Archive for December, 2014
December 25, 2014
ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Iraq and Turkey on Thursday discussed cooperation in countering the threat posed by the Islamic State group, including an Iraqi request for intelligence sharing and the possible delivery of Turkish arms to Iraqi forces, Iraq’s prime minister said.
Haider al-Abadi told reporters during a visit to the Turkish capital that he had provided “lists” of things Iraq was requesting from Turkey that included military cooperation, training and delivering weapons to fighters.
“(Islamic State group) is not only a threat to Iraq and Turkey, but is it a threat to the whole region. Therefore, there is a need for cooperation. That’s what we expect of Turkey,” al-Abadi said. “Whether it is military, intelligence sharing, training or even arms — these were talked about,” al-Abadi said.
Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Turkey was ready to provide Iraq the assistance it needed but didn’t elaborate. He said the countries’ defense ministries were holding discussions. “On the issue of support, we are ready to provide training… We have provided support to the Peshmerga forces that are battling Daesh in northern Iraq,” Davutoglu said, using the Arabic acronym for IS. “We are open to all kinds of opinions concerning the support to be provided.”
Turkey has declared it is willing to train and equip forces fighting IS and has also allowed about 150 Peshmerga fighters to cross into Syria from its territory, but has been reluctant to provide greater support to the U.S.-led coalition. Turkey insists that the coalition must also aim to topple Syrian President Bashar Assad, whom it regards as the source of the crisis in Syria.
Al-Abadi said the campaign against IS had been successful in weakening the group and driving it out of some regions but said the militants continued to pose a threat. Turkey has been accused of facilitating the transit of militants through its territory into Syria — a charge the country strongly denies.
Davutoglu said Turkey opposes the presence of all foreign fighters both in Syria and in Iraq.
December 23, 2014
BEIRUT (AP) — The gunmen came to the all-girls’ elementary school in the Iraqi city of Fallujah at midday with a special delivery: piles of long black robes with gloves and face veils, now required dress code for females in areas ruled by the Islamic State group.
“These are the winter version. Make sure every student gets one,” one of the men told a supervisor at the school earlier this month. Extremists are working to excise women from public life across the territory controlled by the Islamic State group, stretching hundreds of kilometers (miles) from the outskirts of the Syrian city of Aleppo in the west to the edges of the Iraqi capital in the east.
The group has been most notorious for its atrocities, including the horrors it inflicted on women and girls from Iraq’s minority Yazidi community when its fighters overran their towns this year. Hundreds of Yazidi women and girls were abducted and given to extremists as slaves. A report by Amnesty International released Tuesday said the captives — including girls as young as 10-12 — endured torture, rape and sexual slavery, and that several abducted girls committed suicide.
In day-to-day life, the group has also dramatically hemmed in women’s lives across the Sunni Muslim heartland that makes up the bulk of Islamic State group territory, activists and residents say. Their movements are restricted and their opportunity for work has shrunk.
In Iraq’s Mosul, the biggest city in the group’s self-declared caliphate, “life for women has taken a 180-degree turn,” said Hanaa Edwer, a prominent Iraqi human rights activist. “They are forbidding them from learning, forbidding them from moving around freely. The appearance of a woman is being forcefully altered.”
At least eight women have been stoned to death for alleged adultery in IS-controlled areas in northern Syria, activists say. At least 10 women in Mosul have been killed for speaking out against the group, Edwer said. In August, IS detained and beheaded a female dentist in Deir el-Zour who had continued to treat patients of both sexes, the U.N. said.
Relatives of women considered improperly dressed or found in the company of males who are not relatives are lashed or imprisoned. In the IS-controlled town of al-Bab in Syria’s northern Aleppo province, an activist described seeing armed militants walking with a stick in hand, gently whacking or jabbing at women deemed inappropriately dressed.
“Sometimes they follow the woman home and detain her father, or they confiscate her ID and tell her to come back with her father to pick it up,” said Bari Abdelatif, now based in Turkey. Enforcement varies from one place to the other, much of it depending on the whims of the Hisba, or vice police enforcing those rules. Most of the areas taken over by IS were already deeply conservative places where women had a subordinate role in society, but the extremists have sharply exacerbated the restrictions.
Abdelatif said women in al-Bab are harassed for venturing outside their home without a “mahram,” or male guardian. In the Syrian city of Raqqa, the militants’ de facto capital, activists said women were allowed to leave their homes on their own, but needed a male companion or permission of a male relative to leave the city.
An IS all-female brigade, called al-Khansa, patrols the streets in some areas to enforce clothing restrictions. Across the territory, women now have to wear the “khimar,” a tent-like robe that covers the head, shoulders and chest. The khimar leaves the face exposed but very often the militants go ahead and force women to put a niqab veil over their faces as well, leaving only the eyes visible.
In the Iraqi city of Fallujah, an elementary school teacher said militants recently dropped by the school to deliver the niqab, robes and gloves for the students to wear. “I used to wear make-up on occasion but I don’t anymore,” she said, speaking by phone on strict condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.
The militants have segregated schools and changed the curriculum. In some cases they shut schools down, summoning teachers to take a course in their hard-line version of Islamic Shariah law before reopening them. In many instances in both Iraq and Syria, parents have opted not to send their children to school to avoid IS brainwashing them.
Hospitals have also been segregated. A woman has to be seen by a female doctor, but there are very few women doctors left. Early marriage is on the rise because parents want to find husbands for their daughters quickly for fear they will be forced to marry Islamic State fighters, according to the U.N.
“The psychological and physical harm caused by ISIS’s treatment of women, the onerous instructions imposed on their dress code, and restrictions on their freedom of movement demonstrate discriminatory treatment on the basis of gender,” a United Nations panel investigating war crimes in the Syrian conflict said last month.
It said the killings and acts of sexual violence perpetrated by IS constitute crimes against humanity. While the Islamic State group imposes its extremist vision of Islamic law on Sunni Muslim women under its rule, it went further when it overran the Iraqi villages of the Yazidi minority in early August. The extremists consider followers of the Yazidi faith as infidels — and thus permissible to enslave.
Amnesty International interviewed more than 40 former captives who escaped the militants and described being abducted, raped and being “sold” or given as “gifts” to Islamic State fighters or supporters.
One girl told how a 19-year-old among them named Jilan committed suicide, fearing rape. In the bathroom, “she cut her wrists and hanged herself. She was very beautiful,” the girl quoted in the report said. “I think she knew she was going to be taken away by a man.”
Associated Press writer Vivian Salama contributed to this report from Baghdad.
December 22, 2014
MOUNT SINJAR, Iraq (AP) — Kurdish fighters in Iraq pushed deeper Monday into the town of Sinjar, held by the Islamic State group, but are facing stiff resistance from the Sunni militants who captured it in August.
One of the fighters, Bakhil Elias, said clashes since late last night have been “fierce” and that IS militants are using snipers. At least two Kurdish peshmerga fighters have been killed by snipers and 25 were wounded in the latest fighting.
Large plumes of black smoke are billowing into the sky from inside the town. The Kurdish forces say the militants are burning tires and oil to create a smoke screen of thick dark clouds to obstruct airstrikes against their positions by the U.S-led coalition.
Last week, the Kurdish peshmerga fighters launched the operation to retake Sinjar and were able to reach thousands of Yazidis who were trapped on Mount Sinjar. Peshmerga fighters opened up a corridor to the mountain and are regularly bringing truckloads of aid and food to the area.
In neighboring Syria, Kurdish fighters pushed into an IS-held neighborhood in the northern town of Kobani, capturing a cultural center that they had besieged on Saturday. “The center is very important morally and militarily,” said Kobani-based activist Mustafa Bali, referring to the site, located on a hill that overlooks several neighborhoods east and southeast of the town.
“This will change the military rhythm in the coming days,” Bali said, adding that the aim of Kurdish fighters in Syria is to evict IS militants from Kobani and nearby villages. Kurdish fighters have been slowly advancing in Kobani over the past weeks backed by Iraqi peshmerga fighters who came to help, and airstrikes by the U.S.-led coalition.
The IS group began its Kobani offensive in mid-September, capturing parts of the town as well as dozens of nearby villages. Hundreds of fighters on both sides have been killed since. Idriss Nassan, a Kobani local official, said that over the past days the Syrian Kurdish force known as the People’s Protection Units, or YPG, “has taken the initiative” and advanced in IS-held neighborhoods.
Nassan said peshmerga fighters usually bombard IS positions in the town while YPG fighters carry out the ground attack with the help of airstrikes that target militant positions.
Associated Press writer Bassem Mroue contributed to this report from Beirut.
December 21, 2014
MOUNT SINJAR, Iraq (AP) — With coalition warplanes circling overhead, Kurdish fighters pushed into the contested northern Iraqi town of Sinjar on Sunday, touching off heavy clashes with Islamic State militants who have controlled the area for months.
The battle for Sinjar and the surrounding areas has become the latest focus in the campaign to take back territory lost to the Islamic State group during the militants’ summer blitz that captured much of northern and western Iraq. IS also controls a large chunk of neighboring Syria.
Last week, Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga fighters launched the operation to retake Sinjar. So far, they’ve managed to open up a passageway to Mount Sinjar, a long, rugged mountain that overlooks the town. That push allowed some of the thousands of Yazidis trapped on the mountain since the town’s fall in August to evacuate.
On Sunday, pershmerga fighters said they advanced into Sinjar itself. Loud explosions and intense gunbattles could be heard echoing from inside the town as U.S.-led coalition warplanes bombed Islamic State militants from the sky.
“We were fighting inside Sinjar. There were snipers everywhere inside,” said 28-year-old Kurdish fighter Nabil Mohammed. “One of them fired a rocket-propelled grenade at us. I ran into a house and I was hit by a sniper’s bullet in my thigh.”
Mohammed spoke in a field hospital on Mount Sinjar, where he and many of the 20 wounded Kurdish fighters were brought for treatment. Ambulances rushed the wounded to the clinic. Inside, fighters wept as the body of one man killed by a sniper’s bullet was placed into a body bag.
Earlier Sunday, the president of the self-ruled northern Kurdish region, Masoud Bazani, toured Kurdish positions on Mount Sinjar, where he vowed to defeat the Islamic State group. “Most of the districts are under our control,” Barzani told peshmerga troops. “We will crush the Islamic State.”
At least 15 Kurdish fighters wounded in Sunday’s clashes were brought from the front-lines to a makeshift clinic on the mountain. The spokesman for the Kurdish forces, Jabbar Yawar, said the fighters were still facing resistance from pockets of Islamic State militants still inside the town and that it is “far from cleared.” He declined to provide more details on the ongoing operation.
Meanwhile, Iraqi counter-terrorism forces launched an offensive Saturday to retake the military airport near the town of Tal Afar from the IS group, said a Baghdad official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to media.
Tal Afar is a mixed Shiite-Sunni city of some 200,000 located strategically near the Syrian border to the east of Sinjar. In Syria, meanwhile, the U.S.-led coalition carried out at least a dozen airstrikes against IS-controlled towns in the northern Syrian province of Aleppo, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. The group monitors the conflict through a network of activists on the ground.
The Local Coordination Committees also reported the strikes near the town of Dabiq. There was no word on casualties. Mainstream rebels as well as al-Qaida-linked fighters have been battling IS northeast of the city of Aleppo for months, while also trying to fend off an advance by Syrian government forces to encircle the opposition-held areas of the city.
In Baghdad, police said roadside bombs hit four busy commercial areas, killing 11 people and wounding 30.
Associated Press writer Sinan Salaheddin contributed to this report from Baghdad.
By Abdelhamid Zebari
Iraqi Kurds claimed Thursday to have broken a siege on a mountain where Yazidi civilians and fighters have long been trapped as the US said air strikes killed several Islamic State leaders in recent weeks.
Officials said the twin successes dealt heavy blows to IS’s command and control as well as their supply lines, and were the latest in a string of apparent setbacks for the group in recent weeks.
The Kurdish advances came during a two-day blitz into the Sinjar region involving 8,000 peshmerga fighters and some of the heaviest air strikes since a US-led coalition started an air campaign four months ago.
Masrour Barzani, the son of the Kurdish president and the intelligence chief for the Iraqi autonomous region, said the peshmerga advance had broken the siege on Mount Sinjar.
“Peshmerga forces have reached Mount Sinjar, the siege on the mountain has been lifted,” he told reporters from an operations center near the border with Syria.
The peshmerga said they recaptured eight villages on the way and killed about 80 IS fighters in the initial phase of the offensive launched from Rabia on the Syria border and Zumar on the shores of Mosul dam lake.
They also lost seven men on Wednesday in Qasreej village when they failed to stop a suicide attacker who rammed an explosives-laden armored vehicle into their convoy, officers at the scene said.
“This operation represents the single biggest military offensive against IS and the most successful,” a statement from Barzani’s office said.
A devastating IS attack on the Yazidi minority’s Sinjar heartland in August displaced tens of thousands of people and was one of the reasons put forward by US President Barack Obama for launching a campaign of air strikes in September.
Amid fears of a genocide against the small Kurdish-speaking minority, tens of thousands of Yazidis fled to the mountain and remained trapped there in the searing summer heat with no supplies.
Kurdish fighters, mostly Syrian, broke that first siege but remaining anti-IS forces were subsequently unable to hold positions in the plains and retreated back to the mountain in late September.
– Breaking the siege –
The peshmerga commander for the area said troops had reached the mountain and secured a road that would enable people to leave, effectively breaking the siege. Several thousand are still thought to be trapped there.
“Tomorrow most of the people will come down from the mountain,” Mohamed Kojar said, explaining the offensive had secured a corridor northeast of the mountain.
A Yazidi leader atop the mountain, however, said he could see no sign of a military deployment. A peshmerga commander explained that any evacuation would only begin on Friday.
Kurdish officials said the operation had dealt the jihadists a blow by cutting their supply lines and forcing them to retreat to urban bastions such as Tal Afar and Mosul, their main hub.
Jihadists still control the town of Sinjar, on the southern side of the mountain, and many of the surrounding villages.
In Washington, meanwhile, the Pentagon announced that three top IS leaders in Iraq had been killed in US air strikes in recent weeks.
“I can confirm that since mid-November, targeted coalition air strikes successfully killed multiple senior and mid-level leaders” in the IS, spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby said in a statement.
“We believe that the loss of these key leaders degrades ISIL’s ability to command and control current operations,” he added.
The most significant figure was identified as Haji Mutazz, better known as Abu Muslim al-Turkmani, who was deputy to the group’s chief, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
There was no hint that Turkmani had been killed on the jihadist social media accounts and forums that usually relay such information.
The jihadist group proclaimed a “caliphate” over parts of Iraq and Syria nearly six months ago after sweeping through Iraq’s Sunni heartland and throwing the country into chaos.
A second wave of attacks in August against Sinjar and towards the borders of Kurdistan triggered a US intervention that has now grown into a 60-nation anti-IS coalition.
The strikes were extended into Syria on September 23.
The military fightback appears to have gradually turned the tide on the jihadists, who have suffered a string of setbacks in Iraq in recent weeks.
Battle lines are more static in Syria, where the West is not coordinating its air campaign with the regime.
Source: Middle East Online.
Fri Dec 26, 2014
The biggest-ever collection of historic artifacts is finally restituted to Iran from Belgium.
The plane carrying the precious collection, boarded from Brussels at 2:00 p.m. local time (1030 GMT), and arrived in the Iranian capital, Tehran, Thursday evening.
A ceremony was held in Tehran’s International Mehrabad Airport for the customs clearance of the collection.
Massoud Soltanifar, who serves as the vice-president and head of Iran’s Cultural Heritage, Handcraft and Tourism Organization (ICHTO), also attended the ceremony.
He said that Iranian authorities moved the collection from the Museum of Brussels University to Iran’s Embassy after a court issued a verdict approving Iran’s right for restitution of the collection to Tehran. Then the ICHTO chartered a special flight to transfer the collection, he said.
On December 22, the appellate court in Liège passed the final verdict in favor of the restitution of the Iranian heritage.
Soltanifar said the collection will be transferred to Iran’s national museum. He added that two other legal cases are being pursued in the United States and in Europe for restitution of historic artifacts to Iran.
The historic collection contains nine boxes of precious ancient artifacts and a bronze pin stolen from an exhibition.
Yolande Wolfcarius-Maleki, a French national who acquired Iranian nationality by marriage in 1965, illegally moved the collection to Belgium over the years.
The antiquities were reportedly excavated from a 3,000-year-old ancient site near the village of Khorvin, situated 80 kilometers (49 miles) northeast of Tehran.
December 20, 2014
BEIRUT (AP) — Kurdish fighters advanced on the Islamic State extremist group in Iraq and Syria on Saturday, pushing into the contested, refugee-packed Sinjar mountains and gaining ground in the embattled Syrian border town of Kobani after heavy clashes, Kurdish officials and an activist group said.
In Syria, Kurdish Democratic Union Party spokesman Nawaf Khalil said Kurdish fighters advanced in six neighborhoods and have besieged the IS-held cultural center east of Kobani. He added that Kurdish fighters captured the Yarmouk school, southeast of Kobani where eight bodies of IS fighters were found.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the main Syrian Kurdish force known as the People’s Protection Units, or YPG, killed 10 IS fighters. The IS group began its Kobani offensive in mid-September, capturing parts of the town as well as dozens of nearby villages. Hundreds of fighters on both sides have been killed since. Kurdish forces have gradually pushed the extremist group back in recent weeks with the help of U.S.-led coalition airstrikes.
The push in Kobani came a day after YPG fighters opened a corridor between their positions in northeastern Syria and Mount Sinjar in neighboring Iraq where Iraqi peshmerga fighters have been on the offensive as well. Earlier this week, Iraqi peshmerga fighters were also able to open another corridor to Mount Sinjar.
Iraq’s Kurdistan Region Security Council said peshmerga fighters launched a new offensive on Saturday toward Mount Sinjar and were able to capture the nearby area of Mushrefa. The statement said that early Saturday, 32 truckloads of food, water and other aid departed from the northern Iraqi city of Erbil to Mount Sinjar through the “corridor established by the courageous Peshmerga forces.”
Warplanes from the U.S.-led coalition circled overhead as peshmerga troops returning from the front said the city was full of roadside bombs and snipers. The peshmerga had set up a base overlooking the city on the summit of Mount Sinjar, which included a makeshift hospital, they added.
Spokesman Jabbar Yawar said Peshmerga fighters were fighting their way into Sinjar and nearby areas in coordination with allied air support. The Islamic State group captured almost a third of Iraq and Syria earlier this year, plunging the region into deep crisis.
In early August, the militants captured Iraqi towns of Sinjar and Zumar, prompting tens of thousands of people from the Yazidi minority to flee to the mountain, where they became trapped. Many were eventually airlifted by a passageway through Syria back into Iraq, where they found refuge in Iraq’s northern Kurdish semi-autonomous region.
With reporting by Dalton Bennett in Sinjar.