Iran Denies any Revolutionary Guards Role in Kirkuk Operations


London – Iranian Supreme Leader’s top Adviser for International Affairs Ali Akbar Velayati denied media reports that the Iranian Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) participated in the Iraqi government operations in Kirkuk against the Kurds.

“The IRGC plays no role in the Kirkuk operations,” Velayati told reporters in Tehran on Tuesday while defending the “consultative” role of the Iranian forces in Iraq and Syria.

He made his remarks in response to charges by the Kurdish Peshmerga forces that the IRGC was commanding the movement of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) in Kirkuk.

This was the second time in two days in which Velayati commented on the Kirkuk operations. On Monday, he had criticized Iraqi Kurdistan Region President Masoud Barzani, accusing him of trying to control the Kirkuk oil.

“Barzani should accept that he has made a mistake, admit it and try to make up for it,” Velayati demanded.

A Peshmerga statement said that a Revolutionary Guards leader, known as Eqbalpour, was directing the PMF in Kirkuk.

Barzani’s media adviser, Kifah Mahmoud said: “The Iranians were very clear to see. Many members of the IRGC were in the battle and most of them were speaking Persian.”

“What happened was a conspiracy with Iran’s participation through the PMF and air coverage, and of course with Turkish approval,” Mahmoud added, according to the German news agency (dpa).

Meanwhile, officials at the Parwezkhan border crossing between Iraq and Iran said troops from the pro-Baghdad PMF had taken control of the Iraqi side of the crossing, reported the Anadolu news agency.

It quoted officials, on condition of anonymity, as saying that PMF members who were stationed on the Iranian side, entered the Parwezkhan crossing and seized control of it.

On the Kurdish side, officials stressed that Kurdish border crossings with Iran were under the full control of Kurdish authorities and that the Iraqi forces were not present there.

“The claim that the PMF forces have entered the border ports between the Kurdistan Region and Iran is not true,” Samal Abdulrahman, director general of the Kurdistan Region’s customs told Rudaw television.

“No Iraqi force has come to the border port, which remains closed by Iran,” Aram Sayakhan, media and relations officer of the Parwezkhan crossing told Rudaw.

UAE Rights Group Condemns Asset Freeze of Sheikh Abdullah Al Thani

Dubai– Emirates Association for Human Rights (EHRA) condemned the freeze of assets of Sheikh Abdullah bin Ali Al Thani saying it is a flagrant violation of human rights that has become a systematic approach of intimidation adopted by Qatari authorities.

EHRA Chairman Mohammed Salem al-Kaabi said that Qatar’s freezing of Sheikh Abdullah’s assets and funds is a blatant infringement of personal and human rights and an illegal, condemned action that corroborates Doha’s insistence to continue its violations of all Arab and international human rights charters and conventions.

The association also condemned Qatari regime’s freezing of the assets of Sheikh Sultan Bin Suhaim and the raid on his palace last week by the Qatari state security forces that wreaked havoc on its holdings and documents.

These actions reveal the fact that Qatar has become a police state that blatantly defies all legal restrictions, WAM News Agency quoted Kaabi as saying.

Sheikh Abdullah Bin Ali Al Thani, the grandson of Qatar’s founder, tweeted: “The Qatari regime honors me by freezing all of my bank accounts, and I thank them for this honor and I have the honor to present it to the homeland.”

He hoped that Qatar would expel opportunists and friends of interests and return to the Gulf union.

In details, the palace of Sheikh Sultan Bin Suhaim in Doha was raided for six hours by a unit of 15 armed men of the Qatari State Security Forces last Thursday.

The raid resulted in the confiscation of around 137 bags and a number of cabinets containing documents and belongings of Sheikh Sultan, as well as large archives of his father, former Foreign Minister Suhaim Bin Hamad Al Thani.

The archive includes information that accurately records the history of Qatar and its internal events from the sixties until his death in 1985.

Also during the raid, security agents invaded the private room of Sheikh Sultan’s mother, confiscating all her personal and family pictures, her jewelry, valuables and money.

In addition, palace workers were subjected to assault, beatings and arrest.

Iraqi Military: Kurdish Peshmerga Return to June 2014 Line


A senior Iraqi military commander announced on Wednesday that Kurdish Peshmerga fighters have retreated to territories they had controlled in June 2014 before ISIS swept through northern and western Iraq.

They returned to the June 2014 line after turning over their positions in the Nineveh province to Iraqi government forces, he told Reuters.

“As of today we reversed the clock back to 2014,” the Iraqi army commander, who asked not to be identified. There was no immediate comment from the Kurdish side.

Iraqi forces declared that they had achieved their objective in pushing back Kurds from territories they had seized in their three-year war against ISIS.

Their lightning operation saw them sweep through disputed Kurdish-held territory in a punishing riposte to an independence vote last month.

“Security has been restored in sectors of Kirkuk, including Dibis, Al-Multaqa, and the Khabbaz and Bai Hassan North and South oil fields,” the federal government’s Joint Operations Command said.

“Forces have been redeployed and have retaken control of Khanaqin and Jalawla in Diyala province, as well as Makhmur, Bashiqa, Mosul dam, Sinjar and other areas in the Nineveh plains,” it added.

The Kurds have now once again returned to their three-province semi-autonomous region in the north.

Meanwhile, Iraqi forces announced that they had completed “imposing security” in Kirkuk during the 48-hour military operations.

The Iraqi advance dealt a body blow to the Kurdish region’s finances by depriving it of the output from the Kirkuk oil fields which had made up much of its exports.

Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi ordered the recapture of Kirkuk and all other disputed areas claimed by both the Kurdistan Regional Government and the central authorities in Baghdad in response to the September 25 referendum.

The Kurds voted overwhelmingly to secede from Iraq. The referendum was rejected by Iraq, Turkey, Iran and the US.

Yemen’s Legitimacy Consolidates its Presence in Besieged Taiz

Taiz– Yemen’s legitimacy has continued to improve its services in Taiz despite the siege enforced by Houthi and Saleh militias.

In that regard, deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Civil Service Abdulaziz Jubari inaugurated the local automated passport issuance center in the district and monitored the issuance of the first passport after a nearly three-year shutdown.

“The re-inauguration of passport issuance is a significant step in the process of rendering state institutions in Taiz functional,” State news agency quoted Jubari as saying.

The Deputy PM stated that there has been a distinguished pace in re-normalizing life ever since the Central Bank’s branch, executive offices, schools and universities, and security and military apparatus premises have been re-opened.

Jubari believed that a larger number of services will help overcome all adversities and bring the situation back to normal in Taiz.

Furthermore, the minister allocated over 22 million Yemeni riyal to 55 amputees in Taiz.

Jubari also chaired a meeting with the local authority in Taiz to oversee the re-normalization of life and resolve the issue of the largely unpaid salaries of civil servants.

He also directed the renovation of the governorate’s main offices, and ordered work to be continued from temporary offices.

Jubari lauded the sacrifices of people of Taiz for “enduring the devastation of war and blockade,” adding they taught the militias valuable lessons that can’t be forgotten throughout history.

Meanwhile, Houthi and Saleh militias continued to target residential areas in Taiz, mainly its eastern neighborhoods.

Local activist Mokhtar Ahmed told Asharq Al-Awsat that militias are still committing crimes in Taiz amid an international silence. He stated that shelling on a residential area killed a man, and a woman who had already lost two of her children in previous Houthi attacks.

Ahmed also indicated that at least two civilians were killed by shelling on General Thawra Hospital.

In other news, Minister of Social Affairs Ibtihaj al-Kamal warned that the future of children in the militia-controlled areas is in great danger because the insurgents have disrupted their school life.

In a statement to Saba News Agency, Kamal said insurgents are the biggest violator of children’s rights in Yemen with the “suspension of education” in many schools, because of the militias’ failure to pay salaries to teachers, and their infusion of school textbooks with “a racist sectarian ideology.”

“The coup militias have worked to destroy 1,700 schools, deprive 2.5 million children of education and print 11,000 textbooks having a racist sectarian ideology,” she indicated, adding that about 9,000 children under the legal age were denied their education rights and were forced into battlefields.

The minister appealed to human rights organizations to force the radical militia to stop implicating children in their lost war and to comply with international laws concerning children’s rights. She called on the UN’s agencies to blacklist the militia as a violator of children’s rights.

Kamal pointed out that King Salman Center for Relief (KSrelief) is working on rehabilitating children formerly recruited as militia fighters to be integrated again into the society through a number of programs in Maerib and al-Jouf districts. 

King Salman Calls on Iraqi Parties to Address Crisis through Dialogue


Riyadh – Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz held a telephone call Monday evening with Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi, in which he stressed the Kingdom’s support for the unity of Iraq, its security and stability and the adherence of all parties to the Iraqi constitution.

King Salman renewed the Kingdom’s call on all parties to exercise restraint and deal with the crisis through dialogue to spare Iraq more internal conflicts.

For his part, the Iraqi Prime Minister praised the Saudi King’s stance and his interest in the security and stability of Iraq.

He emphasized the keenness of the Iraqi government to avoid any military escalation and to ensure security in all Iraqi territories.

US Central Command Raids ISIS Training Camps in Yemen

US- Yemen

Aden, London – US forces killed dozens of ISIS militants in a strike on two ISIS training camps, Oct. 16, in al-Bayda governorate, center of Yemen. However, security officials and locals said the strike targeted militants belonging to al-Qaeda and not ISIS terrorist group.

US Central Command announced that its forces raided two ISIS camps used to train militants to conduct terror attacks using AK-47s, machine guns, rocket-propelled grenade launchers and endurance training which resulted in disrupting the organization’s attempts to train new fighters.

Strikes against ISIS targets disrupt and destroy militants’ attack-plotting efforts, leadership networks, and freedom of maneuver within the region, according to Central Command.

“In coordination with the government of Yemen, US forces are supporting ongoing counter-terrorism operations in Yemen against ISIS and AQAP to degrade the groups’ ability to coordinate external terror attacks and limit their ability to hold territory seized from the legitimate government of Yemen,” reiterated the Command.

Local eyewitnesses told Reuters that tribal leaders were not allowed near the area in Bayda out of fear of another strike.

Locals reported that the two camps were named after two ISIS leaders who were killed during a US airstrike last summer: ISIS leader in Yemen Abu Bilal al-Harbi and ISIS spokesperson Abu Mohamemd al-Adnani.

A Yemeni security official stated that five al-Qaeda militants were killed in an airstrike believed to be done by the US forces. He explained that 12 raids targeted Qaeda sites in al-Abal and Yekla areas in Ould Rabieh district of Bayda governorate which is considered the organization’s stronghold in the country.

Locals told Asharq al-Awsat that the raid happened after three days of intense drones= hovering above the area, adding that it still wasn’t clear how many militants were killed or injured because people were afraid to approach the area as US aircraft hovered over for hours.

US drones continue to target militants suspected of belonging to terrorist organizations in Yemen’s center. On October 8, US drones killed five ISIS militants northwest of Maerib.

Since January, US intensified its raids on Yemen-based al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) with over 100 strikes on Bayda, Shabwa, Maerib, Hadramout, and Abyen.

According to statistics, over 120 militants were killed during those raids including senior commanders.

King Salman Asserts Saudi Support for Trump’s Firm Iran Policy


Riyadh – Saudi Arabia said it supports and welcomes the recently announced United States strategy towards Iran, its hostile behavior, and funding of international and regional terror, said Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz when chairing a cabinet session on Tuesday.

He also confirmed Saudi Arabia’s continued commitment to collaborating with US partners in an effort to achieve objectives announced by US President Donald Trump.

At the outset of the cabinet session, King Salman briefed ministers on the telephone call he had with Trump during which the monarch emphasized Riyadh’s support of his firm strategy towards Iran, its aggressive activities and support for terrorism in the region and worldwide.

He also stressed the Kingdom’s full commitment to continue working with its partners in the US to achieve the desired goals announced by Trump.

The King also briefed the cabinet on the results of his meeting with Kuwait’s Emir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al Jaber Al Sabah, during which they reviewed bilateral relations and discussed overall regional events.

The cabinet was briefed on the telephone call with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, during which the Palestinian leader reviewed with King Salman the recently signed Hamas-Fatah reconciliation agreement.

King Salman gave great emphasis to “unity” in paving the way ahead for the Palestinian Authority to further serve its citizens. He said that the Kingdom is looking forward to this important reconciliation, which realizes the hopes and aspirations of all Palestinians.

The King briefed the cabinet on a telephone call with Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi during which he stressed Riyadh’s support for Iraq’s unity, security and stability. He underlined the adherence of all parties to the Iraqi constitution for the interest of Iraq and its people.

The Cabinet also reviewed a number of regional and international developments, including outcomes of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) annual and the World Bank (WB) meetings in Washington.

Meetings focused on the development of the Kingdom’s economy and its efforts in implementing its transformation Vision 2030, affiliated operational programs and initiatives.

Differences Threaten Negotiations to Amend Skhirat Agreement

Meeting of the Joint Drafting Committee in Tunis

Cairo, Tunis– Differences between members of the Joint Drafting Committee in charge with amending the Skhirat Agreement have hampered discussions between the two Libyan sides representing Parliament and the High State Council, amid mutual accusations of “refusing to deal with the political agreement.”

The disputes threatened to impede the negotiations, which kicked off on Sunday, after the withdrawal of Parliament’s representatives from the committee’s meeting on Monday evening.

“The reason for their withdrawal is the insistence of the High State Council’s dialogue committee not to resolve controversial issues and to return to points and understandings that have already been resolved,” said Abdul Salam Nasieh, the head of Parliament’s delegation.

The High State Council responded by saying that no amendments were originally requested.

“The House of Representatives [Parliament] is the one that refused to deal with the political agreement and insisted on its amendment.

“Now Parliament has to submit written notes of their points of objection.”

The Council’s representatives said in a statement issued at dawn on Tuesday that it was prepared to deal with Parliament’s written notes in a positive manner and determine what would be acceptable to them.

The statement underlined “total insistence on continuing the current efforts to reach an agreement with Parliament to alleviate the daily sufferings of the Libyan citizens.”

Immediately after the suspension of the meeting of the Joint Drafting Committee in Tunis on Monday evening, the spokesman for the UN mission said this would “give the opportunity for both sides to consult with the dialogue committees of Parliament and the High State Council”, noting that meetings and internal consultations would continue the next day, which did not happen.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a member of Parliament’s dialogue committee told Asharq al-Awsat that the reason behind the suspension of the meeting was due to “demands by the High State Council representatives to have a greater proportion of competencies related to state appointments, in exchange for reducing the powers of the House of Representatives in the future, which we have rejected.”

Abdullah Blaiheq, Parliament’s official spokesperson, told Asharq al-Awsat that meetings were suspended until the State Council dialogue committee submits its written proposals on the points of disagreement.

“There have been some changes to what was put forward… They have returned to talk again about the issue of a president and two deputies,” a point that has sparked many controversies according to Blaiheq.

Syrian Democratic Forces: US-Backed Kurdish-Arab Alliance


London – Kurdish fighters represent the backbone of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which seized on Tuesday control of the city of Raqqa from the ISIS terrorist group after a four-month offensive.

Comprised of Arab and Kurdish fighters, the SDF was formed in October 2015 in order to confront the extremist organization.

Backed by the US, it is considered the international coalition’s key ally in its war against ISIS. Washington has helped the SDF with airstrikes, weapons and expertise, which bolstered its ability to fight the extremists.

According to AFP, the alliance between the SDF and US has sparked major tensions with Ankara, which has not hesitated in the past in targeting the forces.

However, despite the various war fronts, all warring parties share ISIS as their common enemy.

The SDF was formed after US-backed Kurdish units achieved several victories against the extremists, most notably expelling them from the city of Kobane (Ain Arab) and Tal Abyad in 2015.

The advance has however created tensions with opposition factions that have accused the Kurds of forced displacement against Arab residents. It also raised fears in Ankara that the Kurds would seek autonomous rule in territories along the Turkish border.

To counter these tensions, the SDF was formed to include 30,000 fighters, among them 5,000 Arabs. Kurds however assume the command of the forces.

After the US-led coalition launched its first air strikes against ISIS in Syria in September 2014, Washington struggled to find a reliable partner on the ground.

A much-touted $500-million program to build a rebel army to fight ISIS collapsed. The SDF was the next best choice, especially after the Kurds proved to be fierce fighters.

After the SDF was formed, the White House announced the first sustained deployment of US special forces to Syria, reversing a longstanding refusal to put boots on the ground.

Around 50 special operations personnel were deployed in northern Syria, and the number has now grown to around 500 US troops. Senior US commanders and Washington’s envoy to the coalition Brett McGurk have met top SDF chiefs during visits to northern Syria.

Washington said in June it would supply weapons directly to the People’s Protection Units, the main Kurdish backbone of the SDF, despite objections from ally Turkey.

In November 2016, the SDF announced its operation “Wrath of the Euphrates” aimed at ousting ISIS from Raqqa province, including the group’s de facto Syrian capital Raqqa.

In the months that followed, the alliance gradually closed in on the city, first sweeping into territory to the north before closing in from the east and west.

In early June, SDF forces entered Raqqa for the first time, penetrating its Old City a month later after airstrikes by the US-led coalition smashed two holes in the ramparts.

By late September, SDF forces had taken control of 90 percent of the city, cornering ISIS fighters in Raqqa’s stadium, a few surrounding buildings and a major hospital.

On October 17, SDF spokesman Talal Sello told AFP the US-backed fighters finally had “taken full control of Raqqa” from ISIS.

Saudi Arabia to Launch Coordination Council with Iraq

Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud talks with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi in Jeddah

Riyadh- Saudi Arabia and Iraq will be cosigning the establishment of a joint Saudi-Iraqi Coordinating Council in Riyadh next week, sources told Asharq Al-Awsat.

The body is said to cover various political, economic, security and cultural fields.

Abdul Aziz al-Shammari, charge d’affaires of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques in Baghdad, said that an Iraqi delegation is expected to arrive in Riyadh next week under the chairmanship of Dr. Sulaiman al-Jumaili, head of the Coordination Council from the Iraqi side. Six other Iraqi ministers will also be part of the delegation.

“The Saudi-Iraqi Coordination Council will cover all vital and important areas between the two countries, political, economic, commercial, security, cultural and others,” Shammari told Asharq Al-Awsat.

Shammari stressed that this step is vital in rebooting good ties between Riyadh and Baghdad, which will then bring relations to broader horizons, in various fields, and through the establishment of joint sub-committees to discuss the promotion of cooperation between the two countries.