Archive for category Parion News

On charm offensive, Iran leader sets lofty goals

January 23, 2014

DAVOS, Switzerland (AP) — In a charm offensive to the global political and business elite, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani set lofty ambitions for his country, including becoming one of the world’s top 10 economies.

The first Iranian leader in a decade to visit the World Economic Forum, Rouhani took top billing Thursday at the World Economic Forum, drawing crowds to hear a speech in which he promised greater engagement with the world.

Touting the potential investment opportunities of the oil-rich land to the business tycoons in the audience, Rouhani said his country could, with the gradual easing of sanctions, enjoy an economic boom.

And Tehran, he said, is committed to honoring a deal to curb its nuclear program in the hope that will lead to a permanent lifting of economic sanctions, which have battered the Iranian economy over recent years.

“I see the status of Iran pursuing policies of moderation, prudence and hope in the future global economy,” said Rouhani. “Iran’s economy has so far the potential to be among the world’s top 10 in the next three decades.”

For 2012, the International Monetary Fund judged Iran to be the 21st biggest economy in the world in terms of annual economic income, or nominal gross domestic product. To get into the top 10 it would have to leapfrog the likes of Switzerland, Turkey and Spain.

Rouhani’s attendance was eagerly awaited as it coincided with the lifting of some of the sanctions, as well as the country’s exclusion from Syrian peace talks being held just a few hours’ drive away. The forum, which brings together about 2,500 political and business leaders, was the perfect stage for Rouhani to deliver a diplomatic message while seeking to engage with potential investors.

And in an attempt to soften concerns that sanctions will remain a feature of life for Iran, Rouhani emphasized that Tehran will abide by the terms of a deal with world powers to limit its nuclear program. The two sides will try to make the deal permanent over the next six months.

“We intend to reopen trade, industrial and economic relations, with all of our neighbors,” Rouhani said. Iran, he claimed, is “fully prepared and ready to engage with all neighboring countries” to reach solutions on issues including business ventures, environmental concerns, Palestinian rights, Persian Gulf security and Syria’s humanitarian crisis.

Iran has huge riches at its disposal, particularly oil and gas, the work force is skilled and the country has untapped potential for tourism. But the country has largely been cut off from international business since the Iranian Revolution in 1979. The sanctions, which have grown in recent years in response to Iran’s nuclear program, have hit the economy hard.

“Rapprochement with the West will help stabilize Iran’s economy,” said Bryan Plamondon, senior economist at IHS. Rouhani said he hopes Iran’s historical deep economic ties with Europe will be normalized and suggested that negotiations with the U.S. could pave the way to better relations. He reiterated that Iran has no intention of acquiring nuclear weapons but has the right to continue pursuing nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.

In a sign of the normalization of relations, the International Monetary Fund is sending a mission to Tehran in two days — for the first time in years — for an in-depth review of the economy. “I am very pleased we can reset the relationship on a sound footing,” Christine Lagarde said in a discussion in Davos.

She said she met Rouhani at the United Nations General Assembly in New York last year and found him to be “a sensible policymaker, one that is well-versed in economic matters, who seems to be very much aware of the challenges, who has ambition for a reset of Iran vis-a-vis the rest of the world.”

One leader who was not taken in by Rouhani was Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who told the forum in a speech of his own that Iran remains a concern across the region, not just for Israel.

“They say they oppose nuclear weapons,” Netanyahu said. “Why do they insist on maintaining the ballistic missiles and the plutonium, and the advanced centrifuges that are only used for the production of nuclear weapons?

“I wish it was real. It isn’t real,” he said. Netanyahu has been a fierce critic of the U.S.-led efforts to curb Iran’s nuclear program, saying they don’t go far enough to put the brakes on a country that supports Hezbollah, the militant group that has been vying with Israel for control of the region’s power balance.

The Israeli leader also blamed Iran for being involved in the violence in Syria. “Iran, with the Revolutionary Guards, on the ground in Syria, is facilitating the mass slaughter,” Netanyahu said, referring to Iran’s elite military unit.

Rouhani suggested that “the best solution is to organize free and fair elections.” Iran’s Shiite-led government and financial support is central to President Bashar Assad’s grip on power. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict will be another a point of focus of talks at Davos, particularly for U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who was also at the event, fresh from the Syrian peace conference in the nearby cities of Montreux and Geneva.

Both sides resumed peace talks in July under heavy American pressure, the first time they had done so in almost five years. There have been virtually no signs of progress, however. Kerry is working to get a framework deal in April.

Adam P. Pemble contributed to this report.

, ,

Leave a comment

Iran says 20% uranium enrichment suspended

Tehran (AFP)
Jan 20, 2014

Iran on Monday suspended the production of 20 percent uranium enrichment in the presence of UN nuclear watchdog inspectors, a senior official announced.

“In line with the implementation of the Geneva joint plan of action, Iran suspended the production of 20 percent enriched uranium in the presence of UN nuclear watchdog inspectors at Natanz and Fordo sites,” Mohammad Amiri, director general for safeguards at Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, told the official IRNA news agency.

“The connections between the twin cascades at Natanz and Fordo for 20 percent production have been disconnected,” Amiri said.

“The process of diluting and turning the 196-kilogram (430-pound) stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium into oxide has also started,” he added.

Amiri warned the P5+1 powers — the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China plus Germany — that Iran would reverse these steps if the other parties do not keep their end of the bargain.

The UN atomic watchdog has confirmed that Iran’s partial nuclear freeze began on Monday as planned, diplomats told AFP.

“It’s all fine, all their requirements have been fulfilled,” one envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency said in Vienna, in comments echoed by other diplomats.

The diplomats said that an IAEA report had been sent to member states confirming the start of the freeze.

The IAEA declined to comment.

Under the terms of the November 24 deal, Iran has pledged to limit uranium enrichment to low purities for a period of six months, convert its medium-enriched uranium and not make further advances at its nuclear facilities.

In exchange Western powers will slightly loosen crippling sanctions in a package worth between $6-7, according to the White House, including $4.2 billion in frozen overseas foreign exchange assets in eight installments starting February 1.

During the six months, Iran and the P5+1 powers — the US, China, Russia, France, Britain and Germany — are due to hammer out a long-term “comprehensive accord” aimed at ending once and for all the standoff over Iran’s nuclear work.

This six-month period can however be extended by mutual agreement. According to the November 24 interim deal, the parties aim to conclude negotiating and begin implementing it within a year.

Source: Space War.
Link: http://www.spacewar.com/reports/Iran_says_20_uranium_enrichment_suspended_999.html.

, ,

Leave a comment

Iran prepares for start of landmark nuclear deal

January 20, 2014

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Ahead of the start of a nuclear deal between Iran and world powers, an official in the Islamic Republic called limiting uranium enrichment and diluting its stockpile the country’s “most important commitments,” state radio reported Sunday.

The comments by Behrouz Kamalvandi, a spokesman of Iran’s atomic department, show how the government of moderate President Hassan Rouhani welcomes the deal, which begins Monday. International inspectors also already have arrived in Tehran, preparing for the government opening its facilities to them.

“Implementation of mutual commitments in the framework of the Geneva deal will begin from tomorrow,” Kamalvandi said. “Under the agreement, suspension of 20-percent enrichment of uranium — and the diluting of the current stockpile of enriched uranium — are the most important commitments of our country.”

Iran struck the deal in November with the so-called P5+1 countries — Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States. Negotiators agreed to final terms of the deal Jan. 13. Under the agreement, Iran will limit its uranium enrichment to 5 percent — the grade commonly used to power reactors. The deal also commits Iran to stop producing 20 percent enriched uranium — which is only a technical step away from weapons-grade material — and to neutralize its 20 percent stockpile over the six months.

In exchange, economic sanctions Iran faces would be eased for six months. Senior officials in U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration have put the total relief figure at some $7 billion. During the six months, negotiations between Iran and the world powers would continue in hopes of reaching a permanent deal.

The West fears Iran’s nuclear program could allow it to build an atomic weapon. Iran insists its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, like power generation and medical research. On Saturday a team of international inspectors arrived in Tehran in preparation of beginning their inspections. They will visit Fordo, where Iran enriches its 20 percent uranium, as well as its Natanz facility, which produces 5 percent enriched uranium, to ensure the country complies with the deal.

Kamalvandi said Sunday that Iran will use centrifuges now producing 20 percent enriched uranium to instead produce 5 percent enriched uranium to comply with the agreement. But suspicions remain high in both Tehran and Washington after decades of hostility dating back to the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran that ousted the U.S.-backed shah dynasty. Rouhani, Iran’s new reformist president, has reached out to the West, but must depend on support from Iran’s top decision-maker, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, for his initiatives amid criticism from hard-line factions.

Hard-liners in Iran have already called the deal a “poison chalice” and are threatening legislation to increase uranium enrichment. Meanwhile, U.S. lawmakers have threatened to pass new sanctions legislation against Iran that would take effect if Tehran violates the interim nuclear deal or lets it expire without a follow-up accord.

Writing a post on his Facebook page Sunday, Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif reassured the world that the deal will begin on time. “I am hopeful that implementation of the first phase will have positive results for the country and peace and stability in the region and the world while preparing the ground for essential talks on a final solution,” Zarif wrote.

, ,

Leave a comment

Al-Qaida asks Iraqis in embattled city for support

January 16, 2014

BAGHDAD (AP) — Members of al-Qaida’s branch in Iraq handed out pamphlets in Fallujah on Thursday, urging people to take up arms and back them in their weekslong fight against government troops for control of the city.

While the militants battled Iraqi security forces in and around Fallujah and Ramadi, police outside the capital, Baghdad, found the bullet-riddled bodies of 14 Sunni men who had been abducted from a funeral by gunmen wearing military uniforms. It was a grim reminder of similar slayings at the height of the war about six years ago.

Iraqi forces and allied Sunni tribesmen have been fighting to recapture key territories overrun by al-Qaida militants in the country’s Sunni-dominated Anbar province, including its two main cities, Fallujah and parts of the provincial capital, Ramadi, which are west Baghdad.

Violence has escalated in Iraq over the past year, particularly since late last month after authorities dismantled an anti-government Sunni protest camp and arrested a Sunni lawmaker on terrorism charges. To alleviate the tension, the army pulled back from the two cities, but that allowed al-Qaida militants to seize control.

Speaking to The Associated Press by telephone, Fallujah residents said al-Qaida militants distributed pamphlets with the emblem of their group — the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant — at main city intersections Wednesday and Thursday.

The pamphlets called on Fallujah residents to join the fight, give money or open their homes as shelters, the residents said. They spoke on condition of anonymity, fearing for their safety. Another pamphlet announced that al-Qaida would form a Commission for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice that would look into the disputes among residents of Fallujah, 65 kilometers (40 miles) west of Baghdad.

Clashes between the militants security forces continued in two Fallujah neighborhoods from late Wednesday to early Thursday, the residents said. A medical official said the city hospital received the bodies of seven men killed in the fighting and that 13 were wounded. He was unable to provide a breakdown of how many of the dead were militants and how many might have been civilians caught up in the clashes.

Elsewhere in the province, Iraqi state television said security forces and allied tribal fighters clashed with militants inside and around Ramadi on Thursday, retaking several areas captured earlier by al-Qaida fighters. No more details were given.

Two senior military officials said that one soldier was killed and three others were wounded by sniper fire during a clash in the village of al-Bubali, between Fallujah and Ramadi. The officials said that the militants have booby-trapped some houses in the village to slow the advance of the army troops.

In a particularly grisly discovery Thursday, police found the bullet-riddled bodies of 14 men — including nine from the same family — in an orchard near the Sunni-dominated town of Mishahda. Authorities said gunmen wearing military uniforms kidnapped the men from a funeral Wednesday night. It wasn’t clear who rounded up and killed the men.

In Baghdad’s eastern suburb of Nahrawan, a bomb exploded in an outdoor market, killing three civilians and wounding six, a police officer said. Another bomb went off in a commercial area of Baghdad’s western Ghazaliyah neighborhood, killing two civilians and wounding nine, he said.

All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to journalists.

Associated Press writer Qassim Abdul-Zahra contributed to this report.

, ,

Leave a comment

A nervous calm grips Fallujah, but clashes nearby

January 11, 2014

BAGHDAD (AP) — Residents started to trickle back to the besieged city of Fallujah on Friday as militants and government forces both appear to be preparing for a long standoff. Al-Qaida-linked fighters and tribal gunmen are camped on the outskirts of the city, with Iraqi army and police stationed nearby.

A tense calm has settled over the city, although sporadic street fighting rattled Ramadi and surrounding areas in Sunni-dominated Anbar province, a vast desert region west of Baghdad that was once a major battleground for U.S. troops.

The extremist militants, emboldened by fellow fighters’ gains in the civil war in neighboring Syria, have tried to position themselves as the champions of Iraqi Sunnis angry at the Shiite-led government over what they see as efforts to marginalize them.

Violence spiked after the Dec. 28 arrest of a Sunni lawmaker sought on terrorism charges and the government’s dismantling of a year-old Sunni protest camp in Ramadi, the provincial capital, and Iraqi police were forced to retreat from the city centers as black masked gunmen overtook Fallujah and parts of Ramadi last week, burning down police stations and posting guards outside strategic areas.

Iraqi troops have taken up positions in and around both cities but have not launched major urban offensives, fearing that likely civilian casualties could incite Sunni anger and push moderate tribal leaders to side with the extremists.

Defense Ministry spokesman Mohammed al-Askari told The Associated Press on Friday that the government’s patience would not last forever. “If there is no other solution, then the security forces and allied tribal fighters will enter these cities,” al-Askari said.

Clashes broke out again Friday, this time between Iraqi special forces and militants in the village of al-Bubali, between Fallujah and Ramadi. Roadside bombs planted around the village damaged several army vehicles, a police officer said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media. There was no immediate word on casualties.

Central areas of Fallujah, about 40 miles (65 kilometers) west of Baghdad, have been calm in recent days, according to accounts from residents and international observers. That could be an indication that at least some al-Qaida fighters heeded a call by influential tribal leaders earlier in the week to pull out of town or face confrontations not only with the army but also with fellow armed Sunnis who want the outsiders gone.

Many of the al-Qaida fighters and some armed local tribesmen who want to keep government forces out are now stationed in largely unpopulated areas on the outskirts of Fallujah, overlooking approaches to the city from the main highway that connects Baghdad with Syria and Jordan.

But other anti-government gunmen, their faces hidden by scarves, remain on the streets of the city in an intimidating show of force meant to prevent Iraqi forces from militarily retaking the city and deter would-be bank robbers and other looters.

Some residents have started to return to Fallujah, often only briefly to check that their houses are safe. Markets have begun to reopen as well, restoring some sense of normalcy to the city. But the situation remains tense, with many police stations abandoned after they were torched by militants and health care facilities running short on supplies.

“The government services and medical situation in Fallujah is very bad because of the absence of civil servants and policemen. The tribal gunmen are in control of the city,” said Dhari al-Arsan, deputy governor of Anbar, who lives in Fallujah.

International observers have warned of shortages of food, fuel and other necessities, particularly in Fallujah. United Nations records show that more than 11,000 families have been uprooted by the fighting throughout Anbar.

The U.N. envoy to Iraq, Nickolay Mladenov, described the situation in Fallujah as “very, very fluid” and said the city remains under the control of various armed groups. “Restoring order to Fallujah, pushing the terrorist elements out of the cities, delivering humanitarian aid: these would be the immediate priorities,” he said in an interview.

He praised the level of cooperation at both the national and local level in finding a way out of the crisis. “The U.N. is getting very good cooperation with the government, the local authorities and the tribes,” he said.

Pawel Krzysiek, a Baghdad-based spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross, said the “humanitarian situation is still dire” in Fallujah, though not as dramatically so as during the peak of the fighting. The Red Cross has managed to deliver some emergency supplies in Anbar but needs greater access from all sides to ensure aid gets through, he said.

On Friday evening the U.N. Security Council held a public meeting to read out a statement condemning the Ramadi and Fallujah attacks by an al-Qaida affiliate, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, and praised Iraqi security forces, local police and tribes in Anbar combating them.

“The Security Council reiterates that no terrorist act can reverse the path towards peace, democracy and reconstruction in Iraq,” it said. Determining exactly who all the gunmen are and where their loyalties lie remains a challenge. It is in many ways a parallel to the various factions of Sunni fighters among the rebels fighting to topple Syrian President Bashar Assad.

In addition to the al-Qaida fighters who overran Fallujah and Ramadi last week, many of whom do not hail from the cities, local anti-government tribesmen have taken up arms. Some but perhaps not all claim to oppose al-Qaida’s extremist ideology.

Other armed tribesman are firmly opposed to al-Qaida’s presence in the area. Among them are members of the Sahwa, a government-supported militia that joined the U.S.-led fight against al-Qaida insurgents during in the years following the 2003 invasion and is widely credited with helping beat back al-Qaida in the past. In many cases, those tribesmen may have family links with the anti-government local militiamen and for now appear to be avoiding clashing with them.

“The situation is so complicated because you’ve got the tribal groups who are allied with the government … and other groups … against the government who are fighting Iraqi government forces and al-Qaida,” said Erin Evers, a Mideast researcher for Human Rights Watch, which has been monitoring the fighting by speaking with residents in the affected areas. “We don’t have a clear enough picture or even clear casualty figures. People who are ending up in the hospital, we don’t know who killed them.”

Sheik Ahmed Abu Risha, a powerful Anbar tribal leader who heads the Sahwa, told the AP on Friday that he believes he has enough fighters and weapons, some supplied by the Iraqi army, to confront the al-Qaida militants.

He alleged that some of the militants have been using civilians as human shields, making his men reluctant to try to confront them head-on because of concerns about civilian casualties. The situation in Ramadi remains more volatile. Burned-out armored vehicles and police cars line the highway where an anti-government protest camp stood until it was demolished by government forces in late December.

Scattered clashes continue to erupt in different parts of the city, including a number of gunbattles that broke out late Thursday and again on Friday, according to local and international officials. The risk of violence has persuaded residents to shelter indoors at night.

“Ramadi turns into a ghost town after sunset,” al-Arsan said.

Schreck reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Associated Press writer Sameer N. Yacoub contributed reporting from Baghdad, and Associated Press writer Peter James Spielmann contributed reporting from the United Nations.

, ,

Leave a comment

Iraq: Fighters urged to go as supplies run short

January 09, 2014

BAGHDAD (AP) — Tribal leaders in the besieged city of Fallujah warned al-Qaida-linked fighters to leave to avoid a military showdown, echoing a call by Iraq’s prime minister Wednesday that they give up their fight as the government pushes to regain control of mainly Sunni areas west of Baghdad.

The warning came as gunmen attacked an Iraqi army barracks in a Sunni area north of Baghdad, killing 12 soldiers. Seven soldiers were wounded in the assault in Diyala province, authorities said. The United Nations and the Red Cross, meanwhile, said Fallujah and nearby areas are facing mounting humanitarian concerns as food and water supplies start to run out.

Sectarian tensions have been on the rise for months in Sunni-dominated Anbar province as minority Sunnis protested what they perceive as discrimination and random arrests by the Shiite-led government. Violence spiked after the Dec. 28 arrest of a Sunni lawmaker sought on terrorism charges and the government’s dismantling of a year-old anti-government Sunni protest camp in the provincial capital of Ramadi.

Last week, al-Qaida-linked gunmen seized control of Ramadi and nearby Fallujah, cities that were among the bloodiest battlefields for U.S. forces during the Iraq war. The militants overran police stations and military posts, freed prisoners and set up their own checkpoints.

The United States and Iran have offered material help for the Iraqi government but say they won’t send in troops. Speaking in his weekly television address, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki hinted of a possible pardon for supporters of al-Qaida’s local branch, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, if they abandon the fight.

“The war that is being fought by the Iraqi security forces, tribes and all segments of Iraqi society against al-Qaida and its affiliates is a sacred war,” he said. “I call on those who were lured to be part of the terrorism machine led by al-Qaida to return to reason.”

In exchange, he promised that his government will “open a new page to settle their cases so that they won’t be fuel for the war that is led by al-Qaida.” Iraq’s government has rushed additional troops and military equipment to Anbar and has been carrying out airstrikes in an effort to dislodge the militants.

Skirmishes between Iraqi forces and militants broke out on the outskirts of Fallujah and Ramadi again Wednesday, according to witnesses, and militants blew up a small bridge on the edge of Ramadi, officials in Anbar said. There was no immediate report of casualties.

At least four crew members were killed when a military helicopter crashed in Anbar, according to army and government officials in the province and state TV. The officials said the cause was poor weather conditions in the area and there was no indication militants brought it down. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to release the information.

Influential tribal leaders have been meeting to try to find a way out of the crisis and demanded that al-Qaida members holed up in Fallujah get out of town, said provincial spokesman Dhari al-Rishawi.

“They agreed on expelling ISIL from Fallujah. The told them to withdraw … or face an attack by the tribes and the army,” he said. That message was echoed over mosque loudspeakers late Tuesday, which also called on fleeing families to come back.

Al-Rishawi and residents reached by phone in Fallujah said at least some of the militants had left the city, which is about 40 miles (65 kilometers) west of Baghdad. It was not clear how many had gone, or whether they were taking up new positions in different parts of the city.

“We, the residents and the tribes, don’t want al-Qaida in the city. We don’t want to see the same violence we saw when the Americans were here,” said Ayad al-Halbosi, a 22-year-old teacher in Fallujah.

Markets in the city began reopening Wednesday and some families returned to their homes, though residents complained of shortages of fuel and cooking gas. Civilian cars and trucks were seen on the road and traffic policemen were on the streets.

The militant gains in Anbar are posing the most serious challenge to the Shiite-led government since American forces withdrew in late 2011 after years of bitter warfare following the 2003 invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein’s Sunni-led regime and propelled the formerly repressed Shiite majority to power.

Vice President Joe Biden spoke to al-Maliki for the second time this week, voicing support Wednesday for the Baghdad government’s effort to regain control of Fallujah. The White House said Biden encouraged al-Maliki to continue talks with local, tribal and national leaders and said Biden welcomed al-Maliki’s affirmation that Iraqi elections will occur as scheduled in April.

The U.N. envoy to Iraq, Nickolay Mladenov, warned that the humanitarian situation in Anbar is likely to worsen as military operations continue. Food and water supplies in Fallujah are beginning to run out, and more than 5,000 families have fled to neighboring provinces to escape the fighting, he said.

“The U.N. agencies are working to identify the needs of the population and prepare medical supplies, food and non-food items for distribution if safe passage can be ensured,” Mladenov said in a statement.

The International Committee of the Red Cross also voiced concerns about the growing risks to Anbar residents, particularly in Fallujah. Patrick Youssef, head of the Red Cross delegation in Iraq, warned that ongoing power outages and dwindling medical supplies could leave health care facilities unable to provide proper care.

“We are ready to deliver more life-saving supplies and other humanitarian aid immediately to the areas hardest hit,” Youssef said. “But we need to be given easier access and the necessary security guarantees.”

Tensions have been simmering in Iraq since December 2012, when the Sunni community staged protests to denounce what they say is second-class treatment by al-Maliki’s Shiite-led government. Al-Qaida militants, emboldened by the civil war in neighboring Syria, have sought to position themselves as the Sunnis’ champions against the government, though major Sunni tribes in Anbar and elsewhere oppose the group’s extremist ideology and are fighting against it.

Schreck reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Associated Press writer Sinan Salaheddin contributed reporting.

, ,

Leave a comment

Attacks in Iraq kill 4 as siege in Anbar continues

January 07, 2014

BAGHDAD (AP) — Officials say attacks in Iraq have killed at least four people as government troops continue their siege of two cities overrun by al-Qaida in western Anbar province.

Maj. Raid Emad Rasheed says a suicide bomber rammed his explosives-laden truck into a police station in the northern city of Kirkuk, killing two people there and wounding 55, some critically. A police officer says a roadside bomb struck an army patrol southeast of Baghdad, in the Madain area, killing one soldier and wounding another.

The officer says another bomb hit a patrol of pro-government, Sunni militiamen in Baghdad’s southeastern suburb of Jisr Diyala, killing one fighter and wounding four. A medical official confirmed the casualty figures. Both spoke on condition of anonymity as they are not authorized to talk to media.

, ,

Leave a comment

Iraq city falls fully into hands of al-Qaida group

January 04, 2014

BAGHDAD (AP) — The city center of Iraq’s Fallujah has fallen completely into the hands of fighters from the al-Qaida-linked Islamic State in Iraq and Levant, police said Saturday, yet another victory for the hardline group that has made waves across the region in recent days.

ISIL is also one of the strongest rebel units in Syria, where it has imposed a strict version of Islamic law in territories it holds and kidnapped and killed anyone it deems critical of its rule. Also on Saturday, it claimed responsibility for a suicide car bombing in a Shiite-dominated neighborhood in Lebanon.

Hadi Razeij, head of the Anbar province police force, said police had left the city center entirely and had positioned themselves on the edge of town. “The walls of the city are in the hands of the police force, but the people of Fallujah are the prisoners of ISIL,” he said, speaking on Arabic language satellite broadcaster al-Arabiya.

Fallujah, along with the capital of Anbar province, Ramadi, was a stronghold of Sunni insurgents during the U.S.-led war. Al-Qaida militants largely took both cities over last week and have been fending off incursions by government forces there since.

In a speech in Baghdad, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said government forces would press on to clear the province of militants. “There will be no retreat until we eliminate this gang and rid the people of Anbar of their evil acts,” he said. “The people of Anbar asked the government for help, they called us to come to rescue them from terrorists.”

Dozens of families were fleeing Fallujah, sheltering in schools in nearby towns, provincial official Dari al-Rishawi told The Associated Press. It appeared there was a shortage of fuel inside the city and that and food prices had doubled because supplies could no longer enter.

Hundreds of ISIL fighters were in the city, he added, mostly armed with heavy mounted machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades and mortars. On Saturday, Sunni tribesmen seeking to push out ISIL had yet to enter the city.

The U.S. State Department expressed its concern in a statement, saying it would continue to work with Iraqi authorities and tribes allied against ISIL “to defeat our common enemy.” “We are also in contact with tribal leaders from Anbar province who are showing great courage as they fight to eject these terrorist groups from their cities,” Deputy Spokesperson Marie Harf said.

Government troops, backed by Sunni tribesmen who oppose al-Qaida, have encircled Fallujah for several days, and have entered parts of Ramadi. On Friday, troops bombarded militant positions outside Fallujah with artillery, a military official said, speaking on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to release information.

Anbar province, a vast desert area on the borders with Syria and Jordan with an almost entirely Sunni population was the heartland of the Sunni insurgency that rose up against American troops and the Iraqi government after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein. The insurgency was fueled by anger over the dislodgment of their community from power during Saddam’s rule and the rise of Shiites. It was then that al-Qaida established its branch in the country.

Fallujah became notorious among Americans when insurgents in 2004 killed four American security contractors and hung their burned bodies from a bridge. It, Ramadi and other cities remained battlegrounds for the following years, as sectarian bloodshed mounted, with Shiite militias killing Sunnis.

In the end however local tribes managed to defeat the insurgents and the area had been calm for several years.

Deb Riechmann contributed from Washington

, ,

Leave a comment

Al-Qaida sweep in Iraq cities revives battleground

January 03, 2014

BAGHDAD (AP) — Two Iraqi cities that were strongholds of Sunni insurgents during the U.S. war in the country are battlegrounds once more after al-Qaida militants largely took them over, fending off government forces that have been besieging them for days.

The overrunning of the cities this week by al-Qaida’s Iraqi branch in the Sunni heartland of western Anbar provinces is a blow to the Shiite-led government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Malik. His government has been struggling to contain discontent among the Sunni minority over Shiite political domination that has flared into increased violence for the past year.

On Friday, al-Qaida gunmen sought to win over the population in Fallujah, one of the cities they swept into on Wednesday. A militant commander appeared among worshipers holding Friday prayers in the main city street, proclaiming that his fighters were there to defend Sunnis from the government, one resident said.

“We are your brothers from the Islamic State in Iraq and Levant,” militants circulating through the city in a stolen police car proclaimed through a loudspeaker, using the name of the al-Qaida branch. “We are here to protect you from the government. We call on you to cooperate with us.”

Government troops, backed by Sunni tribesmen who oppose al-Qaida, have encircled Fallujah for several days, and have entered parts of the provincial capital Ramadi, also overrun by militants. On Friday, troops bombarded militant positions outside Fallujah with artillery, a military official said, speaking on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to release information.

Anbar province, a vast desert area on the borders with Syria and Jordan with an almost entirely Sunni population was the heartland of the Sunni insurgency that rose up against American troops and the Iraqi government after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein. The insurgency was fueled by anger over the dislodgment of their community from power during Saddam’s rule and the rise of Shiites. It was then that al-Qaida established its branch in the country.

Fallujah became notorious among Americans when insurgents in 2004 killed four American security contractors and hung their burned bodies from a bridge. It, the provincial capital Ramadi and other cities were repeatedly battlegrounds for the following years, as sectarian bloodshed mounted, with Shiite militias killing Sunni.

Finally, major Sunni tribes turned against al-Qaida, forming militias that fought alongside American troops — bringing an easing of the bloodshed in 2008, before the American withdrawal at the end of 2011.

But 2013 has been the deadliest year since, with a resurgence of violence after al-Maliki’s government in April violently broke up a protest by Sunnis against discrimination by Shiite authorities. Sunni anger further flared after authorities this past week arrested a senior Sunni politician and dismantled a months-old sit-in in Ramadi over the past week.

As a concession, al-Maliki on Wednesday pulled the military out of Anbar cities to give security duties to local police, a top demand of Sunnis who see the army as a tool of al-Maliki’s rule. But al-Qaida militants promptly erupted in Fallujah, Ramadi and several nearby towns, overrunning police station, driving out security forces and freeing prisoners.

Since then, militants have dug in in the cities, setting up checkpoints in streets and waving black al-Qaida banners. Al-Maliki called in military reinforcements and sought the support of Sunni tribal fighters, who oppose al-Qaida though they still mistrust the government.

Government official Dhari al-Rishawi told The Associated Press that clashes were still underway on Friday, saying the militants remain in control of Fallujah and some parts of Ramadi. On Thursday, government warplanes fired Hellfire missiles — recently supplied by the United States — at some militant positions.

So far, casualties from the fighting since Wednesday are not known. On Friday, two policemen were killed and six other wounded when their patrol was attacked by gunmen in speeding cars outside Fallujah, a police officer and a medical officials said on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to release the information.

Associated Press writer Sinan Salaheddin contributed to this report.

, ,

Leave a comment

Iraq army to quit tense cities after protest cleared

Baghdad (AFP)
Dec 31, 2013

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki Tuesday announced the army would leave cities in Anbar province, apparently seeking to defuse simmering tension after security forces cleared a major anti-government protest camp.

Deadly clashes erupted Monday as security forces tore down the sprawling Sunni protest camp near Ramadi city, west of Baghdad, and sporadic fighting continued for a second day, leaving a total of at least 14 people dead.

Monday’s removal of the camp near the Anbar provincial capital was a victory of sorts for Maliki, who had long wanted it gone and had termed it a “headquarters for the leadership of Al-Qaeda”.

But while the camp’s closure removed a physical sign of deep-seated grievances among Sunni Arabs, it leaves underlying issues unaddressed and is likely to inflame widespread anger among the minority community.

In a move seemingly aimed at calming tensions, Maliki announced Tuesday the army would leave cities in Anbar, a demand made by MPs who submitted their resignations the previous day.

He called on “the armed forces to devote themselves to… pursuing Al-Qaeda hideouts in the desert of Anbar” and for the army to turn over “the administration of the cities to the hands of the local and federal police,” his office said.

Maliki also praised the camp’s closure, saying it was shut down in cooperation with the local government and tribal and religious leaders.

In another move apparently aimed at placating Anbar residents, the cabinet decided Tuesday to provide aid to the province.

The oil, trade and health ministries were to provide food, fuel and medical items, and other ministries would also give “support and necessary services to Anbar province,” the cabinet said.

The violence continued in the Ramadi area on Tuesday, where fighting killed three gunmen and an Iraqi army sniper, while three militants were wounded, police and a doctor said.

Sporadic clashes

An AFP journalist in Ramadi reported sporadic clashes in the area, which was under curfew, and said items including food and petrol were in short supply.

Security forces killed 10 gunmen on Monday in the Ramadi area during clashes as the protest camp was taken down, while violence also spread to the nearby city of Fallujah.

There was also political fallout, with 44 MPs, most of them Sunnis, announcing they had submitted their resignations.

They called for “the withdrawal of the army from the cities and the release of MP Ahmed al-Alwani,” a Sunni who was arrested during a deadly raid on Saturday.

The raid on Alwani’s house, which sparked clashes that killed his brother, five guards and a security forces member, also raised tensions.

While fighting broke out in the Ramadi area as the camp was closed, it was ultimately shut down without the level of deadly violence that accompanied the last major security forces operation at a protest site.

On April 23, security forces moved on a protest camp outside the northern town of Hawijah, triggering clashes that killed dozens of people, sparking a wave of revenge attacks and sending death tolls soaring.

The camp on the highway outside Ramadi, where the number of protesters had ranged from hundreds to thousands, included a stage from which speakers could address crowds, a large roofed structure and dozens of tents.

Protests broke out in Sunni Arab-majority areas of Iraq late last year after the arrest of guards of then-finance minister Rafa al-Essawi, an influential Sunni Arab, on terrorism charges.

The arrests were seen by Sunnis as yet another example of the Shiite-led government targeting one of their leaders.

The demonstrations tapped into longstanding grievances of Sunni Arabs, who say they are both marginalized by the government and unfairly targeted by security forces.

While the government has made some concessions aimed at placating Sunnis, including freeing prisoners and raising the salaries of anti-Qaeda militiamen, underlying issues remain unaddressed.

Violence in Iraq has reached a level not seen since 2008, when the country was emerging from a period of brutal sectarian killings.

Attacks in Baghdad province killed 12 people Tuesday, while more than 6,800 people have died in Iraq violence since the beginning of the year, according to AFP figures based on security and medical sources.

Source: Space War.
Link: http://www.spacewar.com/reports/Iraq_army_to_quit_tense_cities_after_protest_cleared_999.html.

, ,

Leave a comment