Category Archives: World News

Weighing trees with lasers

The latest laser scanning technology reveals new insights into the lives of trees both in the UK and overseas

Ever glanced up at an enormous tree and pondered at the numbers behind such a vast organism? How heavy it is, or how long all those branches are? Developments in laser scanning technology emerging from University College London’s Department of Geography – in collaboration with Oxford UniversitySonoma State University in California, Ghent University in Belgium, and Wageningen University in the Netherlands – is helping answer these questions.

Previously, the best estimates for the full weight of selected trees required either actually cutting them down, or getting tied up in knots while undertaking various crude methods of diameter measurements. Rooted in hard science, this new terrestrial scanning approach instead uses laser equipment costing between £75,000 and £150,000, firing hundreds of thousands of pulses per second in order to pinpoint branches to an accuracy within millimetres from a range of nearly one kilometre. This then generates accurate 3D models.

One key aim of the research is to branch out into measuring how much carbon particular trees will consume during their full lifecycle, which is immensely informative in understanding the impact their presence (or otherwise) has in limiting the worst impacts of climate change. Many tropical trees around the world have been measured in this way, including in Brazil and Borneo, as well as giant sequoias in California. A 45m tall Moabi tree in Gabon was estimated to weigh around 100 tons, making it the largest tropical tree yet measured.

California sequoias (Image: Shutterstock)California sequoias (Image: Shutterstock)

The technology was also demonstrated last year during the BBC One show Judi Dench: My Passion for Trees, where detailed scans revealed the 200-year-old oak in Dench’s garden to weigh around 25 tons and contain over 260,000 leaves – equivalent to the surface area of three tennis courts.

Amnesty report: World leaders like Trump and Duterte ‘encouraging society to hate’

Amnesty International has criticised a whole host of world leaders for fuelling “a rising politics of demonisation”.


The “poisonous rhetoric” of world leaders including Donald Trump has normalised the discrimination of minorities like the Rohingya in Myanmar, according to a damning Amnesty International report.

In its annual assessment of human rights in 159 countries around the world, the group said the massacre of the Rohingya was a consequence of a society encouraged to hate by world leaders such as Mr Trump and Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte.

Nearly 690,000 Rohingya have fled the state of Rakhine as a result of what has been described as “ethnic cleansing” by the military, with 6,500 of them left trapped on a strip of unclaimed land between Myanmar and Bangladesh.

Salil Shetty, the secretary general of Amnesty, said the violence in Myanmar was the “ultimate consequence of a society encouraged to hate, scapegoat and fear minorities”.

Thousands of Rohingya refugees flee Myanmar
Image:Thousands of Rohingya refugees have fled Myanmar

“Throughout 2017, millions across the world experienced the bitter fruits of a rising politics of demonisation,” said the report, launched in the US for the first time on Thursday.

Amnesty also criticised the “transparently hateful” treatment of Muslims by Mr Trump, in light of his move to ban travel from several Muslim-majority countries in January last year.

Mr Shetty said the travel ban had “set the scene for a year in which leaders took the politics of hate to its most dangerous conclusion”.

The nationwide crackdown on drugs in the Phillipines by Mr Duterte was also heavily criticised in the Amnesty report, with 3,000 people having died in anti-drug operations since he took office in 2006.

Rodrigo Duterte and Donald Trump during the opening ceremony of a leaders' summit in Manila in November 2017
Image:Rodrigo Duterte and Donald Trump were heavily criticised in the report

Last week he was criticised by another human rights group, Human Rights Watch, for saying that his troops should shoot female rebels in the genitals to render them “useless”.

Amnesty has named him on a list of the “worst performing world leaders” on human rights, alongside Mr Trump, Russian President Vladimir Puton and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Human rights in the US have gone backwards under Mr Trump, the report said, noting his ambivalent attitude to waterboarding and other interrogation techniques.

A severely malnourished elderly woman struggles to stand

Video:Full special report: Rohingya refugee crisis

They, along with the rest of the international community, have also been accused of failing to respond to “crimes against humanity” in other parts of the world, including Syria and Yemen.

Millions were having their rights “callously undermined” by leaders who have failed to take action, with the European refugee crisis treated “with a blend of evasion and outright callousness”, the Amnesty report added.

More from Amnesty International

  • Syrian officials guilty of ‘mass hangings’ at jail, report claims

It also noted concerns about free speech, following the arrests of journalists in Myanmar, Egypt and China, and Amnesty staff in Turkey.

But the report did note several reasons to be optimistic for the rest of the year, with survivors of the Florida school shooting campaigning for greater gun control and the #MeToo movement cited as examples of how people are “taking back the initiative”.

How Will Iraq Contain Iran’s Proxies?

Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani may be the only man who can—but he’ll need help.

In June 2014, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, one of the leading Shiite clergyman in the world, called on all able-bodied Iraqis to defend their country against the Islamic State. Iraq’s U.S.-trained armed forces had collapsed, fleeing the advance of isis as it seized Mosul and much of northern Iraq. Sistani’s fatwa mobilized a 100,000-strong fighting force known as the Hashd al-Shaabi, or Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), whose mostly Shiite fighters were instrumental in the fight against isis. The PMF is comprised of multiple Shiite militias who were established after 2014 as volunteer groups that took up arms in response to Sistani’s fatwa, filling the void left by the collapse of the Iraqi army. The majority of these groups are aligned with the Iraqi state and take their orders from the Iraqi government.

But residing within the PMF are Iran-aligned groups who have become the Forces’ most-powerful militias. While technically they have been under Baghdad’s command since 2016, in reality, they answer to their sponsors in Tehran. These groups have long exploited conflict and disorder in Iraq since the toppling of the Baath regime, while also expanding Iran’s influence in the country. They have been accused of sectarian atrocities that helped lay the groundwork for groups like isis and played a critical role in the bloody 2006 war between Arab Sunnis and Shiites. They have violently resisted attempts by the Iraqi state and the United States to disarm them. Since the emergence of isis and Sistani’s fatwa, these groups have exploited the security vacuum and the weakening of Iraq’s conventional forces to further consolidate their hold. Now, they seem poised to translate their wartime popularity into political gains in the coming elections in May, when they will contest the elections as the al-Fateh (or “Conquest”) bloc.

With isis vanquished and Iraq’s security forces reconstituted and reorganized (thanks to U.S. training and support), some expected that Sistani would revoke his fatwa and dismantle the PMF last December. But Sistani cannot simply dissolve the PMF, a state institution that provides livelihoods and prestige to its fighters. Doing so would spark a public backlash and undermine Iraq’s Shiite clerical establishment. Neither can he confront Iran’s proxies alone as they, and Shiite militias more generally, have proved themselves formidable actors. (The United States tried with more than 100,000 troops during the occupation and failed.)

But left untouched, Iran’s proxies will continue exacerbating sectarian tensions that could very well enable the resurgence of isis. Sistani will have to confront them eventually—but not by himself, and not in the way some may expect.


Essential to the Shiite militias’ survival over the years has been their capacity to adapt to the political and legal constraints imposed on them. They either attach themselves to longstanding parties or rebrand themselves as socio-cultural movements that provide social services to local, often destitute communities. Groups like Asaib ahl al-Haq, which has been complicit in attacks on U.S. and Iraqi personnel and civilians, were established by Iran after 2003 and have since transitioned into powerful armed groups that enjoy access to state institutions and resources, yet continue to function autonomously. Iran-aligned Shiite militias have, in essence, established themselves as Iraq’s version of Lebanon’s Hezbollah: socio-cultural movements with a military and social-welfare wing that operates independently of the state.

Asaib al-Haq is not the only Shiite militia in Iraq that has benefitted from Baghdad’s resources without ever submitting to its control or to civilian oversight. Another prominent example is the Badr Brigade, an organization established by Iran during the 1980s Iran-Iraq war. While it began as a militia, since 2003 it has controlled Iraq’s interior ministry, and today commands a 37,000-strong federal police force. The Iraqi interior ministry answers not to the prime minister, but to the Badr hierarchy, led by its leader Hadi al-Ameri, who fought alongside Iranian forces during the Iran-Iraq war. He also now leads the PMF. While the Badr Brigade is the only Iranian proxy that controls an Iraqi ministry, this may not be the case for long.


Iraq’s army is not strong enough to confront these groups. But Sistani has the credibility to lead such an effort. He has long served as a critical check on the power of Iraq’s corrupt ruling elite. After the toppling of Saddam, he ensured that the process of writing a new constitution would be led by an elected assembly, rather than by Washington’s favored Iraqi elites. While he failed to prevent sectarian war, his call for calm, restraint, and unity, helped ensure that the conflict did not transform into a genocide against Sunnis. In August 2014, only two months after his call to arms against isis, he forced out then-prime minister Nouri al-Maliki, whose corrupt and authoritarian rule led to the collapse of the Iraqi army.

The Ayatollah has historically resisted Iran’s efforts to export its theocracy to Iraq. He has criticized and will continue to pressure Iran’s proxies through his sermons. While Sistani’s record suggests he’s up for combatting Iran’s proxies, he’ll need help. That may come from nationalist, anti-Iran voices like Muqtada al-Sadr and his followers. Both al-Sadr and Sistani have backed Iraq’s anti-corruption protests, which have been led by members of civil society, including human rights organizations and other NGOs. Hundreds of thousands of Sadr’s supporters, for instance, mobilized in 2016 to call for reform and an end to sectarian governance. Many chanted anti-Iranian slogans. Sadr’s visits to the Gulf have also strengthened Iraq’s ties with the Arab Sunni world. These relationships could establish cross-sectarian alliances to contain Iran-aligned factions.

The United States has an important role to play in all this. Maintaining its military presence in Iraq will help contain Iran’s proxies, so long as it does not weaken Tehran’s rivals like the Kurds and Sunnis. This is exactly what happened last October, when al-Abadi’s forces and Iranian proxies reclaimed oil-rich Kirkuk and its surrounding areas from the Kurds. Indeed, al-Abadi, who has been billed in some quarters as America’s man in Baghdad, has relied on Iran-backed militias to maintain Baghdad’s control over territories that are disputed with the Kurds.

As a result of that onslaught, Iran’s proxies now control Kirkuk and other strategically vital towns and cities. With every inch of territory Iran’s proxies acquire, their influence becomes stronger in the rest of Iraq. Al-Abadi has even contemplated an alliance with Iran’s proxies, a move that has been criticized by Sistani and the Najaf religious establishment, al-Sadr, and Arab Sunni and Kurdish factions. Washington would do well to heed the lessons of the past and avoid creating a strongman in Baghdad who may one day turn his back on the United States.

To contain Tehran, the United States could also help prevent these groups from appropriating the $1 billion allocated to the PMF from the Iraqi national budget, and curb their access to the billions of dollars that the international community intends to contribute to the reconstruction of Iraq. These resources enhance the battlefield superiority of Iran’s proxies. They also allow them to shape Iraq’s political system according to their own ideologies, while molding the fabric of its society through its sophisticated propaganda.

Sistani, who champions a pluralistic, representative Iraqi state, can go a long way toward containing Iran’s proxies. On his own, however, he can only do so much.

Trump’s UN migrant nominee has a record to put his petty critics to shame

When the Battle of Mosul was underway, Americans went about their lives as usual, maybe catching an update here and there on CNN or in their local paper. Not Ken Isaacs.

Two months into the dangerous but critical mission to liberate the region from the grip of ISIS, Isaacs left the comfort and safety of home to open a field hospital for wounded Iraqis and Kurds at the fringe of the fighting. There was no religious test at the doors. Within two months of opening, the volunteer hospital served more than 1,000 wounded, Muslim and Christian alike. For his courageous service, he was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award from Health Outreach to the Middle East.

The Battle of Mosul marked a pivotal shift towards success in the global effort to defeat ISIS, a struggle that knows no borders and makes no distinctions between religion and race. It also characterizes the lifelong work of Isaacs, who has spent decades entering disaster and war zones to bind wounds and bring aid to people of all ethnicities and faiths. While Isaacs is a committed Christian and points to his faith as the impetus for his life’s work, he risks his life for all. This too, he would tell you, is an essential part of bearing witness to Christianity’s radical claim that all have inherent dignity in the eyes of God.

And so The Washington Post’s recent editorial arguing that Isaacs, the Trump administration’s nominee to head a billion dollar U.N.- affiliated agency on migrant aid, would be a “narrow-minded” “embarrassment” to the United States seems particularly off-key.

Isaac’s career of global public service is so extensive, it can hardly be contained in one page.

He led the U.S. government relief response to the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and the 2005 earthquake in Pakistan while head of the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) within the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

Before that, he ran relief efforts for a major aid charity in Rwanda after its civil war, where he reestablished the first and only functioning hospital in the country and cared for 1,000 orphans.

When Sudan was in the middle of its civil war, he also oversaw aid and established hospitals for the people under siege in southern Sudan and the Nuba Mountains. Because of his work there, he has the support of the legendary Dr. Tom Catena, an American missionary doctor whose work has been profiled in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and TIME, among others.

He also led aid response efforts in Nepal after it was struck by deadly earthquakes and aided refugees fleeing the violence in Syria.

These are just a few of the extraordinary missions he has led to bring aid to the most vulnerable, desperate, and embattled people on the planet. None of that seems particularly narrow-minded or embarrassing.

The United Nations knows a thing or two about embarrassment, though. Currently, the global body is struggling to dig itself out of a series of sexual abuse scandals, just one of many failures and scandals it has left in its wake. USA Today, for example, ran a headline just last month on the inability of U.N. officials to “stem rapes by peacekeepers” in Africa.

That is an embarrassment worthy of a Washington Post editorial. Instead, the Post focuses its energies on smearing a man whose career is characterized by lovingly and bravely responding to the most urgent scenes of mass devastation around the globe, a man who boasts the support of public figures like Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times.

To try and paint as a narrow-minded bigot a man who has risked his life for people of all ethnicities and faiths in Sudan, Mozambique, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia, Bosnia, Cambodia, Honduras, El Salvador, Kosovo, Turkey, and Afghanistan, Haiti, Japan, the Philippines, Nepal, Iraq, North Korea, and Myanmar is so petty it’s almost laughable.

Except it isn’t, because people suffering all around the world need aid and they need good and honest men like Ken Isaacs to help deliver it. Pope Francis famously exhorted Christians to make the church like a field hospital to the world. Ken Isaacs builds them, literally. Pope Francis asked Christians to go to the margins, to the very ends of the earth. Ken Isaacs goes there, day in and day out. The United Nations’ International Organization for Migration will not find a better man for the job.

US condemns Syrian attack on East Ghouta, says little about Afrin

The US condemned the Syrian regime’s intense and brutal onslaught on the Damascus suburb of East Ghouta on Tuesday, but had little to say about the Turkish assault on Afrin, now entering its second month.

The US “is deeply concerned by the escalating violence” in East Ghouta, State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert said, noting that airstrikes appear to have “directly targeted hospitals and what little civilian infrastructure remains,” resulting in the deaths of over 100 civilians in less than two days.

“Russia must end its support for the Assad regime,” she affirmed, adding, “They are responsible for the attacks” and “for the horrendous civilian death toll.”

Nauert endorsed a UN call for a month-long ceasefire to allow the delivery of humanitarian supplies and the medical evacuation of civilians, and stressed that it “must begin now.”

However, when it came to the Turkish assault on Afrin, now entering its second month, she said relatively little.

Asked to clarify conflicting accounts as to whether pro-Syrian regime elements had entered Afrin, Nauert responded, “The United States is not operating in Afrin.” It “is not equipping anyone in Afrin, so “our knowledge” of events “is somewhat limited.”

As Kurdistan 24 reported from Afrin, however, forces backed by Damascus did reach the city.

At the State Department, Kurdistan 24 followed up the initial line of questioning by asking about Russia, which seems to be acting along lines described by Dr. Aykan Erdemir, a former Turkish parliamentarian and now a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

As Erdemir noted, Russia has leverage in Syria—carrot and stick—that it uses to influence various parties to the conflict to promote its agenda.

According to Erdemir, Russia first gave Turkey a green light to attack Afrin, then as the conflict stalemated, Moscow has sought to use it to extend the reach of the Syrian regime.

However, Nauert declined to comment. “I’m not going to speak about what Russia may be doing to Turkey and what Turkey may be doing to Russia,” although she did affirm that, overall, the Russians “have been using their leverage in Syria.”

Nauert also noted that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had “productive meetings” in Ankara last week with Turkish Foreign Minister and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

“They talked a lot” about Syria and “our concerns,” she said. “We continue to stress” the need for “a de-escalation of violence” and for protecting civilians.

However, it appears that, following Tillerson’s visit, the US has largely capitulated to Turkish demands, a view confirmed by an informed Washington source.

Ankara claims it had an understanding with the Obama administration that, if it came to feel threatened by US dealings with its partners in Syria in the fight against the Islamic State (IS), such as the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), it would take military action.

Turkey may be claiming now that the US announcement last month, that it would support the SDF to maintain security in those parts of Eastern Syria that have been liberated from IS’ control, constitutes such a threat.

US officials are reportedly frustrated with Turkey’s actions, particularly as it is using extremists as a proxy force, but do not seem prepared to do much to challenge them.

Kurdistan 24 also asked about the visit to Iraq earlier this week by Ali Akbar Velayati, Iranian Foreign Minister from 1981 until 1997, and subsequently Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s top adviser on foreign affairs.

In Baghdad to attend an Islamic conference, Velayati met a number of Iraqi officials, expressing his opposition to a continued US military presence in the country.

At least one Iraqi official, Deputy Speaker of Parliament Humam Hamoudi, publicly agreed, as he vowed “to reject any US military presence in the region,” and accused Washington of having “its own malicious aims and objectives.”

Nauert expressed no concern, however. “It would be natural for Iraq and Iran” to have discussions, as they are neighbors, she responded, comparing the situation to the talks between North and South Korea.

“We are fully comfortable and confident in our relationship” with Iraq, and we “have confidence in the Iraqi Government and are highly skeptical that they would bow down to Iran.”

Entifadh Qanbar, an Iraqi-American and President of the Future Foundation in Washington DC, had a different view.

Qanbar explained to Kurdistan 24 that Velayati had given an offensive speech at the conference, asserting that Iran would “not allow” liberals to take power, nor Communists, a reference to the fire-brand Shiite cleric, Muqtada al Sadr, who is aligned electorally with Iraq’s Communist party.

Qanbar said Velayati’s speech created a “wide backlash” among Iraqis because he spoke as if Iraq “was a colonial extension of Iran.”

A notable exception to the widespread outrage was the government’s Al Iraqiya channel, Qanbar said, stressing that it is “under the direct control of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and his Dawa party.”

Editing by John J. Catherine

Blair and Bush did Iran a ‘FAVOUR’ by invading Iraq and ‘SACRIFICING their OWN troops’

THE US and UK did Iran a “favour” and achieved the Islamic Republic’s aims of taking out Saddam Hussein while “sacrificing their own troops” in the process, according to an Iranian Foreign Minister in an explosive documentary.

The US documentary series Frontline tells the inside, epic story of the longstanding, bitter feud between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

In the programme, “Bitter Rivals: Iran and Saudi Arabia”, it is claimed that Saudi Arabia opposed the 2003 US invasion of Iraq because it knew it would “open Pandora’s box” and the entire state would “implode”.

While asked about this and whether the “Americans did you a favour”, Iran Foreign Minister Hossein Sheikholeslam said: “Oh, yes. You are right. They did us a favour.

“To take Saddam, which is what we wanted to do. You were sacrificing your own soldiers for our aim.”

Speaking on the programme, Professor of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton, Bernard Haykel, claims Saudi Arabia’s predicted the US-led invasion would lead to Iran trying to take over the country.

He said: “Saudi Arabia knew that if you smash the state in Iraq, you would open up a Pandora’s box.

“They just knew that Iraq would implode. And then it would offer an opportunity to the Iranians to take it over, which is exactly what happened.”

Donald Trump finally calls for greater background checks on people buying guns

Donald Trump has called for bipartisan legislation to strengthen background checks on people trying to buy guns. The tweet, which was confusingly sent as a reply to another unrelated tweet about media coverage of an ‘anti-Trump Russia rally’, offered no specifics on the issue. However, it is the first concrete sign that the White House could move to make changes to gun legislation. ‘Whether we are Republican or Democrat, we must now focus on strengthening Background Checks!’ he wrote.

He also directed the Department of Justice to move to ban devices like the rapid-fire bump stocks that were used in last year’s Las Vegas massacre. In a memo, he urged the department to complete their review as soon as possible and propose a rule ‘banning all devices that turn legal weapons into machine guns’. It comes less than a week after 17 people were killed in a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.


Donald Trump finally calls for greater background checks on people buying guns

‘We must do more to protect our children,’ Trump said, adding that his administration was working hard to respond to the Parkland shooting.


Asked at a press briefing if Trump was open to reinstating a ban on assault-type weapons, spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the White House ‘hasn’t closed the door on any front’. She also said that raising the age limit for buying an AR-15 was ‘on the table for us to discuss’. Since the Parkland shooting students, teachers, parents and political figures have been calling for much more stringent gun laws, including an assault rifle ban.


Donald Trump finally calls for greater background checks on people buying guns


Protesters hold signs at a rally for gun control at the Broward County Federal Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale (Picture: AFP/Getty Images)


Donald Trump finally calls for greater background checks on people buying guns

The rally for gun control was held at the Broward County Federal Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale on Saturday (Picture: AFP/Getty Images)


Donald Trump finally calls for greater background checks on people buying guns

Children, teachers and parents have all called for more stringent gun legislation in the wake of the shooting (Picture: AFP/Getty Images) Senator Chris Murphy, a Democrat from Connecticut and advocate for tighter gun controls, said this suggested that the president was aware of fresh energy on the issue, and called it a sign that ‘for the first time’ politicians are ‘scared of the political consequences of inaction on guns’.


On Wednesday, Trump will host parents, teachers and students at the White House for a ‘listening session’ that will include people impacted by mass shootings in Parkland, Columbine, Colorado and Newtown. The discussion of at least some types of gun control legislation is a dramatic turnaround for Florida, which had earned the nickname ‘the Gunshine State’ for its lax gun policies.





Former IRGC leader warns Iran will ‘level Tel Aviv to the ground’ if Israel attacks

 A former leader of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) on Monday said Iran would not hesitate to destroy Israel if the latter attacked the Islamic Republic.

Mohsen Rezaei, a former head of Iran’s IRGC and secretary of the country’s Expediency Council, made the comments during a televised speech where he threatened the city of Tel Aviv would be “leveled to the ground” if Israel were to attack Iran.

He also said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would not be given “any opportunity to flee,” after the Israeli leader said his country would strike Iran during a speech at the annual Munich Security Conference.

“About Netanyahu’s unwise words, I should say that if they carry out the slightest unwise move against Iran, we will level Tel Aviv to the ground,” Rezaei told the Hezbollah-affiliated al-Manar channel.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the Munich Security Conference on Feb. 18, 2018. (Photo: AFP)

On Sunday, Netanyahu said his country “could act against Iran” amid recent tensions between the two sides after an altercation in Syria last week.

During his speech in Munich, the Prime Minister displayed what he said was a piece from an Iranian drone that flew into Israeli airspace on Feb. 10.

“Israel will not allow the regime to put a noose of terror around our neck,” he said. “We will act if necessary not just against Iran’s proxies but Iran itself.”

Netanyahu noted that in the midst of the Islamic State’s military defeat in Iraq and Syria, Tehran was expanding its influence in the region, and “trying to create a land bridge from Iran to Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Gaza.”

Israel accuses Iran of plotting a permanent military presence in Syria, where Iranian-backed forces currently support the Syrian government in the ongoing civil war in the country.

Israel also charges Iran with aiding terrorist groups like Hezbollah in Lebanon.

“The US and Israeli leaders don’t know Iran and don’t understand the power of resistance and, therefore, they continuously face defeat,” Rezaei concluded.

Lebanon president arrives in Iraq for talks


Lebanese President Michel Aoun arrived in Baghdad on Tuesday for talks with Iraqi officials, for his first visit to Iraq since he was elected Lebanon’s president in October 2016.

He will hold talks on a host of issues with Iraqi President Fuad Masum, Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi and Parliament Speaker Salim al-Jabouri, according to a source with the Iraqi Foreign Ministry.

The issue of Lebanese nationals wanted by Iraqi authorities for alleged links to Daesh and al-Qaeda terrorist groups will top the agenda of Aoun’s talks in Iraq during his two-day visit, the source said.

Earlier this month, Iraqi authorities issued a list of 60 Lebanese nationals wanted by Baghdad for membership in Daesh and al-Qaeda groups.

On the list is Maan Bashour, the former secretary-general of the Arab National Conference, who is accused by Iraqi authorities of recruiting terrorists in Iraq.

Russia willing to mediate conflict in Afrin: Deputy FM

On Monday, Moscow made a public offer to mediate in the military conflict taking place in the Syrian Kurdish enclave of Afrin.

Mikhail Bogdanov, Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister and Special Presidential Envoy for the Middle East and North Africa, said, “Russia is not imposing its role on anyone,” speaking to reporters in Moscow. The statement was made in response to a question by Kurdistan 24 about Russia’s position on the crisis in Afrin.

“If somebody feels it is needed, we are ready to do a good turn to stop the bloodshed and find common denominators,” he added.

Earlier on Monday, Syrian state media claimed that militias allied with the central government would enter Afrin to help repel Turkish military operations in the region.

“Moscow might be aware of the deal, but I am not,” the diplomat said, regarding the alleged agreement between the US-backed Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) with Damascus to send troops to Afrin to counter the Turkish military.

“The most important thing for us are the approaches stemming from the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 2254 and respect for the territorial integrity, sovereignty, and unity of Syria.”

On Jan. 20, Turkey announced a military operation, along with Turkish-backed rebels, to drive out the YPG, Women’s Protection Units (YPJ), and the ruling party Democratic Union Party (PYD) from Afrin.

Ankara sees YPG, YPJ, and PYD as a collective ‘terrorist’ group and an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been waging decades of insurgency against the Turkish government in Turkey.

Editing by John J. Catherine

(Khoshawi Mohammed contributed to this report)