Iraq’s foreign minister says his country will investigate human trafficking networks responsible for smuggling hundreds of Iraqis into Europe, specifically to Lithuania from BelarusBy SAMYA KULLAB Associated PressJuly 15, 2021, 4:08 PM• 3 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleBAGHDAD — Iraq’s foreign minister said Thursday his government would investigate trafficking networks responsible for smuggling hundreds of Iraqis into Europe, specifically via Belarus to Lithuania.Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein made the promise after a meeting in Baghdad with his visiting Lithuanian counterpart, Gabrielius Landsbergis. Lithuania, which recently declared a state of emergency due to the rising influx of migrants, had appealed on Iraq to act in the matter.Hussein said Iraq will form a committee with representatives from the Foreign Ministry, Migration Ministry, as well as intelligence and the Civil Aviation Authority to clamp down on the smuggling networks. He spoke to reporters in a joint press conference with Landsbergis.Landsbergis said there was a “mutual need” to disrupt the network from Iraq into Europe that was being perpetrated by “malign actors” using criminal elements. He blamed neighboring Belarus for encouraging migration into Lithuania.In the past two months, more than 1,500 people have crossed into Lithuania — 20 times more than in the whole of 2020. In response, Vilnius declared a state of emergency and accused Belarus of organizing border crossings by people, mainly from Iraq.“An unfriendly country to us, our neighbor, is using migrants, mostly Iraqi people, to pressure my country, to pressure the European Union in order for us to change our policy,” Landsbergis said.“We feel Iraqi people are becoming a victim of the Belarusian regime,” he said. Landsbergis added that he had recounted to Hussein some of the testimony collected by Lithuanian authorities from 800 Iraqi migrants about how they were trafficked into Lithuania.“Iraqi people are being promised an easy trip to Europe, a European paradise of sorts, but the problem is, they end up in a Lithuanian forest in a refugee camp,” he said. “We think those people were lied to, they had to pay a lot of a money to get to the border.”Relations between Lithuania and Belarus soured after the August 2020 elections in Minsk, which was won by long-time President Alexander Lukashenko but has been condemned by the West as rigged. The vote results triggered months of protests and a harsh crackdown on the opposition by Lukashenko’s authoritarian regime.Hussein said the committee would investigate the issue inside Iraq and take action based on its results.Migrants in Verebiejai, Lithuania, told The Associated Press earlier this week that they came to Minsk from Baghdad.“I gave somebody $1,400 to bring me to the woods. I think it was the border. They showed me the way. They told me: go this way. Then I walked,” an unnamed migrant said.Another told the same story and added that he booked a hotel in Minsk and after that, “started trying” to cross the border into Lithuania.———Associated Press writer Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen, Denmark, contributed to this report.
A widespread power outage is hitting Iraq as temperatures reach scorching levels, affecting even affluent areas in the capital and stirring concerns of widespread unrestBy SAMYA KULLAB Associated PressJuly 2, 2021, 10:05 AM• 3 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleBAGHDAD — A widespread power outage hit Iraq on Friday as temperatures reached scorching levels, affecting millions of Iraqis including in affluent areas in the capital and stirring concerns of widespread unrest.Iraq’s grid was generating just over 4,000 Megawatts according to Ministry of Electricity data on Friday morning, less than the 12,000-17,000 MW the grid generates on average. By midday, generation climbed to 8,000 Megawatts. The cuts have impacted Baghdad and southern provinces in particular.The Electricity Ministry said power transmission lines have been routinely sabotaged by unknown groups in northern Iraq in recent weeks. One 400 kilovolt line from Kirkuk to Qayara was targeted Thursday, the ministry said in a statement. Another 132 kilovolt line was hit in Salahhadin on the same day.Local channels initially reported that the outage on Friday was due to the cutting of a major 400 kilovolt line between Baghdad and the southern province of Babylon. The ministry has not confirmed the incident.Total shutdowns can also occur when Iraq’s electricity network is working at maximum capacity. Defects in the transmission network and distribution capacity also contribute to outages. High temperatures can also impact the distribution lines.Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi has formed a crisis cell to take immediate measures to address shortages, according to a statement from his office.Temperatures in Baghdad and other governorates have been soaring above 48 degrees Celsius (118 Fahrenheit) in recent days. The government declared an official holiday in Baghdad on Thursday due to the scorching heatwave.In the densely populated Baghdad suburb of Sadr City, Abu Yasar, 63, said he no choice but to wet his clothes and lay on concrete floors at home for comfort.“I have asthma, I am suffering,” he said.The outage struck wealthier neighborhoods of Baghdad, where some residents typically enjoy 24 hours of electricity. Water pumps, which rely on electricity, stopped working in many areas, impeding access to water.Fatih Birol, executive director of the Paris-based International Energy Agency, said the breakdown in Iraq’s electricity grid leaves millions without the power they need to cope with extreme temperatures.“We need to address the resilience of systems in a heating world, but today we must focus on averting a humanitarian catastrophe amplified by insecure energy supply,” he tweeted.Iraq-based researcher Sajad Jiyad tweeted: “If this isn’t resolved quickly it will have catastrophic effects as everything stops working.”Power outages routinely fuel protests in Iraq. Poor government service delivery and rampant corruption was a driver of mass anti-government demonstrations across Iraq in 2019.Iran recently cut crucial electricity exports to Iraq this week, which can amount to nearly a third of Iraq’s supply in the peak summer months. Iraq’s Electricity Minister Majed Hantoush also recently resigned, citing political and popular pressure.Iraq is capable of generating 20,000 MW, but actual capacity owing to technical losses and other issues average between 12,000-17,000 MW during the summer months.