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Archive for June, 2016

UN warns 20,000 children are trapped in Iraq’s Fallujah

June 01, 2016

BAGHDAD (AP) — The U.N. children’s fund on Wednesday issued a stark warning to Iraqi troops and Islamic State militants in the battle for Fallujah to spare the children, the most vulnerable among the tens of thousands of civilians who remain trapped by the fighting for control of this city west of Baghdad.

Backed by aerial support from the U.S.-led coalition and paramilitary forces mainly made up of Shiite militias, Iraqi government troops more than a week ago launched a military operation to recapture Fallujah which has been under control of the extremist group for more than two years.

As the battled unfolded — with Iraqi forces this week pushing into the city’s southern sections after securing surrounding towns and villages — more than 50,000 people are believed to be trapped inside the Sunni majority city, about 65 kilometers (40 miles) west of Baghdad.

The UNICEF estimated the number of the children trapped with their families inside the city at about 20,000, warning that they face a dire humanitarian situation, in addition to the risk of forced recruitment into the fighting by the IS militants.

“Children who are forcibly recruited into the fighting see their lives and futures jeopardized as they are forced to carry and use arms, fighting an adults’ war,” the organization said in a statement. It called on “all parties to protect children inside Fallujah” and “provide safe passage to those wishing to leave the city.”

Fallujah was the first large city in Iraq to fall to IS and it is the last major urban area controlled by the extremist group in western Iraq. The Sunni-led militants still control the country’s second-largest city, Mosul, in the north, as well as smaller towns and patches of territory in the country’s west and north.

The fight for Fallujah is expected to be protracted because the Islamic State group has had more than two years to dig in. Hidden bombs are believed to be strewn throughout the city, and the presence of trapped civilians will limit the use of supporting airstrikes.

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Iraqi army suffers substantial losses in Fallujah

May 30, 2016

The Iraqi army is reported to have suffered heavy losses during the sixth day of an assault to retake the city of Fallujah from Daesh. As many as ten Iraqi soldiers and allied militiamen were killed in a suicide bombing in the south-east of the city, Al-Jazeera has reported. Seven militiamen were also killed in another attack by the militant group near Amiriyah Al-Fallujah, to the west of Baghdad.

Fierce battles have been reported by witnesses in the town of Saqlawiyah, north-west of Fallujah, especially in Alboshgeul, where the militants attacked Iraqi troops with car bombs. The Iraqi army has advanced towards Fallujah from the north-east and reached Alsijir, which now stands between it and the city’s northern neighborhoods.

Army sources said that 40 soldiers and militiamen were killed and others were wounded, including a very senior officer, in a surprise attack by Daesh against Heit, in the west of Al-Anbar Province. The sources added that militants had crossed the Euphrates in the dead of night and launched an attack against the city, 30 kilometers west of Ramadi, and now controlled several neighborhoods. Dozens of families have been forced to flee from the fighting.

The Iraqi forces, with air support from the international coalition, pushed Daesh to withdraw from Heit more than a month ago.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20160530-iraqi-army-suffers-substantial-losses-in-fallujah/.

Iraqi MP: Army airstrikes are killing civilians in Fallujah

May 27, 2016

Scores of civilians have been killed in the ongoing Fallujah operation as a result of the Iraqi army’s airstrikes, the head of the Iraqi parliament’s human rights committee said today.

In an interview with the Anadolu Agency, Arshad Al-Salihi said tens of thousands of civilians live in Fallujah and suffer because of Daesh. They are also struggling to survive amid the random airstrikes by the Iraqi forces.

“These people are stuck between Daesh and the Iraqi army’s airstrikes,” Al-Salihi said, asserting that the government has not provided civilians a safe exit route from the area.

On Monday, Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar Al-Abadi announced the launch of a military campaign to regain control of Fallujah from Daesh with the participation of the Iraqi army, counter-terrorism units, the federal police, the Popular Mobilisation Forces and tribal fighters.

“It would be better for the civilians of Mosul and Tal Afar to abandon both cities for the time being,” Al-Salihi said, saying they may face the same fate of Fallujah’s civilians during similar operations.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20160527-iraqi-mp-army-airstrikes-are-killing-civilians-in-fallujah/.

Iraq kicks off historic Fallujah operation against Islamic State

Mohammed A. Salih

May 23, 2016

Iraqi security forces have launched Operation Break Terrorism in collaboration with the Shiite-dominated Popular Mobilization Units and local Sunni tribal mobilization forces to drive the Islamic State (IS) from the key town of Fallujah, the last major IS stronghold in western Anbar province.

Fallujah, long a bastion of anti-government insurgent groups, was one of the first areas in Iraq to fall to IS and its allies in January 2014, months before the group overran Mosul and other Sunni-dominated parts of the country.

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi ordered the launch of the operation in the early hours of May 23, saying, “There is no option for Daesh [IS] except to flee,” referring to the group by its common Arabic acronym.

The operation was launched from the southeast, southwest, northwest and northern flanks of Fallujah, according to Karim al-Nuri, a spokesman for the mobilization units who spoke to Al-Monitor via phone from the Karmah area to the southeast of Fallujah, some 60 kilometers (37 miles) west of Baghdad.

“Their [IS] resistance has not been as heavy as we have been expecting,” said Nuri. “They have been relying on vehicle-borne suicide attacks, planted bombs and snipers so far.”

IS supporters’ accounts on Twitter circulated what appeared to be an official announcement from IS’ Fallujah Wilaya, which claimed that 16 Iraqi forces were killed in a suicide car bomb attack east of Fallujah.

Nuri said that over 10,000 mobilization unit forces have been taking “an active part in the battle,” adding that his forces are cooperating with Iraqi security forces as well as tribal Sunni fighters. The Shiite paramilitaries have surrounded Fallujah since last summer.

The US-led coalition also carried out seven airstrikes in the Fallujah area between May 14 and May 20 in preparation for the assault.

US forces are currently involved in Operation Break Terrorism by advising Iraqi forces. But Col. Steve Warren, the US military spokesman in Baghdad, has told Fox News that the US-led coalition is not going to “drop bombs in support of the Shiite militias” who are based on the outskirts of Fallujah. The United States has been worried about the involvement of Shiite paramilitaries in offensives in Sunni areas because those forces are largely supported by Iran.

According to Warren, between 500 and 1,000 IS fighters are believed to have remained inside Fallujah.

No figures have been released by Iraqi authorities about the overall number of forces taking part in the battle of Fallujah, but some Iraqi news outlets have pointed out that as many as 20,000 federal police units have also joined the operation.

Iraqi forces appear to have made some progress. Local media reported that Iraqi forces killed Abu Hamza, IS governor of Fallujah, and another senior leader known as Abu Amr al-Ansari on May 23. Gen. Abdulwahab al-Saedi, the commander of the Fallujah operation, said May 23 that IS forces have fled the battlefield in the Karmah and Saqlawiyah areas in the eastern and northern sides of Fallujah. Saedi also told Iraqi news media that Iraqi forces had taken the district of Karmah, 13 kilometers (8 miles) east of Fallujah on the first day of the operation.

The attack on Fallujah by Iraqi forces came after an important victory in the nearby town of Rutba in Anbar on May 19. In December, Iraqi forces also recaptured Anbar’s provincial capital, Ramadi, from IS.

Fallujah is now the last major urban center in Anbar still under the control of IS jihadis.

“Taking Fallujah will be a big blow to IS,” Ahmed Ali, a senior fellow at the American University of Iraq-Sulaimani’s Institute of Regional and International Studies (IRIS), told Al-Monitor.

“Strategically, [the success of this operation will mean] IS will not be as close to Baghdad as now, as Fallujah is the strongest IS-controlled point to Baghdad,” he said.

But pushing IS out of Fallujah will not mean the end of IS in Anbar province, which occupies around one-third of Iraq’s area. Ali believes the extremist group will most likely relocate to the vast deserts of Anbar, “which will be very difficult to control.”

Prior to the launch of the operation, the Iraqi military called on Fallujah’s residents to evacuate the town. A day before the offensive, the town’s mayor had told the official Iraqi news agency, NINA, that over 50,000 civilians were still trapped inside the town.

An important element of the Fallujah operation is the relationship between the Shiite Popular Mobilization Units and the local Sunni forces. In the past, local Sunnis and rights groups accused the mobilization units of abusing Sunnis in areas such as Tikrit and Diyala.

But Nuri said there is no reason for concern now.

“We are fighting with [Sunni] tribal forces from the area and this is the biggest testament of the level of trust between us,” Nuri said.

Amid the political turmoil that has engulfed Iraq in recent months and culminated in attacks by angry protesters on Abadi’s and parliament’s offices, a victory in Fallujah will be a boost to the embattled prime minister, given the symbolic and strategic value of the town.

“A battlefield victory will bolster Abadi’s position and help him dictate the points of the political agenda in Iraq,” said Ali.

Source: al-Monitor.

Link: http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2016/05/iraq-fallujah-liberation-operation-isis.html.

Egypt to build 11th prison in less than 3 years

June 15, 2016

Egyptian authorities are to build a new prison in Qalyubia Governorate, north of Cairo, the third to be built this year and the eleventh since the military coup three years ago, the Anadolu Agency reported yesterday.

Human rights groups have said that there are 40 prisons in Egypt, these along with police stations, military basis and secret prisons are all used to hold prisoners in terrible conditions.

Since the military coup against the first freely elected Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, Egyptian authorities have increased arbitrary arrests based on political opinion.

The Arab Organisation for Human Rights said that the number of prisoners held in Egyptian jails and detention centers has reached more than 41,000.

Egyptian authorities have said that the country’s constitution dictates how prisoners are treated and that they adhere to international laws, a claim human rights groups deny.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20160615-egypt-to-build-11th-prison-in-less-than-3-years/.

Erdogan rejects formation of political entity on Syrian-Turkish borders

June 15, 2016

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan yesterday renewed his rejection of the establishment of any political entity on the Turkish-Syrian borders, Al-Resalah newspaper reported.

“We will reject with all our political, diplomatic and military power the formation of any entity on our borders with Syria,” he said at an iftar at the Presidential Palace.

“The State will target terrorists with an iron hand, but it will show the merciful face to the people in the region [of anti-terror operations].”

“No one has the right to leave Syrian, Iraqi, Afghan, Libyan and African women and children facing their fate in the dark of the Mediterranean,” he added.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20160615-erdogan-rejects-formation-of-political-entity-on-syrian-turkish-borders/.

Kurdish group claims responsibility for Istanbul attack

June 10, 2016

ISTANBUL (AP) — A Kurdish militant group on Friday claimed responsibility for a car-bomb attack in Istanbul this week that killed 11 people, saying it was just the beginning of a war. In a statement posted online, the Kurdistan Freedom Falcons also warned tourists that Turkey was no longer secure for them.

“You are not our targets but Turkey is no longer safe for you,” it read. “We have just started the war.” The Kurdistan Freedom Falcons is considered an offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, and has carried out several attacks in the past.

It denounced the ruling Justice and Development Party, which was founded by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, for its “wild war” against Kurds. Turkey’s southeast plunged into violence last summer when a 2½-year fragile truce between the state and Kurdish rebels collapsed.

The rush hour car-bomb attack on Tuesday morning targeted a police vehicle in Istanbul and injured 36 people in addition to those killed. Istanbul’s bombing was followed on Wednesday by a suicide attack in the southeastern town of Midyat that killed three police officers and three civilians.

On Thursday, The PKK said the Midyat attack was carried out by one of its “comrades,” code name Dirok Amed. The authorities were quick to report they suspected Kurdish militants in both cases. The claims of responsibility confirmed those suspicions.

The Kurdistan Freedom Falcons, also known as TAK, was also behind two deadly suicide bombings this year in Ankara, the capital. The PKK routinely attacks military and police targets in the southeast, where large-scale security operations to flush out Kurdish rebels have left hundreds dead, displaced entire communities and done extensive damage to urban infrastructure.

The PKK, labeled a terror organization by Turkey and its allies, is fighting for autonomy for Turkey’s Kurds in the southeast. The decades-long conflict has claimed 40,000 lives. In the past year, Turkey has been hit by a series of bombings — including two in Istanbul targeting tourists — which the authorities have blamed on the Islamic State group. The attacks have increased in scale and frequency, scaring off tourists and hurting the economy, which relies heavily on tourism revenues.

In a bid to curb such attacks, the government is mulling measures to keep tabs on the sale of materials made to use improvised explosive devices, such as gas canisters commonly used for cooking, officials said Friday.

The announcement came a day after the agriculture minister said the government has temporarily suspended the sale of fertilizers containing nitrate that can be used to make explosives.

Suzan Fraser in Ankara contributed reporting.

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