Iraq's Counter Terrorism Service (CTS) raided Thursday night a base in southern Baghdad of the pro-Iranian Kataib Hezbollah militia, detaining 14 members. A statement by the Iraqi Joint Operations Command said the Interior Ministry formed a special committee to investigate those arrested. The raid aimed to preempt an imminent attack in the Green Zone. Six rocket attacks have targeted the US embassy and American military sites in Iraq over the last two weeks and an Iraqi official close to Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi told The National, "al-Kadhimi previously issued a warning to the groups to stop the attacks and he clearly stated that whoever attacks the public will be treated as a terrorist." Kataib Hezbollah security official Ali al-Askari tweeted in response to the arrests, "This is a sign of working for the Americans. The Kataib are waiting for you." Hundreds of pro-Iranian militiamen are reportedly driving around Baghdad threatening CTS personnel. While there are conflicting accounts of who was arrested, one government source told Reuters the CTS detained three Kataib Hezbollah commanders, including an Iranian.
Iraqi President Barham Salih's office issued a statement demanding "an end to the violations of national sovereignty that resulted from the repeated Turkish military operations," decrying the death of "unarmed civilians" in the operations, and insisting Ankara henceforth coordinate with Baghdad to "solve the border and security problems between Iraq and Turkey." Turkey launched an ongoing air campaign against PKK militants in Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region on June 15, followed by a ground invasion on June 17.
A Danish court convicted Mohammad Davoudzadeh Loloei of spying on an Iranian dissident marked by Tehran for assassination and then sentenced him to seven years in prison and permanent expulsion from Denmark thereafter. In September 2018, Loloei took pictures around the home of Habib Yabor Kabi, leader of the separatist Arab Struggle Movement for the Liberation of Ahvaz (ASMLA), and forwarded them to an Iranian intelligence agent. Denmark has charged three ASMLA members, including Kabi, with spying for Saudi Arabia and fundraising for separatist Iranian groups for the purpose of committing terrorist attacks. ASMLA's Danish spokesperson initially claimed the group was responsible for the September 2018 Ahvaz military parade attack that killed 29 people, including 12 Iranian Revolutionary Guards, but later recanted. Danish authorities filed an international arrest warrant with INTERPOL for Loloei's Iranian case officer.
France's Bureau of Enquiry and Analysis for Civil Aviation Safety (BEA) confirmed Friday that Iran will send them next month the black boxes from Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752, which the Revolutionary Guard accidently shot down in January while launching missile attacks against Iraqi military bases hosting US forces to avenge the targeted killing of Qasem Soleimani by an American drone. The BEA plans to begin repairing and downloading data from the Cockpit Voice Recorder and the Flight Data Recorder on July 20.
National Oil Corporation (NOC) chairman Mustafa Sanalla stated Friday that "Russian and other foreign mercenaries" entered the Sharara oilfield on Thursday "to prevent the resumption of oil production." The Government of National Accord (GNA) hoped to restart production at Sharara, located in the country's southwest, after driving Khalifa Haftar's Russian-backed Libyan National Army (LNA) from most of western Libya over the past two months. When in operation, the Sharara oilfield produces about 315,000 bpd, nearly one-third of Libya's crude output. The NOC identified the mercenaries as members of the Kremlin-aligned Wagner Group and Sudanese "Janjaweed" loyal to the transitional government in Khartoum. The US Embassy in Libya posted a statement on its Facebook page condemning "the shameful interference of Wagner and other foreign mercenaries against NOC facilities and personnel at the al-Sharara oil field."
The Lebanese pound's free fall continued Friday, trading on the black market at 7,000 per dollar, losing 78 percent of its value since last October and depreciating 40 percent just in the past week. Talks with the IMF for a $10 billion bailout remain in the preliminary stage. Because Lebanon imports 85 percent of its food, this record inflation could jeopardize the country's food security.
The IMF's Executive Board approved Friday a $5.2 billion loan to alleviate COVID-19's economic impact after receiving $2.77 billion through the IMF's Rapid Financing Instrument last month. Eight Egyptian and international civil society organizations submitted a letter to the IMF on Tuesday requesting it "only approve the loan if there are sufficiently rigorous anti-corruption requirements... and robust engagement with civil society." The letter stressed how "military-owned businesses lack any independent or civilian oversight, leaving the Egyptian public and experts without access to information necessary to evaluate the costs and beneficiaries of publicly funded projects."
A senior Palestinian Authority official told Israel's Channel 12 that Jordan informed Ramallah that Netanyahu's government only plans to annex two or three settlement blocs and not the Jordan Valley in the near future. Mossad chief Yossi Cohen met with Jordanian King Abdullah II a few days ago. Netanyahu reportedly lobbied the Trump administration earlier this week to support a "first phase of annexation" that would include, in addition to one or more of the major settlement blocs, one or more settlements deeper in the West Bank to convey that isolated settlements will not become part of a Palestinian state. Defense Minister Benny Gantz, on the other hand, appears to remain opposed to unilateral annexations, listing among the conditions for proceeding making sure not to harm "our peace agreements and strategic assets."
UNICEF released Friday "Yemen Five Years On: Children, Conflict and COVID-19," a report warning that the recent "huge" drop in humanitarian aid funding could push the number of malnourished Yemeni children to 2.4 million by the end of the year while more than 23,000 children will be at increased risk of dying because of acute malnutrition unless $54.5 million is disbursed for health and nutrition aid by the end of August.
Micah Levinson is the Washington, DC Resident Fellow at the Middle East Forum