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Sunday, 10 December, 2017
An Iraqi military parade celebrating final victory over Islamic State is underway in Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone, Reuters quoted an Iraqi military spokesman as saying on Sunday.
Almost one year after the launch of military operations from Mosul, north Iraq, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced on Saturday that his country’s forces have “completely controlled” the Syrian-Iraqi borders, declaring that the war against ISIS has officially ended.
“Our forces are in complete control of the Iraqi-Syrian border and I, therefore, announce the end of the war against ISIS,” Abadi told a conference in Baghdad.
The Prime Minister added that Iraq’s enemy “wanted to kill our civilization, but we have won through our unity and our determination. We have triumphed in little time.”
In another speech delivered at the Defense Ministry in the presence of representatives from the entire armed forces, Abadi announced that Iraq’s next battle would be to defeat the scourge of corruption.
“Weapons should only be in the state’s hands,” Abadi confirmed.
He said that the rule of law and respect for it are the way to build the state and achieve justice, equality, and stability, adding that the unity of Iraq and its people is the most important and greatest accomplishment.
Authorities in Iraq announced a public holiday on Sunday “to celebrate the victory.”
The prime minister’s declaration came three years after the militant group captured some third of Iraq’s territory.
Meanwhile, Naim el-Kaoud, leader of the al-Bounmar tribes in Anbar told Asharq al-Awsat on Saturday the “battles that continued following the liberation of Rawa, including the western desert, were now completed and the area is now combined to the entire border with Syria after clearing ISIS militants.”
For his part, Hisham al-Hashemi, an expert on jihadist groups, told Asharq Al-Awsat that although the terrorist group was military defeated in Iraq, ISIS would still hold some pockets in some Iraqi areas.
He said that around 800 fighters were still present in the country, especially in east Tigris, and the Hamrin Mountains.
Source: Asharq al-Awsat.
December 09, 2017
BAGHDAD (AP) — After more than three years of combat operations, Iraq announced Saturday that the fight against the Islamic State group is over after the country’s security forces drove the extremists from all of the territory they once held. Iraqi and American officials warned, however, that key challenges remain despite the military victory.
Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi formally announced the victory in an address to the nation aired on Iraqi state television Saturday evening. “Honorable Iraqis, your land has been completely liberated,” he said. “The liberation dream has become a reality. We achieved victory in difficult circumstances and with God’s help, the steadfastness of our people and the bravery of our heroic forces we prevailed.”
“The flag of Iraq is flying high today over all Iraqi territory and at the farthest point on the border,” he added, standing before the most senior members of Iraq’s security forces. Following al-Abadi’s remarks, his office declared a public holiday Sunday in celebration of the victory, according to an official statement from the prime minister’s office.
Iraqi forces mopped up the last pockets of IS fighters from Iraq’s western deserts Saturday, securing the country’s border with Syria, a step that marked the end of combat operations against the extremists.
“All Iraqi lands are liberated from terrorist Daesh gangs and our forces completely control the international Iraqi-Syrian border,” said Lt. Gen. Abdul-Amir Rasheed Yar Allah, a senior Iraqi military commander, in a statement Saturday afternoon.
The U.S. applauded the prime minister’s announcement. The U.S. offers “sincere congratulations to the Iraqi people and to the brave Iraqi Security Forces, many of whom lost their lives heroically fighting ISIS,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a written statement, using an alternative acronym for IS.
“Our coalition will continue to stand with Iraq to support its security forces, economy and stabilization to help ensure that ISIS can never against threaten Iraq’s people or use its territory as a haven,” said Brett McGurk, U.S. special presidential envoy to the anti-IS coalition, in a statement posted to his official Twitter account.
“We mark today’s historic victory mindful of the work that remains,” he added. Iraq’s government remains faced with significant security threats, an economic crisis and the enormous task of rebuilding swaths of territory decimated by the IS fight.
IS fighters overran nearly a third of Iraqi territory, including Mosul, the country’s second largest city and Tikrit, the capital of Iraq’s central Salahuddin province in the summer of 2014. The following year, IS fighters also overran Anbar’s provincial capital of Ramadi.
Over the past 3 ½ half years, Iraqi ground forces closely backed by the U.S.-led coalition and mostly Shiite paramilitary forces backed by Iran have slowly retaken all of that territory. The pace of the anti-IS operation accelerated last year as coalition-backed Iraqi ground forces prepared for the assault on Mosul that was formally launched in October 2016.
After more than nine months of mostly grueling urban combat, Al-Abadi declared victory over IS in Mosul in July. In the months that followed Iraqi forces retook a handful of other IS held towns including Tal Afar in August, Hawija in September and Qaim in October. In November, Iraqi forces retook the last Iraqi town held by IS — Rawah, near the border with Syria.
However, IS fighters remain capable of carrying out insurgent attacks in Iraq, and the group has recovered from past setbacks. IS insurgent networks continue to pose a threat to Baghdad and other Iraqi cities, a senior Iraqi security official said, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with regulations. The official said intelligence gathering would become increasingly important in the post-military phase of the fight against IS.
“The triumph of military operations alone is not enough without stability,” government spokesman Saad al-Hadithi said, explaining that rebuilding in the wake of military victories against IS remained a “big challenge” for the Iraqi government.
Additionally, some 3 million Iraqis remain displaced by the fight against IS, according to the United Nations. Al-Abadi also remains faced with a political and military stand-off with the country’s Kurdish region over a referendum held on independence.
Federal government troops remain deployed throughout a string of disputed territories claimed by both Baghdad and Iraq’s Kurds — who were also backed by U.S.-led coalition forces in the fight against IS. While Baghdad and Irbil have both stated a willingness to talk, negotiations to end the dispute have not yet begun.
As he closed his national address, al-Abadi acknowledged the challenges that remain for Iraq. “I urge everyone to refrain from returning to the inflammatory and sectarian discourse that empowered gangs to occupy our cities and villages,” he said.
“Our people have paid a dear price,” he added. “We must turn this page forever.”
Associated Press writer Sinan Salaheddin contributed from Baghdad.
BAGHDAD – The Iraqi army retook the last town in the country still held by the Islamic State group on Friday as the jihadists’ self-proclaimed “caliphate” faced collapse on both sides of the border with Syria.
The lightning recapture of the small Euphrates valley town of Rawa in an offensive launched at dawn came as the jihadists were also under attack for a second day in the last town they still hold in Syria, Albu Kamal just over the border.
The Islamic State group (IS) has lost 95 percent of the cross-border “caliphate” it declared in Iraq and Syria in 2014, the US-led coalition fighting it said on Wednesday.
Its losses include all of its major bastions, virtually confining it to pockets of countryside.
Government troops and paramilitary units “liberated the whole of Rawa and raised the Iraqi flag on all of its official buildings,” General Abdelamir Yarallah of Iraq’s Joint Operations Command (JOC) said in a statement.
An army general contacted at the front had predicted that the battle would be swift as “the majority of IS fighters who were in the town have fled towards the Syrian border.”
The JOC said appeals had been made for several days to the town’s Sunni Arab residents to listen to radio broadcasts for instructions on what to do when the army entered.
Rawa was bypassed in an offensive by the Iraqi army that resulted in the recapture of the strategically important border town of Al-Qaim earlier this month.
The stretch of Euphrates valley abutting the border with Syria has long been a bastion of Sunni Arab insurgency, first against US-led troops after the invasion of 2003 and then against the Shiite-led government in Baghdad.
The porous frontier became a magnet for foreign fighters entering Iraq from Syria, which Baghdad accused of turning a blind eye, and a key smuggling route for arms and illicit goods.
US-led troops carried out repeated operations with code names like Matador and Steel Curtain in 2005 to flush out Al-Qaeda jihadists.
The region swiftly fell to IS when its fighters swept through the Sunni Arab heartland north and west of Baghdad in 2014 before proclaiming its “caliphate”.
– Jihadist dream in tatters –
The jihadists once controlled a territory the size of Britain but they have successively lost all their key strongholds, including Raqa in Syria and Mosul in Iraq.
Over the border in Syria, IS still holds around 25 percent of the countryside of Deir Ezzor province but are under attack not only by government forces but also by US-backed Kurdish-led fighters.
In the border town of Albu Kamal, the Syrian army was battling IS fighters who mounted a surprise counterattack last week, pushing out government forces who had retaken it last month.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitor of the war, said the new army offensive had successfully penetrated the town, with troops backed by Russian air strikes advancing from the west, east and south.
“More than 7.5 million people have now been liberated” from IS, Washington’s envoy to the coalition, Brett McGurk, said late Wednesday, adding that the group’s finances are now “at their lowest levels to date”.
With the jihadists’ dreams of statehood lying in tatters following the battlefield defeats, Western attention is increasingly pivoting to trying to block foreign fighters from returning home to carry out attacks.
McGurk insisted that flows of foreign IS fighters into Syria have “nearly stopped”, and that jihadists are increasingly being picked up as they cross borders.
“We are enhancing cooperation and border security, aviation security, law enforcement, financial sanctions, counter-messaging, and intelligence sharing to prevent ISIS from carrying out attacks in our homelands,” he said.
Analysts have warned that in some areas recaptured from IS, government control remains weak and the jihadists retain the capability to wage a low-level insurgency.
“We still have places by the Baghdad belt, areas including Ramadi and Fallujah… that are not well controlled at all,” Michael Knights of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy said earlier this month.
“They (the jihadists) are back where they were in 2013… They will restart insurgency all over again.”
Source: Middle East Online.
BAGHDAD – Iraqi forces Friday captured the biggest town under Islamic State group control in Iraq, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said, driving another nail into the coffin of the jihadists’ self-styled caliphate.
Abadi hailed the “liberation of Al-Qaim in record time” in a statement, just hours after Iraqi troops backed up by local Sunni tribal militia fighters entered the key town on the border with Syria.
The fall of Al-Qaim leaves IS fighters in Iraq holding just the smaller neighboring town of Rawa and surrounding pockets of barren desert along the Euphrates river.
That is all that remains in the country from the vast swathes of territory that the group seized in 2014 as it rampaged across Iraq and neighboring Syria.
The US-led coalition supporting Iraqi forces with air strikes had predicted that the battle for Al-Qaim would be the “last big fight” of the punishing military campaign to dismantle their brutal experiment in statehood.
But the town appeared to have fallen in lightning time after commanders announced that Iraqi troops pushed into the town of some 50,000 inhabitants on Friday morning.
Source: Middle East Online.
BAGHDAD – Iraqi forces said they recaptured an important crossing on the border with Syria from the Islamic State group on Friday as they advanced into the jihadists’ last bastion in Iraq.
Iraq’s Joint Operations Command said troops had “regained full control” of the Husaybah border post on the edge of the town of Al-Qaim after launching a push to oust the jihadists.
Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi released a statement congratulating the armed forces for “entering into Al-Qaim and liberating” the border crossing.
An Iraqi army officer said that the jihadists “deserted the border post after several of them were killed” and headed off into Syria.
Al-Qaim and the surrounding areas are the last remnants of the self-styled caliphate IS declared after rampaging across Iraq and Syria in 2014.
Iraqi forces backed up by air strikes from a US-led coalition launched the operation last week to seize back the strategically located pocket of barren desert along the Euphrates river.
IS is simultaneously battling for survival in its holdouts across the border in Syria, where government troops said they ousted the group from the key city of Deir Ezzor on Friday.
Source: Middle East Online.
BAGHDAD – Iraq has begun an offensive to retake Hawija, one of two remaining bastions of the Islamic State (IS) group in the country, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced Thursday.
“At the dawn of a new day, we announce the launch of the first stage of the liberation of Hawija, in accordance with our commitment to our people to liberate all Iraqi territory and eradicate Daesh’s terrorist groups,” he said in a statement, using an Arabic acronym for IS.
“Greetings to all of our forces, who are waging several battles of liberation at the same time and who are winning victory after victory and this will be another, with the help of God,” he said.
Iraqi forces have now forced IS out of all its Iraqi territories except Hawija, 300 kilometers (190 miles) north of Baghdad, and several pockets of territory near the border with Syria. The town was one of the first areas to fall under IS control in 2014.
Artillery fire was heard Thursday morning, with the army heading towards Sharqat, southwest of Hawija, an AFP reporter said.
Source: Middle East Online.
MOSUL, Iraq — Two months since Iraqi forces recaptured Mosul from the Daesh terror group extremists, Mohammed Seddiq’s bullet-riddled car is still off the road and his fruit and vegetable shop has yet to reopen.
Much of Iraq’s second city lies in ruins and many businesses are still at a standstill, even those that produced the famous muslin cotton fabric for which Mosul was renowned before the extremists seized it in 2014.
Three years ago, Seddiq, 32, owned two cars, but the extremists set fire to one and the other was damaged by mortar shells and bullets.
With all the garages still closed in his west Mosul neighborhood, he sought out a mechanic in the industrial zone in the city’s east which was less severely damaged by fighting.
He expects the repairs to cost $1,000. In the meantime he will have to pay for taxis using his savings because “the state has announced that it will reimburse for cars and houses, but up to now nothing” has been paid.
Many of the cars awaiting repairs at Ghezwan Aqil’s workshop were damaged when bulldozer-driving extremists used them to form barricades against advancing Iraqi troops.
Their owners cannot afford to buy new cars and are prepared to wait one or two months for the repairs instead.
Aqil says that sometimes he will reduce a customer’s bill by half depending on their circumstances.
Even after Mosul’s recapture life is uncertain and insecurity is rife.
“There have been many burglaries,” says taxi driver Mohammed Salem.
“And people have been detained by unidentified groups. No one knows what happened to them,” the 33-year-old adds.
“There are regular problems between the various armed forces, especially the paramilitary units,” Hossam Eddine Al Abbar, a member of the provincial council of Nineveh, of which Mosul is the capital, tells AFP.
The presence of the Hashed Al Shaabi (Popular Mobilization) paramilitary units, dominated by Iran-backed Shiite militias, has stirred tensions in the Sunni-majority city.
Without genuine reconciliation between communities, there are fears that the country could once again descend into violence.
“The best way to control [armed groups] is to integrate them into the regular forces that enjoy much more trust among citizens than paramilitary forces,” Abbar said.
Omar Al Allaf, a local tribal dignitary who oversees Hashed Al Shaabi units, rejects the idea.
His men will never join the police because “they are infiltrated by terrorists”, he says.
In 2014, as Daesh staged a rapid advance across northern Iraq, police and military personnel abandoned their posts to the extremists with barely a fight.
That allowed the group to establish its “caliphate” across parts of Syria and a third of Iraq’s territory including Mosul.
Today, many police in the Iraqi city are demanding their reinstatement, but the process of identification and investigation of each one takes time, Abbar said.
“More than 13,000 policemen have yet to return to their jobs despite our requests to the authorities in Baghdad,” he added.
Mosul’s famed Old City was reduced to rubble by the fighting and the iconic leaning minaret of its Al Nuri Mosque, the image of which adorns the 10,000 dinar note, left in ruins.
For many of Mosul’s displaced, it is impossible to envisage a return to a city where, in addition to finding nothing left of their previous life, they risk losing more.
In the past year, a million Iraqis have fled their homes in Nineveh province.
Source: The Jordan Times.