Week of October 29

Iraqi female wrestlers practice at a gym in Diwaniyahh, around 100 miles south of Baghdad, on October 7, 2018. Credit: AFP/SABAH ARAR

Qatar’s new asylum law has earned limited praise from the Human Rights Watch. While the law, the first in the Gulf, was called “an example for the region,” HRW still criticized it for still not fulfilling all of Qatar’s obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which the country ratified in May. Under the new law, refugees in Qatar still cannot travel freely within the country, nor can they participate in political activity. Refugees can appeal to the prime minister if their requests for asylum are denied, but there is still no established process for them to present their cases before a court of law. The creation of asylum laws in the Gulf is especially urgent in light of the UN High Commission on Refugees’ finding that five million displaced Syrians live in the Middle East and North Africa.

The United States is pressuring Saudi Arabia to end its conflicts with Qatar and Yemen, Bloomberg reports. The kingdom’s role in the murder of Jamal Khashoggi and the resulting cover-up have drawn increased international scrutiny; that,  sources close to the issue told Bloomberg, is why Washington is taking a stance against their longtime friends in Riyadh. Last year, Saudi Arabia led numerous other countries in the region in a political and economic blockade that was designed to force Qatar to accept thirteen demands, including closing Al Jazeera, closing a Turkish military base in Qatar, and reducing diplomatic relations with Iran. To the kingdom’s surprise, Qatar did not back down, but rather has survived the attack with the help of its existing resources and strengthened ties with Iran and Turkey. The war in Yemen has similarly not gone well for the Saudis. They and their allies have been fighting rebels in Yemen since 2015. The high numbers of civilian casualties in Yemen hav sparked international outrage; the U.S. has also drawn criticism for providing military assistance.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said sanctions imposed by the United States will damage the world order. He criticized Donald Trump’s decision to pull out of the Obama-era nuclear agreement with Iran and to reimpose sanctions. The Iranian state news agency reports that Zarif said, “Unfortunately a law-breaking country (the United States) seeks to punish a country (Iran) that is abiding by law…. This method will have severe consequences for the world order.” The criticism of the sanctions comes amidst general economic decline in Iran. Just this year, the Iranian rial lost 70 percent of its value. Not all of the United States’ allies have turned on Iran; European signatories of the nuclear deal are still committed to it, and South Korea, a big buyer of Iranian oil, is seeking an exception from the sanctions.

According to an inspector general’s report released on Friday, the State Department improperly seized the passports of at least 31 American citizens trying to obtain vital records and other paperwork from the American embassy in Yemen. The passports were taken between December 2012 and June 2013, just as Yemen’s political system began descending into chaos due to uprisings associated with the regional Arab Spring period. Consular officials claimed they confiscated the passports of citizens after finding that their printed names were false or fraudulent. In many cases, the citizens had gone to the embassy to obtain American passports or birth records for children born in Yemen. Many had been living in the United States but, after their passports were seized, were stuck indefinitely in Yemen amid a widening civil war. Investigators said they were able to confirm only 31 cases of inappropriate seizures because of poor record keeping by the State Department, but immigration advocates say the actual number is in the hundreds. Naz Ahmad, a lawyer who represented some of those affected, said the investigation proved that “innocent Americans were stranded overseas in a war zone.” Yemen is now in the midst of the world’s worst humanitarian disaster, with millions on the brink of starvation.

On Friday, Iraqi officials conveyed to CNN their unwillingness to take in Iraqis who have been forcibly detained by the United States. The fate of over 100 Iraqi nationals held in the United States – some for nearly 18 months – remains uncertain after recently unsealed documents raise new questions about Iraq’s desire or ability to accept those detainees against their will. The American Civil Liberties Union is representing Iraqi nationals who have final orders of deportation. More than 300 have been detained since May 2017 when Immigration and Customs Enforcement started targeting undocumented Iraqi immigrants with final deportation orders. Many fear for their safety, the ACLU says, if they are returned to Iraq, a country that some have not lived in for decades. Some are Chaldean Christians or members of oppressed Muslim sects and fear being persecuted, tortured or killed if returned. Iraq’s willingness to take in deported nationals has been the basis of the U.S. government’s argument to keep them detained until their immigration cases are decided. The newly unsealed documents, including memos and emails from U.S. officials and a letter from an Iraqi official, show that Iraq has hesitated to allow the “forced return” of Iraqi nationals.  The Trump administration has argued for the speedy deportation of the detained Iraqis, in part, because “many” of them were “ordered removed on the basis of committing criminal offenses … who have demonstrated their disregard for the country’s laws and willingness to harm others,” according to a court filing.

Iraqi female wrestler Alia Hussein attends a training practice at a gym in Diwaniyah. Credit: AFP/Sabah Arar

And, on a lighter note, an Iraqi women’s wrestling team has proven an unlikely success story in a conservative region that historically has loved the sport — when men are competing, that is. Nehaya Dhaher, a 52-year-old sports teacher and trainer at an athletic club in Diwaniyah, in Iraq’s tribal south, was surprised but excited when the Iraqi Wrestling Federation asked her if she would help create the country’s first women’s squad. She started the squad off with five volunteers from her local club. Today, the team boasts 20-odd members ranging in age from 15 to 30. At first unsure what to make of the sport’s new female competitors, now locals come out to support the team during competitions, according to Dhaher. The team’s success – its 26-year-old star, left, recently won silver at an international tournament in Beirut – has gained the sport admiration and popularity. Women’s teams are now popping up elsewhere in the country.

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