Talbani's Shiite Allies Advise Him to Reach Understanding with Barzani over Iraq Presidency

Zebari after the Supreme Court's ruling on Sunday to bar him from running in the presidential elections. (Reuters)
Zebari after the Supreme Court's ruling on Sunday to bar him from running in the presidential elections. (Reuters)
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Talbani's Shiite Allies Advise Him to Reach Understanding with Barzani over Iraq Presidency

Zebari after the Supreme Court's ruling on Sunday to bar him from running in the presidential elections. (Reuters)
Zebari after the Supreme Court's ruling on Sunday to bar him from running in the presidential elections. (Reuters)

The Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) has submitted a new candidate to run in Iraq's presidential election.

The Federal Supreme Court had barred the KDP's preferred candidate, former minister Hoshyar Zebari, from running over corruption allegations.

Kurdish media that is close to the party identified the new candidate as Reber Ahmed Barzani, the interior minister of the Kurdistan Region government. Barzani, 55, served in important security posts, including the Kurdish intelligence agency.

He is not related to head of the KDP, Masoud Barzani.

Kurdish sources said Reber Ahmed was the sole survivor from his family from an attack, known as the al-Anfal operations, carried out by Iraqi forces in the 1980s

Ahead of declaring his nomination, senior KDP sources condemned the Supreme Court's ruling to bar Zebari from running for president, dismissing the move as "purely political".

The decision will persuade the KDP to further cling on to the position of president against its rival, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), they added.

By political convention, the president of Iraq is a Kurdish figure.

Meanwhile, head of the PUK, Bafel Talbani was in Baghdad for talks with the Shiite Coordination Framework, a grouping of pro-Iran factions that were the major losers in the October parliamentary elections.

The meeting was attended by top leaders of the Framework, former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, head of the Fatah alliance Hadi al-Ameri and head of Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq Qais Khazali.

In a joint statement, they stressed the need to continue dialogue with all political parties to form a "government of consensus."

A source from the Framework told Asharq Al-Awsat that the leaders of the grouping urged Talbani to agree on a "settlement candidate" with Reber Ahmad because the ongoing dispute over the presidency is impeding political dialogue.

The source said Talbani had proposed a new Kurdish figure as a consensus candidate. The figure enjoys the support of the Framework and is close to the KDP and PUK.

Iraq has been struggling to form a new government after the parliamentary elections results were ratified in December. The election of a president has also proven to be another hurdle after Zebari's candidacy was dismissed and parties scramble to name nominees.

Elsewhere, head of the Sadrist movement, cleric Moqtada al-Sadr held a closed-door meeting with Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi in Najaf city.

A source from Sadr's office said the meeting tackled efforts to form a new government and the latest political developments. It did not elaborate.

Kadhimi is seen as favorite to retain his post.



Sudan Authorities Block Cross-border Aid to Stricken Darfur

Refugees fleeing the conflict in Sudan queue to collect drinking water from the Doctors Without Borders (MSF) distribution point at Ourang refugee camp in Adre, Chad on December 7, 2023 - AFP
Refugees fleeing the conflict in Sudan queue to collect drinking water from the Doctors Without Borders (MSF) distribution point at Ourang refugee camp in Adre, Chad on December 7, 2023 - AFP
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Sudan Authorities Block Cross-border Aid to Stricken Darfur

Refugees fleeing the conflict in Sudan queue to collect drinking water from the Doctors Without Borders (MSF) distribution point at Ourang refugee camp in Adre, Chad on December 7, 2023 - AFP
Refugees fleeing the conflict in Sudan queue to collect drinking water from the Doctors Without Borders (MSF) distribution point at Ourang refugee camp in Adre, Chad on December 7, 2023 - AFP

Authorities loyal to the army in war-ravaged Sudan have blocked cross-border aid to the western Darfur region, a move decried by aid workers and the United States.

The vast Darfur region, bordering Chad, has been one of the hardest hit parts of Sudan since war began 10 months ago between the Sudanese Armed Forces and paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF).

RSF are descendants of the Janjaweed militia which began a scorched earth campaign in Darfur more than two decades ago.

In their current battle against the army, which started last April, the RSF have taken over four out of the five Darfur state capitals.

More than 694,000 people have fled over the border to Chad, according to the International Organization for Migration, but many more remain trapped in Darfur and in need of assistance.

The United Nations has had to limit its work in Darfur to cross-border operations from Chad, but last week the UN's World Food Program (WFP) country director Eddie Rowe told reporters that "authorities have restricted the Chad cross-border operation".

State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller on Friday said the United States is deeply concerned by the army's "recent decision to prohibit cross border humanitarian assistance from Chad and reports that the SAF is obstructing assistance from reaching communities in areas controlled by the RSF".

Sudan's foreign ministry, loyal to the army, expressed "confusion and rejection" of the "false accusations" by Washington, AFP reported.

The ministry said the Sudan-Chad border "is the main crossing point for weapons and equipment" used to commit "atrocities" against Sudanese.

A United Nations experts' report in January cited credible evidence that the United Arab Emirates was funnelling "military support" through Chad to the RSF. The UAE has denied the allegations.

Miller, of the State Department, also expressed concern about RSF "looting homes, markets and humanitarian assistance warehouses".

In Brussels, Rowe of WFP said his agency was "engaging with the authorities to ensure this critical lifeline" from Chad remains operational.

It is essential, an international aid worker told AFP on Sunday from Darfur, requesting anonymity so as not to jeopardise their mission.

"Children and babies are already dying from hunger and malnutrition. There will be an immense human impact... and quite possibly large-scale mortality rates," the aid worker said.

"The highest levels of diplomacy need to unblock this situation immediately because millions of lives hang in the balance," the aid worker said, calling it "a huge region already facing an imminent and immense food security crisis on top of a civil war, ethnic violence and state service collapse".

The war has killed thousands, including up to 15,000 in the West Darfur city of El Geneina alone, according to the UN experts.

Washington has accused both sides of war crimes, and said the RSF also carried out ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.


Iraq’s Nujaba: Suspension of Attacks against US Forces Is ‘Calm before the Storm’

A poster of Mushtaq Taleb al-Saidi, who was killed in a US strike in Baghdad in January. (dpa)
A poster of Mushtaq Taleb al-Saidi, who was killed in a US strike in Baghdad in January. (dpa)
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Iraq’s Nujaba: Suspension of Attacks against US Forces Is ‘Calm before the Storm’

A poster of Mushtaq Taleb al-Saidi, who was killed in a US strike in Baghdad in January. (dpa)
A poster of Mushtaq Taleb al-Saidi, who was killed in a US strike in Baghdad in January. (dpa)

Secretary-General of the Iran-aligned Nujaba movement in Iraq Akram al-Kaabi said on Sunday that the halt of military operations against American bases in the country was the “calm before the storm”.

In a message on the advent of the middle of the hijri month of Shaban, he stressed that the current calm “was only a temporary tactic aimed at redeployment and mobilization.”

“It is the calm before the storm,” he warned.

Moreover, he alleged that certain sides, which he did not name, “have provided the American forces with information about the resistance and their positions.”

“This demanded a redeployment of our forces and a change in battles tactics,” he went on to say.

He pledged that “more surprises” are in store.

“We are keen on protecting the Popular Mobilization Forces from American attacks,” stated Kaabi.

Commenting on the Baghdad government’s negotiations with American forces over their withdrawal from Iraq, he said the “Islamic Resistance” did not reject the talks, but “we assert that the American occupier is a liar, treacherous and arrogant.”

He added that it would be “delusional” to believe that the US would “yield and withdraw from Iraq through negotiations.”

In January, a US strike in Baghdad killed Mushtaq Taleb al-Saidi, a leading member of the Nujaba who was involved in planning and carrying out attacks against American personnel in Iraq and Syria.


Palestinian Govt to Submit Resignation after Meeting on Monday

Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh. (dpa)
Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh. (dpa)
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Palestinian Govt to Submit Resignation after Meeting on Monday

Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh. (dpa)
Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh. (dpa)

The Palestinian government is expected to submit its resignation on Monday after holding its weekly meeting.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is expected to nominate Mohammed Mustafa, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Palestine Investment Fund, to form a new cabinet, but will leave it to the factions to agree on a candidate, revealed a source.

Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh had said two weeks ago that the resignation will be submitted “if there were plans to form a new government.”

Palestinian factions and officials were holding intense talks ahead of a meeting they are set to attend in Moscow on Monday.

Abbas is also holding consultations with Arab leaders. He last met with Jordanian King Abdullah II ahead of touring other Arab countries.

Informed sources had said that Abbas was planning to form a new government as soon as the war on Gaza is over.

Its main goal will be to secure Gaza and oversee its reconstruction.

The new government will be formed of experts (technocrats), not politicians.

Mustafa was born in Palestine in 1954. He served in several senior political and economic positions in various Arab and international economic institutions. He also oversaw the launch and management of several local and regional investment funds and companies.


US Says Yemen’s Houthis Ballistic Missile Misses US Tanker Torm Thor 

Newly recruited university students shout slogans during a protest against US-led strikes on Houthi positions, at Sanaa University, in Sana'a, Yemen, 21 February 2024. (EPA)
Newly recruited university students shout slogans during a protest against US-led strikes on Houthi positions, at Sanaa University, in Sana'a, Yemen, 21 February 2024. (EPA)
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US Says Yemen’s Houthis Ballistic Missile Misses US Tanker Torm Thor 

Newly recruited university students shout slogans during a protest against US-led strikes on Houthi positions, at Sanaa University, in Sana'a, Yemen, 21 February 2024. (EPA)
Newly recruited university students shout slogans during a protest against US-led strikes on Houthi positions, at Sanaa University, in Sana'a, Yemen, 21 February 2024. (EPA)

The US Central Command (CENTCOM) said early on Monday that Yemen's Houthis militias launched one anti-ship ballistic missile likely targeting the MV Torm Thor, but missed the US-flagged, owned and operated oil tanker, in the Gulf of Aden on Feb. 24.

The missile impacted the water causing no damage nor injuries, CENTCOM added in a post on X.

The Iran-aligned group said on Sunday that they targeted the tanker, as the militants continue to attack shipping lanes in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza.

The US military also shot down in "self-defense" two one-way unmanned aerial attack vehicles over the southern Red Sea on Sunday, said CENTCOM.

The Houthis have launched exploding drones and missiles at commercial vessels since Nov. 19 as a protest against Israel's military operations in Gaza.

The turmoil from Israel's war with the Palestinian group Hamas has spilled over to some extent into other parts of the Middle East.

Apart from the Houthi attacks on vital shipping lanes, Lebanon's Iran-backed Hezbollah group has traded fire with Israel along the Israel-Lebanon border and Iraqi militia have attacked bases that host US forces.


Libya: PFG Threatens to Close Oil Facilities to Press Demands

FILE PHOTO: Members of the petroleum facilities guard stand inside the Libyan state National Oil Corporation (NOC) headquarters in Tripoli, Libya July 14, 2022. REUTERS/Hazem Ahmed/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: Members of the petroleum facilities guard stand inside the Libyan state National Oil Corporation (NOC) headquarters in Tripoli, Libya July 14, 2022. REUTERS/Hazem Ahmed/File Photo
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Libya: PFG Threatens to Close Oil Facilities to Press Demands

FILE PHOTO: Members of the petroleum facilities guard stand inside the Libyan state National Oil Corporation (NOC) headquarters in Tripoli, Libya July 14, 2022. REUTERS/Hazem Ahmed/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: Members of the petroleum facilities guard stand inside the Libyan state National Oil Corporation (NOC) headquarters in Tripoli, Libya July 14, 2022. REUTERS/Hazem Ahmed/File Photo

Libya's Petroleum Facilities Guards (PFG) threatened on Sunday to close all oil and gas facilities in the country's western region after the end of a 10-day deadline to authorities to meet their demands, including a 67% salary rise.

Members of PFG, a military group tasked with protecting oil facilities, made the threat in videos posted online.

Video footage on social media platforms X and Facebook showed a group of PFG members in military uniforms closing a feeder valve to the Mellitah oil complex in western Tripoli.

Mellitah is a joint venture between Libya's National Oil Corporation (NOC) and Italy's Eni. If the complex is closed, that would disrupt the supply of gas through the Greenstream pipeline between Libya and Italy.

NOC said on X that it discussed with the PFG head their demands and "understood" them, but added there "is a necessity of keeping oil installations away from any tensions".

Karim al-Ghamoudi, a member of the PFG said they closed the gate to the Zawiya refinery - also in western Tripoli - saying supply was going normally but "slowly because of crowds at the gate".
"There are only fake promises, and we want them (authorities) to listen to our demands," Ghamoudi said.
Zawiya oil refinery has a capacity of 120,000 barrels per day (bpd), and is connected to the country's 3000,000 bpd Sharara oilfield.
In January, Sharara was closed by protesters from the Fezzan region in the south, prompting the NOC to declare force majeure on the field which was reopened some days later.


Netanyahu Says it is Unclear if Hostage Deal Will Emerge

A displaced Palestinian girl, who fled her house due to Israeli strikes, feeds her brother at a tent camp, near the border with Egypt, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, February 25, 2024. REUTERS/Saleh Salem
A displaced Palestinian girl, who fled her house due to Israeli strikes, feeds her brother at a tent camp, near the border with Egypt, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, February 25, 2024. REUTERS/Saleh Salem
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Netanyahu Says it is Unclear if Hostage Deal Will Emerge

A displaced Palestinian girl, who fled her house due to Israeli strikes, feeds her brother at a tent camp, near the border with Egypt, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, February 25, 2024. REUTERS/Saleh Salem
A displaced Palestinian girl, who fled her house due to Israeli strikes, feeds her brother at a tent camp, near the border with Egypt, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, February 25, 2024. REUTERS/Saleh Salem

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday said it was not clear yet whether a hostage deal would materialize from ongoing talks, declining to discuss specifics but saying Hamas needed to "come down to a reasonable situation."
Netanyahu, speaking in an interview with CBS News, added he was meeting with staff later on Sunday to review a dual military plan that included the evacuation of Palestinian civilians in Gaza and an operation to destroy remaining Hamas battalions.

"If we have a deal, it will be delayed somewhat, but it will happen. If we don't have a deal, we'll do it anyway," he told CBS.

Netanyahu’s comments came as US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said on CNN that the United States, Egypt, Qatar and Israel have come to an understanding of "basic contours" of a hostage deal for a temporary ceasefire in Gaza.

The deal is still under negotiation, said Sullivan, who added there will have to be indirect discussions by Qatar and Egypt with Hamas.

US President Joe Biden has not been briefed on Israel's plan for military operations in Rafah, but believes civilian life must be protected, Sullivan also said on Sunday in an interview on NBC's "Meet the Press" program.

"We do not believe that an operation, a major military operation, should proceed in Rafah unless there is a clear and executable plan to protect those civilians, to get them to safety and to feed, clothe and house them," Sullivan said.


Syrian Army Says Downs 7 Drones Around Hama, Idlib

A damaged building following a missile strike in Damascus, Syria, 21 February 2024. EPA/YOUSSEF BADAWI
A damaged building following a missile strike in Damascus, Syria, 21 February 2024. EPA/YOUSSEF BADAWI
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Syrian Army Says Downs 7 Drones Around Hama, Idlib

A damaged building following a missile strike in Damascus, Syria, 21 February 2024. EPA/YOUSSEF BADAWI
A damaged building following a missile strike in Damascus, Syria, 21 February 2024. EPA/YOUSSEF BADAWI

Syrian armed forces shot down seven drones aimed at military positions and villages in the countryside of Hama and Idlib, Syrian state media said on Sunday, citing the defense ministry.

The ministry said the drones had been launched by "terrorists", state media reported.


Washington Accuses Sudanese Army of Blocking Aid Along Chad Border

Relief aid comes from the city of Gedaref in eastern Sudan on February 22. (AFP)
Relief aid comes from the city of Gedaref in eastern Sudan on February 22. (AFP)
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Washington Accuses Sudanese Army of Blocking Aid Along Chad Border

Relief aid comes from the city of Gedaref in eastern Sudan on February 22. (AFP)
Relief aid comes from the city of Gedaref in eastern Sudan on February 22. (AFP)

Sudan on Saturday denounced a statement by the US State Department accusing the Sudanese authorities of obstructing people's access to humanitarian aid in the areas under the Rapid Support Forces' control.

In a statement, Sudan's Foreign Ministry said the US allegations against the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the Government of Sudan relating to humanitarian aid and civilian activities are "false accusations."

It reiterated the Sudanese government's commitment to the Jeddah Declaration of Commitment to Protect the Civilians, signed on May 11, 2023.

The ministry added that the US statement avoided issuing an explicit, clear, and exclusive condemnation of the RSF.

"The United States is deeply concerned by the Sudanese Armed Forces' (SAF) recent decision to prohibit cross-border humanitarian assistance from Chad and reports that the SAF is obstructing assistance from reaching communities in areas controlled by the Rapid Support Forces (RSF)," said the US State Department.

“We are also concerned that the RSF are looting homes, markets, and humanitarian assistance warehouses in areas under their control.”

- Commitment to the Jeddah Declaration

“We remind the SAF and RSF of their obligations under international humanitarian law, as well as their commitments in the Jeddah Declaration to protect civilians and facilitate humanitarian deliveries to meet the needs of civilians,” the statement added.

“In addition, the United States strongly condemns actions by the SAF and RSF, as well as some civilian officials, to constrain civic space, restrict access to internet and mobile phone networks, stoke interethnic conflict, and criminalize groups providing support for communities harmed by conflict.”

It added that “hate speech, including vilification of individuals who call for stopping the fighting, has surged. We have seen the targeting of Resistance Committees, pro-peace activists, community leaders, humanitarian actors, medical personnel, journalists, and political party members.”

"We unequivocally condemn these acts, as well as pervasive rape, torture, and other reprehensible violations against Sudanese civilians."


Significant Progress in Gaza Ceasefire Talks Based on ‘Gradual Deal’

An Israeli woman participates in a march demanding the expedited release of hostages held by Hamas in Tel Aviv on Friday (Reuters)
An Israeli woman participates in a march demanding the expedited release of hostages held by Hamas in Tel Aviv on Friday (Reuters)
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Significant Progress in Gaza Ceasefire Talks Based on ‘Gradual Deal’

An Israeli woman participates in a march demanding the expedited release of hostages held by Hamas in Tel Aviv on Friday (Reuters)
An Israeli woman participates in a march demanding the expedited release of hostages held by Hamas in Tel Aviv on Friday (Reuters)

Talks on prisoner exchange between Israel and Hamas, set to continue in the coming days in Paris, have witnessed proposed plans for a phased deal, delaying disputed issues till later, insider sources told Asharq Al-Awsat.

Mediators received positive signals, indicating that Hamas is open to postponing tough decisions to later stages, the sources affirmed.

The newly proposed framework includes a six-week pause in the conflict and the release of between 200 and 300 Palestinians from Israeli prisons in exchange for 35 to 40 hostages still held by Hamas.

“Efforts are on for a gradual comprehensive deal, with the first phase expected before Ramadan. Talks for the second and third phases will address complex issues like prisoner numbers and Israeli army withdrawal,” sources told Asharq Al-Awsat.

“Hamas is flexible but firm on its demands,” they noted, adding that the Palestinian group “insists on residents returning to the north in the second phase and discussing an end to the war in the third, which must include an agreement on prisoner releases.”

Sources reveal Hamas’ flexibility aims to secure a deal before Ramadan, averting a Rafah incursion and countering Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s argument against a full ceasefire due to his government’s extremist elements.

The approach focuses on ending the conflict gradually, not all at once.

Adaptability shown by Hamas has paved the way for genuine talks and a proposed new framework.

Israeli officials, speaking to local media, praised the Paris talks for their progress, surpassing expectations.

The Paris discussions involved CIA Director William Burns, Qatari PM Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, Egyptian intelligence chief Abbas Kamel, and Israeli Mossad chief David Barnea.

The head of Egyptian intelligence arrived in Paris after meeting with Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh in Cairo recently.

Haniyeh stated that Hamas has been cooperating positively with mediators to stop the attacks, lift the blockade, allow aid, shelter, and reconstruction.

Negotiations are currently focused on four key Hamas demands that Israel opposes: the return of northern Gaza residents, withdrawal of Israeli forces, ceasefire terms, and the number of prisoners to be released.

Israeli reports suggest flexibility on aid and ceasefire duration but disagreement on ending the war.


Observatory: ISIS Killed Over 100 in Syria Since Start of Year

ISIS continues its attacks despite its defeat in 2013. (AFP)
ISIS continues its attacks despite its defeat in 2013. (AFP)
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Observatory: ISIS Killed Over 100 in Syria Since Start of Year

ISIS continues its attacks despite its defeat in 2013. (AFP)
ISIS continues its attacks despite its defeat in 2013. (AFP)

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said that more than 100 civilians and military were killed in 50 operations on Syrian territories since the beginning of 2024, despite the “definitive defeat of the organization and the cessation of its control over extensive swathes of Syrian territory."

Since the start of the year, ISIS cells have executed 50 separate operations in the desert, including ambushes, armed assaults, and bombings in areas like the western Euphrates, Deir Ezzor, Raqqa, and Homs.

SOHR added that the death toll from these military activities in the Syrian desert has risen to 133 since the beginning of 2024. This toll includes 17 fatalities attributed to ISIS and 101 to regime forces and militias. Additionally, five civilians lost their lives while gathering truffles, and ten individuals, including a child, fell victim to ISIS attacks in the Syrian desert.

According to statistics from the Observatory, operations were delineated into various regions: 16 in the Deir Ezzor desert, resulting in the deaths of 27 soldiers, including seven from pro-Iran militias, two from the organization, and two truffle hunters. In the Homs desert, 27 operations led to the deaths of 50 soldiers, including three from pro-Iran militias and 12 from the organization, along with six civilians.

Additionally, three operations in the Raqqa desert resulted in 11 soldier fatalities, including three from the organization, while three operations in the Hama desert led to 10 soldier deaths and seven civilian casualties, including a child.

Furthermore, one operation in the Aleppo desert resulted in the deaths of three pro-Iranian militia members.