As if life was not bad enough for Adnan Kadhim – he lives in a slum where municipal authorities dump Baghdad’s rubbish – now someone is setting the waste on fire, making his children sick.
As the United Nations marks World Environment Day on Wednesday, Iraq is suffering a pollution crisis, with trash piling up across the country and thick clouds of smoke produced by inefficient factories hovering above Baghdad.
“The dirt, our children are sick, our families are sick. My daughter has asthma, and I had to take my family to the hospital last night. We had to go at 2 am to give her oxygen. What have we done wrong to deserve this?” asks the 48-year-old, with mountains of rubbish behind him.
No one in his unplanned neighborhood within Baghdad’s southeastern Zaafaraniya district knows who is setting the rubbish on fire, and their complaints to government and municipal authorities have fallen on deaf ears because they are technically not supposed to be living in the area.
“For about a week or ten days now we haven’t been able to sleep or work. We just sitting around because of this smoke, said Jabbar, a builder.
“Every day, it starts at sunset and doesn’t stop until the morning. You can see the tractors (shoveling trash) in front of you. We are being destroyed. We implored the government, and no one did anything, we went to the municipality and still nothing,” he added.
Officials say Iraq suffers from the lack of a formal waste management system, but that they are working on introducing one which they hope will alleviate the country’s numerous environmental hazards which also include pollution from oil production – Iraq is OPEC’s second-largest producer of crude oil – and other industries.
“I am sorry to say there are no hygienic official landfills. All what we have are unorganized areas for waste collection,” said Deputy Environment Minister Jassim Humadi. “We are working hard today to issue legislation establishing the National Center for Waste Management.”
Increasing pollution rates and other “environmental challenges” could be linked to rising rates of chronic diseases such as cancer and respiratory issues, as well as birth deformities, he said. Iraq is working with the international bodies on a plan to help it clean up, he added.
Change is Costly
Business owners say they are doing what they can to operate in a more environmentally-friendly manner but that it is too costly. The government needs to help them do so, they argue.
At a brick factory in Nahrawan, east Baghdad, ovens running on crude oil are releasing thick smoke, making it hard to breath, or see anything.
“Crude oil, if burned in an incorrect way, the way we burn it, of course has emissions. The new ovens which we are upgrading to will reduce these emissions by 60 percent, but that should not be the ceiling of our ambitions,” says Ali Rabeiy, the factory owner.
More environmentally-friendly ovens can fashion bricks and produce only 5 percent of the current harmful emissions, and some even produce none, he said, but they cost anywhere between 4 and 6 billion Iraqi dinars ($3.2-4.8 million), which is not financially feasible for a business like his.
Ahead of the 2019 Climate Action Summit, the United Nations, the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the UN Environment and Climate and Clean Air Coalition on Tuesday announced the clean air initiative and urged governments participation.
The announcement was made by Ambassador Luis Alfonso de Alba, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Climate Action Summit, here after two-day meetings with representatives of governments, business and civil society.
“The climate and the air pollution crisis are driven by the same factors and must be tackled by joint actions. The governments at all levels have both an urgent need and huge opportunity not only to address the climate crisis, but also to improve the health and save the lives of millions of people around the world, all while making progress on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs),” said the Ambassador.
“We call on governments at all levels to step up to this challenge and bring powerful commitments and concrete plans to the upcoming Climate Action Summit,” de Alba said.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, said, “Air pollution kills about 7 million people every year. Nine out of 10 people globally breathe the air that’s not fit for human use. We need to agree unequivocally on the need for a world free of air pollution.”
“We need all countries and cities to commit to meeting WHO standards for air quality,” he said. UN Secretary-General António Guterres is convening the Climate Action Summit in New York on September 23 and has called on the government, business and civil society leaders to bring bold actions and much greater ambition.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi will also attend the summit. The clean air initiative calls on national and sub-national governments to commit to achieving air quality that is safe for citizens, and to align climate change and air pollution policies by 2030.
According to the World Bank, air pollution costs the global economy around $5.11 trillion in welfare losses. In the 15 countries with the highest greenhouse gas emissions, health impacts of pollution are estimated to be 4 per cent of the GDP.
Meeting the Paris Agreement on climate change, however, could save over 1 million lives a year by 2050 and yield health benefits worth $54.1 trillion, twice the costs of mitigation, through reduced air pollution alone.
Governments at all levels can join the initiative by committing to specific actions, including implementing air quality and climate change policies that will achieve the WHO ambient air quality guideline values. The initiative comprises implementing e-mobility and sustainable mobility policies and actions with the aim of making a decisive impact on road transport emissions. (IANS)
Iraq offered Sunday to mediate in the crisis between its two key allies, the United States and Iran, amid escalating Middle East tensions and as Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers steadily unravels.
Iraqi foreign minister, Mohammed al-Hakim, made the offer during a joint news conference in Baghdad with visiting Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif.
“We are trying to help and to be mediators,” said al-Hakim, adding that Baghdad “will work to reach a satisfactory solution” while stressing that Iraq stands against unilateral steps taken by Washington.
In recent weeks, tensions between Washington and Tehran soared over America deploying an aircraft carrier and B-52 bombers to the Persian Gulf over a still-unexplained threat it perceives from Tehran. The U.S. also plans to send 900 additional troops to the 600 already in the Mideast and extending their stay.
The crisis takes root in President Donald Trump’s withdrawal last year of America from the 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers that capped Iran’s uranium enrichment activities in return to lifting sanctions. Washington subsequently re-imposed sanctions on Iran, sending its economy into freefall.
Trump has argued that the deal failed to sufficiently curb Iran’s ability to develop nuclear weapons or halt its support for militias throughout the Middle East that the U.S. says destabilize the region, as well as address the issue of Tehran’s missiles, which can reach both U.S. regional bases and Israel.
Zarif, who was been on a whirlwind diplomatic offensive to preserve the rest of the accord, insisted that Iran “did not violate the nuclear deal” and urged European nations to exert efforts to preserve the deal following the U.S. pullout.
Speaking about the rising tensions with the U.S., Zarif said Iran will be able to “face the war, whether it is economic or military through steadfastness and its forces.” He also urged for a non-aggression agreement between Iran and Arab countries in the Gulf.
The Shi’ite-majority Iraq has been trying to maintain a fine line as allies Tehran and Washington descended into verbal vitriol. The country also lies on the fault line between Shiite Iran and the mostly Sunni Arab world, led by powerhouse Saudi Arabia, and has long been a battlefield in which the Saudi-Iran rivalry for regional supremacy played out.
The mediation offer by al-Hakim, Iraq’s foreign minister, echoed one made Saturday by Mohamad al-Halbousi, the Iraqi parliament speaker. Al-Hakim also expressed concern for Iran’s spiraling economy.
Iranians make up the bulk of millions of Shi’ites from around the world who come to Iraq every year to visit its many Shiite shrines and holy places and their purchasing power has slumped after Trump re-imposed the sanctions.
“The sanctions against sisterly Iran are ineffective and we stand by its side,” al-Hakim said.
Meanwhile, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani suggested the Islamic Republic could hold a referendum over its nuclear program. The official IRNA news agency said Rouhani, who was last week publicly chastised by the country’s supreme leader, made the suggestion in a meeting with editors of major Iranian news outlets on Saturday evening.
Rouhani said he had previously suggested a referendum to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in 2004, when Rouhani was a senior nuclear negotiator for Iran.
At the time, Khamenei approved of the idea and though there was no referendum, such a vote “can be a solution at any time,” Rouhani was quoted as saying.
A referendum could provide political cover for the Iranian government if it chooses to increase its enrichment of uranium, prohibited under the 2015 nuclear deal.
Earlier last week, Iran said it quadrupled its uranium-enrichment production capacity though Iranian officials made a point to stress that the uranium would be enriched only to the 3.67% limit set under the deal, making it usable for a power plant but far below what’s needed for an atomic weapon.
Rouhani’s remarks could also be seen as a defense of his stance following the rare public chastising by the supreme leader.
Khamenei last week named Rouhani and Zarif — relative moderates within Iran’s Shiite theocracy who had struck the nuclear deal — as failing to implement his orders over the accord, saying it had “numerous ambiguities and structural weaknesses” that could damage Iran.
Khamenei, who has final say on all matters of state in Iran, did not immediately respond to Rouhani’s proposal of a referendum. The Islamic Republic has seen only three referendums since it was established in 1979 — one on regime change from monarchy to Islamic republic and two on its constitution and its amendments. (VOA)
In the video issued Monday, the man claiming to be Baghdadi praised the IS fighters who defended the northeastern Syrian town of Baghuz, the last to remain under IS control, before succumbing to U.S.-backed forces last month seek revenge for the fall of the terror group’s self-declared caliphate In Iraq and Syria.
The more than 18-minute-long video posted to the internet by IS’s al-Furqan media division shows a man, allegedly Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, sitting cross-legged against a white backdrop with a machine gun and a couple of pillows by his side.
The man is seen speaking with other IS members, whose faces are blurred or covered with masks, acknowledging the recent fall of the last IS-held territory in Baghuz, Syria, and praising the Easter Sunday terror attack in Sri Lanka that killed more than 250 people.
He described the terror group’s fight now as a “battle of attrition” and “stretching the enemy,” and promised IS will seek revenge for the killing and imprisonment of its fighters.
“Jihad continues until judgment day,” he warned.
Officials at the Pentagon and the State Department, as well as at U.S. intelligence agencies, said they were aware of the tape but had yet to verify the man in the video is actually the IS leader.
“We are aware of the video that surfaced today,” State Department spokesman Michael Lavallee said. “Analysts will review this recording and we will defer to the intelligence community to confirm its authenticity.”
If confirmed, the video would be the first to show the 48-year-old Baghdadi since the IS leader gave a sermon at the al-Nuri Mosque in Mosul, Iraq, in July 2014.
Since then, Baghdadi’s efforts to communicate with a mass audience have been limited to audio recordings posted online in September 2017 and August 2018.
In a 2018 recording, Baghdadi urged followers to persevere even as IS was losing ground to U.S.-backed forces.
“For the mujahedeen, the scale of victory or defeat is not dependent on a city or town being stolen or subject to that who has aerial superiority, intercontinental missiles or smart bombs,” he said at the time.
The lack of public appearances and the sporadic messages have led to speculation about his whereabouts while also sparking numerous rumors of his death. But U.S. military and intelligence officials have long believed Baghdadi is alive, hiding in remote areas of Syria or Iraq where IS remains entrenched, possibly with local support.
Since 2016, the United States has offered a reward of up to $25 million for information that helps bring Baghdadi to justice. Only one other person, al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, has a reward that high.
Praised IS fighters
In the video issued Monday, the man claiming to be Baghdadi praised the IS fighters who defended the northeastern Syrian town of Baghuz, the last to remain under IS control, before succumbing to U.S.-backed forces last month.
“The battle of Baghuz had ended and in it the barbarity and savagery of the nation of the Cross towards the Ummah of Islam was clear,” Baghdadi said, according to a translation by SITE Intelligence. “At the same time, the bravery, steadfastness and endurance of the Ummah of Islam was evident.”
Baghdadi also praised IS fighters “in the provinces” for seeking revenge, claiming they had carried out almost 300 operations across eight countries, before addressing the Easter Sunday terror attacks in Sri Lanka.
“As for your brothers in Sri Lanka, they have put joy in the hearts of the monotheists with their immersing operations that struck the homes of the Crusaders in their Easter, in vengeance for their brothers in Baghuz,” Baghdadi said.
“This is part of the vengeance that awaits the Crusaders and their henchmen, Allah permitting,” he added. “Praise be to Allah, among the dead were Americans and Europeans.”
Baghdadi also praised IS fighters in Libya and welcomed pledges of allegiance from jihadists in Mali and Burkina Faso.
Some former counterterror officials caution the release of the new video is worrisome, as it could serve to lift the spirits of IS supporters.
“It is important because he came out,” said retired Col. Chris Costa, who served as the senior director for counterterrorism at the start of the Trump administration.
“He’s obviously the face of ISIS and we hadn’t seen him in sometime,” he said, using an acronym for the terror group. “Now he’s out there saying Sri Lanka, that’s what we want — more of it.”
But Costa and others are cautious about giving IS or Baghdadi too much credit, cautioning that even if Baghdadi was to be removed from the battlefield, a difficult fight remains.
“That’s a key piece of dismantling or degrading an organization, but it is not a cure-all,” former National Counterterrorism Center Director Nicholas Rasmussen said at a conference Monday in Washington. “We still would very much be confronting an ideological narrative that still finds resonance across conflict zones all across the world.” (VOA)