Archive for the ‘Iraq’ Category

The politics of Kirkuk is a thorny problem for Iraq – TRT World

Iraqs northern city of Kirkuk becomes a disputed area as the local provincial council decides to conduct a referendum on its status.

Photo by: AFP

The Kurdish Regional Government flag (L) and the Iraqi flag (R) being raised over a government building in Kirkuk, Iraq, March 28, 2017.

The dual flags of Iraq and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) wave across Kirkuk, symbolising a larger struggle overcontrol ofthe oil-rich city.

Kirkuk has been a political flashpointin Iraq for decades.

At least four minority groups Arabs, Kurds, Assyrians, and Turkmenlive there.

But the KRG has been arguing with Baghdads central government over control of the city. They say they earned that right after the Kurdish Peshmerga pushed Daesh out of the city in 2014.

“We think this flag should wave and stay here, we have shed our blood for Kirkuk for years. We have martyrs, we protected our city from Daesh, we resisted them,” said Ahmet Sabir.

Iraqi Turkmen Front Deputy Chairman and MP for KirkukprovinceHasan Turan said, “By waving the flag of northern Iraq, Kurdish parties are trying to give Kirkuk a different identity. We can never accept this.”

Human Rights Watch last year accusedthe KRG of forcing Sunni Arab families to leave the city. It is an accusation that the KRG denies.

TRT Worlds Zeina Awad explains tensions in Kirkuk.

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The politics of Kirkuk is a thorny problem for Iraq – TRT World

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May 10, 2017   Posted in: Iraq  Comments Closed

Iranian Militia Role in Syria, Iraq Prompts Alarm – Voice of America

Earlier in April he was spotted in the northern countryside of the central Syrian province of Hama, where the forces of President Bashar al-Assad have been battling a surprise rebel offensive and reportedly sustaining high casualties.

On Monday, according to local news reports, General Qassem Soleimani, commander of Iran’s elite Quds Force, a special forces branch of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), was in Kirkuk, 1,000 kilometers from Hama, trying to broker a deal between Shi’ite militias and the Kurds about eventual control of the disputed northern Iraqi city.

The London-based Al-Araby Al-Jadeed, a Qatari-owned pan-Arab news outlet, reported that Soleimani’s visit to Iraq’s Kurdish region lasted several days, and during that time the Quds Force commander stressed that Kirkuk should remain a city for all Iraqis and shouldn’t be annexed by the Kurds. He said military clashes between Kurds and Shi’ites should be avoided.

As the wars have raged in Syria and Iraq, and as Iran has deepened its military involvement, Soleimani increasingly has taken on the role, according to some analysts, as Iran’s viceroy in the Levant a mixture of soldier and satrap.

FILE – Revolutionary Guard General Qassem Soleimani attends an annual rally commemorating the anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, in Tehran, Iran, Feb. 11 2016.

Credited as strategist

Syrian rebel commanders credit the silver-haired 59-year-old with being the principal architect last year of Assad’s military strategy to retake the rebel-controlled eastern half of the city of Aleppo, and of channeling rebel militias into the neighboring province of Idlib, shaping what military strategists term a “kill zone.”

Analysts and Western intelligence agencies closely observe Soleimani’s movements as they try to work out what Iran’s longer-term goals are for Syria and Iraq. Will both be turned into what will be seen as provinces of Iran and platforms for Tehran’s regional ambitions? Who will run Iraq and Syria once the Islamic State terror group is ousted from Mosul and Raqqa?

The three countries share deep religious and cultural ties, but the power of Iran now in Syria and Iraq comes with the presence of tens of thousands of Shi’ite militiamen linked to Tehran and trained and commanded by Quds Force generals and Soleimani, who reports, reputedly, directly to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

It is thanks to Shi’ite militias and Iranian combat troops as much as to Russian airpower that battlefield fortunes have shifted in Syria to favor Assad, military observers say.

Since January 2013, more than 1,000 members of the Quds Force or other IRGC units have been killed fighting in Syria most of them Pakistani Shi’ites recruited with the lure of Iranian citizenship and cash. Several IRGC generals have died in Syria, including Hassan Shateri, a veteran of Iran’s covert wars in the Middle East, whose 2013 funeral at Amir al-Momenin Mosque in Tehran was attended by Soleimani.

Some analysts estimate that about 10,000 Iranian combat troops are in Syria, as well as thousands of fighters from Lebanon’s Tehran-affiliated Shi’ite militia, Hezbollah.

As the United States and Iran jostle for influence in the Levant, Iran’s growing power in Syria and Iraq is causing unease in Western capitals.

“The extent of lasting Iranian influence seems to be of special concern,” analyst Sam Heller noted in a recent roundtable discussion on Syria’s future by scholars at the Century Foundation, a U.S.-based research organization.

Resentment in Syria, Iraq

There’s alarm even among some government loyalists in Damascus and Baghdad who chafe at Iranian clout. In the summer of 2015 in Syria, there were reports of resentment among some of Assad’s Syrian commanders at the influence of Quds Force generals.

FILE – Volunteers train at military base in the Shi’ite holy city of Najaf, 100 miles south of Baghdad, Iraq, June 17, 2014.

In Iraq, Shi’ite militias not under control of Tehran but loyal to Iraq’s Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani have bristled at talk of Najaf, considered the third-holiest shrine by Shi’ite Muslims, eventually coming under Iranian sway. In the meantime, Tehran-loyal militias have branched out and extended their control of more Iraqi territory.

Last month, Asaib Ahl al-Haq, one of the largest militias professing allegiance to Khamenei, moved its headquarters into a palace built by Saddam Hussein in a Sunni-majority neighborhood of the Iraqi capital.

Otherwise, the Quds Force-linked Shi’ite militias have been careful to observe the overall direction of Iraq’s prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, about the conduct of the battle against IS and have remained outside Mosul, allowing Iraq’s regular security forces to battle inside the mainly Sunni city.

And they have avoided clashing with the 5,000 or so American troops now stationed in Iraq or the U.S.-backed Kurdish peshmerga forces. There were fears that following the U.S. cruise missile strike this month on a Syrian government airfield, Iran may have ordered Shi’ite militiamen in Iraq to retaliate.

In the longer term, though, it is unclear whether Tehran will accept a continued American military presence in Iraq one the Iraqi prime minister said on a recent visit to Washington he would like to see.

FILE – Members of the mainly Shi’ite Hashid Shaabi militia hold a portrait of Quds Force Commander Qassem Suleimani during a demonstration to show support for Yemen’s Shi’ite Houthis and in protest of an air campaign in Yemen by a Saudi-led coalition, in Baghdad, March 31, 2015.

Wider Shi’ite role

In March, Hashim al-Musawi, spokesman for the Iran-controlled militia known as the Islamic Resistance Movement in Iraq (al-Nojaba), indicated at a news conference in Tehran that his and other Iranian-affiliated Iraqi Shi’ite militias wanted to take on a more expansive role in the region once the Sunni IS militants were defeated.

He mentioned taking military action against Turkish forces based near Mosul if they didn’t withdraw, and forming a brigade on the Golan Heights, controlled by the Assad government, as a means to strike at Israel. IRGC units already are thought to be stationed on the Golan Heights.

At a joint news conference April 5 in Washington with Jordan’s King Abdullah, President Donald Trump was asked what he thought about the Iran-loyal militias when it comes to Syria and their support in propping up Syria’s Assad.

“Will you go after them?” he was asked. “You will see,” he replied. “They will have a message. You will see what message that will be.”

But according to Ranj Alaaldin, an analyst at the Brookings Doha Center and author of a forthcoming book on Shi’ite militias in Iraq and Syria, Iran and its proxies “dominate realities on the ground.”

“Iranian influence cannot be eliminated,” he argued, it can only be contained.

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April 19, 2017   Posted in: Iraq  Comments Closed

Pressed in Iraq and Syria, IS lashes out in Egypt – Times LIVE

The group’s Egyptian affiliate which claimed Sunday’s attacks in the Nile Delta cities of Tanta and Alexandria has been centred in the Sinai Peninsula, where it has killed hundreds of policemen and soldiers.

But IS has been unable to seize population centres there, unlike its early gains in Iraq and Syria, and it has also lost top militants to Egyptian military strikes in recent months.

The jihadists have attacked Egyptian Coptic Christians before, but their campaign against the minority picked up in December with a Cairo church bombing that killed 29 people.

In Sinai, IS militants killed seven Copts in January and February, forcing dozens of Christian families to flee the peninsula that borders Israel and the Palestinian Gaza Strip.

“IS and its supporters online have been methodically introducing more radical sectarian concepts to Egyptian jihadists since the December bombing,” said Mokhtar Awad, a research fellow with George Washington University’s Program on Extremism.

The December bombing in a church adjacent to the Coptic papal seat marked a shift in IS tactics.

“It was not until December 2016 when the Islamic State began a systematic campaign to target Coptic Christians in Egypt,” said Jantzen Garnett, an expert on the jihadists with the Navanti Group analytics company.

“As the Islamic State is squeezed in Iraq and Syria it often conducts spectacular attacks elsewhere in an attempt to regain the narrative, boost morale and win recruits,” he said.

In Iraq and Syria, where the group proclaimed its “caliphate” in 2014 as it swept across northern Iraq, IS has faced consecutive defeats over the past year and is on the verge of losing control of Iraq’s second city Mosul.

In a video released in February, IS attacked Christians as “polytheists” and promised there would be further attacks.

After Sunday’s bombings in Tanta and Alexandria, the group said it had deployed two Egyptian suicide bombers against the “crusaders”.

A defiant President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi reacted by declaring a three-month state of emergency.

The Copts, who make up about 10 percent of Egypt’s 90 million people, have been attacked by Islamists for years, more so after the military overthrew Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in 2013.

The Coptic Church was accused by the Islamists of supporting Morsi’s overthrow which led to a bloody crackdown on Islamists, although Muslim clerics and politicians also backed his ouster.

Even before Morsi was toppled, jihadists had targeted the Christians, most notably in a 2011 New Year bombing of a church in Alexandria which police blamed on a group linked to Al-Qaeda.

The Islamic State group’s “sectarian attacks fuel those ideologically inclined to support the group, while showing it’s still ‘expanding’ despite battlefield setbacks,” said Zack Gold, a non-resident fellow with the Atlantic Center’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East.

The three church attacks in December and now April also suggest an expanded presence of jihadist cells west of the Suez Canal separating the Sinai proper from the rest of Egypt.

Following the December bombing, Sisi said members of the jihadist cell who carried it out had been caught, but others remained on the run.

“The Islamic State has struggled, with constant setbacks, to establish a sizable presence on the Egyptian mainland over the preceding years. These church bombings indicate they have a growing presence on the mainland,” said Garnett.

The IS affiliate’s predecessor in Egypt, Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, had carried out several attacks targeting the police on the mainland before pledging allegiance to IS in November 2014.

And several IS bombings and shootings took place in Cairo, also targeting policemen, before the December church bombing.

Police arrested several cells and in November 2015 announced they had killed a top IS jihadist, Ashraf al-Gharably, in a Cairo shootout.

-AFP

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April 10, 2017   Posted in: Iraq  Comments Closed

Fingerprints of Refugee Admitted To U.S. Were Found In An Iraq Bunker Used To Hold Hostages In Terrible Conditions – Townhall

Two Iraqi men in the United States as refugees, brothers Yousif Al Mashhandani and Adil Hasan, were arrested and charged Monday with immigration fraud after federal authorities found they lied about their biological connection to Majid Al Mashhadani. Mashhadani is an Iraqi who kidnapped an American in 2004 and held them in horrible conditions for nearly a year.

From a Department of Justice release (bolding is mine):

According to the affidavit in support of the criminal complaint, on Nov. 1, 2004, a U.S. citizen, identified as R.H., was kidnapped and held with other hostages for months in horrible conditions in an underground bunker. After a raid in 2005 freed the hostages, Majid Al Mashhadani (Majid), who is a full biological brother of Yousif and Hasan, was detained and admitted his complicity in the kidnapping of R.H.

According to the affidavit in support of the criminal complaint, Yousif was admitted into the U.S. as a refugee in 2008. In May 2013, Yousif resided in Vienna and applied for naturalization as a U.S. citizen. In connection with Yousifs applications for citizenship, his fingerprints were taken. According to an FBI fingerprint specialist, analysis conducted in November 2013 determined that Yousifs fingerprints match those found on a document at the underground bunker where forces rescued R.H. and others in Iraq in 2005.

According to the affidavit in support of the criminal complaint, to justify his application for refugee status, Hasan provided sworn testimony that, in 2006, he had been kidnapped and tortured by members of the Al Mahdi Army and held for nearly a month. Hasan said he was released upon the payment of a ransom of $20,000. In an interview by FBI agents in April 2016, Hasan said he was threatened in Iraq on two occasions, but made no mention of being kidnapped, held hostage and tortured for nearly a month. In a subsequent interview in October 2016, FBI agents confronted Hasan about the discrepancy in his stories and Hasan admitted to making false statements and creating his persecution story.

Based on the fingerprint match found in the Iraqi bunker, Yousif may have been involved in holding hostages with Mashhaadni. As noted, one of those hostages was an American citizen.

Hasan’s wife, Enas Ibrahim, was also arrested and charged “attempting to obtain naturalization contrary to law.” All three individuals live in Virginia. More from the release:

According to the affidavit, Hasan and Ibrahim also falsely represented their income level while on welfare to obtain an automobile loan.

“On January 8, 2015, Hasan and Ibrahim made a $10,000 down payment on an auto loan they obtained on the basis of their representations that they jointly earned at least $84,000 annually, including $36,000 that Ibrahim claimed to earn as a daycare worker in a job that she held for three years. At that time, Ibrahim was receiving benefits from the SNAP and TANF programs through the County of Fairfax on the basis of representation from 2014 renewal applications with Fairfax County Social Services that a) she was unemployed and had no income; b) their joint income was less that $4000 a week; c) that they had virtually no assets. The representations that Hasan and Ibrahim made to NMAC in January 2015 were inconsistent with the representations that Hasan made to Fairfax County in September and December 2014.”

You can read the entire affidavit below:

2017 03 28 Mashhadani Affidavit by Katie Pavlich on Scribd

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March 29, 2017   Posted in: Iraq  Comments Closed

Christianity in Iraq is finished, says Canon Andrew White, ‘vicar of Baghdad’ – Fox News

He is one of the worlds most prominent priests, but Canon Andrew White known as the Vicar of Baghdad has reached a painstaking conclusion: Christianity is all but over in the land where it all began.

The time has come where it is over, no Christians will be left. Some stay Christians should stay to maintain the historical presence, but it has become very difficult. The future for the community is very limited, White told Fox News this week. The Christians coming out of Iraq and ISIS areas in the Middle East all say the same thing, there is no way they are ever going back. They have had enough.

Thirty years ago, there were approximately 1.4 million Christians in Iraq. The number dwindled to around 1 million after the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003, and a year ago it was estimated that there were less than 250,000 left. Numbers have continued to decline as families flee, and today even approximate figures are difficult to obtain.

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If there is anything I can tell Americans it is that your fellow brothers and sisters are suffering, they are desperate for help, he said. And it is not just a matter of praying for peace. They need a lot food, resources, clothes, everything. They need everything.

For decades, Christians endured persecution in Iraq by hardline extremists as infidel people of the book but their fate became significantly more dire in 2014 after ISIS overran Mosul and the many ancient Christian villages surrounding the city. Thousands of families overnight were forced to flee their home, and while some have sought refuge in the northern Kurdish region, many have left the country altogether.

ISIS MURDERING COPTIC CHRISTIANS ON EGYPT’S SINAI PENINSULA OVER FAITH

White earned his moniker serving as the vicar of St. Georges Church, Baghdad the only remaining Anglican Church in the Iraqi capital until November, 2014 when he was ordered by the Archbishop of Canterbury to leave for securitys sake as the ISIS threat burgeoned.

Much of ministry over the years centered on humanitarian endeavors yet his do-good desires have come with controversy.

Last June, White came under criticism and was suspended by the board of trustees as president of the Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation (FRRME), the charity he founded in 2005 to bridge sectarian divisions and provide emergency relief to those affected by war. The suspension came after he made a Facebook post about freeing Yazidi sex slaves from ISIS, raising questions as to how that was achieved and if the terrorists were paid off.

The post also prompted an investigation of the foundation by the Charity Commission, the official charity regulator in England. As a registered UK charity, the organization is not permitted to engage in hostage release negotiations and it is against the law to pay ransoms to designated terrorist groups.

Nothing has come of the enquiry and White denied any wrongdoing publicly assuring that at no time did we pay money to any terrorists. He has not let the controversy stop him from continuing to help those fleeing ISIS atrocities in the Middle East. He has sincefounded two neworganizations, the Canon Andrew White Reconciliation Ministries in Amman, Jordan and Jerusalem Merit in Israel.

Whites ministry work in the Jordanian capital includes running a school and clinic for refugees and serving as a pastor to Christian families that have fled ISIS persecution. In Jerusalem, he is focused on relief and reconciliation amid the long-running Israel/Palestine conflict and he works directly with an array of religious groups, from Hasidic Jews and Samaritans to Christians and Muslims.

White has also been a vocal supporter of the new U.S. president. He praised Trumps commitment to helping persecuted Christians and for modifying his original travel ban to ensure Iraqis can still travel to the U.S. viewing that as acknowledgment that the two countries maintain positive ties. However, he hopes to foster dialogue with the administration and offer some suggestions to dealing with the Islamic community.

Many have this feeling that America is against them, and they need to show that America is not against Islam, America is against terrorism, White said, adding that by no means is he one of those people who thinks Islam is all about peace. We have got to have good relations, and the U.S is in a unique and powerful position to be a force for good.

Beyond humanitarian efforts, the central tenet of Whites work has for years been devoted to cultivating communications between Shia and Sunni leaders and even ISIS jihadists themselves in Iraq. Despite the constant terrorist threat, he continues to travel to Baghdad to continue his work in anti-extremism dialogue and to undergo stem cell treatment for Multiple Sclerosis, a diagnosis he received at age 33.

A lot of these guys I have known before they were ISIS, when they were part of militias like Sons of Iraq, he said. They operate in secret cells all over Baghdad, and the harder the Iraqi Army attacks Mosul, the more they attack Baghdad.

And, White stressed, there simply isnt a safe way to work with them.

It is important to find ways to engage with them, to look into their philosophies. I tried to invite some of the ISIS jihadists to dinner once, he added. They told me they would come, but that they would chop my head off afterwards. I didnt think it would be a nice way to end a dinner party.

Hollie McKay has been a FoxNews.com staff reporter since 2007. She has reported extensively from the Middle East on the rise and fall of terrorist groups such as ISIS in Iraq. Follow her on twitter at @holliesmckay

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March 21, 2017   Posted in: Iraq  Comments Closed

Iraq: Strengthen Domestic Violence Bill | Human Rights Watch – Human Rights Watch

(Beirut) The Iraqi parliament should set penalties for the crime of domestic violence, remove provisions that prioritize reconciliation over justice, and improve victim protections in a domestic violence bill, Human Rights Watch said today in a letter and memorandum to the speaker of parliament.

Parliament is completing its review of the draft Anti-Domestic Violence Law, which was introduced in 2015. Parliament should make key amendments and then urgently approve the bill.

Demonstrators in Baghdad call International Women’s Day a day of mourningin protest of Iraq’s new draft Jaafari Personal Status Law, which would restrict women’s rights in matters of inheritance, parental and other rights after divorce, make it easier for men to take multiple wives, and allow girls to be married from age 9. March 8, 2014. In March 2016, the Iraqi government told a UN treaty body that the draft Jaafari law has been withdrawn and the Iraqi Government has no plans to resubmit it, let alone adopt it.

2014 Iraqi al-Amal Association

A strong domestic violence law could help save Iraqi womens lives, said Rothna Begum, Middle East womens rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. The Iraqi parliament should make sure the final bill includes essential provisions to prevent domestic violence, protect survivors, and prosecute the abusers.

Domestic violence is a global phenomenon and remains a serious problem in Iraq. The Iraq Family Health Survey (IFHS) 2006/7 found that one in five Iraqi women are subject to physical domestic violence. A 2012 Ministry of Planning study found that at least 36 percent of married women reported experiencing some form of psychological abuse from their husbands, 23 percent reported verbal abuse, 6 percent reported physical violence, and 9 percent reported sexual violence. While more recent national studies are not available, womens rights organizations continue to report a high rate of domestic violence.

The strengths of the draft bill include provisions for services for domestic violence survivors, protection orders (restraining orders) and penalties for their breach, and the establishment of a cross-ministerial committee to combat domestic violence. However, the memorandum identifies several gaps and approaches in the bill that would undermine its effectiveness.

Middle East womens rights researcher

The draft law calls for the parties to be referred to family reconciliation committees and for prosecutions of abusers to be dropped if reconciliation is reached. But women in Iraq are often under tremendous social and economic pressure to prioritize the family unit over their own protection from violence. United Nations guidance provides that mediation should be prohibited in all cases of violence against women and at all stages of legal proceedings because mediation removes cases from judicial scrutiny. Promoting such reconciliation incorrectly presumes that both parties have equal bargaining power, reflects an assumption that both parties may be equally at fault for violence, and reduces accountability for the offender.

By promoting family reconciliation as an alternative to justice, the draft law undermines protection for domestic violence survivors, Begum said. The government should send a message that beating up your wife wont be treated leniently through mediation sessions, but instead be regarded as a crime.

While the draft law defines domestic violence as a crime, it fails to set penalties. It also does not repeal provisions in the Iraqi Penal Code that condone domestic violence. These include provisions that husbands have a right to punish their wives and that parents can discipline their children. Those responsible for honor violence or killings can benefit from reduced sentences as the Penal Code provides for mitigated sentences for violent acts including murder for so-called honourable motives or if a man catches his wife or female relative in the act of adultery or sex outside of marriage.

Other recommended changes include:

The bill provides for the establishment of government shelters, but it should require coordination with local womens rights organizations on the administration, training, and operation of such shelters, and permit privately run shelters for survivors of domestic violence. This is particularly important given that womens rights nongovernmental organizations, which have provided such shelters, have often been subject to physical attack and threats by offenders and have faced hostility by some government officials, Human Rights Watch said.

Womens rights groups in Iraq have campaigned for years for legislation on domestic violence. The Iraqi constitution expressly prohibits all forms of violence and abuse in the family. But only the Kurdistan Region of Iraq has a law on domestic violence. Iraqs Anti-Violence against Women Strategy (2013-2017), and the National Strategy on Advancement of Women in Iraq, adopted in 2014, call for legislation on domestic violence/violence against women.

Iraq has international human rights obligations to prevent and respond to these abuses. Several international treaty bodies, including the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, which oversees the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) treaty, have called for states parties to pass violence against women legislation. Iraq ratified the treaty in 1986.

Some members of parliament have voiced concerns that the bill might be against Islamic principles. However, womens rights organizations and some parliament members met in February 2017, with prominent clerics in Najaf, south of Baghdad, the capital, and found that they had no objections to the bill. Moreover, most Muslim-majority countries outside of the Middle East and North Africa region have adopted such legislation.

In recent years, several countries and autonomous regions in the Middle East and North Africa have also introduced some form of domestic violence legislation or regulation, including Algeria, Bahrain, the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, and Saudi Arabia. These laws vary in the degree to which they comply with international standards. Several other countries, including Morocco and Tunisia, are considering draft legislation on domestic violence.

Iraq should ensure that its legislation on domestic violence is in line with international standards, as a model for the region, Begum said.

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March 19, 2017   Posted in: Iraq  Comments Closed

US Troops to Iraq and Syria: More Middle East Madness as Trump Prepares to March – Center for Research on Globalization

We are now moving rapidly into stage II of Levantine Madness as the US boosts its intervention in the war-torn Mideast.

Five thousand US troops are back in Iraq to bolster the shattered nations puppet regime that is propped up by American bayonets. New Iraqi military formations have been formed, totally equipped with modern US M1 Abrams tanks, Humvees, and fleets of trucks. More US forces are on the way.

These US-financed Iraqi units are euphemistically called anti-terrorism forces and are supervised by US officers. In fact, what we see is the old British Imperial Raj formula of white officers commanding native mercenary troops.

Members of the Iraqi 6th Emergency Response Battalion conduct weapons training under the supervision of U.S. Special Operations Forces.(Photo:DVIDSHUB/flickr/cc)

These Iraqi units are now assaulting ISIS-held Mosul, Iraqs second city, and smaller towns. Most of Americas Iraqi sepoys (as native troops in the British Indian Raj were known) are Shia bitterly opposed to the nations minority Sunnis. After its 2003 invasion of Iraq, the US encouraged animosity between Shia and Sunni as a way of breaking resistance to foreign occupation divide et impera as the Romans used to say.

Interestingly, the backbone of ISIS leadership is made up of senior officers of Saddam Husseins old Iraqi army. The Mother of All Battles continues, as President Saddam predicted shortly before he was lynched.

Meanwhile, thousands of US troops and Special Forces are now also engaged in Syria though just whom they are battling remains confused. Syria has become a mad house of warring factions backed by outside powers a sort of modern version of Germanys dreadful 30 Years War of the 1600s.

The overall US commander for the Mideast, Gen. Joseph Votel, just asked the Trump administration for a large number of new American troops, saying he lacks the military resources to subdue and pacify the Levant. Votel, who is pretty sharp and a star of the US Armys Special Operations mafia, also just warned that India and Pakistan risked triggering a nuclear war, a grave danger this writer has been worrying about for years.

Meanwhile, the crazy-quilt war in Syria that was started by the Obama administration and the Saudis has become unmanageable. Syrian government forces are being strongly backed by Russia and slowly driving back anti-regime forces backed by the US, Saudi Arabia, France and, ever so quietly, Israel. ISIS and whats left of al-Qaida are battling the Damascus government, sometimes discreetly aided by the western powers.

Americas main ally in Iraq and Syria are Kurdish militias of the PYD party, an affiliate of the older PKK which has sought an independent Kurdish state for decades. I covered the long, bloody war between the Turkish armed forces and the PKK in Eastern Anatolia during the mid-1990s. Turkey is desperately concerned that formation of even a mini-Kurdish state in northern Syria or Iraq will eventually lead to creation of a large Kurdish state in Turkey. Eighteen percent of Turks are ethnic Kurds. The mighty Turkish Army will never allow this to happen.

The Turks just watched the US break up Sudan, creating the new state of South Sudan, which has turned into a bloody disaster. Could Turkey be next? Many Turks suspect the US was behind the recent coup attempted against Turkeys leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Washington would like a more obedient leader in Ankara or see the army generals back in power.

Turkey calls the Kurdish PYD terrorists. The US calls them comrades in arms and finances them. Clashes between the Turks and PYD appear very likely. PYDs blood brothers, the PKK, continue to wage bombing attacks across Turkey along with Islamic State. US forces in the region could easily be drawn into this murky fracas.

Meanwhile, ISIS appears increasingly vulnerable. It has lost almost half of Mosul, the one big city it holds. The ISIS capital, Raqqa, will soon be overrun by US-led Iraqi forces and Kurds. Raqqa is a two-by nothing, one-camel town of no military value whatsoever. There is no way that 3,000 or so ISIS hooligans with only small arms could hold off a serious attack by regular troops and massed airpower, including B-52 and B-1 heavy bombers.

Why Raqqa was not taken a year ago or more remains one of the wars major mysteries. As Ive previously written, I suspect that the US and Saudi Arabia originally helped create and arm ISIS to be used against Syrias government and Afghanistans Taliban movement. The US has long pretended to fight ISIS but has barely done so in reality.

Maybe this time it will be for real. ISIS has largely slipped out of the control of its western handlers, a bunch of 20-something wildmen whose main goal is revenge for attacks on Muslim targets. Without modern logistics, heavy weapons and trained officers the idea that ISIS could stand up to any western forces is a joke. Its only when ISIS confronts ramshackle Arab forces that it has any clout. And thats because mostly Iraqi Arab forces have no loyalty to their governments. They are merely poorly paid mercenaries.

As if this witchs brew was not sufficiently toxic, US and Russian aircraft and Special Forces are brushing up against one another in Syria. At the same time, the US Navy in the nearby Persian Gulf is provoking the Iranians to please President Donald Trump who seems determined to have war with Iran.

The US Navy is now threatening to impose a naval blockade on war-torn Yemen, another joint US-Saudi warfare enterprise that has gone terribly wrong.

History shows its also easy to lie, flag-wave and bluster into war but awfully hard to get out. Trump, whose main information sources appears to be Fox fake TV news, does yet seem to understand this verity. He should have a good look at Afghanistan, Americas longest war, now in its 16th year of stalemate. The Pentagon, heedless that Afghanistan is known as the Graveyard of Empires, wants more troops.

Eric Margolisis a columnist, author and a veteran of many conflicts in the Middle East. Margolis recently was featured in a special appearance on Britains Sky News TV as the man who got it right in his predictions about the dangerous risks and entanglements the US would face in Iraq. His latest book isAmerican Raj: Liberation or Domination?: Resolving the Conflict Between the West and the Muslim World.

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March 15, 2017   Posted in: Iraq  Comments Closed

Can Iraq Survive Trump? – POLITICO Magazine – POLITICO Magazine

SULAYMANIYAH, IraqWhat does the end of American leadership in the Middle East look like?

Theres no better place to find out these days than Iraqi Kurdistan, which is, by any measure, one of the most pro-American places in the world.

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Kurdistan wouldnt exist in anything like its current form if not for the intervention of successive American presidents going back to George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, who insisted on protecting the enclave from Saddam Hussein. George W. Bush may be disdained as an occupier elsewhere in Iraq, but he is remembered here as a liberator and a hero for toppling Hussein, as nearly everyone with whom I spoke here reminds me. And just a couple hours away, in the raging battle to retake the strategic city of Mosul from the terrors of the Islamic State, the fight wouldnt be possible without assistance from hundreds of American advisers on the ground and pilots in the air.

So its no accident that when Barham Salih, the polished and urbane pol who previously served as deputy prime minister of Iraq and prime minister of the Kurdish regional republic, gathers the Iraqi political class every year for a Western-style conference on their troubled countrys future, he invites them to the American University he helped found in Sulaymaniyah.

But this year America was scarcely in evidence at Salihs annual forum, except as a subject of nervous speculation and Trump White House Kremlinology. President Trump has talked a lot about defeating the Islamic State but done virtually nothing to address Iraq itself, except to lump it in with other suspect states in a temporary travel ban, a move he ultimately reversed amid protests from his own commanders, who objected to treating an ally with the back of the hand.

So while Iraqs political class wonders what, if anything, Trump now has in mind for their unsettled nation, they are preparing for a coming crisis that may be every bit as serious as the military battle against the Islamic State they finally look to be on the verge of winning.

Because 14 years after Bushs invasion, Iraqs futureand that of independence-aspiring Kurdistan along with itis very much in doubt. The rise of the Islamic State triggered not only a new civil war and refugee catastrophe but also a spiraling economic crisis at just the moment when the oil prices upon which Iraq depends for virtually its entire government budget utterly cratered. And this all comes as America, once the regions indispensable player, has been increasingly ceding the field to neighboring powers like Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkeynot to mention a resurgent Russia.

Will Iraq make it through?

The answer, I heard in dozens of conversations over the last week here, was strikingly uncertain, with dire scenarios ranging from the long-feared splintering of the state to a new outbreak of warlordism and civil war to the return of a Saddam-like dictator. Even self-proclaimed optimists for the future of Iraqi democracy say they have a hard time envisioning how the country manages to pull it off, and the countrys leader, Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi, is viewed as well-intentioned but weak, a creature of the Baghdad Green Zone who has few tools at his disposal to broker a lasting deal.

To me, this is the collapse of the American order that began in 2003, Salih tells me on the sidelines of his forum. And a continuation of the collapse of the European order of the 1920s.

We are fighting a war of survival, says Qubad Talabani, the 39-year-old heir apparent to one of the main Kurdish political parties, whose father Jalal Talabani was Iraqs post-invasion president from 2005 to 2014 and who himself is a smooth Washington veteran now serving as deputy prime minister of Kurdistan.

Can the United States still help under President Trump? Will it, with a new leader whose foreign policy is premised on the idea of America First, who has said the invasion of Iraq was a terrible mistake and that we should have just taken the countrys oil and gotten the hell out?

The world looks at America, Talabani tells me in an interview for The Global Politico, our podcast on world affairs. And when America disengages, usually the world also disengages.

***

Sulyamaniyah looks pretty good for a place that even its own leaders say is on the verge of collapse. The central market is bustling, filled with bootleg iPhones and cheap Chinese goods and giant local radishes. The mountains that encircle the town still have snow on their peaks, and the citys sunsets are famously beautiful; in another political universe, tourism would be one of Sulaymaniyahs bumper crops.

But Mosul — and the brutal, months-long battle to retake itis only 140 miles up the road, and the fight against the Islamic State has been the overriding political imperative for virtually all of Iraqs faction-ridden politicians since the militant jihadists stormed through the country two and a half years ago, at one point even seeming to threaten Baghdad. In Kurdistan, that meant a region overwhelmed by some 1.8 million refugeesboth internally displaced Iraqis and Syrians running from ISIS next dooreven as the central government in Baghdad essentially went bust, stopping almost entirely all salary and other payments. Political infighting, long a tradition here, spiraled out of control as conditions worsened; Kurdistans president, Masoud Barzani, has remained in office two years past the expiration of his term with no sign of new elections on the horizon and the speaker of the local parliament has been blocked by Barzani from even going to the regional capital of Erbil.

We have prevented the collapse of the government here, says Talabani. But were not out of the woods yet.

We both had listened earlier that day as Prime Minister Abadi gave an unusually direct speech to the forum, delivered without notes and apparently straight from the heart, about the dream of a united Iraq, one in which Sunnis and Shias, Arabs and Kurds, Christians and Yazidis, would build on the military partnership theyd forged to challenge ISIS and turn it into a new and more viable version of the Iraqi state than the weak, corruption-plagued, overtly sectarian one that almost fell apart when the Islamic State arose.

This is not imagination, Abadi said. We are closer to the reality.

And it is a reality that looks far better than just a couple years earlier, the prime minister reminded the audience, when the talk was all about how Iraq will not return back to what it has been.

Still, Iraq is no country for optimists, and Abadis warning, while sugarcoated, was clear in the heart of Kurdistan, a region that aspires to an independence that could well hasten the end of the state itself: work together and patch Iraq back up, or encourage a new dictatorship, as Abadi put it, in a place where longing for a strongman is an increasingly prevalent political fear.

Not long before Abadis address, Talabani had said publicly that Iraq has failed as a state. It didnt sound like he and other Kurdish politicians expected the cooperation and modest goodwill generated by the largely successful military campaign against ISIS to outlive the war. Was that right, I asked him? Well, he said, the military alliance is an easier one for the Kurds than the political mess that is sure to follow:

We cannot just look at defeating ISIS on the battlefield, because ISIS is not just a security threat; ISIS is a political threat, its an ideological threat, its a global threat. So if we think that just by liberating Mosul, we have eradicated ISIS from Iraq, that is a fallacy. Much more needs to be done on the political and economic levels for us to feel safe that ISIS 3.0 will not return and cause havoc in this country.

***

If theres one thing that the Iraqi politicians who came to Sulaymaniyah this week seem to agree on, its that figuring out Iraq after ISIS will be a lot harder without American involvement. The Kurds, itching for independence, have put off a referendum on their future while the fighting still ragesbut will resume their push for political autonomy as soon as the shooting stops. Many worry that revenge killings will proliferate in areas formerly held by the Islamic State and that Sunni areas where ISIS flourished will not have leaders who can or will reintegrate them with the Iraqi state. And Abadi, who faces reelection next year, has much to worry about from within his own Shiite political partyas well as from the former prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, widely seen as still waiting in the wings for Abadi to stumble.

With so much complexity swirling about, theres one factor even more unpredictable than many of Iraqs by-now-familiar dysfunctions: What about the Americans? If Trump has a political vision for Iraq, he has kept it well hidden, and his secretary of state has been a cipher, though Trump has appointed several generals to his team, including national security adviser H.R. McMaster, who served in Iraq and know its challenges well.

But if anything, I found that many Iraqis are surprisingly pro-Trumpdespite his anti-Muslim rhetoric on the campaign trail, his talk of taking Iraqs oil and even his initial inclusion of Iraq on his temporary immigration ban.

The answer has much to do with Trumps all-too-familiar political styleand perhaps even more to do with Barack Obama.

Listen to Isa Mohamed, a university student here and aspiring novelist from Baghdad. . Hes convinced that not even a decade and a half after the fall of Saddam, Iraqis are so sick of the chaos they now talk of restoring a strongman to power.

And that also makes them open to Trump and his muscular pronouncements about defeating the Islamic State. President Trump is an ideal concept for Middle Easterners in general, and Iraqis in particular, because he fits the loud, strong, one who will say it as it is, Isa says. To them, they can see Trump is doing something, instead of what we saw with Obama.

Talabani and other politicians, if not as blunt, are similarly critical of Obamas policies toward Iraq Obama-bashing, as one veteran observer of the region put it to me this week, is the one thing that unites the Middle East right now from Iran to Israel. I didnt meet anyone who agreed with Trumps campaign-trail insistence that Obama and his secretary of state Hillary Clinton created the Islamic State by pulling out of IraqISIS, Talabani told me, was born out of the failure of Iraqi politicsbut there remain many hard feelings about Obamas decision to pull out nonetheless.

In that sense, Trumps version of America First might not be such a break with the American pullback the region has already seenand it might even be better. After all, Abadi has now become the first Arab leader officially invited for a Trump White House visit; hell come to Washington later this month.

President Obama, when he came into office, his mandate was to get out of Iraq, which you could say is an America first strategy, Talabani notes. But we saw that getting out of Iraq didnt help Iraq. It didnt help the United States in the Middle East. It didnt help peace and prosperity here. So were hopeful that America First doesnt mean disengagement.

Hopeful, yes. But Iraqis have learned not to let themselves feel much more than that.

Susan B. Glasser is POLITICOs chief international affairs columnist. Her new podcast, The Global Politico, comes out Mondays. Subscribe here. Follow her on Twitter @sbg1.

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Rival Kurdish factions clash in northwestern Iraq – Reuters

By Isabel Coles | ERBIL, Iraq

ERBIL, Iraq Rival Kurdish groups clashed in Iraq’s northwestern Sinjar region on Friday, two Kurdish security sources said.

The deadly fighting erupted when Peshmerga Rojava forces moved towards the border with Syria, encroaching on territory controlled by a local affiliate of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

The unrest highlights the risk of conflict and turf war between the multiple forces arrayed against Islamic State, many of which lean on regional patrons for political support and arms.

The Peshmerga Rojava is made up of Kurds from Syria and was formed and trained in Iraq with the backing of Masoud Barzani, president of the Kurdish Regional Government in northern Iraq.

Friday’s clashes, which lasted several hours, pitted them against the YBS, which was set up there by the PKK after it came to the aid of the Yazidi population when the area was overrun by Islamic State in the summer of 2014.

“There are martyrs and wounded on both sides,” one security source said.

The war with Islamic State has enabled Kurds to expand their territory and influence in both Iraq and Syria, but it has also heightened competition amongst them, particularly in the Sinjar region.

The PKK’s foothold in the area has put it on a collision course with Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), which is aligned with Turkey and counts Sinjar as part of its territory.

Turkey is at war with the PKK. On Friday, foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu on Friday said the group posed “a threat against the legitimate regional government in Northern Iraq and they are used by some countries against the current administration there.”

“It’s our duty to destroy these terrorist organizations wherever they are,” the minister told reporters in Ankara.

Another PKK affiliate has been in control of Kurdish territory in northeast Syria on the border with Turkey since the civil war between forces loyal and opposed to President Bashar al-Assad.

That group, the PYD, has repeatedly denied entry to the Peshmerga Rojava.

In a statement on Friday, the YBS said the fighting began when the Peshmerga Rojava tried to seize its positions in Khanasor. The YBS accused Turkey of instigating the violence.

“It is a totally provocative initiative,” the YBS said.

Most Yazidis are still displaced from their homes, but some families who returned to Sinjar fled again on Friday, including a 19-year from the town of Khanasor where the clashes took place.

“It’s a struggle between two political parties but the victims are the Yazidis,” he said on condition of anonymity. “Aren’t they supposed to be fighting Daesh (Islamic State)? Let them go and get rid of them.”

(Reporting by Isabel Coles in Erbil and Tulay Karadeniz in Ankara; Editing by Richard Lough and Dominic Evans)

BETHLEHEM, West Bank Under an army watchtower and across the street from the concrete wall Israel has built in parts of the occupied West Bank, street artist Banksy has opened a guesthouse in the Palestinian city of Bethlehem.

PARIS French far-right leader Marine Le Pen refused to attend a summons by judges over allegations of misuse of European Union funds, her lawyer told Reuters on Friday.

BENGHAZI, Libya An armed faction entered a major Libyan oil terminal and a nearby airport on Friday, after attacking forces that have controlled the terminals since September, officials and residents said.

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The politics of Kirkuk is a thorny problem for Iraq – TRT World

Iraqs northern city of Kirkuk becomes a disputed area as the local provincial council decides to conduct a referendum on its status. Photo by: AFP The Kurdish Regional Government flag (L) and the Iraqi flag (R) being raised over a government building in Kirkuk, Iraq, March 28, 2017. The dual flags of Iraq and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) wave across Kirkuk, symbolising a larger struggle overcontrol ofthe oil-rich city. Kirkuk has been a political flashpointin Iraq for decades. At least four minority groups Arabs, Kurds, Assyrians, and Turkmenlive there. But the KRG has been arguing with Baghdads central government over control of the city. They say they earned that right after the Kurdish Peshmerga pushed Daesh out of the city in 2014. “We think this flag should wave and stay here, we have shed our blood for Kirkuk for years. We have martyrs, we protected our city from Daesh, we resisted them,” said Ahmet Sabir. Iraqi Turkmen Front Deputy Chairman and MP for KirkukprovinceHasan Turan said, “By waving the flag of northern Iraq, Kurdish parties are trying to give Kirkuk a different identity. We can never accept this.” Human Rights Watch last year accusedthe KRG of forcing Sunni Arab families to leave the city. It is an accusation that the KRG denies. TRT Worlds Zeina Awad explains tensions in Kirkuk. Saudi King invites Muslim leaders for summit with Trump 14 things to know about Hamas’ new leader, Ismail Haniya Why are Turkey and the US falling out over Syria? Four UN peacekeepers killed, eight wounded in Central African Republic Iraqi painter draws life under Daesh Abbas ready to work on Trump’s Palestine-Israel peace plan

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Iranian Militia Role in Syria, Iraq Prompts Alarm – Voice of America

Earlier in April he was spotted in the northern countryside of the central Syrian province of Hama, where the forces of President Bashar al-Assad have been battling a surprise rebel offensive and reportedly sustaining high casualties. On Monday, according to local news reports, General Qassem Soleimani, commander of Iran’s elite Quds Force, a special forces branch of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), was in Kirkuk, 1,000 kilometers from Hama, trying to broker a deal between Shi’ite militias and the Kurds about eventual control of the disputed northern Iraqi city. The London-based Al-Araby Al-Jadeed, a Qatari-owned pan-Arab news outlet, reported that Soleimani’s visit to Iraq’s Kurdish region lasted several days, and during that time the Quds Force commander stressed that Kirkuk should remain a city for all Iraqis and shouldn’t be annexed by the Kurds. He said military clashes between Kurds and Shi’ites should be avoided. As the wars have raged in Syria and Iraq, and as Iran has deepened its military involvement, Soleimani increasingly has taken on the role, according to some analysts, as Iran’s viceroy in the Levant a mixture of soldier and satrap. FILE – Revolutionary Guard General Qassem Soleimani attends an annual rally commemorating the anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, in Tehran, Iran, Feb. 11 2016. Credited as strategist Syrian rebel commanders credit the silver-haired 59-year-old with being the principal architect last year of Assad’s military strategy to retake the rebel-controlled eastern half of the city of Aleppo, and of channeling rebel militias into the neighboring province of Idlib, shaping what military strategists term a “kill zone.” Analysts and Western intelligence agencies closely observe Soleimani’s movements as they try to work out what Iran’s longer-term goals are for Syria and Iraq. Will both be turned into what will be seen as provinces of Iran and platforms for Tehran’s regional ambitions? Who will run Iraq and Syria once the Islamic State terror group is ousted from Mosul and Raqqa? The three countries share deep religious and cultural ties, but the power of Iran now in Syria and Iraq comes with the presence of tens of thousands of Shi’ite militiamen linked to Tehran and trained and commanded by Quds Force generals and Soleimani, who reports, reputedly, directly to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. It is thanks to Shi’ite militias and Iranian combat troops as much as to Russian airpower that battlefield fortunes have shifted in Syria to favor Assad, military observers say. Since January 2013, more than 1,000 members of the Quds Force or other IRGC units have been killed fighting in Syria most of them Pakistani Shi’ites recruited with the lure of Iranian citizenship and cash. Several IRGC generals have died in Syria, including Hassan Shateri, a veteran of Iran’s covert wars in the Middle East, whose 2013 funeral at Amir al-Momenin Mosque in Tehran was attended by Soleimani. Some analysts estimate that about 10,000 Iranian combat troops are in Syria, as well as thousands of fighters from Lebanon’s Tehran-affiliated Shi’ite militia, Hezbollah. As the United States and Iran jostle for influence in the Levant, Iran’s growing power in Syria and Iraq is causing unease in Western capitals. “The extent of lasting Iranian influence seems to be of special concern,” analyst Sam Heller noted in a recent roundtable discussion on Syria’s future by scholars at the Century Foundation, a U.S.-based research organization. Resentment in Syria, Iraq There’s alarm even among some government loyalists in Damascus and Baghdad who chafe at Iranian clout. In the summer of 2015 in Syria, there were reports of resentment among some of Assad’s Syrian commanders at the influence of Quds Force generals. FILE – Volunteers train at military base in the Shi’ite holy city of Najaf, 100 miles south of Baghdad, Iraq, June 17, 2014. In Iraq, Shi’ite militias not under control of Tehran but loyal to Iraq’s Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani have bristled at talk of Najaf, considered the third-holiest shrine by Shi’ite Muslims, eventually coming under Iranian sway. In the meantime, Tehran-loyal militias have branched out and extended their control of more Iraqi territory. Last month, Asaib Ahl al-Haq, one of the largest militias professing allegiance to Khamenei, moved its headquarters into a palace built by Saddam Hussein in a Sunni-majority neighborhood of the Iraqi capital. Otherwise, the Quds Force-linked Shi’ite militias have been careful to observe the overall direction of Iraq’s prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, about the conduct of the battle against IS and have remained outside Mosul, allowing Iraq’s regular security forces to battle inside the mainly Sunni city. And they have avoided clashing with the 5,000 or so American troops now stationed in Iraq or the U.S.-backed Kurdish peshmerga forces. There were fears that following the U.S. cruise missile strike this month on a Syrian government airfield, Iran may have ordered Shi’ite militiamen in Iraq to retaliate. In the longer term, though, it is unclear whether Tehran will accept a continued American military presence in Iraq one the Iraqi prime minister said on a recent visit to Washington he would like to see. FILE – Members of the mainly Shi’ite Hashid Shaabi militia hold a portrait of Quds Force Commander Qassem Suleimani during a demonstration to show support for Yemen’s Shi’ite Houthis and in protest of an air campaign in Yemen by a Saudi-led coalition, in Baghdad, March 31, 2015. Wider Shi’ite role In March, Hashim al-Musawi, spokesman for the Iran-controlled militia known as the Islamic Resistance Movement in Iraq (al-Nojaba), indicated at a news conference in Tehran that his and other Iranian-affiliated Iraqi Shi’ite militias wanted to take on a more expansive role in the region once the Sunni IS militants were defeated. He mentioned taking military action against Turkish forces based near Mosul if they didn’t withdraw, and forming a brigade on the Golan Heights, controlled by the Assad government, as a means to strike at Israel. IRGC units already are thought to be stationed on the Golan Heights. At a joint news conference April 5 in Washington with Jordan’s King Abdullah, President Donald Trump was asked what he thought about the Iran-loyal militias when it comes to Syria and their support in propping up Syria’s Assad. “Will you go after them?” he was asked. “You will see,” he replied. “They will have a message. You will see what message that will be.” But according to Ranj Alaaldin, an analyst at the Brookings Doha Center and author of a forthcoming book on Shi’ite militias in Iraq and Syria, Iran and its proxies “dominate realities on the ground.” “Iranian influence cannot be eliminated,” he argued, it can only be contained.

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Pressed in Iraq and Syria, IS lashes out in Egypt – Times LIVE

The group’s Egyptian affiliate which claimed Sunday’s attacks in the Nile Delta cities of Tanta and Alexandria has been centred in the Sinai Peninsula, where it has killed hundreds of policemen and soldiers. But IS has been unable to seize population centres there, unlike its early gains in Iraq and Syria, and it has also lost top militants to Egyptian military strikes in recent months. The jihadists have attacked Egyptian Coptic Christians before, but their campaign against the minority picked up in December with a Cairo church bombing that killed 29 people. In Sinai, IS militants killed seven Copts in January and February, forcing dozens of Christian families to flee the peninsula that borders Israel and the Palestinian Gaza Strip. “IS and its supporters online have been methodically introducing more radical sectarian concepts to Egyptian jihadists since the December bombing,” said Mokhtar Awad, a research fellow with George Washington University’s Program on Extremism. The December bombing in a church adjacent to the Coptic papal seat marked a shift in IS tactics. “It was not until December 2016 when the Islamic State began a systematic campaign to target Coptic Christians in Egypt,” said Jantzen Garnett, an expert on the jihadists with the Navanti Group analytics company. “As the Islamic State is squeezed in Iraq and Syria it often conducts spectacular attacks elsewhere in an attempt to regain the narrative, boost morale and win recruits,” he said. In Iraq and Syria, where the group proclaimed its “caliphate” in 2014 as it swept across northern Iraq, IS has faced consecutive defeats over the past year and is on the verge of losing control of Iraq’s second city Mosul. In a video released in February, IS attacked Christians as “polytheists” and promised there would be further attacks. After Sunday’s bombings in Tanta and Alexandria, the group said it had deployed two Egyptian suicide bombers against the “crusaders”. A defiant President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi reacted by declaring a three-month state of emergency. The Copts, who make up about 10 percent of Egypt’s 90 million people, have been attacked by Islamists for years, more so after the military overthrew Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in 2013. The Coptic Church was accused by the Islamists of supporting Morsi’s overthrow which led to a bloody crackdown on Islamists, although Muslim clerics and politicians also backed his ouster. Even before Morsi was toppled, jihadists had targeted the Christians, most notably in a 2011 New Year bombing of a church in Alexandria which police blamed on a group linked to Al-Qaeda. The Islamic State group’s “sectarian attacks fuel those ideologically inclined to support the group, while showing it’s still ‘expanding’ despite battlefield setbacks,” said Zack Gold, a non-resident fellow with the Atlantic Center’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East. The three church attacks in December and now April also suggest an expanded presence of jihadist cells west of the Suez Canal separating the Sinai proper from the rest of Egypt. Following the December bombing, Sisi said members of the jihadist cell who carried it out had been caught, but others remained on the run. “The Islamic State has struggled, with constant setbacks, to establish a sizable presence on the Egyptian mainland over the preceding years. These church bombings indicate they have a growing presence on the mainland,” said Garnett. The IS affiliate’s predecessor in Egypt, Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, had carried out several attacks targeting the police on the mainland before pledging allegiance to IS in November 2014. And several IS bombings and shootings took place in Cairo, also targeting policemen, before the December church bombing. Police arrested several cells and in November 2015 announced they had killed a top IS jihadist, Ashraf al-Gharably, in a Cairo shootout. -AFP

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Fingerprints of Refugee Admitted To U.S. Were Found In An Iraq Bunker Used To Hold Hostages In Terrible Conditions – Townhall

Two Iraqi men in the United States as refugees, brothers Yousif Al Mashhandani and Adil Hasan, were arrested and charged Monday with immigration fraud after federal authorities found they lied about their biological connection to Majid Al Mashhadani. Mashhadani is an Iraqi who kidnapped an American in 2004 and held them in horrible conditions for nearly a year. From a Department of Justice release (bolding is mine): According to the affidavit in support of the criminal complaint, on Nov. 1, 2004, a U.S. citizen, identified as R.H., was kidnapped and held with other hostages for months in horrible conditions in an underground bunker. After a raid in 2005 freed the hostages, Majid Al Mashhadani (Majid), who is a full biological brother of Yousif and Hasan, was detained and admitted his complicity in the kidnapping of R.H. According to the affidavit in support of the criminal complaint, Yousif was admitted into the U.S. as a refugee in 2008. In May 2013, Yousif resided in Vienna and applied for naturalization as a U.S. citizen. In connection with Yousifs applications for citizenship, his fingerprints were taken. According to an FBI fingerprint specialist, analysis conducted in November 2013 determined that Yousifs fingerprints match those found on a document at the underground bunker where forces rescued R.H. and others in Iraq in 2005. According to the affidavit in support of the criminal complaint, to justify his application for refugee status, Hasan provided sworn testimony that, in 2006, he had been kidnapped and tortured by members of the Al Mahdi Army and held for nearly a month. Hasan said he was released upon the payment of a ransom of $20,000. In an interview by FBI agents in April 2016, Hasan said he was threatened in Iraq on two occasions, but made no mention of being kidnapped, held hostage and tortured for nearly a month. In a subsequent interview in October 2016, FBI agents confronted Hasan about the discrepancy in his stories and Hasan admitted to making false statements and creating his persecution story. Based on the fingerprint match found in the Iraqi bunker, Yousif may have been involved in holding hostages with Mashhaadni. As noted, one of those hostages was an American citizen. Hasan’s wife, Enas Ibrahim, was also arrested and charged “attempting to obtain naturalization contrary to law.” All three individuals live in Virginia. More from the release: According to the affidavit, Hasan and Ibrahim also falsely represented their income level while on welfare to obtain an automobile loan. “On January 8, 2015, Hasan and Ibrahim made a $10,000 down payment on an auto loan they obtained on the basis of their representations that they jointly earned at least $84,000 annually, including $36,000 that Ibrahim claimed to earn as a daycare worker in a job that she held for three years. At that time, Ibrahim was receiving benefits from the SNAP and TANF programs through the County of Fairfax on the basis of representation from 2014 renewal applications with Fairfax County Social Services that a) she was unemployed and had no income; b) their joint income was less that $4000 a week; c) that they had virtually no assets. The representations that Hasan and Ibrahim made to NMAC in January 2015 were inconsistent with the representations that Hasan made to Fairfax County in September and December 2014.” You can read the entire affidavit below: 2017 03 28 Mashhadani Affidavit by Katie Pavlich on Scribd Two Bad Court Rulings in Two Days forPro-life Investigators Who Exposed Planned Parenthood David Friedman Sworn in as Trump’s Ambassador to Israel

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Christianity in Iraq is finished, says Canon Andrew White, ‘vicar of Baghdad’ – Fox News

He is one of the worlds most prominent priests, but Canon Andrew White known as the Vicar of Baghdad has reached a painstaking conclusion: Christianity is all but over in the land where it all began. The time has come where it is over, no Christians will be left. Some stay Christians should stay to maintain the historical presence, but it has become very difficult. The future for the community is very limited, White told Fox News this week. The Christians coming out of Iraq and ISIS areas in the Middle East all say the same thing, there is no way they are ever going back. They have had enough. Thirty years ago, there were approximately 1.4 million Christians in Iraq. The number dwindled to around 1 million after the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003, and a year ago it was estimated that there were less than 250,000 left. Numbers have continued to decline as families flee, and today even approximate figures are difficult to obtain. A LOOK INSIDE THE WALLS OF A PRISON IN IRAQ, AND INTO THE TORTURED MINDS OF FEMALE ISIS MILITANTS HELD THERE If there is anything I can tell Americans it is that your fellow brothers and sisters are suffering, they are desperate for help, he said. And it is not just a matter of praying for peace. They need a lot food, resources, clothes, everything. They need everything. For decades, Christians endured persecution in Iraq by hardline extremists as infidel people of the book but their fate became significantly more dire in 2014 after ISIS overran Mosul and the many ancient Christian villages surrounding the city. Thousands of families overnight were forced to flee their home, and while some have sought refuge in the northern Kurdish region, many have left the country altogether. ISIS MURDERING COPTIC CHRISTIANS ON EGYPT’S SINAI PENINSULA OVER FAITH White earned his moniker serving as the vicar of St. Georges Church, Baghdad the only remaining Anglican Church in the Iraqi capital until November, 2014 when he was ordered by the Archbishop of Canterbury to leave for securitys sake as the ISIS threat burgeoned. Much of ministry over the years centered on humanitarian endeavors yet his do-good desires have come with controversy. Last June, White came under criticism and was suspended by the board of trustees as president of the Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation (FRRME), the charity he founded in 2005 to bridge sectarian divisions and provide emergency relief to those affected by war. The suspension came after he made a Facebook post about freeing Yazidi sex slaves from ISIS, raising questions as to how that was achieved and if the terrorists were paid off. The post also prompted an investigation of the foundation by the Charity Commission, the official charity regulator in England. As a registered UK charity, the organization is not permitted to engage in hostage release negotiations and it is against the law to pay ransoms to designated terrorist groups. Nothing has come of the enquiry and White denied any wrongdoing publicly assuring that at no time did we pay money to any terrorists. He has not let the controversy stop him from continuing to help those fleeing ISIS atrocities in the Middle East. He has sincefounded two neworganizations, the Canon Andrew White Reconciliation Ministries in Amman, Jordan and Jerusalem Merit in Israel. Whites ministry work in the Jordanian capital includes running a school and clinic for refugees and serving as a pastor to Christian families that have fled ISIS persecution. In Jerusalem, he is focused on relief and reconciliation amid the long-running Israel/Palestine conflict and he works directly with an array of religious groups, from Hasidic Jews and Samaritans to Christians and Muslims. White has also been a vocal supporter of the new U.S. president. He praised Trumps commitment to helping persecuted Christians and for modifying his original travel ban to ensure Iraqis can still travel to the U.S. viewing that as acknowledgment that the two countries maintain positive ties. However, he hopes to foster dialogue with the administration and offer some suggestions to dealing with the Islamic community. Many have this feeling that America is against them, and they need to show that America is not against Islam, America is against terrorism, White said, adding that by no means is he one of those people who thinks Islam is all about peace. We have got to have good relations, and the U.S is in a unique and powerful position to be a force for good. Beyond humanitarian efforts, the central tenet of Whites work has for years been devoted to cultivating communications between Shia and Sunni leaders and even ISIS jihadists themselves in Iraq. Despite the constant terrorist threat, he continues to travel to Baghdad to continue his work in anti-extremism dialogue and to undergo stem cell treatment for Multiple Sclerosis, a diagnosis he received at age 33. A lot of these guys I have known before they were ISIS, when they were part of militias like Sons of Iraq, he said. They operate in secret cells all over Baghdad, and the harder the Iraqi Army attacks Mosul, the more they attack Baghdad. And, White stressed, there simply isnt a safe way to work with them. It is important to find ways to engage with them, to look into their philosophies. I tried to invite some of the ISIS jihadists to dinner once, he added. They told me they would come, but that they would chop my head off afterwards. I didnt think it would be a nice way to end a dinner party. Hollie McKay has been a FoxNews.com staff reporter since 2007. She has reported extensively from the Middle East on the rise and fall of terrorist groups such as ISIS in Iraq. Follow her on twitter at @holliesmckay

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March 21, 2017   Posted in: Iraq  Comments Closed

Iraq: Strengthen Domestic Violence Bill | Human Rights Watch – Human Rights Watch

(Beirut) The Iraqi parliament should set penalties for the crime of domestic violence, remove provisions that prioritize reconciliation over justice, and improve victim protections in a domestic violence bill, Human Rights Watch said today in a letter and memorandum to the speaker of parliament. Parliament is completing its review of the draft Anti-Domestic Violence Law, which was introduced in 2015. Parliament should make key amendments and then urgently approve the bill. Demonstrators in Baghdad call International Women’s Day a day of mourningin protest of Iraq’s new draft Jaafari Personal Status Law, which would restrict women’s rights in matters of inheritance, parental and other rights after divorce, make it easier for men to take multiple wives, and allow girls to be married from age 9. March 8, 2014. In March 2016, the Iraqi government told a UN treaty body that the draft Jaafari law has been withdrawn and the Iraqi Government has no plans to resubmit it, let alone adopt it. 2014 Iraqi al-Amal Association A strong domestic violence law could help save Iraqi womens lives, said Rothna Begum, Middle East womens rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. The Iraqi parliament should make sure the final bill includes essential provisions to prevent domestic violence, protect survivors, and prosecute the abusers. Domestic violence is a global phenomenon and remains a serious problem in Iraq. The Iraq Family Health Survey (IFHS) 2006/7 found that one in five Iraqi women are subject to physical domestic violence. A 2012 Ministry of Planning study found that at least 36 percent of married women reported experiencing some form of psychological abuse from their husbands, 23 percent reported verbal abuse, 6 percent reported physical violence, and 9 percent reported sexual violence. While more recent national studies are not available, womens rights organizations continue to report a high rate of domestic violence. The strengths of the draft bill include provisions for services for domestic violence survivors, protection orders (restraining orders) and penalties for their breach, and the establishment of a cross-ministerial committee to combat domestic violence. However, the memorandum identifies several gaps and approaches in the bill that would undermine its effectiveness. Middle East womens rights researcher The draft law calls for the parties to be referred to family reconciliation committees and for prosecutions of abusers to be dropped if reconciliation is reached. But women in Iraq are often under tremendous social and economic pressure to prioritize the family unit over their own protection from violence. United Nations guidance provides that mediation should be prohibited in all cases of violence against women and at all stages of legal proceedings because mediation removes cases from judicial scrutiny. Promoting such reconciliation incorrectly presumes that both parties have equal bargaining power, reflects an assumption that both parties may be equally at fault for violence, and reduces accountability for the offender. By promoting family reconciliation as an alternative to justice, the draft law undermines protection for domestic violence survivors, Begum said. The government should send a message that beating up your wife wont be treated leniently through mediation sessions, but instead be regarded as a crime. While the draft law defines domestic violence as a crime, it fails to set penalties. It also does not repeal provisions in the Iraqi Penal Code that condone domestic violence. These include provisions that husbands have a right to punish their wives and that parents can discipline their children. Those responsible for honor violence or killings can benefit from reduced sentences as the Penal Code provides for mitigated sentences for violent acts including murder for so-called honourable motives or if a man catches his wife or female relative in the act of adultery or sex outside of marriage. Other recommended changes include: The bill provides for the establishment of government shelters, but it should require coordination with local womens rights organizations on the administration, training, and operation of such shelters, and permit privately run shelters for survivors of domestic violence. This is particularly important given that womens rights nongovernmental organizations, which have provided such shelters, have often been subject to physical attack and threats by offenders and have faced hostility by some government officials, Human Rights Watch said. Womens rights groups in Iraq have campaigned for years for legislation on domestic violence. The Iraqi constitution expressly prohibits all forms of violence and abuse in the family. But only the Kurdistan Region of Iraq has a law on domestic violence. Iraqs Anti-Violence against Women Strategy (2013-2017), and the National Strategy on Advancement of Women in Iraq, adopted in 2014, call for legislation on domestic violence/violence against women. Iraq has international human rights obligations to prevent and respond to these abuses. Several international treaty bodies, including the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, which oversees the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) treaty, have called for states parties to pass violence against women legislation. Iraq ratified the treaty in 1986. Some members of parliament have voiced concerns that the bill might be against Islamic principles. However, womens rights organizations and some parliament members met in February 2017, with prominent clerics in Najaf, south of Baghdad, the capital, and found that they had no objections to the bill. Moreover, most Muslim-majority countries outside of the Middle East and North Africa region have adopted such legislation. In recent years, several countries and autonomous regions in the Middle East and North Africa have also introduced some form of domestic violence legislation or regulation, including Algeria, Bahrain, the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, and Saudi Arabia. These laws vary in the degree to which they comply with international standards. Several other countries, including Morocco and Tunisia, are considering draft legislation on domestic violence. Iraq should ensure that its legislation on domestic violence is in line with international standards, as a model for the region, Begum said.

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March 19, 2017   Posted in: Iraq  Comments Closed

US Troops to Iraq and Syria: More Middle East Madness as Trump Prepares to March – Center for Research on Globalization

We are now moving rapidly into stage II of Levantine Madness as the US boosts its intervention in the war-torn Mideast. Five thousand US troops are back in Iraq to bolster the shattered nations puppet regime that is propped up by American bayonets. New Iraqi military formations have been formed, totally equipped with modern US M1 Abrams tanks, Humvees, and fleets of trucks. More US forces are on the way. These US-financed Iraqi units are euphemistically called anti-terrorism forces and are supervised by US officers. In fact, what we see is the old British Imperial Raj formula of white officers commanding native mercenary troops. Members of the Iraqi 6th Emergency Response Battalion conduct weapons training under the supervision of U.S. Special Operations Forces.(Photo:DVIDSHUB/flickr/cc) These Iraqi units are now assaulting ISIS-held Mosul, Iraqs second city, and smaller towns. Most of Americas Iraqi sepoys (as native troops in the British Indian Raj were known) are Shia bitterly opposed to the nations minority Sunnis. After its 2003 invasion of Iraq, the US encouraged animosity between Shia and Sunni as a way of breaking resistance to foreign occupation divide et impera as the Romans used to say. Interestingly, the backbone of ISIS leadership is made up of senior officers of Saddam Husseins old Iraqi army. The Mother of All Battles continues, as President Saddam predicted shortly before he was lynched. Meanwhile, thousands of US troops and Special Forces are now also engaged in Syria though just whom they are battling remains confused. Syria has become a mad house of warring factions backed by outside powers a sort of modern version of Germanys dreadful 30 Years War of the 1600s. The overall US commander for the Mideast, Gen. Joseph Votel, just asked the Trump administration for a large number of new American troops, saying he lacks the military resources to subdue and pacify the Levant. Votel, who is pretty sharp and a star of the US Armys Special Operations mafia, also just warned that India and Pakistan risked triggering a nuclear war, a grave danger this writer has been worrying about for years. Meanwhile, the crazy-quilt war in Syria that was started by the Obama administration and the Saudis has become unmanageable. Syrian government forces are being strongly backed by Russia and slowly driving back anti-regime forces backed by the US, Saudi Arabia, France and, ever so quietly, Israel. ISIS and whats left of al-Qaida are battling the Damascus government, sometimes discreetly aided by the western powers. Americas main ally in Iraq and Syria are Kurdish militias of the PYD party, an affiliate of the older PKK which has sought an independent Kurdish state for decades. I covered the long, bloody war between the Turkish armed forces and the PKK in Eastern Anatolia during the mid-1990s. Turkey is desperately concerned that formation of even a mini-Kurdish state in northern Syria or Iraq will eventually lead to creation of a large Kurdish state in Turkey. Eighteen percent of Turks are ethnic Kurds. The mighty Turkish Army will never allow this to happen. The Turks just watched the US break up Sudan, creating the new state of South Sudan, which has turned into a bloody disaster. Could Turkey be next? Many Turks suspect the US was behind the recent coup attempted against Turkeys leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Washington would like a more obedient leader in Ankara or see the army generals back in power. Turkey calls the Kurdish PYD terrorists. The US calls them comrades in arms and finances them. Clashes between the Turks and PYD appear very likely. PYDs blood brothers, the PKK, continue to wage bombing attacks across Turkey along with Islamic State. US forces in the region could easily be drawn into this murky fracas. Meanwhile, ISIS appears increasingly vulnerable. It has lost almost half of Mosul, the one big city it holds. The ISIS capital, Raqqa, will soon be overrun by US-led Iraqi forces and Kurds. Raqqa is a two-by nothing, one-camel town of no military value whatsoever. There is no way that 3,000 or so ISIS hooligans with only small arms could hold off a serious attack by regular troops and massed airpower, including B-52 and B-1 heavy bombers. Why Raqqa was not taken a year ago or more remains one of the wars major mysteries. As Ive previously written, I suspect that the US and Saudi Arabia originally helped create and arm ISIS to be used against Syrias government and Afghanistans Taliban movement. The US has long pretended to fight ISIS but has barely done so in reality. Maybe this time it will be for real. ISIS has largely slipped out of the control of its western handlers, a bunch of 20-something wildmen whose main goal is revenge for attacks on Muslim targets. Without modern logistics, heavy weapons and trained officers the idea that ISIS could stand up to any western forces is a joke. Its only when ISIS confronts ramshackle Arab forces that it has any clout. And thats because mostly Iraqi Arab forces have no loyalty to their governments. They are merely poorly paid mercenaries. As if this witchs brew was not sufficiently toxic, US and Russian aircraft and Special Forces are brushing up against one another in Syria. At the same time, the US Navy in the nearby Persian Gulf is provoking the Iranians to please President Donald Trump who seems determined to have war with Iran. The US Navy is now threatening to impose a naval blockade on war-torn Yemen, another joint US-Saudi warfare enterprise that has gone terribly wrong. History shows its also easy to lie, flag-wave and bluster into war but awfully hard to get out. Trump, whose main information sources appears to be Fox fake TV news, does yet seem to understand this verity. He should have a good look at Afghanistan, Americas longest war, now in its 16th year of stalemate. The Pentagon, heedless that Afghanistan is known as the Graveyard of Empires, wants more troops. Eric Margolisis a columnist, author and a veteran of many conflicts in the Middle East. Margolis recently was featured in a special appearance on Britains Sky News TV as the man who got it right in his predictions about the dangerous risks and entanglements the US would face in Iraq. His latest book isAmerican Raj: Liberation or Domination?: Resolving the Conflict Between the West and the Muslim World.

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March 15, 2017   Posted in: Iraq  Comments Closed

Can Iraq Survive Trump? – POLITICO Magazine – POLITICO Magazine

SULAYMANIYAH, IraqWhat does the end of American leadership in the Middle East look like? Theres no better place to find out these days than Iraqi Kurdistan, which is, by any measure, one of the most pro-American places in the world. Story Continued Below Kurdistan wouldnt exist in anything like its current form if not for the intervention of successive American presidents going back to George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, who insisted on protecting the enclave from Saddam Hussein. George W. Bush may be disdained as an occupier elsewhere in Iraq, but he is remembered here as a liberator and a hero for toppling Hussein, as nearly everyone with whom I spoke here reminds me. And just a couple hours away, in the raging battle to retake the strategic city of Mosul from the terrors of the Islamic State, the fight wouldnt be possible without assistance from hundreds of American advisers on the ground and pilots in the air. So its no accident that when Barham Salih, the polished and urbane pol who previously served as deputy prime minister of Iraq and prime minister of the Kurdish regional republic, gathers the Iraqi political class every year for a Western-style conference on their troubled countrys future, he invites them to the American University he helped found in Sulaymaniyah. But this year America was scarcely in evidence at Salihs annual forum, except as a subject of nervous speculation and Trump White House Kremlinology. President Trump has talked a lot about defeating the Islamic State but done virtually nothing to address Iraq itself, except to lump it in with other suspect states in a temporary travel ban, a move he ultimately reversed amid protests from his own commanders, who objected to treating an ally with the back of the hand. So while Iraqs political class wonders what, if anything, Trump now has in mind for their unsettled nation, they are preparing for a coming crisis that may be every bit as serious as the military battle against the Islamic State they finally look to be on the verge of winning. Because 14 years after Bushs invasion, Iraqs futureand that of independence-aspiring Kurdistan along with itis very much in doubt. The rise of the Islamic State triggered not only a new civil war and refugee catastrophe but also a spiraling economic crisis at just the moment when the oil prices upon which Iraq depends for virtually its entire government budget utterly cratered. And this all comes as America, once the regions indispensable player, has been increasingly ceding the field to neighboring powers like Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkeynot to mention a resurgent Russia. Will Iraq make it through? The answer, I heard in dozens of conversations over the last week here, was strikingly uncertain, with dire scenarios ranging from the long-feared splintering of the state to a new outbreak of warlordism and civil war to the return of a Saddam-like dictator. Even self-proclaimed optimists for the future of Iraqi democracy say they have a hard time envisioning how the country manages to pull it off, and the countrys leader, Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi, is viewed as well-intentioned but weak, a creature of the Baghdad Green Zone who has few tools at his disposal to broker a lasting deal. To me, this is the collapse of the American order that began in 2003, Salih tells me on the sidelines of his forum. And a continuation of the collapse of the European order of the 1920s. We are fighting a war of survival, says Qubad Talabani, the 39-year-old heir apparent to one of the main Kurdish political parties, whose father Jalal Talabani was Iraqs post-invasion president from 2005 to 2014 and who himself is a smooth Washington veteran now serving as deputy prime minister of Kurdistan. Can the United States still help under President Trump? Will it, with a new leader whose foreign policy is premised on the idea of America First, who has said the invasion of Iraq was a terrible mistake and that we should have just taken the countrys oil and gotten the hell out? The world looks at America, Talabani tells me in an interview for The Global Politico, our podcast on world affairs. And when America disengages, usually the world also disengages. *** Sulyamaniyah looks pretty good for a place that even its own leaders say is on the verge of collapse. The central market is bustling, filled with bootleg iPhones and cheap Chinese goods and giant local radishes. The mountains that encircle the town still have snow on their peaks, and the citys sunsets are famously beautiful; in another political universe, tourism would be one of Sulaymaniyahs bumper crops. But Mosul — and the brutal, months-long battle to retake itis only 140 miles up the road, and the fight against the Islamic State has been the overriding political imperative for virtually all of Iraqs faction-ridden politicians since the militant jihadists stormed through the country two and a half years ago, at one point even seeming to threaten Baghdad. In Kurdistan, that meant a region overwhelmed by some 1.8 million refugeesboth internally displaced Iraqis and Syrians running from ISIS next dooreven as the central government in Baghdad essentially went bust, stopping almost entirely all salary and other payments. Political infighting, long a tradition here, spiraled out of control as conditions worsened; Kurdistans president, Masoud Barzani, has remained in office two years past the expiration of his term with no sign of new elections on the horizon and the speaker of the local parliament has been blocked by Barzani from even going to the regional capital of Erbil. We have prevented the collapse of the government here, says Talabani. But were not out of the woods yet. We both had listened earlier that day as Prime Minister Abadi gave an unusually direct speech to the forum, delivered without notes and apparently straight from the heart, about the dream of a united Iraq, one in which Sunnis and Shias, Arabs and Kurds, Christians and Yazidis, would build on the military partnership theyd forged to challenge ISIS and turn it into a new and more viable version of the Iraqi state than the weak, corruption-plagued, overtly sectarian one that almost fell apart when the Islamic State arose. This is not imagination, Abadi said. We are closer to the reality. And it is a reality that looks far better than just a couple years earlier, the prime minister reminded the audience, when the talk was all about how Iraq will not return back to what it has been. Still, Iraq is no country for optimists, and Abadis warning, while sugarcoated, was clear in the heart of Kurdistan, a region that aspires to an independence that could well hasten the end of the state itself: work together and patch Iraq back up, or encourage a new dictatorship, as Abadi put it, in a place where longing for a strongman is an increasingly prevalent political fear. Not long before Abadis address, Talabani had said publicly that Iraq has failed as a state. It didnt sound like he and other Kurdish politicians expected the cooperation and modest goodwill generated by the largely successful military campaign against ISIS to outlive the war. Was that right, I asked him? Well, he said, the military alliance is an easier one for the Kurds than the political mess that is sure to follow: We cannot just look at defeating ISIS on the battlefield, because ISIS is not just a security threat; ISIS is a political threat, its an ideological threat, its a global threat. So if we think that just by liberating Mosul, we have eradicated ISIS from Iraq, that is a fallacy. Much more needs to be done on the political and economic levels for us to feel safe that ISIS 3.0 will not return and cause havoc in this country. *** If theres one thing that the Iraqi politicians who came to Sulaymaniyah this week seem to agree on, its that figuring out Iraq after ISIS will be a lot harder without American involvement. The Kurds, itching for independence, have put off a referendum on their future while the fighting still ragesbut will resume their push for political autonomy as soon as the shooting stops. Many worry that revenge killings will proliferate in areas formerly held by the Islamic State and that Sunni areas where ISIS flourished will not have leaders who can or will reintegrate them with the Iraqi state. And Abadi, who faces reelection next year, has much to worry about from within his own Shiite political partyas well as from the former prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, widely seen as still waiting in the wings for Abadi to stumble. With so much complexity swirling about, theres one factor even more unpredictable than many of Iraqs by-now-familiar dysfunctions: What about the Americans? If Trump has a political vision for Iraq, he has kept it well hidden, and his secretary of state has been a cipher, though Trump has appointed several generals to his team, including national security adviser H.R. McMaster, who served in Iraq and know its challenges well. But if anything, I found that many Iraqis are surprisingly pro-Trumpdespite his anti-Muslim rhetoric on the campaign trail, his talk of taking Iraqs oil and even his initial inclusion of Iraq on his temporary immigration ban. The answer has much to do with Trumps all-too-familiar political styleand perhaps even more to do with Barack Obama. Listen to Isa Mohamed, a university student here and aspiring novelist from Baghdad. . Hes convinced that not even a decade and a half after the fall of Saddam, Iraqis are so sick of the chaos they now talk of restoring a strongman to power. And that also makes them open to Trump and his muscular pronouncements about defeating the Islamic State. President Trump is an ideal concept for Middle Easterners in general, and Iraqis in particular, because he fits the loud, strong, one who will say it as it is, Isa says. To them, they can see Trump is doing something, instead of what we saw with Obama. Talabani and other politicians, if not as blunt, are similarly critical of Obamas policies toward Iraq Obama-bashing, as one veteran observer of the region put it to me this week, is the one thing that unites the Middle East right now from Iran to Israel. I didnt meet anyone who agreed with Trumps campaign-trail insistence that Obama and his secretary of state Hillary Clinton created the Islamic State by pulling out of IraqISIS, Talabani told me, was born out of the failure of Iraqi politicsbut there remain many hard feelings about Obamas decision to pull out nonetheless. In that sense, Trumps version of America First might not be such a break with the American pullback the region has already seenand it might even be better. After all, Abadi has now become the first Arab leader officially invited for a Trump White House visit; hell come to Washington later this month. President Obama, when he came into office, his mandate was to get out of Iraq, which you could say is an America first strategy, Talabani notes. But we saw that getting out of Iraq didnt help Iraq. It didnt help the United States in the Middle East. It didnt help peace and prosperity here. So were hopeful that America First doesnt mean disengagement. Hopeful, yes. But Iraqis have learned not to let themselves feel much more than that. Susan B. Glasser is POLITICOs chief international affairs columnist. Her new podcast, The Global Politico, comes out Mondays. Subscribe here. Follow her on Twitter @sbg1.

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March 13, 2017   Posted in: Iraq  Comments Closed

Rival Kurdish factions clash in northwestern Iraq – Reuters

By Isabel Coles | ERBIL, Iraq ERBIL, Iraq Rival Kurdish groups clashed in Iraq’s northwestern Sinjar region on Friday, two Kurdish security sources said. The deadly fighting erupted when Peshmerga Rojava forces moved towards the border with Syria, encroaching on territory controlled by a local affiliate of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The unrest highlights the risk of conflict and turf war between the multiple forces arrayed against Islamic State, many of which lean on regional patrons for political support and arms. The Peshmerga Rojava is made up of Kurds from Syria and was formed and trained in Iraq with the backing of Masoud Barzani, president of the Kurdish Regional Government in northern Iraq. Friday’s clashes, which lasted several hours, pitted them against the YBS, which was set up there by the PKK after it came to the aid of the Yazidi population when the area was overrun by Islamic State in the summer of 2014. “There are martyrs and wounded on both sides,” one security source said. The war with Islamic State has enabled Kurds to expand their territory and influence in both Iraq and Syria, but it has also heightened competition amongst them, particularly in the Sinjar region. The PKK’s foothold in the area has put it on a collision course with Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), which is aligned with Turkey and counts Sinjar as part of its territory. Turkey is at war with the PKK. On Friday, foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu on Friday said the group posed “a threat against the legitimate regional government in Northern Iraq and they are used by some countries against the current administration there.” “It’s our duty to destroy these terrorist organizations wherever they are,” the minister told reporters in Ankara. Another PKK affiliate has been in control of Kurdish territory in northeast Syria on the border with Turkey since the civil war between forces loyal and opposed to President Bashar al-Assad. That group, the PYD, has repeatedly denied entry to the Peshmerga Rojava. In a statement on Friday, the YBS said the fighting began when the Peshmerga Rojava tried to seize its positions in Khanasor. The YBS accused Turkey of instigating the violence. “It is a totally provocative initiative,” the YBS said. Most Yazidis are still displaced from their homes, but some families who returned to Sinjar fled again on Friday, including a 19-year from the town of Khanasor where the clashes took place. “It’s a struggle between two political parties but the victims are the Yazidis,” he said on condition of anonymity. “Aren’t they supposed to be fighting Daesh (Islamic State)? Let them go and get rid of them.” (Reporting by Isabel Coles in Erbil and Tulay Karadeniz in Ankara; Editing by Richard Lough and Dominic Evans) BETHLEHEM, West Bank Under an army watchtower and across the street from the concrete wall Israel has built in parts of the occupied West Bank, street artist Banksy has opened a guesthouse in the Palestinian city of Bethlehem. PARIS French far-right leader Marine Le Pen refused to attend a summons by judges over allegations of misuse of European Union funds, her lawyer told Reuters on Friday. BENGHAZI, Libya An armed faction entered a major Libyan oil terminal and a nearby airport on Friday, after attacking forces that have controlled the terminals since September, officials and residents said.

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March 3, 2017   Posted in: Iraq  Comments Closed


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