Riyadh, Baghdad to reopen border – Probe sought of DAESH crimes

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Iraqi and Saudi officials on Wednesday inspected a border crossing between their countries to examine how to reopen the frontier, closed for the past 27 years,, officials said Wednesday.

The border has been shut to all travellers except Iraqi Muslim pilgrims heading to and from Mecca in western Saudi Arabia since Saddam Hussein’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait. Riyadh and Baghdad reached a deal “to renovate the Arar border post and fully open it for trade and passage for visitors between the two countries” when Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi visited Saudi Arabia in June, his spokesman Saad al-Hadithi said.

Thamer al-Sabhan, a Saudi junior minister and former ambassador to Baghdad, visited the Arar border post in southwestern Iraq along with Iraqi officials and Brett McGurk, the senior US envoy to the international coalition fighting the DAESH group in Iraq and Syria. Iraq and Saudi Arabia are also mulling reopening a second border post at Al-Jemayma in southern Iraq, Hadithi said.

Sabhan tweeted a picture of himself at the border with the caption “from the Iraq of brotherhood and friendship”. In 2016, Sabhan became the first Saudi ambassador to Iraq in a quarter century, after ties were cut following the invasion of Kuwait. Iraqi troops were expelled from the emirate by a US-led multinational coalition based in Saudi Arabia. Although Sabhan was recalled to Riyadh later last year following comments he made on the role of Shiite militias in Iraq, the two countries have shown their desire to improve relations.

Faleh al-Essawi, a senior Iraqi provincial council official who also visited the crossing, said Wednesday’s inspection was intended to “see how to make the Arar border post function” and to open the frontier for trade. Relations have been tense between Sunni powerhouse Saudi Arabia and Iraq which has had a Shiite-dominated government since Saddam’s fall in a 2003 US-led invasion. But a flurry of visits between the two countries this year appears to indicate a thawing of ties.

Iraq has asked the UN to assist it with gathering evidence of crimes committed by the DAESH and said it was working with Britain to draft a Security Council resolution to establish an investigation. In a letter dated Aug 9 but given to the press Wednesday, Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jafaari, congratulating his country’s army on its “brilliant military victories” against the militant force that once controlled vast swaths of Iraqi territory, said DAESH was guilty of “crimes against humanity.” He requested assistance of the international community to investigate DAESH crimes.

“In this regard, the Republic of Iraq and the United Kingdom are working on a draft resolution,” he said in the English-language statement. Britain’s deputy ambassador Jonathan Allen confirmed the move, adding: “We are going to work with them and with our partners in the Security Council to bring forward a resolution that will achieve just that, leaving no hiding place for DAESH anywhere,” using the Arabic acronym for DAESH. He declined to specify a timeline for the resolution. British human rights lawyer Amal Clooney, who has advocated for the rights of Iraq’s Yazidi religious minority which suffered mass killings as well as sexual enslavement by DAESH, said: “Yazidis and other DAESH victims want justice in a court of law and they deserve nothing less,” using another acronym for the group. “I hope that the Iraqi government’s letter will mark the beginning of the end of impunity for genocide and other crimes that DAESH is committing in Iraq and around the world.” As yet unnamed twin babies lie in an incubator in a run-down room in Mosul’s main maternity hospital.

Less than two weeks old, they are two of seven newborns crammed into a makeshift premature baby ward. Born just three weeks after Iraqi forces declared that they had finally recaptured the last part of the city from DAESH, the twins won’t know what it’s like to grow up under the jihadists’ draconian rule. But they are lucky in more ways than one — had they been born months earlier, their chances of survival would have been slim as the hospital’s neo-natal wings had been burned down by the militants. Al-Khansa Hospital in East Mosul may be a shell of its former self but it is still the city’s main government-run maternity facility.

Last month alone, despite severe shortages of medicines and equipment, it delivered nearly 1,400 babies. When DAESH took over Mosul in 2014, the hospital stayed open — but residents were only allowed to use a quarter of it. “We had all these fighters and their wives coming in and giving birth here,” said hospital administrator Dr Aziz, adding that he had lost count of the number of militants’ babies delivered in his facility. “Mosul’s local residents always came second.” As Iraqi Forces began their campaign to liberate the city from DAESH control last year, the militants took over al-Khansa, kicking out patients and sometimes shooting at staff to make them leave.

“We kept it open as long as we could,” Aziz said. DAESH turned the hospital into a warehouse to store medical supplies — mainly glucose injections and cough syrup. As their defeat looked imminent, they started fires and detonated explosives throughout the hospital. “They knew exactly what to blow up and how to do the most damage,” Aziz said, walking through the charred remains of the operating theatres. Al-Khansa reopened just weeks after East Mosul was cleared of militants in January. But its needs are still dire. “We have shortages of everything,” said the hospital’s director, Dr Jamal Younis. “Beds, equipment, medicines.”

At present, the hospital can only handle births and deaths, Younis said. For anything in between, patients have to travel to facilities miles away — an impossible expense for most. In a hot and crowded room, Um Mohammad sat with her grandson, only a few months old and barely able to move. She said she had been waiting there for 15 days, trying to find $25 to pay for blood tests. She has been living in a camp since an air strike flattened her house in West Mosul, killing her daughter and five of her grandchildren. “I can’t take him back to the camp without treatment or a diagnosis,” she said, “but I don’t have the money.” Al-Khansa has yet to receive funds for reconstruction from the Health Ministry. Instead it had been relying on NGOs and donations from residents and staff — most of whom have not been paid for more than two years, since Baghdad cut salaries to choke off funding to DAESH.

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