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Biden, Kadhimi seal agreement to end U.S. combat mission in Iraq

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Reuters
(Last Updated On: July 27, 2021)

U.S. President Joe Biden and Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi sealed an agreement on Monday formally ending the U.S. combat mission in Iraq by the end of 2021, but U.S. forces will still operate there in an advisory role.

The agreement comes at a politically delicate time for the Iraqi government and could be a boost for Baghdad.

Kadhimi has faced increasing pressure from Iran-aligned parties and paramilitary groups who oppose the U.S. military role in the country.

Biden and Kadhimi met in the Oval Office for their first face-to-face talks as part of a strategic dialogue between the United States and Iraq.

“Our role in Iraq will be … to be available, to continue to train, to assist, to help and to deal with ISIS as it arises, but we’re not going to be, by the end of the year, in a combat mission,” Biden told reporters as he and Kadhimi met.

There are currently 2,500 U.S. troops in Iraq focusing on countering the remnants of Islamic State. The U.S. role in Iraq will shift entirely to training and advising the Iraqi military to defend itself.

The shift is not expected to have a major operational impact since the United States has already moved toward focusing on training Iraqi forces.

Still, for Biden, the deal to end the combat mission in Iraq follows decisions to carry out an unconditional withdrawal from Afghanistan and wrap up the U.S. military mission there by the end of August.

Together with his agreement on Iraq, the Democratic president is moving to formally complete U.S. combat missions in the two wars that then-President George W. Bush began under his watch nearly two decades ago.

A U.S.-led coalition invaded Iraq in March 2003 based on charges that then-Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein’s government possessed weapons of mass destruction. Saddam was ousted from power, but such weapons were never found.

In recent years, the U.S. mission was focused on helping defeat Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria.

“Nobody is going to declare mission accomplished. The goal is the enduring defeat of ISIS,” a senior administration official told reporters ahead of Kadhimi’s visit.

The reference was reminiscent of the large “Mission Accomplished” banner on the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier above where Bush gave a speech declaring major combat operations over in Iraq on May 1, 2003.

“If you look to where we were, where we had Apache helicopters in combat, when we had U.S. special forces doing regular operations, it’s a significant evolution. So by the end of the year we think we’ll be in a good place to really formally move into an advisory and capacity-building role,” the official said.

U.S. diplomats and troops in Iraq and Syria were targeted in three rocket and drone attacks earlier this month. Analysts believed the attacks were part of a campaign by Iranian-backed militias.

The senior administration official would not say how many U.S. troops would remain on the ground in Iraq for advising and training. Kadhimi also declined to speculate about a future U.S. drawdown, saying troop levels would be determined by technical reviews. 

Kadhimi, who is seen as friendly to the United States, has tried to check the power of Iran-aligned militias. But his government condemned U.S. air strikes against Iran-aligned fighters along its border with Syria in late June, calling it a violation of Iraqi sovereignty. read more

In remarks to a small group of reporters after the talks, Kadhimi stressed that his government was responsible for responding to such attacks. He acknowledged that he had reached out to Tehran to address them.

“We speak to Iranians and others in an attempt to put a limit to these attacks, which are undermining Iraq and its role,” he said.

The United States plans to provide Iraq with 500,000 doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech (PFE.N), COVID-19 vaccine under the global COVAX vaccine-sharing program. Biden said the doses should arrive in a couple of weeks.

The United States will also provide $5.2 million to help fund a U.N. mission to monitor October elections in Iraq.

“We’re looking forward to seeing an election in October,” said Biden.

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Two killed, 14 wounded in Norway nightclub shooting

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(Last Updated On: June 25, 2022)

Two people were killed and 14 injured on Saturday in a shooting at a nightclub and in nearby streets Norway’s capital Oslo, according to reports.

A suspect believed to be the sole perpetrator was arrested, police said.

The crime scene extended from the London Pub via a neighbouring club and onwards to a nearby street where the suspect was apprehended a few minutes after the shooting began in the early hours of Saturday, police spokesman Tore Barstad told newspaper Aftenposten.

The London Pub is a popular gay bar and nightclub in the centre of Oslo.

“I saw a man arrive with a bag, he picked up a gun and started to shoot,” journalist Olav Roenneberg of public broadcaster NRK reported.

The motive behind the attack was not immediately clear.

Oslo is due to hold its annual Pride parade later on Saturday, just months after Norway marked 50 years since the abolition of a law that criminalised gay sex.

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Pakistan’s central banks tells staff to work from home to save fuel

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(Last Updated On: June 23, 2022)

Pakistan’s central bank asked its employees to work from home two days a week and hold more virtual meetings as the country looks to conserve fuel and ensure it doesn’t run out of US dollars, Bloomberg reported Thursday.

In a Twitter message on Thursday, State Bank of Pakistan told its staff to opt for virtual meetings, car pooling and cutting down on air-conditioning. It also suspended purchases of furniture and restricted travel.

“These measures are intended to help with the energy bill while not compromising work,” the authority said.

“We encourage the banking industry and other stakeholders to save energy as much as possible.”

Pakistan’s government has already ordered shopping malls and factories to shut early in various cities including Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad and Rawalpindi, and cut the working week by a day.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s administration has increased pump prices by as much as 83 percent in less than a month as he tries to curb subsidies and win a bailout from the International Monetary Fund, Bloomberg reported.

The south Asian nation’s energy needs are largely met through imports and in July-May, its total petroleum import bill increased by 99 percent, according to Pakistan Bureau of Statistics’ data.

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Rwanda’s president urges other countries to follow UK migrant deal

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(Last Updated On: June 22, 2022)

Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame said Tuesday that a controversial deal with Britain to take in migrants could be extended to other countries as the asylum system is “broken.”

Kagame, who is to host the Commonwealth summit in Kigali this week, said he believed the British deal could still go ahead despite being blocked by the European Court of Human Rights, AFP reported.

Britain has wanted to send some migrants and asylum seekers to Rwanda, in a proposal criticized by the UN refugee agency, rights groups and British church leaders.

Earlier this month, the first flight carrying asylum seekers was canceled following a European court ruling, AFP reported.

But Rwanda’s president told the Qatar Economic Forum: “I think the agreement is still on and may be implemented as well.”

Kagame said Rwanda has been hosting more than 100,000 refugees for decades, “so we are not new to this problem.”

“In fact most Rwandans have experienced being a refugee at some point in their lives. We know what it means and we are doing this for the right reasons.”

Kagame highlighted his country’s experience in giving “safe haven” to more than 1,000 people from Libya with help of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

“The arrangement with the UK is really connected to that experience. There is no doubt that the asylum system is broken and it needs innovative solutions and we are happy to be contributing to those solutions.”

He added that when Britain approached Rwanda, “we talked about it, we looked at all the merits and thought it was something we could try to help out on as we have done in the past.”

Kagame said the model could be used with other countries, AFP reported.

“We need to try something new. What has been in place has not worked very well and that is why people are complaining about all kinds of things and we are seeing increased migration.”

“We need to really take a new look at the problem.”

Kagame said other solutions were possible but insisted “the problem has been running for a long time and hasn’t been sorted out.”

Rwanda will host the Commonwealth summit on Friday and Saturday, and Kagame praised the 54-nation group.

He said it helps “direct attention to challenges” facing smaller, developing countries, and that there would be “meaningful” meetings at the summit.

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