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Posts tagged ‘Lost Land of the Two Rivers’

Erdogan Vows to Extend Offensive to East Syria, North Iraq

March 19, 2018

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, buoyed by his army’s capture of a Kurdish stronghold in northwest Syria, threatened to extend the offensive against separatist Kurdish militants to eastern Syria and northern Iraq.

Turkey’s military will shift their campaign to several towns under the control of the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia, including Manbij, Kobani, Tal Abyad, Rasulayn and Qamishli, “until this terror corridor is fully eliminated,” Erdogan said Monday. Turkey’s threat to attack Manbij, where U.S. troops are based, has put Ankara at loggerheads with Washington, and talks between the NATO allies have so far yielded no agreement. The U.S. also has a diplomatic presence in Kobani.

Erdogan on Sunday claimed victory in the cross-border operation he launched in January to expel the YPG from Afrin, a town along the Turkish border. While the loss of Afrin delivered a major blow to the YPG’s hopes to establish a contiguous autonomous region, Turkey has resolved to clear the separatist fighters from other areas near its frontier.

Turkish authorities see the YPG as an extension of PKK militants who have used bases in northern Iraq as a springboard for attacks on Turkish targets in a decades-long war for autonomy.

Erdogan Threat

Turkey has served notice to the Iraqi government in Baghdad that its forces would attack the major PKK camp on Mount Sinjar near the Syrian border unless Iraq takes action.

“If you are going to handle this, you do it,” Erdogan said in remarks directed at Iraq. “If you can’t handle it, then we may suddenly enter Sinjar one night and clear out the PKKs there.”

Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said earlier that Turkish and Iraqi armies would carry out a joint offensive against the PKK bases in northern Iraq, probably after Iraqi elections set for May 12.

Turkey has had hundreds of troops deployed at the Bashiqa training based near the northern Iraqi city of Mosul since the end of 2014. It has also had a tank battalion stationed near the Iraqi frontier town of Bamerni for about two decades, and has frequently sent planes and troops across the border to target the PKK.

The U.S., meanwhile, expressed deep concern over reports that many residents had fled Kurdish-majority Afrin under threat of attack from the Turkish army and allied rebel forces.

“This adds to the already concerning humanitarian situation in the area, with United Nations agencies reporting a displaced population in or from Afrin district in the hundreds of thousands, who now require immediate shelter and other assistance to meet basic needs,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in an emailed statement on Monday.

“We have repeatedly expressed our serious concern to Turkish officials regarding the situation in Afrin.”

Source: Bloomberg.

Link: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-03-19/erdogan-vows-to-extend-offensive-to-east-syria-northern-iraq.

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Qatar, Iraq sign security cooperation agreement

March 15, 2018

Qatar signed yesterday a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Iraq to strengthen security cooperation between the two countries, the Qatar News Agency (QNA) has reported.

The agreement aims to enhance security cooperation and exchanging information and experiences between Qatar and Iraq.

“The MoU between the Qatar and Iraq aims at further joint security cooperation and regulates the coordination process between the two countries, as well as the exchange of information and experience, as Iraq accumulates experience in the security field,” QNA quoted the country’s head of public security, Major General Saad Bin Jassim Al Khulaifi, as saying.

He further explained that it will cover all security-related areas, including training and exchange of information in the field of combating terrorism, money laundry, combating counterfeiting, organised crime, drugs and human trafficking as well as all security of ports and airports.

Praising the “close cooperation between the two countries in all fields,” Al Khulaifi noted that the two parties intend to form a joint committee of specialists to follow up and monitor the implementation of the MoU’s provisions.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20180315-qatar-iraq-sign-security-cooperation-agreement/.

Tajikistan grants amnesty for over 100 Syria, Iraqi returnees

2018-02-08

DUSHANBE – Tajikistan has granted amnesty to more than 100 of its nationals following their return home from Syria and Iraq, where they had joined radical Islamist groups, the interior minister said Thursday.

Speaking at a news conference in the Tajik capital Dushanbe, Interior Minister Ramazon Rahimzoda said the returnees had been pardoned in line with a 2015 government pledge.

“Regarding the fate of 111 Tajik citizens who returned from Syria and Iraq voluntarily, all of them are free under Tajik law,” Rahimzoda said.

Most of the returnees in question had spent time in Syria, which became a magnet for jihadists from around the globe following its descent into civil war in 2011.

Rahimzoda also told reporters that 250 citizens of Tajikistan, a majority-Muslim country, had died fighting for radical groups in Iraq and Syria, mostly the Islamic State group.

Authorities have previously said that over 1,000 Tajik citizens, including women, had joined the radical militants.

Most had traveled to Syria and Iraq through Russia, where over a million Tajiks are believed to work as labor migrants.

The Islamic State group’s most high-profile Tajik recruit Gulmurod Khalimov had served as the chief of the interior ministry’s special forces unit prior to his sensational defection in 2015.

Russia’s defense ministry said in September last year that Khalimov, who may have been IS’s “minister of war”, had been killed in an airstrike.

Rahimzoda said Thursday that Tajikistan was still verifying that report.

Mountainous Tajikistan, the poorest former Soviet republic, shares a 1,300-kilometer (800-mile) border with Afghanistan, long a hotbed of Islamist militancy and the world’s largest producer of opium and heroin.

Governments have warned that fighters returning to their home countries after the collapse of the Islamic State group could raise the terror threat there.

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=87176.

Three French female jihadists face possible death penalty in Iraq

2018-01-23

PARIS – Three French women who joined the Islamic State group before being captured by Iraqi forces could be facing the death penalty as they await trial in Baghdad, sources close to their cases said.

The women were detained after Iraqi fighters ousted the jihadists from Mosul last July, one source said, confirming a report on RMC radio.

One 28-year-old woman left in 2015 for the group’s “caliphate” stretching over parts of Syria and Iraq along with her husband, who has reportedly been killed.

She is being detained with her daughter, who was born after their arrival.

“We don’t know what exactly she is accused of, what her detention conditions are like and whether she is being allowed the means to defend herself,” said the woman’s lawyer, .

He said he had received “no response” from France’s foreign ministry on the case, for which the Red Cross has been his only source of information.

A second woman, a 27-year-old named as Melina, also left for the region in 2015, and is being held with her baby. Her three older children have been returned to France.

“We expect France, if Melina is sentenced to death, to mobilize with the same intensity it has for other French citizens sentenced to death, in particular Serge Atlaoui,” said her lawyers, William Bourdon and Vincent Brengarth.

French diplomats have waged an intense campaign to free Atlaoui, who is being held in Indonesia and facing the death penalty on drug trafficking charges.

But government officials have said French fighters arrested in Syria and Iraq should be tried there if they can be guaranteed a fair trial.

Defense minister Florence Parly said Sunday that “we can’t be naive” regarding French citizens who left to join IS.

“When they are caught by local authorities, as far as possible they should be tried by these local authorities,” she told France 3 television.

– Children detained –

On Sunday, an Iraqi court condemned a German woman to death by hanging after finding her guilty of belonging to IS, the first such sentence in a case involving a European woman.

In December, an Iraqi-Swedish man was hanged along with 37 others accused of being IS or Al-Qaeda members, despite efforts by Sweden to have the prisoner serve a life sentence instead.

Iraqi authorities have not disclosed how many jihadists are being held prisoner since the counter-offensive that dislodged IS fighters from the country’s urban centers last year.

Around 40 French citizens, both men and women, are currently in detention camps or prisons in Syria and Iraq, including about 20 children, a source close to the matter has said.

On Monday, Parly reiterated that she had “no qualms” regarding the fate of French jihadists, despite requests by some of them to be repatriated.

“These jihadists have never had any qualms about what they’re doing, and I don’t see why we should have any for them,” she said.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=86899.

Iraq Holds Military Parade Celebrating ISIS Defeat

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.

Link: https://aawsat.com/english/home/article/1108881/iraq-holds-military-parade-celebrating-isis-defeat.

PM announces on state TV Iraq’s war against IS has ended

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.

Demands to Postpone Iraqi Elections

Tuesday, 28 November, 2017

Despite continuous assertions by Shiite political figures and forces – led by Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi – on holding the parliamentary elections in mid-May, Sunni political figures insist on postponing the elections due to the absence of required conditions in Sunni provinces that were ruled by ISIS for around three years.

Several parties, including the UN and its mission to Iraq, are concerned over the lack of conditions to hold elections on its specific date. Special representative of the UN for Iraq Jan Kubis, in his report to the Security Council last week, said that the newly assigned council for Iraqi elections had a tough mission ahead.

Kubis sees that the council, that should completely comply with the constitution and hold the elections on time, “faces several challenges including the use of a new voting technology and holding two election processes (the parliament and the local councils) simultaneously and within a tight timeline and complex electoral laws.”

He further pointed to the security challenges, especially issues pertaining to the return of displaced people and urged Iraqi parties to confront these challenges in the coming months. In his report, before the Security Council, he declared that “holding elections while some parts of Iraq remain unsafe with large numbers of its citizens still displaced (namely from the Sunnis) may raise doubts about the credibility and comprehensiveness of elections.”

Media and political parties considered the last part of Kubis statement a call for postponing the elections.

Other deputies on the Iraqi National List share same concerns with the UN regarding the absence of required conditions for holding elections. Among them is Abdul Karim Abtan who told Asharq Al-Awsat that he agreed with on-time elections but “the question is, will the government provide these conditions?”

Abtan listed the conditions to be provided, saying they were the same conditions stated by the PM when he set mid-May as a deadline for elections. These include the return of displaced persons, the provision of a suitable environment, the non-participation of armed groups in the elections and a free and fair e-election system,” he stated.

Source: Asharq al-Awsat.

Link: https://aawsat.com/english/home/article/1097311/demands-postpone-iraqi-elections.

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