Archive for category Iraq

Turkey to naturalize some Syrian, Iraqi refugees

2017-01-07

ISTANBUL – President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday announced that some of the millions of Syrian and Iraqis who have fled to Turkey would be given Turkish nationality.

“Our interior ministry is carrying out work, and under this work, some of them will be granted our nationality after all the necessary checks” have been carried out, Erdogan said in a speech broadcast on television.

“There are highly qualified people among them, there are engineers, lawyers, doctors. Let’s make use” of that talent, he argued.

“Instead of letting them work illegally here and there, let’s give them the chance to work as citizens, like the children of this nation,” he said.

Erdogan said the interior ministry “is ready to implement the measure at any time.” But he gave no further details, notably about how many would gain Turkish nationality.

According to Turkish government figures, the country is hosting more than three million Syrians and Iraqis who have fled war.

Erdogan outlined a naturalization plan last summer but the idea met with angry protests and xenophobic comments on social media.

The country’s political opposition saw the plan as a scheme to widen Erdogan’s electoral basis at a time when he is pushing for constitutional reform that will strengthen his powers.

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=80716.

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Kushner, Dunford meet with Iraqi prime minister

April 04, 2017

BAGHDAD (AP) — President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, and Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford met Monday in Baghdad with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.

The visit marks an early foray for the Trump administration into the situation in Iraq. It comes against the backdrop of an ongoing investigation into civilian deaths in an area of Mosul near the site of an air-strike by U.S.-led coalition forces last month.

Dunford invited Kushner and Thomas P. Bossert, a presidential assistant for homeland security and counterterrorism, on the trip to meet with Iraqi leaders and U.S. forces and receive an update on the fight against the Islamic State group. Capt. Greg Hicks, a spokesman for Dunford, said Kushner was “traveling on behalf of the president to express the president’s support and commitment to the government of Iraq and U.S. personnel currently engaged in the campaign.”

The meeting with al-Adabi came after some confusion regarding Kushner’s whereabouts Monday morning. Kushner’s travel plans initially were revealed late Sunday by a Trump administration official who said Kushner wanted to see the situation there for himself and show support for Baghdad’s government.

The official said Kushner had already arrived. But when presented with information indicating that was not accurate, the official said the timing of his arrival was unclear but confirmed that Kushner was scheduled to be in Iraq on Monday. Such visits from high-ranking officials are typically kept secret out of security concerns.

The administration official who provided the information late Sunday wasn’t authorized to speak about confidential meetings by name and demanded anonymity. Kushner’s West Wing portfolio is robust. He has been deeply involved with presidential staffing, recently launched a task force meant to modernize government using lessons drawn from the private sector, and has played the role of shadow diplomat, advising on relations with the Middle East, Canada and Mexico.

And though Kushner had no previous diplomatic or government experience, Trump also tasked him with trying to broker a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. “If you can’t produce peace in the Middle East, nobody can,” Trump told Kushner at a gala a few days before his inauguration.

Kushner was also the latest Trump associate to be swept up into the ongoing probe into contacts with Russian officials. The White House confirmed last week that he had volunteered to be interviewed by the Senate intelligence committee. North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr, the committee’s chairman, said that Kushner would likely be under oath and would submit to a “private interview” about arranging meetings with the Russian ambassador and other officials.

Kushner is married to Trump’s oldest daughter, Ivanka. He was expected to have a major role in meetings later this week between Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping at Trump’s winter retreat in Palm Beach, Florida.

His visit came just two weeks after al-Abadi said he was assured by the president the U.S. will accelerate its support for his country’s struggle against the Islamic State group. Al-Abadi met with Trump and Kushner in Washington recently and said he had the impression that the United States would take a more aggressive approach, although he did not say what that might entail.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis recently presented Trump with the outlines of a comprehensive approach to defeating IS and other extremist groups on a global scale, but specifics have yet to be worked out. Officials have indicated that the approach is unlikely to depart radically from the Obama administration’s strategy, at least with regard to ongoing efforts in Iraq and Syria.

Iraq was part of the Trump administration’s original travel ban but was removed from the revised version after a request from the Pentagon and the State Department highlighting Iraq’s key role in fighting the Islamic State. The second travel ban, which restricts immigration from six Muslim-majority countries, has been halted by a federal court. The U.S. Justice Department has announced an appeal.

Associated Press writers Jonathan Lemire, Lolita C. Baldor, Vivian Salama and Catherine Lucey in Washington contributed to this report.

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Study: Iran plays ‘destructive role’ in Iraq, Syria and 12 other nations

March 8, 2017

A joint study by two European non-governmental organisations that have strong links to EU parliamentarians and other senior European and international figures has accused Iran of meddling in the affairs of 14 Muslim-majority countries in the Middle East and playing a “destructive role” in the region.

The study by the European Iraqi Freedom Association (EIFA), led by former Scottish Conservative MEP Struan Stevenson, and the International Committee in Search for Justice (ISJ), both Brussels-based NGOs, paints a dire picture of Iranian interventionism in the region, and accuses Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) of being directly involved.

“[Iranian] meddling in the affairs of other regional countries is institutionalized and the IRGC top brass has been directly involved,” the report said, directly implicating the Iranian military and state apparatus in destabilization operations around the Middle East.

The report, released earlier this week, criticized the IRGC for undertaking a “hidden occupation” of four countries, namely Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Lebanon.

“In all four, the IRGC has a direct, considerable military presence,” the report detailed, adding that the troop presence in Syria alone in the summer of 2016 was “close to 70,000 Iranian regime proxy forces”. This included not only Iranians, but also sectarian Shia jihadists recruited, trained, funded and controlled by the IRGC, hailing from Iraq, Afghanistan and further afield.

The report exposed the locations of 14 IRGC training camps within Iran where its recruits are divided up according to their nation of origin and the tasks they are allotted, whether front line combat or international terrorist activities.

The European study said: “Every month, hundreds of forces from Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan and Lebanon – countries where the [Iranian] regime is involved in frontline combat – receive military training and are subsequently dispatched to wage terrorism and war.”

According to the researchers who compiled this report, one of the worst affected countries due to Iranian meddling and interventionism is Iraq. Even Iran’s ambassador to Iraq, Brigadier General Iraj Masjedi, who was recently appointed to the post in January 2017 used to be the head of the Iraq desk at the IRGC.

‘Designate IRGC as terrorists’

Iran has been increasingly emboldened to act since former US President Barack Obama authorized the much touted nuclear deal with the Tehran regime, the NGOs argued. The deal, brokered by the so-called P5+1, was designed to limit Iranian nuclear ambitions that likely sought to acquire atomic weapons in exchange for sanctions relief.

Since sanctions have been largely lifted at the beginning of 2016, Iran has enjoyed increased financial and economic clout, which it has subsequently invested in its efforts to destabilize and influence more than a dozen countries in the Middle East.

The main countries assessed in the report include: Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Lebanon, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Palestine. The latter is seen by experts on the region to be a public relations campaign conducted by Tehran to increase its Islamic credentials by appearing to support the Palestinians against Israel, while helping regimes around the region crush Palestinian refugee communities.

A prominent example of Iranian support for the brutal crackdowns against Palestinians was in Iraq after the illegal 2003 US-led invasion, where Palestinian refugees were perceived by Iran and their proxy Shia jihadists as being pro-Saddam Hussein. Iranian assistance for killing Palestinians also occurred in the Yarmouk refugee camp in Syria, during the ongoing war against dictator Bashar Al-Assad.

Among its recommendations in its conclusion, the report argued that the IRGC should be designated as a terrorist organisation in the US, Europe and Middle East, with its operations curtailed and the organisation expelled from the entire Middle East, especially Iraq and Syria.

The NGOs also recommended “sanctioning all financial sources and companies affiliated with the IRGC” as well as “initiating international efforts to disband paramilitary groups and terrorist networks affiliated with the [IRGC’s] Quds Force.”

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20170308-study-iran-plays-destructive-role-in-iraq-syria-and-12-other-nations/.

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France’s Holland starts official visit to Iraq

January 02, 2017

BAGHDAD (AP) — French President Francois Hollande arrived in Iraq on Monday amid a fierce fight against the Islamic State group. During his one-day visit, Hollande is scheduled to meet with Iraqi President Fuad Masum and Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi in the capital, Baghdad. Later, he’ll travel to the country’s self-governing northern Kurdish region to meet French troops and local officials.

The visit comes as Iraqi troops, backed by a U.S.-led coalition, are fighting IS in a massive operation to retake the northern city of Mosul. Iraqi state TV said Holland will discuss “increasing support to Iraq and the latest developments in the fight against Daesh,” the Arabic acronym for IS.

In quotes published by the Elysee official Twitter account, Holland promised that France would remain a long-term ally of Iraq and called for coordination between intelligence services “in a spirit of great responsibility.”

France is part of the U.S.-led international coalition formed in late 2014 to fight IS after the extremist group seized large areas in Iraq and neighboring Syria and declared an Islamic “caliphate.” France has suffered multiple terrorist attacks claimed by IS.

Hollande, on Twitter, said Iraq was in a precarious position two years ago, when IS made its blitz. But now the tide has turned. “The results are there: Daesh is in retreat and the battle of Mosul is engaged.”

Since the Mosul operation started on Oct. 17, Iraqi forces have seized around a quarter of the city. Last week, the troops resumed fighting after a two-week lull due to stiff resistance by the militants, bad weather and thousands of civilians trapped in their houses.

In an interview with The Associated Press on Sunday, the senior U.S. military commander, Brig. Gen. Rick Uribe, praised the Iraqi forces fighting mainly on the eastern side of the city, saying they were “at their peak.” Uribe agreed with al-Abadi’s assessment that it would take another three months to liberate Mosul.

He predicted the troops would face a different fight when they cross to the west bank of the Tigris River, saying it will mostly be a “dismounted” battle fought in part on narrow streets, some of which were not wide enough for a vehicle to pass.

Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city is located about 360 kilometers (225 miles) northwest of Baghdad. While the Syrian city of Raqqa is considered the caliphate’s de facto capital, Mosul is the largest city under its control. It is the last major IS urban stronghold in Iraq.

Associated Press writer Lori Hinnant in Paris contributed to this report.

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Iraq: Daesh reverse army assault in Mosul

December 7, 2016

Daesh militants have managed to force Iraqi soldiers to withdraw from districts in southeast Mosul today, less than a day after Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) claimed to have made advances towards the Tigris River, sources including an army officer and Amaq news agency have said.

The fighting came after the army’s campaign commander for the Mosul operation said soldiers surged into the city and took over the Al-Salam hospital, less than a mile (1.5 km) from the Tigris River which divides eastern and western Mosul.

Yesterday’s apparent rapid advance was thanks to an apparent change in military tactics after more than a month of grueling fighting in the east and southeast of the city, in which the army has sought to capture and clear neighborhoods block by block.

However, the new tactics have now turned out to have been undone by Daesh ambush tactics that drew ISF units into areas before subjecting them to fierce counterattacks.

Attacking ISF were exposed, and Daesh’s Amaq news agency said today that some units were surrounded. It said a suicide bomber blew himself up near the hospital, killing 20 soldiers. Eight armored personnel carriers (APCs) were also destroyed in the fighting that led to an Iraqi withdrawal, Amaq said.

There was no official Iraqi military comment on the fighting but the army officer, whose forces were involved in the clashes, said they had come under multiple attacks by suicide car bombers in the Al-Wahda district where the hospital is located.

“We managed to make a swift advance on Tuesday in Al-Wahda but it seems that Daesh fighters were dragging us to an ambush and they managed later to surround some of our soldiers inside the hospital,” he told Reuters by telephone, requesting anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

He said an armoured regiment and counter terrorism units, backed by US-led air strikes, were sent to support the stranded troops early today and had opened up a route out of the neighborhood.

“They have secured the position, evacuated the wounded and pulled out the destroyed military vehicles from around the hospital,” he said, adding that they were coming under fire from snipers and rocket-propelled grenades.

Amaq said it attacked the relief convoy as it advanced in the Sumer district, south of Al-Wahda near the outer edge of the city. This led to the convoy being forced to withdraw, in addition to the losses suffered by the ISF in the Al-Salam hospital.

Iraqi forces and allies numbering 100,000 men have been battling for seven weeks to crush Daesh fighters in Mosul, now estimated to be around 3,000 men strong. The city was seized by the militants in 2014 and is the largest in Iraq or Syria under their control.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20161207-iraq-daesh-reverse-army-assault-in-mosul/.

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Battle for IS-held Mosul nears ancient site

By W.G. Dunlop with Delil Souleiman in Ain Issa, Syria

Baghdad (AFP)

Nov 10, 2016

The battle for Iraq’s second city Mosul neared the remains of ancient Nimrud on Thursday, as the offensive against the Islamic State group’s Syrian stronghold Raqa was hampered by a sandstorm.

Backed by a US-led coalition, Iraqi forces and a Kurdish-Arab militia alliance are advancing on Mosul and Raqa in separate assaults aimed at driving IS from its last major bastions.

The coalition, which launched air strikes against IS two years ago, is looking to deal a fatal blow to the self-styled “caliphate” the jihadists declared in mid-2014.

Launched on October 17, the Iraqi offensive has seen federal forces and Kurdish peshmerga fighters advance on Mosul from the east, south and north, pushing inside the eastern city limits last week.

On Thursday the military said troops and allied militia were moving forward on two IS-held villages near Nimrud, which is some 30 kilometers (20 miles) south of Mosul.

“Units of the 9th Armored Division and the Hashed al-Ashaeri (tribal militia) are beginning to advance to liberate the villages of Abbas Rajab and Al-Nomaniyah, toward Nimrud,” the Joint Operations Command said, later announcing that Abbas Rajab had been retaken.

Nimrud was the one of the great centers of the ancient Middle East. Founded in the 13th century BC, it became the capital of the Assyrian empire, whose rulers built vast palaces and monuments that have drawn archaeologists for more than 150 years.

– Third of the way to Raqa –

In April last year, IS posted video on the internet of its fighters sledgehammering monuments before planting explosives around the site and blowing it up.

It was part of a campaign of destruction against heritage sites under jihadist control that also took in ancient Nineveh on the outskirts of Mosul, Hatra in the desert to the south and Palmyra in neighboring Syria.

IS says the ancient monuments are idols that violate the teachings of its extreme form of Sunni Islam.

In Syria, the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said their advance on Raqa was being held back by a sandstorm that had hit the desert province.

“The situation is dangerous today because there is no visibility due to a desert sandstorm,” an SDF commander told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“We fear that Daesh will take advantage of this to move in and launch a counter-attack,” he said, using an Arabic acronym for IS.

Speaking in Ain Issa, the main staging point for the operation some 50 kilometers (30 miles) north of Raqa, the commander said the sandstorm was also impeding visibility for coalition warplanes.

The SDF launched the offensive on Saturday and has been pushing south from areas near the Turkish border towards Raqa.

The commander said SDF forces advancing south from Ain Issa and Suluk were close to converging at a position some 30 kilometers (20 miles) from Raqa.

“We have been able to cover a third of the distance that separated us from Raqa,” SDF spokeswoman Jihan Sheikh Ahmed said, adding that 15 villages and hamlets had been taken.

– Thousands flee homes –

Ahmed said thousands of civilians had fled their homes since the start of the assault and pleaded for international assistance.

“More than 5,000 displaced people have arrived in regions liberated and secured by our forces. They are coming from combat zones through a corridor we opened for them,” she said.

“We need international help because our capacities are limited and, with winter coming, there is no camp to host them,” she said.

Dozens of families have been seen fleeing towards SDF lines in recent days.

Many have been arriving in trucks and cars around Ain Issa, loaded down with belongings and in some cases with livestock including cows and sheep.

Raqa had a population of some 240,000 before the eruption of Syria’s civil war in 2011 but more than 80,000 people have since fled there from other parts of the country.

Mosul is much bigger, home to more than a million people, and more than 45,000 people have fled since the offensive began.

Aid workers have expressed fears of a major humanitarian crisis once fighting begins in earnest inside the city, where IS is expected to use civilians as human shields.

Rights groups have also raised concerns for fleeing civilians, amid accusations of abuses by some Iraqi forces.

Amnesty International called Thursday on the Iraqi government to investigate the killings of six residents south of Mosul who it said were executed by men in federal police uniforms during the offensive.

Iraq’s federal police issued a statement denying its forces had been involved in extrajudicial killings.

Source: Space War.

Link: http://www.spacewar.com/reports/Battle_for_IS-held_Mosul_nears_ancient_site_999.html.

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Daesh invades Shirqat, ‘liberated’ by Iraqi forces 2 months ago

November 4, 2016

Daesh launched yet another surprise attack against Iraq’s rear areas in a town that was supposed to have been “liberated” in September, exposing how Iraqi forces have been ineffective in securing towns and cities before moving on to launch their almost three-week-old offensive against Mosul.

In the early hours of this morning, Daesh assaulted Shirqat in Salahuddin province, over 100 kilometers from Mosul, Iraq’s second city and Daesh’s last major urban stronghold in the country.

Daesh claims that it has taken over several districts in the small town, and has apparently torched a police station, capturing five police officers and killing other Iraq Security Forces (ISF) troops, including an officer. Daesh also control the main hospital.

Local activists have confirmed that several Iraqi armored vehicles and personnel carriers were destroyed by the militants, including supply trucks apparently destined for Shia militias near the Mosul frontlines.

Fighting in Shirqat is ongoing, with ISF in disarray.

When Shirqat was recaptured by ISF in September, their victory was touted as a stepping stone on the road to prising Mosul from Daesh’s grip. At the time, it was hailed as a significant advance but today’s attack highlights the weakness of ISF soldiers in holding territory.

Iraqi authorities failing to prevent Daesh attacks

Since the Iraqi government launched its US-backed offensive to recapture Mosul on 17 October, Daesh have not only managed to hold off any real advance into the city itself, but have also managed to launch devastating attacks across the country.

Daesh first breached Kirkuk’s defenses, more than 170 kilometers from Mosul, and put the city into disarray for almost a week. The attack was eventually repulsed, but not before dozens of Kurdish security forces died, shaking confidence in their ability to detect and prevent attacks.

Following the assault on Kirkuk, Daesh successfully attacked Rutba, almost 600 kilometers south of Mosul, and held it for three days until ISF forces managed to take it back with air support from the international US-led coalition.

Analysts have said that this may herald a future Daesh strategic shift from holding towns and cities to disrupting security and economic activity in these cities once they are retaken, making the rule of Iraqi and Kurdish authorities untenable.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20161104-daesh-invades-shirqat-liberated-by-iraqi-forces-2-months-ago/.

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