Riyadh ramps up Ramadan tourism efforts

DUBAI: Stronger relations between Saudi Arabia and Iraq will mean more stability in the region, particularly when it comes to stemming the influence of Iran, according to experts who commented on a recent agreement promoting co-operation between the two countries.
Exerting more influence in Iraq will prove crucial for the Kingdom, they explained, as Iran’s close relationship with the former causes concern among many neighboring countries. Security and intelligence are some of the areas in which Iraq and Saudi Arabia will cooperate in the near future, Iraqi Foreign Minister Mohamed Ali Alhakim was reported as saying.
The announcement came during a state visit last month by an Iraqi delegation to Saudi Arabia led by Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi, who met King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The leaders signed 13 agreements in areas such as trade, energy and political cooperation.
According to experts, Saudi Arabia may have the best chance of bringing stability and security to Iraq. “These actions are based on an economic and security approach, having intelligence as a key element to project all potential scenarios, including countering Iran’s possible actions to alter this relation,” said Johan Obdola, president of the International Organization for Security and Intelligence.
“Iran will be facing, from the United States and Europe, the hardest actions, including additional sanctions. On the other hand, there is a momentum in Iraq, with an increasing interest from a vast majority of Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds, to stop the influence of Iran in Iraq.”
Obdola said this will create an important opportunity for Saudi Arabia to establish a strong security and intelligence strategy with Iraq, along with economic investments, to stabilize it against the actions of Daesh.
“This toxic influence from Iran has reached a level of rejection within the Iraqi population,” he said. “With this announced security and intelligence cooperation between Saudi Arabia and Iraq, there is very much an opportunity to stabilize and reconstruct Iraq, strengthen military and intelligence capabilities, and get a better capacity to counter any actions from Iran in the region, and even abroad.”
Obdola expressed concern about Iran implementing new low-intensity actions against the Arab Gulf states, with even more serious security implications for the rest of the region and abroad.
“The Iranian regime’s actions in Yemen, Lebanon and Iraq show its confidence regarding a lack of direct retaliation from the international community,” he said. “This will change if Iran keeps (up) this disruptive behavior. Iran is still building military and terrorist capabilities, and networks in other regions around the world to create conditions which will impact the US and European forces established in Africa, including Central Africa.”
On Yemen, he said, the Houthis had frequently stated their tactics were modelled on those of the Viet Cong and resistance movements in Latin America, as well as Lebanon’s Shia Hezbollah, with which they have obvious kinship.
“Both Hezbollah and Iran have increased their provision of guns, missiles, military training and funds for the Houthi war effort since 2014, (pleased) to see their Saudi enemies expend soldiers and money on the Yemeni stalemate,” he said. “We must also be aware that there are old and new alliances in this scenario, including Al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, Iran, among other actors, who must be closely watched.”
Obdola spoke of Saudi Arabia’s strong military capacity and intelligence, supported by its allies in the GCC, and military cooperation with other nations. “However, Iran has global intelligence and terrorist networks which must be analyzed and approached by traditional and non-traditional intelligence strategies,” he said. “Iran’s military apparatus will not be used against Saudi Arabia — it is not projected, at least — and it could be a huge mistake if there is any intention to. Its actions are and will continue to be based on a more low-level, low-intensity, and irregular warfare, and as such, the intelligence strategy of Riyadh must be developed and implemented accordingly.”
According to Dr. Albadr Al-Shateri, politics professor at the National Defense College in Abu Dhabi, the Saudi Arabia-Iraq rapprochement was born out of domestic change within Iraq. He mentioned the demonstrations by the Shiite majority region of Basra, which have shown the extent of general Iraqi discontent with Iran’s hegemony over their country. “The assertiveness of Kurds, especially the uncompromised new president Barham Salih, and determination not to be a pawn (of) any geopolitical competition, led to Iraq’s willingness to get closer to the Saudi-led order,” he said. “Finally, Iran’s gradual weakening as a result of the US pressure and sanctions may have contributed to Baghdad’s hedging its bets.”
He said both Saudi Arabia and Iraq stood to benefit from cooperation in many fields, especially security in the post-Daesh Middle East. “As the terrorist group is splintering into smaller cells, monitoring and coordination by all countries are necessary to avoid a repetition of the Al-Qaeda post-Afghanistan situation,” he said. “Another issue of the smuggling of narcotics between the two countries is of increasing demand. The security cooperation between Saddam’s Iraq and Saudi Arabia, prior to the former’s invasion of Kuwait, could serve as a model of security cooperation between the two countries.”
Funding is also a key element of the cooperation. Raffaello Pantucci, director of International Security Studies at the Royal United Services Institute for Defense and Security Studies in London, foresees much financial support from the Kingdom for Iraq. “There could also be capacity-building and worrying about the regional threat — Saudis are worrying about groups emanating from Iraq, and about managing their relationship with Iran, as Iraq has a strong relationship with Iran.”
He said it would be complicated, with militias involved in the Iraqi government. “But Saudi Arabia has money, and they can use that to get themselves access and influence,” he said. “Saudis are trying to make sure they are buying themselves an influence in a neighboring country where Iran has a lot of influence — there is a big push happening in Iran, and a part of that is for Saudi Arabia to have an influence in Baghdad.”
Iraq is of great geostrategic importance for Iran, Obdola said. “So a multi-dimensional intelligence component, along with a strong military cooperation, are the most fundamentally important elements for any security cooperation to be effective,” he said.
“This is truly the key component here, having the facts of not only regional players in any scenario to be considered, but potentially more global actors who could, in any particular situation, be used against Saudi Arabia. If all intelligence and security scenarios are projected in a local, regional and even international arena, then Saudi Arabia will be successful in this needed security cooperation with Iraq.”

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Award is offered — and rescinded — for ‘American Pie’ singer

FOCA, Bosnia: Thousands of Muslims flocked to the town of Foca on Saturday for the reopening of a historic mosque leveled at the beginning of the Bosnian war, in a ceremony aimed at encouraging religious tolerance between deeply divided communities.
The 16th century Aladza Mosque was one of the most prominent masterpieces of classical Ottoman architecture in the Balkans before its destruction in the 1992-95 war by Bosnian Serb forces trying to carve out an ethnically “pure” state.
The eastern town of Foca became notorious for the mass persecution and killings of non-Serbs that took place there during the conflict.
Before the war, the Bosnian Muslims, or Bosniaks, made up 51 percent of its 41,000 residents with the remainder mostly Serbs. Today, among some 18,000 residents, just over 1,000 Bosniaks remain.
“Everything that was connected to Islam, its civilization or culture was destroyed,” said 65-year-old Muslim worshipper Sulejman Dzamalija.
Sacred items dumped on rubbish tips have been restored and built into the mosque “to mark the start of a new era in this part of the country,” he said.
Nestled in the valley by the Drina river, Aladza, also known as the Colorful Mosque, was one of 17 Ottoman mosques in Foca. Five of them were destroyed during World War Two, while the 12 remaining were demolished during the 1990 war.
During the war, Bosnian Serbs authorities renamed the town Srbinje, but Bosnia’s top court ordered the reinstatement of the original name of Foca in 2004.
Muhamed Jusic, the Foca assembly speaker, said the reconstructed mosque offered hope for the return of pre-war residents and “a new beginning in Foca.”
Twenty four years on from the devastating war between its Muslim Bosniaks, Orthodox Serbs and Catholic Croats, Bosnia remains split along ethnic lines, with rival groups blocking reconciliation and reform needed to join the European Union.
“Today we are witnessing a hope that people will again find peace at this place,” the head of Bosnia’s Islamic Community Husein Kavazovic said at the ceremony.
Work on rebuilding the mosque started in 2012 and was financed by the governments of Turkey and the United States.
“Aladza should serve as a monument to resilience, reconciliation and diversity,” said US Ambassador Eric Nelson.
Turkish Culture Minister Mehmet Nuri Ersoy said reopening of the mosque demonstrates that “racism and hatred can make material damage but cannot destroy culture of co-estence nourished for centuries.”

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«ساعد باقری» مجری برنامه سحر شبکه چهار سیما

«سحوری» از اولین سحرگاه ماه مبارک رمضان، با ساختاری متفاوت و زنده هر شب ساعت 3 بامداد آغاز و تا بعد از اذان صبح پخش آن ادامه می‌یابد.

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China denies having ‘concentration camps,’ tells US to ‘stop interfering’

“The Communist Party is using the security forces for mass imprisonment of Chinese Muslims in concentration camps,” Schriver said. The disputed term is closely associated with the death camps of 1940s Nazi Germany, where up to six million people lost their lives.

In recent years, the government has detained large numbers of Uyghurs in what former detainees describe as re-education centers with prison-like conditions, aimed at eradicating Uyghur cultural and religious practices and instilling Communist Party propaganda—a practice described by one as “cultural genocide.”
However, Beijing has repeatedly denied the Uyghur citizens are being held in such large numbers and against their will, calling the camps instead “vocational education training centers.”

Speaking at his daily press briefing on Monday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said claims of concentration camps in Xinjiang were “simply not true” and claimed the mass camps were set up to “combat terrorism.”

Chinese police use app to target 'suspicious' citizens in Xinjiang: HRW report

“We urge the relevant US individual to respect the fact, abandon bias, exercise prudence in words and deeds, stop interfering in China’s domestic affairs and earnestly contribute to mutual trust and cooperation between us,” he said.

Beijing has been under increasing pressure in the past six months to shut down its mass camps in Xinjiang. Even Chinese diplomatic partner Turkey labeled the camps a “great shame for humanity” in February.

But the Chinese government shows no indication of backing down on the program and major Muslim partners such as Pakistan don’t appear interested in pressing the point.

When questioned by a journalist on the Uyghur camps in March, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan said he didn’t “know much about that.”

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Syrian Kurds reshape region with books and schools

QAMISHLI: When Eyub Mohamad was a boy, security forces beat his father into paralysis. His offense was typing leaflets in Kurdish, banned under Syria’s ruling Baath party.

Mohamad, with his family, fed and bathed his father for years. Wary of the typewriter that landed his father in interrogation rooms, he avoided learning to read his own language.

“I never saw my dad walking,” he said. “Till his last day, he believed he would get up for this cause.”

Mohamad’s father died in 2011, the year Syria’s conflict began. He did not see Kurdish fighters carve out autonomous rule across north and east Syria. He did not see his son, now 34, become a teacher at a Kurdish school in the city of Qamishli on the border with Turkey. Kurdish leaders now hold about a quarter of Syria, the biggest chunk outside state hands. But their grip on power — in a region rich in oil, farmland and water — remains vulnerable: The Bashar Assad regime wants all of Syria, Turkey threatens to crush them and US support is wavering.

The changes reshaping swathes of Syria have alarmed neighboring states that fear separatism within their own Kurdish communities. In Qamishli, these changes were once unimaginable. 

A law student who was tortured for carrying a Kurdish book now owns a bookstore. A woman who once secretly huddled with friends at night to learn Kurdish is now a de facto education minister.

Kurdish activists who could not protest without risking arrest now have printing presses, festivals and television channels.

The shift is glaring in school hallways where, for eight years, a generation has grown up not only learning Kurdish but also learning to believe that Kurds deserve the rights they were denied for decades and must hold on to them.

“We never imagined this. This was a dream,” said Semira Hajj Ali, who co-chairs the education board in the northeast. “Of course, we will not go back to before 2011. We will not turn back.”

Syrian Kurdish leaders say they do not seek independence but want to cement autonomy that has evolved to include security forces and what amounts to a government.

Yet the sandbags and trenches around some schools or the armed men guarding printing presses show their fate still hangs in the balance.

On one side, there is the Turkish army, which has swept across the border twice to roll back the Kurdish YPG militia in northern Syria.

On another, there is Assad, now holding most of Syria with Russia and Iran’s help. Damascus has pledged to reclaim YPG territory though the two have kept channels open.

Their main ally, the US, helped Kurdish-led forces seize vast territory from Daesh. But it opposes their autonomy plans and has promised nothing.

President Donald Trump’s plan last year to withdraw all US troops from Syria threw Kurdish officials into crisis.

Washington later changed course, and intends to leave some troops, along with forces from European allies, preserving for now the security umbrella that helped Kurdish leaders deepen their autonomy.

In the early days of Syria’s conflict, when Hajj Ali and other activists tried introducing a Kurdish class, the government shut down the schools.

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Plans in place for safety of Makkah Grand Mosque visitors

MAKKAH: The General Security Aviation Command is deploying all capacities to serve pilgrims and visitors to Makkah’s Grand Mosque during the Umrah season in the holy month of Ramadan. 

These measures are part of a comprehensive plan in coordination with the security, health and services authorities.  The command has started carrying out daily sorties in the skies over the Grand Mosque, including surrounding areas, routes leading to it, and the highway leading to Makkah.

The command’s tasks include monitoring air and ground traffic, first-aid services, and providing logistical support to governmental bodies. Recorded data is transferred to relevant authorities to be processed properly. Aircraft are participating in mock drills to address potential accidents, and will be working 24/7 to ensure pilgrims’ security.

The security plan for the mosque has three main aspects: Organizational, for managing and controlling crowds; security, to protect pilgrims and ensure their safety; and humanitarian, focusing on assistance for the elderly, the sick, children and those who get lost. 

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