Archive for Iraq
The U.S. embassy in Baghdad said on Monday it has limited the movement of its personnel after receiving “credible threats of possible attacks on hotels frequented by Westerners”. “As a reminder, U.S. citizens should maintain a heightened sense of security awareness and take appropriate measures to enhance their personal security at all times when living and working in Iraq,” an emergency security message for U.S. citizens on the embassy’s website said. It did not give details on the nature of threat. U.S. authorities advise citizens to avoid travelling to Iraq citing the risk of being kidnapped by armed political groups or criminal gangs and bombings by the group Islamic State.
Ties between France and the Kurdistan Region have never been stronger as evidenced by President Francois Hollande’s recent historic visit to Erbil and Paris’ military support of the Kurds. Yet amid flourishing diplomacy, the French consulate in Erbil is facing its biggest scandal yet: a corruption ring that allegedly involved a high-level diplomat. Employees at the French consulate in Erbil are facing charges of corruption that involved scamming Iraqis by pressing them to pay thousands of dollars for visas and embassy appointments. “It’s true, consular employees were redirecting applicants to travel agencies who would charge them ridiculous prices for appointments and visas,” Alain Guépratte, the French consul-general to the Kurdistan Region told Rudaw. Guépratte said he did not have sufficient evidence to call in French inspectors until late February. Deputy Consul-General Ludovic Francelle has been suspended for one year pending a criminal tribunal ahead of a trial. The Foreign Ministry would not comment on his exact role in the scam. Meanwhile, two Kurdish employees have been fired charging huge premiums on visas that should only cost €60. French media reported that some Iraqis paid $600 for an initial appointment and $800-$1,700 for a visa. They also paid for the agent to fill out an application. Generally, those wanting an appointment immediately would have to pay more. The European Union visa is one of the most coveted and difficult visas for Iraqis to obtain. Although they have an easier time traveling internationally now than in the past, it still can be difficult for Iraqis and other citizens of poor, war-torn countries such as Syria to obtain visas from western and Arab countries that fear they might seek asylum. Following an investigation by the Kurdish intelligence service, the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) officials reported that people may have been paying upwards of $10,000.
Turkey’s consul-general in Mosul, who was freed after Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) militants held him captivity for 101 days, resisted demands from the militants to make a statement in front of cameras even though they had put a gun to his head more than once. In brief remarks to journalists after his arrival at Ankara’s Esenboğa airport from the Şanlıurfa province on the border with Syria, Consul General Öztürk Yılmaz said it was not an easy task to “fly your flag” in a violence-hit place like Mosul. “I am proud of what I have gone through for my country,” he said. Yılmaz also said he never fell into despair, asserting that “people who have faith” do not despair. One of the other 45 Turkish hostages told the media that the consul-general had resisted ISIL demands to make a statement in front of a camera and added that the militants had even held a gun to the consul general’s head two or three times. “They wanted to film us and take photographs of us, but he said, ‘Shoot me, I will not let you degrade the honor of my country’,” the hostage told CNN Türk aboard a plane that took the hostages from Şanlıurfa to Ankara.
Reconnaissance planes at the ready, France’s president said there was “no time to lose” in the global push to combat extremists from the Islamic State group, minus the two countries who share most of Iraq’s borders. French reconnaissance jets were prepared to take off Monday, a French official said. An American official said several Arab countries had offered to conduct airstrikes. “The terrorist threat is global and the response must be global,” French President Francois Hollande said, opening an international conference Monday intended to come up with a global strategy against the group. “There is no time to lose.” Muslim-majority countries are considered vital to any operation to prevent the militants from gaining more territory in Iraq and Syria. Western officials have made clear they consider Syrian President Bashar Assad part of the problem, and U.S. officials opposed France’s attempt to invite Iran. France’s foreign minister acknowledged that a number of the countries at the table Monday had “very probably” financed Islamic State’s advances, and Iraq’s president appeared ambivalent about Arab participation, saying his country needed the support of its neighbors — but not necessarily their fighter jets or soldiers. In an interview on Sunday with The Associated Press in Paris, Iraq’s President Fouad Massoum — a Kurd, whose role in the government is largely ceremonial — expressed regret that Iran was not attending. He also seemed lukewarm to the possible participation Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia in airstrikes in Iraqi territory.
Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Ministry says the kingdom plans to reopen its embassy in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad once the situation improves in Iraq. Saudi Foreign Ministry spokesman Osama Nugali said on Saturday that the decision was made following a meeting between Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal and his Iraqi counterpart Ibrahim al-Jaafari in the Saudi Red Sea port of Jeddah earlier this year, English-language newspaper Arab News reported. “Prince Saud has assured al-Jaafari that the Saudi Embassy would be reopened in Baghdad,” he added. Nugali further noted that Riyadh has not given any time frame for the embassy’s reopening. Saudi Arabia needs to resolve “technical, administrative and security” issues before it can re-establish the mission and assign an ambassador, the senior Saudi official stated. The Saudi government, which has not dispatched an ambassador to Baghdad since 1990, named a non-resident ambassador, Fahd bin Abdul Mohsen al-Zaid, to the Iraqi capital in March 2012. Senior Iraqi officials have blamed Saudi Arabia, Qatar and some Persian Gulf Arab states for the growing terrorism in their country.
Poland temporarily closed its embassy in Baghdad over security concerns in Iraq, which has been plagued by Islamic State militants. “Following the worsening of the security situation in Iraq, Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski has decided to temporarily suspend the activities of the Polish embassy in Baghdad as of September 9,” the ministry said in a statement. It added that its consular agency in Iraq’s Arbil – the seat of the Kurdish regional government – would remain open.
While President Obama has stepped up efforts to address the growing threat of the Islamic State, Senate Intelligence Committee chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif.) said the group is still aiming to take over Iraq, and has its eyes set on the country’s capital. “ISIS is a major threat to this country — in the future and right now — to the entirety of Syria and Iraq, and the expanding caliphate,” she said on State of the Union. “I think where they’re going is to Baghdad — it s my belief they will try to attack our embassy.” Feinstein commended President Obama for taking further action, even if it took longer than it should have. “It is overdue, but the president is now there, and I think it’s the right thing for America,” she said.