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At least eight killed in Iraqi Kurdistan floods

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Eight people in northern Iraq died Friday in flash floods caused by torrential rains in Arbil, capital of the autonomous Kurdistan region, provincial governor Omid Khoshnaw said.

In a country dealing with severe drought, many were caught by surprise and drowned as powerful storm waters began surging into their homes before dawn.

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“The floods began at 4:00 am, and have left eight dead including women and children,” he told AFP, reporting “significant” damage, especially in a working-class district in the east of the city of Arbil.

Four members of the civil defense team who came to help residents were injured when their car was washed away, he added.

“Of the eight people who died, one died struck by lightning, while the others drowned in their homes,” said civil defense spokesperson Sarkawt Karach.

Many people have been forced to leave their homes, he added.

“Searches are ongoing for missing people,” Karach said, warning that the death toll could still rise.

In Arbil, an AFP reporter saw torrents of muddy water pouring down roads. Buses, trucks and tankers were washed away by the storm waters, with some toppled onto their side.

Khoshnaw called on residents to stay at home unless necessary, warning that further rain was expected with fears for more floods.

Iraq has been hit by a succession of extreme weather events.

It has endured blistering temperatures and repeated droughts in recent years, but has also experienced intense floods – made worse when torrential rain falls on sun-baked earth.

Hard ground, compounded by vegetation loss, means the earth does not absorb water as quickly, and when storms hit, they can become flash floods.

Scientists say climate change amplifies extreme weather, including droughts as well as the potential for the increased intensity of rain storms.

Experts have warned that record low rainfall, compounded by climate change, are threatening social and economic disaster in war-scarred Iraq.

The effects of low rainfall have been exacerbated by falling water levels on the Tigris and Euphrates rivers as a result of dam-building in neighboring Turkey and Iran, Samah Hadid of the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), has said.

The severity of the drought has forced many farming families to leave their land and seek a living in urban areas.

In a study released Thursday, the NRC said half of the families living in drought-affected areas of Iraq need humanitarian food aid.

That followed a warning in November from the World Bank which said Iraq could suffer a 20-percent drop in water resources by 2050 due to climate change.

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NATO chief says reaching out to Russia but ‘prepared for worst’

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NATO on Wednesday delivered its proposals to Russia for a diplomatic solution to tensions triggered by Moscow's military build-up near Ukraine, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said, but remained “prepared for the worst”.

“We are now reaching out to Russia once again to try to pursue a path of dialogue and find a political solution,” he said, after the alliance sent Moscow a written response to its security demands.

“But of course while we are hoping for and working for a good solution, de-escalation, we are also prepared for the worst,” he said.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko confirmed to the news agency Interfax that Moscow had received the response from NATO, which was handed to Russia's envoy in Brussels.

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Asked how long Russia could take to study the response, he said: “We'll read it. We'll study it. Our partners had taken nearly a month and a half to study our draft.”

Stoltenberg said US-led NATO was ready for a “real conversation” over Russian concerns — but rejected a key Moscow demand to close the door on Ukraine's hope of joining.

“We cannot and will not compromise on the principles on which the security of our alliances and security in Europe and North America rest,” he said.

The alliance's proposals were handed over the same time as the US delivered its own written response to the Kremlin.

Moscow blindsided the West by publishing two draft treaties for the US and NATO in December that would see Washington's influence rolled back in eastern Europe.

The demands were made as Moscow massed some 100,000 troops on its border with Ukraine, in a move the West warns could be the prelude to a large-scale invasion.

Stoltenberg laid out a raft of areas where he said NATO thought it could engage constructively with the Kremlin, including improving communications, increasing transparency around military exercises, and arms control.

NATO is hoping its offer is enough to convince Moscow to hold further talks with the alliance and de-escalate the tensions on the ground.

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Saudi Arabia, UAE, UK, US condemn Houthi attacks, reaffirm support to Gulf security

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Saudi Arabia, the UAE, UK, US, and Oman condemned the Houthi attacks which targeted civilian sites in the Kingdom and Emirati capital Abu Dhabi, and reaffirmed support to both Gulf countries’ national security, a joint statement issued by the Saudi foreign ministry said on Wednesday.

Senior representatives from the five countries met on Wednesday to discuss Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthis’ attacks on Saudi Arabia and the UAE recently. The UN envoy to Yemen participated in the meeting.

Both the UAE and Saudi Arabia intercepted missile attacks launched by the Houthis targeting civilian sites in the Gulf countries within the two weeks.

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“The Quint strongly condemned the Houthis’ repeated attacks against civilians within Yemen, including US local staff in Sana’a and their continued heinous terrorist attacks against Saudi Arabia and more recently the UAE. Such actions are obstructing peace efforts and exacerbating suffering,” the statement said.

It added: “The Quint expressed full support for Saudi Arabia and the UAE and their legitimate national security concerns and called for an immediate end to attacks by the Houthis. The Quint acknowledged the legitimate right of Saudi Arabia and the UAE to defend themselves against terrorist attacks as per international law and following international humanitarian law, including taking all feasible precautions to avoid civilian harm.”

The five countries also discussed the “illicit Iranian provision of missiles and advanced weaponry to the Houthis.”

Iran did not comment directly on the recent attacks by the Houthis, but it commented on what it described as “recent Yemen-linked developments” by saying military attacks were not the solution.

Iran has long supplied the Houthis with financial and military support. However, it is not yet clear if Iran sanctioned the attack, or if it was completely a Houthi singular decision.

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Turkey’s Erdogan says Russia would be unwise to invade Ukraine

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Russia would be unwise to attack Ukraine and in that case Turkey would do what is necessary as a NATO member, President Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday.

In an interview with broadcaster NTV Erdogan said he had invited Russian President Vladimir Putin to Turkey under a proposal to host both sides for diplomacy and a path to peace, adding that he expects a response from Moscow.

Erdogan also said there was a need for comprehensive dialogue that addresses some of Russia's security concerns and that also explains to Moscow that some of its demands are not plausible.

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‘I hope that Russia will not make an armed attack or occupy Ukraine. Such a step will not be a wise act for Russia or the region,’ he said. ‘There is a need for dialogue that will listen to Russia and eliminate their reasonable security concerns.’

Ankara has good ties with both Kyiv and Moscow, but opposes Russian policies in Syria and Libya, as well as its annexation of the Crimean peninsula in 2014. While forging cooperation with Russia on defence and energy, Ankara has also sold sophisticated drones to Ukraine, angering Moscow.

‘I repeat that we are ready to do whatever is necessary and I conveyed these messages to President Putin and President (Volodymyr) Zelenskiy,’ Erdogan said. ‘I think both countries are aware of the sincerity and good intent of Turkey,’

The crisis should be solved ‘avoiding the use of force,’ he added. ‘We hope the NATO initiative will be successful on this.’

Turkey first floated the mediation offer in November. Last week diplomatic sources said both Russia and Ukraine were open to Turkey playing a role in resolving the crisis.

Erdogan has said he would visit Zelenskiy in Ukraine in early February to discuss the crisis and would also meet or call Putin soon.

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