Landmine explosion kills 2 border guards in Iran

By Muhammet Kursun

TEHRAN (AA) – Two border guards were killed in a landmine explosion in western Iran, according to a local police chief on Tuesday.

Two other guards were injured in the blast that took place late Monday in the district of Qasr-e Shirin in the western Kermanshah province near Iraqi border, provincial police chief Behram Fazili said.

He said the landmine was a remnant of the 1980-1988 war between Iran and Iraq.

Kurdish region’s security ‘important’ to Iran: Zarif

By Aref Youssef

ERBIL (AA) – Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Tuesday the security of northern Iraq’s Kurdish region is “important” for the Islamic Republic.

The top Iranian diplomat arrived in Erbil on Tuesday from Baghdad as part of his 4-day visit to Iraq, which he started on Sunday.

"Together, we will progress and succeed; we need the region, and the region needs us," Zarif said in a speech to an economic conference held in Erbil.

"The security of the region is important to Iran, and no one can affect the relationship between the two sides," he said.

Regarding trade and economic relations between Tehran and the Kurdish region, Zarif said Iran will work to overcome obstacles facing the region's traders.

For his part, Nechirvan Barzani, the head of the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG), said the Kurdish region and Iran have “bonds of brotherhood and friendship”.

"Iran has extended a hand of cooperation and friendship to the region; we will not forget these positions by Iran," he said.

“We are working to further strengthen relations with Iran,"Barzani said.

Close ties have been existed between Iraq and Iran since the toppling of the former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein in 2003 by U.S.-led coalition forces.

Zarif's visit to Iraq is particularly focused on the economic sides in an effort by Tehran to boost trade and investment between the two countries at a time Iran is suffering from sanctions imposed by the U.S.

Trade between Iraq and Iran amounted to $12 billion.

Officials say that, despite the U.S. sanctions, the two sides would work hard to increase the volume of trade to $20 billion.

Iran mulls cancellation of visa requirements for Iraqis

                            By Muhammet Kursun </p>    <p>TEHRAN (AA) - Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said Monday that Tehran may cancel visa requirements for Iraqi nationals in hopes of bolstering ties between the two neighbors, according to Iranian state media.</p>  <p>While attending a trade fair in Baghdad, Zarif reportedly stressed the need for stepped-up bilateral cooperation among states of the region. </p>  <p>“The limited nature of our relations with Iraq is unacceptable,” he was quoted as saying.</p>  <p>“Along with cancelling visa requirements for Iraqi nationals, we are also ready to build industrial zones on our borders [with Iraq] with a view to promoting greater economic cooperation,” he added.</p>  <p>Zarif went on to describe economic cooperation and development as pillars of regional security. </p>    <p>“In a strong and safe region, countries will welcome their neighbors’ development and prosperity as their own,” he said.</p>  <p>On the first day of a planned four-day visit to Baghdad, Zarif met top Iraqi officials, including Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi, Parliament Speaker Mohamed al-Halbousi, and his Iraqi counterpart, Mohamed Ali Alhakim. </p>  <p>Over the coming three days, Zarif is expected to visit several other Iraqi cities, including Erbil, Sulaymaniyah and Karbala.

'US-led Coalition failed to learn from errors in Iraq'

            By Sibel Ugurlu</p>  <p>ANKARA (AA) – Amnesty International’s Middle East Research director slammed the U.S.-led Coalition on Friday, saying it had not learned from its mistakes in the past.</p>  <p>Lynn Maalouf’s remarks were in reaction to the coalition's statement about the start of “the process of deliberate withdrawal” from Syria.</p>  <p>“It is deplorable that the U.S.-led Coalition continues to ignore its responsibility over carrying out meaningful investigations into the hundreds of civilian deaths it caused in Raqqa and elsewhere – even as it starts to withdraw from Syria,&quot; Maalouf said.</p>  <p>Maalouf blasted the coalition for &quot;unashamedly ignoring the devastating legacy of its bombing campaign” and said not offering survivors any form of remedy or compensation was “adding insult to injury”.</p>  <p>“Had the Coalition learned from its mistakes in Iraq, the utter devastation of Raqqa might have been avoided. Leaving such widespread civilian destruction in its wake is a humanitarian abomination that is at odds with the Coalition’s stated values,&quot; she added.</p>  <p>Maalouf recalled that Amnesty International went to Raqqa multiple times since the battle ended.</p>  <p>&quot;Not a single one of the hundreds of survivors we’ve spoken to on the ground has even been contacted by the Coalition – let alone received any assistance – as they try to rebuild their lives.&quot;</p>  <p>“The Coalition’s battle for Raqqa began as its military campaign in Mosul, in neighbouring Iraq, was winding down. Its legacy of devastation and impunity in Mosul should have served as a cautionary tale. There, too, Coalition strikes killed large numbers of civilians and destroyed civilian homes and infrastructure on a massive scale, but it barely lifted a finger to assist in the aftermath,&quot; she added.

Car-bomb kills 2, hurts 25 in W. Iraq near Syria border

                             By Idris Okuducu and Suleiman al-Qubeisi</p>    <p>ANBAR, Iraq (AA) - At least two people were killed and another 25 injured by a car-bomb that shook Iraq’s western Anbar province on Friday, according to local police sources.</p>    <p>Anbar Police Captain Ahmed al-Duleimi told Anadolu Agency that the bomb had gone off near a public market in Anbar’s city of Al-Qaim near the Syrian border.</p>    <p>At least five Iraqi security personnel were among the injured, he added.</p>    <p>No group has yet claimed responsibility for the attack, but the Iraqi authorities typically blame such acts of violence on the Daesh terrorist group.

Foreign journo found dead in Baghdad: Security source

                             By Ibrahim Saleh</p>    <p>BAGHDAD (AA) - An Arab journalist working for the U.S.-funded Al-Hurra television channel was found dead Thursday in Iraqi capital Baghdad, according to a local police source.</p>    <p>“The body of Samer Ali Shakara, who appears to have been shot in the head, has since been taken to Baghdad’s forensic medicine authority,” Baghdad Police Captain Hatem al-Jabiri told Anadolu Agency.</p>    <p>“The authorities have since launched a probe into the circumstances of his death,” al-Jabiri said. </p>    <p>Shakara had reportedly been employed by Al-Hurra as an assistant videographer.</p>    <p>Since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, the country has become one of the world’s most dangerous places for journalists, with more than 450 local journalists killed within the last 15 years.

Iranian oil minister arrives in Baghdad for talks

            By Aref Youssef <br>

BAGHDAD (AA) – Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh arrived in Baghdad on Thursday for talks with his Iraqi counterpart and other officials.

“The visit is aimed at strengthening bilateral relations between the two countries, especially in the energy sector," Iraqi Oil Ministry spokesman Assem Jihad said in a statement.

The two sides, he added, were also expected to discuss “other issues of common interest”.

While in Baghdad, Zanganeh is also slated to meet with Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi and President Barham Salih, according to Jihad.

In December, the U.S. gave Iraq a 90-day exemption from its recently-imposed sanctions on Iran, during which Baghdad will be allowed to continue making payments for Iranian electricity and gas imports.

Last week, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Iranian oil sales were developing “as expected”, going on to assert that the U.S. “will not be able to stop us from exporting oil and gas”.

Last year, U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew his country from a 2015 landmark nuclear deal with Iran and re-imposed sanctions targeting the country’s energy and banking sectors.

Trump's decision on Syria is 'very clear': Pompeo

            By Servet Gunerigok</p>  <p>WASHINGTON (AA) - U.S. President Donald Trump's decision to withdraw all American troops from Syria is &quot;very clear&quot;, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Wednesday. </p>  <p>He was speaking to reporters at the U.S. Consulate General in Erbil, Iraq.</p>  <p>Pompeo made the remarks in response to a question about whether a condition set by the U.S. for the pullout that requires Turkey to promise not to attack the PYD/YPG, the Syrian offshoot of the PKK terror organization, put the withdrawal at risk.  </p>  <p>He said the U.S. was talking to the PYD/YPG and Ankara on how to effectuate the pullout in a &quot;way that protects our forces, makes sure that the Americans are safe.</p>  <p>&quot;We will complete the mission of taking down the last elements of the caliphate before we depart,&quot; said Pompeo, referring to the Daesh terror organization. </p>  <p>Last December, Trump announced plans to withdraw all U.S. troops from Syria, claiming that American forces had defeated Daesh there.</p>  <p>Ankara has long criticized the U.S. for working with the terrorist PYD/YPG to fight Daesh in Syria, saying that using one terror group to fight another makes no sense.</p>  <p>In its 30-year terrorist campaign, the PKK has taken some 40,000 lives, including women and children. </p>  <p>Pompeo said Washington &quot;acknowledges that there is a threat to Turkey from terrorists and we will be very supportive.</p>  <p>&quot;Any place we find extremists and terrorists, we’re prepared to support whatever country is ready to go after them,&quot; he said. &quot;That includes Turkey and others.&quot;

UPDATE – US secretary of state makes surprise visit to Baghdad

                            <p>UPDATES WITH STATEMENT BY IRAQI PRESIDENCY </p>    <p>By Ibrahim Saleh</p>    <p>BAGHDAD (AA) - U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday paid a surprise visit to Baghdad, an Iraqi Foreign Ministry official has told Anadolu Agency.</p>    <p>Pompeo is currently on a tour of the Middle East aimed at reassuring Washington’s regional allies of continued U.S. support despite a planned U.S. troop withdrawal from Syria. </p>    <p>According to the source, who spoke anonymously as he was not authorized to talk to media, Pompeo has already met with Iraqi Parliament Speaker Mohamed al-Halbusi and Iraqi President Barham Salih.</p>    <p>During his meeting with the latter, Pompeo reiterated Washington’s keenness “to maintain friendly ties with Iraq at all levels&quot;, according to a statement released subsequently by Salih’s office. </p>    <p>The U.S. secretary of state also reportedly stressed at the meeting Washington’s continued commitment to the fight against terrorism.</p>    <p>Pompeo also voiced his country's readiness to contribute to the reconstruction of post-Daesh Iraq, especially in areas once occupied by the notorious terrorist group, according to the same statement.</p>    <p>Salih, for his part, stressed at the meeting the need for &quot;constructive dialogue between all relevant parties with a view to achieving peace and security&quot;.</p>    <p>Iraq, he added, “is keen to build balanced relations with all friendly and allied countries based on mutual respect and the principle of sovereignty”.</p>    <p>Pompeo was in Jordan on Tuesday for the first leg of a wider tour of the region that will also take him to Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Bahrain, Oman and Kuwait.</p>    <p>Iraq had not been included in Pompeo’s initial travel itinerary.</p> 

Ex-Iraqi PM blames predecessor for 2014 US redeployment

                             By Amir al-Saadi</p>    <p>BAGHDAD (AA) - Former Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi, leader of the Nasr parliamentary bloc, said Wednesday that the government of his predecessor, Nuri al-Maliki, had asked the U.S. to redeploy troops to Iraq in 2014.</p>    <p>Al-Maliki served as prime minister from 2006 to late 2014.</p>    <p>Al-Abadi’s remarks come amid repeated demands by Iraqi Shia political forces that U.S. troops currently deployed in Iraq leave the country. </p>    <p>Local political forces seen as being close to Iran have continued to call for a full U.S. troop withdrawal since Baghdad declared victory over the Daesh terrorist group in late 2017.</p>    <p>According to members of the Nasr parliamentary bloc, which is led by al-Abadi, U.S. forces were redeployed to Iraq in mid-2014 -- after Daesh overran much of the country -- at al-Maliki’s request.</p>    <p>The assertion comes in response to recent claims by certain politicians that al-Abadi, who served as PM from late 2014 to late 2018, was responsible for the return of U.S. troops to Iraq after a major drawdown in 2011.</p>    <p>Roughly 5,000 U.S. troops have reportedly been redeployed to Iraq since a U.S.-led coalition was cobbled together in 2014 to fight Daesh.</p>    <p>According to members of al-Abadi’s Nasr coalition, fresh U.S. troops were already in Iraq two months before al-Abadi assumed office.</p>    <p>Daesh overran much of northern and western Iraq in the summer of 2014. </p>    <p>Following a three-year conflict that ended with the fall of Daesh-held Mosul in late 2017, Baghdad declared that the terrorist group’s military presence in Iraq had effectively been brought to an end.