said the killing “grossly” violated the norms of international law.

Iraq now finds itself in a difficult position as an ally both of Iran and of the US. Thousands of US troops remain in the country to assist in the broader struggle against the Sunni Muslim Islamic State (IS) group but Iraq’s government insists the US has acted beyond the terms of this agreement.

Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi labelled the missile strike as a “brazen violation of Iraq’s sovereignty and a blatant attack on the nation’s dignity”, and Iraq’s parliament announced it would hold an emergency meeting on Sunday.

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Iranian General Qassim Suleimani Is Killed on Trump’s Orders

The New York Times : The commander of Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guards Corps was killed early Friday in a drone strike at Baghdad International Airport that was authorized by President Trump, American officials said.

The commander, Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, and several officials from Iraqi militias backed by Tehran were killed when an American MQ-9 Reaper drone fired missiles into a convoy that was leaving the airport.

The killing of General Suleimani was a staggering blow for Iran’s military and national pride, and was a serious escalation of Mr. Trump’s growing confrontation with Tehran, one that began with the death of an American contractor in Iraq in late December.

Regional analysts said Iran’s leaders were likely to treat General Suleimani’s killing as an act of war. United States officials were braced for potential Iranian retaliatory attacks, possibly including cyberattacks and terrorism, on American interests and allies.

United States officials consider General Suleimani responsible for the deaths of hundreds of American soldiers during the Iraq war, when he provided Iraqi insurgents with advanced bomb-making equipment and training. They also say he has masterminded destabilizing Iranian activities that continue throughout the Middle East and are aimed at the United States, Israel and Saudi Arabia.

“General Suleimani was actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region,” the Pentagon said in a statement. “General Suleimani and his Quds Force were responsible for the deaths of hundreds of American and coalition service members and the wounding of thousands more.”

It did not elaborate on the specific intelligence to led them to carry out General Suleimani’s killing. The highly classified mission was set in motion after the American contractor’s death on Dec. 27 during a rocket attack by an Iranian-backed militia, a senior American official said.

While many Republicans said that the president had been justified in the attack, Mr. Trump’s most significant use of military force to date, critics of his Iran policy called the strike a reckless unilateral escalation that could have drastic and unforeseen consequences that could ripple violently throughout the Middle East.

In killing General Suleimani, President Trump took an action that previous presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama had rejected, fearing it could end in catastrophe, destabilizing the region further and perhaps leading to all out war between the United States and Iran.

“Soleimani was an enemy of the United States. That’s not a question,” Representative Christopher S. Murphy, Democrat of Connecticut, wrote on Twitter, using an alternate spelling of the Iranian’s name. “The question is this – as reports suggest, did America just assassinate, without any congressional authorization, the second most powerful person in Iran, knowingly setting off a potential massive regional war?”

Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister, called the killing of Mr. Suleimani an act of “international terrorism” and warned it was “extremely dangerous & a foolish escalation.”

“The US bears responsibility for all consequences of its rogue adventurism,” Mr. Zarif tweeted.

Speaking to reporters at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Fla., on Tuesday night, hours after an assault on the American Embassy in Baghdad that United States officials said was orchestrated by Iran, Mr. Trump, who has repeatedly vowed to end American entanglements in the Middle East, insisted that he did not want war.

“I don’t think that would be a good idea for Iran. It wouldn’t last very long,” Mr. Trump said. “Do I want to? No. I want to have peace. I like peace.”

The strikes followed a warning on Thursday afternoon from Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper, who said the United States military would pre-emptively strike Iranian-backed forces in Iraq and Syria if there were signs the paramilitary groups were planning more attacks against American bases and personnel in the region.

“If we get word of attacks, we will take pre-emptive action as well to protect American forces, protect American lives,” Mr. Esper said. “The game has changed.”

“This strike was aimed at deterring future Iranian attack plans,” the Pentagon statement added. “The United States will continue to take all necessary action to protect our people and our interests wherever they are around the world.”

In Iran, state television interrupted its programing to announce General Suleimani’s death.

Iraqi President Barham Salih condemned on Friday the US airstrike on Baghdad

The news anchor recited the Islamic prayer for the dead — “From God we came and to God we return” — beside a picture of General Suleimani.

Hawkish Trump administration allies cheered the strike. “This is devastating for the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, the regime and Khamenei’s regional ambitions,” said Mark Dubowitz, chief executive of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, referring to the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

“For 23 years, he has been the equivalent of the J.S.O.C. commander, the C.I.A. director and Iran’s real foreign minister,” Mr. Dubowitz said, using an acronym for the United States Joint Special Operations Command. “He is irreplaceable and indispensable” to Iran’s military establishment.

For those same reasons, other regional analysts warned, Iran is likely to respond with a intensity of dangerous proportions.

General Suleimani was long a figure of intense interest to people in and out of Iran.

He was not only in charge of Iranian intelligence gathering and covert military operations, he was regarded as one of Iran’s most cunning and autonomous military figures. He was also believed to be very close to the country’s supreme leader, Mr. Khamenei, and was seen as a potential future leader of Iran.

The United States and Iran have long been involved in a shadow war in battlegrounds across the Middle East — from Iraq to Yemen to Syria. The tactics have generally involved using proxies to carry out the fighting, providing a buffer from a direct confrontation between Washington and Tehran that could draw America into yet other ground conflict with no discernible endgame.

The potential for a regional conflagration was a basis of the Obama administration’s push for a 2015 agreement that froze Iran’s nuclear program in return for sanctions relief.

Mr. Trump withdrew from the deal in 2018, saying that Mr. Obama’s agreement had emboldened Iran, giving it economic breathing room to plow hundreds of millions of dollars into a campaign of violence around the region. Mr. Trump responded with a campaign of “maximum pressure” that began with punishing new economic sanctions, which began a new era of brinkmanship and uncertainly, with neither side knowing just how far the other was willing to escalate violence and risk a wider war. In recent days it has spilled into the military arena.

General Qassim Suleimani

The killing of General Suleimani is also likely to further strain a coalition that the Trump administration had tried to build to blunt Iranian aggression. The coalition, made up primarily of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Israel, in recent months has begun to fracture amid concerns among the Arab nations that rising tensions might lead to more direct attacks on the Arab nations.

His presence in Iraq would not have been surprising.

General Suleimani led the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps’ Quds Force, a special forces unit responsible for Iranian operations outside Iran’s borders. He once described himself to a senior Iraqi intelligence official as the “sole authority for Iranian actions in Iraq,” the official later told American officials in Baghdad.

In his speech denouncing Mr. Trump, he was even less discreet — and openly mocking.

“We are near you, where you can’t even imagine,” he said. “We are ready. We are the man of this arena.”

Top Iranian General Qassim Suleimani Is Killed on Trump’s Orders, Officials Say

The New York Times 6 hrs ago By Falih Hassan, Alissa J. Rubin, Michael Crowley and Eric Schmitt Video by Reuters WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – The commander of Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guards Corps was killed early Friday in a drone strike at Baghdad International Airport that was authorized by President Trump, American officials said.

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Iraqi militia chief warns of tough response to U.S. air strikes

Reuters: Iraqi militia leader warned of a strong response against U.S. forces in Iraq following air strikes in Iraq and Syria overnight that hit several bases of his Iranian-backed group and killed at least 25 people.

The U.S. military carried out air strikes on Sunday against the Iranian-backed Kataib Hezbollah militia group in response to the killing of a U.S. civilian contractor in a rocket attack on an Iraqi military base, officials said.Iraqi security and militia sources said at least 25 militia fighters were killed and at least 55 wounded following three U.S. air strikes in Iraq.

“The blood of the martyrs will not be in vain and our response will be very tough on the American forces in Iraq,” senior commander Jamal Jaafar Ibrahimi, known by his nom de guerre Abu Mahdi al-Mohandes, said late on Sunday. Iran said it strongly condemned the raids as “terrorism”.

Mohandes is a senior commander of Iraq’s Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), an umbrella grouping of paramilitary groups mostly consisting of Iran-backed Shi’ite militias that was formally integrated into Iraq’s armed forces.

He is also one of Iran’s most powerful allies in Iraq and formerly headed Kataib Hezbollah, which he founded.

Iraqi security sources said on Monday that U.S. forces in Iraq’s northerly Nineveh province were ramping up security overnight, with U.S.-led coalition jets circling the perimeter of its military bases in Mosul and Qayarah.

Tensions have risen between Tehran and Washington -Iraq’s two main allies – since last year when President Donald Trump pulled Washington out of Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with six powers and reimposed sanctions that crippled Iran’s economy.

Earlier this month, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo blamed Iranian-backed forces for a series of attacks on bases in Iraq and said any attacks by Tehran or proxies harming Americans or allies would be “answered with a decisive U.S. response.”

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Finance, News, Politics

Nasdaq, S&P hit fresh highs on trade deal hopes, Amazon boost

Reuters: Traders returned from the Christmas break to Beijing’s reaffirmation that it was in close contact with Washington about the initial trade agreement, which is widely expected to be signed in early January.

President Donald Trump on Tuesday confirmed the pact would be formalized at a signing ceremony, but did not disclose a date or location.

Hopes of a breakthrough in the prolonged trade war, combined with a loose monetary policy and robust domestic data, have powered U.S. stocks to record highs in the past few weeks.

The S&P 500, which has touched all-time intraday highs in two out of three sessions this week alone, is about one percentage point short of its best year since 1997.
The Nasdaq was on track for an 11 session winning streak.

Festive Wall St. set to stay near record levels on trade deal hopes

(Reuters) – U.S. stock indexes were set to open near record highs on Thursday and the S&P 500 was on course for its best year since 2013 on optimism over an imminent U.S.-China trade deal.

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Turkey want to send troops to Libya at Tripoli’s request say Erdogan

Reuters: Last month, Ankara signed two separate accords with the GNA, led by Fayez al-Serraj, one on security and military cooperation and another on maritime boundaries in the eastern Mediterranean.

Turkey send troops to Libya, AlJazeera

The maritime deal ends Turkey’s isolation in the East Mediterranean as it ramps up offshore energy exploration that has alarmed Greece and some other neighbors. The military deal would preserve its lone ally in the region, Tripoli.

“Since there is an invitation (from Libya) right now, we will accept it,” Erdogan told members of his AK Party in a speech. “We will put the bill on sending troops to Libya on the agenda as soon as parliament opens.”

Turkey to send troops to Libya at Tripoli’s request: Erdogan

ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey will send troops to Libya at the request of Tripoli as soon as next month, President Tayyip Erdogan said on Thursday, putting the north African country’s conflict at the center of wider regional frictions.

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