Archive for March, 2015

Hezbollah leader slams Saudi intervention in Yemen

March 27, 2015

BEIRUT (AP) — The leader of Lebanon’s Shiite Hezbollah group unleashed a tirade against Saudi Arabia on Friday over its intervention in Yemen, calling it “surprising and painful,” and suggesting Riyadh would suffer a “humiliating defeat” if it didn’t resolve the conflict through negotiations.

Hassan Nasrallah rejected Riyadh’s claim that it had assembled a coalition to conduct airstrikes against Shiite Houthi rebels in order to save Yemen, an operation named “Decisive Storm.” He said that since Israel was created in 1948 “there has been no decisive storm or even a decisive breeze” to help the Palestinians.

Hezbollah, like Yemen’s Houthi rebels, is supported by Iran, which Saudi Arabia views as its main regional rival. Iran has openly armed and assisted Hezbollah since its creation, but both Iran and the Houthis deny it has sent arms to the Yemeni rebels.

“The real reason (for the war) is that Saudi Arabia lost its control and dominance in Yemen and the aim of war is to restore control and hegemony over Yemen. Period,” Nasrallah said. He condemned what he called a “Saudi-American aggression on Yemen, its people, army, installations, present and future.” The Hezbollah leader called for a political solution in Yemen, warning Saudi Arabia that it will not win the war.

“Throughout history, invaders were defeated and the invaders were humiliated,” Nasrallah said. “The rulers in Saudi Arabia still have an opportunity in order not to face a humiliating defeat.” Nasrallah said the countries taking part in the military campaign should review their policies. “Should the region go to war because of Saudi money?” he asked.

In some of his harshest comments to date, Nasrallah accused Saudi Arabia of sending suicide attackers to Iraq and of creating the Islamic State group. Addressing Saudi Arabia, he said Iran had expanded its influence in the region because “you are lazy, losers, and you don’t take responsibility.”

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Iraqi forces push on to Tikrit as IS destroys ancient site

March 06, 2015

BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraqi forces pressed their offensive against the Islamic State group Friday, expecting to reach the outskirts of the militant-held city of Tikrit within hours, a day after the extremists reportedly “bulldozed” a famed archaeological site in the area.

The battle to wrest Tikrit — Saddam Hussein’s hometown — from the Islamic State is a major test for the Iraqi forces and allied Shiite militias fighting on heir side. The governor of Salahuddin, Raed al-Jabouri, said that Iraqi forces expect to reach Tikrit later Friday. He told The Associated Press they still have not made it to Tikrit’s east airport as some reports have suggested.

Tikrit, 130 kilometers (80 miles) north of Baghdad, has been under the control of the Islamic State group since June, when the Sunni militants made a lightning advance across northern Iraq, prompting Iraqi troops to flee and abandon their weapons.

On Monday, Iraqi security forces launched a large-scale operation in an effort to retake the city from the militant group, but the offensive was stalled somewhat, with military officials saying the militants strategically lined roads leading to the city with explosives and land mines.

Meanwhile, the Iraqi Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities said late Thursday that the IS militants “bulldozed” the renowned archaeological site of the ancient city of Nimrud in northern Iraq. The destruction is part of the group’s campaign to enforce its violent interpretation of Islamic law, destroying ancient archaeological sites it says promoted apostasy.

The ministry’s report could not be immediately independently confirmed. Nimrud was the second capital of Assyria, an ancient kingdom that began in about 900 B.C., partially in present-day Iraq, and became a great regional power. The city, which was destroyed in 612 B.C., is located on the Tigris River just south of Iraq’s second largest city, Mosul, which was captured by IS in June.

Earlier this week, a video emerged on militant websites showing Islamic State militants with sledgehammers destroying ancient artifacts at the museum in Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city that also fell into IS hands last year.

The IS extremists’ rampage against priceless cultural artifacts has sparked global outrage. Also Thursday, the IS militants set fire to some oil wells outside Tikrit, an Iraqi oil official said, speaking on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to talk to the media. The smoky fires were apparently meant to obscure targets from government bombing runs, part of the wide-scale operation that began Monday.

The Ajeel oil field, about 35 kilometers (22 miles) northeast of Tikrit, was one of at least four fields seized by the militants as a source of crude oil to sell to smugglers to finance their operations.

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IS readies for Tikrit last stand but ‘expands’ to Nigeria

By W.G. Dunlop and Ammar Karim

Albu Ajil, Iraq (AFP)

March 13, 2015

Thousands of Iraqi forces have laid siege to jihadists holed up in Tikrit but the Islamic State group shrugged off setbacks by welcoming Nigeria’s Boko Haram group into its “caliphate”.

After making major gains in and around the city Wednesday, commanders were confident that Baghdad’s biggest victory yet against IS was only a matter of time.

“Now we are moving to the second phase of our plan,” Defense Minister Khaled al-Obeidi told reporters in Salaheddin province, of which Tikrit is the capital.

“We are very keen for our losses to be as low as possible. Time is on our side, we have the initiative,” he said Thursday, the 11th day of the offensive.

No one involved has provided casualty figures since the start of this latest and largest operation to retake Tikrit, which has been in IS hands since June.

But dozens of bodies are being driven south to Baghdad and the Shiite holy city of Najaf almost every day and, while government forces have had the upper hand, IS has done damage with suicide car bombs, booby traps and snipers.

“We don’t want to be rushed because we want to avoid casualties,” police Staff Major General Bahaa al-Azzawi told AFP in Albu Ajil, a village from which Tikrit can be seen across the Tigris River.

“Tikrit is sealed off from all sides,” he said.

All towns and villages on the river’s eastern bank were under the control of anti-IS forces Thursday.

Black and white IS flags on walls had been painted over with slogans cursing the jihadist group or praising Shiite militia groups.

Tikrit is on the west bank and, until sappers throw floating bridges across the river, the nearest bridge is in Samarra, nearly 50 kilometers (30 miles) to the south.

– Sunni tribes fighting –

Tikrit was the hometown of dictator Saddam Hussein, remnants of whose Baath party collaborated with the jihadists when they took over almost a third of the country last June.

With crucial military backing from neighboring Iran and a 60-nation US-led coalition, Baghdad has rolled back some of the losses.

It started with operations to secure the Shiite holy cities of Karbala and Najaf and bolster Baghdad’s defenses, then worked its way north, retaking Diyala province earlier this year.

Commanders see the recapture of overwhelmingly Sunni Arab Tikrit as a stepping stone for the reconquest of second city Mosul further north, which once had a population of two million.

Analysts say the battle for Tikrit is also a key test of how well the regular army can work with the myriad of militia groups and prevent reprisals against Sunnis.

The defense minister, himself Sunni, said he was impressed with the level of cooperation and played down concerns that victory in Tikrit could further alienate the minority community.

“What caught my attention and was very positive, was that I met a number of fighters, maybe more than 250, who are all sons of Tikrit,” he said.

“It sends a very positive message to the Iraqi people and lifts the spirit of the security forces.”

US Secretary of State John Kerry was due to discuss the ongoing fight against IS with President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on the sidelines of an investment conference in Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt later Friday.

– Boko Haram accepted –

IS has countered every military loss lately by ramping up its propaganda war with ever more shocking videos of child fighters executing prisoners or of the destruction of some of the world’s most precious heritage sites.

On Thursday, the group released an audio recording presented as a speech by top IS spokesman Abu Mohammed al-Adnani in which he formally welcomes Boko Haram into the IS fold.

Boko Haram had pledged allegiance to IS on Saturday but the move had yet to be formally accepted by IS supremo Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi for the Nigerian extremist group to become part of the “caliphate”.

“We announce to you to the good news of the expansion of the caliphate to West Africa,” Adnani said.

He insisted the group was “sure of its victory” regardless of the challenges.

“God is on our side and give us the strength to combat this armada of Crusader countries,” he said.

The group also released a video in which eight men from the region along the Euphrates River straddling Iraq and Syria are beheaded.

The video gives their names and accuses them of spying for a Syria-based rebel group opposed to IS, of supplying intelligence to the Iraqi forces and of torturing an IS member.

In Syria, where IS has also seized swathes of territory, more than 50 regime soldiers and jihadists were killed in heavy fighting in Latakia, President Bashar al-Assad’s home province, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Source: Space War.

Link: http://www.spacewar.com/reports/IS_readies_for_Tikrit_last_stand_but_expands_to_Nigeria_999.html.

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Kuwaiti police break up opposition protest calling for political reform

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Kuwaiti riot police have dispersed hundreds of Kuwaiti opposition activists who gathered outside parliament in the capital Kuwait City to demand the release of political prisoners and press for democratic reforms in the country.

The head of the Civil Democratic Movement, Tareq Al-Mutairi, said that: “everyone must assume his responsibilities towards reform… We are not asking the elected government for favors, only for our just rights. All we want is to run our own affairs, and we do not argue with the ruling party because we have democratic system in Kuwait.”

Activist Nawaf Alhandal said he was beaten by the Special Forces while the Ministry of Interior prevented the protesters from using chairs, carpets, microphones or banners at the protest venue.

The protest organizing committee said that the Interior Ministry attacked them and that the political forces will meet and issue a statement later.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/17669-kuwaiti-police-break-up-opposition-protest-calling-for-political-reform.

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Iraq launches operation to retake Tikrit from Islamic State

March 02, 2015

BAGHDAD (AP) — Backed by Iranian-supported Shiite militias, Iraqi forces launched a large-scale offensive Monday to retake Saddam Hussein’s hometown from the Islamic State group, the first in a series of campaigns to try to reclaim large parts of northern Iraq from the Sunni extremists.

Previous attempts to capture the symbolic city have failed, and hours into Monday’s operation, the military said it still hadn’t entered Tikrit, indicating a long battle lies ahead. Retaking it will help Iraqi forces secure a major supply link for any future operation to retake Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city which has been under militant rule since June.

State-run Al-Iraqiya television said that forces were attacking from different directions, backed by artillery and airstrikes by Iraqi fighter jets. It said the militants were dislodged from some areas outside the city, but several hours into the operation, it gave no additional details.

Tikrit, the provincial capital of Salauhddin province, 80 miles (130 kilometers) north of Baghdad, fell to the Islamic State group last summer, along with Mosul and other areas in the country’s Sunni heartland.

U.S. military officials have said a coordinated military mission to retake Mosul will likely begin in April or May and involve up to 25,000 Iraqi troops. But the Americans have cautioned that if the Iraqis aren’t ready, the offensive could be delayed.

The U.S.-led coalition launching airstrikes targeting the Islamic State group was not involved in the Tikrit operation, Iraqi officials said. A Pentagon spokesman, Army Col. Steve Warren, said the U.S. was alerted to the offensive before it started Monday but was not asked to provide air power.

“Right now we are not providing any air power to support the Iraqi operation in the city of Tikrit,” Warren told reporters in Washington. “We did note the Iraqi government’s statements that they are emphasizing minimization of collateral damage, and we are continuing to monitor it.”

Iraqi forces apparently have the help of Iranian Gen. Ghasem Soleimani, the commander of the elite Revolutionary Guard’s Quds Force, who arrived two days ago, the Iranian semi-official Fars news agency reported.

The powerful general has emerged as the chief tactician in Iraq’s fight against the Sunni militants, working on the front lines alongside dozens of advisers from his country’s Revolutionary Guard to direct Shiite militiamen and government forces in the smallest details of battle.

Fars also reported drones were flying over Tikrit, without identifying whether they were Iranian or Iraqi. The military commander of Salahuddin region, Gen. Abdul-Wahab al-Saadi, told state TV fighting was taking place outside Tikrit mainly on its eastern side.

“Until this moment we have not entered the city,” al-Saadi said. “God willing, we will enter, but we need some time as planned. … God willing, victory will be achieved and Salahuddin will be turned into a grave for all terrorist groups.”

Tikrit is an important test case for Iraq’s Shiite-led government, which is trying to reassert authority over the divided country. Islamic State fighters have a strong presence in the city and are expected to put up fierce resistance.

Past attempts to retake Tikrit have failed, as Iraq struggles with its armed forces, which collapsed in the wake of the Islamic State group’s offensive last summer. The offensive comes as momentum has begun to shift since Iraqi soldiers, backed by airstrikes from the U.S.-led coalition, took back the nearby refinery town of Beiji in November. Any operation to take Mosul would require Iraq to seize Tikrit first because of its strategic location for military enforcements.

Iraq is bitterly split between minority Sunnis, who were an important base of support for Saddam, and the Shiite majority. Since Saddam was toppled in a U.S.-led invasion in 2003, the Sunni minority has felt increasingly marginalized by the Shiite-led government in Baghdad, and in 2006 long-running tensions boiled over into sectarian violence that claimed tens of thousands of lives.

While state TV said Shiite and Sunni tribal fighters were cooperating in Monday’s offensive, Tikrit is an important Sunni stronghold, and the presence of Shiite forces could prompt a backlash among Sunnis. The Iraqi military is heavily dependent on Shiite militias that have been accused of abusing Sunni communities elsewhere in Iraq.

Hours after the offensive began, the U.N. special envoy in Iraq appealed to warring groups to avoid attacking civilians. “Military operations reinforced by international and Iraqi air support must be conducted with the utmost care to avoid civilian casualties, and with full respect for fundamental human rights principles and humanitarian law,” Nickolay Mladenov said in a statement.

Monday afternoon, a gasoline tanker rigged with a bomb exploded as soldiers and Shiite militiamen tried to dismantle it in the village of al-Jalam south of Tikrit, killing seven troops and wounding 15, police and hospital officials said.

Al-Jalam, a farming area that has been a stronghold of Sunni militants, is located outside the Sunni city of Samarra, 95 kilometers (60 miles) north of Baghdad. All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to journalists.

Ahead of the operation, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, a Shiite, called on Sunni tribal fighters to abandon the Islamic State extremist group, offering what he described as “the last chance” and promising them a pardon.

“I call upon those who have been misled or committed a mistake to lay down arms and join their people and security forces in order to liberate their cities,” al-Abadi said Sunday during a news conference in Samarra.

His comments appeared to be targeting former members of Iraq’s outlawed Baath party, loyalists to Saddam, who joined the Islamic State group during its offensive, as well as other Sunnis who were dissatisfied with Baghdad’s Shiite-led government.

Saddam, whose Sunni-dominated government ruled the country for some two decades, was executed after his ouster. Tikrit frequently saw attacks on U.S. forces during the American occupation of the country.

Associated Press writers Amir Vahdat in Tehran, Robert Burns in Washington and Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this report.

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Iraqi premier gives ultimatum ahead of hinted Tikrit attack

March 01, 2015

BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraq’s prime minister called on Sunni tribal fighters to abandon the Islamic State group Sunday, ahead of a promised offensive to retake Saddam Hussein’s hometown from the extremists.

Haider al-Abadi offered no timeline for an attack on Tikrit, the hometown of the late Iraqi dictator some 130 kilometers (80 miles) north of Baghdad that fell into the hands of the Islamic State group last summer. However, Shiite militias and Iraqi security forces have stationed themselves around Tikrit as state-run media has warned that the city “will soon return to its people.”

But sending Shiite militias into the Sunni city of Tikrit, the capital of Iraq’s Salahuddin province, could reprise the bloody, street-by-street insurgent battles that followed the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. On Saturday, two suicide car bombers killed 16 nearby Shiite militiamen and wounded 31.

Al-Abadi offered what he called “the last chance” for Sunni tribal fighters, promising them a pardon during a news conference in Samarra, 95 kilometers (60 miles) north of Baghdad. His office said he arrived in Samarra to “supervise the operation to liberate Tikrit from the terrorist gangs.”

“I call upon those who have been misled or committed a mistake to lay down arms and join their people and security forces in order to liberate their cities,” al-Abadi said. Al-Abadi said the operation will see troops come from several directions, but he declined to give an exact time for the operation’s start. However, his presence in Samarra suggests it could come soon. A statement from his office late Sunday announced the start of a security operation to “liberate” Salahuddin province, though there were no initial reports of any military action underway.

The Iraqi military previously launched an operation in late June to try to wrest back control of Tikrit, but that quickly stalled. Other planned offensives by Iraq’s military, which collapsed under the initial Islamic State group blitz, also have failed to make up ground, though soldiers have taken back the nearby refinery town of Beiji, backed by airstrikes from a U.S.-led coalition.

Tikrit, which occasionally saw attacks on U.S. forces during the American occupation of the country, is one of the biggest cities held by the Islamic State group. It also sits on the road to Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, which is also held by the extremists. Any operation to take Mosul likely would require Iraq to seize Tikrit first.

Al-Abadi’s comments appear to be targeting former members of Iraq’s outlawed Baath party, loyalists to Saddam Hussein, who joined the Islamic State group during its offensive, as well as other Sunnis who were dissatisfied with Baghdad’s Shiite-led government. The premier likely hopes to peel away some support from the Islamic State group, especially as Iraqis grow increasingly horrified by the extremists’ mass killings and other atrocities.

In February alone, violence across Iraq killed at least 1,100 Iraqis, including more than 600 civilians, the U.N. Assistance Mission in Iraq said Sunday. U.N. envoy Nickolay Mladenov blamed the deaths on the extremist group, government forces and pro-government Shiite militias.

“Daily terrorist attacks perpetrated by ISIL continue to deliberately target all Iraqis,” Mladenov said, using an alternate acronym for the Islamic State group. “There are also concerning reports of a number of revenge killings by armed groups in areas recently liberated from ISIL.”

Last year was the deadliest in Iraq since its 2006-2007 sectarian bloodshed, with a total of 12,282 people killed and 23,126 wounded, according to the U.N.

Associated Press writer Sinan Salaheddin contributed to this report.

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Bosnia to send ammunition to Iraq

11 March 2015 Wednesday

Bosnia is to donate 572 tons of ammunition to Iraq to help the fight against ISIL, Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Defense Ministry has said.

The ministry said in a statement on Wednesday a shipment of about 15 million rounds of 7.9mm and 400,000 14.5 mm caliber bullets from surplus ammunition owned by the Armed Forces of Bosnia and Herzegovina would be sent to the country.

The ministry said: “Bosnia and Herzegovina has been a member of the coalition in the fight against the Islamic state since 2014 and, in addition to political and diplomatic support, Bosnia and Herzegovina had decided on concrete assistance in the form of a donation of surplus ammunition to the government of Iraq.”

The order was issued by the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina after the United States requested Bosnia and Herzegovina join the fight against Daesh, previously referred to as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant.

While no exact date was announced by the ministry, it said the U.S. embassy would provide assistance in distributing the ammunition.

Since the end of Bosnian War, the country has held 16,000 tons of surplus ammunition and 40,000 items of weaponry which it intends to dispose of by 2020 as it becomes increasingly unreliable.

Source: World Bulletin.

Link: http://www.worldbulletin.net/todays-news/156453/bosnia-to-send-ammunition-to-iraq.

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