Category Archives: West Asia – Iraq 🇮🇶

COVID-19: Hospitals in Iraq fear ‘losing control’ as cases surge

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Authorities warn hospitals may ‘lose control’ amid record rise in single-day COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began.

Iraq has recorded its highest single-day rise in COVID-19 cases since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, prompting authorities to warn hospitals may “lose control” in the coming days.

According to the Iraqi health ministry, 5,036 new coronavirus infections were confirmed within 24 hours on Friday, bringing the total number of cases across the country to 252,075, of which 7,359 had died.

The health ministry attributed the spike to recent “large gatherings” that took place without recommended safety measures, including mask-wearing or social distancing.

The events included the marking on August 30 of Ashoura, a significant Muslim day of mourning that commemorates the killing of Prophet Muhammad’s grandson Hussein in 680 AD.

On that day, tens of thousands of Shia Muslims converged on the holy city of Karbala in southern Iraq.

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Karbala’s authorities introduced new measures to stem the spread of the virus, including restricting access to areas of worship and widespread spraying of disinfectants.

Northern Iraqis protest over salary arrears
But the health ministry warned the measures were not enough.

The health ministry attributed the spike to recent ‘large gatherings’ [Murtadha Al-Sudani/Anadolu]

“The number of cases is expected to escalate further in the coming days, which we fear will lead our health institutions to lose control as they try to deal with these large numbers,” its statement said on Friday.

“This will lead to an increase in the number of deaths, after we made headway in reducing them over the past few weeks.”

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Iraq’s hospitals have already been worn down by decades of conflict and poor investment, with shortages in medicines, hospital beds and even protective equipment for doctors.

Before Ashoura, the World Health Organization had warned that COVID-19 cases in Iraq were rising at an “alarming rate” and said Iraq should take action to end the community outbreak “at all costs”.

“The country is already in a semi-lockdown. There is a partial curfew,” Al Jazeera’s Dorsa Jabbari, reporting from Baghdad, said on Saturday.

“Twenty-five percent of government employees are allowed to go to work. Schools are still not reopening until probably the end of October.”


#Newsworthy…

Emmanuel Macron backs Iraq sovereignty on first visit.

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In first foreign visit since PM Mustafa al-Kadhimi formed gov’t in May, French president pledges support for Iraq.


French President Emmanuel Macron has pledged support for Iraq and said the main challenges facing the country are Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) group fighters and foreign interference in its affairs.

Macron is the first head of state to visit the Iraqi capital since Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, Iraq’s former intelligence chief, formed a new government in May.

“We are here for and we will continue to support Iraq,” Macron said at a news conference in Baghdad with his Iraqi counterpart Barham Salih.

“Any foreign intervention may undermine the efforts exerted by you as a government.”

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Iraqi officials should continue to share the vision of restoring “Iraq’s sovereignty,” he said, adding that this is a “very significant enterprise not only for Iraq, but also the entire region”.

“I would like to reiterate that France totally supports the Iraqi state and institutions.”

Macron had earlier said he was heading to Baghdad “to launch an initiative alongside the United Nations to support a process of sovereignty”.

Later on Wednesday, the French leader met al-Kadhimi during his day-long trip, which comes amid a severe economic crisis and coronavirus pandemic that has put a huge strain on Iraqi economy and politics. He is also expected to meet Nechirvan Barzani, president of the semi-autonomous northern Kurdish region.

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Al-Kadhimi was selected by parliament in May to head a government that would guide the country towards early elections and has called for one to be held in June 2021.

His predecessor Adel Abdul Mahdi quit under pressure from protests against corruption and foreign interference in December last year.

Salih told Macron the Iraqi leadership is looking forward to a future where Baghdad will claim an ‘essential and a central role in the region’. [The Presidency of the Republic of Iraq Office/Handout via Reuters]

Early elections are a main demand of anti-government protesters who staged months of mass demonstrations last year and were killed in their hundreds by security forces and gunmen suspected of links to Iran-backed armed groups.

Salih told Macron the Iraqi leadership is looking forward to a future where Baghdad will claim an “essential and a central role in the region”.

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“This area must be in a peace and stability situation, and the base of this stabilities proceed from the strengthening of Iraq’s role as a competent country with sovereignty,” he said.

President Salih said he looked forward to a longer visit by Macron in 2021, and al-Kadhimi said he hoped France and Europe as a whole could help “restore stability” to the rocky region.

“We do not want to be an arena for confrontations but a zone of stability and moderation,” al-Kadhimi said in a news conference, adding that France and Iraq would sign energy agreements in the future and deepen military cooperation.

“We talked about a future project, using nuclear energy to produce electricity and peaceful projects, which will be under the supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency … which will create jobs and address electricity shortages.”

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US-Iran tensions
After a United States-led invasion toppled former president Saddam Hussein in 2003, Iraq was ravaged by waves of sectarian conflict that culminated in ISIL capturing swaths of the country six years ago.

At the same time, the country has been caught for years between its two main allies, Iran and the United States, a balancing act that has become increasingly tortured since Washington’s withdrawal in 2018 from a multilateral nuclear deal with Tehran.

France is among the European nations that remain key backers of the 2015 agreement.

Reporting from Baghdad, Noble Reporters Media learnt Macron’s visit was an “important step”, especially since the country is caught between two allies who are at odds with each other.

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Al-Kadhimi, who is backed by the US, assumed office on May 7 when Baghdad’s relations with Washington were precarious. Like previous Iraqi leaders, he has to walk a tightrope amid the US-Iran rivalry.

The January assassination of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani and top Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis by the US in Baghdad prompted demands by Shia legislators that US forces leave Iraq.

Al-Kadhimi visited Washington last month, where he held talks with President Donald Trump. He said his administration is committed to introducing security reforms as rogue militia groups stage near-daily attacks against the seat of his government.

Other crises for al-Kadhimi include slashed state coffers in the crude oil-dependent country following a severe drop in prices, adding to the woes of an economy already struggling amid the pandemic.


#Newsworthy…

France president, Macron, first foreign leader to visit Iraq since May.

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French president is the first foreign leader to visit Iraq since PM Mustafa al-Kadhimi formed a government in May.


French President Emmanuel Macron has landed in Baghdad on his first official trip to Iraq, where he hopes to help the country reassert its “sovereignty” after years of conflict.

Macron is the first head of state to visit the Iraqi capital since Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, Iraq’s former intelligence chief, formed a new government in May.

The French leader is expected to meet al-Kadhimi and President Barham Salih at the presidential palace during his day-long trip on Wednesday, which comes amid a severe economic crisis and coronavirus pandemic that has put a huge strain on Iraqi economy and politics.

The visit would be of “great importance, as it’s the third by French officials in a single month,” said Husham Dawood, an adviser to the Iraqi premier.

Speaking in Lebanon on Tuesday night while concluding his two-day visit there, Macron said he was heading to Baghdad “to launch an initiative alongside the United Nations to support a process of sovereignty”.

In Lebanon, Macron offers the carrot or the stick
“The fight for Iraq’s sovereignty is essential,” Macron had told reporters on Friday, before departing for Lebanon.

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He said Iraqis, who “suffered so much”, deserved options besides domination by regional powers or groups such as ISIL (ISIS).

“There are leaders and a people who are aware of this, and who want to take their destiny in hand. The role of France is to help them do so,” Macron said.

Macron will hold a series of high-level meetings during his visit [Thaier Al-Sudani/Reuters]

He said he would also discuss the case of French citizens who fought with ISIL, which was defeated in Iraq in 2017 with international support. Nearly a dozen French ISIL members have been sentenced to death before Iraqi courts.

Macron is also expected to meet Nechirvan Barzani, president of the semi-autonomous northern Kurdish region.

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Soon after winning the presidency in 2017, Macron had tried to mediate between the Kurdish north and the federal government, but financial and security disputes between the two sides remain unresolved.

US-Iran tensions
After a United States-led invasion toppled former president Saddam Hussein in 2003, Iraq was ravaged by waves of sectarian conflict that culminated in ISIL capturing swaths of the country six years ago.

At the same time, the country has been caught for years between its two main allies, Iran and the United States, a balancing act that has become increasingly tortured since Washington’s withdrawal in 2018 from a multilateral nuclear deal with Tehran.

France is among the European nations that remain key backers of the 2015 agreement.

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Al-Kadhimi, who is backed by the US, assumed office on May 7 when Baghdad’s relations with Washington were precarious. Like previous Iraqi leaders, he has to walk a tightrope amid the US-Iran rivalry.

The January assassination of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani and top Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis by the US in Baghdad prompted demands by Shia legislators that US forces leave Iraq.

Al-Kadhimi visited Washington last month, where he held talks with President Donald Trump. He said his administration is committed to introducing security reforms as rogue militia groups stage near-daily attacks against the seat of his government.

Other crises for al-Kadhimi include slashed state coffers in the crude oil-dependent country following a severe drop in prices, adding to the woes of an economy already struggling amid the pandemic.


#Newsworthy…