Baghdad, Sep 15 (AP/UNB) — Iraqi lawmakers have elected a Sunni Arab as speaker of parliament, the first step in forming a new government four months after national elections.
Lawmaker Ahmed al-Asadi says 169 lawmakers voted for Mohammed al-Halbousi during Saturday's session and 89 voted for former defense minister Khalid al-Obeidi.
Al-Halbousi is the former governor of Anbar province and was supported by the pro-Iran bloc inside parliament.
Early this month, parliament held its first session but failed to proceed with the process of forming a government with two Shiite-led blocs claiming to be the biggest bloc that will be tasked to form the government.
Under an unofficial agreement dating back to 2003, the prime minister position is reserved for Shiites, president a Kurd and parliament speaker a Sunni.
Beirut, Sep 15 (AP/UNB) — A Syrian war monitor and a Kurdish official say members of the Islamic State group have killed 20 U.S.-backed fighters in the country's east.
The attack occurred late Friday in Deir el-Zour province where the U.S.-backed Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces launched a wide offensive this week to capture the last pocket held by IS in Syria.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the extremists took advantage of a sand storm to launch a counterattack, which killed 20 fighters and wounded others.
Kurdish official Ebrahim Ebrahim said the 20 were killed in an ambush by IS fighters.
The Observatory said Saturday that since the SDF launched its offensive on the IS-held pocket including the town of Hajin, 53 extremists have been killed as well as 37 U.S.-backed fighters.
Washington, Sep 13 (AP/UNB)— The Pentagon says Russia will bear responsibility for the resulting humanitarian crisis in Syria if the Moscow-backed Syrian military attacks the northern city of Idlib.
Eric Pahon, a Pentagon spokesman, says the U.S. and its allies are concerned about the deadly consequences if Syrian President Bashar Assad, with support from Russia and Iran, launches an offensive against Idlib, the last major rebel stronghold in Syria. Government forces have been massing troops near the city, and Russia and Syria have launched airstrikes on Idlib for weeks.
Pahon says the U.S. questions the continued presence of more than a dozen Russian warships in the Mediterranean Sea near Syria. He says the ships must operate safely and abide by international law.
Turkey has called for a cease-fire, but Russia and Iran rejected the plan.
United Nations, Sep 12 (AP/UNB) — The Security Council gave strong backing Tuesday to the U.N. special envoy for Yemen as he seeks to bring the warring parties together after a failed effort last week.
In a statement following a briefing by Martin Griffiths on his plans, the council urged all sides "to invest in confidence-building measures, engage in future consultations in good faith and seize the opportunity to de-escalate tensions."
A delegation of the internationally recognized government arrived in Geneva for talks scheduled to start last Thursday, but rival Iranian-backed Shiite rebels known as Houthis did not, arguing they didn't have guarantees for their safe return.
Griffiths told the council by video from Amman that the Yemeni political process "will see ups and downs" and "the challenges that we faced are temporary hurdles to be overcome."
"It is not a sign that the political and military situation is not conducive to formal consultations," he said. "We need to stay focused on nurturing the political process particularly in its early stages, and building the needed momentum so that it can deliver tangible benefits to Yemenis throughout Yemen."
Griffiths said he will begin a series of visits in the coming days to secure "a firm commitment" for new talks and build on discussions with the government last week to make progress on confidence-building measures including an exchange of prisoners and the opening of the airport in Sanaa, the rebel-held capital.
He said he will first go to Oman's capital Muscat and Sanaa to engage Houthi leaders, and will also meet Yemen's President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi in the Saudi capital Riyadh. He said he also plans to consult "very soon" with parties in southern Yemen where there were widespread demonstrations in the past 10 days against the country's failing economy and lack of services that also saw renewed calls for secession.
The conflict in impoverished Yemen began with the 2014 takeover of the capital of Sanaa by the Houthis, which toppled Hadi's government. A Saudi-led coalition allied with the government has been fighting the Houthis since 2015.
Civilians have borne the brunt of the conflict which has killed over 10,000 people and pushed Yemen to the brink of famine, crippled the country's health system, sparked a cholera epidemic, and created the world's worst humanitarian crisis according to the U.N.
The Security Council expressed regret that the Houthi delegation did not attend the Geneva talks and reiterated that only a political solution can end the conflict and alleviate the humanitarian suffering.
Griffiths stressed that as he attempts to resume talks, it's important that the parties don't become embroiled in large-scale military operations.
He expressed relief that the Red Sea port city of Hodeida — key to deliveries of food, medicine and other needed supplies — hasn't yet suffered "the calamity of military operations."
But he said "the war has been escalating across all fronts" including intensive operations on the outskirts of Hodeida and fierce fighting in other areas including Saada, Hajjah, Marib and Taiz governorates.
Berlin, Sep 10 (AP/UNB) — A new Syrian law empowering the government to confiscate property is threatening to leave refugees stuck in Europe with no homes to return to.
It's led to confusion and concern among Syrian migrants and also among governments counting on many refugees to eventually go back to their homeland.
The issue is particularly sensitive for Germany, where some 800,000 Syrians have sought refuge since the start of the 2011 civil war.
Berlin has been counting on many to return home once the country is again safe and German Chancellor Angela Merkel has brought the issue up with Russian President Vladimir Putin, pressing him to use his influence with Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad to change the law.
Talks to end the war were scheduled to continue in Geneva on Monday.