Baghdad, Oct 3 (AP/UNB) — Iraq's new president has tasked veteran Shiite politician Adel Abdul-Mahdi with forming a new government nearly five months after national elections were held, state TV reported late Tuesday.
Abdul-Mahdi is an independent who previously served as vice president, oil minister and finance minister. He is not allied with either of the two Shiite-led blocs that each claim to have the most support after May's elections, in which no party won an outright majority. He was previously a member of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, a large Shiite party with close ties to Iran.
He was tasked with forming a new government by Barham Salih, a Kurdish politician who was elected to the largely ceremonial role of president in a parliamentary vote earlier Tuesday.
Under an unofficial agreement dating back to the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, Iraq's presidency — a largely ceremonial role — is held by a Kurd, while the prime minister is Shiite and the parliament speaker is Sunni.
The prime minister-designate will have 30 days to submit his cabinet to parliament. Iraq held elections May 12.
State TV said Salih, of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, won 220 votes out of the 273 lawmakers who attended Tuesday's session. He was among 20 candidates for the post, including one from the rival Kurdistan Democratic Party. The two parties have dominated Kurdish politics for decades.
Shiite lawmaker Hamid al-Moussawi said the lawmakers were supposed to vote Monday, but delayed the session for nearly 24 hours after the KDP and the PUK were unable to agree on a candidate. The parliament speaker eventually decided to hold a vote among all 20 nominees.
The KDP's nominee was Fuad Hussein, who served as chief of staff for the former Kurdish regional president Masoud Barzani.
Born in 1960 in the northern city of Sulaimaniyah, Salih joined the PUK in 1976 and later worked in its foreign relations department in London. He studied at Cardiff University and the University of Liverpool.
He held various posts in the Iraqi government after the 2003 invasion, including planning minister and deputy prime minister, and from 2009 to 2011 he served as prime minister of the Kurdish region.
Last year, he broke away from PUK following the death of the party's founder, Jalal Talabani, a former Iraqi president. Salih formed an opposition party, but returned to the PUK to be its nominee for president.
Two Shiite-led blocs have emerged since the May elections, both of which claim to have the most seats and therefore the right to form a government. One is led by the current prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, and includes supporters of the populist Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, whose followers won the most votes in the election. The other bloc includes state-sanctioned militias, many of which are backed by Iran, as well as former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
The various political factions had been mired in negotiations and horse-trading for months.
Dubai, Oct 3 (AP/UNB) — The Washington Post says it is concerned for the safety of a Saudi columnist for the newspaper who apparently went missing after going to the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.
The Post issued a statement early Wednesday saying it has been unable to reach Jamal Khashoggi, who has been critical of Saudi Arabia's assertive Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's rise to power. Khashoggi has been living in a self-imposed exile in the U.S.
Eli Lopez, the Post's international opinions editor, said: "It would be unfair and outrageous if he has been detained for his work as a journalist and commentator."
Saudi officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment from The Associated Press.
Since Prince Mohammed's rise, the kingdom has arrested activists and businessmen in an apparent crackdown on dissent.
Gaza City, Sept 29 (AP/UNB) — Israeli troops killed seven Palestinians, two of them children, and wounded dozens more, Palestinian health officials said, in the deadliest day in recent weeks as Gaza's Hamas rulers stepped up protests along the border fence.
Thousands of Palestinians gathered Friday at five locations along Gaza Strip's frontier with Israel in response to calls by Hamas, the militant group that has controlled Gaza since seizing it from the Palestinian Authority in 2007.
Two of the dead were children, aged 12 and 14, the Gaza Health Ministry said, adding that all the dead had gunshot wounds. At least 90 other protesters were wounded by live fire, officials said.
Hamas has led weekly protests since March, but accelerated them in recent weeks to near daily events, pressing in large part for an end to a crippling Israeli-Egyptian blockade imposed after Hamas's violent takeover of Gaza in 2007. Hamas ousted forces loyal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in an armed coup.
At the fence, protesters burned dozens of tires, using the thick black smoke as a screen to throw rocks and explosives toward Israeli troops stationed on the opposite side of the fence. The soldiers responded with tear gas and gunfire.
The Israeli military said in a statement that in response to "grenades and explosive devices" hurled at troops during the protests, Israeli aircraft carried out two airstrikes on Hamas militant positions in the Gaza Strip. There were no Israeli casualties reported in Friday's clashes.
Hamas has led and organized the protests, but turnout has also been driven by growing despair over blockade-linked hardship, including lengthy power cuts and soaring unemployment.
Israeli troops have killed at least 143 Palestinians since protests began in late March, and a Palestinian sniper killed an Israeli soldier in August.
Israel argues it's defending its border and accuses Hamas of using the protests as a screen for attempts to breach the border fence to attack civilians and soldiers. Human rights groups have accused Israeli troops of excessive and unlawful use of force against unarmed protesters.
Hamas and Israel came to the brink of serious conflict this summer as violence escalated along the border. The two sides attempted to reach an agreement through indirect talks mediated by the United Nations and Egypt to ease tensions in exchange for lifting some restrictions on the economically crippled enclave. But those negotiations have stalled in recent weeks.
Earlier this week, a Hamas official, Sami Abu Zuhri, said the movement would escalate its border protests after the talks failed. He accused Abbas, who governs parts of the West Bank, of disrupting the negotiations.
Hamas vowed to continue the marches until the blockade is lifted. It also promised to accelerate protests after Abbas, speaking at the U.N. on Thursday, threatened more measures to force Hamas into surrendering power.
Abbas slashed funding to Gaza and cut salaries of Palestinian Authority employees there to pressure Hamas, making it increasingly difficult for it to govern. Hamas fears Abbas may further reduce funding to health care and other services for Gazans provided by the Palestinian Authority.
Kabul, Sept 29 (AP/UNB) — An Afghan official says at least two police officers were gunned down by a fellow officer in the country's latest "insider" attack in southern Kandahar province.
Aziz Ahmad Azizi, provincial governor's spokesman, says three other police were wounded in the attack late Friday night.
The incident took place at a remote police outpost in Raghistan district. Azizi says the attacker, who had joined police around a year ago, was able to flee the area.
A police investigation was begun to find out the motive behind this attack.
No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack.
United Nations, Sep 27 (AP/UNB) — Iran's President Hassan Rouhani said Wednesday his country doesn't want a war with the United States and believes America will "sooner or later" support the Iran nuclear agreement again following the Trump administration's withdrawal.
Rouhani told a wide-ranging news conference that the U.S. decision to pull out of the 2015 nuclear deal in May was "a mistake" because there are no benefits for the people of the United States, Iran, Europe or any other country.
"The United States of America one day will come back, sooner or later," he said.
He said the Trump administration made a "second mistake" in holding a meeting of the U.N. Security Council earlier Wednesday during which 14 countries either directly or indirectly backed the nuclear agreement between Iran, the U.S. and five other major powers.
Only U.S. President Donald Trump, who chaired the session, spoke against the deal known as the JCPOA and appeared isolated as a result, Rouhani said.
Addressing the council, Trump called the JCPOA a "horrible one-sided deal," declaring that Iran "must never be allowed to possess a nuclear weapon" and accusing its government of exporting "violence, terror and turmoil."
Rouhani said it was "quite strange, unprecedented and amazing" that while presiding over the Security Council as its president Trump also called on the 14 other council members to violate the legally binding resolution endorsing the JCPOA that the council adopted unanimously in 2015 — including a "yes" vote from the United States.
He added that Trump not only disagreed with that resolution but said whoever implements it "will be punished."
Responding to a question about whether the harsh language that Trump and his top official have used about Iran might lead to war, Rouhani said Iran since the 1979 revolution "has been subjected to that type of language many times." But he said Trump administration officials "speak with a different style, presumably because they're new to politics."
As for war, Rouhani said, "We do not wish to go to war with American forces anywhere in the region. We do not wish to attack them. We do not wish to increase tensions — none of the above."
"But we ask the United States of America to adhere to laws and respect national sovereignty of nations," he said.
Rouhani also said "America must think again about her presence in the region, in the Persian Gulf, in the Sea of Oman, in Afghanistan, in Iraq and other places."
Trump has vowed to continue to isolate Iran through U.S. sanctions that are being re-instated following the U.S. pullout from the nuclear agreement in May. The next round of sanctions will take effect in early November.
But Rouhani told reporters that sanctions which "were supposed to be proactive in November became proactive in September, so there are no other sanctions that will start in November."
He complained that the United States "has spared no effort" to exert pressure on Iran's oil sales and banking relationships, and there is not much left for the Trump administration to do.
Rouhani said Iran will continue working with countries that support the nuclear deal.
He called Monday's decision by the five other signatories to the agreement who still support it — Russia, China, Britain France and Germany — to establish a financial facility in the European Union to facilitate payments for Iranian imports and exports "a very good step forward."
"We have lived up to the JCPOA," Rouhani said. "Up until such time when we keep reaping the benefits promised within that agreement for our nation and our people, we will remain in the agreement."
But he said without elaborating: "Should this situation change, we have other paths and other solutions which we will embark upon."