Archive for November, 2015

Under Iraqi town, IS militants built network of tunnels

November 25, 2015

IRBIL, Iraq (AP) — Under the Iraqi town of Sinjar, Islamic State group militants built a network of tunnels, complete with sleeping quarters, wired with electricity and fortified with sandbags. There, they had boxes of U.S.-made ammunition, medicines and copies of the Quran stashed on shelves.

The Associated Press obtained extensive video footage of the tunnels, which were uncovered by Kurdish forces that took the city in northwestern Iraq earlier this month after more than a year of IS rule.

“We found between 30 and 40 tunnels inside Sinjar,” said Shamo Eado, a commander from Sinjar from the Iraqi Kurdish fighters known as peshmerga. “It was like a network inside the city.” “Daesh dug these trenches in order to hide from airstrikes and have free movement underground as well as to store weapons and explosives,” Eado said using an Arabic acronym for the Islamic State group. “This was their military arsenal.”

The video, shot by a freelancer touring the town with Kurdish fighters, showed two tunnels running several hundred meters (yards), each starting and ending from houses, through holes knocked in walls or floors.

The narrow tunnels, carved in the rock apparently with jackhammers or other handheld equipment, are just tall enough for a man to stand in. Rows of sandbags line sections of the walls, electrical wires power fans and lights and metal braces reinforce the ceilings. One section of the tunnel resembled a bunker. Dusty copies of the Quran sit above piles of blankets and pillows. Prescription drugs — painkillers and antibiotics — lie scattered along the floor.

In another section of the tunnel, the footage shows stocks of ammunition, including American-made cartridges and bomb-making tools. IS has been digging tunnels for protection and movement throughout the territory it controls in Iraq and Syria, even before the U.S.-led coalition launched its campaign of airstrikes against the group more than a year ago. “This has been part of ISIS’ strategy from the very beginning,” said Lina Khatib a senior research associate at the Arab Reform initiative, a Paris-based think-tank. “ISIS has been well prepared for this kind of intervention.”

The Islamic State group took control of Sinjar in August 2014, killing and capturing thousands of the town’s mostly Yazidi residents. Yazidis, a religious minority in Iraq with roots that date back to ancient Mesopotamia, are considered heretics by the hard-line Islamic State group. Hundreds of women are thought to still be in IS captivity, those who have escaped say many Yazidi women are forced to convert to Islam and marry IS fighters.

After pushing IS out of Sinjar, peshmerga officials and local residents have uncovered two mass graves in the area. One, not far from the city center is estimated to hold 78 elderly women’s bodies. The second grave uncovered about 9 miles (15 kilometers) west of Sinjar contained between 50 and 60 bodies of men, women and children.

Eado, the peshmerga commander, said that as Kurdish forces clear Sinjar of explosives, he expects to find more tunnels and evidence of atrocities. “It’s just a matter of time,” he said.

Associated Press writers Salar Salim in Irbil, Iraq, and Susannah George in Baghdad, Iraq, contributed to this report.

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Iraq’s Ahmad Chalabi, leading voice behind 2003 war, dies

November 03, 2015

BAGHDAD (AP) — Ahmad Chalabi, a prominent Iraqi politician who became a Pentagon favorite when he helped convince the Bush administration to overthrow Saddam Hussein in 2003 by pushing false allegations of weapons of mass destruction and links to al-Qaida, died Tuesday of a heart attack. He was 71.

Iraqi state TV said he died in Baghdad but did not provide further details. Chalabi, a secular Shiite politician who lived in exile for decades, was a leading proponent of the invasion and had close ties to many in the Bush administration, who viewed him as a favorite to lead Iraq.

However, he had a falling out with the Pentagon after the invasion, and was largely sidelined by other Iraqi leaders, many with close ties to neighboring Iran. Chalabi had most recently been serving as the chairman of parliament’s finance committee, and was previously a deputy prime minister.

To his supporters in Iraq, Chalabi was a campaigner for democracy who deserves credit for Saddam’s removal. “It is a very bad day for Iraq,” Shiite lawmaker Muwaffak al-Rubaie, a former national security adviser, told The Associated Press. “He was one of the most seasoned and pioneering politicians. Chalabi worked for a democratic, liberal Iraq … I am glad he died peacefully.”

But Robert Baer, a former CIA officer who met with Chalabi repeatedly in the mid-1990s and in the lead-up to the 2003 war, called him a “con man” who was able to manipulate American politicians. “He was the most charming man I’ve had to deal with at the CIA and the most educated,” Baer told the AP. “He understood American politics and he understood the American political narrative better than most Americans.”

The scion of a wealthy Baghdad family, Chalabi fled Iraq as a teenager when the monarchy was overthrown. He earned a bachelor’s degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1965, and then went on to get a PhD in mathematics at the University of Chicago.

He became a leading figure in Iraq’s exiled opposition in the 1990s and cultivated close ties with the future Vice President Dick Cheney and Washington’s so-called neo-conservatives, who favored a more muscular U.S. policy in the Middle East.

After the Sept. 11 attacks, Chalabi played a key role in convincing the administration that the Iraqi government had weapons of mass destruction and ties to al-Qaida, unfounded claims at the heart of the case for war.

“There are weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and Saddam has them, and they are developing them continuously, and I think, if there is a correct way to look for them, they will be found,” Chalabi told AP television in 2003.

After the invasion, Chalabi was appointed to the 25-member Iraqi governing council and earned a seat directly behind First Lady Laura Bush during the 2004 State of the Union. “He more than any other Iraqi helped get rid of Saddam,” said Sajad Jiyad, a fellow at the Iraqi Institute for Economic Reform in Baghdad. “He brought together all the opposition parties — Islamists, communists, ex-Baathists, secularists, nationalists.”

Chalabi went on to chair Iraq’s de-Baathification Committee, which worked to purge the government of Saddam loyalists but was seen by the country’s Sunni minority as a means of sectarian score-settling by the country’s newly empowered Shiite majority.

Baer, the former CIA officer, said Chalabi’s role in de-Baathification in particular was severely destructive. “He alienated the Sunnis more than anyone” else in Iraq, Baer said. Chalabi’s relationship with the U.S. soured in the months after the invasion, and in 2004 U.S. forces raided his home on suspicions that he was funneling intelligence to Iran.

In 2010, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Christopher Hill said Chalabi was “under the influence of Iran,” and “a gentleman who has been challenged over the years to be seen as a straightforward individual.” After a closed-door briefing with Chalabi in 2005, then-Representative Christopher Shays told The AP: “I wouldn’t be surprised if he told Iranians facts, issues, whatever, we did not want them to know in order to develop a relationship.”

Chalabi strongly denied the allegations, dismissing them as politically motivated. Chalabi also faced accusations of financial impropriety throughout his career linked to business dealings in neighboring Jordan.

In 1992, a Jordanian court tried and convicted Chalabi in absentia for bank fraud in connection with the collapse of Petra Bank, an institution he established in the late 1980s with the help of members of the Jordanian royal family. After quickly becoming one of the country’s leading banks, it collapsed in 1990 with millions missing in deposits. He fled the country days after Jordanian authorities took control of the bank.

An audit commissioned by Jordan months later found Petra Bank had overstated its assets by more than $300 million. Chalabi was sentenced to 22 years of hard labor in prison and ordered to pay back $230 million of the bank’s funds the court said he embezzled, a sentence he never served.

He repeatedly denied the charges, and filed a suit in the U.S. against the Jordanian government, claiming the ruling was politically motivated. King Abdullah II of Jordan eventually pardoned Chalabi after he assumed the post of deputy prime minister of Iraq.

In recent years, Chalabi focused his efforts on budget talks and working to expose fraud within the government. He also lent support to the 2011 uprising in Bahrain, led by that country’s Shiite majority against its Sunni monarchy.

His Baghdad home was a testament to one of his passions — art collecting — with paintings lining the hallways and exotic sculptures decorating each room. As recently as a month ago, he regularly attended events at the Baghdad National Theatre and other music and art venues.

He is survived by his wife Leila Osseiran, the daughter of the prominent Lebanese politician Adil Osseiran, and their four children, including Tamara Chalabi, a well-known author.

Associated Press writers Vivian Salama and Susannah George in Baghdad and Joseph Krauss in Cairo contributed to this report.

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Qatar offers 100 new scholarships for Gaza university students

Monday, 02 November 2015

Qatar has announced 100 new scholarships for Gaza’s university students through Al-Fakhoora organisation, Qatar’s Al-Raya newspaper reported yesterday.

The scholarships are an extension of previous subsidies provided by Qatar, Al-Raya added, these include the reconstruction of the Strip in partnership with UNICEF, UNRWA and other international organisations.

Al-Fakhoora has already offered 600 scholarships and is due to offer 1,000 extra scholarships by 2016, in effort aimed at paving the way to educate future leaders in Gaza.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/22034-qatar-offers-100-new-scholarships-for-gaza-university-students.

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Construction begins in Bahrain of British army base

Dubai (AFP)

Nov 1, 2015

Construction work has begun in Bahrain to build Britain’s first permanent military base in the Middle East since 1971, amid security threats in the region, Bahrain’s state media reported Sunday.

“The ground-breaking ceremony for the establishment of the marine facilities headquarters in the kingdom of Bahrain” was launched on Saturday, the official BNA news agency.

The ceremony was attended by British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond and Bahraini Foreign Minister Sheikh Khalid al-Khalifa, it said.

Hammond tweeted on Saturday that “work starts today on new @RoyalNavy base at Mina Salman #Bahrain,” and said the new base “is a symbol of UK’s enduring commitment to Gulf security”.

The new base is part of a deal reached last year between the two countries to increase cooperation in tackling security threats in the Middle East.

Bahrain — which is part of a US-led coalition that has been carrying out air strikes on the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria — is already home to the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet.

Britain is part of the US-led coalition but takes part only in air strikes on Iraq, with its warplanes taking off from the Royal Air Force base at Akrotiri in Cyprus, where it also has a second garrison.

The new base in Bahrain “will enable Britain to send more and larger ships to reinforce stability in the Gulf,” British Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said last year.

Sheikh Khalid, quoted by BNA, said the construction of the new base was expected to “strengthen the partnership between the two countries and enable the forces to carry out their duties effectively”.

Construction of the base will cost 15 million ($23 million, 19 million euros) and, according to Bahrain’s Al-Wasat newspaper it should be completed next year.

Britain withdrew from bases in the Gulf in 1971, in a move that led to the independence of Bahrain and Qatar and the creation of the United Arab Emirates.

Currently Britain uses US facilites in Bahrain’s Mina Salman Port.

Source: Space War.

Link: http://www.spacewar.com/reports/Construction_begins_in_Bahrain_of_British_army_base_999.html.

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