Archive for September, 2017
March 9, 2017
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi pledged to target Daesh bases in neighboring countries, namely Syria, if they pose a threat to Iraq, AlKhaleejOnlne.com reported yesterday.
On the margin of his participation in a meeting in the north of the country, Al-Abadi said: “With all respect to the sovereignty of all countries, I will never hesitate to target Daesh bases in the neighboring countries after getting their permission.”
He warned that the continuous battles in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Libya would proliferate terror.
Regarding the losses caused to his country due to Daesh attacks, he said: “The cost of damages to infrastructure caused by Daesh is estimated at about $35 billion.”
Meanwhile, he called for the international community to contribute to rebuilding the country and regaining stability in the areas liberated from Daesh.
Al-Abadi also called for Iraqi forces to unite under a national umbrella that takes the responsibility of protecting the country.
“I call for uniting the Iraqi forces,” he said, “there should not be forces affiliating to parties or political sides, but Iraqi forces for all Iraqis.”
Source: Middle East Monitor.
MOSUL – Iraqi forces on Thursday thrust into Mosul airport on the southern edge of the jihadist stronghold for the first time since the Islamic State group overran the region in 2014.
Backed by jets, gunships and drones, forces blitzed their way across open areas south of Mosul and entered the airport compound, apparently meeting limited resistance but strafing the area for suspected snipers.
“Right now thank God we’re inside Mosul airport and in front of its terminal. Our troops are liberating it,” Hisham Abdul Kadhem, a commander in the interior ministry’s Rapid Response units, said inside the airport.
Little was left standing inside the perimeter and what used to be the runway was littered with dirt and rubble.
Most buildings were completely leveled but Iraqi forces celebrated the latest landmark in the four-month-old offensive to retake Mosul.
While Iraqi forces were not yet deployed in the northern part of the sprawling airport compound and sappers cautiously scanned the site for explosive devices, IS appeared to offer limited resistance.
As Iraqi forces approached the airport moments earlier, attack helicopters fired rockets at an old sugar factory that stands next to the perimeter wall, sending a cloud of ash floating across the area.
The push on the airport was launched at dawn and Iraqi forces stormed it within hours from the southwest.
– US forces –
The regional command said elite forces from the Counter-Terrorism Service were simultaneously attacking the neighboring Ghazlani military base, where some of them were stationed before IS seized Mosul in June 2014.
Control of the base and airport would set government forces up to enter Mosul neighborhoods on the west bank of the Tigris, a month after declaring full control of the east bank.
All of the city’s bridges across the river are damaged.
The US-led coalition has played a key role in supporting Iraqi forces with air strikes and advisers on the ground, and on Thursday US forces were seen on the front lines.
The American troops are not supposed to be doing the actual fighting but in recent weeks have got so close to the front that they have come under attack, coalition spokesman Colonel John Dorrian said.
“They have come under fire at different times, they have returned fire at different times, in and around Mosul,” Dorrian told reporters on Wednesday.
He declined to say if there had been any US casualties in the attacks, but an unnamed official later told CNN that several personnel had been evacuated from the battlefield.
The latest push to retake Mosul, the country’s second city and the last stronghold of the jihadists in Iraq, was launched on Sunday and involves thousands of security personnel.
They started closing in on the airport four days ago. It is unclear how many jihadists tried to defend the airport but US officials said Monday that only around 2,000 remain in Mosul.
There are an estimated 750,000 civilians trapped on the city’s west bank, which is a bit smaller than the east side but more densely populated.
It includes the Old City and its narrow streets, which will make for a difficult terrain when Iraqi forces reach it because they will be impassable for some military vehicles.
– Letters from the east –
The noose has for months now been tightening around Mosul and the living conditions for civilians are fast deteriorating.
Residents reached by phone spoke of dwindling food supplies forcing many families to survive on just one meal a day.
Medical workers say the weakest are beginning to die of the combined effect of malnutrition and the lack of medicines, which IS fighters are keeping for themselves.
An army plane late Wednesday dropped thousands of letters written by residents of the retaken east bank to their fellow citizens across the river.
“Be patient and help each other… the end of injustice is near,” read one of them which was signed “People from the east side.”
“Stay in your homes and cooperate with the security forces. They are your brothers, they came to liberate you,” read another.
A smaller than expected proportion of the east side’s population fled when Iraqi forces stormed it nearly four months ago but the United Nations is bracing for a bigger exodus from the west.
It had said 250,000 people or more could flee their homes on the west bank and has scrambled to set up new displacement camps around the city.
Source: Middle East Online.
February 22, 2017
BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraq’s government-sanctioned paramilitary forces, made up mainly of Shiite militiamen, have launched a new push to capture villages west of the city of Mosul from Islamic State militants.
The forces’ spokesman, Ahmed al-Asadi, said on Wednesday that the villages are located southwest of the town of Tal Afar, still held by the Islamic State group. He didn’t provide details but the move by the umbrella group of mostly Shiite militias known as the Popular Mobilization Forces is likely coordinated with government effort to recapture western part of Mosul from IS.
Iraqi government forces this week took a hilltop area overlooking the Mosul city airport. The Shiite militias already hold a small airport outside Tal Afar, which is s located some 93 miles (150 kilometers) east of the Syrian border.
February 19, 2017
MOSUL, Iraq (AP) — Iraqi forces launched an operation Sunday to retake the western half of Mosul from the Islamic State group. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced the start of the operation early Sunday morning on state television, saying government forces were moving to “liberate the people of Mosul from Daesh oppression forever”, using the Arabic acronym for IS.
Southwest of Mosul, near the city’s IS-held airport, plumes of smoke were seen rising into the sky as coalition aircraft bombed militant positions. Further south at an Iraqi base, federal police forces were gathering and getting ready to move north.
Iraqi forces took control of eastern Mosul last month, but the west remains in the hands of entrenched extremists. Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, is roughly split in half by the Tigris River. The battle for Mosul’s western half is expected to be prolonged and difficult, due to denser population and older, narrower streets.
February 18, 2017
An Iraqi human rights organization has called on urgent help to prevent a “humanitarian catastrophe” after it said that approximately 25 children had passed away after starving to death in areas west of Mosul due to a lack of support from the central authorities in Baghdad or the international community.
The Iraqi Observatory for Human Rights (IOHR), based in Iraq itself, said that “the [western] half of the city of Mosul, where 140,000 children live, is afflicted by starvation after food supplies ran out, along with a lack of milk and a lack of potable water.”
The IOHR said that, as a result, children were dying of hunger and thirst.
The Observatory also confirmed that they had seen evidence that 25 children had died of starvation in January alone, as Daesh extremists and the Iraqi government, backed by the US-led coalition and Iran-backed Shia jihadists, fight over Mosul.
Women in Mosul were also starving, and therefore mothers were finding it extremely hard to produce milk to breastfeed their children, leading to an ever deteriorating situation in Iraq’s second city.
The IOHR called on the Iraqi government and international aid organisations to do more to “open up air corridors in order to drop milk and foodstuffs for starving children in the western half of the city of Mosul,” adding that the Iraqi government must “prevent the exacerbation of child mortality rates that has arisen due to starvation.”
“[The Iraqi government] must also prevent Daesh from succeeding in its plan to besiege civilians in Mosul,” the IOHR said in a statement.
The Observatory also called upon the provincial authorities of Ninawa province to do more to challenge Baghdad and the United Nations, and to encourage them to support the people of Mosul who have been victims of not only Daesh extremists, but also Iraqi regime bombardment and the depravations of Shia jihadists.
Source: Middle East Monitor.
MOSUL – Iraqi forces have thwarted an attempt by around 200 jihadist fighters to flee their bastion of Tal Afar towards Syria, west of the city of Mosul, a security spokesman said Monday.
Forces from the Hashed al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilization), a paramilitary organisation dominated by Shiite militia groups, said the Islamic State group used tanks in their bid to break out of Tal Afar.
“The attack by the Daesh (IS) terrorist gangs started at around 7:00 pm (1600 GMT on Sunday), the fighting lasted around six hours,” their spokesman Ahmed al-Assadi said.
Hashed forces have been deployed in desert areas west of Mosul since federal forces launched a massive operation to retake the city from IS on October 17.
Their main goals are to retake Tal Afar, a Turkmen-majority city which is still held by IS, and to prevent the jihadists from being able to move men and equipment between Mosul and their strongholds in Syria.
“This was an attempt by Daesh to open a breach, flee to the Syria border and exfiltrate some leaders and fighters,” Assadi said.
He said that Hashed forces received support from army aviation helicopters when IS attacked them. He added that the fighting left around 50 IS members killed and 17 of their vehicles destroyed.
Assadi did not provide a casualty figure for the Hashed al-Shaabi following the attack, which took place around 20 kilometers (12 miles) southwest of Tal Afar.
IS jihadists are confined to a corridor between Tal Afar and Mosul by tens of thousands of forces deployed on several fronts.
After retaking the eastern side of Mosul last month, Iraqi forces are preparing to launch an assault on the west bank of the city.
The early stages of the Mosul offensive saw IS move fighters between Mosul and the Syrian city of Raqa, its other major urban stronghold, but their supply lines have now been cut off.
Source: Middle East Online.
January 24, 2017
BAGHDAD (AP) — The U.N. and several aid organizations say an estimated 750,000 civilians are still living under Islamic State rule in Mosul despite recent advances by Iraqi forces. Lise Grande, the U.N. Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq, said in a statement Tuesday that the cost of food and basic goods is soaring, water and electricity are intermittent and that some residents are forced to burn furniture to keep warm.
The statement was co-signed by 20 international and local aid groups operating in the country. Iraqi forces announced the liberation of eastern Mosul earlier this month as part of a three-month-old offensive aimed at driving the militants out of Iraq’s second largest city. The U.N. migration agency says the Mosul operation has displaced more than 140,000 people.
MOSUL – Iraqi forces have fully retaken east Mosul from the Islamic State group, a top commander said on Wednesday, three months after a huge offensive against the jihadist bastion was launched.
Elite forces have in recent days entered the last neighborhoods on the eastern side of Mosul, on the left bank of the Tigris River that runs through the city.
Speaking at a press conference in Bartalla, a town east of Mosul, Staff General Talib al-Sheghati, who heads the Counter-Terrorism Service, announced “the liberation… of the left bank”.
Sheghati added however that while the east of the city could be considered under government control, some work remained to be done to flush out the last holdout jihadists.
The important lines and important areas are finished,” he said, adding that “there is only a bit of the northern (front) remaining.”
Wednesday’s announcement marks the end of a phase in the operation launched on October 17 to retake Mosul, Iraq’s second city and the last major urban stronghold IS has in the country.
The offensive, Iraq’s largest military operation in years with tens of thousands of fighters involved, began with a focus on sparsely populated areas around Mosul.
CTS entered the city proper in November and encountered tougher than expected resistance from IS, whose fighters launched a huge number of suicide car bombs against advancing Iraqi forces.
The going was tough for weeks but a fresh push coordinated with other federal forces and backed by the US-led coalition was launched in December and yielded quick and decisive gains.
The west bank of Mosul is a bit smaller but is home to the narrow streets of the Old City — impassable to most military vehicles — and to some of the city’s traditionally most dyed-in-the-wool jihadist neighborhoods.
Brigadier General Yahya Rasool also stressed that despite Sheghati’s announcement, there would be more fighting in east Mosul in the coming days.
– Narrow streets –
“Sheghati is the head of CTS and he was talking about areas under CTS control. There are some neighborhoods that are still being liberated and that could take a few days,” he told AFP.
All the bridges across the Tigris in Mosul have been either blown up by IS or destroyed by coalition air strikes, which has made it very difficult for Iraqi forces to resupply its fighters in the city’s east.
It will also make it difficult for elite Iraqi forces to attack the west bank without redeploying to other fronts west of the river that have been largely static for weeks.
Interior ministry and federal police forces have held positions just south of Mosul airport, which lies on the southern edge of the city and west of the Tigris, since November.
Punching into densely populated areas however and confronting intense resistance from IS in urban environments is a type of operation which is left largely to CTS.
The fighting inside Mosul has been complicated by the continued presence of much of its population, which did not or could not flee when Iraqi forces started advancing.
According to the United Nations, around 150,000 people are currently displaced as a result of the three-month-old offensive.
Mosul lies around 350 kilometers (220 miles) northwest of Baghdad in the country’s north and had an estimated population of close to two million when IS overran it in early June 2014.
Jihadist supremo Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi proclaimed a “caliphate” straddling parts of Iraq and Syria from a mosque on the west bank of Mosul days later.
The full recapture of Mosul by government forces would effectively end IS’s days as a land-holding force in Iraq and deal a death blow to its claim of running a state.
Observers have said they expect a short lull in operations after east Mosul is brought fully under control.
Source: Middle East Online.
FALLUJAH – More than six months after Iraqi forces retook Fallujah from the Islamic State group, reconstruction is slow and the government risks alienating those residents who have returned to the city.
“There are no members of the Daesh terrorist organization left in Fallujah,” the police chief, Colonel Jamal al-Jumaili, said, using an Arabic acronym for IS.
“Fallujah is a safe city,” he insisted.
Iraqi forces retook Fallujah, an emblematic jihadist bastion just 50 kilometers (30 miles) west of Baghdad, in June 2016 with relative ease but that victory came at a hefty price.
A large number of homes were destroyed by the fighting and several neighborhoods are still off-limits to civilians due to the possible presence of booby-traps planted by IS in their retreat.
The Norwegian Refugee Council said last month that only about 10 percent of homes in Fallujah were inhabitable.
“Nothing works here, there’s no water, no electricity and houses have been destroyed,” said Firas Mahmud, a 25-year-old who returned to Fallujah after IS was defeated and is currently unemployed.
Another man met on the street in Fallujah had the same grievances and complained of the lack of services and jobs.
“The authorities must do something,” said the young man, who gave his name as Mustafa.
The Fallujah municipality defended its record but Mayor Issa al-Sayer mostly called for “the help of the international community to allow Fallujah residents to live in stability.”
– Lack of funds –
Baghdad has promised to enable the speedy return of Fallujah residents, who were all displaced during the reconquest of their city, but the government is cash-strapped.
Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s government “lacks or may lack the focus and resources to adequately budget for an adequate reconstruction effort,” said Omar Lamrani, an analyst with the Stratfor think tank.
“Baghdad’s finances are already stretched with low energy prices and the costly demands of war, and corruption and cronyism affect the direction of the limited funds available,” he said.
The risk that observers were warning against before the operation to retake Fallujah even started is that unkept promises will fuel a sense among its Sunni residents that they are being marginalized by the government, which is dominated by Shiite parties.
Fallujah has long been known as a rebel city and over the past decade and a half been a hub of opposition, first to occupying US-led forces and then to the Iraqi government.
In the winter of 2012-2013, protests spread across Anbar province, in which Fallujah lies, complaining that Iraq’s Sunni minority was being stigmatized by then prime minister Nuri al-Maliki.
In January 2014, rebels took control of the city, which was eventually overrun by jihadists from what became known as the Islamic State group.
To retake Fallujah, Baghdad relied on its regular forces but also on the Hashed al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilization), a paramilitary organisation dominated by Shiite militia groups with close ties to Iran.
– Hashed presence –
The police chief insisted that “only the army and the police are present” inside the city. Hashed al-Shaabi forces hold positions in towns and rural areas around the city, he said.
Some residents of the overwhelmingly Sunni area continue to be afraid of the Hashed al-Shaabi, some of whose components have been accused of sectarian-motivated abuses against civilians.
United Nations human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said in July that there was strong evidence that Ketaeb Hezbollah, one of the main militias that fought alongside security forces in the operation, carried out atrocities.
Such allegations complicate the government’s efforts to win over the population, “a critical step if it wishes to maintain a secure control over the city in the long run,” Lamrani said.
Hashed “leadership has increasingly exerted efforts recently to crack down on negative sectarianism, though such behavior unfortunately continues to exist at some level in the lower ranks,” he said.
The analyst warned the same concern applied to Mosul, IS’s last major stronghold in Iraq.
Three months into a huge operation, the head of Iraq’s special forces announced that the eastern side of the city had been “liberated” but the other half is still fully under IS control.
Hashed forces have cleared vast, mostly desert areas southwest of Mosul but not entered the city.
Source: Middle East Online.
August 28, 2017
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Hamas’ new leader in the Gaza Strip said Monday his group has repaired relations with Iran after a five-year rift and is using its newfound financial and military aid to gear up for new hostilities with Israel.
The announcement by Yehiyeh Sinwar came as U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was visiting Israel. At a meeting with the U.N. chief, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu complained about what he called rising anti-Israel activity by Iran and its allies in the region.
Iran was once the top backer of Hamas, an Islamic militant group that seeks Israel’s destruction. But Hamas broke with Iran in 2012 after the group refused to support Iran’s close ally, Syrian President Bashar Assad, in the Syrian civil war.
During a four-hour meeting with journalists, Sinwar said those ties have been restored and are stronger than ever. “Today, the relationship with Iran is excellent, or very excellent,” Sinwar said. He added that the Islamic Republic is “the largest backer financially and militarily” to Hamas’ military wing.
It was the first time that Sinwar has met reporters since he was elected in February. The 55-year-old Sinwar, who spent two decades in Israeli prison after being convicted of masterminding the abduction and killing of two Israeli soldiers, has close ties with Hamas’ militant wing and takes a hard line toward Israel.
Israel and Iran are bitter enemies, and Israel has recently expressed concern that Iran and its Lebanese proxy Hezbollah are seeking a permanent military presence in Syria near the Israeli border. Both Hezbollah fighters and Iran have backed Assad’s forces in the Syrian war.
In his meeting with Guterres, Netanyahu alleged Iran is building sites in Syria and Lebanon to produce “precision-guided missiles” to be used against Israel. “Iran is busy turning Syria into a base of military entrenchment, and it wants to use Syria and Lebanon as warfronts against its declared goal to eradicate Israel,” Netanyahu said. “This is something Israel cannot accept. This is something the U.N. should not accept.”
Israel has also accused the U.N. peacekeeping force in Lebanon, UNIFIL, of failing to prevent Hezbollah from smuggling huge quantities of weapons into southern Lebanon in violation of a 2006 cease-fire. UNIFIL’s mandate is up for renewal at the end of the month and Israel is pressing for the force to have an increased presence to better monitor and prevent the alleged Hezbollah arms buildup.
UNIFIL’s commander, Maj. Gen. Michael Beary, told The Associated Press last week that he has no evidence that weapons are being illegally transferred and stockpiled in the Hezbollah-dominated south. But Guterres promised Netanyahu that he will do everything in my capacity” to ensure UNIFIL fulfills its obligations.
“I understand the security concerns of Israel and I repeat that the idea or the intention or the will to destroy the state of Israel is something totally unacceptable from my perspective,” he said. Responding to Israeli claims that the U.N. is biased, Guterres stressed his commitment to “treating all states equally.” He said those who call for Israel’s destruction peddle in a “form of modern anti-Semitism” — though he also said he doesn’t always agree with the country’s policies.
Guterres heads to the West Bank on Tuesday and is scheduled to visit Gaza on Wednesday. The U.N. maintains major operations in Gaza, running schools and health clinics and delivering humanitarian aid. Guterres is not scheduled to speak to Hamas.
Late Monday, Guterres met with Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, commander of COGAT, the defense body that is responsible for Palestinian civilian affairs. Mordechai blamed Hamas for the poor conditions in Gaza, saying the group tries to exploit civilians and aid programs. He also said Hamas’ refusal to return the remains of two dead Israeli soldiers, along with two Israeli civilians it is holding, hinders Israeli efforts to assist Gaza.
“The terror organization Hamas does not hesitate at all and repeatedly exploits the Gaza residents by attempting to take advantage of Israel’s assistance, despite the severe civil hardships in the strip,” Mordechai said.
Guterres later met with the families of the dead soldiers and captive Israeli civilians. In his briefing with reporters, Sinwar would not say how much aid Iran provides his group. Before the 2012 breakup, Iran provided an estimated $50 million a month to Hamas.
Hamas wrested control of Gaza from the Western-backed President Mahmoud Abbas’ forces in 2007. Since then, it has fought three wars with Israel. Hamas has killed hundreds of Israelis in suicide bombings, shootings and other attacks. It is considered a terrorist group by Israel, the United States and the European Union.
Sinwar stressed that the Iranian aid is for “rebuilding and accumulating” Hamas’ military powers for a larger fight against Israel that is meant to “liberate Palestine.” “Thousands of people work every day to make rockets, (dig) tunnels and train frogmen,” he said. “The relationship with Iran is in this context.”
But the shadowy leader said his movement does not intend to start a fourth war with Israel, instead preferring to remedy dire living conditions in the impoverished coastal enclave. Israel and Egypt imposed a blockade on Gaza after the Hamas takeover a decade ago. Trying to pressure Hamas and regain control, Abbas has asked Israel to reduce electricity supplies to Gaza, and he has slashed the salaries of thousands of his former government employees there.
The result is that Gaza suffers acute power outages of up to 16 hours a day, unemployment of nearly 50 percent and widespread poverty. Sinwar has turned to Egypt, which has begun to ease the blockade as it seeks Hamas’ help in controlling their border. The Egyptian military has been fighting an Islamic insurgency in the Sinai desert, near Gaza.
Relations with Cairo “have improved dramatically,” Sinwar said. Egypt has recently sent fuel to ease the power crisis in response to Hamas’ building of a buffer zone along the border. “We will knock on all the doors, except that of the (Israeli) occupation, to resolve the problems,” he said.
Sinwar was among more than 1,000 Palestinians released by Israel in 2011 in exchange for an Israeli soldier, Gilad Schalit, whom Hamas kidnapped in 2006. Sinwar said there would be no new talks over a prisoner swap until Israel frees 54 prisoners released in the Schalit swap that have been re-arrested.
“We are ready to start negotiations through a mediator, but only when the table is cleaned. Freed prisoners must feel they are immune.”
Federman reported from Jerusalem.