Baghdad, Jan 21(AP/UNB) — Iraq on Monday mourned the loss of Lamia al-Gailani, a beloved archaeologist who helped rebuild the Baghdad museum after it was looted following the 2003 U.S.-led invasion to oust Saddam Hussein.
Al-Gailani, who died in Amman, Jordan, on Friday at the age of 80, was one of Iraq's first women to excavate the country's archaeological heritage.
Relatives, colleagues, and cultural officials on Monday gathered at Baghdad's National Museum, the country's leading museum, to pay their respects before moving her remains to the Qadiriyyah mosque for prayers and later interment.
A devotee of her country's heritage, al-Gailani lent her expertise to restore relics stolen from the museum for its reopening in 2015. She also championed a new antiquities museum for the city of Basra, which opened in 2016.
"She was very keen to communicate on the popular level and make archaeology accessible to ordinary people," said her daughter, Noorah al-Gailani, who curates the Islamic civilizations collection at the Glasgow Museum in Scotland.
"It is a big loss, the passing of Dr. Lamia al-Gailaini, who played a great role in the field of archaeology, even before 2003," said the deputy minister of culture, Qais Hussein Rashid.
The restored collection at the National Museum included hundreds of cylinder seals, the subject of al-Gailani's 1977 dissertation at the University of London. These were engraved surfaces used to print cuneiform impressions and pictographic lore onto documents and surfaces in ancient Mesopotamia, now present-day Iraq.
Still, thousands of artefacts remain missing from the museum's collection, and al-Gailani bore the grief of watching her country's rich heritage suffer unfathomable levels of looting and destruction in the years after Saddam's ouster.
"I wish it was a nightmare and I could wake up," she told the BBC in 2015, when Islamic State militants bulldozed relics at the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud near present-day Mosul.
Born in Baghdad in 1938, al-Gailani studied at the University of Cambridge in Britain before finding work as a curator at the National Museum in 1960. It was her first job in archaeology, her daughter said.
She returned to Britain in 1970 to pursue advanced studies, and she made her home there. Still, she kept returning to her native country, connecting foreign academics with an Iraqi archaeological community that was struggling under the isolation of Saddam Hussein's autocratic rule and the U.N. sanctions against him.
In 1999, she published "The First Arabs," in Arabic, with the Iraqi archaeologist Salim al-Alusi, on the earliest traces of Arab culture in Mesopotamia, in the 6th through 9th centuries.
She would bring copies of the book with her to Baghdad and sell them through a vendor on Mutanabbi Street, the literary heart of the capital, according to her daughter.
After the U.S.-led invasion, al-Gailani continued to travel to Iraq, determined to rescue its heritage even as the country convulsed with war.
At the time of her death, she was working with the Basra Museum to curate a new exhibit set to open in March, said Qahtan al-Abeed, the museum director.
"She hand-picked the cylinder seals to display at the museum," said al-Abeed.
Jerusalem, Jan 21(AP/UNB) — Israeli jets struck a series of Iranian military targets in Syria early on Monday, the military said in a rare departure from its years-long policy of ambiguity regarding activities in neighboring war-torn Syria.
The military said the targets included munition storage facilities, an intelligence site and a military training camp. The strikes were in response to a surface-to-surface rocket that Iranian forces fired toward Israel on Sunday that was intercepted by Israel's Iron Dome missile defense system over a ski resort in the Golan Heights. That followed a rare Israeli daylight air raid near the Damascus International Airport.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Monday's strikes lasted for nearly an hour and were the most intense Israeli attacks since May. It said 11 were killed in the strikes. The Russian military said four Syrian troops were among those killed. There were no further details on the casualties or their nationalities.
Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, an Israeli military spokesman, said the Iranian missile attack that prompted the strong Israeli response was "premeditated." Iranian forces in Syria fired the mid-range surface-to-surface missile toward Israel from the Damascus area — a missile that had been smuggled into Syria specifically for that purpose, he said. Conricus declined to further identify the type of missile, but said it hadn't been used in any of the internal fighting of the civil war and had "no business" being in Syria.
Israel only recently acknowledged carrying out hundreds of strikes in Syria in recent years. It previously typically offered only general warnings against allowing Iran to establish a military foothold in Syria and refrained from commenting directly for fear of triggering a reaction and being drawn into the deadly fighting.
Monday's announcement went a step further, reporting the strikes in real time and detailing the targets.
Conricus would not confirm whether the measures marked an official abandonment of the policy of ambiguity, merely saying that it was a "retaliatory strike against active aggression by Iran."
He said Israel had sent warnings to Syria ahead of the attack to refrain from attacking Israeli warplanes, but that Syria ignored those warnings and fired anti-aircraft missiles. He said Israel responded by destroying Syrian anti-aircraft batteries. The Russian military said that the Syrian air defenses shot down over 30 Israeli cruise missiles, a claim that was doubted in Israel.
The military said the Mount Hermon ski site has been closed.
Israel holds Syria responsible for allowing the Iranian forces to use Syrian territory as a base of operations against Israel. "Syria yesterday paid the price for allowing Iran to conduct attacks and to plan attacks from its soil," he said.
Beirut, Jan 21(AP/UNB) — Qatar has announced that it will invest $500 million in Lebanese government bonds to support the Mediterranean country's struggling economy.
Qatar's Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani made the announcement in comments to Qatar's state news agency.
Monday's announcement came a day after Qatar's ruler Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani made a short rare visit to Lebanon where he met President Michel Aoun and took part in an Arab economic summit.
Lebanon's economy has been struggling from massive debt, little growth and high unemployment.
Earlier this month, Lebanon's Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil was quoted by a local newspaper as saying that the country may restructure its debt, leading to sell-off in Lebanese bonds.
He later clarified that Lebanon is committed to paying back all maturing debt.
Cairo, Jan 21 (AP/UNB) — The anti-government protests rocking Sudan for the past month are reminiscent of the Arab Spring uprisings of nearly a decade ago. Demonstrators, many in their 20s and 30s, are trying to remove an authoritarian leader and win freedoms and human rights.
Activists challenging President Omar al-Bashir's autocratic rule say they have learned from their Arab Spring counterparts and introduced tactics of their own. That and their persistence appear to pose a real threat to the 29-year rule of the general-turned-president.
Sudan did not experience the mass street protests that swept several Arab nations in 2011. At the time, Sudan was preoccupied with the secession of the mainly animist and Christian south, which was taking with it most of the country's oil wealth.
In 2013, a spike in fuel prices sparked protests in Sudan that were brutally squashed, with rights groups saying at the time that about 200 demonstrators were killed.
More than five years later, Sudan is engulfed by unrest once more.
Again, price hikes were a trigger. Protesters reached by The Associated Press painted a picture of resolve born out of despair, mainly from worsening economic conditions that many Sudanese blame in large part on mismanagement and widespread corruption.
"I am tired of prices going up every minute and standing up in bread lines for hours only for the bakery's owner to decide how many loaves I can buy," a 42-year-old woman, Fatima, said during protests last week on the outskirts of the capital of Khartoum.
Fatima and others speaking to the AP would not provide their full names, insisting on anonymity because they fear reprisals by the authorities.
Protesters described using medical masks soaked in vinegar or yeast and tree leaves to fend off tear gas. They said they try to fatigue police by staging nighttime flash protests in residential alleys unfamiliar to the security forces
"We have used tactics employed by the Egyptians, Tunisians and Syrians but we have so far refrained from pelting security forces with rocks or firebombs," said Ashraf, another demonstrator.
They said there was little they can do about live ammunition except to keep medics and doctors close by to administer first aid to casualties.
They also described checking paths of planned protests to identify escape routes and potential ambushes by police. Some of their slogans are borrowed from the Arab Spring days, like "the people want to bring down the regime" and "erhal!" — Arabic for "leave!"
Participants have mostly been in the high hundreds or low thousands, not the tens or hundreds of thousands seen in Egypt or Yemen in 2011, but Sudan's protest leaders don't see a reason for concern.
"All that we do now is to prepare Sudan's streets, so when zero hour arrives, the entire country will be ready to go out on the streets," said Aseel, a 25-year-old activist.
Authorities in Sudan have used tear gas, rubber bullets, live ammunition and batons to quell the unrest. They have imposed emergency laws and night-time curfews in some cities and suspended classes in schools and universities in others. They have arrested opposition leaders, doctors, journalists, lawyers and students along with some 800 protesters.
Recently, police stormed a hospital in the greater Khartoum area where injured protesters were taken. Police fired tear gas inside the facility's yard, according to Amnesty International and activists.
"When we take our wounded to hospital, we pretend to be calm and collected so we don't attract the attention of plainclothes security agents stationed there," said one protester.
The protesters said they organize on social media, just like protesters did across the region in 2011. They try to elude the police by either giving gathering points codenames known only to protest leaders or publicizing false locations to mislead the authorities.
They also have secured free-of-charge medical care for the wounded in a handful of private Khartoum clinics and use donations to settle medical bills for those admitted to other hospitals.
Rights groups say at least 40 people, including children, have been killed in the clashes, most by gunshot wounds. Al-Bashir's government has acknowledged only 24 deaths.
Al-Bashir has ordered an investigation into the "recent events" — a thinly veiled reference to the deaths — following demands by rights groups and Western nations, including the United States, that his government probe the use of live ammunition and bring the culprits to justice. A similar probe into the death of the protesters in 2013 came to nothing.
But despite the use of live ammunition and what protesters say is the excessive use of tear gas the protests have continued longer than rounds of anti-government unrest in 2012 and 2013. They have drawn many women — unusual for conservative and overwhelmingly Muslim Sudan — and stayed peaceful except early on when protesters damaged property.
Despite fears of arrest and the danger posed by live fire, "we have no choice but to resist," said protester Abdul-Metaal Saboun, 25, an unemployed university graduate.
Saboun was detained for three days early in the protests, which were sparked by price rises and shortages, but which soon shifted to demands that al-Bashir step down.
"There is little we can do about snipers except that some of us search rooftops or scream 'sniper' when we spot one, so people take more care," he said.
He said he was tortured during detention. "There is nothing that makes me frightened of them anymore," Saboun said, explaining why he agreed to have his full name published.
New Orleans, Jan 17 (AP/UNB) — A prominent American anchorwoman on Iranian state television has been arrested by the FBI during a visit to the U.S., the broadcaster reported Wednesday, and her son said she was being held in a prison, apparently as a material witness.
Marzieh Hashemi, who worked for the network's English-language service, was detained in St. Louis, where she had filmed a Black Lives Matter documentary after visiting relatives in the New Orleans area. She was then taken to Washington, according to her elder son, Hossein Hashemi.
The FBI said in an email that it had no comment on the arrest of the woman who was born Melanie Franklin in New Orleans and has worked for Iran's state television network for 25 years.
Hossein Hashemi said his mother lives in Tehran and comes back to this country about once a year to see her family, usually scheduling documentary work somewhere in the U.S. as well.
"We still have no idea what's going on," said Hashemi, a research fellow at the University of Colorado who was interviewed by phone from Washington. He also said he and his siblings had been subpoenaed to appear before a grand jury.
The incident comes as Iran faces increasing criticism of its own arrests of dual citizens and other people with Western ties. Those cases have previously been used as bargaining chips in negotiations with world powers.
Federal law allows judges to order witnesses to be arrested and detained if the government can prove their testimony has extraordinary value for a criminal case and that they would be a flight risk and unlikely to respond to a subpoena. The statute generally requires those witnesses to be promptly released once they are deposed.
Marzieh Hashemi, an American citizen, had not been contacted by the FBI before she was detained and would "absolutely" have been willing to cooperate with the agency, her son said.
Asked whether his mother had been involved in any criminal activity or knew anyone who might be implicated in a crime, Hashemi said, "We don't have any information along those lines."
Hashemi said his mother was arrested as she was about to board a flight from St. Louis to Denver. A spokesman for St. Louis Lambert International Airport declined to comment and referred questions to the FBI.
The constitutionality of the material witness law has "never been meaningfully tested," said Ricardo J. Bascuas, a professor at the University of Miami School of Law. "The government only relies on it when they need a reason to arrest somebody but they don't have one."
No matter the reason for Marzieh Hashemi's detention, she should have been granted a court appearance by now, Bascuas said.
She apparently was unable to call her daughter until Tuesday night. The family is trying to hire an attorney, but it has been difficult because she has not been charged with a crime, her son said.
Iran's state broadcaster held a news conference and launched a hashtag campaign for Hashemi, using the same techniques families with loved ones held in the Islamic Republic use to highlight their cases.
"We will not spare any legal action" to help her, said Paiman Jebeli, deputy chief of Iran's state IRIB broadcaster. Iran's Press TV aired footage of her anchoring news programs and discussing the war in Syria, set to dramatic music.
There were no references to any case against Hashemi in U.S. federal courts, nor in Missouri.
Hashemi describes herself online as having studied journalism at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. She converted to Islam in 1982 at age 22 after meeting Iranian activist students in Denver.
She married a man she met while in journalism school. They had two sons and a daughter. Her husband is dead, said Hashemi's brother, Milton Leroy Franklin of the New Orleans suburb of Metairie.
Last week, Iran confirmed it is holding U.S. Navy veteran Michael R. White at a prison, making him the first American known to be detained under President Donald Trump's administration.
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi told state TV that Hashemi's arrest indicates the "apartheid and racist policy" of the Trump administration.
"We hope that the innocent person will be released without any condition," Ghasemi said.
At least four other American citizens are being held in Iran, including Iranian-American Siamak Namazi and his 82-year-old father, Baquer, both serving 10-year sentences on espionage charges. Iranian-American art dealer Karan Vafadari and his Iranian wife, Afarin Neyssari, received 27-year and 16-year prison sentences, respectively. Chinese-American graduate student Xiyue Wang was sentenced to 10 year in prison.
Also in an Iranian prison is Nizar Zakka, a permanent U.S. resident from Lebanon who advocated for internet freedom and has done work for the U.S. government. He was sentenced to 10 years on espionage-related charges.
Former FBI agent Robert Levinson, who vanished in Iran in 2007 while on an unauthorized CIA mission, remains missing as well. Iran says that Levinson is not in the country and that it has no further information about him. His family holds Tehran responsible for his disappearance.