Video showed American special forces came under fire as they approached the building, and a helicopter took out the gunmen from the air.
Another video showed US Delta Force operators advancing on the compound across open ground.
A third film showed a missile strike that flattened the compound following the raid in north-west Syria at the weekend.
There were also before-and-after photographs, and a senior military official said the compound now resembled a “parking lot.”
General Frank McKenzie, head of US Central Command, said “fighters from two locations in the vicinity of the compound began firing on US aircraft participating in the assault” before they were destroyed.
He said four men and two women were killed by US forces inside the compound. Two children who were taken into a tunnel by Baghdadi as he fled were “under the age of 12,” he said.
General McKenzie said Baghdadi may have fired, or attempted to fire a weapon at US forces from the tunnel before detonating a suicide vest, killing himself and the two children.
“He crawled into a hole with two small children and blew himself up while his people stayed on the ground,” the general said. He could not confirm Donald Trump’s suggestion that Baghdadi was “whimpering and crying” in the moments before he died.
General McKenzie said the Kurds had given valuable “early intelligence” before the raid, but the raid was “US only.”
Iraqi Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr drives a car as he joins anti-government demonstrators gathering in the central holy city of Najaf, October 29, 2019. Photo: Haidar Hamdani / AFP
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Firebrand Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr joined protesters in Iraq’s holy city of Najaf on Tuesday, warning he plans to join forces with the a rival parliamentary bloc to unseat the government of Adil Abdul-Mahdi.
The influential cleric’s comments come as protests continue across Iraq, leading to widespread violence and fatalities.
Sadr has already withdrawn his backing for the government in the wake of the protests and has called for fresh elections. He accused Iraq’s top politicians of being under the influence of foreign powers – particularly arch rivals Iran and the United States.
In a sign of shifting political allegiances to come, Sadr held out an offer of cooperation with Hadi al-Amiri, head of the Iraqi parliament’s powerful al-Fatih bloc.
His tweet came in response to Abdul-Mahdi’s letter on Tuesday in which the Iraqi PM asked Sadr to cooperate with Amiri if he wants the PM to resign.
“I ask brother Hadi al-Amiri for cooperation in order to withdraw trust from you,” Sadr told Abdul-Mahdi in his tweet. “As we will also work on modifying the constitution and changing the Iraqi High Electoral Commission and its regulations.”
Sadr is head of the Sayirun alliance, the largest bloc in the Iraqi parliament. He is also head of the Saraya al-Salam militia, which is part of Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) umbrella, also known as Hashd al-Shaabi in Arabic.
In his letter to Sadr, Abdul-Mahdi goaded the Sayirun leader “to meet al-Amiri and decide on forming the new government in order for me to resign”.
“I can’t go in front of the parliament and hand over my resignation to the parliament, as other steps need to be considered according to the Iraqi constitution,” he added.
In order to hold snap elections, the president of Iraq has to approve an official request from Iraqi PM to dissolve the parliament, and parliament must vote on its own dissolution, according to article 64 of the Iraqi constitution.
In yet another attempt to quell the protests, Abdul-Mahdi announced a further package of reforms on Tuesday evening concerning garbage collection, sanitation, and flood-prevention – far removed from the demands of the protesters.
At least 74 people have been killed since the protests resumed on Friday, according to the most recent figures from the Human Rights Commission.
Footage submitted to Rudaw English depicts violent clashes between protesters and security forces in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square on Monday night, October 28, 2019. Credit: submitted
A wave of unrest spilled over southern Iraq earlier this month as Iraqis took to the streets to demand action on unemployment, poor services, and rampant corruption. At least 157 people were killed in the first nine days of the month, according to the United Nations.
Protests resumed on Friday after the Shiite religious observance of Arbaeen – only this time the protesters are demanding is a “revolution” to sweep away the old Islamic parties.
In a statement on Tuesday, the United Nationals Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) condemned the violent repression of demonstrations.
“The special representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for Iraq, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, condemns in the strongest terms the rising number of deaths and injuries during the demonstrations engulfing many parts of Iraq,” UNAMI said.
Hennis-Plasschaert reminded the Iraqi government that “violence is never the answer” and that “national dialogue is urgently needed to find prompt and meaningful response”.
The UNAMI statement comes after a bloody night in the holy Shiite city of Karbala on Monday, as security forces used live ammunition to disperse protesters, killing dozens and wounding hundreds.
“Witness reports indicate that live fire was used against demonstrators, causing high numbers of casualties,” the statement added.
According to the Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights, at least one protester was killed and around 190 wounded.
“One protester died, while 142 security members and 50 protesters wounded in Karbala province on Monday night,” the statement reads. “While 140 protesters detained, but 80 of the detainees released and 60 remained in custody.”
The Associated Press put the figure at 18 killed and hundreds wounded.
Ali al-Bayati, a member of Iraq’s Independent High Human Rights Commission, published an open letter to Iraqi President Barham Salah on Monday claiming a war had broken out in Karbala.
“To his Excellency the President, the guardian of the constitution and the people, you stated today that Iraq will not accept a war between America and Iran. Do you realize that there is a war on our Iraqi soil, not somewhere else, and between its children? It happened in Karbala,” Bayati said in a Facebook post.
He embedded a video appearing to depict masked men, wearing vests and helmets, beating a man in an alley.
Despite the violent response of security forces, the protests are ongoing in several provinces of Iraq.
President Trump on Sunday announced that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the elusive Islamic State commander, died during a U.S. military operation in Syria, an important breakthrough more than five years after the militant chief launched a self-proclaimed caliphate that inspired violence worldwide.
“Last night, the United States brought the world’s number one terrorist leader to justice,” Trump said in a televised announcement from the White House. “He was a sick and depraved man, and now he’s gone.”
In what the president called a “dangerous and daring” nighttime operation, helicopters inserted a team of American Special Operations troops into a volatile area of northwest Syria, where they began an assault on a militant compound culminating in a retreat by Baghdadi into an underground hideaway. There, in a “dead-end tunnel,” Trump said, the militant leader detonated an explosive vest, killing himself and three of what were believed to be his at least six children.
The high-risk operation brings a dramatic end to a years-long hunt for the man who spearheaded the Islamic State’s transformation from an underground insurgent band to a powerful quasi-state that straddled two countries and spawned copycat movements across several continents.
At its peak, the Islamic State controlled an area the size of Great Britain, boasting a massive military arsenal and a formidable financial base it used to threaten the West and brutalize those under its control. While the group gradually lost territory to U.S.-backed Syrian and Iraqi fighters, officials cautioned that it remains a potent insurgent force, even after Baghdadi’s death.
Officials said U.S. intelligence had tracked the militant leader, a onetime academic and veteran jihadist who spent a year in a U.S.-run prison in Iraq, to a redoubt in Syria’s Idlib province, a restive area near the border with Turkey that is home to an array of extremist groups. A critical piece of information on Baghdadi’s whereabouts came from a disaffected Islamic State militant who became an informant for the Kurds working with the Americans, according to a U.S. official who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive operation.
The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), whose troops have fought alongside U.S. forces, indicated that they had provided intelligence for the operation.
“For five months there has been joint intel cooperation on the ground and accurate monitoring, until we achieved a joint operation to kill Abu Bakir al-Bagdadi,” its commander, Gen. Mazloum Abdi, said on Twitter, using an alternate spelling of the terrorist leader’s name.
Trump has been accused of abandoning the Kurds following a decision to pull back most U.S. forces in northern Syria, who had provided a deterrent against Turkish forces threatening an attack from across the border. Officials on Sunday suggested that Baghdadi’s death would not affect plans to curtail, or at least alter, the military mission in Syria.
A senior official from Iraq’s intelligence service, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence, said the arrests and interrogation of people close to Baghdadi also helped yield his location, information that was provided to the Americans.
U.S. intelligence is tracking six Islamic State individuals in the line of succession to Baghdadi, the U.S. official said. It’s as though Baghdadi were the CEO and the six were his “executive VPs,” the official said.
They are dispersed, but U.S. intelligence “generally” knows where they are. The hope is that intelligence gleaned from the material recovered in the raid will help U.S. forces “roll up . . . the leadership cadre” in the coming months.
The ideal time to act is when the leadership ranks are in chaos, as they are now, the official said, and militants’ likely movements or communications provide opportunities to target them.
“We’ll keep picking away,” the official added.
Vice President Pence, speaking to CBS, said he and Trump were first informed on Thursday of the likelihood that Baghdadi would be at the target site, which the United States had been monitoring for some time. The president authorized the mission on Saturday morning.
Officials said that two U.S. service members were lightly wounded in the operation and that additional militants were killed, including two women — identified as Baghdadi’s wives — who were wearing explosive vests.
The raid comes as the United States scrambles to adjust its posture in Syria in the wake of Trump’s declaration earlier this month that he would pull out nearly all of the approximately 1,000 troops in Syria amid a Turkish offensive against Syrian Kurdish troops who have been the Pentagon’s main battlefield partner there. But evolving plans now call for a larger residual force that could mean a substantial ongoing campaign.
It also comes as the president faces impeachment proceedings over his role in withholding military aid to Ukraine and as the campaign for the 2020 presidential election intensifies.
National security adviser Robert O’Brien, speaking to NBC, said it was “a good day for the United States, for our armed forces, and for the president.”
During his remarks, Trump thanked Syrian Kurdish forces and nations including Russia and Turkey.
Trump described a harrowing operation that involved firefights before and after U.S. personnel, ferried in under the cover of darkness in eight helicopters, touched down in Idlib province. While the intent of the operation had been to capture Baghdadi, Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper told CNN, he moved underground when U.S. forces called on him to surrender, where he detonated his device.
Officials said the military had taken DNA samples from Baghdadi’s remains and had quickly conducted visual and DNA tests to determine his identity. Nearly a dozen children were removed from the site, Trump said. It was not clear where they were taken.
“Baghdadi was vicious and violent, and he died in a vicious and violent way, as a coward running and crying,” he said.
Baghdadi’s actions during the operation could not be immediately verified.
A second official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss operational details, said that troops from Delta Force, an elite military unit, conducted the operation from a base in Iraq with support from the CIA and Kurdish forces.
The DNA material needed to identify Baghdadi was voluntarily provided by one of his daughters, the official said.
In his remarks, Trump appeared to relish the opportunity to mark a major foreign policy achievement, reiterating his claims of having single-handedly defeated the Islamic State and making no mention of the Obama administration’s steps to set in motion the campaign that culminated in a series of ground battles that deprived the Islamic State of territory and cash.
Esper, in a separate interview with ABC, praised Trump for making the “bold decision” to authorize the raid and said U.S. forces had rehearsed for several weeks.
Russia immediately cast doubt on the sense of triumph in Washington.
“An increase in the number of direct participants and countries, which have allegedly joined this ‘operation,’ each of them with totally contradictory details, cause well-grounded questions and doubts that it has really been carried out, and that, what’s more, it has been successful,” said the Defense Ministry spokesman, Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov, according to the Interfax news agency.
Trump praised his military and intelligence officials for the operation, which he said he watched from the White House Situation Room on Saturday evening — following a round of golf in the afternoon — with Pence, Esper, Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and other senior officials. News that Baghdadi was killed — announced as “jackpot,” from the commander on the ground, according to O’Brien — came around 7:15 p.m. Trump issued a tweet two hours later after U.S. helicopters touched down in Iraq, writing, “Something very big has just happened.”
During the group’s extremist reign, many more Iraqis and Syrians were killed or brutalized. Militants also enslaved women and children from Iraq’s Yazidi minority.
The operation served as a reminder of the grim series of events set off by the rise of the Islamic State and the sophisticated global propaganda and recruitment network that enabled. Among the high-profile acts of global violence the group inspired were the 2015 attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif. The group also used its financial and political power to establish foreign affiliates in places such as Libya. The Pentagon continues attacks against Islamic State fighters in Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia.
Although Baghdadi, 48, a native of the Iraqi city of Samarra, was not the first leader of the evolving militant organization that eventually became the Islamic State, he oversaw its rise to global prominence in 2014 as it took advantage of instability and weak governance to roll across Iraq and Syria.
Despite publicly declaring an ambitious extremist vision that same year, Baghdadi remained a distant, reclusive figure even to his supporters. In recent years, he has attempted to usher the organization into a renewed underground phase, urging followers in an audio message last month to attempt to break imprisoned brethren out of jail.
Baghdadi appears at a mosque in Mosul, Iraq, according to a video posted online in 2014. (Reuters)
Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), ranking minority-party member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, was among the Democrats who paired accolades for a successful operation with a warning about the potential impact of Trump’s larger Syria policy.
“The concern of this hasty withdrawal is that we’re going to lose that connectivity with the Kurds in terms of intelligence gathering,” Reed said in an interview. “I think that’s going to be a very significant loss going forward.”
Earlier in the day, Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), who spoke to reporters at the White House, voiced support for Trump’s decision to back away from a full withdrawal from Syria and said the president had told him of his desire to get Baghdadi.
His death “is a game changer in the war on terror,” Graham said.
Faysal Itani, a scholar at the Atlantic Council, said the Islamic State’s militant activities had not been enabled by any special powers of Baghdadi but by conditions that remain unchanged in Iraq and Syria, suggesting its potential to rise once more.
“ISIS’s success is rooted in state failures, sectarian divides, military and intelligence experience drawn from the Baathist security state it emerged from, and an ideology that is coherent and, for some, compelling,” Itani said, referring to the Baath Party of Saddam Hussein, the former leader of Iraq.
Liz Sly in Los Angeles, Souad Mekhennet in Germany, Sarah Dadouch in Beirut, Kareem Fahim in Istanbul, Mustafa Salim in Baghdad and Shane Harris, Joby Warrick and Ellen Nakashima in Washington contributed to this report.
Vice President Mike Pence announced Thursday that Turkey has agreed to a cease-fire to allow the Kurdish forces it was battling to safely withdraw from an area in northern Syria. (Oct. 17) AP, AP
WASHINGTON – The Pentagon is preparing to send tanks and armored vehicles to Syrian oil fields, according to a U.S. official – a stunning reversal of President Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. forces from the war-torn country after he declared victory over ISIS.
The deployment of heavy armor to Syria would represent a significant escalation in the fight, requiring a contingent of additional troops to operate and maintain the vehicles, as well as forces to protect their bases.
A Defense Department official said the Pentagon is sending additional forces to northeastern Syria to prevent the oil fields from falling back into the hands of ISIS. Both officials were not authorized to speak publicly.
The move represents an acknowledgement that ISIS remains a threat despite Trump’s declaration that the militant group has been vanquished. Monday, Trump backtracked on his order that all U.S. forces be withdrawn from Syria, saying a “small” number of troops would remain.
By Thursday, the Pentagon was planning for a significant escalation.
“Very, very confusing U.S. policy,” said Seth Jones, a national security expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Kurdish forces controlled much of northeastern Syria until two weeks ago. After an Oct. 6 phone call between Trump and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey invaded Syria, pushing the Kurds south.
Now Russian troops, which are in Syria to bolster the regime of Bashar al-Assad, and Turkish forces are operating in the region previously patrolled by U.S. and Kurdish forces.
Expert: Move aimed at Russia and Syria, not ISIS
Sending Abrams battle tanks and Bradley armored vehicles would mark a new stage in the five-year campaign against ISIS. Newsweek first reported the plans to send armor to the region.
The composition of the additional forces and the type of equipment to be sent to Syria is still being worked out, the U.S. official told USA TODAY. Placing heavily armored vehicles in Syria would require more logistical personnel to support them than the previous force of American commandos needed, the official said.
The deployment of armor is aimed at Russia and Syria, not ISIS, said Nicholas Heras, an expert on Syria with the Center for a New American Security. He said the U.S-led coalition against ISIS had succeeded in keeping oil from the militant group, using a combination of U.S.-led airstrikes and the Syrian Democratic Forces, made up largely of Kurds, on the ground.
“This move would either indicate that the U.S. military believes that it cannot depend on the SDF (Syrian Democratic Forces) to protect the oil fields, and instead cut a deal with Russia and Assad behind America’s back, or that the U.S. expects Assad and Russia to try to take the oil by force,” Heras said.
“Pure and simple,” he said, “the Pentagon is making contingencies for a big fight with Russia for Syria’s oil.”
A nuclear war between India and Pakistan could, over the span of less than a week, kill 50-125 million people—more than the death toll during all six years of World War II, according to new research.
A new study conducted by researchers from CU Boulder and Rutgers University examines how such a hypothetical future conflict would have consequences that could ripple across the globe. Today, India and Pakistan each have about 150 nuclear warheads at their disposal, and that number is expected to climb to more than 200 by 2025.
An animation showing the spread of smoke in Earth’s atmosphere following a nuclear war between India and Pakistan in 2025. (Credit: Charles Bardeen/NCAR)
The picture is grim. That level of warfare wouldn’t just kill millions of people locally, said CU Boulder’s Brian Toon, who led the research published today in the journal Science Advances. It might also plunge the entire planet into a severe cold spell, possibly with temperatures not seen since the last Ice Age.
His team’s findings come as tensions are again simmering between India and Pakistan. In August, India made a change to its constitution that stripped rights from people living in the long-contested region of Kashmir. Soon after, the nation sent troops to Kashmir, moves that Pakistan criticized sharply.
“An India-Pakistan war could double the normal death rate in the world,” said Toon, a professor in the Laboratory of Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP). “This is a war that would have no precedent in human experience.”
He came of age during the height of the Cold War when schoolchildren still practiced ducking-and-covering under their desks. As a young atmospheric scientist in the early 1980s, he was part of a group of researchers who first coined the term “nuclear winter”—a period of extreme cold that would likely follow a large-scale nuclear barrage between the U.S. and Russia.
And despite the collapse of the Soviet Union, Toon believes that such weapons are still very much a threat—one that’s underscored by current hostilities between India and Pakistan.
“They’re rapidly building up their arsenals,” Toon said. “They have huge populations, so lots of people are threatened by these arsenals, and then there’s the unresolved conflict over Kashmir.”
In his latest study, he and his colleagues wanted to find out just how bad such a conflict could get. To do that, the team drew on a wide range of evidence, from computer simulations of Earth’s atmosphere to accounts of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan in 1945.
Based on their analysis, the devastation would come in several stages. In the first week of the conflict, the group reports that India and Pakistan combined could successfully detonate about 250 nuclear warheads over each other’s cities.
There’s no way to know how powerful these weapons would be—neither nation has conducted nuclear tests in decades—but the researchers estimated that each one could kill as many as 700,000 people.
A map showing the changes in the productivity of ecosystems around the world in the second year after a nuclear war between India and Pakistan. Regions in brown would experience steep declines in plant growth, while regions in green could see increases. (Credit: Nicole Lovenduski and Lili Xia)
Most of those people wouldn’t die from the blasts themselves, however, but from the out-of-control fires that would follow.
“If you look at Hiroshima after the bomb fell, you can see a huge field of rubble about a mile wide,” Toon said. “It wasn’t the result of the bomb. It was the result of the fire.”
For the rest of the globe, the fires would just be the beginning.
The researchers calculated that an India-Pakistan war could inject as much as 80 billion pounds of thick, black smoke into Earth’s atmosphere. That smoke would block sunlight from reaching the ground, driving temperatures around the world down by an average of between 3.5-9 degrees Fahrenheit for several years. Worldwide food shortages would likely come soon after.
“Our experiment, conducted with a state-of-the-art Earth system model, reveals large-scale reductions in the productivity of plants on land and of algae in the ocean, with dangerous consequences for organisms higher on the food chain, including humans,” said study coauthor Nicole Lovenduski, an associate professor of atmospheric and oceanic sciences and a fellow of the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research (INSTAAR).
Toon recognizes that the scope of such a war may be hard for people to wrap their heads around. But he hopes that the study will show people around the world that the end of the Cold War didn’t eliminate the risk of global nuclear war.
“Hopefully, Pakistan and India will take note of this paper,” he said. “But mostly, I’m concerned that Americans aren’t informed about the consequences of nuclear war.”
The study also included CU Boulder coauthor Jerry Peterson, a professor emeritus in the Department of Physics. Other coauthors represent Rutgers University, the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research, Federation of American Scientists, Natural Resources Defense Council, University of Texas Rio Grande Valley and University of California, Los Angeles.
Inside the protests rocking nations around the globe
Protests are roiling cities across the world as fed-up citizens take to the streets to vent their grievances — both peacefully and violently — about economic conditions, government corruption and crippling tax hikes.
Hong Kong has been gripped by more than 20 weeks of violent clashes — while in Barcelona, old wounds have reopened as protesters once again demand Catalonia be recognized as a country separate from Spain.
Lebanon, meanwhile, appears to be on the brink of disastrous civil unrest again.
Here’s a look at some of the flareups.
Schools in Santiago, Chile, were closed Monday and only one line of the capital city’s mass-transit system was working as protesters skirmished again with police and troops.
Many grocery stores were closed, with long lines at those that were open.
In a televised statement Sunday night, President Sebastián Piñera imposed another curfew and extended the country’s state of emergency in hopes of deterring more protests.
“[The protesters] are at war against all good-willed Chileans who want to live in a democracy, with liberty and peace,” Piñera said.
The street violence broke out Friday after a weeks-long dispute with the government over a 3.5% raise in subway fares to $1.17, following a 2.5% boost in January.
The protest began modestly on Oct. 5, when students began jumping turnstiles in defiance of the fare increase.
But things turned violent last week and five people have been killed in clashes. At least 156 police and 11 civilians have been injured.
Protesters set fire to the headquarters of an energy company and torched a clothing factory and supermarket.
The Chilean government declared an emergency Saturday and deployed tanks to the streets for the first time since 1990, when the country returned to democracy after years under a military dictatorship.
Spain’s Supreme Court on Oct. 14 sentenced the Catalan leaders to up to 13 years behind bars for their part in a 2017 effort to declare independence for the region. Around half of Catalonia’s 7.5 million residents want to break away from Spain to create a new European country.
Last Monday, thousands of protesters shut down the airport, canceling flights.
Throughout the week, local police say, protesters hurled gasoline bombs and other projectiles at them, while setting fires around the city. Cops hit back with rubber bullets, tear gas, batons and water cannons.
On Friday, about a half-million people attended a peaceful demonstration, but riots broke out later in the day.
The crowds ignited fires, including near the Plaza de Catalunya at the top of the tourist hot spot Las Ramblas.
“The streets will always be ours!” they screamed.
Spanish Acting Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez warned that those who caused disturbances would face justice. The cost of protest-related damages in the city has exceeded $1.7 million, according to CNN.
Catalonia’s leader, Quim Torra, said Monday that the protests won’t cease until the Spanish government listens to separatists’ demands.
Hong Kong police on Monday fired tear gas at demonstrators, who amassed to mark three months since a gang assault on activists at the Yuen Long mass-transit station.
The clashes came a day after widespread violence, in which tens of thousands of people marched through the Kowloon district and demonstrators flung incendiary bombs at cops, torching stores and the entrances to transit stations.
Hong Kong has been battered by five months of often-violent protests amid fears that mainland China is tightening its grip on the semiautonomous region — the worst political crisis since Britain handed its colony back to China in 1997.
The demonstrations began in opposition to an extradition bill that would have allowed criminal suspects in Hong Kong to be sent to mainland China to stand trial.
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam said she would withdraw the bill, but the rallies turned into a broader push for more democratic reforms.
Protesters are demanding universal suffrage, an independent probe into alleged police brutality, amnesty for those arrested in the skirmishes and an end to the labeling of the protests as riots.
The clashes have seen police fire rubber bullets and even some live rounds, while activists have hurled bricks and gasoline bombs.
Facing escalating mass protests, the government of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri on Monday approved a package of economic reforms and a 2020 budget without new taxes, hoping to appease people in the streets.
Protests swelled in the hours after the announcement, however, as many demonstrators scorned the package as “empty promises.”
The country’s perilous economic situation reached fever pitch last week when the government proposed a host of austerity measures — sending hundreds of thousands of people into the streets.
Demonstrators say they’re angry at corruption within the government and have called on Hariri, President Michel Aoun and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri to step down.
The capital of Beirut has been gripped by five days of protests, with strikes over corruption, austerity measures and a $6 monthly tax on WhatsApp voice calls.
The country’s public debt of about $86 billion is the equivalent of more than 150% of its gross domestic product, according to the BBC, one of the highest debt loads in the world.
A deepening political crisis has devastated the impoverished Caribbean nation of Haiti, where protesters have called on President Jovenel Moïse to step down.
Thousands of citizens wreaked havoc in the capital of Port-au-Prince on Sunday amid the nation’s devastating fuel shortage and spiraling inflation. Haitians have called for Moïse’s resignation since August, citing shortages and widespread corruption.
Moïse has previously rejected calls for his resignation, saying he would not leave the country in the “hands of armed gangs and drug traffickers.”
Protester Jean Ronald said, “Jovenel is incapable and incompetent, he must pack his bags because Haiti must live.
“It is not normal to live in such an unequal country,” Ronald added, standing in front of the float of self-proclaimed prophet Mackenson Dorilas, a controversial religious leader. Dorilas was sanctioned by the Haitian ministry of faiths in 2018 after saying he could cure AIDS with a bed bug remedy.
Since coming to power in 2017, Moïse has incurred the wrath of an opposition movement that refuses to recognize his election victory. A journalist who was covering the protests was recently found dead in his car of gunshot wounds.
As Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates continue their blockade of Qatar, the pair often justify their campaign by accusing Doha of sponsoring terrorism. Most analysts have cast this claim as hypocritical, given Saudi Arabia and the UAE’s history of links to extremist groups from Afghanistan to Yemen.
Emirati and Saudi officials have also highlighted Qatar’s long-standing support for the Muslim Brotherhood, a political movement that, however controversial, no Western government has designated a terrorist organization. Further, Bahrain, a member of the anti-Qatari bloc, has accepted Islamic Minbar, an affiliate of the Muslim Brotherhood, as a legitimate political actor. Saudi Arabia too has cooperated with the Muslim Brotherhood at times, including with al-Islah, a Yemeni militia and political party affiliated with the political movement. Despite these contradictions, some of the allegations against Qatar merit further investigation.
Whereas Saudi Arabia and the UAE face accusations that they do far too little to prevent money from flowing to terrorist groups, Qatar seems to prefer a much more direct role in its interactions with militants. The peninsular monarchy has long financed Hamas, first listed as a “foreign terrorist organization” by the United States in 1997. Meanwhile, the Taliban, some of whose factions also appear on the US list, has maintained an office in Doha since 2013; Washington has often used this office to facilitate negotiations with the Taliban.
Some policymakers, including former Qatari Prime Minister Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber al- Thani, also suggest that Doha funneled money to al-Qaeda’s affiliates in Syria during the first years of the civil war in its rush to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad’s regime. Qatar’s decision to pay a hefty ransom for Qatari hostages held by the Iranian-funded Iraqi militia Kataib Hezbollah, another American-labeled terrorist group, further angered Saudi Arabia and the UAE. At the same time, officials in Abu Dhabi and Riyadh have engaged with the Taliban for far longer than their Qatari counterparts, even recognizing the Taliban’s regime prior to the start of Washington’s war on terror. In addition, several news agencies have reported on cooperation between Saudi Arabia, the UAE and offshoots of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen.
The boycott of Qatar likely has less to do with Qatar’s tendency to incorporate militants into its foreign policy, than with Qatari officials’ backing of groups at odds with Saudi Arabia and the UAE’s own convention-flouting agendas. While Qatar does sponsor militants, the reductive Emirati and Saudi narrative ignores Qatar’s history of funding political parties that have never resorted to violence, among them affiliates of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Despite the extent of Saudi Arabia and the UAE’s ulterior motives for boycotting Qatar and the two regional powers’ own role in terrorism financing, the breadth and depth of Qatari officials’ contacts with Western-designated terrorist groups corroborates quite a bit of what Emirati and Saudi leaders allege. In fact, anecdotal evidence indicates that Qatar’s engagement with these organizations has continued in the years after the Emirati and Saudi-imposed boycott. In July, The New York Times reported on a call between a Qatari-linked businessman and the Qatari ambassador to Somalia, implying that the terrorist group al-Shabaab had attacked Emirati targets in Somalia in support of Qatar’s national interests.
While it is circumstantial evidence at best, the call — if confirmed — would further implicate Qatari officials. Nonetheless, Qatar seems far from alone. The UAE has also engaged with al-Shabaab, receiving much of the charcoal that the group exports through smugglers.
Though the Emirati and Saudi allegations about Qatar’s relationship with certain Western-designated terrorist groups have proved more or less accurate, these claims belie the complexity of Qatar’s foreign policy and the dividends that it has yielded. Qatar officials’ contacts with militants have allowed the country’s diplomats and intelligence officers to act as intermediaries in prisoner swaps between these groups and the United States. Qatar’s extensive ties to Syrian insurgents enabled the country to facilitate the 2014 release of Peter Theo Curtis, an American hostage held by al-Qaeda’s Syrian franchise, the al-Nusra Front. Moreover, the Taliban’s Doha office hosted the negotiations that led to American prisoner of war Bowe Bergdahl’s return from imprisonment in Afghanistan the same year.
Qatar has also leveraged these ties to play a role in resolving the Greater Middle East’s most divisive conflicts, brokering ceasefires between Hamas and Israel, and even overseeing peace talks between the Taliban and the US. Qatar has also facilitated peace talks between factions in Lebanon, Sudan and Yemen in the past. The ongoing blockade notwithstanding, Qatar’s connections with militants in Palestine, insurgents in Afghanistan and rebels in Syria have resulted in tangible diplomatic benefits.
In some ways, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have attempted to emulate Qatar’s foreign policy. Both countries, which, unlike Qatar, provided diplomatic recognition to the Taliban’s government in Afghanistan in the 1990s, have tried to lubricate peace talks between the insurgents and Washington. Nevertheless, Qatar has managed to outcompete Saudi Arabia and the UAE in this regard, and Emirati and Saudi diplomats will find themselves hard pressed to outmaneuver Qatar there.
The multifaceted nature of Qatar’s relationship with Western-designated terrorist groups has helped the country avoid the all-encompassing penalties affecting the pariah states that the US has deemed “state sponsors of terrorism,” namely Cuba, Iran, North Korea and Sudan. American officials concluded an agreement on combating terrorism financing with their Qatari counterparts a little over two years ago, and the US seems more concerned that the dispute between Qatar and its neighbors could undermine US-led counterterrorism efforts in the Persian Gulf as a whole than about Qataris’ particular ties to militants. For their part, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have their own work to do to mitigate American concerns about terrorism financing on their territory.
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The longer the row between Qatar and its rivals in the Persian Gulf persists, the more the two sides will trade accusations about state-sponsored terrorism. Qatar’s unique ties to an ever-growing range of terrorist groups seems likely to keep drawing scrutiny in any case, but Doha has so far been adept at taking advantage of its special relationships with controversial non-state actors, the dangers of blowback notwithstanding. If the last few years have taught Qatar any lessons, officials in Doha have likely learned that their controversial strategy has worked to their advantage, suggesting that Qatar’s leadership will likely continue working with Western-designated terrorist organizations.