By Joe Macaron for Al Monitor. Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

Will the Trump administration abort Iran’s land bridge to the Mediterranean?

As the showdown between Washington and Tehran escalates elsewhere in the Gulf, Iran is giving high priority to an effort to secure, control and reopen the al-Bukamal border crossing at Qaim, the only Syrian-Iraqi border crossing under Iranian control, to solidify its influence in the Levant and mitigate the impact of US sanctions.

It remains to be seen, however, whether Iran will pull off this move and how the Donald Trump administration might react.

Click here to read the full story.

By John Lee.

Plans by Iraqi Airways to resume flights between Baghdad (pictured) and Damascus have reportedly been postponed.

Syria’s Ministry of Transportation said it had been informed of the “decision to postpone the trip of two Iraqi Airways planes today… until further notice,” according to Rudaw.

The Iraqi Embassy is said to have notified the Syrian foreign ministry that “the completion of some administrative and organizational steps between the company and the Syrian civil aviation” authority is needed before flights can resume.

(Sources: Rudaw, Facebook)

By John Lee.

Iraq, Iran and Syria are reportedly planning to build a railway connecting the three countries.

According to media reports, Salib al-Hussaini, the head of the Iraqi Railway Company, has announced a tripartite summit to discuss the project.

(Source: Prensa Latina)

(Picture credit: Christian Lindgren)

The World Health Organization (WHO) extends its gratitude to the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (BPRM) for the generous contribution of US$ 2.5 million to increase the health security and resilience of Syrian refugees living in Iraq.

In 2018, Iraq continued to host Syrian refugees. It is estimated that about 250,000 Syrian refugees are currently residing in the three governorates of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) namely Erbil, Dahuk, and Sulaymaniyah, the majority of which (64%) lives with the hosting communities.

“There is an urgent need to support the local health authorities in KRI to ensure that Syrian refugees here have access to proper health services,” said Dr. Adham R. Ismail, Acting WHO Representative in Iraq. “Providing comprehensive primary, secondary, referral, and outbreak prevention and response services in the three refugee governorates is a WHO priority for the coming phase; it will indirectly improve the resilience of the refugees and host communities against potential public health emergencies,” he added.

Syrian refugees in Iraq have been given free access to primary health care services whether through camp-based primary health care centers ((PHCC) for refugees living in camps or public health facilities specified for those living with the host communities.

These services have been provided by the directorates of health of Erbil, Dohuk, and Suleimaniya in collaboration with WHO and health partners. However, the mass internal displacement of over 3.3 million Iraqis in 2014 had stretched the capacity of the national health authorities and humanitarian partners to continue meeting the needs of refugees and respond to the inflated demand for health care intervention.

As of 2018, WHO has been active in filling the gaps in essential medicines and medical supplies and equipment, improving referral services, and supporting surveillance and water quality monitoring activities in the refugee camp and non-camp settings. According to the 2017 national health reports, the said DOHs have provided a total of 264,611 consultations to Syrian refugees residing in KRG of Iraq.

The contribution of US$ 2.5 million from the U.S. BPRM will support the provision of comprehensive primary health care and referral services for around 300,000 Syrian refugees and host communities in KRI. It will also support the healthcare services for the disabled and mentally ill patients in the three mentioned governorates through a comprehensive training program for the national professionals working in the mental health area.

The contribution will also cover the procurement and distribution of essential medicines, and medical supplies and equipment to selected health facilities serving the refugees in target governorates.

(Source: UN)

By Adnan Abu Zeed for Al Monitor. Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

As the United States enacts sanctions on Iran, Iran is increasing its influence in Iraq with plans for a railway that could work around US restrictions.

The state-owned Islamic Republic of Iran Railways (RAI) revealed details Nov. 12 about its project to build a railway connecting Iran’s Shalamcheh border crossing to the port of Basra in southeast Iraq.

Maziar Yazdani, RAI’s deputy head of infrastructure and technical affairs, said the Shalamcheh-Basra leg of the project will require only 20 miles of new track at a cost of about $52,000. With the new addition, the rail system will span Iraq to reach Syria’s Mediterranean port city of Latakia.

Click here to read the full story.

(Picture Credit: Tasnim, under Creative Commons licence)

The European Union has adopted today a €56.5 million package to promote sustainable job creation and strengthen support to refugees, internally displaced populations and their host communities in Iraq.

This brings the total EU development assistance mobilised in favour of Iraq in 2018 to €129 million and it is part of the €400 million pledged by the EU at the Iraq Reconstruction Conference held in Kuwait in February 2018.

Iraq is facing enormous challenges to rebuild the areas affected by the conflict and assist people in need. The purpose of the programme adopted today is to contribute to the development of the urban areas of Mosul and Basra, and of the rural areas of Nineveh governorate.

This will help returning displaced populations, vulnerable youth and women find income opportunities and obtain services to respond to their essential needs. The assistance will also be used to promote youth entrepreneurship notably via start-up services. By supporting sustainable and inclusive economic growth in Iraq, the help is delivering also on the Sustainable Development Goals and the priorities of the Government of Iraq.

Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development Neven Mimica said:

“The EU is delivering on its commitments made last February at the Iraq Reconstruction Conference in Kuwait. This new support will create opportunities and jobs, helping some of the most vulnerable communities to get back on their feet and rebuild their lives.”

The measure adopted today also includes a €15 million contribution to the EU Regional Trust Fund in Response to the Syrian Crisis, the central aim of which is to provide a coherent and swift response to the needs arising from the massive displacement and returns caused by both the Syrian and the internal Iraqi crises.

This action aims to enhance public service delivery in sectors like education and health. It will enhance access to livelihood opportunities for refugees, internally displaced persons, returnees and their communities. It will also uphold the long-standing Iraqi policy of protection and support of people residing and seeking protection in the country.

Today’s measure complements the €72.5 million package adopted last October to foster stabilisation and socio-economic development through support to basic service delivery and improved living conditions in conflict areas. This package included measures to reactivate economic activity and entrepreneurship, assistance to facilitate the clearance of lands previously contaminated by explosives, and support to reforms in the energy sector.

These measures are in line with the 2018 EU strategy for Iraq and the Council Conclusions of 19 May 2017 on Iraq as a pilot country for implementing the Humanitarian-Development Nexus, and reaffirm the EU commitments as stated during the Kuwait Conference for the Reconstruction of Iraq. The total EU development assistance to Iraq amounts to €309.8 million since the beginning of the crisis.

(Source: EU)

(Picture: Realistic wavy flag of European Union, from NiglayNik/Shutterstock)

NATO Leads New Mission to Develop Iraq’s Defense Institutions

A new NATO-led mission in Iraq will work to further develop Iraq’s security institutions and structures, British Army Maj. Gen. Christopher Ghika told Pentagon reporters here today.

American and Turkish troops conduct a convoy during a joint patrol in Manbij, Syria, Nov. 8, 2018. Army photo by Spc. Zoe Garbarino

The mission is expected to be established by early next year, said Ghika, who declined to specify which NATO nations and the number of personnel would be involved.

Ghika, deputy commander of strategy and information for Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve, spoke during a video teleconference from Baghdad today.

The nature of the mission will be noncombat, he said. It will consist of advisors working closely with officials of the Iraqi Ministry of Defense and the Office of the National Security Advisor “to help Iraq build a more effective, sustainable, inclusive and transparent defense sector.”

The focus of those efforts will be on institutional education in the National Defense University, the Joint Forces Staff College, and some of the schools which are building military capability in areas such as engineering and infantry, he said. The advisors will focus on training the Iraqi instructors.

Ghika also provided an update on coalition efforts to counter the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria and provide aid to civilians impacted by the fighting.

Coalition Efforts in Syria

Last week provided for the safe delivery of critical humanitarian aid to the Rukban internally displaced person’s camp near At-Tanf Garrison, Syria, on the border with Jordan in the deconfliction zone, Ghika said.

Leading that effort were the Maghaweir al Thowra, a fighting force native to southern Syria and a partner of CJTF – OIR, the United Nations and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, a humanitarian nonprofit organization. Maghaweir al Thowra was previously called the New Syrian Army.

Supplies delivered included 10,475 food parcels, clothes for 18,000 children, 10,000 hygiene kits, as well as newborn baby kits for about 1,200 children, he said.

Also, the U.N. conducted an emergency vaccination campaign to protect around 10,000 children against measles, polio and other potentially deadly diseases.

Currently, the coalition and Syrian Democratic Forces partners are fighting ISIS in the last physically held terrain in the Middle Euphrates River valley around the town of Hajin in eastern Syria, Ghika said.

“This is a hard fight. Indeed, we have witnessed some of the most intense fighting since ISIS was defeated in Raqqa, [Syria,] and Mosul, [Iraq]. The ultimate outcome is not in doubt. ISIS will be defeated in the Middle Euphrates River valley,” he said.

On Nov. 8, U.S. and Turkish forces conducted their second combined joint patrol in the vicinity of the town of Manbij, Syria, on the west bank of the Euphrates, about 19 miles from Turkey. “This is a critical part of the coalition’s efforts to prevent the resurgence of ISIS there and enable the voluntary return of refugees and internally displaced people,” Ghika said.

Coalition Efforts in Iraq

Iraqi security forces continue to target ISIS fighters who are attempting to regroup and regain a foothold in the small pockets of the Anbar Desert area of Iraq. Those efforts, called Operation Last Warning, are broadening to the entire country, he said.

Additionally, Iraqi forces are shoring up the border with Syria to prevent ISIS fighters from fleeing to Syria, reinforcing efforts of the SDF, he said.

In Saladin province in northern Iraq, the ISF and the Iraqi counterterrorism service, supported by the coalition, conducted multiple strikes on an ISIS senior leader meeting, killing a significant number of ISIS militants and key leaders, Ghika said.

Progress in Battling ISIS

“I’m struck by the immense progress that’s been made by Iraqi security forces and Syrian democratic forces partnering against the evil of ISIS,” said Ghika, noting that this is his second CJTF – OIR tour, the first as deputy commander of the coalition’s land component command in 2014 to 2015.

A recently published U.N. report on atrocities and mass graves in territories formerly controlled by ISIS documents 202 mass grave sites and the U.N. estimates these sites contain 6,000 to 12,000 bodies, he said.

“This is a stark reminder of why the coalition to counter ISIS was established and why nations across the globe have been willing to send their fighting men and women here,” Ghika said.

(Source: US Dept of Defense)

The U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) took action today to target four Hizballah-affiliated individuals who lead and coordinate the group’s operational, intelligence, and financial activities in Iraq.

Specifically, OFAC designated Shibl Muhsin ‘Ubayd Al-Zaydi, Yusuf Hashim, Adnan Hussein Kawtharani, and Muhammad ‘Abd-Al-Hadi Farhat as Specially Designated Global Terrorists (SDGTs) pursuant to Executive Order (E.O.) 13224, which targets terrorists and those providing support to terrorists or acts of terrorism.

“Hizballah is a terrorist proxy for the Iranian regime that seeks to undermine Iraqi sovereignty and destabilize the Middle East.  We are targeting terror facilitators like Al-Zaydi who smuggle oil for Iran, raise funds for Hizballah, and send fighters to Syria for the IRGC-Qods Force on behalf of Qasem Soleimani,” said Sigal Mandelker, Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence.

“Treasury’s concerted actions aim to deny Hizballah’s clandestine attempts to exploit Iraq to launder funds, procure weapons, train fighters, and collect intelligence as a proxy for Iran.  This administration will impose severe consequences on anyone assisting Hizballah and their global support networks, and those who engage in business relationships with these terrorists expose themselves to serious sanctions risk.”

These designations follow the signing into law on October 25, 2018, of the Hizballah International Financing Prevention Amendments Act of 2018, which reinforces the U.S. Government’s efforts to protect the international financial system by targeting Hizballah’s supporters, financial networks, and those that facilitate and enable its destabilizing activities worldwide.

Today’s designations specifically target individuals enabling Hizballah’s activities that undermine security and stability in Iraq, and carry significant risks for those attempting to conduct business with Hizballah globally.  Today’s action continues Treasury’s historic level of Hizballah-related designations, which have reached record numbers in 2018.

Treasury’s actions today again highlight the degree to which Hizballah operates as a clandestine, terrorist arm of the Iranian regime.  On November 5, 2018, in its largest ever single-day action targeting the Iranian regime, OFAC sanctioned over 700 individuals, entities, aircraft, and vessels.  This action completed the re-imposition of U.S. nuclear-related sanctions that were lifted or waived under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

The individuals designated today are subject to secondary sanctions pursuant to the Hizballah Financial Sanctions Regulations, which implements the Hizballah International Financing Prevention Act of 2015.  Pursuant to this authority, OFAC can prohibit or impose strict conditions on the opening or maintaining in the United States of a correspondent account or a payable-through account by a foreign financial institution that knowingly facilitates a significant transaction for Hizballah.

All property and interests in property of those persons designated today that are subject to U.S. jurisdiction are now blocked, and U.S. persons are generally prohibited from engaging in transactions with them.

Shibl Muhsin ‘Ubayd Al-Zaydi (Al-Zaydi)

Al-Zaydi was designated for acting for or on behalf of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps–Qods Force (IRGC-QF), and assisting in, sponsoring, or providing financial, material, or technological support for, or financial or other services to or in support of, Hizballah.

Al-Zaydi has served as a financial coordinator between the IRGC-QF and sectarian armed groups in Iraq and assisted in facilitating Iraqi investments on behalf of IRGC-QF Commander Qasem Soleimani, whom OFAC designated on October 11, 2011, for acting for or on behalf of the IRGC-QF.  Al-Zaydi has also coordinated the smuggling of oil from Iran on behalf of Iran, the smuggling of oil into Syria on behalf of Iran, and has sent Iraqi fighters to Syria allegedly at the IRGC-QF’s request.  Al-Zaydi has appeared publically with IRGC-QF Commander Qasem Soleimani at least four times.

Al-Zaydi has maintained close business ties to Hizballah officials and Hizballah financier Adham Tabaja (Tabaja).  These activities have included providing protection for companies in Iraq allegedly financed by Hizballah and facilitating the movement of Hizballah funding into Iraq for investments.  Al-Zaydi has also worked with senior Hizballah officials to transfer large sums of money to Lebanon to help fund Hizballah’s participation in the Syrian civil war.

Moreover, Al-Zaydi has transferred large sums of money to Tabaja and worked with OFAC-designated Muhammad Al-Mukhtar Kallas to facilitate the movement of bulk cash from Iraq to Lebanon on Tabaja’s behalf.  OFAC designated Tabaja on June 6, 2015, for acting for or on behalf of Hizballah.  Tabaja maintains direct ties to senior Hizballah officials and Hizballah’s operational component, the Islamic Jihad, and holds properties in Lebanon on behalf of the group.

In addition, Al-Zaydi is a partner and founder of Global Cleaners S.A.R.L., which OFAC designated on October 20, 2016, as an SDGT pursuant to E.O. 13224 for being owned or controlled by Tabaja.  Also, since its founding in 2014, Al-Zaydi has been the Secretary General of an Iran-aligned Iraqi sectarian armed group.  This armed group primarily operates in Iraq, but has also dispatched fighters to Syria, and its members have trained in Iran and with Hizballah in Lebanon.

Yusuf Hashim (Hashim)

Hashim was designated for acting for or on behalf of Hizballah.

Hashim oversees all Hizballah-related operational activities in Iraq and is in charge of protecting Hizballah interests in Iraq.  Additionally, Hashim arranges for the protection of Tabaja inside of Iraq.

Hashim has also managed Hizballah’s relations with sectarian armed groups in Iraq, including the coordination of the deployment of fighters to Syria.

Adnan Hussein Kawtharani (Kawtharani)

Kawtharani was designated for assisting in, sponsoring, or providing financial, material, or technological support for, or financial or other services to or in support of, Hizballah.

Kawtharani facilitates business transactions for Hizballah inside Iraq and has attended meetings in Iraq with sectarian armed groups and Hizballah officials.  Kawtharani has also been involved in securing a significant source of funding for Hizballah, and has served as the right hand man for his brother and senior Hizballah member Muhammad Kawtharani, whom OFAC designated on August 22, 2013, pursuant to E.O. 13224, for being in charge of Hizballah’s Iraq activities and working on behalf of Hizballah leadership to promote the group’s interests in Iraq, including Hizballah efforts to provide training, funding, political, and logistical support to Iraqi sectarian armed groups.

Further, as of 2016, Kawtharani worked to obtain a weapons contract in order to raise funds for Hizballah fighters.

Kawtharani is also a partner in the company Global Cleaners S.A.R.L.

Muhammad ‘Abd-Al-Hadi Farhat (Farhat)

Farhat was designated for acting for or on behalf of Hizballah.

Farhat has been involved in advising sectarian armed groups in Iraq on behalf of Hizballah.  As of 2017, Farhat was tasked with collecting security and intelligence information in Iraq and subsequently providing reports to senior Hizballah and Iranian leadership.  Farhat has been involved in a project to analyze and report on the Iraqi security situation for Hizballah and the IRGC-QF.

View identifying information on the individuals designated today.

(Source: OFAC)

By Adnan Abu Zeed for Al Monitor. Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

n an interview with Russia’s Sputnik Nov. 1, Syrian Transportation Minister Ali Hammoud said Syria is preparing to open checkpoints on its border with Iraq now that security has returned and is looking forward to working with Iraq on logistics.

The Iraqi government received a request from Syria at the end of October to send a special delegation headed by Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem to discuss reopening the border crossings. Baghdad reportedly welcomed the idea.

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