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.
Basra, Sep 8(AP/UNB) — Assailants fired three Katyusha rockets at Iraq's Basra airport Saturday, an airport official said, after a chaotic and violent night that saw hundreds of protesters setting ablaze the Iranian consulate in the city, attacking offices belonging to Iranian-backed militias and blocking roads.
The city of Basra, home to some of the largest oil fields in Iraq, has been the epicenter of angry protests over decades of government neglect, poor services and corruption. The demonstrations are the most serious to shake the oil-rich southern Shiite area in years, demanding an end to endemic corruption, soaring joblessness and crumbling infrastructure.
This week, they turned their rage on neighboring Iran, blaming its outsized influence in Iraq's political affairs for their misery and calling for radical change.
"We have no work, no money. Something needs to change," said 18-year-old Mustafa Diaa, a currently jobless construction worker from Basra's Tannouma district who said he has been taking part in the protests daily.
Diaa took part in burning the provincial government building two days earlier and came back Saturday to look at it again. He said he does not regret it and would do so again until something gives.
"They should change the government, provide job opportunities and fix the water. I'm not scared," he said.
The airport official said it was not clear who was behind the Saturday morning attack on Basra airport, which also houses the U.S. consulate. He said the attack occurred at about 8 a.m. local time and did not cause casualties or disrupt flights in or out of the city. The official spoke on condition of anonymity, citing security concerns. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack.
Iraq's parliament held an emergency session Saturday to discuss the unrest in Basra.
Hours earlier, protesters shouting anti-Iranian slogans including "Iran, out, out!" stormed the Iranian consulate and set a fire inside. They also burned an Iranian flag and trampled over a portrait of Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman, Bahram Ghasemi, condemned the attack, which he said caused significant damage to the building. He called for maximum punishment for the assailants.
The State Department criticized the attack, without explicitly mentioning Iran. "The United States condemns violence against diplomats, including that which occurred today in Basra," it said in a statement.
Elsewhere in the city, protesters tried to attack the headquarters of the Iran-backed Assaib Ahl Al-Haq Shiite militia and the guards stationed there opened fire. Angry protesters marched to the city's presidential palaces compound, where Shiite paramilitary troops are stationed, and tried to breach it. At least three cars driven by the troops ploughed into the protesters, killing one and wounding four others, according to a health official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to media.
On Saturday, an Associated Press reporter touring the city observed that traffic was normal and shops were open. Police and security forces were conspicuously absent. The two-story consulate was partially burned. An Iraqi flag was placed at the entrance to the consulate after the Iranian one was snatched away and set ablaze at night. Sprayed in red on the concrete wall of the consulate were the words: "Down with Iran, down with the militias, the revolution will continue."
A lone, unarmed policeman sat on a chair at the entrance, underneath the slogan.
The provincial government building in the center of Basra was completely torched. A banner on one side of the building read in Arabic: "No to the militias, your militias under our feet."
Several burned cars were also seen in the city's presidential palaces compound, where Shiite paramilitary troops are stationed.
At least 15 protesters have died in clashes with security forces since the beginning of the month, health officials said. The violence has forced the closure of the vital Um Qasr port on the Persian Gulf.
A provincial official with state-run Iraqi Ports Co. said authorities closed the vital Um Qasr port on the Persian Gulf since late Wednesday, fearing sabotage. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release information, wouldn't say when operations will resume.
Basra, once known as the "Venice of the East" because of its freshwater canals, has been hit by an acute water crisis and crippling electricity shortages this summer amid surging Iraq temperatures. Adding to the outrage is a water pollution crisis and salt water seeping into tap waters that is making residents sick. Two hospital officials told the AP that around 35,000 residents have been hospitalized as a result of water pollution in the past month.
The water is reportedly so polluted it cannot even be used for cooking or washing. The protests began in June, then tapered off but restarted Monday following a surge in water poisoning cases.
Iraq's government has scrambled to meet the growing demands for public services and jobs, but has been hindered by years of endemic corruption and a financial crisis fueled by diminished oil revenues and the costly war against the Islamic State group.
Basra streets are filled with pictures of young men from the Iran-backed Shiite militias who were killed fighting against the Islamic State group in the past few years — a war that allowed powerful Iran-backed militias space to flourish and gain strength in Iraq.
Many residents of the predominantly Shiite city now accuse Iranian-backed political parties of interfering with Iraqi politics and hold them responsible for the Shiite militias based in their city, which they blame for mismanagement and profiteering at their expense.
Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has ordered an investigation into the violence, which showed no sign of abating.
The unrest in the south comes amid a political crisis in Baghdad, adding to overall tensions in the country.
The newly elected parliament earlier this week held its first session since the national elections in May, but the session was adjourned amid disagreements as two blocs, both claiming to hold the most seats, vied for the right to form a new government.
Baghdad, Sep 8 (AP/UNB)— An attack Saturday on a Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan base in Iraq killed at least nine people and wounded more than 30, Kurdish media reported, with officials immediately blaming Iran for the assault.
Iranian state media did not immediately acknowledge the attack in Koya, some 300 kilometers (185 miles) north of Baghdad.
The Rudaw satellite news channel aired video showing smoke rising from the base in Koya. It quoted a health official for the casualty count.
The secretary-general of the separatist group, Mustafa Mawludi, and his predecessor, Khalid Azizi, were injured in the attack, Rudaw reported.
Kurds represent about 10 percent of Iran's population of 80 million people, with many living in the mountainous northwest that borders Iraq and Turkey.
A string of recent attacks by the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan, PDKI, mark the end of a 20-year cease-fire between its fighters and Iran, though Kurdish separatists have agitated for freedom for decades in the country's northwest.
The area had been largely quiet since the 1990s under the cease-fire. But Kurdish resentments grew recently. In one incident, the death of a Kurdish maid at a hotel in the northwestern city of Mahabad in May 2015 sparked unrest by local Kurds as opposition groups alleged Iranian security forces somehow had a hand in it.
Since 2016, clashes have erupted between Kurdish fighters and Iranian security forces, including the elite Revolutionary Guard, leading to casualties on both sides. The PDKI, operating out of the northern Iraq, claimed many of those attacks, which saw Iranian forces shell Kurdish positions just across the Iraqi border in response.