BAGHDAD: Seventeen years after US troops invaded their country and eight months since protests engulfed their cities, Iraqis are sending solidarity, warnings and advice to demonstrators across America. Whether in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square or on Twitter, Iraqis are closely watching the unprecedented street protests sparked by the killing of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who died in Minneapolis as a police officer knelt on his neck. “I think what the Americans are doing is brave and they should be angry, but rioting is not the solution,” said Yassin Alaa, a scrawny 20-year-old camped out in Tahrir. Only a few dozen Iraqis remain in tents in the capital’s main protest square, which just months ago saw security forces fire tear gas and live bullets at demonstrators, who shot back with rocks or occasionally Molotov cocktails. Violence left more than 550 people dead, but virtually no one has been held accountable — mirroring a lack of accountability over deaths at the hands of security forces in the US, Iraqis say. Now, they want to share their lessons learned. “Don’t set anything on fire. Stay away from that, because the police will treat you with force right from the beginning and might react unpredictably,” Alaa told AFP. And most importantly, he insisted, stick together. “If blacks and whites were united and they threw racism away, the system can never stop them,” he said. Across their country, Iraqis spotted parallels between the roots of America’s protests and their own society. “In the US it’s a race war, while here it’s a war of politics and religion,” said Haider Kareem, 31, who protested often in Tahrir and whose family lives in the US. “But the one thing we have in common is the injustice we both suffer from,” he told AFP. Iraq has its own history of racism, particularly against a minority of Afro-Iraqis in the south who trace their roots back to East Africa. In 2013, leading Afro-Iraqi figure Jalal Thiyab was gunned down in the oil-rich city of Basra — but discrimination against the community is otherwise mostly nonviolent. “Our racism is different than America’s racism,” said Ali Essam, a 34-year-old Afro-Iraqi who directed a wildly popular play about Iraq’s protests last year. “Here, we joke about dark skin but in America, being dark makes people think you’re a threat,” he told AFP. Solidarity is spreading online, too, with Iraqis tweaking their own protest chants and slogans to fit the US. In one video, an elderly Iraqi is seen reciting a “hosa” or rhythmic chant, used to rally people into the streets last year and now adapted to an American context. “This is a vow, this a vow! Texas won’t be quiet now,” he bellowed, before advising Americans to keep their rallies independent of foreign interference — mimicking a US government warning to Iraqis last year. Others shared the hashtag “America Revolts.” Another Arabic hashtag going viral in Iraq translates as “We want to breathe, too,” referring to Floyd’s last words. Not all the comparisons have been uplifting, however. The governor of Minnesota, the state in which Minneapolis is located, said the US street violence “was reminiscent of Mogadishu or Baghdad.” And the troops briefly deployed by US President Donald Trump to quell unrest in Washington were from the 82nd Airborne — which had just returned from duty in Iraq. “Trump is using the American army against the American people,” said Democrat presidential candidate and former vice president Joe Biden. Iraqis have fought back online, tweeting “Stop associating Baghdad with turmoil,” in response to comparisons with their homeland. Others have used biting sarcasm. In response to videos of crowds breaking into shops across US cities, Iraqis have dug up an infamous quote by ex-defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld. “Lawlessness and looting is a natural consequence of the transition from dictatorship to a free country,” he said in response to a journalist’s question on widespread looting and chaos in Baghdad following the 2003 US-led invasion.
AL-MUKALLA: There have been calls for Eritrea to release dozens of Yemeni fishermen who were caught last week after sailing into a maritime flashpoint.
On Wednesday 15 armed boats from Eritrea’s navy seized 120 Yemeni fishermen from the Red Sea between Hanish Islands and the coast of Khokha.
Eritrea briefly occupied the Hanish Islands in 1995 before retreating after the international arbitration court granted Yemen sovereignty over them. But Yemeni authorities complain that the Eritreans have attacked and seized hundreds of Yemeni fishermen over the last couple of years.
The most recent incursion triggered a brief clash with the Yemeni coastguards that ended with the capture of seven Eritreans, local security officials said. On Thursday the Eritreans released 62 Yemeni fishermen after confiscating their boats.
“We demand all concerned authorities to work on releasing our colleagues and their boats that are in Eritrea’s custody,” Khaled Al-Zarnouqi, the head of Yemen’s Shabab Al- Khokha fishery association, told Arab News on Saturday. “We demand the international community, the (Saudi-led) coalition and the (Yemeni) government to protect us from the repeated attacks by Eritrea’s navy that violates Yemeni sovereignty, attacks Yemeni fishermen and seizes boats.”
Hashem, one of the fishermen who was released on Thursday, said that armed Eritrean vessels approached their boats on Tuesday and asked them to sail to Eritrea’s Ras Tarma.
“They were tough,” Hashem told Arab News, preferring to be identified by his first name. “Before releasing us, they gave us little fuel and rickety boats and asked us to sail back home.”
The Eritreans refused to release their boats. “Each boat costs YER2.5 million ($9,987). They seized the finest and most expensive boats and allowed us to sail back with the worst ones.”
Local security officials and fishermen say that Eritrea’s naval attacks have become more brazen and are getting closer to the Yemeni coastline.
“They have attacked Yemeni fishermen less than 17 miles from the Yemeni coastline,” a local security official who documents Eritrea’s navy attacks on Yemeni fishermen told Arab News. “The Eritreans are also still holding 24 fishermen who were detained in the Red Sea on Dec. 1, 2019 and refuse to release them,” he said, adding that many fishermen were thinking of taking up arms to protect themselves.
Yemen’s coast guard authority crumbled in early 2015 when the Iran-backed Houthis expanded across Yemen after taking over Sanaa, triggering heavy clashes with their opponents.
Since the beginning of its military operations in Yemen in support of the internationally- recognized government, the Saudi-led coalition has trained and armed hundreds of coast guard troops and deployed them along the country’s coastline.
Yemeni officials say they are battling Eritrea’s navy attacks, Houthi arms' smugglers and drug gangs.
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