US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates paid a surprise visit to Iraq yesterday to push Baghdad toward faster reconciliation amid widespread claims of falling violence in the country.
But as Gates began his visit, eight people were killed by three car bombs, one in the main northern city of Mosul where he landed from Afghanistan before heading on to Baghdad. A car bomb also exploded in Kabul on Tuesday and killed 12 people.
His Iraq visit came 10 days after US President George W. Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki agreed on a long-term US military presence in Iraq that would go beyond next year.
"Secretary Gates is here [in Iraq] to see for himself the considerable progress that has made since his last visit nearly three months ago," Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said.
He will be meeting Iraqi leaders including both Maliki and President Jalal Talabani "to get a take on the situation and see what more can they can do to capitalize on the gains made since the surge of US forces in Iraq," Morrell said.
A US defense official traveling with Gates said the secretary was expected to urge the Iraqi leaders to quickly pass key legislation aimed at boosting reconciliation.
"They'll talk about the large negotiations that are going to take place next year to negotiate a bilateral strategic framework between our two countries ... going from Chapter 7 UN mission to a more normalized security relationship between our countries," the official said.
"He will continue to discuss with Prime Minister Maliki taking advantage of the circumstances afforded by a diminished security threat to move forward on reconciliation, pass laws on hydrocarbon agreement, de-Baathification," the official said.
Washington sees the passing of the two bills -- stalled in parliament -- as key to woo the disenchanted Sunni Arab former elite away from the anti-US insurgency.
The oil and gas bill would guarantee that receipts are shared equally between Iraq's 18 provinces -- a key concern for Sunnis worried that they could be monopolized by Kurds and Shiites in a looser federation.
The de-Baathification law would rehabilitate mid-level officials of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein's Baath party not implicated in the crimes of his regime.
Gates is also expected to discuss the issue of detainees held in US-run prisons in Iraq. As many as 26,000 Iraqis are in these prisons, most of them Sunni Arabs.
Malaysian authorities have advised women to wear makeup, not to nag their husbands and speak with a cartoon character’s soothing voice during the virus lockdown, sparking a flood of mockery online. Like many countries, Malaysia has ordered all citizens to stay at home to stem the spread of COVID-19, which, as of yesterday, had killed at least 39,070 people globally. In a series of online posters with the hashtag #WomenPreventCOVID19, the Malaysian Ministry of Women and Family Development issued advice on how to avoid domestic conflicts during the partial lockdown, which began on March 18. One of the campaign posters depicted
KEEP AWAY: People should wear a mask in places where they cannot follow social distancing rules, the CECC said, adding that it would publish detailed guidelines today The Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) yesterday announced 16 new cases of COVID-19, including two domestic cases, as it urged people to practice social distancing in public spaces by keeping a distance of at least 1m when outdoors and 1.5m indoors. Minister of Health and Welfare Chen Shih-chung (陳時中), who heads the center, said that seven of the new cases tested positive upon their arrival at the airport, four were under home quarantine, one was under home isolation and two were under self-health management, while the two domestic cases sought treatment on their own. The domestic cases are a man in his
Taiwan will negotiate with the WHO about its participation without Beijing’s help and intervention as more countries, including Australia and Japan, are partnering with Taiwan to curb the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said yesterday. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in a telephonic roundtable with reporters on Monday also supported Taiwan’s role in the WHO, saying the US Department of State would do its best to assist Taiwan’s “appropriate role” in the world’s highest health policy setting body, Voice of America reported. In a Japan Business Press report published on Sunday, Chinese Ambassador to Japan Kong Xuanyou (孔鉉佑) said
Japan’s ruling party yesterday proposed the nation’s biggest-ever stimulus package of ￥60 trillion (US$554 billion) as the COVID-19 pandemic locks the economy in a recession. The sum includes ￥20 trillion in fiscal measures with private initiatives and other elements likely making up the rest, the proposal by the Liberal Democratic Party showed. More than ￥10 trillion, or the equivalent of a 5 percentage point cut in the sales tax rate, would be handed out to the public in a combination of cash, subsidies and coupons, the plan showed. The proposal puts an initial figure on a stimulus package that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo