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US Air Defenses Respond to Rockets Targeting Baghdad’s Green Zone

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FILE PHOTO: Cars drive past the Green Zone of Baghdad, Iraq June 10, 2019 (C) REUTERS/Khalid Al-Mousily

Several rockets hit Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone hosting the US-led military coalition’s facilities as well as the US embassy. One rocket was shot down by the US-installed defense systems.

Two rockets were launched towards the Green Zone on Sunday morning local time, Iraqi security forces have confirmed.

“The Green Zone in Baghdad was the target of two Katyusha rockets. The first was shot down in the air by C-RAM defence batteries, the second fell in a square, damaging two vehicles,” they said in a statement as reported by AFP.

Footage posted on social media purportedly shows the moment one of the projectiles was intercepted by the air defense systems, scrambled to respond to the threat.

One of the two rockets reportedly landed merely 500 meters (1,640 feet) from the US embassy, AFP reported, citing security sources.

The new rocket attack comes as the December 31 deadline for US combat troops to withdraw from the country inches closer. Last month, Baghdad denied reports that Western troops would be allowed to stay beyond that date, dismissing speculation of the deadline extension as “inaccurate”

Upon the end of the combat mission, the remaining coalition forces will switch to training, advising, and assisting Iraqi troops.

While the change in the US-led coalition’s role in the country has been billed as a withdrawal, Reuters reported last week, citing security officials, that the formal conclusion of the mission will make “little difference” on the number of US troops stationed in Iraq.

Last week, the top US commander for the Middle East, Marine General Frank McKenzie, revealed that the Pentagon does not plan to put a lid on its military operations in Iraq, saying that US forces will provide air support for the Iraqi troops taking on the Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) militants.

McKenzie predicted that Washington’s intention to keep the 2,500 troops it currently has in Iraq on the ground is likely to trigger aresponse from “Iran-backed militias” as the deadline looms.

He insisted, however, that the US won’t budge. “They actually want all U.S. forces to leave, and all U.S. forces are not going to leave.”

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US Officials ‘obsessed’ With Wagner Group – Media

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The CIA and State Department have reportedly tried to pressure African governments into kicking out the Russian contractors

The Biden administration has attempted to pressure African nations into expelling the Wagner private military company, with the firm’s presence in Sudan and Libya “at the top of every meeting” between American and Egyptian officials, the Associated Press reported.

CIA Director William Burns focused on the group during recent trips to Egypt and Libya, while Secretary of State Antony Blinken discussed Wagner with Egyptian President Abdel Fatah el-Sisi during a jaunt to Cairo last month, the news agency reported on Saturday.

“Wagner obsesses [the American officials],” said an Egyptian senior government official. “It is at the top of every meeting.”

Egypt is a key conduit for American policy, with the Biden administration going as far as using Cairo to pass messages to Moscow, rather than communicating through direct channels. According to the report, the Egyptians reached out to their Sudanese and Libyan counterparts to relay Washington’s displeasure with Wagner.

Abbas Kamel, the director of Egypt’s Intelligence Directorate Agency, urged the head of Sudan’s ruling sovereign council, General Abdel-Fattah Burhan to address Wagner’s “use of Sudan as a base” for operations in Central Africa, a Sudanese official said. Burns himself visited Libya to speak to the country’s competing governments, discussing Wagner with Libyan National Army (LNA) commander Khalifa Haftar, the report claimed.

Egypt reportedly asked that Haftar not station Wagner soldiers near its borders, while the US demanded that Wagner fighters be removed from their posts safeguarding Libyan oil facilities.

Founded in 2014, Wagner has mainly operated as a security contractor in Africa and the Middle East. The precise details of its deployments are not made public, although Wagner founder Yevgeny Prigozhin has confirmed that his forces fought in Libya. He denied involvement in Sudan when asked by American journalists last year, saying at the time that he was “not aware of any evidence that the Wagner Group exists,” and that he had personally donated humanitarian aid to the conflict-stricken country.

“Who arranged wars and revolutions in Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Mozambique, Central Africa, and so on?” he told RT last month. “Some of these countries later turned to the Wagner PMC, which put an end to these wars with an iron fist.”

The US declared the Wagner Group a “transnational criminal organization” last month, after Wagner forces notched up a series of victories against the Ukrainian military in Donbass.

Despite Washington’s apparent “obsession” with the group, “there is no evidence yet that the Biden administration’s pressure has yielded results in either Sudan or Libya,” the AP report noted.

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Serbia Names ‘greatest’ Mistake by West

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The decision to supply Kiev with battle tanks has only further united Russians, Aleksandar Vucic has said

The West’s recent announcement that it would be supplying Ukraine with main battle tanks marks a major miscalculation, Serbian president Aleksandar Vucic said on Friday. That’s as Moscow has threatened to burn any Western equipment that enters Ukraine and has vowed to retaliate “far beyond the scope of armored vehicles.”

Vucic noted that the decision to supply Ukraine with tanks, especially with the “terrifying” German Leopard 2s, is the West’s “biggest” political mistake because it effectively manages to “unite the Russians like never before.”

Last month, Germany and the US agreed to provide a number of heavy tanks to Kiev. Washington has promised between 30 and 50 of its M1 Abrams tanks, while Berlin pledged 14 Leopard 2A6s from the Bunderswehr’s own stocks. An additional 51 of the same model and 88 of the older Leopard 1 model may also come from Rheinmetall as they get refurbished, Germany said.

Berlin also gave the green light to countries that have expressed a desire to export their own Leopards to Ukraine. Those include Poland, Finland, Spain, Norway and the Netherlands. The UK and Canada have also said they would be sending their heavy equipment to Kiev.

The decision has been heavily criticized by Russia, which has called it an “extremely dangerous” move that threatens to escalate the conflict in Ukraine. On Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin likened the new threat of “German Leopard tanks with crosses on their hulls” to the Soviet Union’s struggle against Hitler’s forces and warned that Moscow’s response would not be limited to weapons.

Other countries have also voiced their concerns about the West’s move. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that the delivery of NATO tanks to Ukraine was a “high-risk endeavor” that would fail to help end the conflict and only “line the pockets of gun barons.”

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban also slammed Germany’s decision, noting that these Western countries are “drifting” towards becoming active participants in the conflict. Orban has insisted that instead of arming Kiev, the West should be pursuing “a ceasefire and peace talks” in Ukraine.

Moscow has repeatedly objected to Western weapon deliveries to Ukraine, arguing that non-stop arms shipments only serve to prolong the conflict and risk direct confrontation with NATO. The Kremlin has also insisted that no amount of military aid will prevent Moscow from reaching its objectives and warned that the tanks would “burn like the rest of Western weapons” supplied to Kiev.

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Germany Approves Retired Tanks for Ukraine

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Berlin has given German defense industry companies permission to export older Leopard 1 tanks to Ukraine, the German media reported on Friday, citing government spokesman Steffen Hebestreit.

The official confirmed to journalists that a relevant export license was granted, without providing any further details.

“I do not want to say much more at the moment,” Hebestreit told journalists during a government press conference on Friday, according to Der Spiegel weekly. The official also said that further clarifications on the issue would be provided “within the coming days or weeks.”

Rheinmetall, one of Germany’s top arms manufacturers, suggested sending Leopard 1 tanks from its stocks to Ukraine as early as April 2022. At the time, the company stated it could supply up to 50 tanks to Ukraine within just six weeks if granted the government’s approval. The company also added that it was still checking on the condition of the tanks at the moment.

In mid-January, Rheinmetall CEO Armin Papperger told the tabloid Bild that it would take a long time to prepare the Leopard 1 tanks for potential export to Ukraine even if the company got a relevant license “tomorrow.” The tanks were “completely disassembled and built anew,” he said. According to Papperger, the delivery might take up to a year.

Der Spiegel reported on Friday that there were 29 Leopard 1 tanks largely ready for delivery, which were being stored by another defense manufacturer – the Flensburger Fahrzeugbau Gesellschaft (FFG). However, both Der Spiegel and SZ newspapers cited a lack of ammunition for the tanks in connection with the potential delivery.

Both Rheinmetall and FFG said they could potentially supply dozens of Leopard 1 battle tanks to Ukraine, but only if Kiev was willing to buy them, SZ reported. Earlier, Rheinmetall said that overhauling the heavy equipment would cost hundreds of millions of euros – a cost it could not cover on its own.

Earlier, Berlin also vowed to send 14 modern Leopard 2 main battle tanks out of the army’s stockpiles to Ukraine. Moscow has repeatedly criticized the West for supplying weapons to Ukraine, arguing that they only served to prolong the conflict and human suffering.

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