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US troops block Russian military convoy from reaching Iraq border

By News Desk -2020-01-23

BEIRUT, LEBANON (8:00 P.M.) – American troops stopped a Russian convoy in Syria from reaching the border of Iraq, and reportedly escorted the convoy to the main road.

The incident reportedly took place near the border-city of Al-Malikiyah, which is located near Iraq’s Nineveh (var. Ninawa) Governorate.

Phase One Trade Deal "Doomed From The Start" As Skepticism Mounts About Purchases

by Tyler Durden
Tue, 01/21/2020 - 19:05

President Trump is at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Tuesday, giving a speech to the world's elites on how the Phase 1 trade agreement is the greatest deal ever.

Trump has touted non-stop on Twitter about how he made the biggest deal in the world, and China will be purchasing vast quantities of U.S. farm products in the coming months.

After all, it's an election year, and Trump has to cheerlead, even as skepticism is growing over China's capacity to buy U.S. products, reported South China Morning Post (SCMP).

China's commitment to purchase an additional $200 billion of U.S. goods over the next several years "may be doomed from the start."

Chad Bown, a trade specialist at the Peterson Institute for International Economics (PIIE), said, "a close look at the data shows that the numbers are even more unrealistic than first believed. Even worse, hostilities might renew, leading to a re-escalation of trade tensions currently on hold."

Much of the skepticism of trade purchases by China is from their repeated statements on how import purchases from the deal will be based on market conditions. This was reiterated by Li Xingqian, head of the foreign trade department, on Tuesday, who said, "we will expand imports from the United States based on the principles of the market and World Trade Organization rules and will not affect imports from other countries."

Much of the demand will be based on China's economy, and with growth slumping to three-decade lows in 2019 – a surge in demand for U.S. products will be challenging for Chinese importers.

China's State Grid, the largest utility company in the country, warned that economic growth could plunge to 4% within the next four years, according to internal forecasts.

Andrei Agapi, associate pricing director for agriculture at S&P Global Platts in Singapore, told the SCMP that if "China says it's down to market conditions, then the U.S. will have to be competitive. And the reality is that the U.S. is not competitive by a long shot already, and it hasn't been before either."

Agapi said since China offered tariff waivers on U.S. soybeans imports last fall, the price has risen past Brazilian beans, which would entice the Chinese to ditch U.S. markets for ones in Latin America because of cost factors.

We've noted how China has been actively diversifying farm purchases away from the U.S. towards Brazil and Argentina.

Peter Meyer, head of grain and oilseed analytics at S&P Global Platts, said when we spoke with Chinese bean traders in the interior of the country, there's pessimism developing that "there is no way they could even run that much in the country – it would throw the entire domestic supply chain into disarray."

Traders told SCMP that if China had to bite the bullet and buy U.S. farm goods despite market conditions – then it would do so via state trading companies like COFCO.

Agapi said China has already purchased 50% of its soybean demand for the year from Latin America. Furthermore, he said demand this year will be lower because the African swine fever wiped out at least half of the country's pig herd.

Andrew Tilton, Goldman Sachs' chief economist for Asia-Pacific, said Tuesday that "it would obviously take political will and maybe some easing of import restrictions in a couple of areas".

"The surprise for us in the official document was that the amount on the agriculture side is less and the energy side was more. That might be relevant because there were a couple of sectors where orders would count as purchases. There are often long-term energy contracts that are signed, but it's less typical in the agricultural space to see that," Tilton said.

Bown said 28% of U.S. exports to China are part of industries not covered by the new trade agreement, and this could mean these exports are slashed while sourced from other countries.

"Thus, in legal terms, China has little incentive to import those US$51.6 billion of uncovered products from the U.S. in 2020 or 2021," he said.

Bown warned: "To compensate angry trading partners aggrieved because of the trade diversion, China could purchase more uncovered products from them and reduce imports from the United States. That would be painful for American companies and workers whose products Trump has chosen not to put into this agreement."

More or less, the trade agreement will likely be broken after the election, and the trade war will resume.

So the entire trade deal is meaningless.

McConnell Gives Democrats Just Two Days For Trump Impeachment Trial In Senate

by Tyler Durden
Tue, 01/21/2020 - 05:15

House impeachment managers will have just two days to prosecute their case against President Donald Trump according to a resolution circulated by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, in a move meant to accelerates the timetable for a trial Republicans intend to end in a speedy acquittal. President Trump’s team will also have two days to present their arguments and then senators will have a chance to ask questions and consider subpoenas of witnesses.

Ben Siegel

Here’s the @senatemajldr resolution outlining how the impeachment trial will proceed:

According to The Hill, both sides will have 24 hours to make their first round of arguments, the same amount of time House impeachment managers and Bill Clinton’s lawyers received in 1999, but it limits them to just two days each, instead of the three allowed in Bill Clinton's impeachment trial more than 20 years ago.  A Senate GOP leadership aide noted that prosecutors in the Clinton trial didn’t use all of their allotted time and finished their opening arguments within three days.

The resolution does not require additional witnesses to be subpoenaed, much to the anger of Democrats, and does not allow House prosecutors to admit evidence into the Senate trial record until after the opening arguments are heard. The rules would also allow the president’s team to seek a quick dismissal of the charges, though many Republican senators have said they should at least hear the case.

In response, the top Senate Democrat, Charles Schumer quickly pushed back and vowed to force votes on amendments. “Sen. McConnell’s resolution is nothing short of a national disgrace,” Schumer said in a statement Monday afternoon, further accusing McConnell of casting aside public statements that he would use the same rules as under the Clinton trial, adding that the majority leader is clearly “hell-bent on making it much more difficult to get witnesses and documents and intent on rushing the trial through.”

Schumer also said in a statement Monday evening that he will offer amendments to alter “the many flaws” in a “deeply unfair proposal,” as well as to subpoena further witnesses and documents.

The resolution also includes language favored by Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and other GOP moderates requiring a debate and vote on subpoenaing new witnesses and documents.

Republican Senator Lamar Alexander, who worked with McConnell and Collins to modify the resolution, said it “guarantees a vote on whether we need additional evidence at the appropriate time."

Schumer argues that forcing House managers to cram their opening arguments into a two-day window will force them to present on the Senate floor well into the evening and possibly past midnight.

“McConnell’s resolution stipulates that key facts be delivered in the wee hours of the night simply because he doesn’t want the American people to hear them,” Schumer said.

According to the resolution, House managers will be allowed to begin their arguments 1 p.m. Wednesday. 

In response, a Senate GOP leadership aide told the Hill that in 1999, the House prosecutors and the president’s defense team each used fewer than 12 hours over a three-day period. “This resolution provides the same time but more structure for the arguments,” the aide said. The resolution also provides 16 hours for senators to ask questions.

In another departure from the 1999 organizing resolution, McConnell’s measure does not allow evidence from the House impeachment inquiry to be entered into the Senate trial record until after the question of additional witnesses and documents receives consideration. McConnell reportedly did this in response to Trump’s lawyers not having the opportunity to cross-examine witnesses at the House hearings.

"The White House was denied due process throughout the 12 weeks of partisan House proceedings," the source said.

Additionally, according to McConnell’s resolution if the Senate votes at the end of phase one against subpoenaing witnesses, then it will not be possible to consider additional motions on specific witnesses. Democrats have said they want to subpoena former national security adviser John Bolton, acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, senior White House adviser Robert Blair and senior Office of Management Budget official Michael Duffey.

The Senate will vote on the resolution Tuesday.

Schumer called on moderate Republican colleagues to reconsider McConnell’s aggressive timeline: “Any senator that votes for the McConnell resolution will be voting to hide information and evidence,” he said in his statement.

“I will be offering amendments to address the many flaws in this deeply unfair proposal and to subpoena the witnesses and documents we have requested,” he added.

The White House immediately backed McConnell’s rules, but didn’t indicate whether it would press a quick vote on a motion to dismiss.

"Protecting the president’s rights to offer pretrial motions was critical for us to support the package, and we’re very gratified with the resolution,” said Eric Ueland, the White House’s liaison to Congress. “I’m not going to talk about trial strategy publicly."

“It makes sense” to file a motion to dismiss because in every criminal case where there is no wrongdoing, you should try and get a dismissal, Alan Dershowitz, a member of Trump’s defense team, said in an interview Monday evening.

Earlier on Monday, the White House and impeachment managers from the House of Representatives released a pair of filings where both sides argued that constitutional separation of powers is at stake in the trial.

The president’s 171-page filing contends that the House failed to prove that the president explicitly linked aid for Ukraine to an investigation Trump sought into political rival and former Vice President Joe Biden. And the president’s lawyers argued that the Senate should swiftly reject the impeachment articles.

R ~ Schumer, tribe sayanim doing what he can to vilify Trump. For all his rhetoric his allegiance to the (((deep state))) is clear.

Russia Terms US Assassination of General Soleimani against Human Rights Norms

Tue Jan 21, 2020

TEHRAN (FNA)- Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Andrey Rudenko blasted the US assassination of former IRGC Quds Force Commander Lieutenant General Qassem Soleimani as an illegal act in violation of human rights.

Rudenko made the remarks in a meeting with Iranian Ambassador to Russia Kazzem Jalali in Moscow on Tuesday.

He described Iran as an important and friendly state, stressing Moscow's determination to further expand bilateral relations with Tehran.

Jalali, for his part, underlined the Iranian officials' willingness to broaden ties with Moscow, and stressed, "The regional conditions necessitate continued consultations and cooperation between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Russian Federation on different issues, specially in Central Asia and the Caucasus region."

Lieutenant General Qassem Soleimani was assassinated in a US drone strike on Baghdad International Airport in Iraq on January 3.

The airstrike also martyred Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, deputy commander of Iraq's Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), or Hashad al-Shaabi. The two were martyred in an American airstrike that targeted their vehicle on the road to the airport.

Five Iranian and five Iraqi militaries were martyred by missiles fired by the US drone at Baghdad International Airport.

On January 8, the IRGC Aerospace Force started heavy ballistic missile attacks on US Ein Al-Assad airbase in Southwestern Iraq near the border with Syria and a US operated airbase in Erbil in retaliation for the US assassination of General Soleimani.

Ein Al-Assad is an airbase with a 4km runway at 188m altitude from sea levels, which is the main and the largest US airbase in Iraq. Early reports said the radar systems and missile defense shields in Ein Al-Assad failed to operate and intercept the Iranian missiles. Unofficial reports said the US army's central radar systems at Ein Al-Assad had been jammed by electronic warfare.

The second IRGC reprisal attack targeted a US military base near Erbil airport in Iraqi Kurdistan Region in the second leg of "Martyr Soleimani" reprisal operation.

Iraq said the attacks had not taken any toll from its army men stationed at these two bases. The US army had blocked entrance into Ein Al-Assad to everyone, including the Iraqi army.

It was the first direct attack on the US army ever since world war two.

The IRGC officials said none of the missiles had been intercepted.

R ~ The USG has long snapped the chains of Law, both in the united States of America and internationally.


Syrian fighters abandon Libyan War, flee towards Italy: report

By News Desk -2020-01-21

BEIRUT, LEBANON (5:45 P.M.) – Some Syrian fighters that went to fight in Libya have since abandoned the war and fled to Italy, opposition media sites claimed, as cited by Al-Watan.

According to the reports, at least 17 of the Syrian fighters have already arrived in Italy after spending a short period of time inside Libya.

The reports said that the Syrian fighters intentionally accepted the deployment to Libya in order to later escape into Italy.

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), some 2,400 Syrian fighters have already traveled to Libya thus far.

Another 1,200 fighters from a number of factions in the Free Syrian Army (FSA) are expected to make their way to Libya in the coming weeks.

Last month, Bloomberg News released a story about Turkey offering contracts to Syrian fighters in order to help the Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA).

Since then, several fighters have been seen inside of Libya, most notably near the capital city of Tripoli.

R ~ I find the term 'Libyan fighters' a misnomer. These are the domestic terrorists that joined up with ISIS. From Libya to Italy to...? They will likely be granted refugee status in western nations who have supported and financed ISIS since the Syrian war began if Canada's government policy is any indication.

Ukrainian prosecutor Shokin heavily investigated Burisma, but media ate up Biden’s story he didn’t fight corruption

21 Jan, 2020 16:01 / Updated 57 minutes ago

(L) Viktor Shokin © Global Look Press/ZUMAPRESS/Sergii Kharchenko; (С) Joe Biden © REUTERS/Mike Blake; (R) Yuriy Lutsenko
© Global Look Press/ZUMAPRESS/Nazar Furyk

The Ukrainian prosecutor who Joe Biden pushed to oust had six cases against Burisma but they fizzled out after he left, a new documentary shows challenging the narrative by the former vice president that the media failed to check.

When Joe Biden lobbied Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to replace Viktor Shokin with Yuriy Lutsenko in 2015, his entourage claimed that Shokin had failed to thoroughly investigate corruption, and by pushing for his replacement “saint” Biden even acted against his family’s interests.

But the second episode of the documentary series ‘UkraineGate: Inconvenient facts’ produced by French investigative journalist Olivier Berruyer, founder of popular anti-corruption and economics blog Les Crises, shows information that undermines this narrative.

The American media reported that Shokin’s case against Ukrainian energy company Burisma had gone “dormant,” and that by pressing for Lutsenko’s appointment, Biden was quashing corruption, even if that meant subjecting his own son to investigation in the process. Hunter Biden was on the company’s board from 2014 till 2019. However, documents collected by Berruyer show that Shokin’s Burisma probe was far from “dormant.” Shokin himself even told ABC News that his office had six investigations into Burisma open at the time of his resignation.

Lutsenko, he said, “stopped all those cases.”

ABC didn’t air this part of the interview, and the American media – including the Washington Post and the New York Times – continue to label Shokin’s investigation “dormant,” despite a number of publicly available documents showing otherwise and presented in the documentary.

One day after Lutsenko’s appointment, Biden called Poroshenko to welcome the announcement, and to inform him that the US would move forward with a $1 billion aid loan to Ukraine.

The cases against Burisma and its head Mykola Zlochevsky were closed under Lutsenko for various reasons. The company paid around $7 million in taxes, but it’s a fraction of the $70 million that Lutsenko himself said the company owed.

Berruyer does not claim that Shokin is an incorruptible public servant, and says that there are two hypotheses for the reasons for investigation. Either he wanted to punish criminal activity, or he may have been motivated to pursue the Burisma case to seize the assets of the company’s founder, Mykola Zlochevsky, before shaking the oligarch down for a bribe.

“In any case, this issue doesn’t change anything about the main point, Joe Biden’s involvement. Since the investigations were moving forward, he de facto helped the oligarch, voluntarily or not,” Berruyer said.

Thousands Turkish Proxy Fighters Flood Into Libya Amid Berlin Peace Talks


Turkey is increasing its military involvement in the Libyan conflict. After officially sending its military advisers and officers to support the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA), Turkey set up air defense systems near Mitiga Airport. The airport hosts warplanes of the GNA Air Force, and Turkish-supplied Bayraktar TB2 combat drones. According to photos and videos available online, the deployed Turkish systems included the MIM-23 Hawk, the ACV-30 Korkut SPAAG, and the AN/MPQ-64 Sentinel 3D radar.

Since the start of the advance of the Libyan National Army (LNA) led by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar on Tripoli in April 2019, Mitiga Airport repeatedly became a target of airstrikes. These strikes led to notable losses in GNA military aircraft. The Turkish move is apparently aimed at securing operations from Mitiga Airport. Despite this, the facility still remains too close to the frontline and thus any aircraft deployed there remains in a constant danger.

Meanwhile, the number of members of Turkish-backed Syrian militant groups deployed in Libya reportedly grew to 2,400. According to reports, 1,700 more Syrian fighters are now passing training in military camps in Turkey before being deployed to fight on the side of the GNA. The total number of Turkish proxies in Libya remains unconfirmed. However, photos and videos appearing online indicate that hundreds of Turkish-backed fighters arrive Libya via planes on a regular basis.

On January 18, the Benghazi-based government allied with the LNA blocked oil exports at ports under his control, slashing output by more than a half. According to Libya’s National Oil Corp., oil output will fall by about 800,000 barrels a day, costing $55 million daily. The corporation declared Force Majeure, which can allow Libya, which holds Africa’s largest-proven oil reserves, to legally suspend delivery contracts. The LNA says that the ports were closed in response to ‘demands of the Libyan nation’ that stands against the GNA-requested Turkish intervention.

The move came ahead the Berlin conference demonstrated to international players the LNA readiness to provide own course regardless the possible cost. The conference took place on January 19 involving top delegations from the GNA, the LNA, as well as global and regional players, including the USA, Turkey, the UAE, Egypt, Russia, France, Italy and Germany.

The participants of the Berlin conference declared their support the ceasefire between the GNA, the LNA, declared their commitment to a political solution of the conflict. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that the warring sides in Libya’s conflict agreed to respect an arms embargo and not to provide the varying sides with military support. The representatives of the Libyan conflict agreed to form a five-by-five military commission that should work on resolving the existing tensions. The document on Libya will have to be approved by the UN Security Council. This makes the Libyan peace process dependent on other geopolitical issues.

On top of that, the unconditional ceasefire goes against interests of the LNA, which has an upper hand in an open military confrontation with the GNA. Haftar may regret that he agreed to participate in the Berlin negotiations format, where he faced a joint pressure from Western powers involved in the conflict.

Multiple rockets hit Baghdad’s Green Zone, trigger sirens at US embassy

20 Jan, 2020 21:34 / Updated 7 hours ago

FILE PHOTO: A general view of the US Embassy at the Green zone in Baghdad, Iraq ©  Reuters / stringer

Three rockets have exploded inside Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone, which houses the US Embassy and other foreign diplomatic facilities. No casualties have been reported.

At least two explosions went off near the US Embassy on Monday night, while a third rocket also landed elsewhere in the Green Zone complex, according to security sources. The attack was launched from a district on the outskirts of Baghdad.

Video footage circulating on social media appeared to show an area near the complex, where emergency sirens could be heard blaring.

The attack comes on the heels of a series of similar incidents in recent weeks, with another rocket salvo fired near Camp Taji – a US coalition base north of Baghdad – last Tuesday, wounding at least one Iraqi soldier. Days prior, eight Katyusha rockets hit the Al-Balad air base, another facility housing US troops, injuring four Iraqi personnel. No group has taken responsibility for the attacks.

Striking Paris Opera artists perform outdoor concert against pension reforms – while Macron flees theater amid protests

18 Jan, 2020 17:47 / Updated 5 minutes ago

Saturday's strike outside the Palais Garnier. © STEPHANE DE SAKUTIN / AFP

As France marked its 45th consecutive day of strikes on Saturday, hundreds of artists from the Paris Opera performed a stunning outdoor concert in front of the Palais Garnier to voice their opposition to pension reform measures.
Approximately 200 theater workers staged the dramatic demonstration in front of an enthusiastic crowd, with the impressive opera house acting as a fitting backdrop, on a bright afternoon in the French capital.

Large crowds of Parisiens turned out to support the strikers and watch the performance, which saw the artists play arrangements from the Trojan March by Hector Berlioz and Carmen by Georges Bizet.

The prestigious opera house has been on strike since December 5 as part of the industrial action against pension reforms that have swept France. Critics of the pension measures say they will force millions of people to work longer for a smaller pension. 

The remarkable display at the Palais Garnier came after French president Emmanuel Macron and his wife were rushed from the Bouffes du Nord theater on Friday night due to demonstrations.

Approximately 30 protesters tried to enter the theater in the 10th district of Paris after audience members tweeted that the Macron’s were present for the performance of ‘The Fly.’ Riot police rushed to the scene, and the Macrons “were secured” for several minutes.

"All together, general strike," the demonstrators shouted during the hour-long stand-off before the president and his wife left the scene under police escort.

Yellow vests

Saturday also saw French police fire tear gas at ‘Yellow Vest’ protesters, as Paris again saw thousands of demonstrators march through the streets.

‘Yellow Vests’ shouted slogans criticizing Macron and his pension reforms during the latest installment of the weekly demonstrations which have been held every Saturday since November 2018.

"The street is ours," protesters chanted, according to AFP. "Macron, we're going to come for you, in your home."

Police said 15 people were arrested as they attempted to disperse a group leading a demonstration in northern Paris.

US military says 11 US troops wounded in Iranian missile attack despite earlier denials

Friday, 17 January 2020 7:27 AM  [ Last Update: Friday, 17 January 2020 8:17 AM ]

A picture taken on January 13, 2020 during a press tour shows a view of the damage at the Ain al-Asad military
airbase housing US and other foreign troops in the western Iraqi province of Anbar. (Photo by AFP)

The United States military has said that 11 of its troops were wounded in an Iranian retaliatory missile attack last week despite Washington's initial claim denying casualties.

"While no US service members were killed in the January 8 Iranian attack on al-Asad Air base, several were treated for concussion symptoms from the blasts and are still being assessed," US Central Command spokesman Captain Bill Urban said in a statement on Thursday.

On January 8, the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) fired volleys of ballistic missiles at Ain al-Asad, a large airbase hosting about 1,500 US troops, and another outpost in Erbil, the capital of the semi-autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan.

The missile operation was in response to Washington's January 3 assassination of top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani, who led the IRGC’s Quds Force.

The assassination also resulted in the death of Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, who was the second-in-command of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Units (PMU).

IRGC targets US airbases in Iraq in response to assassination of General Soleimani
Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) has targeted US airbases in Iraq.

Speaking on the morning following Iran's reciprocal military operation, US President Donald Trump had said that "no Americans were harmed in last night’s attack".

"We suffered no casualties, all of our soldiers are safe, and only minimal damage was sustained at our military bases," he added.

The Pentagon had also initially ruled out any casualties from the attack.

Speaking on Thursday, however, Urban said US soldiers injured from the Iranian missile strikes had been taken to US bases outside Iraq for further treatment "out of an abundance of caution".

"At this time, eight individuals have been transported to Landstuhl, and three have been transported to Camp Arifjan," he said, referring to Washington's Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany and Camp Arifjan in Kuwait.

The development marks the latest report in a string of recent revelations undermining initial US claims downplaying casualties and damage following Iran's retaliatory missile attack.

Evidence suggests US lied about Iranian strikes on US facilities in Iraq
Evidence suggests the US lied about Iranian strikes on its bases in Iraq as the damage caused is far more extensive than what the American officials say.

Reports and satellite images have gradually revealed what US media have described as "extensive" damage at the base.

Report: Damage from Iran strikes 'much greater' than US admits
The report cites Danish soldiers as commenting in an interview with a Danish TV 2 correspondent

On Wednesday, the AFP reported that US drone operators stationed in Ain al-Asad had lost access to US military drones for about nine hours after the base sustained damage during the Iranian missile strikes.

Accepting fate, US soldiers ‘were left blind to events’ as Iran missiles hit their base in Iraq
A report says moments after volleys of Iranian missiles began to hit Iraq

Speaking on Thursday, head of the Aerospace Division of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) Brigadier General Amir Ali Hajizadeh said dozens of US troops had been killed and injured in the operation.

According to Hajizadeh, the US military conducted at least nine sorties of C-130 flights after the missile strikes, taking wounded personnel to Jordan and Israel while Chinook helicopters transferred the injured to the US hospital in Baghdad.

'Daesh delighted about Soleimani assassination'

Many observers have highlighted that Washington's provocations in Iraq, notably the assassination of Gen. Soleimani, benefits Daesh in Iraq.

Earlier this week, the leading US daily New York Times said that the assassination had "delighted" the foreign-backed terrorist group.

The report said the assassination could lead to the further destabilization of the country and create room for the terrorist group's reemergence.

"General Soleimani’s death will have its (Daesh) leaders rubbing their hands in anticipation," for a resurgence, the newspaper said.

General Soleimani played a major role in advising Iraqi forces to successfully push back Daesh after the terror group swept over large parts of the country in 2014.

After being vanquished in Iraq, the terrorist group's presence is currently limited to dispersed cells operating in more remote areas of the country.

The World Below / France to Deploy Aircraft Carrier to Middle East
« on: January 16, 2020, 01:21:11 PM »
France to Deploy Aircraft Carrier to Middle East

Thursday, 16 January, 2020 - 19:45

Asharq Al-Awsat

French President Emmanuel Macron addresses his New Year speech to France's armed forces at the air base 123 of Orleans-Bricy, central France, on January 16, 2020. (Photo by Julien DE ROSA / POOL / AFP)

France will deploy the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier and its battle group from January to April to support French military operations in the Middle East, President Emmanuel Macron said on Thursday.

"The aircraft carrier will support Chammal operations (in the Middle East) from January to April 2020 before deploying to the Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea", Macron said at a New Year speech to the French military, according to Reuters.

The deployment comes amid growing tensions between Iran and the United States and French concerns that the fight against ISIS militants may be weakened within that context, the news agency said.

The World Below / Underwhelming Turkish Invasion Of Libya
« on: January 16, 2020, 12:58:11 PM »
Underwhelming Turkish Invasion Of Libya


In early 2020, Libya became one of the main hot points in the Greater Middle East with stakes raised by Turkey’s decision to launch a military operation there.

On January 5, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced that Turkey had sent troops to Libya to support the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA). No Turkish soldiers will reportedly participate in direct fighting. Instead, they will create an operation center and coordinate operations. Erdogan pointed that “right now”, there will be “different units serving as a combatant force.” He didn’t say who exactly these troops would be, but it is apparent that these are members of Turkish-backed Syrian militant groups and Turkey-linked private military contractors.

Ankara started an active deployment of members of pro-Turkish Syrian militant groups in Libya in December 2019. So far, over 600 Turkish-backed Syrian fighters have arrived. According to media reports, the officially dispatched Turkish troops included military advisers, technicians, electronic warfare and air defense specialists. Their total number is estimated at around 40-60 personnel.

A day after the Erdogan announcement, on January 6, the defense of the GNA collapsed in Sirte and the GNA’s rival, the Libyan National Army (LNA), took control of the town. Several pro-GNA units from Sirte publicly defected to the LNA with weapons and military equipment, including at least 6 armoured vehicles. With the loss of Sirte, only two large cities – Tripoli and Misrata – formally remained in the hands of the GNA. Misrata and its Brigades in fact remain a semi-independent actor operating under the GNA banner.

From January 7 to January 12, when the sides agreed on a temporary ceasefire proposed in a joint statement of the Turkish and Russian presidents, the LNA continued offensive operations against GNA forces near Tripoli and west of Sirte capturing several positions there. The GNA once again demonstrated that it is unable to take an upper hand in the battle against forces of Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar.

The GNA formally requested “air, ground and sea” military support from Turkey on December 26th, 2019, in the framework of the military cooperation deal signed by the sides in November. On January 2, 2020, the Turkish Parliament approved the bill allowing troop deployment in Libya. This move did not change the situation strategically. Even before the formal approval, Ankara already was engaged in the conflict. It sent large quantities of weapons and military equipment, including “BMC Kirpi” armoured vehicles, deployed Bayraktar TB2 unmanned combat aerial vehicles at airfields near Tripoli and Misrata, and sent operators and trainers in order to assist GNA forces.

Turkey could increase military supplies, deploy additional private military contractors, military advisers and special forces units, but it has no safe place to deploy own air group to provide the GNA with a direct air support like Russia did for pro-Assad forces in Syria. Approximately 90% of Libya is under the LNA control. Tripoli and Misrata airports are in a strike distance for the LNA. Tunisia, Algeria, Niger, Chad and Sudan refuse to play any direct role in the conflict, while the self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus is still too far away. Egypt, alongside with the UAE and Russia, is a supporter of the LNA. Therefore, deployment there is out of question.

Turkey operates no aircraft carriers. Its TCG Anadolu amphibious assault ship can be configured as a light aircraft carrier, but the warship isn’t in service yet. It is unclear how Ankara will be able to provide the GNA with an extensive air support without endangering its own aircraft by deploying them close to the combat zone.

Turkey could deploy a naval task force to support the GNA. Nonetheless, this move is risky, if one takes into account the hostile political environment, with Egypt, Cyprus, the UAE and Greece are strictly against any such actions. Additionally, this deployment will go against the interests of other NATO member states such as France and Italy that see the expansion of the Turkish influence as a direct threat to their vital economic interests, especially in the oil business. Warships near the Libyan coast will be put in jeopardy from modern anti-ship measures. Yemen’s Houthis repeatedly proved that missiles could be quite an effective tool to combat a technologically advanced enemy. In the worst-case scenario, the Turkish Navy can suffer notable losses, and the risk of this is too real to tangible to overlook.

Another unlikely option is a large-scale ground operation that will require an amphibious landing. Turkey has several landing ships, the biggest of which are the two Bayraktar-class amphibious warfare ships (displacement – 7,254 tons). There are also the Osman Gazi-class landing ship (3,700 tons), two Sarucabey-class landing ships (2,600 tons). Other landing ships, albeit active, are outdated. With 5 modern landing ships, any landing operation will endanger Turkish forces involved, keeping in mind the complex diplomatic environment and the LNA that will use all means and measures that it has to prevent such a scenario.

In these conditions, the most likely scenario of Turkey’s military operation was the following:

~ Deployment of a limited number of specialists;
~ Public employment of private military contractors’
~ Redeployment of members of pro-Turkish proxy groups from Syria to Libya;
~ Diplomatic and media campaign to secure Ankara’s vital interests and find a political solution that would prevent the LNA’s final push to capture Tripoli.

Turkey sees the Libyan foothold and the memorandum on maritime boundaries signed with the GNA as the core factors needed to secure own national interests in the Eastern Mediterranean.

This is exactly what Ankara did. On January 8, Turkish and Russian Presidents released a joint statement in which they called for reaching cease-fire in Libya by midnight of January 12. The joint statement emphasized the worsening situation in Libya and its negative impact on “the security and stability of Libya’s wider neighborhood, the entire Mediterranean region, as well as the African continent, triggering irregular migration, further spread of weapons, terrorism and other criminal activities including illicit trafficking,” and called for the resumption of a political dialogue to settle the conflict. The LNA initially rejected the ceasefire initiative, but then accepted it. This signals that key LNA supporters agreed on the format proposed by the Turkish and Russian leaders. On January 13, the delegations of the GNA, the LNA, and Turkey arrived in Moscow for talks on a wider ceasefire deal. The deal was not reached and clashes near Tripoli resumed on January 14.

Russian and Turkish interests are deeply implicated. Some experts speculated the contradictions within the Libyan conflict could become a stone that will destroy the glass friendship between Ankara and Moscow. However, the joint Russian-Turkish diplomatic efforts demonstrate that the sides found a kind of understanding and possibly agreed on the division of spheres of influence. If the Moscow negotiations format allows de-escalating the situation and putting an end to the terrorism threat and violence in Libya, it will become another success of the practical approach employed by the both powers in their cooperation regarding the Middle East questions.

The 2011 NATO intervention led by France, Italy and the United States destroyed the Libyan statehood in order to get control of the country’s energy resources. Now, Egypt, the UAE, Russia and Turkey are driving France, Italy and the US out of Libya in order to put an end to the created chaos and secure own interests.

R ~ Erogan has made a strategic error in backing up the wrong horse in Tripoli and he knows it. His desire to please the USG while distancing himself from them is not so intense as to persuade him to send the large Turkish military units into battle for the UN. He's happy to supply arms (at a profit no doubt) to the GNA forces but not much more.

Report: American Forces ‘Left Blind to Events’ After Iran's Missile Attack

Thu Jan 16, 2020

TEHRAN (FNA)- American soldiers recount how they lost contact with their unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in the sky as Iran targeted the military base in Iraq in retaliation for the assassination of its top commander, according to a report.

At the time the military operation was launched, the US Army was flying seven UAVs over Iraq to monitor bases where US-led coalition forces are deployed, AFP reported on Wednesday.

Having received advance warning from superiors, most of the 1,500 US soldiers at the base had been hidden in bunkers for two hours, but 14 pilots had stayed in containers-turned-cockpits to remotely fly the American drones and “monitor essential feeds from their high-powered cameras”, according to the report.

One of the pilots, 26-year-old Staff Sergeant Costin Herwig, who was flying a Gray Eagle, told AFP that he “accepted fate” after volleys of Iranian missiles poured on the air base, with the first missile blasting dust into their shelter.

"We thought we were basically done," he said.

The American forces stated that the volleys of missiles lasted for three hours, slamming into sleeping quarters directly adjacent to the pilots' operations rooms and inflicting damage on fiber lines, thus disrupting communication with the drones.

Fars News Agency
Report: US Lies About Damage from Iran's Missile Attacks on American Bases

The fiber lines link the virtual cockpits to antennas then satellites that send signals to the Gray Eagles and pull the cameras' feeds back onto the screens at Ein al-Assad, according to the soldiers.

"No more than a minute after the last round hit, I was heading over to the bunkers on the far back side and saw the fire was burning all through our fiber lines," said First Sergeant Wesley Kilpatrick, adding, "With the fiber lines burnt, there was no control."

The Iranian ballistic missiles had also punched holes across Ein al-Assad's airfield and the control tower was empty, the report added.

The soldiers of “the besieged teams” at the base could not locate the drones after the attack and were left in dark both in the air and on the ground, not knowing whether one of their drones had been shot down, it stated.   

"It's a pretty big deal, because it's so expensive and there's a lot of stuff on them (drones) that we don't want other people to have or the enemy to get," Herwig noted.

Islamic Revolution Guards Corps Aerospace Force Commander Brigadier General Amir Ali Hajizadeh had disclosed that the communication and dispatch of images by US MQ-9 drones were cut as IRGC’s missile attack was underway on Ein al-Assad military base.

Iran fired more than a dozen missiles last Wednesday at two American military bases in Iraq in retaliation for Washington's assassination of Tehran's elite commander, IRGC Qods Force Commander Lieutenant General Qassem Soleimani.

While experts and pundits have been surprised by improvements in Iranian ballistic prowess after satellite images displayed accuracy of Iranian missile strikes on US airbase, President Donald Trump has claimed that Tehran's military operation left no casualties.

Briefing media on operational objective of missile attacks on US bases, Hajizadeh stated that Iran was not after killing anyone although "tens of US troops have likely been killed and wounded and were transfered to Israel and Jordan on 9 sorties of C-130 flights".

He noted that had Iran intended to kill the American forces, it could have planned high casualty operations to kill 500 US military men in the first step and 4,000 to 5,000 others in the second and third phases within 48 hours.

Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei has called the operation "only a slap across the face" of the United States, stating that "military moves like this are not enought. The Americans' corruption-stirring presence should come to an end".

R ~ 'experts and pundits have been surprised by improvements in Iranian ballistic prowess'. if surprised then they could hardly be called experts. 'Pundits' is simply code for propagandists.

The World Below / How And Why Iran Shot Down Ukrainian Boeing
« on: January 14, 2020, 06:08:21 AM »
How And Why Iran Shot Down Ukrainian Boeing


On January 10, SouthFront released a video entitled “What’s Behind Boeing Crash In Iran” on the January 8 airliner crash near Tehran. This video was produced because the Iranian side released new facts and details regarding the incident.

The Iran Air Defense Forces brought down the Ukraine International Airlines Boeing 737-800 (Flight PS752) near Tehran due to “a human error”, the General Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces said in an official statement on January 11. The statement denounced the previous Iranian main version that the tragedy was a result of technical malfunction.

The data provided in the statement of the General Staff, and the press conference of the Head of the Aerospace Division of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) provide the following chain of events:

At approximate 23:00 UTC, on January 7, the IRGC carried out a missile strike on US military targets in Iraq;

The country’s air defense network was on highest alert amid reports on a possible cruise missile strike by the United States and increased flights of US warplanes near Iranian airspace;

At 2:38 UTC, January 8, the PS752 took off from Imam Khomeini International Airport and moved close to a “sensitive” facility of the IRGC “when completing a loop”. The aircraft reportedly deviated from the general PS752 course for around 2km;

The altitude and the direction of the flight’s movement “were like an enemy target”. The surface-to-air missile system operator mistakenly identified as the plane as an incoming “cruise missile” 19km away;

The missile system operator acted independently because of a failure in the communication system;

The operator then “took the wrong decision” of firing on the perceived threat in a “ten-second” time span to shoot or ignore the flying object. During the night, the operator repeatedly called for a halt in flights in the area. This was not done.

A “short-range missile” exploded next to the plane. After this, the plane continued flying for a while, and “exploded when it hit the ground.” The Iranian side did not mention the missile system used. Supposedly, it was the Tor low to medium altitude, short-range surface-to-air missile system.

Thus, Iran described the situation with the Boeing as a result of the combination of aforementioned factors in the “atmosphere of threats and intimidation by the aggressive American regime against the Iranian nation”. Nonetheless, the real picture of events may have been different.

It remains unclear how the Boeing 737-800 may have been mistaken for an incoming cruise missile, especially taking into account that this situation developed near the capital’s working airport. If one takes this explanation with a grain of salt, the scenario could have been the following.

The plane experienced some technical difficulties during or immediately after the take-off and deviated from the course moving closer to the IRGC military site. Information appeared that the preflight inspection checklist was not signed by Iranian airport engineers, but the Ukrainian side insisted to fly at its own risk and responsibility.

Therefore, the system operator, that experienced a communication failure, considered the plane as a ‘military threat’ because it may have been hijacked for a 9/11-style attack, got under control via a cyber-attack and/or used as a cover for a pinpoint missile strike on the IRGC site.

This version does not explain how the communication failure could appear at the air defense post that must have two shielded communication channels: primary tactical circuit and the alternative. The possible explanation with an electronic warfare attack does not hold up against criticism civilian communication channels remained operational with routine flights continuing from the Tehran airport. Another factor is the video of the missile hit that appeared online. How this person, could have known when and what exactly to film without advance knowledge of the developments?

Then, there is one more explanation: The plane was shot down deliberately to exert additional pressure on Iran from the United States during the alleged acute phase of the crisis between Iran and the United States, which had a chance to develop into an open regional war. In the framework of this version, it could be suspected that the operator may have been recruited by US intelligence or blackmailed, or the system was captured in an act of sabotage by the US or its affiliated forces.

Regardless the existing gaps in the current official version of the events and the real course of the developments, Iran will and further be forced to claim that the airliner shoot down was a “human error”. Iran can ill-afford to admit the lack of control over key objects of military infrastructure in the heart of the country.

Esper Says US Has Legal Authority to Attack Iranian Soil

13:27 14.01.2020


The January 3 assassination of Iranian Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani saw Iran-US tensions soar to new heights, prompting an Iranian missile attack on US forces in Iraq and briefly sparking fears of a full-blown military conflict in the region.

The United States has the legal and constitutional authority to continue attacking ‘Iranian proxies’, in Iraq or even on Iran’s home soil, in response to attacks against US troops, Defence Secretary Mark Esper has said.

“We hold Iran responsible for its proxies, and we will retain the right to exercise self-defence and take action where legally available and appropriate to hold those proxies accountable for their actions,” the Pentagon chief said, speaking to NPR.

According to Esper, President Trump is entitled to attack Iran under Article 2 of the US Constitution, which gives the president the power to unilaterally engage in military actions in the event of an ‘attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces.” The president’s rights are also backed up by the Authorization for Use of Millitary Force (AUMF), the legal measure passed by Congress in 2001 following the September 11 terrorist attacks, Esper suggested. The latter document has been renewed annually for nearly two decades, and used to justify US wars and military deployments around the globe, from Afghanistan and Iraq to the Philippines, Georgia, Yemen, Djibouti, Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia and Eritrea.

Esper also again defended the Trump administration’s decision to target General Soleimani, saying the Iranian commander became a “compelling target to take out” because “there was complete agreement based on what he had done and what he was planning to do.” Soleimani, Esper claimed, had “the blood of hundreds of American soldiers and Marines on his hands.”

The latter assertion, including the claim that Iran provided Iraqi militias with arms to attack the US after the 2003 invasion, remains questionable. However, there is substantive and documented evidence to suggest that Soleimani actually indirectly assisted US efforts against Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda* in Afghanistan and by targeting Wahhabi terrorists in the campaigns against Daesh (ISIS)* in Iraq and Syria.

Shifting Narrative

Senior officials at the White House, the Pentagon and the State Department have had a difficult two weeks justifying the US decision to assassinate Soleimani, with the rationale shifting from claims that he posed an “imminent” threat to US interests, to President Trump’s comments Monday that it didn’t matter whether the threat was imminent or not because of the general’s “horrible past!” In recent days, anonymous officials speaking to US media alleged that the US actually began planning to kill Soleimani as far back as July 2018, with the periods of June 2019 and September 2019 also mentioned.

Soleimani, 62, was killed on January 3 when the convoy he and a senior Baghdad-allied Shia militia leader were in was hit by a US drone strike at Baghdad International Airport. The commander’s death led tensions between Iran and the US to spike to new highs, with Iranian leaders and commanders warning that they would “avenge” Soleimani’s death. On January 8, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards launched close to a dozen missiles at US bases in Iraq, with Tehran warning Baghdad about the strikes several hours ahead of time.

On Monday, Iranian Chief Justice Ebrahim Raisi announced that the Iranian government would seek to prosecute President Trump in an international court over Soleimani’s assassination.

R ~ AS nothing under international law supports Esper's statement one wonders where he got his legal 'opinion'?

Report: Damage from Iran strikes 'much greater' than US admits

Monday, 13 January 2020 7:23 PM  [ Last Update: Monday, 13 January 2020 8:16 PM ]

This January 8, 2020 satellite image released by Planet Labs Inc. reportedly shows damage to the Ain al-Asad
US airbase in western Iraq, after being hit by missiles from Iran. (By AFP)

A report by a correspondent for Danish TV 2 who has interviewed Danish soldiers positioned at Iraq’s Ain al-Assad airbase, which was the target of a retaliatory attack from Iran against US forces, shows that the damage done to the base has been “much greater” than the US officials acknowledge.

The report cites Danish sergeant John and other Danish soldiers as making the comment in an interview after the US military base in the western Iraqi province of Anbar was targeted by Iran’s retaliatory strikes.

“Suddenly, the first wave came, that’s what I call it. Nine rockets at barely a ton each. It cannot be described. I’ve never experienced anything like it, and I hope to never come to it again,” said the Danish sergeant, who was in a bunker along with his other comrades at the time of the strikes.

“The first strikes were so severe that we were sure we were going to a golden desert and nothing would be left. We were really surprised that everything hadn’t fallen on top of our heads. I would estimate that the nearest rocket hit 300 yards from us, and as we walked around afterwards, there were halves of helicopters, and there were holes so big that you could park a van in them,” the sergeant added.

Sergeant John went on to say that the damage was “actually much greater than the US admitted, with even helicopters being destroyed and not just several buildings damaged and hitting open territory in the camp.”

The Ain al-Assad airbase is a large complex located about 180 kilometers west of the Iraqi capital of Baghdad, housing about 1,500 US forces and members of the US-led coalition that purport to fight the Daesh Takfiri terrorist group.

On January 8, the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) fired volleys of ballistic missiles at Ain al-Assad, and another outpost in Erbil, the capital of the semi-autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan.

The missile operation was in response to the January 3 assassination by US terrorists of Lieutenant General Qassem Soleimani, commander of the IRGC’s Quds Force, and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the second-in-command of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Units (PMU), and a group of their companions in Baghdad. The cowardly operation was conducted under US President Donald Trump’s direction. The US Department of Defense took responsibility for the assassination.

Both commanders enjoyed deep reverence among Muslim nations over their endeavors in eliminating the US-sponsored Daesh Takfiri terrorist group in the region, particularly in Iraq and Syria.

Soon after the assassination, Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei said Washington was to face a “harsh revenge.”

At the White House, Trump has denied the Iranian missiles left any casualties. Tehran said the US military conducted at least nine sorties after the operation, taking the wounded to Jordan and the Occupied Territories, while Chinook helicopters transferred the injured to a US hospital in Baghdad.

Iraqi lawmakers have unanimously approved a bill that calls for the withdrawal of all US-led foreign troops from the Arab country in the wake of the assassination.

Turkey will not refrain from teaching ‘putschist Haftar’ lesson if he keeps attacking Libya’s government & people – Erdogan

14 Jan, 2020 09:47 / Updated 3 hours ago

FILE PHOTO (L) Tayyip Erdogan ©  REUTERS/Umit Bektas; (R) Khalifa Haftar © REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has vowed to teach Libyan militia leader Khalifa Haftar a “lesson” if he does not cease his attacks on forces loyal to the UN-backed government in Tripoli.

Erdogan said in a speech that the “putschist Haftar ran away” from negotiations being held in Moscow, and that Ankara would not hesitate to teach him “a lesson” if he continues military action against the Government of National Accord (GNA).

The Turkish leader claimed that Haftar had first agreed to sign the ceasefire before abruptly leaving Moscow. Despite the setback, Erdogan stated that he was still planning to take part in further talks on Libya.

Haftar, the leader of the Libyan National Army, left a summit held in Moscow without signing a ceasefire agreement with the head of the UN-backed GNA. The Libyan general reportedly returned to Benghazi earlier on Tuesday, claiming that the ceasefire excluded provisions crucial to the LNA.

Ankara has signaled its desire to assume a direct military role in the conflict, after agreeing to security cooperation with the Tripoli-based government. Erdogan said at the start of January that Turkish troops were “slowly” moving towards Libya to help ensure “coordination and stability” in the war-torn country.

Haftar’s willingness to participate in the Moscow talks was seen by major world figures as a breakthrough that could lead to lasting peace. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the summit was a necessary first step toward ensuring stability in Libya. Her sentiments were shared by Germany’s Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, who described the talks as a “positive signal” and a sign of progress.

Syrian Air Force launches several airstrikes in eastern Syria

By News Desk -2020-01-12

BEIRUT, LEBANON (7:00 P.M.) – The Syrian Air Force targeted groups belonging to the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL/IS/Daesh) terrorist organization in the Badiya Al-Sukhnah region of eastern Syria on Sunday.

According to a military report from this region, the Syrian Air Force’s jets and attack choppers targeted the Islamic State’s positions between the towns of Al-Sukhnah and Al-Shoula.

These strikes were reportedly carried out after the Islamic State attempted to attack the Syrian Arab Army’s positions in the Badiya Al-Sukhnah region on Sunday.

The Syrian Air Force does not launch many strikes in eastern Syria; however, when they do launch these attacks, it is usually because ISIS has increased their terrorist activities.

Trump blindly following Israeli schemes in West Asia: Assad's aide

Sunday, 12 January 2020 6:59 PM  [ Last Update: Sunday, 12 January 2020 7:18 PM ]

Bouthaina Shaaban, the political and media adviser to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (file photo)

Donald Trump, the president of the United States, is blindly undertaking Israeli schemes in the region, says the political and media adviser to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

“We have reached a stage where Trump is blindly working to fulfill the wishes of Zionism. Zionism sought to deal a blow to the axis of resistance by assassinating the two fighters. However, it only consolidated the resistance front,” Bouthaina Shaaban said in Damascus on Sunday, condemning the assassination of Iran's Lieutenant General Qassem Soleimani, the commander of the Quds Force of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC), and the second-in-command of the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Units (PMU), Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis.

She then cited a report published by the Israeli Haaretz daily that Trump had informed Israeli officials of his intention to assassinate Soleimani without consulting Congress. “We are facing an act which Trump perpetrated simply to serve the interests of Israel.”

The assassination of Soleimani was shocking, the Syrian official said, emphasizing that its repercussions will not be confined to days and months, but will rather last long.

“America took an action that will have adverse effects on the US in all arenas. The United States proved itself to be a government that commits terrorist and criminal acts by the law of the jungle, and violates the constitution by skirting Congress,” the high-ranking Syrian official said.

She also hailed a decision made by the Iraqi parliament concerning the withdrawal of US military forces from Iraq as well as Iran’s precision firing of missiles at US bases in Iraq.

On January 5, Iraqi lawmakers unanimously approved a bill demanding the withdrawal of all foreign military forces led by the United States from the country.

Iraqi caretaker Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi called on the United States on January 9 to dispatch a delegation to Baghdad tasked with formulating a mechanism for the pullout.

Iraq wants US to set up mechanism for withdrawal of troops

The prime minister said Iraq rejects violation of its sovereignty, particularly the US military's violation of Iraqi airspace in the airstrike that assassinated Soleimani on January 3.

“The prime minister said American forces had entered Iraq and drones are flying in its airspace without permission from Iraqi authorities and this was a violation of the bilateral agreements,” said a statement by the office of Iraq's prime minister.

The US State Department bluntly rejected the request on Friday.

US rebuffs Iraq's call to withdraw troops from Arab country

Early on Wednesday, the IRGC targeted the US air base of Ain al-Assad in Anbar province in western Iraq after launching a wave of attacks to retaliate the assassination of General Soleimani.

The IRGC has called for a complete withdrawal of US troops from the Arab country, asserting that it would not differentiate between the US and Israel in retaliating against the assassination of the Iranian national hero.

IRGC targets US airbases in Iraq in response to assassination of General Soleimani

“We warn US allies providing bases for the [American] terrorist army… that any country serving as the origin of bellicose and aggressive attacks in any form against the Islamic Republic of Iran will be targeted,” read the IRGC statement on Wednesday.

The strike came as no surprise since Iran had vowed to take a “harsh revenge” in the wake of the US act of terror.

Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei later said Iran’s missile strike on US bases in Iraq was just “a slap.”

Ayatollah Khamenei: Iran's retaliation against US only 'a slap'

"The talk of revenge and such debates are a different issue. For now, a slap was delivered on their face last night," Ayatollah Khamenei said in remarks broadcast live on the national television on Wednesday.

4 Iraqi Air Force servicemen injured as 8 rockets hit base housing US troops

12 Jan, 2020 17:06 / Updated 28 minutes ago

FILE PHOTO. ©  Global Look Press / Planetpix / Maj. Charlie Dietz

At least four Iraqi soldiers have been injured in mortar shelling targeting Al-Balad airbase housing American troops. The facility has become a frequent target of attacks in the wake of the US killing of a top Iranian commander.

At least eight ‘Katyusha’ rockets hit the base located some 80 kilometers north of the Iraqi capital of Baghdad, the prime minister’s office has confirmed. The rockets allegedly struck a runaway located inside the facility, military sources earlier told Reuters.

There have been no casualties among the US military personnel. No group has so far claimed responsibility for the attack. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo condemned the strikes, somewhat surprisingly without immediately pinning the blame on ‘Iranian proxies’.

US bases in Iraq were also hit by a ballistic missile attack from Iran on January 8. The move almost put the two nations on the brink of war, but a large-scale conflict was eventually avoided.

It is still unclear who might be behind the repeated attacks on the Iraqi base hosting American troops but such actions do not fit the strategy of Iran or the Popular Mobilization Forces – a group of Iran-backed Shia militias – Ammar Waqqaf, a Middle East analyst told RT.

“These attacks use non-precise weapons. The margins of error are huge. Even if there were American forces at this base, it is still not a solely American base, there are Iraqi soldiers there. So whoever targets this base does not necessarily care about the Iraqi army or personnel,” he said, adding that Tehran eventually decided to focus on pushing American forces out of Iraq and out of the Middle East in general through diplomacy and influence on its neighbors rather than through military means.

In fact, anti-Iranian sentiment which has been on the rise in Iraq for quite some time went down in the wake of the assassination of Soleimani by the US, Waqqaf noted, adding that “there was some sympathy and unification among key factions” in Iraq. Tehran or pro-Iranian forces in Iraq would gain little if they shattered this unity by hitting some Iraqi personnel in an attack supposedly aimed against the US.

Following the US's assassination of Soleimani, the Iraqi parliament passed a non-binding resolution last week asking the government to expel foreign troops and to cancel the ongoing request for military assistance from the US-led coalition.

Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi also asked US State Secretary Mike Pompeo to send a delegation to begin preparations for a troop pullout. Washington, however, made it clear that it would not discuss any withdrawal plans, calling the US presence on Iraqi soil “appropriate.”

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