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Archive for Iraq

Newsline: Iranian media calls on Iraqis to takeover U.S. embassy amid protests

An Iranian newspaper linked to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called on Iraqis to seize the US embassy in Baghdad, in a move similar to the takeover of the US embassy in Tehran during the Iranian revolution of 1979, according to Radio Farda. “Historical evidence has shown that US embassies in all countries, even in friendly and allied countries, are the focus of conspiracy. The US Embassy in Iran is a clear and exemplary example of this bitter reality,” wrote Hossein Shariatmadari, the editor of the Kayhan newspaper, in reference to the former US embassy that was taken over and held hostage during the revolution in 1979. (https://www.jpost.com/Middle-East/Iranian-media-calls-on-Iraqis-to-takeover-US-embassy-amid-protests-603867) Iranian media has blamed the United States and Saudi Arabia for inciting anti-Iranian protests in Iraq. Protests broke out throughout Iraq against the deterioration of living conditions and health services, government corruption, unemployment and Iranian interference in the country.


Newsline: Expensive airfares harm U.S. embassy operations in Afghanistan and Iraq

An airline set up to support U.S. embassies in Afghanistan and Iraq has begun charging such high fares that it is hampering some diplomatic operations, according to a report released by the State Department Inspector General. A 7-minute helicopter trip with Embassy Air in Afghanistan costs nearly $1,500, while a 1-hour plane journey in Iraq is priced at nearly $4,800, the report said. (https://www.stripes.com/news/middle-east/report-expensive-airfares-harm-embassy-operations-in-afghanistan-and-iraq-1.600300) Tenuous security means embassy staff almost always have to travel within each country by air rather than road, and some bureaus have been unable to afford the prices on Embassy Air, said the report. The Embassy Air program was established in 2009 to support the diplomatic missions in Kabul and Baghdad. High ticket prices have forced some offices to use other means of transportation, such as military or commercial airlines, and have forced officials to cancel visits to government project sites, the IG found in an audit of the airline, which maintains fleets of several planes and about two dozen helicopters in the two countries. The $1,500 ticket price for a 7-minute helicopter trip from the U.S. Embassy in Kabul to nearby Camp Alvarado near the airport represents a nearly 400% increase from the price four years ago, the audit found. A 1-hour flight from the Baghdad Diplomatic Support Center to the southern Iraq city of Basra, where the U.S. has a consulate, is priced at nearly $4,800, a 770% increase, it said. The increases stem from a move by the board that oversees funding of the Embassy Air program to cover a larger share of operational costs through ticket sales instead of congressionally appropriated funds. But, as ticket prices rose, ridership fell, and the IG audit found that officials did not routinely adjust the frequency of flights or the number of aircraft to align with changing demand. As a result, the State Department “will continue to pay for significant costs associated with Embassy Air operations that are underused in addition to paying the costs associated with alternative modes of transportation,” the report said. For fiscal year 2019, the total cost of Embassy Air services was more than $320 million.

Newsline: Two rockets ‘hit’ near US embassy in Baghdad

Several rockets have been fired towards Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone, landing near the embassy of the United States in Iraq, according to security sources cited by news agencies. Residents of the Iraqi capital reportedly heard the explosions followed by alert sirens that sounded briefly across the Tigris River overnight on Tuesday. (https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/09/rockets-hit-embassy-baghdad-green-zone-190924052551906.html) There were no reports of casualties and no claim of responsibility for the attack on the zone, a heavily-protected area hosting government offices and foreign embassies. A foreign security source inside the Green Zone said two 100mm rockets hit close to the US embassy and a third fell into the Tigris River, which the embassy overlooks.

Newsline: Death in Australia’s embassy in Iraq investigated

Queensland coroner Terry Ryan is to hold a full inquest into the death of Christopher Betts, 34, the elite former soldier shot dead in mysterious circumstances in Australia’s embassy in Iraq more than three years ago. At a pre-inquest conference held in the presence of Betts’s ­family in Brisbane Magistrate’s Court this week, the coroner also announced he will examine whether Betts’s employer, private security firm Unity Resources Group, had appropriate safety and weapons-handling procedures in place in Baghdad and whether the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade had adequate oversight of the company. (https://www.theaustralian.com.au/inquirer/at-last-inquest-into-embassy-death/news-story/d0acf1af4038ebe89ee7629355b6313c) More than a dozen witnesses, including those flown in from overseas, will be called to give ­evidence and the Betts family lawyer, Patrick McCafferty QC, has been granted leave to question them on the stand. hris Betts had been working as a highly trained private security guard in the Baghdad embassy when he died in the early hours of May 12, 2016, after a gun was fired in a room in the compound. Reports from work colleagues in the hours that followed suggested that Betts and his colleague, a former commando, Sun Mackay, had been drinking and playing video games about 2.30am when the firearm discharged and killed Betts. Mackay has not spoken publicly about what occurred and it is not known what he told investigators. Some colleagues who spoke to The Australian at the time reported he had described it as a terrible ­accident while others said he claimed Betts had committed ­suicide. Betts’s parents, Rae and Colin, did not just lose their only son that night: Chris’s young wife, Angela, devastated by her grief, took her own life just a few weeks later.

Newsline: Turkish diplomat and Iraqi civilian shot dead in Iraqi Kurdistan

A Turkish diplomat was among two people shot dead on Wednesday in Irbil, the capital of Iraq’s Kurdistan Region. The victims, who were eating at a restaurant when gunmen opened fire, were reportedly Turkey’s deputy consul in the city and an Iraqi civilian. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan condemned the “heinous attack”. (https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-49020786) No-one has so far said they were behind it. The Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has fought Turkey for decades and has bases in Iraq, has denied any role.

Newsline: US Embassy in Baghdad accused of serving as headquarters for Mossad, ISIS

Senior Iraqi parliament member Hassan Salem issued a warning about the US embassy’s “suspicious activities,” saying that it hosts Mossad and ISIS agents. Salem claimed that “the US embassy in Baghdad has turned into a center for Israel’s Mossad” and ISIS terrorists, additionally claiming that the embassy is “interfering in the country’s internal affairs by spying, spreading rumors and hatching plots,” Fars News reported. The lawmaker further claimed that the embassy should be closed down for its illegalities. “The US embassy’s violation of laws and forgetting its responsibilities based on the international laws mean that the center could not be called an embassy and therefore, its closure is legally necessary,” Salem said. (https://www.jpost.com/Middle-East/Iraqi-PM-US-embassy-hosts-Mossad-agents-ISIS-terrorists-595644) Salem has previously accused the US of providing a terrorist with protection. In February, he said that the US have ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in their care in the western desert of the Iraqi Anbar province. “Al-Baghdadi is using the Anbar desert as a safe haven, while the US forces provide him with all means of support from their station at the Ain Al-Assad military base in the Anbar province,” Salem said.

Newsline: Pompeo Seeks to Make Baghdad Embassy Pullout Permanent

In May, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo ordered a partial evacuation of diplomats from the U.S. Embassy in Iraq amid escalating tensions with Iran. Now, several State Department officials say they are being told the drawdown in embassy staff will effectively become permanent, a move that could leave the U.S. Embassy short-staffed to undertake important tasks like countering Iran on the diplomatic front—and in the short-term has marooned hundreds of diplomats in the Washington area without an embassy to go back to. A State Department spokesman said this characterization of the drawdown is “inaccurate.” He said: “No decision on permanent staffing levels have been made, but a review of staffing is in process.” But three other State Department officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the staffing levels at the Baghdad embassy reached after the evacuation in May are being treated as a de facto permanent cap on State Department personnel in Iraq. “They’ve already quietly made the policy decision that they’re not sending these people back,” a senior State Department official familiar with internal deliberations told Foreign Policy. “But they’re not actually calling it a drawdown, they’re just saying they’re reviewing the ordered departure,” the official said. (https://foreignpolicy.com/2019/07/12/pompeo-seeks-to-make-baghdad-embassy-pullout-permanent-officials-say-state-department-diplomacy-middle-east-iran-tensions-embassy-drawdown-evacuation/) The embassy still has an estimated thousands of personnel in place, but only a small portion of staff at the embassy work directly on core diplomatic functions, including political officers, economic officers, and public diplomacy officers. The majority are contractors, security personnel, or officials from other federal agencies, including the intelligence community. After the partial evacuation, two officials told Foreign Policy, the embassy has less than 15 State Department officials left working directly on core diplomatic functions.