U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi on Monday discussed the next steps to be taken following the territorial defeat of the Daesh terrorist group.

Pence "welcomed news of Iraq’s recent economic and trade agreements with Jordan and the prime minister’s upcoming travel as major steps towards Iraq’s reintegration in the region after the territorial defeat of ISIS," Pence's office said in a statement, using another name for Daesh.

Pence and Abdul-Mahdi further discussed potentials to bolster the "strategic partnership" between their countries, including efforts to "professionalize" Iraqi security forces and develop the Iraqi economy, the statement added.

Daesh's territorial defeat has long been sought by the U.S.-led coalition, and the terrorist group is now fighting against U.S.-backed forces in its last remaining bastion in Baghouz, Syria.

Abdul-Mahdi further briefed Pence on efforts to "exhume the mass graves of ISIS’s genocide against Yazidis in Sinjar and the prime minister conveyed that he would personally investigate security and economic impediments noted by the vice president as preventing the return of many of Iraq’s religious components and other displaced persons," according to Pence's office.

Pence had worked to expedite U.S. aid for Iraq's Christian and Yazidi minority communities that were killed and enslaved by Daesh en masse when the territories under its control included much of Iraq as well as Syria.

"The U.S. stands with Iraq to hold ISIS accountable for its mass atrocities & thanks the PM for his recent actions to help the Yazidi people recover from genocide by #ISIS," Pence said on Twitter shortly after his call with Abdul-Mahdi.

The United States granted Iraq a 90-day waiver exempting it from sanctions to buy energy from Iran, a State Department official said on Wednesday, the latest extension allowing Baghdad to keep importing Iranian gas that is critical for power production.

The official said the waiver was granted on Tuesday. The last waiver for Iraq to be exempt from U.S. sanctions on Iran was granted on Dec. 21.

 

The Trump administration reimposed sanctions on Iran’s energy exports in November, citing its nuclear program and meddling in the Middle East, but has granted waivers to several buyers to meet consumer energy needs.

“While this waiver is intended to help Iraq mitigate energy shortages, we continue to discuss our Iran-related sanctions with our partners in Iraq,” the State Department official said on condition of anonymity.

 

Iraq relies heavily on Iranian gas to feed its power stations, importing roughly 1.5 billion standard cubic feet per day via pipelines in the south and east.

Washington has said it wants to roll back Iranian influence in the Middle East, including in Iraq, where Iran holds broad sway over politics and trade.

“We are also continuing to work with Iraq to end its dependence on Iranian natural gas and electricity and increase its energy independence,” the State Department official said.

Finland topped the ranking of the world’s happiest countries for the second year in a row, with the Nordic countries taking the leading spots, an annual survey issued on Wednesday showed.

South Sudan came last in the U.N. Sustainable Development Solutions Network’s 2019 World Happiness Report.

It ranked 156 countries according to things such as GDP per capita, social support, healthy life expectancy, social freedom, generosity and absence of corruption.

 

Taking the harsh, dark winters in their stride, Finns’ happiness is boosted by access to nature, safety, affordable childcare, free education and heavily subsidized healthcare.

The top 10 was again dominated by the Nordics, with Denmark, Norway and Iceland taking the other leading spots followed by Netherlands, Switzerland, Sweden, New Zealand, Canada and Austria. The United States dropped one place to 19th.

“This year’s report provides sobering evidence of how addictions are causing considerable unhappiness and depression in the U.S.,” the network’s director Jeffrey Sachs said in a statement, adding that they were referring to addictions in many forms from substance abuse to gambling and digital media.

 

Among the 20 top gainers since the 2005-2008 average ranking were 10 countries in Central and Eastern Europe, five in sub-Saharan Africa and three in Latin America, while the five that fell the most were Yemen, India, Syria, Botswana and Venezuela.

Benin saw the largest gain over that period, rising 50 places in the rankings.

A UN tribunal in The Hague on Wednesday sentenced former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic to life in prison for genocide, crimes against humanity, and violating the laws and customs of war.

In 2016 Karadzic was sentenced to 40 years in prison by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity relating to the 1992-1995 Bosnian War. He then filed an appeal seeking an acquittal or retrial.

Following the closure of the former Yugoslav tribunal in 2017, the Council of Appeal of the International Criminal Courts Mechanism took over the ongoing cases.

The council on Wednesday announced the decision for Karadzic's appeal, which had been going on for some three years.

The council sentenced Karadzic, 73, for war crimes and crimes against humanity during the Bosnian War between 1992 and 1995, as well as the genocide in Srebrenica, Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Karadzic's appeal of his 40-year prison sentence was also rejected.

"Considering the brutality and unprecedented size of the crimes committed, the 40-year prison sentence was insufficient," said the council.

The council also confirmed that Karadzic had knowledge of murders committed in July 1995 following the fall of Srebrenica.

While the court convicted Karadzic over his role in the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, he was found not guilty of genocide in seven other Bosnian towns.

Apart from his single genocide conviction, he was also found guilty on five counts of crimes against humanity and four war crimes charges, including taking UN soldiers hostage, exterminating civilians, murders, and attacking soldiers. 

‘Ruin of his Greater Serbia policy’

Karadzic was the president of the self-styled Bosnian Serb Republic and supreme commander of its armed forces between 1992 and 1995, when around 100,000 Bosnians died as the former Yugoslavia descended into ethnic bloodshed.

He was charged with 11 counts of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, including the siege of Sarajevo and the Srebrenica genocide, Europe's worst atrocity since World War II.

Zeljko Komsic, Croat member of the Presidency of Bosnia Herzegovina, praised the verdict in a statement today, saying it “represents the minimum of justice for all victims, Bosniaks and Croats, who were systematically exterminated as part of the genocidal project of the creation of the Republika Srpska." 

Croatian President Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic said that the verdict could not bring back the victims. 

“Today's decision is the final judgment on one of the main ideologists and executors of the Greater Serbia policy, who did not hesitate to commit genocide and other most serious international crimes against Croats and Bosniaks in order to create the so-called Greater Serbia," he wrote on Twitter.

The verdict “must serve as a lasting warning about the ruin of this policy," he added.

On the life sentence, former Croatian Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor said: "He will continue to live, and his victims are long dead, and nothing can return them." 

"My opinion is that any punishment [of Karadzic] is too small," Vojvodina Nenad Canak, head of the Serbian League of Social Democrats, told reporters in the Serbian Parliament.  

Karadzic -- dubbed the Butcher of Bosnia -- was first indicted in July 1995 for the shooting of unarmed civilians in Sarajevo and taking UN peacekeepers hostage. Four months later, he was accused of orchestrating the slaughter of 8,000 Muslim men and boys after Serb forces seized the UN’s Srebrenica “safe area” in eastern Bosnia.

He went on the run after the war and was finally arrested in Belgrade in 2008.

During his trials, more than 580 witnesses gave testimony of crimes such as the murder of Muslims and Croats and the destruction of private property and mosques across Bosnia.

Germany’s Muslim community called on authorities on Tuesday to step up security around mosques in the country after recent terror attacks in New Zealand. 

Aiman Mazyek, chairman of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany, told a news conference in Berlin that visible police presence around mosques would help deter potential attacks by extremists.

"This would also have a symbolic meaning," he said, adding that the Muslim community would feel that "the state and society take responsibility for their security."

Germany has witnessed growing racism and Islamophobia in recent years fueled by far-right parties, which have exploited fears over the refugee crisis and terrorism.

Police recorded 578 hate crimes against Muslims between January and September last year. At least 40 Muslims were injured in the attacks, which were carried out mostly by far-right extremists.

Germany, a country of over 81 million people, has the second-largest Muslim population in Western Europe after France. Among the country’s nearly 4.7 million Muslims, 3 million are of Turkish origin.

The Presidency of the Parliament of Kurdistan presented an explanation on the mechanism of the distribution of committees on the parliamentary blocs.

Deputy Speaker of Parliament Hemn Hawrami and Parliament Secretary Muna Kahwaji told a news conference: "According to the rules of procedure of the parliament, the distribution of the committees with the majority and the St Lego system were completed today."

He added that the distribution of committees and their chairmanship has been completed, on 108 MPs out of 111 without counting the speaker of parliament and his deputy and secretary.

He added that the Parliament will have 15 committees.

The delegation of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) ended thier meeting held on Tuesday at the Political Bureau of the Patriotic Union in Sulaymaniyah.

After the meeting both of Latif Sheikh Omar, spokesman for the PUK, and Dilshad Shehab, a member of the Democratic Party delegation, held a press conference highlighting the content of the meeting.

Latif Sheikh Omar said the meeting was positive, the two sides agreed to continue their meetings on forming a new government of the Kurdistan region.

For his part, Dilshad Shehab said that there is an agreement between the two sides and after the holiday of Nowruz, the meetings between the two parties will continue, expressing the hope that the two sides reach an agreement during the upcoming meetings.

Information official of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) , Tufan Zihat, announced on Tuesday that 33 Turkish soldiers and five PKK members were killed and wounded in clashes between the two sides in the Sidakan district in the northern province of Erbil in the Kurdistan region.

Zihat said that elements of the PKK attacked the Turkish forces in the Kurdish areas of the Lilkan ,Kvorti and Alidrezh in the area of ​​Sidakan.

He said that his forces were able to attack a number of Turkish soldiers' positions, killing 23 Turkish soldiers and wounding 10 others.

He said the clashes also resulted in the loss of five elements of the PKK.

Kurdistan region announced the increase of visits from Iran to the cities of the region by 30% two days before the feast of Nowruz, which starts on 21 of this month.

The Director-General of the border crossing Haj Omran Zerar Hussein said that the 60,000 Iranian tourists intered to the Kurdistan region this month.

Hussein added in a press statement that "after the cancellation of fees of 25 thousand Iraqi dinars for Iranian tourists for 10 days by the Kurdistan Regional Government, we see an increase in visitors , which registered a growth of 30%."

"Hundreds of taxis and tourist buses enter the border crossings to the cities of the province every day."

To continue the talks between them and in order to sign a final political agreement regarding the distribution of positions in the new government of the Kurdistan region ,the two ruling parties of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan is scheduled to meet again mid-week next after the holidays of Noroz.

According to leaked information, the talks are currently underway to create two new posts represented which are the second deputy for both the president of the region and the prime minister.

The Kurdistan Parliament is seeking to present the law of the presidency of the region in a session to be held next week to amend and ratify it.

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