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138 items tagged "Iraq"

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Satellite proves ISIS destroyed 1,500-year-old monastery

Category: News
Created on Sunday, 31 January 2016 01:03
ISIS destroyed 1500-year-old monasterySatellite photos on Wednesday confirmed the reports of activists from last August, revealing that Islamic State (ISIS) jihadists have demolished the nearly 1,500-year-old St. Elijah's Monastery near Mosul to rubble.
Associated Press asked satellite imagery firm DigitalGlobe this month to photograph St. Elijah's, the oldest Christian monastery in Iraq, and then compare the images with previous pictures from the same site.
The results, published by AP on Wednesday, reveal the monastery has indeed suffered the same fate as hundreds of ancient sites in Iraq and Syria, having been destroyed by ISIS jihadists.
Imagery from last August showed the 27,000-square-foot building of stone and mortar overlooking Mosul, with 26 rooms including a sanctuary and chapel.
A comparison with imagery from last September, a month later, reveals "that the stone walls have been literally pulverized," said analyst Stephen Wood, CEO of Allsource Analysis.
"Bulldozers, heavy equipment, sledgehammers, possibly explosives turned those stone walls into this field of gray-white dust. They destroyed it completely," added Wood.
St. Elijah's was built in 590 CE; back in 1743 CE, around 150 monks refused to convert to Islam and were massacred by a Persian general at the site.
The site was damaged in 2003 when a tank turret that was blown off in the middle of nearby fighting smashed a wall, and Iraqi troops dumped garbage in the monastery. Then the US Army's 101st Airborne Division took over the site, but defaced ancient murals by painting their logo on the walls.
Afterwards a US military chaplain recognized the importance of the site, and he started an initiative to preserve it - but then ISIS took over the region.
Catholic priest Reverend Paul Thabit Habib, currently living in exile in Erbil, Iraq, reacted with shock to the photos.
"Our Christian history in Mosul is being barbarically leveled," he said. "We see it as an attempt to expel us from Iraq, eliminating and finishing our existence in this land."
That response was echoed by Roman Catholic US Army chaplain Jeffrey Whorton, who previously conducted Mass at the monastery.
"Why we treat each other like this is beyond me. Elijah the prophet must be weeping," he said, citing the Jewish prophet appropriated in the name of the monastery.
ISIS and other jihadists in Iraq and Syria have been responsible for the destruction of numerous ancient sites, including the shrines of Jewish Biblical prophets; ISIS turned Jonah's tomb into a "fun park" in Mosul last June. Likewise Ezra's tomb has been turned into a mosque.

Iraqi air force kills ISIS leader's second deputy

Category: News
Created on Wednesday, 20 January 2016 07:58
Assi Ali Mohammed Nasser al-ObeidiThe second deputy of Islamic State (ISIS) leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was killed during an Iraqi air force strike in the city of Barwana, just east of Haditha, the Iraqi military said Saturday, according to CNN.
The man in question, Assi Ali Mohammed Nasser al-Obeidi, was a top ISIS military commander in western Iraq and eastern Syria, Iraq's Joint Operations Command said.
Obeidi had been a brigade commander in the special forces of Saddam Hussein's Republican Guards, a fugitive from Abu Ghraib prison and a former prisoner in Camp Bucca, a spokesman of the Iraqi Joint Operations Command, Col. Mohammed Ibrahim, told CNN.
Haditha is located 145 kilometers (90 miles) northwest of Ramadi in Anbar province, a city which the Iraqi forces just recently liberated from ISIS after a lengthy battle.
In recent weeks, the U.S.-led international coalition fighting ISIS has announced similar killings, noted CNN.
In late December, it said multiple figures within ISIS senior leadership had died over a few weeks. One of the leaders killed was Charaffe el Mouadan, an operative closely linked to the ringleader of the November attacks in Paris, a spokesman for the coalition said.

Iraq urges Turkey to 'immediately' withdraw troops

Category: News
Created on Sunday, 06 December 2015 10:07
Iraqi forces withdraw from TikritBaghdad demanded Saturday the immediate withdrawal of forces it said Turkey illegally deployed in Iraq, which is struggling to assert its sovereignty while receiving foreign assistance against ISIS.
AFP reports that a senior officer from the Kurdish forces in the region - which are allied to Ankara - downplayed the deployment as a routine training rotation but a Turkish paper said it was part of deal to set up a permanent base.
The Turkish troops, tanks and artillery were sent to Nineveh, a northern province largely held by ISIS, in an area currently controlled by Kurdish forces but also claimed by Baghdad.
Facing major political pressure as a result of statements by American officials, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has taken an increasingly hard public line on foreign forces in Iraq over the past week, terming the deployment of ground combat forces a "hostile act."
"The Iraqi authorities call on Turkey to... immediately withdraw from Iraqi territory," a statement from his office said.
"We have confirmation that Turkish forces, numbering about one armored regiment with a number of tanks and artillery, entered Iraqi territory... allegedly to train Iraqi groups, without a request or authorization from Iraqi federal authorities," it said.
The deployment "is considered a serious violation of Iraqi sovereignty," it added.
Major General Nureddin Herki, the commander of Kurdish Peshmerga forces in the area, said the newly-arrived Turkish troops were part of a routine rotation in a training programme accompanied by a protection force that has since returned to Turkey.
"Before some time, a number of Turkish officers arrived to train Hashad al-Watani forces in the Zilkan base," Herki said in a statement, referring to volunteer anti-ISIS fighters.
"Another team arrived to the camp to replace the previous team, and the mission of the [new] force that came was only to protect the trainers and return the previous team to Turkey," he said.
Herki rejected reports that a large Turkish force had deployed to take part in an operation to recapture the nearby city of Mosul from ISIS.
Political pressure on PM
But Turkish media reported much more major deployment than that described by Herki.
"Turkey is establishing a base in the Bashiqa region of Mosul with 600 soldiers," Turkish newspaper Hurriyet reported on its front page.
The newspaper said that an agreement to do this was concluded early last month between Iraqi Kurdish regional president Massud Barzani and then Turkish foreign minister Feridun Sinirlioglu.
The Peshmerga forces deployed in the Bashiqa area are loyal to Barzani's party, which has close ties to Ankara.
Baghdad's relations with Turkey have improved recently but remained strained by Ankara's relationship with Barzani and differences over the Syrian civil war.
Abadi has repeatedly said Iraq needed all the help it could to fight ISIS but is also walking a fine line between receiving that support and projecting sovereignty.
The Turkish deployment is just the latest in a series of challenges he faced over the past week that have pushed him to take a hard line on foreign forces helping Iraq against ISIS, which overran large parts of Iraq last year.
Calls from two American senators for the number of US troops in Iraq to be tripled combined with Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter's announcement that Washington would send a special forces contingent to fight ISIS in Iraq and Syria put Abadi under heavy pressure.
Shi'ite paramilitary forces dominated by Iran-backed militias came out strongly against the US, and Abadi issued his own series of increasingly strident statements on foreign forces.

Yazidis torch Muslim homes in revenge for ISIS genocide

Category: Reports
Created on Tuesday, 17 November 2015 07:24
YazidisMembers of Iraq's Yazidi minority, which was brutally attacked by the Islamic State (ISIS) group, looted and burned Muslim homes in Sinjar after its recapture from the jihadists, witnesses said Sunday.
ISIS overran the northern town last year, targeting Yazidis - whose faith it considers heretical - in a campaign of massacres, enslavement and rape that the United Nations has described as a possible genocide.  
Yazidis fleeing the ISIS onslaught in August 2014 told AFP that some of their Muslim neighbors enabled the attacks, identifying them for the jihadists.
Sinjar was recaptured from ISIS on Friday in a major operation led by forces from Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region and backed by US-led air strikes.  
"Muslim houses were looted and burned," especially those that had "Sunni" written on them after ISIS seized the town, said one witness, who declined to be named.  
An AFP journalist saw houses in Sinjar that had been marked "Sunni", possibly as a means for ISIS to identify which homes should be protected.
"I saw one of the mosques burned at the hands of Yazidis," the witness said.
A second witness, who also asked not to be identified by name, also reported seeing Yazidis looting Muslim homes and setting them alight.
Kurdish security commanders denied that burning and looting was taking place, and accounts of the unrest could not be independently confirmed.  
Rights group Amnesty International documented attacks by Yazidi militiamen against two Sunni Arab villages north of Sinjar in January, in which 21 people were killed and numerous houses burned.
Looting and burning has followed the recapture of other areas in Iraq from ISIS, sparking resentment among residents and posing a threat to long-term stability. 

ISIS mass grave of Yazidi women found

Category: News
Created on Sunday, 15 November 2015 11:03
mass grave of YazidiA mass grave believed to hold the remains of dozens of Yazidi women executed by the Islamic State (ISIS) group was found Saturday in northern Iraq, officials said.
The grave, which has not yet been excavated, is located on the edge of the town of Sinjar, which was captured from ISIS this week in an operation led by Kurdish security forces and backed by US-led air strikes.
The area is infamous for a brutal ISIS campaign of massacres, enslavement and rape against Yazidis, a minority group whose faith the jihadists consider heretical.
The grave contains the bodies of some 78 women aged between 40 to around 80, according to younger women who had been enslaved by ISIS, witnessed the executions and later escaped, said Miyasir Hajji, a Sinjar council member.
"It seems the (ISIS) terrorist members only wanted young girls to enslave," Hajji said, a reference to jihadists using women as sex slaves who can be bought and sold.
Mahma Khalil, the local official responsible for the Sinjar area, confirmed that the grave had been found, and said it is believed to contain some 80 victims.
ISIS overran Sinjar in August last year, forcing thousands of Yazidis to flee to a mountain overlooking the town, where they were trapped by the jihadists.
The United Nations has described the attack on the Yazidis as a possible genocide.
Aiding the Yazidis was one of Washington's main justifications for starting its air campaign against the jihadists last year.

Iraq Steps Up Anti-ISIS Coordination with Iran, Syria, Russia

Category: News
Created on Thursday, 01 October 2015 12:36
Families fleeing the violence in the Iraqi city of MosuIraq, Russia, Iran and Syria have agreed to set up an intelligence committee in Baghdad, a spokesman said Sunday, a further sign of Moscow's growing role in the region's conflict.
Iraq welcomed the creation of the cell as a chance to help harmonize often competing efforts in the fight against the Islamic State (ISIS) jihadist group.
"It's a committee coordinating between the four countries, with representatives of each country, in the field of military intelligence and aimed at sharing and analyzing information," Saad al-Hadithi, a spokesman for Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi's office, told the AFP news agency.
He added the cell would focus on "monitoring the movements of terrorists... and degrading their capacity".
A statement from Iraq's Joint Operations Command said the deal with Moscow comes amid "growing concern over the presence of thousands of Russian terrorists engaged in criminal acts with Daesh," an Arabic acronym for ISIS.
Russia's Interior Minister Vladimir Kolokoltsev earlier this month estimated that 1,800 Russian citizens are fighting for ISIS, while reports have suggested Moscow is deliberately letting militants take their jihad (holy war) away from its own borders.
Hadithi would not say whether the new cell had already begun its work. There was no comment on the issue from Damascus and Tehran.
A Russian "military-diplomatic source" quoted by Russian news agencies said the center in Baghdad would be managed on a rotational basis, with Iraq taking the lead for the first three months.
"The main functions of this center will be collection, processing and analysis of information regarding the situation in the Middle East in the context of fighting the Islamic State group, distributing this information to the relevant parties and quickly forwarding it to the general staffs of these countries," the source was quoted by AFP as saying.
The move comes as Moscow boosts its military presence in neighboring Syria, deploying more troops and warplanes to an air base along with new arms deliveries to President Bashar Al-Assad's regime, a longstanding ally.
The United States was so concerned about reports of Russia’s increased presence in Syria that Secretary of State John Kerry phoned his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov a total of three times in ten days to discuss the situation.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu flew to Moscow for talks with Putin earlier this week. During the meeting with Netanyahu, Putin sought to calm Israeli concerns over the deployment of Russian soldiers in Syria, telling the Israeli Prime Minister his forces would act "responsibly," and noting the Syrian regime was in not fit state to attack Israel.
The United States has a $500-million program to train and equip vetted moderates recruited from among the rebels fighting Assad, but it has faced repeated setbacks.
Washington's strategy in Iraq, built on an air campaign and the deployment of several thousand military trainers and advisers, has also come under increasing fire as failing to produce results.
Moscow has sold fighter jets and weaponry to Iraq but has taken the back seat as Iran and the U.S.-led coalition -- which also includes France and Britain -- often competed to be Baghdad's top partner in the war against ISIS.
A decades-long backer of the Damascus regime, Moscow has steadfastly supported Assad throughout four and a half years of a conflict that has killed more than 240,000 people and triggered the worst migrant crisis in Europe since World War II.
Western powers have recently softened their stance categorically rejecting a role for Assad in any political solution to the conflict in Syria.
Abadi's spokesman said enhanced intelligence cooperation would positively affect operations against ISIS, which proclaimed a "caliphate" straddling Syria and Iraq last year.
"Having a broader base of intelligence thanks to cooperation with these three countries as well as with the coalition will give our security forces more opportunities to achieve victory in the war against terrorism," Hadithi said, according to AFP.

ISIS Truck Bomb Devastates Baghdad Market, Killing 38

Category: News
Created on Thursday, 13 August 2015 10:19
Aftermath of a Baghdad bombing - ReutersA truck bomb ripped through a market in a Shiite-majority area of north Baghdad on Thursday, killing at least 38 people, security and medical officials said, according to AFP. 
The early morning blast in a wholesale vegetable market in the Sadr City area, one of the deadliest single attacks to hit the Iraqi capital in months, also wounded at least 74 people, the officials said.
The bomb went off at around 6:00 a.m. (0300 GMT), peak time for shops buying vegetables for the day.
The bombing devastated the market, killing horses used to transport vegetables, burning vehicles and leaving produce strewn in the street. Medics were at the scene of the blast collecting human remains, an AFP photographer said. 
Several hours after the blast, the Islamic State jihadist group claimed responsibility for the attack, saying in an online statement that it had carries out "blessed operation" in Sadr City. 
ISIS frequently targets Shiites, whom it considers to be heretics. In a bid to cause maximum casualties, the jihadists often strike areas such as markets and cafes where crowds of people gather.
ISIS overran large parts of Iraq in June 2014, and Iraqi forces have been battling to drive the jihadists back with support from a US-led coalition and Iran.

US Returns Hundreds of Iraqi Artifacts After Raid on ISIS

Category: Archeology and History
Created on Sunday, 26 July 2015 12:04
US Returns Hundreds of Iraqi ArtifactsThe United States returned Wednesday hundreds of Iraqi artifacts its special forces recovered during a raid in Syria against a man described as the Islamic State group's top financier.
Some of the pieces were displayed at the Iraqi national museum during a repatriation ceremony attended by Antiquities Minister Adel Shirshab and US Ambassador Stuart Jones.
"These artifacts are indisputable evidence that Daesh (ISIS) - beyond its terrorism, beyond its brutality and destruction - is also a criminal gang that is looting antiquities from museums and historical sites," Jones said.
"And of course the purpose of this is to sell these items on the black market," he said.
The pieces on display in one of the recently reopened museum's main Assyrian halls Wednesday were small items, including coins, statuettes and jewelry.
"The coins for example are from the Islamic period. This is evidence that this terrorism that claims such heritage is blasphemous is trying to profit from it by selling it," Shirshab said.
The artifacts were retrieved by the US commandos who carried out a rare raid inside Syria on May 15 during which Abu Sayyaf, a top ISIS figure, was killed.
Abu Sayyaf was believed to be the jihadist organization's top financier, and US officials said they were learning a lot by analyzing what the raid had produced.
"These are very precious, priceless pieces," said Hakim al-Shammari, head of the exhibitions department at the national museum.
He could not estimate the black market value of the recovered artifacts but said they would have made a substantial contribution to ISIS finances.
"The revenue they get from selling such pieces is used to finance operations, buy weapons, recruit people and manufacture car bombs, for
example," he said.
Officials at Wednesday's ceremony provided few details on exactly where and when the returned artifacts had been looted.
ISIS has captured much attention by posting videos of its militants destroying statues and heritage sites on the grounds that they are idolatrous.
But experts argue they have mostly destroyed pieces that are too large to smuggle and sell off, and kept the smaller pieces, several of which are already resurfacing on the black market in the West.
The US says it has repatriated more than 3,000 stolen artifacts to Iraq since 2005.

ISIS Breaks Own Cruelty Record: Blows Up Baby for Demonstration

Category: News
Created on Saturday, 25 July 2015 12:54
jihadichildIn arguably one of its cruelest acts yet, the Islamic State (ISIS) has reportedly blown up a baby as part of a demonstration showing how to handle explosives. So reports The Clarion Project.
The unparalleled incident took place in Diyala Province, eastern Iraq, this past Friday, according to Sadiq el-Husseini, Security Committee Chairman of the province on behalf of the anti-ISIS forces there. He recounted the event to the local Arabic-language A-Sumeriah News.
“The organization booby-trapped the baby in front of dozens of armed ISIS men," el-Husseini said, "and then detonated it from afar.” He explained that the purpose of the operation, including the rigging of the baby and the detonation of the explosives attached to it, was part of an ISIS training exercise teaching various booby-trapping techniques.
“The organization doesn’t care about the most basic human values," said el-Husseini. "Their crimes are incalculable, and the blowing up of the baby is the best proof of the threat of ISIS ideology to the state.”
The baby’s father was apparently executed some weeks ago, after being accused of taking part in the killing of an Islamic State member.
Elsewhere, a jihadist group published a Twitter threat to behead the Statue of Liberty in New York City. A picture of the statue, headless and holding the ISIS black flag, was published Sunday on Twitter. Beneath the picture, which showed the New York City skyline in flames, were the words “Soon the state of the Islamic Caliphate."
In other ISIS news, Egypt's Ahram-Online reports in the name of "Iraqi citizens" that an Iraqi woman in Mosul was killed by ISIS women from Russia – for looking at clothing in a market in the city.  The citizens reported that the Russian ISIS women "attacked 12 Mosul girls/married women, beating them severely… They claimed the women had lifted their niqab to look at the merchandise, and also failed to uphold the rule of wearing the correct color himar specified for women."
ISIS now requires women to wear color-coded garments denoting their marital status. Married women must wear black, a divorced woman – blue, a widow – green, and an unmarried girl must wear white.

21 Killed in String of Baghdad Bombings

Category: News
Created on Sunday, 19 July 2015 10:10
Baghdad BombingsA string of bomb explosions, including two suicide attacks, killed at least 21 people and wounded 62 in Shiite-dominated neighborhoods of Baghdad Sunday, Iraqi police and medical sources quoted by AFP said.
The northeastern area of Al-Shaab was rocked by two explosions, at least one of which was caused by an attacker who detonated his suicide vest, a police colonel and an interior ministry official said.
At least three of the 11 people killed in those blasts were members of the security forces, police said.
The double explosion, which occurred near a market, left at least 23 people wounded.
A suicide attacker also blew up his car bomb on Adan square, in northwestern Baghdad, just before the meal that breaks the dawn-to-dusk fast during the holy Muslim month of Ramadan.
At least six people were killed and 20 wounded in the attack on the square, which was already targeted in February and has been frequently hit over the years.
In Al Bunuk area, a car bomb also went off near a popular restaurant, killing at least two people and leaving 11 wounded, the same sources said.
Two other people were killed and eight wounded when another explosives-laden vehicle blew up in the Iskan neighborhood.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for any of the explosions, but most such attacks are carried out by the Islamic State (ISIS) jihadist group..
A years-old midnight curfew was lifted in February after Iraqi forces retook areas around Baghdad from ISIS and a huge car bomb-making cell was dismantled.
Attacks have continued since but are less frequent than the previous year.

ISIS, which is still battling government forces barely 18 miles west of the capital, has claimed many of the biggest attacks in Baghdad and elsewhere in the country.
In April, car bombs in the Baghdad area, including one near a hospital, killed at least eight people. And in May, ISIS claimed responsibility for car bombings at two upscale Baghdad hotels that officials said killed at least nine people and wounded dozens.
There had been fears that ISIS would intensify attacks in Baghdad during Ramadan, but with the fasting month nearing its end, there had been no surge in bombings until Sunday.

ISIS Jihadists Attack Iraqi Forces in Anbar

Category: News
Created on Sunday, 12 July 2015 10:28
ISISIslamic State (ISIS) group fighters on Friday attacked Iraqi police and soldiers in an area considered a major staging ground for operations to reconquer Anbar province, security sources told AFP.
ISIS fighters used suicide car bombs to attack government and allied forces in Khaldiyah, a town in the Euphrates valley that lies between Fallujah and Ramadi, Anbar's two main cities.
A police lieutenant colonel said ISIS fighters stormed the town's Al-Madiq neighborhood "following clashes that forced army and federal police to abandon their positions."
"Local police and tribal fighters were left alone to fight Daesh in that area," he said, using an Arabic acronym for the group that took over large parts of Iraq last year, establishing a “caliphate” in those areas.
"After entering Al-Madiq, the organization deployed fighters with suicide vests in houses and streets," the official said.
A spokesperson for Anbar tribes fighting alongside the government said federal security forces were attempting to regain the initiative.
"The aim of the operation is to regain control of Al-Madiq and kill the suicide attackers before they target security forces and tribal fighters," Sheikh Sufian al-Ithawi said.
In its daily online radio broadcast, ISIS said it had launched three suicide car bomb attacks in the Khaldiyah area.
It also claimed in a statement that it had killed tens of pro-government fighters and captured a brigadier general, although security officials gave no confirmation.
A senior police officer said ISIS fighters fired mortar rounds and rockets at security positions in Habbaniyah, although the attack seemed limited in scope.
The Habbaniyah area, further east, is home to the main base from which Iraqi forces are planning their promised reconquest of Anbar and where U.S. advisers and trainers are stationed.
ISIS has controlled Fallujah since early 2014 and captured provincial capital Ramadi in May following a three-day blitz that dealt Baghdad its worst military setback in a year.
Officials and military commanders have vowed to liberate the entire province but U.S. elite forces faced the toughest battles of their eight-year occupation of Iraq in Anbar.
There also appears not be any consensus on whether anti-ISIS forces should first attack Ramadi or Fallujah, which is closer to Baghdad.

American Airstrike Kills 'Person of Interest' in Benghazi Attack

Category: News
Created on Tuesday, 23 June 2015 18:27
American Airstrike in BenghaziAn American airstrike in northern Iraq has killed an Islamic State (ISIS) operative who was a person of interest in the 2012 Benghazi attack, the Pentagon said Monday, according to AFP.
Pentagon spokesman Colonel Steve Warren identified the operative as Tariq bin al-Tahar bin al-Falih al-'Awni al-Harzi of Tunisia, who was killed in Mosul on June 15.
The United States Treasury and the State Department had designated him as a terrorist operating for or on behalf of ISIS, noted AFP.
"His death degrades ISIL's ability to integrate North African jihadists into the Syrian and Iraqi fight and removes a jihadist with long ties to international terrorism," Warren said, using another acronym for the jihadist group which has taken over swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria.
Harzi was considered a person of interest in the terrorist attack on the American mission in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi on September 11, 2012, that killed the American ambassador and three other Americans.
The fighter was also said to operate closely with ISIS-affiliated terrorists throughout North Africa and the Middle East.
In its terrorist designation in September, the Treasury described Harzi as a "high-profile" member of the self-proclaimed Islamic State that has seized large swaths of Iraq and Syria.
It said he raised funds for the group, as well as recruited and facilitated the travel of ISIS fighters since 2013.
Harzi was considered one of the first people to join the group as a fighter, and was named "emir" for the border region between Syria and Turkey, and helped facilitate the travel of Europeans to Syria via Turkey, including from Albania, Britain and Denmark.
The Treasury said Harzi had arranged for ISIS to receive about $2 million from a Qatar-based financial facilitator in September 2013 who required that he only use the funds for military operations.
It said he led foreign operations for ISIS in mid-2013 and had ordered individuals to plan a major operation targeting a commander of the UN mission in Lebanon (UNIFIL).
Ahmed Abu Khattala, a prime suspect in the Benghazi attack, was captured a year ago by U.S. special forces and brought to the United States to face trial.
Abu Khattala had initially been charged with conspiracy to provide support to terrorists resulting in death, and was later accused of new charges arising from the 2012 attacks, including crimes punishable by the death penalty.
Khattala, a leader of the terrorist organization Ansar al-Sharia, has previously denied any connection to the Benghazi attack and has pleaded not guilty to conspiracy charges. 

One Year On, No Quick Fix to ISIS 'Caliphate'

Category: News
Created on Monday, 22 June 2015 10:24
500 Bodies from ISIS Massacre in Tikrit(AFP) A year after its establishment, the Islamic State (ISIS or IS) group's self-declared "caliphate" in Syria and Iraq remains well-funded and heavily armed, and experts say it could be around for years to come.
The would-be state headed by IS chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi - called Caliph Ibrahim by his followers - has suffered setbacks in the months since it was proclaimed.
A US-led coalition is carrying out strikes against the group throughout its territory and this week it lost the key Syrian border town of Tal Abyad to Kurdish forces.
But the group has continued to score shocking victories elsewhere, including the seizure of Syria's ancient city of Palmyra, and experts say IS and its "caliphate" have the means to last for years.    
"The group operates as an insurgency and might shrink in one region and expand in another, but it'll stay with us for the foreseeable future," said Hassan Hassan, associate fellow at the Chatham House think tank's Middle East and North Africa program.
 "I see it existing and active for at least a decade."
Other experts agree that while the current borders of the caliphate are likely to shift, the entity is far from on its last legs.
"The very idea of the caliphate and 'Caliph Ibrahim' will surely remain for many of the movement's members and supporters around the world," said Charles Lister, a vising fellow at the Brookings Doha Center think thank.
Well-funded, well-armed
IS's success is driven by various factors, chief among them its significant financial resources, superior firepower, and ability to play on the legitimate grievances of local populations in Syria and Iraq.
"It remains the richest terrorist group in the world," with weekly revenues of about $2 million (1.7 million euros), said Patrick Johnston, a political scientist at the Rand Corporation think tank.
US-led strikes on the group's oil infrastructure and a drop in the price of crude have cut into its funds, but it has found ways to compensate.
"Key among them are extortion, taxation, and the sale of looted goods from areas they have captured," Johnston said.
More importantly, the group's operating costs are relatively low: it has a steady supply of recruits, particularly foreign fighters, and its vast armory is stocked largely from the spoils of battles against armies and other rebel groups.  
Fighters have access to a range of small arms and light weapons, as well as artillery, anti-tank guns and a "seemingly unending supply of pick-up trucks and captured armored vehicles and, in Syria, tanks," according to Lister.
He said the group seeks to "ensure a near-constant series of tactical-level victories are won, thereby resulting in the capture of additional weapons supplies."
IS also buys arms from the black market, making it "one of the most equipped groups in Syria and Iraq," said Hassan, author of a book on the group.
"IS has the weapons, training and means to operate as a small army," he said.  
A lack of alternatives
The US-led coalition fighting IS has had some successes, but experts say it is constrained by a lack of reliable ground forces and relatively poor intelligence.
IS meanwhile has strategically focused its expansion on areas where local government and security is weak.
And it quickly implements governance in captured territory, Johnston said, using its bureaucrats and police to consolidate its control.
The jihadists use a carrot-and-stick approach with local populations, terrorizing with brutal public executions but also offering relative stability and public services including healthcare and education.
"Its popularity is fluid... but generally it still has what it takes to rule without much pressure from within its areas," said Hassan.  
"People on the ground still fear the group's retribution, see value in its model of governance, and don't have any other acceptable alternatives."
The lack of alternatives has been key to IS's success in Syria and Iraq, where Sunni Muslims feel excluded from the ruling class.  
In Syria, Sunnis have led the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad, who hails from the Alawite offshoot of Shiite Islam.
In Iraq, they frequently accuse the Shiite-led government of discrimination.
Those dynamics mean a purely military approach to the "caliphate problem" will fall short.
"So long as Assad remains in Syria and so long as Baghdad's improvements in representative government do not translate into a shift in perceptions on the ground, IS will always retain a chance of acquiring people's tacit acceptance," Lister said.
"Ultimately the only genuine solution to IS is to solve the underlying issues of societal division and political failure that IS has sought to exacerbate and exploit to its advantage."

ISIS Foreign Legion Unleashes Quadruple Car Bombing

Category: News
Created on Wednesday, 17 June 2015 09:00
Car BombingAt least 11 Iraqi security personnel were killed Saturday in a quadruple suicide car bombing near Baiji that the Islamic State (ISIS) group said four of its foreign fighters carried out.
Police and army sources said the four car bombs were unleashed on security targets in Hajjaj, which lies on the road between Tikrit and Baiji in Salaheddin province, north of Baghdad.
Seven soldiers were killed as well as four members of the Popular Mobilization force, an umbrella for mostly Shi'ite militias and volunteers that has been doing much of the heavy lifting in the fight against ISIS in Iraq.
At least 27 people were also wounded in the coordinated attack, which saw one of the four car bombs neutralized before it could reach its target, a police colonel said.
An army officer said the vehicles used were identical, brand new SUVs that looked like an official convoy.
Pictures released by ISIS show the black-clad suicide bombers each standing by one of four black Toyota Land Cruisers.
ISIS said in a statement that the bombers were a Kuwaiti, a Palestinian Arab, a Briton and a German.
The picture of the German bomber, named Abu Ibrahim al-Almani, shows a red-haired blue-eyed man behind the wheel of his explosives-laden car, smiling and pointing his index finger to the sky.

ISIS Video Celebrates a Year to Its 'Caliphate'

Category: News
Created on Monday, 15 June 2015 09:49
ISIS00The Islamic State (ISIS) group Thursday released a propaganda documentary marking a year since it captured Mosul and recounting its surprise at how easily it took over Iraq's second city.
The film glamorizes the founding moment of the "caliphate" ISIS proclaimed less than three weeks later as an epic conquest but it also further documents the collapse of Iraq's security forces, reports AFP.
The 29 minutes of often previously unreleased footage shows the jihadists being welcomed by Mosul residents, prisoners being freed and soldiers desperately attempting to flee in vehicles.
"It was unthinkable that the advance would be so much greater than was planned," said the narrator of the video, which was published on social media on Thursday.
"The operation began with cutting the supply lines of the members of the Safavid army," after which the attack was announced, the narrator says, using a term meaning that Iraqi soldiers are beholden to Iran.
"Three convoys of military vehicles entered the outskirts of the city coming from the Jazeera area," the narrator says, noting that ISIS forces were heavily outnumbered.
The plan was to "control neighborhoods on the right side of Mosul to be a starting point for the mujahedeen (holy warriors) to conquer the remainder of the city."
But "the right side of the city of Mosul was conquered and the left side was empty of Safavid soldiers before the men of the Islamic State arrived."
The jihadist group's offensive in Iraq began on June 9. By the following day, ISIS-led forces had overrun Mosul - a city of two million - under their control.
The lightning advance led to the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, many of whom fled to the neighboring autonomous region of Kurdistan.
It also saw a complete collapse of multiple divisions of Iraqi security forces, a dismal performance by an army the United States had spent years and billion of dollars training and equipping.
The ISIS-led offensive saw the government lose nearly a third of the country, sparking fears the jihadists could even raise their black flag in the capital Baghdad.
Mass mobilization by mostly Shi'ite militias and volunteers helped stop the jihadist drive.
The United States and Iran have, separately, led efforts to roll back territorial losses but, one year on, Baghdad is still struggling with a weak army.
ISIS for its part has survived close to 4,500 air strikes by the US-led coalition and remains a formidable fighting force, thanks in part to the huge arsenal it looted from abandoned government positions in Mosul and elsewhere.

Yazidis Kill Arab Villagers in Revenge Attack

Category: Reports
Created on Saturday, 13 June 2015 15:05
Yazidi Mass GravesMembers of the Yazidi community, one of the Iraqi minorities hardest hit by jihadist atrocities including mass rapes and executions conducted by Islamic State (ISIS), killed 21 Sunni Arab villagers in a January revenge attack, Amnesty International said Wednesday.
The London-based watchdog investigated attacks carried out on January 25 by a Yazidi militia in Jiri and Sibaya, two Sunni Arab villages in the Sinjar region of northern Iraq, reports AFP.
"Virtually not a single house was spared. Half of those killed were elderly or disabled men and women and children," Amnesty said in a report.
It said another 40 were abducted, 17 of whom are still missing.
Among other witnesses, Amnesty spoke to a father who lost two sons aged 15 and 20 in the attack. Their 12-year-old brother was shot four times in the back but survived.
"We could not imagine the assailants would target the old and the sick but they did," one man told Amnesty, describing how his 66-year-old father was shot dead in his wheelchair.
The Yazidis, a religious minority which lives mainly in Iraq's Sinjar region, are neither Muslims nor Arabs and follow a unique faith.
In 2014, ISIS jihadists massacred Yazidis, forced tens of thousands of them to flee, captured thousands of girls and women as spoils of war and used them as sex slaves.
The UN has said the atrocities committed against the small community may amount to genocide.
"It is deeply troubling to see members of the Yazidi community, who have suffered so much at the hands of the ISIS, now themselves committing such brutal crimes," Donatella Rovera, Amnesty's senior crisis adviser, said.
The rights group said some witnesses accused Kurdish security forces running the area of turning a blind eye.
The report, which included investigations into other sectarian massacres, was issued to coincide with the first anniversary of ISIS's massive offensive in Iraq.
Jihadist-led fighters took over around a third of Iraq last June, bringing it to the brink of collapse.
Violence has continued since as Iraqi government forces and a wide range of foreign allies have battled ISIS, so far failing to break the back of the jihadist group.
"Looking back at the carnage and chaos that has taken hold in the year since the ISIS takeover, the picture that emerges is of an Iraq more fractured and bitterly divided than ever and rival factions hell-bent on destroying each other, with no regard for who is actually a fighter or a civilian," Rovera said.

Iraqi Forces Advance in ISIS-Controlled Baiji

Category: News
Created on Thursday, 11 June 2015 19:32
Iraqi Forces AdvanceIraqi forces advanced against the Islamic State (ISIS) jihadist group in Baiji on Sunday as they battled to retake the strategic town for a second time, officers said, according to the AFP news agency.
Baghdad regained control of Baiji -- located on the road to ISIS hub Mosul and near the country's largest oil refinery -- last year, but subsequently lost it again.
"Our security forces arrived to the centre of the town of Baiji around 10:30 a.m. (0700 GMT) and raised the Iraqi flag," an army major general told AFP.
The officer said that Iraqi forces were shelling "terrorists hideouts" in the town with mortar rounds.
A police colonel confirmed that Iraqi forces were making progress, saying they were in control of the city centre and were "advancing toward the northern neighborhoods of the town."
Security forces are also fighting to push ISIS out of the nearby Baiji refinery, a vast complex, which once produced 300,000 barrels per day of refined products meeting half of the country's needs.
ISIS spearheaded a sweeping militant offensive last June that overran Iraq's second city Mosul in less than 24 hours and then seized much of the country's Sunni Arab heartland, where it  declared itself an Islamic "caliphate".
ISIS has been driven out of some areas north of Baghdad, but still holds much of western Iraq.
Last week, Washington's envoy for the coalition fighting ISIS said the group is a "global threat" that will take a generation or more to defeat.

Sunni Tribes in Iraq Swear Loyalty to ISIS

Category: News
Created on Sunday, 07 June 2015 19:40
Sunni Tribes Swear Loyalty to ISISSeveral influential Sunni tribal leaders in the western Anbar province that is Iraq's largest on Wednesday swore loyalty to the Islamic State (ISIS) terrorist group.
The pledge was read aloud in Fallujah in a statement by influential sheikh Ahmed Dara al-Jumaili following a meeting between the tribal leaders, reports Al Jazeera.
The paper noted that it remains unclear whether the tribes had been threatened and forced to swear allegiance, given that ISIS controls Fallujah and most of Anbar province.
Baghdad-based reporter Imran Khan of Al Jazeera analyzed the pledge, saying, "if this is a willing move, then that is very worrying for the Iraqi government. The statement they issued was very strong - it condemned the government. It said the only way that peace would come to Anbar province is if the tribes joined ISIL (i.e. ISIS - ed.)."
Among the tribes that swore loyalty to ISIS was the al-Jumaili tribe, which is said to have a strong military force along with influence over other Anbar tribes.
The pledge by Sunni tribes emphasizes the increasingly sectarian nature of the conflict in Iraq, with several Sunni leaders in Anbar recently criticizing how Shi'ite militias largely backed by Iran are playing a key role in the fighting against ISIS.
While Iraq has a Sunni majority its government is largely controlled by Shi'ite elements, heightening the tensions and partially explaining the backlash of the Sunni tribesmen against the government.

Dual Bombs Blast Baghdad Hotels

Category: News
Created on Saturday, 30 May 2015 09:36
Blast Baghdad HotelsThe toll from car bombs that ripped through the car parks of two upscale Baghdad hotels has risen to at least nine dead and dozens wounded, officials said on Friday. 
Terrorists were able to bring the bombs, which exploded just before midnight on Thursday and were heard across the city center, inside the walled compounds of the Ishtar and Babylon hotels in central Baghdad, reports AFP.
The blast at the Ishtar - formerly a Sheraton - shattered windows of the recently renovated hotel, turning rows of expensive cars and SUVs into charred, twisted metal.
People traipsed through the site of the blast, while a group of men struggled to remove the smashed windshield from an SUV on the other side of the hotel.
The Ishtar is a popular site for wedding celebrations, and the area - which also includes a club and the "Palestine hotel" - is crowded with people on Thursday nights.
A second bombing struck the car park at the Babylon, another upmarket and recently refurbished hotel that overlooks the Tigris river in the Jadriya neighborhood.
Police said security forces found another car bomb in the Babylon's car park and defused it.
A years-old midnight curfew was lifted in February after Iraqi forces retook areas around Baghdad from the Islamic State (ISIS) jihadist group and a huge car bomb-making cell was dismantled.
Attacks have continued since but are less frequent than in 2014.
ISIS, which is still battling government forces barely 30 kilometers (18 miles) west of the capital, has claimed many of the biggest attacks in Baghdad and elsewhere in the country.
The Babylon and Sheraton were hit in coordinated attacks in January 2010, together with the Hamra, which never reopened.
The attacks five years ago were carried out by suicide bombers and killed at least 36 people. They were claimed by Al Qaeda in Iraq, the group that later became ISIS.

Iraq Exhumes 500 Bodies from ISIS Massacre in Tikrit

Category: News
Created on Thursday, 28 May 2015 19:16
500 Bodies from ISIS Massacre in TikritIraq has exhumed the remains of 470 people believed to have been executed by Islamic State terrorists near Tikrit last year in what is known as the Speicher massacre, the health minister said Thursday, AFP reported.
"We have exhumed the bodies of 470 Speicher martyrs from burial sites in Tikrit," Adila Hammoud said at a press conference in Baghdad, referring to the nearby military base that the massacre was named after.
In June 2014, armed men belonging or allied to the Islamic State group abducted hundreds of young, mostly Shiite recruits from Speicher base, just outside the city of Tikrit.
They were then lined up in several locations and executed one by one, as shown in pictures and footage that has emerged since.
Some were pushed into the Tigris river, others hastily buried in locations that were discovered when government and allied forces retook Tikrit from the jihadists about two months ago.
The highest estimate for the number of people killed in one of the worst atrocities ever committed by ISIS stands at 1,700.
"These bodies come from four burial sites... One of them was bigger than the others and contained 400," said Ziad Ali Abbas, the chief doctor at Baghdad's main morgue.
He said forensic examination of the exhumed remains was conducted with foreign assistance, including from the International Committee of the Red Cross.
Hundreds of families whose sons, fathers and brothers went missing at the time of the ISIS-led offensive in Iraq have been waiting for confirmation that their loved ones were among the Speicher victims.
Officials at Thursday's press conference said the first list of names would be released next week.

Iraq Cutting Off ISIS Ahead of Offensive to Retake Ramadi

Category: News
Created on Wednesday, 27 May 2015 11:45
Fighters from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant -ReutersIraqi forces closed in on Ramadi Tuesday and launched an operation aimed at cutting off the jihadists in Anbar province before a major offensive to retake the city. 
Ten days after the Islamic State (ISIS) group's shock capture of the capital of Iraq's largest province, a spokesman said the latest operation was only a preparatory move before an assault on Ramadi, reports AFP.
The operation will see a mix of security forces and paramilitaries move south towards the city from Salaheddin province, said Hashed al-Shaabi spokesman Ahmed al-Assadi.
The Hashed al-Shaabi ("popular mobilization" in Arabic) is an umbrella group for mostly Shi'ite militia and volunteers, which the government called in after ISIS captured Ramadi on May 17.
"The operation's goal is to liberate those regions between Salaheddin and Anbar and try to isolate the province of Anbar," Assadi told AFP.
He said it had been dubbed "Operation Labaik ya Hussein," which roughly translates as "We are at your service, Hussein" and refers to one of the most revered imams in Shi'ite Islam.
The Hashed said 4,000 men were heading to the northern edge of Ramadi.
Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and his US allies had been reluctant to deploy Iran-backed Shi'ite militia in Anbar, a predominantly Sunni province.
Anbar's provincial capital had resisted ISIS assaults for more than a year but fell earlier this month after a massive jihadist offensive and a chaotic retreat by security forces.
Edging closer
The ISIS controls most of Anbar, a huge province which borders territory also under its control in neighboring Syria.
Pockets of government control include some eastern areas near the capital, the city of Haditha, parts of the town of Al-Baghdadi and the Al-Asad air base, where hundreds of US military advisers are stationed.
Regular forces and Hashed al-Shaabi paramilitaries also made progress south and west of Ramadi, an army lieutenant colonel told AFP, and retook an area called Al-Taesh.
"The Iraqi security forces and Hashed al-Shaabi have now cut off all supply routes for ISIS in Ramadi from the south," provincial council member Arkan Khalaf al-Tarmuz said.
Washington on Monday moved to appease Baghdad after Iraq's leadership reacted angrily to comments by the Pentagon chief accusing Iraqi forces of "lacking the will to fight."
Ashton Carter's remarks to the CNN news channel were widely perceived as unfair in Iraq, where some forces have put up valiant resistance to ISIS assaults.
In a call to Abadi, the White House quoted Vice President Joe Biden as saying he "recognized the enormous sacrifice and bravery of Iraqi forces over the past 18 months in Ramadi and elsewhere."
Tehran, the main backer of the paramilitary groups that were sent to Anbar's rescue, was gloating and suggested it was Washington that was indecisive in its approach to ISIS.
"How can you be in that country under the pretext of protecting the Iraqis and do nothing? This is no more than being an accomplice in a plot," said General Qassem Suleimani, the Revolutionary Guards' commander of foreign operations.
The US-led coalition has carried out more than 3,000 strikes against ISIS targets in Iraq and Syria over the past 10 months.
Palmyra video
Baghdad and Washington had boasted that ISIS was a waning force after months of territorial losses, but the fall of Ramadi signaled that the jihadist group may have been written off too soon.
Its seizure of the city prompted 55,000 residents to flee, according to the United Nations.
Many of them have been prevented from crossing into other provinces, for fear they have been infiltrated by ISIS fighters.
Some Sunni Arab politicians and activists have described the move as unconstitutional and discriminatory against the minority community.
The International Rescue Committee said the restriction was forcing some people to return to conflict areas.
"Thousands of people fleeing Ramadi are stuck at checkpoints or being denied entry to safe areas," IRC's Syrian crisis response regional director Mark Schnellbaecher said.
"For some people the situation has become so hopeless that they are returning to the conflict in Ramadi."
In a twin attack last week, ISIS seized Palmyra in eastern Syria and the nearby ruins of the ancient city, considered one of the world's archaeological jewels.
A video posted online by a channel that works only in ISIS-controlled areas showed the UNESCO-listed site, including its famous theater and colonnade.
The 90-second undated raw video also includes a brief shot of a street, in which no ISIS fighters or flags can be seen.

Iraq Blocking Citizens Fleeing ISIS

Category: News
Created on Wednesday, 27 May 2015 10:56
Families fleeing the violence in the Iraqi city of MosuRestrictions on Iraqi people fleeing the fighting in Anbar province are forcing some of them to return straight into conflict areas, an aid group said Tuesday.
"Thousands of people fleeing Ramadi are stuck at checkpoints or being denied entry to safe areas," said Mark Schnellbaecher of the International Rescue Committee (IRC), reports AFP.
"For some people the situation has become so hopeless that they are returning to the conflict in Ramadi," he said in a statement.
Thousands of people who fled the Islamic State (ISIS) group's takeover of Ramadi this month have been stuck at Bzeibez bridge for days, barred from leaving Anbar.
The IRC said the checks conducted on displaced families were done so inconsistently, with in some places a blanket ban on men and in others not.
"Security checks should never be arbitrary or discriminatory, and every effort should be made to keep families together," Schnellbaecher said.
The floating bridge at Bzeibez, which connects Anbar to Baghdad or other areas where displaced people have sought shelter further south such as Hilla and Najaf, was open Tuesday.
But it has been largely closed during the past two weeks, with families asked to produce a sponsorship before crossing, a measure meant to combat fears that groups of displaced from Anbar could be infiltrated by ISIS.
"The sponsorship system is leading to serious exploitation, with some sponsors selling their sponsorship for up to $700," the IRC said.
The group argued that the phenomenon put "unacceptable financial burden on an already extremely vulnerable population" and undermined the security rationale of the measure.
According to the United Nations, at least 55,000 people have fled the fighting in Ramadi, which fell to ISIS on May 17 after a chaotic retreat by the Iraqi security forces.
Of the 2.8 million people who were displaced by violence in Iraq since the start of 2014, around 900,000 of them are from Anbar.
The vast western province is where government and allied forces are now focusing their efforts, with thousands of regular forces and paramilitary fighters converging on Ramadi to wrest it back from the jihadists.

Iraqi Deputy PM Berates 'Shameful' Retreat from ISIS

Category: News
Created on Sunday, 24 May 2015 06:02
iraqi christianOne of Iraq's leading Sunni Muslim politicians, Deputy Prime Minister Saleh Mutlaq, branded as "shameful" Friday the army's chaotic pullout from Anbar provincial capital Ramadi.
Mutlaq, who is himself from the overwhelmingly Sunni province, said the Shi'ite-led government would discipline officers who had given up the fight as Islamic State (ISIS) jihadists overran the city last Sunday, reports AFP.
"It's unthinkable that forces with more than ten years of training should pull out in this shameful way," Mutlaq said on the sidelines of a conference in neighboring Jordan.
"The government will call to account those commanders who abandoned the battle at this difficult time."
Mutlaq called for a change of policy by Washington, saying that US-led air strikes and plans to recruit militiamen from local Sunni tribes were not enough.
"Coalition air strikes are not enough to eliminate ISIS," he said. Recruiting Sunni tribes is "important but not enough," he said, adding that in any case it was "too late."
Ramadi fell to ISIS after a nearly 18-month siege by the Sunni extremists. In the face of a three-day blitz by the jihadists, using massive car bombs driven by suicide terrorists, troops abandoned their bases in a chaotic retreat that saw some extracted by helicopter and others summarily executed by the victors.
The Pentagon said Iraqi forces retreated partly because they incorrectly believed a sandstorm was preventing US-led aircraft from coming to their aid.

ISIS Conquers Last Syrian Border Crossing to Iraq

Category: News
Created on Saturday, 23 May 2015 20:44
Syrian Border Crossing to IraqThe brutal Islamic State (ISIS) terror group has seized the last of the border crossings between Syria and Iraq held by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Regime forces were left with no choice but to retreat from the border crossing known as al-Tanf in Syria and al-Waleed in Iraq, reports BBC citing the Observatory.
The seizure of the crossing is not only a strategic boon for the terrorist organization allowing it to more effectively transfer its resources and supplies between its forces in Syria and Iraq, but also signifies how ISIS is continuing to solidify and expand its hold on Syria.
Just on Thursday ISIS terrorists conquered Palmyra, an ancient city with archaeological artifacts feared to now be in danger of destruction.
According to the Observatory, ISIS now controls "more than 95,000 sq km (36,679 sq miles)" in Syria, which constitutes no less than half of the country's entire territory.
ISIS's hold includes Deir al-Zour and Raqqa provinces, and the group likewise has a strong grasp in Hasakeh, Aleppo, Homs and Hama.
In neighboring Iraq, ISIS forces have been conquering new ground as well, seizing the strategic city of Ramadi in Anbar province on Sunday after a three-day blitz.
Despite the massive gains made by ISIS in spite of the US-led coalition airstrikes against them, US President Barack Obama struck a defiant tone on Thursday, saying, "I don't think we're losing."
"There's no doubt there was a tactical setback, although Ramadi had been vulnerable for a very long time," Obama said of the loss of the strategic city.

Militias, ISIS Amass for Shia-Sunni Showdown in Iraq's Ramadi

Category: News
Created on Monday, 18 May 2015 09:58
Iraqi Shiite fighters pose with captured ISIS flagReutersShia militias converged on Ramadi Monday in a bid recapture it from jihadists who dealt the Iraqi government a stinging blow by overrunning the city in a deadly three-day blitz.
The loss of the capital of Iraq's largest province was Baghdad's worst military setback since it started clawing back territory from the jihadists late last year.
Days after a rare message from ISIS supremo Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi urging mass mobilization, the group also came close to also seizing one of Syria's most famed heritage sites, ancient Palmyra, but the army pinned it back.  
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi had been reluctant to deploy Shia militias to Anbar province for fear of alienating its overwhelmingly Sunni Arab population.  
He favored developing locally recruited forces, a policy that had strong US support.  
But militia commanders said on Monday that Ramadi's fall had shown that the government could not do without the so-called Popular Mobilization units (Hashed al-Shaabi) - am alliance of Iranian-backed Shia Islamist militias regularly criticized for carrying out war crimes comparable to those of ISIS.
Badr militia chief Hadi al-Ameri said the province's leaders should have taken up his offer of help sooner.  
The group's Al Ghadeer television said Ameri "holds the political representatives of Anbar responsible for the fall of Ramadi because they objected to the participation of Hashed al-Shaabi in the defense of their own people".  
Various militias announced they had units already in Anbar - including around the cities of Fallujah and Habbaniyah - ready to close in on Ramadi and engage the city's new masters.  
Massive reinforcements
A spokesman for Ketaeb Hezbollah, one of the leading Shia Islamist paramilitary groups, said his organization had units ready to join the Ramadi front from three directions.
"Tomorrow, God willing, these reinforcements will continue towards Anbar and Ramadi and the start of operations to cleanse the areas recently captured by Daesh will be announced," Jaafar al-Husseini told AFP, using an Arab acronym for ISIS.
The fall of Ramadi, some 100 kilometers (60 miles) west of Baghdad, came when beleaguered security forces pulled out of their last bases on Sunday.  
The jihadists used several waves of suicide car bombs to thrust into government-controlled neighborhoods on Thursday and Friday.
The black flag of the "Islamic State" was soon flying over the provincial headquarters and, with reinforcements slow to come, thousands of families fled the city.
Anbar officials said at least 500 people died in three days of fierce fighting.
"We're continuing to monitor reports of tough fighting in Ramadi and the situation remains fluid and contested," Pentagon spokeswoman Maureen Schumann told AFP late on Sunday.
Muhannad Haimour, spokesman and adviser to the Anbar governor, said fighting was continuing in some pockets of the city. Iraqi military officials said all main security bases had been abandoned.  
Palmyra relief
Tensions between Tehran and Washington, Baghdad's two main foreign partners, also played out during the battle for executed dictator Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit, which the government took back last month.
Abadi met the head of US Central Command, General Lloyd Austin, on Sunday, and on Monday Iranian Defense Minister Hossein Dehghan arrived in Baghdad for talks.  
In the Syrian half of the "caliphate" Baghdadi proclaimed last year, ISIS failed to notch up what would have been another high-profile military victory on the ground.
Regime forces repelled an ISIS advance on the ancient oasis town of Palmyra that had sparked concern that another jewel of the Middle East's architectural heritage could be destroyed by the jihadists.  
"IS's attack was foiled," provincial governor Talal Barazi said on Sunday after troops ousted the jihadists from the northern part of the modern town, which they had seized on Saturday.  
UNESCO has urged both sides to spare Palmyra, which it describes as one of the most important cultural centers of the ancient world.
ISIS fighters remain within a a kilometer (less than a mile) of the archaeological site and its museum of priceless artifacts, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
The Britain-based monitoring group said nearly 300 people have been killed in four days of fighting - 123 soldiers and militiamen, 115 ISIS fighters and 57 civilians.

ISIS Completes Capture of Iraq's Ramadi

Category: News
Created on Monday, 18 May 2015 09:26
ISIS Capture of Iraqs RamadiThe Islamic State (ISIS) group on Sunday sealed its capture of the Iraqi city of Ramadi after a dramatic pullout by Iraqi forces, but was prevented by Syrian troops from taking the heritage site of Palmyra, reports AFP.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi urged government forces to hold fast in Ramadi and prevent ISIS from making further gains, saying they would have air cover and Shiite militia reinforcements.
The effective loss of the capital of Iraq's largest province of Anbar marked one of Baghdad's worst setbacks since it began a nationwide offensive last year to reclaim territory lost to the jihadists in June 2014.
ISIS said in an Internet post it fully controlled Ramadi, after a local official admitted the operations command center there had fallen.
"God has enabled the soldiers of the caliphate to cleanse all of Ramadi... after storming the 8th brigade. They (now) control it along with a battalion of tanks and missile launchers and in addition to the Anbar operations command," the ISIS statement said.
Muhannad Haimour, spokesman and adviser to the provincial governor, said "Anbar operations command has been cleared".
A colonel among troops who had withdrawn added, "Daesh has just taken full control of all main security bases", using an Arabic acronym for ISIS.
Abadi’s spokesman, however, said troops, tribesmen and elite forces "must hold their positions and preserve them and not allow Daesh to extend to other areas in Ramadi."
"There is continuous air cover that will help ground troops there hold their positions while waiting for support from other forces and the Popular Mobilization Units," he said of an umbrella group for Shiite militias.
Taking full control of Ramadi, some 100 kilometers (60 miles) west of Baghdad, would be the most significant victory this year for ISIS, which has suffered a string of setbacks elsewhere in Iraq and Syria.
ISIS has threatened to take control of Ramadi for months, and the breakthrough came after a wide offensive on multiple fronts in the province, including an assault using several suicide car bombs in Ramadi last Thursday.
But the group also faced another setback across the border in Syria on Sunday, where government forces drove them out of the ancient oasis town of Palmyra, home to a UNESCO world heritage site.
"ISIS' attack was foiled," provincial governor Talal Barazi said after troops routed the jihadists from the northern part of the modern town of Palmyra which they had seized on Saturday.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said, however, that ISIS fighters were still just a kilometer (less than a mile) from the archaeological site and its museum housing priceless artifacts.
It said nearly 300 people have been killed in four days of fighting -- 123 soldiers and their allies, 115 ISIS fighters and 57 civilians.
UNESCO has urged both sides to spare Palmyra, which it describes as one of the most important cultural centers of the ancient world.

British Suicide Bomber Helps ISIS Take Control of Iraqi City

Category: News
Created on Sunday, 17 May 2015 14:43
British Suicide BomberFighting in the Iraqi city of Ramadi, where the Islamic State group (ISIS) is threatening to take full control, has displaced around 8,000 people in two days, the International Organisation for Migration said Sunday.
A renewed ISIS assault, which began late Thursday, saw jihadist fighters seize the government compound in Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province.
"An estimated total of 1,296 families (7,776 individuals) have been displaced, and numbers are increasing," the IOM said.
The displaced families went to Amriyat al-Fallujah, to the east, but have not been allowed to cross the Euphrates and enter Baghdad province.  
Thousands of civilians had already fled the city during previous waves of violence, including an offensive last month.  
According to the IOM, the number of people displaced by Iraq's conflict since the beginning of 2014 has reached a new high of more than 2.8 million.
Using waves of suicide car bombs, ISIS took over several central Ramadi neighbourhoods on Friday, leaving the last government forces in the city confined to a handful of positions.
Among those suicide bombers was a British national - the latest western-born jihadi to die as an ISIS suicide bomber.
ISIS-linked social media accounts identified him as Abu Musa al-Britani; his real identity has not yet been confirmed.
According to police sources, fighting took place Sunday in the Malaab neighbourhood in eastern Ramadi, one of the last districts where government forces were still present.  
Hundreds of forces were hunkering down in their bases in northern parts of Ramadi, waiting for reinforcements promised by Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.  
Taking full control of Ramadi, about 100 kilometres (60 miles) west of Baghdad, would be the most significant victory this year for ISIS, which has suffered a string of setbacks elsewhere in the country.

Why Now? Baghdadi Message Reaffirms ISIS Leadership

Category: News
Created on Sunday, 17 May 2015 10:44
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi makes his first appearance in Mosuls Great Mosque - ReutersThe Islamic State's release last week of an audio message by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi reaffirmed his leadership of the group following a six-month silence and rumors over his health.  
In his half-hour speech posted on jihadist forums on Thursday, Baghdadi calls for a general mobilization and urges all Muslims to move to the caliphate he proclaimed last year or wage jihad (holy war) wherever they are.  
"I think this release partly has to do with rumours of his supposed incapacitation," said Aymenn Jawad al-Tamimi of the Middle East Forum research group.  
Rumors emerged last month that Baghdadi was seriously wounded in a March air strike and had relinquished the organisation's leadership to a terrorist called Abu Alaa al-Afari.
"I do indeed think the release is well timed," said Patrick Skinner, an analyst with the Soufan Group intelligence consultancy.  
"It was important for him even in audio to show some level of engagement and persuasion. The group depends on image as much as reality," he told AFP.
The recording provides no clues as to Baghdadi's health but largely dispels any notion he is no longer the overall leader of an organisation which now claims branches all over the region, as well as in Asia and Africa.
A previous recording, which dates back to November, was also released a few days after rumors that he had been killed or wounded in an air raid.  
Thursday's message was not immediately authenticated or dated but the credibility of previous such releases by the group has in most cases stood the test of time.
Baghdadi's speech alludes mostly to battles in Anbar province and the Baiji area but not in Tikrit, suggesting it was recorded after the government took it back in early April.  
Hassan Hassan, co-author of the acclaimed and recently published "ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror", said his assessment was also that the recording post-dated claims of his incapacitation.  
"Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi's new statement was most likely recorded in last five days of April. Almost certain," he tweeted.
Secretive structure
Afari, an Iraqi from the Tal Afar region who is also sometimes referred to as Abdulrahman al-Qaduli, was little known until last month.  
The US State Department listed him - under the same Abd al-Rahman al-Qaduli - on its Rewards for Justice website, offering a $7-million bounty for information leading to him.
That makes him the Islamic State group's most senior leader on the list behind Baghdadi himself, who is in the $10-million bounty category.  
The Iraqi defense ministry issued a statement on Wednesday suggesting Afari may have been killed in an air strike but the US-led coalition cast doubt on the claim.  
ISIS' leadership structure remains shrouded in secrecy and there are only a handful of other senior figures on the US list.  
Among them are Sheikh Abu Mohammed al-Adnani, the group's official spokesman, and Omar al-Shishani, a Georgian citizen considered one of ISIS' top military commanders.
ISIS has its roots in Iraq, where earlier incarnations of the group emerged in reaction to the 2003 US invasion, and Iraqis are thought to be the largest contingent in its higher echelons.
The Pentagon claimed in December that coalition air strikes had killed Abu Muslim al-Turkmani, a top Baghdadi aide, in December.  
In his speech, Baghdadi is very much the fiery chief commander, calling for a general mobilization against the broad alliance of forces battling his organisation.    
He says it is an obligation for all Muslims to emigrate to his so-called "caliphate" or wage jihad on their homeland.
"His address does have the tone of an 'end of times' approach to the fighting. He is going all in with everything he can, urging his listeners to do the same," Skinner said.
He and Tamimi agreed that Baghdadi desperately needed to find new momentum to break out of the recent stalemate, which has seen ISIS fail to make any significant gain in Iraq or Syria.  
On the day the recording was released however, ISIS launched a fresh offensive on Ramadi that saw it eventually seize near-full control of Anbar's provincial capital, in what would be its biggest victory in months.
On Saturday, ISIS advanced in Syria as well, seizing control of part of the ancient city of Palmyra.
However, the jihadist group also suffered a major blow, when US special forces killed one of its most senior military leaders - Abu Sayyaf - in a daring raid in Syria.

US Kills Senior ISIS Leader in Syria, Captures His Wife

Category: News
Created on Sunday, 17 May 2015 00:08
abu-sayyafThe Pentagon has announced that a senior ISIS member was killed today (Saturday) in an operation by US Special Operations forces in Syria. No Americans were killed or injured during the mission.
"The operation represents another significant blow to ISIL, and it is a reminder that the United States will never waver in denying safe haven to terrorists who threaten our citizens, and those of our friends and allies," said Defense Secretary Ash Carter.
The wanted man, Abu Sayyaf, organized the jihadist group's oil, gas, and financial arms. Oil provides a major source of ISIS's funding, with analysts estimating the group's oil revenue at up to $3 million per day.
As part of the mission, Sayyaf's wife, Umm Sayyaf, was captured. She is believed to have been involved in ISIS's activities, particularly human trafficking, and reportedly had a captured Yazidi woman as a slave.
This mission was authorized by US President Barack Obama, despite his earlier promise to keep all ground forces out of Syria and Iraq. Another Special Operations raid last year attempted to rescue kidnapped journalists, but all the hostages were killed.
White House national security spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan said Abu Sayyaf "was killed when he engaged US forces."    
His wife was being held in military detention in Iraq.  
The raid took place in Al-Omar, one of the largest oil fields in Syria, located in oil-rich Deir Ezzor province. Like much of Deir Ezzor, Al-Omar remains under ISIS control.
US Secretary of Defence Ash Carter called the operation a "significant blow" to ISIS.
Meehan said US forces based out of Iraq had conducted the raid "with the full consent" of Iraqi authorities.  
US forces suffered no casualties, American officials said, without giving details on the number of troops involved.
Members of the elite Delta special operations unit descended on Sayyaf's compound in Black Hawk helicopters and Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft, a defence official told AFP.
In a firefight, US troops killed "about a dozen" armed terrorists, the official said, on condition of anonymity. At one point, fighting took place "at very close quarters, and there was hand-to-hand combat."  
ISIS enters Palmyra
In central Syria, ISIS jihadists stormed and seized control of most of Palmyra's northern neighborhoods, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.  
"IS advanced and took control of most of northern Palmyra, and there are fierce clashes happening now," said Rami Abdel Rahman, the monitoring group's director.
The official Syrian news agency SANA quoted a military source as saying regime forces had prevented IS fighters from seizing a hilltop southwest of the Islamic citadel.  
The head of Syria's antiquities department, Mamoum Abdulkarim, meanwhile, voiced extreme concern for the UNESCO world heritage site, located to Palmyra's southwest.
"I am living in a state of terror," Abdulkarim told AFP in a telephone call.
He said ISIS "will blow everything up. They will destroy everything," if they enter the site, adding that many of Palmyra's artefacts, like elaborate tombs, could not be moved.
ISIS began its offensive on Palmyra on Wednesday and has since inched closer to the ancient metropolis, executing at least 49 civilians in two days, according to the Observatory.  
Fearing the destruction of Palmyra, known as the "pearl of the desert," UNESCO has called on the UN Security Council to act in order to save one of the Middle East's historic treasures.
48 dead in air raids
Meanwhile, in northwest Syria, at least 48 civilians, including nine children, were killed on Saturday in regime air raids on Idlib province, the Observatory said.
It said the air strikes targeted rebel-held Idlib city and the towns of Saraqeb and Kafr Awid.
Also on Saturday, Turkey's defense minister said armed forces shot down a Syrian helicopter that had violated Turkish air space.
"A Syrian helicopter was downed that violated the border for a period of five minutes within a seven mile (11 kilometer) limit," Defense Minister Ismet Yilmaz said, quoted by the Dogan news agency.
Syrian state television had earlier indicated the aircraft was a drone and vehemently denied it could have been a manned aircraft.  
 In Iraq, ISIS fighters tightened their siege on the last government positions in Ramadi, west of Baghdad, a day after they seized the city's government headquarters.
Taking control of Ramadi would constitute the group's most important victory this year in Iraq, and would give the jihadists control of the capitals of two of its largest provinces.
Mosul, capital of Nineveh province, has been under ISIS control since the jihadists launched a lightning offensive in June 2014.
Anbar province, of which Ramadi is the capital, extends from the Syrian, Jordanian, and Saudi borders to the gates of Baghdad.  
Military reinforcements have been sent to Ramadi and other parts of Anbar, local officials said, and Iraq's army and the US-led coalition have struck ISIS positions in the area.

ISIS Seizes Iraqi City of Ramadi

Category: News
Created on Saturday, 16 May 2015 12:17
Iraqi City of RamadiIslamic State (ISIS) fighters seized the government compound in the city of Ramadi on Friday and edged closer to what would be their biggest victory in Iraq this year, officials said, according to AFP.
The loss of the capital of Anbar province, which Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi had said would be the next target of government forces after wresting back Tikrit last month, would be a major setback.
The government stressed that Ramadi had not fallen yet and announced that a major counter-offensive was under way as Abadi held an emergency meeting with top security officials.
ISIS has threatened to take control of Ramadi for months, and the breakthrough came after a wide offensive on multiple fronts in the province, including an assault using several suicide car bombs in Ramadi on Thursday.
The jihadists seized the government complex at around 2:00 p.m. local time and raised the black flag, a police officer said, giving them nearly full control over Anbar's capital.
ISIS "now occupies the government center in Ramadi and has also raised its flag over the police HQ for Anbar", the police major told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The group itself issued a statement saying its fighters broke into the government complex, and blew up the adjacent buildings of Anbar's governorate and the police headquarters.
A senior tribal leader in charge of the coordination of local fighters with regular government forces also confirmed the government complex had fallen.
"The only (government) forces still fighting are confined to a few pockets in Ramadi but they have no command post anymore," Sheikh Hekmat Suleiman told AFP by phone.
Provincial council member Adhal Obeid al-Fahdawi had described the situation as "critical" moments earlier, and said civilians were fleeing the city center, the second time in a month they have done so following another ISIS offensive in April.
"Families are trying to flee on foot, leaving their cars and homes behind, but most areas around Ramadi are under ISIS control," said Sheikh Jabbar Adjadj al-Assafi, a tribal leader.
ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi broke a six-month silence on Thursday with an audio recording of a speech in which he played up the Anbar battle.
As did his previous speech, the audio tape recording released on Thursday comes a few days after media reports that Baghdadi might have been seriously wounded in a strike by the coalition bombing ISIS in Iraq and Syria.
ISIS, which also controls parts of Syria, swept across the Sunni heartland of Iraq last year before proclaiming a "caliphate" and attracting record numbers of foreign fighters.
An air campaign led by the United States and launched in August helped the central government in Baghdad and the autonomous Kurds in the north turn the tide on ISIS.
The jihadists have since lost significant ground but still hold Mosul, the country's second city, and Anbar, whose capital lies 100 kilometers (60 miles) west of Baghdad.

Shadow of Saddam Lives on in Iraq

Category: News
Created on Monday, 04 May 2015 07:42
Izzat Ibrahim al-DuriDozens of Iraqis crowding a Baghdad street fought to glimpse the red-haired man in a glass coffin, hoping to witness the end of a long-feared member of Saddam Hussein's regime.
The furore over the dead man - who might be Saddam's deputy Izzat Ibrahim al-Duri, though his identity has still not been determined - is yet another sign of the influence the dictator exercises in Iraq more than 12 years after his overthrow.
Saddam and his Baath party still haunt Iraqi politics, where links to the former regime can wreck careers, as well as battlefields across Iraq where his former officers have played major roles in militant groups fighting the new government.  
Pro-government forces killing the man who may be Duri was "no less important" than the 2006 execution of Saddam himself, said Sheikh Jassem al-Jazairi, an official in the Ketaeb Hezbollah Iranian-backed militia, which handed over the body to the government.
Shouts of "Death to Baathists" accompanied the body's departure in an anonymous white van after the chaotic handover, which was guarded by dozens of heavily armed masked militiamen backed by Saddam's nemesis Iran.
The Baath took power in a 1968 coup, dominating the country until the overthrow of Saddam's regime by the 2003 US-led invasion.
But "the Baath is still active, and everyone who says the Baathists are finished and the Baath party is over defies the truth", said Ihsan al-Shammari, a political science professor at Baghdad University.  
Role in insurgency
"A symbol like Saddam or Izzat al-Duri may disappear, but many of the (Baath) leaders are still active and are trying to overthrow the democratic political system in Iraq," Shammari said.  
Baathists have played a major role in insurgent groups that battled US-led forces and later those of the new Iraqi government, and reportedly in the Islamic State (ISIS) jihadist group which led an offensive that overran large parts of Iraq last year.
Documents obtained by German magazine Der Spiege indicate that a former Iraqi intelligence officer, Samir Abed Mohammad al-Khlifawi, planned ISIS's expansion into Syria and its return to Iraq.
And many of ISIS's top military leaders are former Saddam-era military officers
Shammari said the documents have convinced many Iraqis that ISIS is just a front organisation for Baathists seeking to regain power.  
The Army of the Men of the Naqshbandiyah Order - a Sunni militant group with close ties to Duri - also took part in the IS-led drive in 2014.
Iraq has sought to reduce the influence of Saddam's regime in the post-2003 state via "de-Baathification".  
That process and its successor, the Justice and Accountability Commission, dealt with 130,000 cases and barred more than 17,000 people from government, commission chief Bassem al-Badairi said.
But critics say de-Baathification has been used by the Shia-led government to victimize Iraq's Sunni Muslim minority, which dominated Saddam's regime.
Some Saddam-era officers are still serving in the security forces, but other soldiers were put out of work - especially under American viceroy Paul Bremer's decision to disband the army in 2003 - fueling the anti-government insurgency.
Career-ending song
Abu Mutlak, a staff lieutenant general under Saddam, said he has been reduced to driving a taxi to support his family, and that bitterness over their treatment drove some former colleagues to fight.
"How do you want me to take part in building a new political system that dismissed me from everything and robbed me of everything?" he asked.
Even seemingly insignificant associations with the former regime can still wreck careers.    .
Rafid Jaboori, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi's spokesman, resigned last month after a video emerged showing him singing a song praising Saddam more than a decade earlier.  
Saddam's regime also lives on in the pain and suffering it caused to its tens of thousands of victims and their relatives.
"I still shudder when I hear the name of Saddam on the television or radio, not from fear, but hatred," said Aras Abed, a Kurd who lost 12 family members to Saddam's chemical weapons attack on the village of Halabja in 1988.
"I hurt a lot because of my loneliness without my family," he said.
But others remember him fondly, especially in comparison to the often-ineffective governments that replaced his regime and the rampant violence plaguing the country.
"Whenever I see his picture, my heart beats faster," said Abu Mahmud, who was a high-ranking Baath member.
His reaction to seeing today's officials on television is very different: "If they were in front of me, I would take off my shoe and hit them," he said.

ISIS Kills 300 Yazidis West of Mosul

Category: News
Created on Sunday, 03 May 2015 22:31
isis terrorSeveral hundred Yazidi captives have been killed in Iraq by Islamic State (ISIS) terrorists west of Mosul, Yazidi and Iraqi officials said Saturday, according to the BBC.
A statement from the Yazidi Progress Party said 300 captives were killed on Friday in the Tal Afar district near the city.
Iraqi Vice President Osama al-Nujaifi described the reported deaths as "horrific and barbaric".
Thousands of members of the religious minority group were captured last year.
It is not clear how they were killed, or why this has happened now, the BBC noted. Many are reported to have been held in Mosul, the main stronghold of ISIS after the terrorists swept through large areas of northern and western Iraq, and eastern Syria in 2014.
Yazidis, whose religion includes elements of several faiths, are considered infidels by IS.
Thousands fled to the Kurdish-controlled region of northern Iraq after ISIS captured the Yazidi-populated Sinjar district in Nineveh province.
ISIS, which has declared a caliphate in parts of Iraq and Syria it captured, forced tens of thousands of Yazidis and Christians to flee their homes or face certain death. Members of the group have also taken hundreds of Yazidi women captive and have been holding them in schools in Mosul.
In January, ISIS released some 200 mainly elderly Yazidis into the hands of Kurdish officials near the city of Kirkuk.
Many of them, held in Mosul, had disabilities or were wounded, though no reason was given by ISIS for their release.
The UN has said the ISIS campaign of killings, abductions and rape against Yazidis may amount to genocide - but the International Criminal Court (ICC) has made clear that it would not prosecute the group.

Iraq is Losing the 'Psychological War' to ISIS

Category: News
Created on Saturday, 02 May 2015 06:37
John-McCain-at-the-forefront-of-neocon-agendaIraqi authorities are on the defensive after the Islamic State (ISIS) group scored a major propaganda victory with attacks in Anbar, undermining confidence in Baghdad's attempts to retake the key province.
April began with government forces recapturing the city of Tikrit after a lengthy battle, Baghdad's biggest victory in the 11-month conflict with the jihadists, reports AFP.
Then Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced that Anbar province, much of which remains under ISIS control, was next.
ISIS struck back with attacks in Anbar that shifted the narrative from one of government victory to one of impending defeat - and sparked rumors of a cover-up of the deaths of more than 100 soldiers.
"There are no military victories for ISIS in Anbar. What happened there is psychological war," Abadi said on Tuesday in parliament, trying to counter the mounting criticism.
"Some of us took part in the psychological war with statements such as 'Anbar fell or will fall.' Anbar is still resisting," he said.
After the Tikrit victory and Abadi's announcement that Anbar west of Baghdad was next, ISIS launched attacks in the area of provincial capital Ramadi.
Officers said the assaults involved only dozens of fighters, but more than 110,000 people fled, adding to the strain of upwards of 2.5 million displaced since last year.
The jihadists first seized Albu Faraj on the northern side of Ramadi, then attacked security forces in the east, taking several other areas, officers said.
Army Brigadier General Abdulamir al-Khazraji said the situation was made worse by people collaborating.
They began shouting that ISIS "controlled Anbar and the government (buildings) in it, and this caused a state of panic and fear," Khazraji said.
A major blow came after ISIS attacked an army post east of Ramadi last Friday.
Rumors of heavy casualties
Rumors that more than 100 soldiers were killed in the attack swept through social media, assisted by press reports.
This was more than double the toll that even ISIS gave, sparking accusations of a cover-up and calls for Defense Minister Khalid al-Obeidi to go.
Unusually, it was supposed government supporters who spread the rumors, not slick ISIS propaganda.
"I call you all to join the campaign to remove the traitor Khalid al-Obeidi," one user wrote on Twitter, while some even accused him of being in ISIS.
Obeidi called a news conference to say that the toll from the attack was 13, including two top officers. Abadi, Obeidi and Interior Minister Mohammed Ghaban then took to parliament to defend their records and criticize the rumors.
"What happened in the media, and the statements of some brother MPs and politicians, was destructive to the morale of the fighters," Obeidi said.
Abadi said: "Two-thirds of the battle is psychological. From a military standpoint, we have multiple problems" but have not been defeated."
Anbar poses major military challenges. Government forces have not made significant progress in retaking the Ramadi areas lost this month, and much of the rest of the province remains out of their control.
Army Staff Major General Mohammed al-Dulaimi said there are not enough Iraqi security forces in Anbar, given its massive size, and they hold only part of Ramadi and a handful of other areas.
For ISIS, the propaganda gained from this month's Anbar attacks is vital, following a string of defeats it has suffered elsewhere, including in Tikrit.
"I see this as Daesh trying to make themselves relevant again," a senior officer in the US-led coalition against the jihadists told AFP, using an Arabic acronym for ISIS.
"They're an organization that must appear to be going forwards - they must appear to be winning."

Iraq: ISIS Stones Two Men to Death for Adultery

Category: Islam
Created on Tuesday, 28 April 2015 21:24
ISIS Stones Two Men to Death for AdulteryThe Islamic State jihadist group said it has stoned two men to death for adultery in the northern Iraqi province of Nineveh, according to a series of photos posted online.
One man is shown kneeling blindfolded in front of a group of men who hurl large stones at him until he is lying face down on the ground, blood running from his head.
A second man is then killed in the same way, as a crowd including children looks on.
It is not known when the stonings took place, and the authenticity of the pictures could not be immediately confirmed.
The Islamic State group led an offensive last June that overran large areas north and west of Baghdad, sweeping security forces aside.
ISIS has carried out a string of atrocities including videotaped beheadings and mass executions, rape and enslavement in areas it controls in Iraq and neighboring Syria.

Erdogan: ISIS is a 'Virus' Working to Destroy Muslims

Category: News
Created on Saturday, 25 April 2015 22:22
Recep Tayyip ErdoganTurkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday referred to the Islamic State (ISIS) group as a “virus” working to destroy the Muslim community, in one of his strongest attacks yet against the jihadist group.
Ankara has been repeatedly criticized in recent months for not doing enough to halt the advance of ISIS to its borders, but Erdogan said after meeting Iraqi President Fuad Masum that the ultra-radical group had to be confronted, according to the AFP news agency.
ISIS “is an important virus that is working to divide and destroy the Ummah,” Erdogan told reporters, using the term for the global community of Muslims.
He added that said other groups had followed the same path but that ISIS had proved more adept at using its resources.
“An international strategy is essential to drain this swamp. Even if Daesh [ISIS] is destroyed something will emerge under a different name,” Erdogan was quoted as having said. “Where do its weapons and financing come from? We need to focus on this.”
Masum, whose forces are battling to win back swaths of territory that were lost to ISIS including its second city Mosul, echoed Erdogan’s description of the group as a disease.
“This virus can pass from this region to other regions. The countries in the region have serious responsibilities,” Masum said, according to AFP.
Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said that Ankara had done all it could to close its borders to jihadists but had to remain open to refugees as well as “30-40 million tourists” a year.
Davutoglu said ISIS emerged as a result of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad’s policies and added that the group “carried more risk to Turkey than anyone else.”
Indeed, Turkey has come under fire from Western countries for not doing enough to halt the flow across Turkish territory of European nationals seeking to join ISIS jihadists in Syria.
However, it has made a number of arrests in recent months and insists it is doing all it can to control the border.
Several weeks ago, a British woman was detained by Turkish police on suspicion of seeking to join Islamic State terrorists in Syria, and was later deported back to Britain.
Previously, three British teenager boys suspected of trying to travel to Syria were detained by Turkey and later deported to Britain.
Earlier this week Turkey appealed for more help in cracking down on foreign fighters flooding to join terrorists in Iraq and Syria.

Ex-Hussein Intel Officer Planned ISIS's Rise to Power

Category: News
Created on Saturday, 25 April 2015 12:19
Haji-Bakr-ISISAn ex-intelligence officer under the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was "the strategic head" behind the Islamic State (ISIS, aka IS) group and drew up the blueprints for the jihadists' capture of northern Syria, German weekly Der Spiegel reported Sunday.
Former colonel Samir Abd Muhammad al-Khlifawi, who was better known as Haji Bakr and was killed by Syrian rebels in January 2014, "had been secretly pulling the strings at IS for years," according to the magazine as cited by AFP.
The weekly said it had been given exclusive access to 31 documents by Bakr, including handwritten lists and charts, after lengthy negotiations with a rebel group in Aleppo, northern Syria, which came in possession of the pages after ISIS fled the area.
The trove "was nothing less than a blueprint for a takeover," according to Spiegel, detailing the creation of a caliphate in northern Syria, complete with meticulous instructions for espionage activities, murder and kidnapping.
The magazine said Bakr was "bitter and unemployed" after the American decision to dissolve the Iraqi army in 2003. Between 2006 and 2008 he was held in the US military's Camp Bucca and Abu Ghraib prison.
In the years that followed, his influence grew in jihadist circles, Spiegel reported, and in 2010 Bakr and a group of other former Iraqi intelligence officers placed cleric Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi at the head of the Islamic State group.
The move was reportedly designed to give the group a religious dimension.
The weekly quotes an Iraqi journalist as saying career officer Bakr was himself "a nationalist, not an Islamist."
The ISIS group, notorious for horrific acts of violence including rape, torture and beheadings, declared a caliphate in June 2014 that has placed large parts of Iraq and Syria under its control.

ISIS Seizes Parts of Iraq's Largest Refinery

Category: News
Created on Tuesday, 21 April 2015 10:33
ISIS-Iraq-AttackJihadists from the Islamic State (ISIS) group broke into Iraq's massive Baiji oil refinery, seized some of its facilities and are hiding among fuel storage tanks, officials said Wednesday, according to the AFP news agency.
ISIS has attempted repeatedly over the past 10 months to capture the refinery -- the country's largest -- but security forces have managed to fight them off.
The group "now controls the oil (training) institute and the products and shipping department and some of the roads in the refinery," a senior official in the state company responsible for northern refineries told AFP.
"The force stationed at the refinery is fighting fiercely," the official said on condition of anonymity, adding that an operation to clear the facility will be launched in the coming hours.
The terrorists are reportedly hiding among full fuel tanks, and there are fears they will torch them if there is an assault.
An army major general said ISIS fighters had attacked from two sides and were able to penetrate several hundred meters into the facility.
"Security forces defending the refinery... continue to besiege (fighters) hiding in some limited locations" and among the storage tanks, the officer said.
The militants are being tracked electronically and visually, he added.
The oil ministry did not respond to repeated requests for comment on the situation.
The international coalition providing support to Iraqi forces said it conducted 16 airstrikes in the Baiji area from Monday to early Wednesday.
"Coalition airstrikes support (Iraqi) efforts by destroying (IS) buildings, excavators, tactical units, vehicles and weapons," a statement quoted by AFP said.
The refinery -- some 200 kilometers (120 miles) north of Baghdad -- once produced some 300,000 barrels of refined products per day, meeting half the country's needs.
That ended when an ISIS offensive overran large areas north and west of Baghdad last June, cutting the refinery off.
An Iraqi operation backed by coalition airstrikes eventually broke the siege in October and retook the town of Baiji, just south of the refinery, but the jihadists have since wrested the town back.

ISIS Completely Blows up Ancient City of Nimrud

Category: News
Created on Tuesday, 14 April 2015 19:00
Ancient City of NimrudThe Islamic State (ISIS) group on Saturday released a video that shows terrorists smashing artifacts at the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud in northern Iraq before blowing up the site.
The undated video suggests that the site, on the Tigris river about 30 kilometers (18 miles) southeast of Mosul, was completely leveled.
Destruction at the site was reported more than a month ago but the extent of the damage was unclear at the time.
"Whenever we are able in a piece of land to remove the signs of idolatry and spread monotheism, we will do it," one terrorist says at the end of the video.
Terrorists can be seen rigging large barrels filled with powder in a room whose walls are lined with imposing gypsum slabs, beautifully carved with representations of Assyrian deities.
The ensuing footage shows a massive explosion that sends a huge mushroom of brown dust into the sky.
Earlier, ISIS terrorists are seen hacking away at the relief and statues with sledgehammers. One is shown sitting on the slabs and carving them up with an angle grinder.
"God has honored us in the state of Islam by removing and destroying everything that was held to be equal to him and worshipped without him," one terrorist says, speaking to camera.
In the jihadists' interpretation of Islam, statues, idols and shrines amount to recognizing objects of worship other than God and must be destroyed.
The ruins of the city founded in the 13th century BCE were one of the most famous archaeological sites in a country often described as the cradle of civilization.
Nimrud, which is on UNESCO's tentative list of world heritage sites, is the later Arab name given to a settlement which was originally called Kalhu.
The ancient city was first described in 1820 and plundered by Western explorers and officials over subsequent decades. It was also looted and damaged during the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq.

Iraqi Forces Battle ISIS in Tikrit a Week after City 'Retaken'

Category: News
Created on Thursday, 09 April 2015 08:22
Iraqi ForcesIraqi security forces and allied paramilitaries battled militants from the Islamic State jihadist group (ISIS) in Tikrit on Tuesday, the interior ministry said, a week after the city was declared retaken.
The Iraqi forces launched a raid on the basis of intelligence that there were between eight and 15 ISIS members in a hideout in the Qadisiya area of north Tikrit, the ministry said in a statement on the day's operations.
"Our security forces were able to kill a number of them while the others blew themselves up after being surrounded," it said.
Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced the "liberation" of Tikrit on March 31, but Interior Minister Mohammed al-Ghaban said the following day that "pockets" of ISIS fighters remained.
The ministry statement shows that operations to fully clear the city are still ongoing.
Bombs also pose a major threat in Tikrit, with Ghaban saying last week that more than 1,000 had already been discovered.
ISIS led an offensive that overran large areas north and west of Baghdad last June, but Iraqi security forces and paramilitary allies backed by a US-led coalition and Iran have regained significant ground.
The victory in Tikrit is the biggest by Iraqi forces since the conflict began, but it has been marred by allegations of looting and burning by Iranian-backed Shia Islamist militias.
ISIS fighters came from the Hamreen mountain range and attacked three checkpoints near the Adhaim dam on Tuesday, which is located some 70 kilometres (40 miles) east of Tikrit, security sources said.
The jihadists struck positions manned by paramilitary Popular Mobilisation forces and police, killing seven and wounding 21, an army colonel said.  
He said a colonel from the police's elite SWAT force was among those killed. A medical source and a police major in the town of Muqdadiyah confirmed the toll.
The area of the attack is near the border between the provinces of Salaheddin, of which Tikrit is the capital, and Diyala, which lies to the southeast and which the government said in January had been retaken from the jihadists.
Sporadic attacks have been taking place in several parts of Diyala however and residual IS forces are thought to be hiding in the Hamreen mountains.

Christians Struggle to Maintain Legacy versus ISIS

Category: News
Created on Wednesday, 08 April 2015 08:47
220 assyrians abductedAmid the ISIS assault on Iraq, minorities have borne the brunt. One of those groups is Iraq’s Christians, who before the 2003 US invasion were spread throughout the country with a sizeable community in the northwest.  
The majority of Iraqi Christians come from the Syriac, Assyrian and Chaldean churches with affiliations mainly to the Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church. Most other denominations have had a presence in Iraq, but have never overtaken these Churches, which are among the oldest in the world.
But many of those Christian areas have been in the crosshairs of last year’s sweeping military advances by ISIS.
“In all towns and villages where ISIS rules, the Christian population has disappeared," says Julie Lenarz, Executive Director of the Human Security Centre.
"Qaraqosh, a historic Assyrian city, was home to the largest Christian population in Iraq with approximately 50,000 members. Now the city is virtually devoid of its Christian population.”
This is not the first time a Muslim conquest has produced trouble for Christians there. In the early 1500s, the infamous Tamerlane swept through the area and beheaded an estimated 70,000 Christians in Tikrit and 90,000 in Baghdad. With that perspective, ISIS has not represented such a catastrophe – yet.
“When ISIS took control of Mosul, roughly 20,000 Christians initially stayed, but after the group issued an ultimatum – convert, flee or die – the remaining Christians had no other choice but to leave as well.”
“As well as attacks on Christians, there have also been attacks on Christian sites of worship, with deep historical value, particularly to the Assyrian community.”
Just last month, ISIS destroyed the Mar Behnam Monastery near the town of Beth Khdeda near the Kurdish border. The monastery had been built in the 4th century to memorialize a Christian martyr. This past Easter Sunday, ISIS also destroyed a church in the Syrian Kurdish (Rojava) city of al-Hasakah. The destruction of Christian heritage, both ancient and modern, is just bricks and mortar. Iraq and Syria over the last 12 years represent merely the latest iterations of existential threats to the Middle Eastern Christian rites.
“Less than 1% of the global Christian population lives in the Middle East and, as a result of discrimination, persecution and war, the proportion of Christians in the region has dropped from around 20% at the start of the 20th century to around 5% today. What we are witnessing now is only the latest phase of something that has been going for many decades.”
Christianity has been literally decimated by the onslaught in Iraq starting in 2003, then the Syrian Civil War which forced many resettled Iraqi refugees to return to northern Iraq in time for the current assault by ISIS.
“The number of Christians in Iraq has fallen from approximately 1.5 million prior to the US-led intervention in 2003 to 350,000-450,000 (data is unreliable and some estimate as low as 150,000). Many Christians had originally fled to Syria, but the civil war forced them to return to Iraq.”
“However, Christianity will not be eradicated in the Middle East,” says Lenarz. Judging by the moves many of them have made, Christians will remain in the region.
“Kurdistan currently host over 100,000 Christian refugees from other parts of the country and Lebanon has announced it will take in an additional 5000 Christian refugees.”
Perhaps under the radar of Western media, a large portion of the community has escaped to other parts of the Arab World. Many have gone to the Persian Gulf, where the economy and even the culture is far more open.
“The Gulf states, where religious minorities can practice their faith in relative freedom, have seen their Christian population surge from basically nothing a century ago to 10-13 percent and the trend is believed to continue.”
Most Christians hail from the Nineveh region in northern Iraq on the border between the Kurdish region and the rest of Iraq. Nineveh was once the capital of the historic Assyrian Empire, now the epicentre of an embattled Christian culture.
Yet, there are apparently silver linings in the storm clouds that are the region’s sectarianism.
“In the Nineveh Province of northern Iraq - a traditionally Christian part of the country where over 30,000 members of the community were forced to flee from ISIS – a Christian militia has been established which goes by the name of Nineveh Plains Protection Units (NPU).”
“It is approximately 4,000 men strong, is allied to the Iraqi Government and the Kurdish Peshmerga, receives funds from the Assyrian diaspora abroad and training from a private American security company.”
The Assyrian International News Agency reports that number might be as high as 5,500. Dr. Duraid Tobiya Zoma, an Assyrian and former adviser to the Governor of occupied Mosul, has said that to end Christians’ marginalization in the unified Iraq in the future that Assyrians “are requesting an autonomous region for Assyrians in the Nineveh Plain to protect them as the indigenous people, who are being extremely affected by ISIS.”
Despite attempts to organize the community to defend itself, the signs of a shifting future are already clear. This past Sunday’s Easter was one of emptiness for the community in a way not experienced in centuries.
“For the first time in 1600 years, no Christmas and Easter masses were celebrated in Mosul.”

The US is Under-Arming the Kurds against ISIS

Category: News
Created on Tuesday, 07 April 2015 11:24
Kurdish Peshmerga fighters in northern Iraq0 - ReutersAre the Kurds the West’s last hope in Iraq?
There is speculation that the United States and Iran have reached an understanding on the war with ISIS, which worries Israel and Sunni Arab states. If Iran is being encouraged to take the fight to ISIS, it seems the calculus is that only they are capable of beating back the Islamic State given its influence over the Iraqi government and several Shiite militias. Therefore they should be reinforced, so the logic would continue. But Iraqi Kurdistan has also been on the frontlines of the war and does not represent a major enemy for the United States or Israel or the Sunni Arab states.
In the past, Arab nationalists would point to Kurdistan as just another example of trying to reduce the Arab World’s power. Today, the Kurds are on the precipice of dull independence with their own seasoned military force – the Peshmerga.
“Data varies significantly, but Kurdish officials suggest the Peshmerga force is 190,000 men strong. 35,000 of them are incorporated in the Iraq army,” says Julie Lenarz, Executive Director of the Human Security Centre.
ISIS still has the military advantage in many aspects. While their advance since last summer has been halted in most places, they captured a bundle of modern American military equipment that even Iran would have trouble battling.
“What is clear though is that ISIS has access to a modern arsenal of weapons unmatched in the history of terrorist organizations. ISIS acquired a fleet of US-built Humvees during the assault on Mosul when the Iraqi army fled and abandoned weapons and tanks. In addition, ISIS has about 30 T-55, 15 T-62 and 5 to 10 T-72 tanks, as well as armored vehicles, grenade and rocket launchers, dozens of anti-aircraft guns and missile systems and AK-47s assault rifles.”
It is also difficult to estimate if the total amount of aid going to the Iraqi Kurds is really enough to fight ISIS, whose exact troop numbers remain elusive.
“Nobody seems to know how big ISIS really is. The US puts the number between 20,000 – 30,000 fighters; the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights at 50,000; the Russians at 70,000; and some Kurdish officials even as high as 200,000.”
The split sovereignty between Erbil and Baghdad – the Kurdish Regional Government and the Iraqi federal government – has complicated the Kurds’ ability to reinforce their arsenal. The issue has gotten mention in a number of circles. Last October, it was clear the United States was heavily reliant on Kurdish ground forces against ISIS, especially when it was Peshmerga who came to the aid of Kobane during the city’s siege.
“It has proven difficult for the Kurds to get their hands on modern and advanced weapons because supplier nations made delivery dependent on approval from Baghdad.”
It would be very easy for countries like the United States to ignore that rule, but the US realizes that treating Kurdistan independently on this matter lays the groundwork for treating them independently in every aspect. With that, the US and other countries are still going through Baghdad until they have decided they are ready to allow a slide toward full independence – if they decide at all.
“The situation has somewhat changed since the Kurds are fighting on the front line against ISIS,” says Lenarz. “Germany, for instance, has announced it will send advanced weapons to the Kurds worth €13 million. However, the Kurdish leadership complains that delivery is slow. Britain is said to have delivered no more than 40 heavy machine guns to the Peshmerga to this date.”
The KRG’s representative to the United States, Bayan Sami-Abdul Rahman, complained, “President Obama's Iraq train-and-equip fund, which comes to $1.6 billion, gave us great hope that American weapons would be delivered in early 2015, but since the passage of the law approving the train-and-equip fund, the vast majority of those weapons have not been delivered."
The Pentagon has claimed the KRG has gotten over 4 million pounds of equipment and is hardly being undercut, but Rahman has also said the US is wasting time by playing bureaucracy with Baghdad.
What Lenarz worries about is a future cut short if ISIS is able to catch the Kurds at a time they are under-equipped. She reiterated that while the Kurds were on the frontlines, their not-so-modern supplies were not going to cut a longer campaign against Islamic State.
“Whilst the Kurds have access to 2,000 armored vehicles and rocket artillery systems, a significant part of their weapon arsenal is outdated and dates back to the Soviet era.”

Reports of Shi'ite War Crimes in Tikrit

Category: News
Created on Monday, 06 April 2015 09:45
Shia militiamen battling ISIS in Iraq file - ReutersAmnesty International said Thursday it was investigating reports of serious human rights violations committed by Iraqi government and allied forces in the operation to retake the city of Tikrit.
"We are very concerned by reports of widespread human rights abuses committed in the course of the military operation in the area around Tikrit," the rights watchdog's Donatella Rovera told AFP.
Security forces backed by paramilitary groups and supported by US-led air strikes retook Tikrit from the Islamic State (ISIS) group over the past few days.
Outlying areas in Salaheddin province, which had also been under ISIS control since last year, were retaken gradually over the course of the past month.
The operation - Baghdad's largest yet against the jihadists - was seen as a test of the Shi'ite-dominated forces' ability to retake a Sunni area while reining in reprisals against the local population.
"We are investigating reports that scores of residents have been seized early last month and not heard of since, and that residents' homes and businesses have been blown up or burned down after having been looted by militias," said Rovera, senior crisis response adviser at Amnesty.
"There have also been reports of summary executions of men who may or may not have been involved in combat but who were killed after having been captured" when not in combat, she said.
Rovera said the latest such report was an incident Wednesday inside Tikrit.
The government and its coalition partners, the United Nations and rights groups have repeatedly stressed that any military victory against ISIS that comes with sectarian-driven abuses would only sow the seeds of future violence.
Pro-government militiamen could be seen looting shops in central Tikrit Wednesday as Iraqi forces sought to consolidate control over the city.
Reports of homes being torched by anti-ISIS fighters have been frequent in the course of the month-long offensive. Such allegations are generally denied by commanders on the ground who say the fires were set off by fleeing jihadists or used by their men as a way of detonating ISIS booby traps.
Calls for restraint
It is still early to assess the Iraqi forces' discipline in reconquered areas only two days after ISIS lost Tikrit and with possibly a handful of trapped jihadists and the bombs they planted across the city still posing a threat.
Yet analysts argued the government camp appears to have at least partially succeeded in containing a widespread desire for revenge among Shi'ite fighters.
"The government and the religious authorities in Najaf took this issue very seriously," said Zaid al-Ali, author of "The Struggle For Iraq's Future."
"They issued a number of warnings and also dispatched hundreds of preachers to the front to remind fighters not to engage in looting, collective punishment or other forms of criminal activity," he said.
Fanar Haddad, author of "Sectarianism in Iraq: Antagonistic Visions of Unity," agreed the operation could have gone much worse.
"While excesses have been committed and there may have even been instances of war crimes, we have yet to see evidence of what was widely feared: a systematic and pre-planned eradication of Tikrit," said Haddad, a research fellow at the Middle East Institute.
The US-led coalition, whose aircraft played a key role in breaking the back of ISIS resistance in Tikrit, said calls for restraint and respect of the civilian population paid off.
"I think the Iraqi government and the security forces and all those under the command of the security forces know the importance and profile of the issue," a senior coalition military official told AFP.
"It's been reinforced again and again down the chain of command, and our information is that that has been a success," the official said on condition of anonymity.
"The Iraqis themselves have been very clear that they will - and they know the international community will - investigate breaches in this area and bring to account those who are responsible," he said.

ISIS Beheads 4 Government 'Recruiters' as Tikrit Advance Slows

Category: News
Created on Friday, 20 March 2015 18:57
IslamThe Islamic State terrorist group posted pictures Tuesday of the beheadings of four men it said were recruiters for pro-government militia fighting its terrorists in northern Iraq.
The images show four men dressed in black kneeling in an empty street with knife-wielding jihadis standing behind them, after which they are pictured being beheaded.
Text accompanying the photographs said the beheadings were carried out in Salaheddin province, where Iraqi troops backed by militia are fighting to retake the provincial capital Tikrit from ISIS.
The exact location where the photos were taken was unclear, and their authenticity could not be independently confirmed.
A massive anti-ISIS offensive to take Tikrit by Iraqi army troops, Iranian-backed Shia Islamist militias and some Sunni tribesmen has ground to a near halt, despite making significant initial gains. Ten of thousands of fighters had their advance slowed against just a few hundred ISIS jihadis by sniper fire, mines and booby traps, and on Monday a senior commander of the Shia Imam Ali Brigades militia was killed in clashes.
ISIS spearheaded a sweeping offensive that overran large areas north and west of Baghdad last year.
It has carried out numerous atrocities in areas it controls ranging from public beheadings to enslavement and rape.

Iran Deepening Involvement in Iraq's War on ISIS

Category: News
Created on Wednesday, 18 March 2015 07:04
Iran in War on ISISIraqi army forces and Shi'ite militias, with the help of Iranian Revolutionary Guards officers, continue their fight to liberate Tikrit from Islamic State (ISIS), according to local reports Friday. 
Iraqi officials explained that Iranian involvement in the region is deepening. 
Hadi al-Aamiri, leader of the "Badr" sect of the Iraqi parliament, said in an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat Friday that the presence of Iranian advisers accompanying the Iraqi army is "a source of pride." 
"Why is there some sensitivity with respect to the presence of Iranian consultants here, when it is known that there are currently more than four thousand American advisers in Iraq?" he asked. 
"The Iranian advisers accompany us on the battlefield and give us the best counseling, and we are proud of them, because they will help us to liberate the provinces of Nineveh and al-Anbar fully after we liberate Tikrit and Kirkuk," he continued. "Those who speak against the Iranian advisers should thank and praise them - for without them and without Qasem Soleimani (commander of the Guard's Quds force), Iraq would be under ISIS rule." 
Some 30,000 men have been involved in a week-old operation to recapture Tikrit, one of the ISIS fighters' main hubs since they overran large parts of Iraq nine months ago.
Iran has been involved in the fight against ISIS before, having bombed the group’s jihadists in eastern Iraq in late 2014.

Iraq's First Christian Brigade Graduates

Category: News
Created on Tuesday, 17 March 2015 07:58
Christian fighters in Syria - ReutersIraq's first Christian-only brigade of regular forces graduated Thursday to help retake the community's towns and villages from the Islamic State (ISIS) group.
The new brigade will answer to the government of Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region, whose peshmerga fighters are playing a leading role in the war against the jihadists.
Fighters paraded and jumped through fiery rings in front of Kurdish and Assyrian officials in the northwestern town of Fishkhabur, near the borders with Syria and Turkey.
Most of Iraq's Christians lived in the Nineveh plain, an area between the main ISIS hub of Mosul and the Kurdish capital of Arbil, before ISIS fighters swept in seven months ago.
"Around 600 peshmerga from our Christian brothers in the Nineveh plain joined this course, which focused on physical training, military lectures and shooting exercises," said Abu Bakr Ismail, the commander of the training academy.
"All the participants are volunteers...and want to liberate their land from ISIS and then protect it," the Kurdish special forces major general said.
The new brigade is called the "Tiger Guards" and was formed out of the remnants of an Assyrian force first created in 2004 to protect churches in the region.
Up to 100,000 Christians fled their homes overnight in early August when ISIS fighters who had already conquered large parts of Iraq thrust into areas controlled by the peshmerga.
The exodus has been described as the worst disaster to befall the minority, which is one of the world's oldest Christian communities.
Iraq's Christians have not traditionally had strong home-grown militias and adopted a low profile when sectarian violence flared across the country a decade ago.
But those who haven't already fled the country have in recent months shown a willingness to take up arms and take their future into their own hands.
Several other Christian groups have formed in recent months in northern Iraq. They do not fall under the peshmerga's command but are hosted and supported by Kurdistan.

Wary Iraqi Forces Tighten Noose on ISIS in Tikrit

Category: News
Created on Saturday, 14 March 2015 10:03
Iraqi ForcesThousands of Iraqi troops and militiamen laid siege to jihadist fighters holed up in Tikrit on Thursday, wary of rushing into streets littered with bombs and infested with snipers.
After making major gains in and around the city on Wednesday, commanders were confident that Baghdad's biggest victory yet against the Islamic State group was only a matter of time.
"Now we are moving to the second phase of our plan," Defence Minister Khaled al-Obeidi told reporters in Salaheddin province, of which Tikrit is the capital.
"We are very keen for our losses to be as low as possible. Time is on our side, we have the initiative," he said on the 11th day of the offensive.  
None of the fighting forces involved have provided casualty figures since the start of the operation to wrest back Tikrit, the largest since ISIS captured the city nine months ago.
Dozens of bodies are being driven south to Baghdad and the Shiite holy city of Najaf almost every day, however, and, while government forces have had the upper hand, ISIS has done damage with suicide car bombs, booby traps and snipers.
"We don't want to be rushed because we want to avoid casualties," Police Staff Major General Bahaa al-Azzawi told AFP in Albu Ajil, a village from which Tikrit can be seen across the Tigris river.
"Tikrit is sealed off from all sides," he said.
Troops and police as well as volunteers from the Popular Mobilization units moved deep into the northern half of Tikrit on Wednesday and finished securing outlying areas.
Sunni tribes fighting
Tikrit was the hometown of executed dictator Saddam Hussein, whose Baath party collaborated with the jihadists when they took over almost a third of the country last June.  
With crucial military backing from neighboring Iran and a 60-nation US-led coalition, Baghdad has rolled back some of the losses.
It started with operations to secure the Shia holy cities of Karbala and Najaf and bolster Baghdad's defenses, then worked its way north, retaking Diyala province earlier this year.
Commanders see the recapture of overwhelmingly Sunni Arab Tikrit as a stepping stone for the reconquest of Mosul further north, Iraq's second city, which once had a population of two million.
Analysts say the battle for Tikrit is also a key test of how well the regular army can work with the myriad of militia groups and prevent reprisal attacks against Sunnis.
The defense minister, who is himself Sunni, said he was impressed with the level of cooperation and played down concerns that victory in Tikrit could further alienate the minority community.
"What caught my attention and was very positive, was that I met a number of fighters, maybe more than 250, who are all sons of Tikrit," he said.
"It sends a very positive message to the Iraqi people and lifts the spirit of the security forces," Obeidi said.
Concern for civilians
Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi too hailed the advances made by government forces when he spoke to students at a technology institute.
"With our unity we achieve victory and the greatest example of this is today in Salaheddin and Anbar," he said.
ISIS launched a spectacular attack on the government-held heart of Anbar's capital Ramadi on Wednesday, using at least 12 simultaneous car bombs.  
Seventeen people were killed, mostly members of the security forces, in addition to a minimum of seven suicide bombers.
An Australian teenager was reportedly one of them, which Prime Minister Tony Abbott Thursday described as "absolutely horrific".  
With Iraqi forces choking jihadist fighters hunkered down in Tikrit's smoldering center, it was unclear how many civilians might still be trapped there.  
Shia militia leaders had warned before the offensive began that it would be an opportunity to mete out revenge for the massacre by ISIS in June of hundreds of military cadets at a nearby base called Speicher, most if not all of whom were Shia.  
They have since publicly urged their men to refrain from any acts that could tarnish a victory and relatively few reports of abuses have surfaced in nearly two weeks.
However, Amnesty International cautioned it was still too early to tell if Tikrit had been a cleaner operation than usual.
"For now access to combat areas is restricted and information about abuses may take time to filter out," the rights group's senior crisis response adviser Donatella Rovera told AFP.

Iraqi Forces Won't Be Rushed Into Final Assault on Tikrit

Category: News
Created on Saturday, 14 March 2015 09:20
Iraqi soldiers and Shia militiamen - ReutersIraqi commanders said Thursday that time was on their side as government forces tighten their siege of Tikrit and warned they would not be rushed into a final assault.
Since the operation to retake Tikrit from Islamic State was launched at the start of the month, thousands of troops and militia have reconquered the land around the city.
On Wednesday, they moved deep into Tikrit's sprawling northern district of Qadisiyah and closed in on the few hundred terrorist fighters holed up in the city center.
But Police Staff Major General Bahaa al-Azzawi said that despite their superior numbers and firepower, government forces would refrain from advancing too fast to avoid unnecessary losses.
"We don't want to be rushed because we want to avoid casualties," he told AFP in Albu Ajil, a village from which Tikrit can be seen across the Tigris river. "Tikrit is sealed off from all sides."
Hadi al-Ameri, the commander of the volunteer Popular Mobilization units, told reporters on the front lines late Wednesday that there was no way out for the ISIS fighters trapped in Tikrit.
"They have two choices, surrender or death," said Ameri, whose Badr organization is one of the largest Iranian-backed Shiite militias in Iraq and controls the interior ministry.
"We do not need to attack. That could lead to victims in the ranks of the fighters," he said.
An AFP correspondent in Albu Ajil reported sporadic shelling of Tikrit by government forces on Thursday.
None of the Iraqi fighting forces involved in the battle have provided casualty figures since the start of the operation to wrest back Tikrit, the largest since ISIS captured the city nine months ago.
Dozens of bodies are being driven down to Baghdad and the Shiite holy city of Najaf almost every day, however, and, while government forces have had the upper hand, ISIS has done damage with suicide car bombs, booby traps and snipers.

ISIS Blows Up Key Tikrit Bridge to Slow Iraqi Army Advance

Category: News
Created on Thursday, 12 March 2015 10:09
ISIS Blows Up Key Tikrit BridgeThe Islamic State (ISIS) terrorist group blew up the only bridge over the Tigris river in the entire Tikrit area Tuesday as Iraqi forces continued to seal off the city, security sources said.  
"The bridge was blown up by Daesh," a police colonel said, using an Arab acronym for the jihadist organisation.  
"A whole segment at the western end of the bridge collapsed."
An army lieutenant colonel said: "Their goal is to slow the advance of Iraqi troops because the bridge is the only way into Tikrit from the east."
The village of Albu Ajil, which Iraqi forces retook on Sunday, is on the eastern side of the river, as is the town of Al-Alam, where Sunni Islamist fighters expelled from rural areas have been regrouping.
Ad-Dawr, the other town where ISIS fighters have been trying to resist the huge operation launched on March 2 to retake Tikrit, lies south of the city on the eastern bank of the Tigris.
Commanders from the army and the government-controlled Popular Mobilization units - largely made up of Iranian-backed Shia Islamist militias - have been closing in on the three urban centers over the past week.  
They have said their goal was to lay siege to Tikrit, a Sunni city about 160 kilometres (100 miles) north of Baghdad which has been under ISIS control for nine months.
The city, which is the home town of former president Saddam Hussein, is the toughest target for the government troops and allied militias that started winning back lost ground last year.  
The operation initially involved 30,000 men backed by Iraqi aircraft.
ISIS is believed to have only a few hundred men inside Tikrit, but government forces have said their advance has been slowed by large numbers of roadside bombs and booby traps planted by the jihadists all around the city.

Coalition Must Save Iraq Heritage Sites

Category: News
Created on Sunday, 08 March 2015 20:22
Iraq Heritage SitesThe US-led coalition carrying out air strikes against the Islamic State group must try to protect archaeological sites being destroyed by the jihadists, Iraq's tourism and antiquities minister said Sunday.
ISIS recently smashed priceless artifacts at the Mosul museum, then bulldozed the city of Nimrud, which was founded in the 13th century BC.
The jihadists may now have turned their attention to the extremely well preserved fortress city Hatra, which is over 2,000 years old and a UNESCO world heritage site, with the United Nations condemning its reported "destruction."
"The sky is not in the hands of the Iraqis, the sky is not in our hands. Therefore, the international community must move with the means it has," Adel Fahad al-Shershab told AFP in Baghdad.
"We request aerial support," Shershab said.
Asked specifically if he wanted coalition strikes to protect archaeological sites, he responded: "What I request from the international community and the international coalition is to carry out air strikes against terrorism wherever it is found."
The attacks on Iraq's archaeological heritage took place in ISIS-held areas in the northern province of Nineveh, where Iraq does not have security forces that are able to respond on the ground.
But targeting terrorists destroying archaeological sites would be a departure for the coalition, which is carrying out strikes aimed at weakening ISIS military capabilities in Iraq and neighboring Syria.
"The site of Hatra is a site in the desert where it is possible to see any infiltration" from the air, Shershab said of the ancient city, which features a unique blend of eastern and western architecture.
"It was expected that they (ISIS) would destroy it," he said.
But it remains unclear whether large-scale destruction was carried out at Hatra, whose thick walls and large buildings withstood two Roman invasions in the 2nd century AD.
Shershab said his ministry had not been able to officially confirm what had happened because the area is held by ISIS.
The jihadists spearheaded a sweeping offensive last June that overran large areas north and west of Baghdad, and Iraqi forces backed by the US-led coalition and Iran are battling to push them back.
ISIS tries to justify the destruction of antiquities by saying they are idolatrous, but experts say the group traffics in them to fund its self-proclaimed "caliphate" and destroys only those pieces that are too bulky to be smuggled.
Shershab echoed the point on Sunday: "They say 'it is haram' (forbidden by Islam). At the same time they are selling (artifacts) and benefiting financially."
The timing of the attacks suggests they are more for propaganda purposes than a matter of religious conviction, as the terrorists have controlled the areas where the sites are located for close to nine months.

ISIS Destroys Ancient City of Hatra

Category: Reports
Created on Saturday, 07 March 2015 18:29
Hatra IraqThe United Nations' cultural body on Saturday condemned the "destruction" by the Islamic State jihadist group of Hatra, a stunning Roman period ancient fortress city in the Iraqi desert, according to AFP. 
The destruction of the UNESCO world heritage site was reported two days after the Iraqi antiquities ministry said that ISIS bulldozed the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud, and a week after the jihadists released a tape of them smashing artifacts in the Mosul museum.
"The destruction of Hatra marks a turning point in the appalling strategy of cultural cleansing under way in Iraq," UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova said.
Hatra is an extremely well-preserved city with a unique mix of eastern and western architecture, located in a desert area about 60 miles (100 kilometres) southwest of the northern jihadist hub of Mosul.
"Official sources today reported the destruction of the World Heritage property of Hatra," the organisation said in a statement.
The UNESCO statement did not say when or how Hatra, which was built around 2,200 years ago, was destroyed, nor was any Iraqi official able to provide such details.
Mohammed Nuri, an MP from southern Nineveh province, where Hatra is located, said that "until this moment, there are no confirmed reports that Hatra has been destroyed."
"Hatra is somewhat isolated, and residents are not nearby," he said. "I have not heard of someone who physically saw the destruction taking place."
A statement from Iraq's tourism and antiquities ministry also condemned the destruction of the city, but it only cited media reports and did not directly confirm the incident.
Arab capital
However, after smashing statues in the Mosul museum and at an archaeological site in the city, ISIS terrorists reportedly warned a guard that they would go on to destroy Nimrud and Hatra.
But razing the entire site of Hatra, whose thick walls and large buildings withstood two Roman invasions in the 2nd century, would be no small undertaking.
UNESCO describes Hatra as "a large fortified city under the influence of the Parthian Empire, the capital of the first Arab kingdom, and bearing the roots of Islamic Arab cities."
"This is a direct attack against the history of Islamic Arab cities, and it confirms the role of destruction of heritage in the propaganda of extremist groups," Bokova said.
She co-signed the statement with Abdulaziz Othman Altwaijri, Director General of the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ISESCO).
The jihadists try to justify the destruction by saying the statues and sites are idolatrous, but experts say they traffic antiquities to fund their
self-proclaimed "caliphate" and destroy only those pieces that are too bulky to be smuggled.
The timing of the attacks also indicates that they are more for propaganda than religious purposes, as there were more than eight months in which the terrorists controlled the areas where the sites are located.
"This is part of their propaganda, it is designed to shock us," said Eleanor Robson, professor of ancient near eastern history at University College London.
The Islamic State group, which conquered nearly a third of Iraq virtually unopposed nine months ago, has built a reputation as the most violent group in modern jihad by beheading and crucifying its victims in public or on tape.
But Iraq's allies, led by the United States and Iran, have since come to the rescue and helped organize a major counter-offensive that is steadily shrinking ISIS's footprint.
After being forced out of the province of Diyala earlier this year, the jihadists are now fighting off a huge assault on the city of Tikrit as
government and allied forces continue to work their way north towards the main ISIS stronghold of Mosul.
The spate of attacks on heritage sites in a region described as the cradle of civilization has sparked a global outcry and drawn comparisons with the 2001 dynamiting by the Taliban of the Bamiyan buddhas in Afghanistan.
Hatra is one of only four UNESCO world heritage sites in Iraq and one of its most famous archaeological treasures.
"It was ruled by Arab kings and thrived as a major staging post along the famous Silk Road of ancient times linking the East to Palmyra (in Syria) and further on to the shores of the Mediterranean," said Ihsan Fethi, an Iraqi architect and heritage expert.
The archaeological world had been resigned to the prospect of Hatra's destruction.
"Now we are confronted with our worst fears -- a senseless and fanatical campaign of destruction and about which we can do very little," Stuart Gibson, a UNESCO expert on museums, had told AFP before reports of Hatra's destruction.

ISIS Begins Bulldozing Ancient Iraqi City

Category: News
Created on Friday, 06 March 2015 15:40
ISISThe Islamic State (ISIS) group began bulldozing the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud in Iraq on Thursday, the government said, in the jihadists' latest attack on the country's historical heritage.
ISIS "assaulted the historic city of Nimrud and bulldozed it with heavy vehicles," the tourism and antiquities ministry said on an official Facebook page and was quoted by AFP.
An Iraqi antiquities official confirmed the news, saying the destruction began after noon prayers on Thursday and that trucks that may have been used to haul away artifacts had also been spotted at the site.
"Until now, we do not know to what extent it was destroyed," the official told AFP on condition of anonymity.
Nimrud, which was founded in the 13th century BC, lies on the Tigris around 30 kilometers (18 miles) southeast of Mosul, Iraq's second city and the main hub of IS in the country.
The destruction at Nimrud, one of the jewels of the Assyrian era, came a week after the jihadist group released a video showing its members armed with sledgehammers and jackhammers smashing priceless ancient artifacts at the Mosul museum.
That attack sparked widespread consternation and alarm, with some archaeologists and heritage experts comparing it to the 2001 demolition of the Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan by the Taliban.
According to ISIS’s extreme interpretation of Islam, statues, idols and shrines are a corruption of the purity of the early Muslim faith.
The group spearheaded a sweeping offensive last June that overran Nineveh province, where Mosul and Nimrud are located, and swept through much of Iraq's Sunni Arab heartland.
Iraqi security forces and allied fighters are battling to regain ground from the jihadists with backing from an international anti-ISIS coalition as well as neighboring Iran.
Major operations to drive ISIS out of Nineveh are likely months away, however, leaving the province's irreplaceable historical sites at the mercy of the group’s terrorists who have no regard for Iraq's past.

ISIS Executes Sunni Tribesmen Ahead of Tikrit Offensive

Category: News
Created on Thursday, 05 March 2015 18:01
ISIS fighters parade in Raqqa Syria - fileThe Islamic State jihadist group released a video on Monday in which four Sunni tribesmen from the Tikrit region are executed for allegedly collaborating with the government.
The video was released on the day some 30,000 government forces launched a huge operation to retake Tikrit, which the jihadists have controlled for almost nine months.
The video describes them as belonging to a tribal group named after a town just north of Tikrit.
"Elimination of a Sahwat al-Alam cell," reads a banner just before masked gunmen are seen shooting a bullet into the back of each victim's head.  "Sahwa" or "Awakening" is the term used for Sunni tribesmen who oppose IS. It comes from the days of IS's predecessors, Al Qaeda in Iraq, when "Awakening" councils helped US forces push Al Qaeda to the verge of defeat.
IS released pictures of the execution of 13 alleged members of the group in December.
According to military sources, several units of Sunni tribal fighters were involved in the offensive launched on Monday, alongside the army, police, Shia Islamist volunteers and militias.  
Announcing the operation on Sunday, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi urged all Tikrit resident to lay down their arms and turn against IS.

Official: US Military Specifically Targeting 'Jihadi John'

Category: News
Created on Thursday, 05 March 2015 10:23
Jihadi JohnA senior US senator said on Sunday that US forces were specifically targeting ISIS terrorist Mohammed Emwazi, the London man dubbed "Jihadi John" believed responsible for videotaped executions of several US and other Western hostages.
"Oh, yes. He's a target. There should be no question about that," former Senate Intelligence Committee chair Dianne Feinstein told CBS television's "Face the Nation."  
The comments came not long before a major operation commenced Monday to take the northern Iraqi city of Tikrit from ISIS, also known as "Islamic State" (IS), which has turned the birthplace of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein into a jihadi stronghold.
Some 30,000 Iraqi troops and militia backed by aircraft pounded jihadist positions in and around Tikrit on Monday in the biggest offensive yet to retake one of the Islamic State group's main strongholds.
Government forces have been working their way north in recent months, notching up key victories against IS but Tikrit, which has resisted them several times, is their toughest target yet.  
Building on recent successes, commanders voiced hope that the broadest operation since IS overran swathes of the country last June would be a step towards the liberation of Mosul, the jihadists' main hub in Iraq.  
"Security forces are advancing on three main fronts towards Tikrit, Ad-Dawr (to the south) and Al-Alam (to the north)," a senior army officer on the ground told AFP by telephone.  
The operation began in early morning after being announced by Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi the previous evening.
The army officer said the forces involved in the battle were from the army, police, counter-terrorism units, a government-controlled volunteer group known as the Popular Mobilization units and local Sunni tribes opposed to IS.  
"The attack is being carried out using fighter jets, helicopters and artillery targeting Tikrit to secure the advance and cut supply routes," he said.  
Military sources said Iraqi warplanes were involved but it was not immediately clear whether foreign air support - Iranian or from the US-led coalition fighting IS - was also called in.
According to both Iraqi and Iranian media, Qassem Soleimani - the commander of the Al-Qods Force covert operations unit of Tehran's elite Revolutionary Guards - was in Salaheddin province to help coordinate operations.
Appeal to spare civilians
Abadi urged the security forces on Sunday to spare civilians during the offensive.
Speaking from Samarra, the other main city in Salaheddin province, he appeared to be addressing fears of reprisals against the Tikrit area's Sunni population.
"The priority we gave to the armed forces and all the forces taking part alongside them is to preserve the security of citizens," he told reporters.  
On social media, he called "for utmost care in protecting civilian lives and property."  
Hadi al-Ameri, the Popular Mobilization commander and a central figure in Iraq's fightback against IS, appealed to Tikrit residents on Saturday to leave their homes within 48 hours so government forces could "wrap up the battle of the revenge for Speicher."
Speicher is a military base near Tikrit from which hundreds of new, mostly Shiite, recruits were kidnapped before being executed in the early days of the IS offensive that swept through much of the Sunni Arab heartland north and west of Baghdad last June.  
Shia Islamist militias - fighting alongside the Iraqi army but trained and funded by Iran - have vowed to avenge the Speicher executions, sparking fears of mass killings against Sunnis if Tikrit were to be recaptured.
Some Sunni tribes in the Tikrit area have been accused of direct involvement in the Speicher massacre.  
Abadi appealed to residents to turn against the jihadists, who have suffered a string of military losses since Iraq's foreign partners stepped up their support.
"I call on all those who were misled and made mistakes in the past to lay down their arms today. This may be the last chance," Abadi said, suggesting some could be granted amnesty.

Iraq: Major Military Offensive Begins to Seize ISIS Stronghold

Category: News
Created on Thursday, 05 March 2015 09:34
Major Military Offensive against ISIS StrongholdSome 30,000 Iraqi troops and militia backed by aircraft pounded Sunni jihadist positions in and around Tikrit on Monday in the biggest offensive yet to retake one of the Islamic State terror group's main strongholds.  
"Security forces are advancing on three main fronts towards Tikrit, Ad-Dawr (to the south) and Al-Alam (to the north)," an army lieutenant colonel on the ground told AFP by telephone.  
Iraqi forces are also "moving along side roads to prevent Daesh's escape," he said, using an Arab acronym for IS (also known as ISIS), which has controlled the hometown of executed dictator Saddam Hussein for nearly nine months.    
The operation, which is one of the most ambitious undertaken by Baghdad to roll back the gains made by IS last June, began in early morning after being announced by Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi the previous evening.
The army officer said the forces involved in the battle were from the army, police, counter-terrorism units, a government-controlled volunteer group known as the Population Mobilization units and local Sunni tribes opposed to IS.
"The attack is being carried out using fighter jets, helicopters and artillery targeting Tikrit to secure the advance and cut supply routes," he said.
Military sources said Iraqi warplanes were involved but it was not immediately clear whether foreign air support - Iranian or from the US-led coalition fighting IS - was also called in.  
Appeal to spare civilians
Abadi urged the security forces on Sunday to spare civilians during the operation.
Speaking from Samarra, the other main city in Salaheddin province, he appeared to be addressing fears of reprisals against the Tikrit area's Sunni population.
"The priority we gave to the armed forces and all the forces taking part alongside them is to preserve the security of citizens," he told reporters.
On social media, he called "for utmost care in protecting civilian lives and property."  
Many of the Shia Islamist militias - which, though fighting alongside Iraqi government forces, are financed, armed and trained by Iran - have been accused of committing widespread atrocities against Sunni civilians.
Hadi al-Ameri, the Popular Mobilisation commander and a central figure in Iraq's fightback against IS, appealed to Tikrit residents on Saturday to leave their homes within 48 hours so government forces could "wrap up the battle of the revenge for Speicher."
Speicher is a military base near Tikrit from which hundreds of new, mostly Shiite, recruits were kidnapped before being executed in the early days of the IS offensive that swept through much of the Sunni Arab heartland north and west of Baghdad last June.
Shiite militias in particular have vowed to avenge the Speicher executions, sparking fears of mass killings against Sunnis if Tikrit were to be recaptured.  
Some Sunni tribes in the Tikrit area have been accused of direct involvement in the Speicher massacre.
Abadi appealed to residents to turn against the jihadists, who have suffered a string of military losses since Iraq's foreign partners stepped up their support.
"I call on all those who were misled and made mistakes in the past to lay down their arms today. This may be the last chance," Abadi said, suggesting some could be granted amnesty.
Iraqi forces tried and failed several times to wrest back Tikrit, a Sunni Arab city on the Tigris river around 160 kilometres (100 miles) north of Baghdad.

Kurds Blocking Return of Arabs to Disputed Iraq Areas

Category: News
Created on Sunday, 01 March 2015 10:26
Kurdish peshmerga fighters in Iraq - ReutersKurdish forces have prevented displaced Arabs from returning to disputed areas of Iraq that Kurdish leaders want to incorporate in their autonomous region over Baghdad's objections, a report said Thursday.
Human Rights Watch warned the Kurdistan regional government against meting out "collective punishment of entire Arab communities" for the Islamic State terrorist group's attacks, AFP reported. 
"Cordoning off Arab residents and refusing to let them return home appears to go well beyond a reasonable security response,"  said Letta Tayler, senior terrorism and counterterrorism researcher at the New York-based rights group.
The HRW report said Kurdish forces have for months barred Arabs displaced by last year's ISIS offensive from returning to their homes in disputed areas.
Kurds however had been able to return to the same areas and even in some cases allowed to move into the homes of displaced Arabs, the group said.
When ISIS terrorists launched a devastating military blitz across Iraq's Sunni Arab heartland in June last year, Kurdish forces moved into the vacuum left by fleeing federal security forces.
The move expanded their territory by around 40 percent and gave them control over areas that Kurdish leaders have long sought to add to their three-province autonomous region in the north.
Terrorists attacked several of those ethnically and religiously mixed areas in August but Kurdish forces, backed by a Western air campaign, are reclaiming lost ground.
Human Rights watch said it had documented "apparently discriminatory acts" in districts of Arbil province within the autonomous region as well as of Nineveh province outside it.
It said some Kurdish officials defended the measures by arguing that Sunni Arab residents in the area had supported the jihadist advance and were still collaborating with ISIS.
The watchdog said some restrictions against Sunni Arabs had been eased in January but stressed the Kurdish authorities needed to do more.

Top ISIS Commanders Killed in Air Strike

Category: Reports
Created on Sunday, 01 March 2015 08:25
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi makes his first appearance in Mosuls Great Mosque - ReutersAn Arab satellite television network report claimed Thursday that a US-led coalition airstrike against Islamic State targets in areas they control has killed a “large number” of the organization's top commanders.
It is not yet clear if ISIS' top leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, was killed.
The report on Al Arabiya television quoted sources in the US-led coalition as saying that the airstrike at a location on the Syria-Iraq border resulted in the deaths of “dozens” of top ISIS commanders.
The group was meeting in the city of Ka'im, and coalition forces, alerted to the meeting by ground intelligence, took advantage of the situation to eliminate the commanders.
Iraqi sources said that al-Baghdadi was set to attend the meeting, and may have been on his way there when the coalition planes struck. The fighters that carried out the strike were flown by French pilots.
Reports from the region indicated that coalition forces struck hard in a number of ISIS-controlled cities, and that damage across the area occupied by the terror group was widespread.
Witnesses said that ISIS militia ordered people to remain in their homes until further notice, and that fresh forces from neighboring states had poured in to help fight the coalition forces.

1,000 Assyrian Christian Families Flee Syria Jihadists

Category: News
Created on Sunday, 01 March 2015 07:34
Assyrian Christian Families Flee Syria JihadistsNearly 1,000 Assyrian Christian families have fled their homes in northeastern Syria after jihadists kidnapped dozens of members of their community, an activist said on Wednesday.  
Osama Edward, director of the Sweden-based Assyrian Human Rights Network, said they had fled in fear after jihadists from the Islamic State terrorist group (ISIS) took the Assyrian Christians hostage early this week.
"Since Monday, 800 families have taken refuge in the city of Hasakeh and another 150 in Qamishli," a Kurdish town on the border with Turkey, Edward told AFP.
Edward said that, according to his sources in the community, ISIS terrorists had kidnapped "between 70 and 100 people, mainly women, children and the elderly."    
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group, said earlier that ISIS had taken 90 Assyrian Christians hostage in Hasakeh province since Monday.
Assyrian Christians, who are from one of the world's oldest Christian communities and whose presence in the Middle East predates Islam, have been under increasing threat since ISIS seized control of large parts of Syria.  
The group, which also holds swathes of Iraq, last year declared an Islamic "caliphate" in areas under its control and has committed widespread atrocities.
A native of part of the region where 35 Assyrian villages are located, Edward said "the jihadists broke into houses at around 4:00 a.m. while everyone was asleep" on Monday.
ISIS has since Monday captured at least a dozen villages in the area, Edward said, including his wife's hometown of Tal Shamiram.
"When she tried to reach her uncle by telephone, a man replied and said: 'This is the house of the Islamic State,'" Edward said.  
He said the hostages were taken to Shaddadi, an ISIS stronghold in Hasakeh province.  
The jihadists had been intimidating the Assyrian villagers for several weeks, he said, including by threatening to remove crosses from their churches.  
"People were expecting an attack, but they thought that either the Syrian army - which is just 30 kilometers (20 miles) from there - or the Kurds or the (US-led) coalition's strikes would protect them," he added.
A US-led coalition launched strikes against ISIS positions in Syria in September.
"ISIS has been losing territory because of the international coalition's strikes and they took the hostages to use them as human shields," Edward said.
The crisis for Christian communities in ISIS's crosshairs bears many chilling similarities to the plight of Syria's Yazidi community, which has been ravaged by massacres and forced expulsions at the hands of the jihadists.

ISIS Destroys Artifacts in Iraq Museum

Category: News
Created on Saturday, 28 February 2015 22:33
ninewa-museumThe Islamic State group released a video Thursday in which terrorists in Iraq are seen destroying ancient artifacts that included idols, which are prohibited by the Muslim faith, AFP reports. 
The five-minute video shows terrorists at the museum in Mosul knocking statues off their plinths and smashing them to pieces with sledgehammers.
In another scene, a jackhammer is used to deface a large Assyrian winged bull at an archeological site in the city, which the Sunni extremist group captured last summer.
"Muslims, these artifacts behind me are idols for people from ancient times who worshipped them instead of God," said a bearded terrorist speaking to the camera.
"The so-called Assyrians, Akkadians and other peoples had gods for the rain, for farming, for war... and they triedassyria-museum-artifacts-baghdad-iraq to get closer to them with offerings," he goes on.
"The prophet removed and buried the idols in Mecca with his blessed hands," he said, referring to the Muslim prophet Mohammed.
Experts said the items destroyed include original pieces, reconstructed fragments and copies.
They include many pieces from the Assyrian and Parthian eras dating back several centuries before the common era.
Iraq's Assyrians are now a Christian minority who consider themselves to be the region's indigenous people.
Several Assyrian villages were seized by ISIS fighters in neighboring Syria in recent days and at least 220 Assyrians kidnapped in the process.
The jihadists have controlled Mosul, Iraq's second city, since seizing it in a June offensive that saw them conquer large parts of the country.
They have systematically targeted minorities in and around Mosul and destroyed heritage sites, sparking global indignation.

Iraq Irate at US for Giving Date of Mosul Campaign

Category: News
Created on Wednesday, 25 February 2015 08:38
ISIS-captured Mosul file - ReutersIraqi officials have expressed irritation and analysts skepticism at the US prediction that an offensive to retake Iraq's key city of Mosul from jihadists could be launched in April-May.
Mosul is a major hub for the Islamic State (ISIS) group and holds special significance as the place where jihadist leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi proclaimed his "caliphate" straddling Iraq and Syria.
It has been under the jihadists' full control since the second day of their June offensive in Iraq, but federal and Kurdish forces have been slowly closing in, reports AFP.
An official with the US Central Command said last week that "the mark on the wall we are still shooting for is the April-May timeframe."
The rationale is to launch the operation before the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, which will start in mid-June, and searing summer temperatures, he said.
US President Barack Obama's envoy for the international coalition against ISIS, John Allen, said in October that any attempt to wrest back Mosul, Iraq's second city, could be a year away.
Iraq's defense minister, Khaled Obeidi, was irate that the Pentagon would call a date for the Mosul battle.
"A military official should not disclose the date and time of an attack," he told reporters on Sunday. "The timing is up to (Iraqi) military commanders. Where this American official got his information from, I don't know."
In a possible sign of the sensitivities of such issues, these comments were cut out of video footage of his press conference subsequently posted online by the defense ministry.
Together with Iran, the United States has been Iraq's top foreign partner in the war against ISIS and has launched almost daily strikes around Mosul since August 2014.
Some Iraqi officials have been gung-ho about a Mosul offensive, arguing that no more time could be wasted to claim the country back, but preparations have been slow.
Mosul, biggest operation ever for Iraqi army
Hakim al-Zamili, a lawmaker and senior leader in the Sarayat al-Salam Shi'ite militia, argued it was more pressing to liberate the western province of Anbar, which borders Baghdad.
"We need more time (for Mosul)...maybe by the end of the year," he told AFP. "The army needs more training, equipment, and arms to be able to do this."
"Yes we want to liberate Mosul and we support its liberation, but there are important flashpoints that need to be secured and we should not stretch ourselves too thin," Zamili said.
Mosul is a large city whose population was estimated at close to two million prior to the June 2014 ISIS assault.
Ten years ago, it took 10,000 highly trained US marines to clear Fallujah, a city the fraction of Mosul's size.
With Mosul, "the challenge is enormous, it would be a bigger operation than the post-Saddam Iraqi military has ever accomplished," said Nate Rabkin, the managing editor of the Inside Iraqi Politics newsletter.
Months of coalition air strikes have weakened ISIS's grip on the Mosul region, cutting some supply roads and destroying some of the military equipment they had seized from the army.
But the US Central Command official said 20,000-25,000 federal, Kurdish and Sunni tribal forces would be needed to defeat 1,000-2,000 ISIS fighters in Mosul.
"It would be extremely difficult to get these numbers of Iraqi army forces or ministry of interior forces into Mosul by summer 2015," said Michael Knights of the Washington Institute.
The United States officially has hundreds of forces in Iraq, advising and training the army, but there is no sign that process is near completion.
Beyond just finding the manpower, the Iraqi army would need to achieve a quantum leap in logistics to coordinate and supply different forces in a broad operation.
Relations between the autonomous Kurdish government and the federal authorities in Baghdad, currently strained by a revenue-sharing dispute, would also have to improve.
Knights said the timeframe given by the Pentagon official may have been more of a political message that a blurted military secret.
"I think it is a misstatement of US policy," he said, arguing that everything so far suggested Washington was trying to slow Baghdad's schedule down rather than pushing for quick action. "Maybe Iraq wants to go next week, and this is our attempt to hold them off till later."

New ISIS Video Shows Kurdish Fighters Paraded in Cages

Category: News
Created on Sunday, 22 February 2015 15:17
Kurdish Fighters Paraded in CagesThe Islamic State jihadist group released a new video on Sunday purporting to show captured Kurdish peshmerga fighters paraded through Iraqi streets in cages.  
The video shows 21 captives presented as 16 peshmerga fighters, two Iraqi army officers and three policemen from Kirkuk, a city about 240 kilometres (150 miles) north of Baghdad.
The captives, in orange jumpsuits with their heads lowered, are led to cages in a square surrounded by concrete walls and masked ISIS fighters carrying pistols.
A bearded man in a white turban warns the peshmerga against fighting ISIS.  
Then the caged captives are shown being paraded through the streets on the back of pick-up trucks, as dozens of residents and armed men look on.  
Later, some of the prisoners are interviewed by an Islamist holding a microphone bearing ISIS's logo.
The date and location is not specified in the video, but Kurdish sources told AFP it was filmed a week earlier in the main market of Hawija, an ISIS-held town some 50 kilometres (30 miles) from Kirkuk.  
The video does not contain any explicit threats to the captives but they are shown at the end kneeling before masked men holding automatic weapons or pistols, with an implied threat of the fate that awaits them.
The video also features images from previous ISIS videos, including of the killing of Jordanian pilot Maaz al-Kassasbeh, who was burned alive in a cage, and the beheadings of 21 Coptic Christians, mainly from Egypt, in Libya.
A peshmerga commander in Kirkuk, General Hiyowa Rash, told AFP that the peshmerga hostages had been captured on January 31 "when Kurdish fighters repelled a terrorist attack by ISIS targeting Kirkuk."  
ISIS seized swathes of Syria and Iraq last year, declaring an Islamic "caliphate" and committing widespread atrocities.

Meet the 'Foreign Legion' of the Anti-ISIS Christian Militia

Category: News
Created on Thursday, 19 February 2015 08:24
Kurdish YPG fighters on the frontline against ISIS in Ras al-Ain northern Syira - ReutersDecked out in his US army-issued fatigues and a lip stud shining from his mouth, the young American fighter cuts an unusual figure in the northern Iraqi town of Al-Qosh.
He served in the US army in Baghdad in 2006-2007 and has now returned to fight the Islamic State (ISIS) jihadist group with Dwekh Nawsha, a Christian militia whose name is an Assyrian-language phrase conveying self-sacrifice, reports AFP.
The 28-year-old, who goes by the pseudonym Brett, has become the figurehead of an emerging movement of foreigners coming to Iraq to support Christian groups.
Bearing a tattoo of a machinegun on his left arm and another of Jesus in a crown of thorns on his right, Brett jokingly refers to himself as a "crusader."
ISIS never captured Al-Qosh - but it came close enough for its mostly Christian population to flee to the neighboring autonomous region of Kurdistan, together with tens of thousands from Mosul and the Nineveh plains.
"One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter," Brett says, speaking from a Dwekh Nawsha base in the Kurdish city of Dohuk.
"But here we're actually fighting for the freedom of the people here to be able live peaceably, to be able to live without persecution, to keep the church bells ringing," he added.
The mass exodus that took place in mid-2014 has put the continued existence of one of world's oldest Christian communities into question.
With Kurdish peshmerga fighters now clawing back land around Mosul, some Christians are keen to take up arms for their survival and Dwekh Nwasha is only one of several recently formed groups.
"Foreign fighters' battalion"
Also acting as a recruiter, Brett says he wants to establish a "foreign fighters' battalion" for the militia.
In his first week in charge, he brought in five volunteers from the United States, Britain and Canada, all of whom he says have military or contracting experience.
The foreign contingent is tiny compared to the thousands of foreigners who have joined ISIS, but interest is growing and Brett says he has 20 more volunteers already lined up to join.
Brett's first recruit was Louis Park, a mild-mannered Texan who retired from the Marines in December.
"I did not adjust well at peace time," he said with dipping tobacco tucked in his lip. "I wanted to get back out here."
After serving in Afghanistan, Park says he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder "and some other things" that barred him from combat deployments.
As early as October 2014, he began saving money to join the fight against ISIS.
Park says he travelled to Iraq to continue defending his country, even though Dwekh Nawsha - with barely a few hundred fighters in its ranks - sees little frontline action.
"I'm patriotic as hell," he says. "If my government won't fight them I will."
The growing contingent of foreign recruits have a variety of reasons for joining Dwekh Nawsha.
Andrew, an older man from Ontario, Canada, came because he heard about "slaughterhouses" where ISIS allegedly cuts people up for organ trafficking.
There is no concrete evidence that such places exist but the rumor has been widely circulated by evangelical organizations, especially in North America.
A video showing the beheading of 21 Coptic Christians by ISIS in Libya released on Sunday and entitled "A message signed with blood to the nation of the cross" sparked a fresh surge of calls on social media for tougher Western action.
"Internet cowboys"
One seven-year US army veteran called Scott says he was planning to join the Syria-based Kurdish "Popular Protection Units" (YPG) until he found out they were "a bunch of damn Reds."
Other foreigners in Dwekh Nawsha say they also were turned off by what they see as the socialist streak in the YPG, an affiliate of Turkey's Kurdistan Workers' Party whose months-long battle against ISIS in Kobane attracted many volunteers.
Alan Duncan, a prominent British foreign fighter and veteran of the Royal Irish Regiment, recently left the YPG for similar reasons.
He told AFP that an exodus of foreign fighters from the YPG has begun, naming several well-known volunteers currently fighting for the group he says plan to leave in the coming days.
Jordan Matson, a former US soldier who has become the poster boy of YPG foreign fighters, argued that some volunteers may have lost their nerve when confronted with the intensity of the fighting in Kobane.
"Most of the Internet cowboys have come to realize this isn't a normal deployment," he told AFP. "So they lose the stomach to come or stay."

IISIS Burns 45 Iraqis Alive in Latest Horrific Execution

Category: News
Created on Tuesday, 17 February 2015 13:56
jordan pilotIslamic State (ISIS) terrorists apparently started a sickening new fad by burning a captured Jordanian pilot, a trend that was ramped up this week in al-Baghdadi in western Iraq where ISIS terrorists burned 45 people to death according to the local police chief.
Col. Qasim al-Obeidi said the victims' identities are not yet known definitively, but they are thought to include security force members, reports BBC.
He added that a compound housing the families of security personnel as well as local officials is now under ISIS siege.
The town of Al-Baghdadi had been besieged by the ruthless Muslim terrorist group for months before falling last Thursday, and was one of the last towns in Anbar province still in government hands after ISIS began its offensive in the region last January.
Al-Baghdadi is located a mere five miles (eight kilometers) from Ain al-Asad airbase, where 320 US Marines are training the Iraqi army's 7th Division.
The base was attacked by ISIS last Friday, in an assault that included suicide bombing attacks. Eventually the Iraqi soldiers were able to fight off the terrorists with US-led coalition jets providing air support.
Last Friday when the assault took place, Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby tried to play down the damage, saying the capture of al-Baghdadi is the first time ISIS took over new territory in the last few months.
The burning of 45 people comes after ISIS released a gruesome video earlier in February of the burning of Jordanian pilot Maaz al-Kassasbeh who had been captured while flying a mission over Syria last December.
After the brutal murder, Islamist terrorists from Boko Haram in Nigeria burned at least 91 civilians to death in Cameroon, establishing the ISIS method as a sick new weapon of terror for Islamist groups.

Iraqi Terrorists Destroy Synagogue, Take Over Ezra's Tomb

Category: Islam
Created on Saturday, 14 February 2015 17:06
Wall fresco from ancient -Dura Europos- synagogue in Syria - ReutersTerrorists in Iraq have seized a major synagogue and holy site in Amara, the Elder of Ziyon blog reported Wednesday - and have already destroyed much of it. 
According to the Iraqi media site quoted by the blog, the synagogue will become the new southern headquarters of the terrorists, whose name and affiliation are unspecified. All roads to the synagogue have been blocked and journalists have been banned from reporting on the takeover. 
The media site also added that Ezra's tomb in the Amara area has also been stripped of its Jewish identity, and may possibly have been destroyed. 
The move is yet another blow to Iraq's Jewish community, which the blog notes is down to a mere ten Jews - despite 2,500 years of Jewish life which began with the destruction of the First Temple in Jerusalem. 
While both reports decline to specify the name of the terror group, news of the demolition follows multiple reports that Islamic State (ISIS) has systemically destroyed multiple Jewish holy sites in Iraq. 
Last July, ISIS destroyed the tombs of both the prophet Daniel and Jonah in Mosul, claiming that the graves represent "idolatry." 
In addition, the Iraqi government itself has de-Judaized several sites throughout Iraq, including Ezekiel's Tomb and the tomb of Joshua the High Priest near Baghdad. 

Iran Revolutionary Guards Chief Says ISIS 'Nearing its End'

Category: News
Created on Saturday, 14 February 2015 11:23
Maj Gen Qassem SuleimaniAn influential Iranian general who has reportedly been near the front line against the Islamic State (ISIS) group was quoted Thursday saying the Sunni jihadists are "nearing the end of their lives".
General Qassem Suleimani, the once rarely seen commander of the powerful Qods Force, has become the public face of Iran's support for the Iraqi and Syrian governments against Sunni rebellions in their countries.
He has frequently been pictured on social media in Iraq with pro-government forces, including Kurdish fighters and Shia Islamist militia units in battle areas.  
"Considering the heavy defeats suffered by Daesh and other terrorist groups in Iraq and Syria, we are certain these groups are nearing the end of their lives," Suleimani was quoted as saying by the semi-official Fars news agency, using an Arabic acronym for ISIS.  
His extremely rare published remarks came in a speech made Wednesday in his home province Kerman to mark the 36th anniversary of Iran's Islamic revolution.  
Suleimani also said Tehran's regional influence was growing.
"Today we see signs of the Islamic revolution being exported throughout the region, from Bahrain to Iraq and from Syria to Yemen and North Africa," he said.
"The arrogants and Zionists have admitted, more than before, to their own weakness and to the Islamic republic's power, following their successive defeats," he said.
Iranian officials often use the term "arrogants" to refer to the United States and other Western powers, while "Zionists" is used in Tehran to refer to Israel without acknowledging its existence as a state.
Suleimani reportedly landed in Baghdad hours after ISIS overran Mosul in June and led a counter-attack at the head of Iran's deep military involvement in Iraq.
The Qods Force - the foreign wing of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards - conducts sensitive security functions abroad, including intelligence, special operations and political action deemed necessary to "protect the Islamic republic", which often takes the form of terrorist attacks and sabotage.
It's primary aim is to "export the revolution" of radical Shia Islam in Iran.
It has provided key support to pro-regime forces in Syria, including training, advice and in active combat.

More Israeli Aid Set to Reach Christian, Yazidi Refugees of ISIS

Category: From the Net
Created on Monday, 09 February 2015 21:21
Israeli Aid Set to Christian Yazidi Refugees of ISISAn Israeli aid agency is set to up its deliveries of emergency supplies to Yazidi and Christian refugees of ISIS's deadly military campaign in Iraq, as more evidence of the jihadist group's atrocities begins to emerge.
More than 18,000 Yazidi and Christian refugees now live in makeshift camps in northern Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region, which is home to a total of around one million internally and externally displaced people. They are among more than 2.1 million people driven from their homes by ISIS since January 2014, bringing the total of people in need of humanitarian assistance as a result of the conflict to 5.2 million.
Residents of the camps, often made up of no more than tents, have faced extremely harsh conditions over this year's freezing winter, and IsraAID has already provided 3,000 winter items to families in need - from blankets to baby milk.
But the aid agency says it is preparing to up its contributions due to the growing numbers of refugees enduring subzero temperatures, including infants and the elderly.
37-year-old Shehab and his family fled the Sinjar region after it was besieged by the jihadists, and managed to narrowly escape ISIS's campaign of mass-killings and systematic rape. 
Recent advances made by Kurdish forces against ISIS in the past few weeks have revealed shocking evidence of what the UN has branded an "attempt at genocide" by the so-called "Islamic State," unearthing numerous mass graves containing the remains of men, women and children - likely Yazidis - murdered at the hands of the Islamist group.
"When Daesh (ISIS) entered Sinjar we fled to mountains for seven days and took refuge in a Yazidi temple," Shehab recalled. "We then found our way to this camp. We have been here for seven months. I am here with my wife and our two children – a boy 1.5 years old and a 4 month year old baby girl who was born in the camp. 
"The life here is very hard; our children are traumatized by what they saw and experienced after Daesh attacked our home."
Naviah, another refugee from Sinjar, tells of the difficult conditions she and others face since arriving at the camp. 
"Inside the camp it’s very cold and we really need warm blankets," she said. 
"Kerosene heaters were distributed [but] many tents caught fire and people died as a result. We use one bathroom between eight families - there are too many people and not enough room or facilities for everyone."
"There is no school for the younger children." Shehab laments. "Our main problem is carrying the water back to our tent – there is only one place in the camp to get water and it [is] very far. We also need health training and facilities for our families. Many people have diseases and there is no medicine or doctors".
But IsraAID is working to improve that situation. Mid-October saw the Israeli group's first aid delivery, and since then it has reached some 1,000 displaced families - an effort Naviah says is greatly appreciated, "especially [the] distribution of warm blankets for the winter."
In the coming months, IsraAID looks to scale up its operation in Iraqi Kurdistan, handing out more winter aid packages and, for the first time, funding education programs for the camps' child residents.
While grateful for the support, Shehab longs to return and hopes that one day things will return to how they once were.
"Before ISIS attacked our home we were living safely and completely free to go about our lives. My hope for the future is to return to my home and to live freely without fear.
"I hope for my children to be able to sleep without fear."

New ISIS Trend: Yazidi Mass Graves

Category: News
Created on Monday, 09 February 2015 09:59
Yazidi Mass GravesIslamic State (ISIS) terrorists have subjected Yazidi religious minorities in Iraq to mass rape and torture aside from killing hundreds of them at a time; the jihadist group's newest trend against the group appears to be mass graves after executing groups of Yazidis.
After a similar find last Monday, the remains of 23 men from Iraq's Yazidi minority were found when a mass grave was excavated in northern Iraq, an official said on Saturday.
It is the latest evidence of atrocities committed in areas held by the ISIS to emerge since Kurdish forces pushed the jihadists back, reports AFP.
A team acting on a tip-off from a resident opened the grave near the village of Bardiyan on Friday, said Fuad Othman, a spokesman for the Kurdish regional government.
Othman said those killed had been shot, and some had their hands bound.
A ditch where some 25 people were murdered was found farther south in Nineveh province on February 1, and Othman said dozens more bodies were believed to be in an another grave in the Hardan area.
ISIS spearheaded a offensive that began in northern Iraq last June and overran large parts of the country, before again turning its attention to the north in August, driving Kurdish forces back and seizing more territory in Nineveh.
The jihadists carried out a campaign of killings, kidnappings, enslavement and rape against Yazidis living in the area that the UN termed an "attempt to commit genocide."
Backed by US-led air strikes, Iraqi Kurdish forces have made significant gains in the region, driving ISIS back and retaking areas where the grave sites have been discovered.

ISIS Defeats in North Iraq Reveal Evidence of Atrocities

Category: News
Created on Saturday, 07 February 2015 19:46
ISIS -Evidence of Atrocities(AFP) Dirt-covered skulls and bones scattered among ragged clothing in a ditch in north Iraq are all that remain of some two dozen people believed to have been murdered by the Islamic State terrorist group.  
The blood still staining one side of the ditch and the bullet casings scattered on the ground paint a grim picture of how they died.
The recently discovered site is not unique, and more evidence of ISIS atrocities will likely emerge as areas retaken from the jihadists by Kurdish forces are searched, a task made more difficult by explosives they left behind.
"Three mass graves have been confirmed - two in the Hardan area and the other in Sinuni," said Myaser Haji Saleh, the local official responsible for the Sinjar district in Iraq's northern province of Nineveh, where the sites are located.
"But we believe that the biggest graves are in the center of the Sinjar district and areas that are now under (ISIS) control," Saleh said.  
The two graves in Hardan have yet to be excavated, but Saleh said the site near Sinuni contained the remains of about 25 members of the Yazidi religious minority.
ISIS spearheaded a Sunni offensive that began in northern Iraq last June and overran large parts of the country, before again turning its attention to the north in August, seizing areas including Sinjar.
The jihadists carried out a campaign of killings, kidnappings, enslavement and rape against Yazidis living in the area that the UN termed an "attempt to commit genocide."
Backed by US-led air strikes and assisted by international trainers and advisers, Iraqi Kurdish forces have made significant gains in the north, driving ISIS back and retaking areas including Sinuni.
At first glance, the massacre site appears to be a place where old clothes and other rubbish has been dumped, but a closer inspection reveals bones also lying in the ditch.
Missing relatives
Skulls, some broken and others still intact, vertebrae, ribs and other bones are mixed among the clothes, shoes and sandals the victims wore when they were murdered.
Kidnappings carried out by ISIS have left devastated relatives unsure whether their loved ones are alive or dead.
Ali Bazo, who was a resident of the nearby Khana Sur housing complex but now lives in a camp for displaced people, came to the massacre site to search for signs of his father, who was seized by ISIS when it overran the area last August.
"We learned of the discovery of this mass grave and came and found the keys to our house," he said, but he still does not know which bones belonged to his father.
Bazo said wants experts to examine the remains to identify his father, so he can be given a proper burial.
The first step toward identifying the victims was taken on Wednesday, when the remains were brought to a morgue in autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan for DNA testing, said Fuad Othman, a spokesman for the region's martyrs ministry.
Bizar Hasso also came to search for her missing husband.
When ISIS advanced toward Khana Sur, she fled to Mount Sinjar, a 60-kilometre (40-mile) ridge near the Syrian border that the jihadists have twice besieged, but two of her sons and her husband were out guarding wells.
One of her sons later told her that IS killed his brother and detained his father.
"We have been looking for him for more than five months," said Hasso, who is also now living in a camp for displaced Iraqis.
Wearing a surgical mask and rubber gloves, Hasso stood among the bones and clothes in the ditch, searching for some sign of her husband.  
But she found nothing, and like many other Iraqis, continues to suffer the pain of not knowing his fate.

ISIS Reportedly Holds Nazi-esque Mass Book Burning

Category: News
Created on Wednesday, 04 February 2015 08:51
Book BurningThe United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) on Tuesday voiced concern over reports of mass book-burning in Iraq, saying it would be one of the most "devastating" such actions in history if confirmed.
Referring to reports that thousands of books on philosophy, law, science and poetry have been torched in recent weeks, UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova said it was part of a campaign of "cultural cleansing," reports AFP.
"If confirmed, this would be one of the most devastating acts of destruction of library collections in human history," UNESCO said.
"Such destruction is a cruel reminder that the nations of the world must remain united to combat such fanaticism today," Bokova added.
In terms of historical precedent, during the Holocaust the genocidal Nazi regime infamously held regular burnings of books that were deemed "subversive" to its murderous and racist ideology.
Islamic State (ISIS) terrorists currently hold the city of Mosul, the second-largest city in Iraq, where the book burning may have occurred.
US air strikes against the group have aimed to put pressure on the jihadists. Kurdish peshmerga forces have also launched successful offensives against ISIS-held roads near Mosul.
UNESCO said the "armed extremists in Iraq" were targeting "cultural heritage, cultural and religious minorities, and the documents and written evidence of one of the oldest civilizations in human history."
Last December UNESCO held a special session to discuss ISIS's rampant destruction of Jewish historical sites in the regions of Iraq and Syria under its control.
Among the damaged Jewish sites are the shrines of the prophets Daniel and Jonah, the Eliyahu Hanavi (prophet Elijah) shrine and synagogue in Damascus, the tomb of Yehezkel (Ezekiel) the prophet, and the Dura Europos synagogue, one of the oldest known synagogues.

Mass Grave of Yazidi ISIS Victims Discovered in Iraq

Category: News
Created on Tuesday, 03 February 2015 08:27
Mass Grave of YazidiKurdish forces have found the remains of about 25 members of the Yazidi minority killed by the Islamic State (ISIS) jihadist group in a mass grave in northwest Iraq, officials said Monday.
"Peshmerga forces discovered a mass grave yesterday (Sunday) containing the remains of about 25 people - men, children and women - from the Yazidi (sect) who were killed by" ISIS jihadists, local official Myaser Haji Saleh told AFP.
A peshmerga lieutenant colonel said the grave was found near Sinuni during a search for explosives that ISIS often leaves behind, posing a threat to security forces and civilians even after they withdraw.
"Our forces were searching for explosives and mines planted by (ISIS) in the area and found the grave during the search," the officer said.
Some of the victims had been shot dead and others "slaughtered" using knives, he said.
ISIS spearheaded a June offensive that began in the northern province of Nineveh, where the mass grave was discovered, and overran large areas north and west of the Iraqi capital.
After sweeping south towards Baghdad, the militants again turned their attention to the north in August, driving Kurdish forces back toward their regional capital and seizing areas including Sinuni.
ISIS carried out a campaign of killings, kidnappings and enslavement against Yazidi Kurds living in the area that the UN termed an "attempt to commit genocide."
Backed by US-led air strikes and assisted by international trainers and advisers, Kurdish forces have made significant gains in the north.
Federal troops, Shiite militiamen and Sunni tribesmen have also pushed ISIS back farther south, but significant territory, including three major Iraqi cities - among them the country's second largest, Mosul - remains in the hands of the jihadists.

UN: Violence in Iraq Killed 1,375 in January

Category: News
Created on Monday, 02 February 2015 08:17
Shia Islamist fighter from the Iraqi Badr Brigade militia - ReutersViolence in Iraq killed 1,375 people in January, month eight of the battle against Islamic State terrorists who swept through large areas of the country last summer, the United Nations said Sunday.
"A total of 1,375 Iraqis were killed and another 2,240 were wounded in acts of terrorism and violence in January," the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq said.
UNAMI said at least 1,101 people were killed in December, capping the most violent year for Iraq since 2007, when sectarian bloodshed between the Shiite majority and Sunni Arab minority was at its peak.
The UN mission cautioned that the real toll could be higher as the conflict between Iraqi forces and the Islamic State  group had hampered efforts to verify casualty information.
"UNAMI has also received, without being able to verify, reports of large numbers of casualties along with unknown numbers of persons who have died from secondary effects of violence."
Figures compiled by the health, interior and defense ministries put the January toll at 1,408 dead and 2,008 wounded, including troops as well as civilians.
ISIS spearheaded a lightning offensive last June that overran much of the Sunni Arab heartland north and west of Baghdad.
Iraqi federal forces, Kurdish troops, Shiite militiamen and Sunni tribal fighters are all battling against the jihadists.
A US-led coalition is carrying out air strikes against ISIS and also advising and training Iraqi forces.

Defeating 'Ugly' ISIS With Shoes

Category: News
Created on Friday, 30 January 2015 22:08
SavagesThe Islamic State (ISIS) terrorist glares at Baghdad residents with bulging eyes and bared teeth, but neither kidnapping nor death are imminent, because this jihadist is made from a shoe.
A black, treaded sole with the toe broken off serves as his face and nose, while old shoelaces evoke both black headscarf and long hair.
For teeth, zippers dangle into a mouth formed by the space between the heel and toe, and round metal pieces stand in for bulging eyes.
The jihadist is the creation of Iraqi artist Akeel Khreef, who takes worn-out shoes and transforms them into faces representing the "ugliness" of ISIS, which has committed a slew of atrocities in his country, reports AFP.
"I wanted to portray the extent of the criminality and ugliness and ugly acts of the organization's members," says Khreef, a 35-year-old architectural engineering professor who is working on a mural of two dozen shoe faces.
ISIS has done much to provoke the anger of Iraqis, leading a June offensive that swept down from the city of Mosul and overran large parts of the country's Sunni Arab heartland, sowing fear and displacing hundreds of thousands of people.
It has killed thousands of people in areas it controls in Iraq and neighboring Syria, targeted religious and ethnic minorities, sold women and children as sex slaves and destroyed historical sites.
With the faces, Khreef says he wants to portray "the ugly condition" that has prevailed in Iraq since June, and fashioning them from old shoes does so with a calculated insult of an especially Iraqi persuasion.
In Iraq it is considered extremely rude to call someone "waja al-kundara" - literally "face of the shoe." "This is what I want to say," Khreef explains.
In Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East, it is deemed offensive to even have the bottom of one's shoes facing another person.
Iraq also has a history of protest by footwear, with a journalist famously hurling his shoes at then US President George W. Bush during a press conference in 2008.
When "you look at the works, you see they are made from remains of waste and worn-out shoes, but they appear sick in their mentalities, and bloodthirsty," Khreef says.
Embarrassing the terrorists
"I will not get them out of my country with this work, but...I am certain they would be embarrassed by it," he says.
American officials frequently refer to breaking the "image" or "myth" of ISIS invincibility, but this can come to pass through art and humor in addition to military force.
To obtain supplies for this and other projects, Khreef collects bits and pieces from trash cans and buys old shoes from small shops.
"The most important person in my life is the cobbler - he provides me the remains of the worn-out shoes," he says.
Khreef is sometimes mocked for searching through trash, but wants to convey the idea that "rubbish is not harmful, and can be used for useful things."
"I work in the street," he says. "I want the people to know this art."
Khreef says the project is especially for people displaced by ISIS. "I am trying to show (ISIS) in the ugliest form to comfort the people who
left their homes and to tell them: 'It is not just the soldier who is with you.'"
The mural Khreef is making is inspired by the organization ISIS - which he refers to as "Daesh," an Arabic acronym the group rejects - but he wants it to reflect other meanings as well.
"The mural represents the Dawaesh (ISIS members) who live among us, and not just the terrorists," he says.
For Khreef, a "Daeshi" is "every man who does not love his country and does not love goodness, and believes in death, and rejects the other, and is ready to kill you when you disagree with him."
ISIS has a history of greeting even symbolic opposition with kidnapping or brutal violence, and has executed hundreds of people who opposed it in Iraq and Syria.
Artists have fled areas under ISIS control or have been lying low. Khreef says he is nonetheless determined to go forward with his project.
"Death is everywhere, and I am not more important than someone who defends his country and carries a weapon and goes to confront the enemy face to face," he says.
And if the worst happens, "at least I would die believing in a true cause."

Iraqi Forces 'Liberate' Diyala Province from ISIS

Category: News
Created on Monday, 26 January 2015 13:33
Shia militiamen battling ISIS in Iraq file - ReutersIraqi forces have "liberated" Diyala province from the Islamic State (ISIS) jihadist group, retaking all populated areas of the eastern region, a top army officer said on Monday.
The symbolic victory for Baghdad, which has at times struggled to push ISIS back, could clear the way for further advances against the jihadists.
"We announce the liberation of Diyala from the (ISIS) organisation," Staff Lieutenant General Abdulamir al-Zaidi said.  
Iraqi forces have regained "complete control of all the cities and districts and subdistricts of Diyala province," he said.  
Diyala has seen months of fighting, especially in the Jalawla and Saadiyah areas in the province's north, which were held by IS, and areas near the town of Muqdadiyah, which the Sunni Islamists repeatedly attacked but never took.  
The last battle for a populated part of the province began last Friday in an area of villages near Muqdadiyah, northeast of Diyala capital Baquba.
Zaidi and district council chief Adnan al-Tamimi both said that Iraqi forces are now in control of the entire area.
Zaidi said that 58 members of pro-government forces were killed and 248 were wounded in the fighting, while "more than 50" ISIS fighters died.
He added that there are thousands of bombs left behind by ISIS in villages north of Muqdadiyah, which will be a major challenge to clear.
The general said that there will still be further fighting against ISIS in the rural Hamreen mountains, which stretch across multiple provinces, including Diyala.  
The victory could see more forces brought to neighboring Salaheddin province, potentially including jihadi-held Tikrit.
ISIS spearheaded a Sunni offensive that began in the northern city of Mosul in June and swept down to overrun much of Iraq's Sunni Arab heartland.  
Iraqi federal forces, Kurdish troops, Shia Islamist militiamen and Sunni tribesmen are all fighting against the jihadists in various parts of the country.
A US-led coalition is carrying out air strikes against ISIS in both Iraq and neighboring Syria, and also advising and training Iraqi forces.  
The advances for anti-ISIS forces in Iraq come on the same day as Kurdish forces in Syria claim to have totally liberated the embattled border town of Kobane from ISIS.
Monday's announcement does not mean the problem of violence in Diyala - which suffered from frequent attacks even before the ISIS drive - is over.  
Much will depend on how well Iraqi forces are able to hold retaken territory and efforts to reconstruct areas damaged by the fighting.

In Iraq, ISIS Leaves Behind Hidden Explosives

Category: News
Created on Friday, 23 January 2015 07:37
Kurdish Peshmerga fighters in northern Iraq - ReutersIslamic State terrorists sow death long after they depart, and as Iraqi Kurdish forces regain ground, they - and the civilians returning to their homes - face the threat of unexploded bombs and booby traps.
"These people were very imaginative, like devils," said Marwan Sydo Hisn, a Kurdish bomb disposal expert currently based in Sinuni, a town in the northwestern Sinjar area that was recaptured from ISIS fighters in late December.
"Look at this one," he said, thumbing through pictures on his smart phone. "We found this massage belt that they had stuffed with a small quantity of explosives, perfectly put back together and set up to explode on the next person to turn it on."
One consisted of TNT concealed inside a TV set triggered by the use of a PlayStation controller. Another contraption was a gold ring conspicuously left lying on the floor and rigged to kill its finder.
Some houses were webbed with trip wires and lines connecting bombs to doorknobs.
"We have a list of 24 different types of devices they used in this area," said Darwish Mussa Ali, another explosives expert.
He and his colleague Sydo are both from the Kurdish "asayesh" security service and are the only two experts tasked with clearing explosives from the entire northern side of Mount Sinjar, a 60-kilometer-long (40-mile) ridge near the Syrian border.
They were dispatched from their base in Jalawla, at the southeastern end of the Kurds' 1,000-kilometre (620-mile) frontline with the terrorists.
"In 24 days, we found 410 devices amounting to more than five tons, mostly IEDs (improvised explosive devices)," Mussa said, referring to the homemade bombs laid on roadsides to target vehicles and hamper any military advance.
They received specialized training from American explosive ordnance disposal units before the 2011 US pullout from Iraq, but have very little equipment to perform their dangerous task.
"We have no special armor, no robots, no scramblers for mobile communications - just our eyes, our experience and a pair of pliers," Sydo said.
Most of his equipment fits in a blue cooler bag, where he also keeps a bundle of detonators, a box-cutter and tape.
Lack of experience
Their harvest is kept in a damp storage room adjacent to a grocer's and protected only by an old iron rolling door on which the word "danger" is spray-painted in large yellow letters.
"Just walk where I walk," said Hadi Khalaf Jirgo, a member of the Kurdish peshmerga security forces who has been assisting the pair.
A cigarette dangled from his lips as he reeled out the wire for a controlled detonation of some of the roadside bombs they continue to find,
sometimes at a rate of 30 a day.
The blast sent a cloud rising from a gully against the backdrop of Mont Sinjar's snow-covered slopes.
The area was wrested back from the jihadists about a month ago but military activity remains intense and civilians are returning faster than authorities can handle.
In the first days after the northern side of Mount Sinjar was retaken, eight people were killed in three explosions, Sydo said.
The Iraqi Kurdistan Mine Action Agency lost four of its staff in a blast during a clearing operation in the nearby Zumar area in October.
"Large areas that were recaptured are still not cleared. With regards to IEDs, we have not received special devices and equipment," said IKMAA director Ako Aziz.
"Our teams work on the basic experience that they have learned from military engineering regiment teams, which is really not adequate to deal with IEDs," he said.
IEDs are the leading cause of death among the more than 750 peshmerga killed since ISIS spearheaded a militant offensive that overran large areas north and west of Baghdad in June.
IKMAA has stepped up its awareness effort with billboards telling civilians what to do when they find a suspicious object.
But there are only a handful of specialist teams operating across a huge area and struggling to keep up with the fast-changing military map.
The unconventional nature of the devices planted by ISIS terrorists also slows down the clearing effort.
"They seem to have a high level of expertise in planting those devices, they have some experienced people. So to defuse those devices, you also need a high level of experience," Aziz said.

Kurdish Forces Launch Push Against ISIS in North Iraq

Category: News
Created on Thursday, 22 January 2015 08:18
Kurdish Peshmerga fighter displays clothing taken from slain ISIS fighter - ReutersKurdish security forces launched an offensive on the Islamic State (ISIS) group in northern Iraq Wednesday, backed by US-led air strikes, and retook villages the jihadists used to launch attacks, officials said.
The Kurdish Regional Security Council said peshmerga forces, who began a "large-scale offensive" around 7:00 am (0400 GMT), retook four areas and were working to clear more.
The US-led coalition against ISIS said it carried out six air strikes in northern Iraq from Tuesday to Wednesday -- three near the town of Tal Afar and three near the city of Mosul. It did not specify the exact locations targeted, according to AFP. 
ISIS spearheaded a sweeping offensive that has overrun much of Iraq's Sunni Arab heartland since June, presenting both an opportunity for territorial expansion and a threat to the country's three-province autonomous Kurdish region.
Several Iraqi divisions collapsed in the early days of the offensive, clearing the way for the Kurds to take control of a swathe of disputed northern territory that they have long wanted to incorporate into their region over Baghdad's objections.
But after driving south towards Baghdad, ISIS then turned its attention to the Kurds, pushing them back toward their regional capital Arbil in a move that helped spark US strikes against the jihadists.
Backed by the strikes as well as international advisors and trainers, Kurdish forces have clawed back significant ground from ISIS.
The conflict seems set to redraw the internal boundaries of Iraq in favor of broader Kurdish control in the north.

Canadian Forces Clash with ISIS in Iraq

Category: News
Created on Wednesday, 21 January 2015 08:09
Canadian Forces Clash with ISISCanadian special forces exchanged gunfire with Islamic State (ISIS) fighters in Iraq in recent days, in the first confirmed ground battle between Western troops and ISIS, a senior officer was quoted by AFP as having said Monday.
The Canadians came under mortar and machine gun fire while training Iraqi troops near front lines and shot back in what Canadian special forces commander Brigadier General Michael Rouleau described as self-defense, killing the ISIS fighters.
Rouleau said the melee had taken place in the previous seven days and was "the first time we've taken fire and returned fire" in Iraq, where the extremists have overrun large areas.
"My troops had completed a planning session with senior Iraqi leaders several kilometers behind the front lines," Rouleau told a regular media briefing on the conflict, according to AFP.
"When they moved forward to confirm the planning at the front lines in order to visualize what they had discussed over a map, they came under immediate and effective mortar and machine gun fire," he added.
The general said the Canadians used sniper fire to "neutralize both threats" and there were no Canadian injuries.
The United States has previously reported having launched an unsuccessful hostage-rescue operation against the ISIS group in neighboring Syria, but Western forces have not officially engaged in ground combat.
An international coalition, led by the United States, has been carrying out air raids on IS extremists in Iraq and Syria since last year. Canada is only involved in Iraq operations.
Canada sent some 600 air crew and other military personnel -- as well as six fighter jets and other military aircraft -- to the region in November to participate in the air strikes against the Islamic State.
The Canadian deployment is due to end in April, unless parliament votes to extend the mission.

Kurds Score Biggest Victory Yet Against ISIS in Iraq

Category: News
Created on Wednesday, 24 December 2014 16:32
A member of Kurdish Peshmerga forces - ReutersKurdish Peshmerga fighters are claiming their most decisive victory yet against the brutal Islamic State (ISIS) terrorist group in northern Iraq, by breaking the jihadists' siege of the strategic Mount Sinjar.
Mount Sinjar has been the scene of one of the most high-profile humanitarian emergencies in the fight against ISIS, with thousands of Yazidi Kurds being trapped there for months after fleeing the Islamists' conquest of the town of Sinjar. ISIS has killed countless Yazidis during its bloody push through Iraq and sold scores of Yazidi women into sex slavery, as part of a systematic campaign of ethnic-cleansing. Those trapped on the mountain had been faced with a grim choice: surrender and convert, or die.  
But Kurds say their latest operation to break the siege and free those trapped, which began on Wednesday, has been successful. The Peshmerga ground offensive involved 8,000 Kurdish fighters, who attacked ISIS positions in a two-pronged offensive and succeeded in breaking open a wide corridor to allow refugees to be evacuated to safety.
Kurdish officials say as many as 80 ISIS fighters were killed while the rest fled westward to Syria or eastward to Iraq's former second city of Mosul, which jihadists captured during the summer. Those figures could not yet be independently verified.
The ground offensive was backed by what is being described as the most intensive round of airstrikes yet by US-led coalition forces against the Islamists.
A blistering 45 airstrikes reportedly killed a significant number of ISIS fighters, including several senior leaders, according the head of America's Joint Chiefs of staff, General Martin Dempsey.
The deaths of three ISIS leaders in particular has been particularly "disruptive to their planning and command and control," Dempsey told the Wall Street Journal.
US airstrikes between December 3- 9 killed Abd al Basit, the head of ISIS's entire military operations in Iraq, and Haji Mutazz, a key deputy to the group's leader and self-declared "Caliph" Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
Airstrikes in November also killed a number of mid-level ISIS commanders, including Radwin Talib, who ISIS appointed as its "governor" in Mosul.
But while ISIS's leadership is believed to have been seriously weakened by the airstrikes, the jihadist group still maintains control over large swathes of territory in northern Iraq and Syria.

ISIS Establishing Itself as Political Entity in Every Way

Category: News
Created on Wednesday, 24 December 2014 13:23
Islamic State terrorists paradeSince the terrorist organization Islamic State (ISIS), which controls wide expanses of territory in Syria and Iraq, proclaimed a worldwide Islamic caliphate in June, it has gradually formed into a fledgling political entity. 
The latest propaganda video distributed by Islamic State presents footage of the General Services Department in the al-Raqqah region of Syria. This department is responsible for providing government services to the public. 
In the video, teams of local government members, working on behalf of Islamic State inspectors, prepare flour and wheat to make bread to distribute to local residents.
ISIS has been able to develop into more than just a terrorist militia, primarily through the takeover of existing government institutions in Syria and Iraq and their subordination to the new Islamic regime.
Some of the institutions in al-Raqqah include the Communications Department, which oversees the management of postal services and contacts.
Another, the Electricity Department, is responsible for repairing power lines and electrical water pumps. One of its first projects was providing power to villages around al-Raqqah. 
Other local departments manage infrastructure work in the public domain, such as the maintenance and cleaning departments, as well as oversee the licensing of motor vehicles. 
These departments work in conjunction with other government systems operated by Islamic State. Those include the education system, which is engaged in creating a new generation taught on the values of jihad, and the health system. 
The other major government system is the Islamic legal system which enforces law and order through security forces and morality police. 

UN Attempt to Save Jewish Sites from ISIS - Too Little Too Late?

Category: Press Releases
Created on Monday, 08 December 2014 14:57
Wall fresco from ancient -Dura Europos- synagogue in Syria - ReutersLast week, a UNESCO conference was hastily convened at its Paris headquarters to discuss what can be done to preserve what's left of heritage sites in Iraq and Syria. The iconoclastic jihadists of Islamic State - or Da'esh (ISIS) - had captured a region in northern Iraq which contained 15 percent of Iraq's registered archaeological sites. Believing that shrines ought to be destroyed lest they encourage idol-worship, they have already blown up or burnt to the ground shrines such as the tombs of Jonah and Seth, Christian churches and Shi'a mosques. 
Like most UN agencies, UNESCO has blown hot and cold towards Israel and the Jewish people. On the one hand it has admitted Palestine as a member and backed Palestinian claims to Jewish holy sites like Rachel's tomb. On the other it has named Tel Aviv "creative city for media arts". On the one hand, it hosted an exhibition on "the Holy Land." On the other had it insisted that the word Israel not appear in the title and that "politically incorrect" aspects of the Jewish state, like wars and Jewish refugees from Arab lands, were left out.
But this time, UNESCO had made a point of including the Jews in its conference. The UNESCO director-general, Irina Bokova, has  condemned the destruction in May 2014 of the Jobar synagogue near Damascus, which, legend has it, goes back to the time of Elijah the Prophet.
When a JJAC delegation, accompanied by CRIF, the body representing French Jews, submitted a list of 100 endangered Jewish sites to Mrs Bokova in June, she lent a sympathetic ear. And when Professor Shmuel Moreh, who has worked long and hard for the preservation of ancient Jewish sites in Iraq made his case, Mrs Bokova  - or her aides - were listening. Professor Moreh was flown over from Israel to be a special guest at the conference, along with representatives of Kurds, Assyrians, Turkmen and Yazidis.
Mrs  Bokova herself has said: "Culture and heritage are not about stones and buildings - they are about identities and belongings."
A conflict against culture is by extension an effort to erase the identity of a people, especially vulnerable non-Muslim minorities.
No doubt, Irina Bokova's heart is in the right place, but when I arrived in the imposing glass and concrete building, the institutional bias was there in subtle ways. 
An exhibition of photographs in the foyer called "Palestine and Jerusalem" marked "International Year of Solidarity with the Palestinian people". The photographs were taken by the French order of the Dominican friars at the turn of the 20th century. To judge by the images on display, Palestine was a pastoral land of monasteries and Arab shepherds, processions of Muslim and Christian pilgrims. Not a Jew in sight - yet we know that Jerusalem then had a Jewish majority. So much for not "erasing a people's identity".
Mrs Bokova opened the proceedings by thanking Kuwait and Saudi Arabia for funding the conference. (No one appreciated the irony that Saudi Arabia had not exactly preserved its own heritage itself - having destroyed Muhammed's house and other ancient sites).
In both Syria and Iraq, she observed, Islamic State have demolished, pillaged and dug up archaeological sites, sometimes with bulldozers, and sold relics on the international black market in order to finance their malevolent deeds. She called for "cultural zones" to be established, starting with the great Umayyad mosque in Aleppo.
Conference speaker after speaker called for good neighbourliness and respect. The UNESCO motto was a mantra: "It is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed." Education was the answer.
A cynic might ask: what planet do they live on? "Cultural zones" when people were starving? "Civic identity to be built from the bottom up" when people were being beheaded? "Good neighborliness and respect" when people were being sold into slavery?
One Syrian parliamentarian called for  refugees to return from exile to claim their heritage. But when the neighbors have been ethnically cleansed, as the Jews had been from Syria and Iraq, with no prospect of return, who will speak up for their heritage? Who would ensure that when the time came to rehabilitate and renovate, traditional Jewish shrines such as the most revered of all, Ezekiel's tomb, would not be turned into mosques?
It was already happening. The Hebrew inscriptions had been removed from the renovated tomb of Joshua the High Priest near Baghdad. Loudspeakers had already been affixed to Ezekiel's tomb, and Koranic inscriptions hung on the walls. Who would ensure that the original character of the shrine would be retained?
And if objects stolen from minority communities are recovered in the West, why should they be sent back to the Syrian or Iraqi governments? As the saga of the Iraqi-Jewish archive demonstrated - the personal possessions and mementos confiscated from their Jewish owners by Saddam Hussein and shipped for restoration to the US - they should be restituted not to governments, but  to the community which has been displaced.
Beyond the expression of high-minded sentiments, none of these questions were answered. 
In one important respect the conference might achieve results: museum chiefs declared they would treat with suspicion any artifacts offered to them from the Middle East, and would conduct "due diligence" checks as far as possible. But private collectors were less likely to be circumspect about the provenance of items. The international art market was a  vessel  too leaky to render watertight.
It is tempting to conclude that organisations like UNESCO, which were founded on the pillars of intergovernmental law, seem well past their sell-by date in a world where non-state actors ride roughshod over "kaffir" international treaties and conventions. Even before the era of Islamic state, neither Syria nor Iraq were signatories to the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the event of armed conflict.
The great and the good gathered on that foggy day in Paris were right: education was the answer. But it would take many generations to instil respect for the Other. Too late for the Jews of Iraq and Syria, at any rate.
Lyn Julius is a journalist and blogger and helped found Harif, the UK Association of Jews from the Middle East and North Africa

Jihadists Using Cruise Ships to Reach Syria, Warns Interpol

Category: News
Created on Tuesday, 11 November 2014 06:05
cruiseshipWould-be jihadists have been travelling on cruise ships to reach conflict areas in the Middle East, Interpol said Thursday, according to the BBC.
The international police body said some of those trying to join groups in Iraq and Syria had used cruise lines to get to countries including Turkey.
It said checks to passenger lists should be extended from airlines to cruise operators before the issue became more of a problem.
No figures were put on how many militants had travelled in this way, noted the BBC.
Speaking in Monaco, Interpol's outgoing chief, Ronald Noble, said countries should conduct checks on all passengers using airports "and, more and more, cruise lines".
The Turkish authorities say they have deported hundreds of suspected foreign jihadists in recent months after detaining them at airports and bus stations.
Interpol's director of counterterrorism, Pierre St. Hilaire, told The Associated Press (AP) that this had led prospective fighters to make alternative travel arrangements in an effort to avoid detection.
"Because they know the airports are monitored more closely now, there's a use of cruise ships to travel to those areas," he said.
Regular stops at ports in the region would allow prospective fighters to disembark undetected and make their onward journey to Syria or Iraq untracked by security agencies.
"There is evidence that the individuals, especially in Europe, are travelling mostly to [the Turkish coastal town of] Izmit and other places to engage in this type of activity," St. Hilaire told AP.
Interpol officials said the jihadist use of cruise ships had emerged only in the "past three months or so".
A recent United Nations report estimated there were 15,000 foreign jihadists from more than 80 countries fighting with the Islamic State (ISIS) and other extremist groups in Syria and Iraq.
Although the report itself did not mention the names of the countries from which foreign fighters are coming, it has been widely published that recruits are coming mainly from countries like France, Russia, the United Kingdom and Ireland.

ISIS Within a Mile From Baghdad

Category: News
Created on Friday, 03 October 2014 20:03
ISIS at the Gates of BaghdadIslamic State (ISIS) fighters are only a mile away from Baghdad, according to a spokesman for the Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East.
Battles between ISIS and Iraqi forces have also been raging in the strategic city of Amiriyat al-Fallujah, 25 miles west of Baghdad.
Battles on both fronts have been calmed over the past several days, and Iraqi bombing and ground forces have been successful in keeping the ISIS forces from entering the capital. The threat on Baghdad is still very real, however.
"They said it could never happen and now it almost has," a spokesman for the organization, a Christian aid group,  said in an interview. "Obama says he overestimated what the Iraqi Army could do. Well, you only need to be here a very short while to know they can do very, very little." So reports The Clarion Project, an organization that aims to "challenge extremism and promote dialogue," according to its website.
The spokesman, Canon Andrew White, said that the U.S. airstrikes had proven to be ineffective against the Islamic State and that they had merely killed civilians. Ground troops are needed, he said, to defeat the Islamic State.
White clarified several important points. He said that Iraqi soldiers are simply not as motivated as are the ISIS terrorists, whom they greatly fear. In addition, he said, it is very difficult, if not impossible, for civilians to leave Baghdad at present, given ISIS control of key parts of Iraq.
ISIS terrorists have captured an Iraqi army base 50 miles northwest of Baghdad, while slightly to the east, a U.S.-backed Iraqi tribe in the Sunni Arab town of Dhuluiyah has held out under a two-week attack by Islamic State fighters.
It is believed that if Iraq falls to ISIS, it will be the first time in history that a terrorist movement will have control of a nation. 

ISIS Captures Millions of Dollars, Gold Ingots

Category: News
Created on Friday, 26 September 2014 10:42
ISIS Captures Millionsworld's richest terrorist organization just got richer.
A video uploaded onto the internet and translated by MEMRI shows Islamic State (IS) fighters parading a haul of millions of dollars and several gold ingots seized from the home of a prominent Iraqi official in Nineveh Province.
The treasure trove was found in the home of Osama al-Nujayfi, the former speaker of Iraq's parliament; in the video an IS fighter estimated its value in "the billions".
Whatever the precise amount, it's certainly a coup for the jihadi group which has swept through Iraq and northern Syria and is believed to be largely self-sufficient financially.
Much of its wealth is accumulated through organized crime rings or the sale of oil on the black market - but a lot is also brought in a booty from the battlefield.

One of Oldest Known Synagogues Seized by ISIS in Syria

Category: Islam
Created on Tuesday, 23 September 2014 19:26
Wall fresco Dura Europos synagogue in SyriaIslamic State (ISIS) jihadists not only threaten the current Middle East - according to antiquities officials in Iraq and Syria, the terror group threatens to erase 5,000 years of history and relics in upper Mesopotamia, including one of the earliest Jewish synagogues.
Much of northern Iraq and eastern Syria, which is rich in the archaeological remains of numerous ancient civilizations, is now under the iron fist of ISIS which has been destroying pagan idols as well as selling relics on the international black market to raise funds, reports Associated Press (AP).
Syrian Director-General of Antiquities and Museums Maamoun Abdulkarim says looting from archaeological sites in the country has gone up tenfold since early 2013, with ISIS seizing numerous important ancient sites.
Aside from destroying pagan statues from the Assyrian period in Tell Ajaja, Abdulkarim noted the 2,300-year-old city of Dura Europos has come in for particularly intense looting.
The ancient city lies near the Iraqi border on a cliff overlooking the Euphrates River, and has fallen into ISIS hands; satellite imagery from April shows numerous holes from looter digs littering the site.
Images show hundreds of people, including gunmen, taking part in the excavations from dawn until night in many cases. Abdulkarim notes dealers are present, and "when they discover an artifact, the sale takes place immediately. They are destroying entire pages of Syrian history."
One of the earliest known Jewish synagogues is located at Dura Europos along with numerous pagan temples and churches, making the digging particularly troubling.
The fate of the synagogue, which was discovered in 1932 and dated by an Aramaic inscription to 244 CE, remains unknown.
Meanwhile in Iraq Qais Hussein Rashid, head of the country's Museums Department, reveals that ISIS captured 1,800 of Iraq's 12,000 registered archaeological sites when they seized the northern city of Mosul and Ninevah province in June. They have since captured even more as they pushed south to Baghdad.
ISIS has control of four ancient cities, Ninevah, Kalhu, Dur Sharrukin and Ashura, which were capitals of the Assyrian Empire that arose around 2,500 BCE. In Kalhu, reliefs in the grand palace of Assyrian King Ashurnasirpal II from the 9th century BCE have been heavily looted to be sold on the black market.
Other casualties of the brutal Islamic group in the Mosul area were the tombs of the Jewish Biblical prophets Jonah and Daniel in July; Jonah's tomb reportedly dated from the 8th century BCE.
After destroying Jonah's tomb, thieves are thought to have dug into an unexcavated palace in Ninevah that was located underneath the tomb, according to Rashid who cited local antiquities officials still in Mosul.
The UN's cultural agency UNESCO has been taking steps to try and guard Iraq's relics, with Nada al-Hassan of UNESCO's World Heritage Center telling AP "we are very, very, very concerned that the situation could be aggravated in a way that causes more and more damage."

Get Ready for the Real War

Category: Op-Eds
Created on Wednesday, 17 September 2014 07:27
ISIS fighters parade in Raqqa Syria - fileWinning the war against Islamic State would only be the beginning.
In recent weeks, the media are filled with reports on the international preparations for a war against the "Islamic State" and an International Conference was even convened in Paris in an attempt to enlist the cooperation of as many nations as possible in waging it.
At the same time, US air force planes have intensified their attacks against "Islamic State" forces, especially in the vicinity of the dams in northern Iraq, this to prevent their being blown up and causing the deaths of many thousands of Iraqis.
This week we heard a short and decisive speech by US President Barack Obama, into which he inserted rhetoric elements that he has hardly used before, certainly in comparison to the speeches of his predecessor George W. Bush.
I have not heard all of Obama's speeches, but those I did rarely included the expression "our friends and allies". Bush used those words day and night when talking about the war against terror. Does this change in rhetoric express a change in Obama's approach? I am not sure if it does.
In his speech, Obama repeated several times that Iraq is an ally of the United States. And right at the start of his words, he said that the USA cannot do for the Iraqis what they must do for themselves. That sentence is a perfect example of Obama's erroneous strategic thinking – he continues to see the Iraqis as a single group. He has still not internalized the fact that the Iraqis have never succeeded in developing the sense of unity and solidarity that defines a nation. In Iraq the tribal divisions are alive and kicking and there are over 70 of them, as well as four ethnic groups and about ten religions, all divided among a not inconsiderable number of communal sectors. The possibility that the Iraqi government can function any better than those that preceded it is not great, and therefore the assumption that the Iraqi army can be more stalwart in its battle against the knife-wielding Islamic State fighters is yet to be proven correct.
It's tough trying to build an international coalition, because there are factors unconnected to the Islamic State that come into play. There is a war in eastern Ukraine playing out in the background and Russia is the main actor in that war. Russia does not support a war against the Islamic State, so not many European countries are lining up to join Obama's coalition against Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi and his jihadists.
Regional questions also play a part, including the role that will be allotted to countries in the area such as Iran and the Assad regime, both of whom have a clear interest in joining the coalition. Iran will expect to be rewarded with an easing of demands for nuclear controls and Assad will expect an insurance policy to prevent his being deposed, even though he has been defined as a "war criminal".  The West is not interested in giving Assad this insurance policy, since he has already announced that any military activity by another country on Syrian soil or over Syrian airspace will be considered an act of hostility against Syria to which that country will respond. The bigger problem is not Syria, but Russia, as any incursion on Syrian soil would be interpreted as a green light for Russia in Ukraine.
Another country in the area that poses a problem is Turkey, which has been aiding the Syrian rebel forces from the very first anti- Assad demonstrations in 2011, those very forces that spawned the "Islamic State" over a three year period. Thousands of jihadists from many different countries arrived at the bloody battlegrounds of Iraq and Syria by way of Turkey. Turkey purchases oil from the "Islamic State" at a remarkably reduced rate, and resells it in the international market, so that Turkey is basically funding the "Islamic State" while raking in huge sums for its own treasury. It has recently been claimed that Turkey gives weaponry to the "Islamic State".
Qatar is not enthusiastic about a war against the "Islamic State" either, having given it generous amounts of financial aid over a long period, knowing that its jihadists were anti-Assad. The Emir of Qatar is not eager to eliminate the "Islamic State" because he is afraid that his own state will then become the next goal of the Islamic State jihadists. In fact, he pays them off so that they expend their aggressive energies on other countries. Saudi Arabia is also not happy about destroying the Sunni Islamic State as it might further empower the Shiite axis headed by Iran. Those who identify with the Muslim Brotherhood certainly feel comfortable with the "Islamic State", even if they do not support all the brutal methods it employs.
Another point to be taken into consideration is the possible extreme reactions of Muslims around the world against the war and those taking part in it. The black flag of ISIS has been waved in country after country and the jihadist successes against the heretics of Iraq and Syria have made many Muslims around the world ecstatic, also causing many of them to identify with the "Islamic State", its goals, and first and foremost, the idea of imposing the rule of Islam on the entire world. Radical Muslims who identify with jihad, and who can be found just about everywhere, may carry out attacks, kidnappings, murder and even behead infidels in order to take revenge on the coalition which acts against the "Islamic State".
The war against the Islamic State looks like a rerun of the war fought against al-Qaeda in Afghanistan starting in 2001. Many of the elements that characterized that war are still around today, leading to the general feeling that the war against "Islamic State" will fail just as the war against al Qaeda did. The reasons are obvious: this is not a war against a state or an organization that will be defeated once its military might is destroyed. Here, we are first and foremost battling an ideology, fighting a faith vested in the hearts of millions of people who live all over the world.
The belief that Islam is the true religion and that Judaism and Christianity are false religions is a basic tenet of Islamic faith worldwide. The belief that Islam can and must rule the world is shared by many millions of Muslims. The belief that militant jihad is a legitimate tool for achieving Islamic supremacy over the world is anchored in Islamic history and the biography of Mohammed.  The belief that a Muslim must  mete out the revenge of Allah against every infidel that dares to lift his hand against a Muslim is a natural part of Islam. The belief that "Islamic State", the goal of the entire mission, reflects the real, pure and original Islam is shared by millions of Muslim worldwide.
It is  clear that once al Qaeda was destroyed, the "Islamic State" came to be – so that if the Islamic state is destroyed, another Islamic entity will take its place.and attract thousands of Muslims from just as many countries. Add to that those converting to Islam from Europe, America, and the four corners of the globe, those blond and blue-eyed men and women who will rush to join the group in order to observe all the beliefs associated with Islam.
This can also happen in Africa, under the Boko Haram, in the Saharan plains under the Libyan Jihadists, sponsored by the butchers of Ansar Bait al-Maqdis.
The battle against the problematic tenets of the Islamic faith is not bound in place or time and like the genie that comes out of a bottle, cannot be put back in it. Muslim emigration to Western countries unsettles those governments internally due to the Islamic takeover of public space, politics, economics and its image in the politically correct media. In many parts of the world one can say that "Islamic State is here", in neighborhoods that the local police do not enter, in the cities where a Muslim majority forces Sharia on supermarkets, pharmacies, bars and churches – and in the parliaments where the presence of the Islamic State is becoming more and more influential and solidly based.
The really significant battle is not in Iraq or Syria, where what is happening is just the introduction that follows the preface acted out in Afghanistan 13 years ago. The real war, far-ranging and dangerous, will develop once "Islamic State" is eliminated and the vengeance resulting from that success begins to be exacted in America, Europe, Australia and every place where man-made laws are in force. Its goal will be to impose the law of Allah as it is spelled out in Islamic sources.
Anyone who thinks that destroying "Islamic State" in Iraq and Syria will solve the problem had better think again, because the problem is not this or that organization or country. The problem is the ideology that today motivates one and half billion people who believe that the "religion of Allah is Islam" (Qu'ran chap.53, v.19). This ideology will not be eliminated even if we get rid of the jihadists in Iraq and Syria down to the last man. Their followers are to be found in most parts of the world and that world must be prepared to change the rules of the game, otherwise it will find itself putting out fires instead of apprehending the pyromaniacs.
Written for Arutz Sheva, translated from the Hebrew by Rochel Sylvetsky
Dr. Mordechai KedarDr. Mordechai Kedar
Dr. Mordechai Kedar is a senior lecturer in the Department of Arabic at Bar-Ilan University. He served in IDF Military Intelligence for 25 years, specializing in Arab political discourse, Arab mass media, Islamic groups and the Syrian domestic arena. Thoroughly familiar with Arab media in real time, he is frequently interviewed on the various news programs in Israel.

Islamic State Executes Female Doctors and Politicians

Category: News
Created on Friday, 12 September 2014 15:20
Isis membersThe brutal Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) terrorist organization has continued its bloody string of executions, this time finding fit to shoot two female doctors to death after they refused to treat members of the terror group.
According to reports six people, including three women, were executed in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul by IS terrorists on Saturday publicly and without trial.
Witnesses told AFP that the terrorists broke into the homes of the two female doctors who refused to treat members of their group, as well as the home of a female candidate that ran unsuccessfully in parliamentary elections for the US-backed Iraqi government, shooting all three and taking their bodies with them.
The recent act follows the execution of a female doctor two weeks ago who refused IS's orders to dress "modestly" and cover her face with a traditional Islamic veil.
IS terrorists are also continuing to target political activists who cooperated with the Iraqi government in Baghdad.
The method the terrorists use in such cases remains uniform: armed forces arrive at the homes of the politicians and local public figures, shoot them to death right outside their homes, and leave with the body. Occasionally the additional touch of burning the home is mixed into the standard formula to make sure the public "gets the message."
A similar act used to enforce IS rule was recently seen when members of the jihadist group abducted 50 youths from a village where IS flags were burned.
The Islamic State organization is enforcing stringent sharia (Islamic law), killing those drinking alcohol or not attending public prayer, chopping off the arms and legs of thieves, and crucifying, beheading or shooting to death those charged with cursing Islam or its founder Mohammed, as well as those supporting democracy.
The brutal punishments are carried out in public, before the eyes of hundreds of residents including children.
Responding to the threat posed by IS and similar jihadist groups that seek to conquer the world, Middle East studies expert Dr. David Bukay of the University of Haifa told Arutz Sheva that the world should recognize the dangers of such groups and fight Islam like Nazism.

Senior Leaders of Islamic State Eliminated in Airstrikes

Category: News
Created on Sunday, 07 September 2014 20:23
Senior Leaders of Islamic State EliminatedThe leadership of the Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) terrorist group in Syria and Iraq took a sharp blow on Thursday, as roughly 20 senior figures, including a top aide to IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, were killed in airstrikes according to the Iraqi defense ministry.
In airstrikes on the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, where IS began its blitz conquest of Iraq in June, Baghdadi's top aide was killed along with a senior IS military commander, Abu Alaa al-Iraqi, according to Iraqi sources cited by BBC.
It remains unclear if the airstrike was conducted by local US-trained Iraqi forces, or by the US, which has been engaged in a series of targeted airstrikes on IS terrorists in Iraq since last month.
IS took a blow in eastern Syria as well, where 18 foreign jihadist senior leaders of the group, including an American jihadist, were killed by an airstrike in the IS-held city of Raqqa according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The top IS leaders were in the municipal building of Gharbiya, which has been used as a headquarters for the extremist group, when the strike occurred.
In yet another airstrike in the eastern Syrian city of Abu Kamal near the Iraqi border on Thursday, an as yet unknown number of IS terrorists were killed according to the human rights group. 
During the two airstrikes and the ensuing disorder, a total of 13 IS-held captives were able to escape according to the group.
However, IS was not deterred in its campaign of terror, abducting 40 men from the northern Iraqi Sunni town of Hawija in Kirkuk province on Thursday. Residents of the town said they were uncertain why the men were captured, since IS had captured the town without resistance last month.
The recent airstrikes in Iraq, if conducted by the US, illustrate the increasing seriousness with which America is considering IS after two US journalists, Steven Sotloff and James Foley, were brutally beheaded in executions filmed and broadcast to the world.
After the second journalist was murdered, US Vice President Joe Biden on Wednesday warned IS, saying "they should know we will follow them to the gates of hell until they are brought to justice. Because hell is where they will reside. Hell is where they will reside."

Islamic State Threatens to 'Drown Americans in Blood'

Category: News
Created on Wednesday, 27 August 2014 07:38
Islamic State Threatens AmericansThe Islamic State (IS) terrorist group that has seized large parts of Iraq threatened the United States on Monday it will attack Americans "in any place" if U.S. airstrikes in Iraq hit its people.
According to Reuters, the threat was made in a video published by the group.
The video, which shows a photograph of an American who was beheaded during the U.S. occupation of Iraq and victims of snipers, featured a statement which said in English "we will drown all of you in blood".
U.S. President Barack Obama recently authorized "limited airstrikes" following threats of an impending genocide committed by IS against the local Yazidi people.
On Saturday, the U.S. military confirmed it conducted nine airstrikes near Arbil and Iraq's largest dam in an effort to help Kurdish forces retake it from the IS.
Obama said at a news conference on Monday that the Islamic State posed a threat to Iraq and the entire region.
Meanwhile, humanitarian aid continues to be delivered to thousands of Yazidis trapped in the Sinjar Mountains while fleeing IS's ultimatum to convert or die.
The ancient Yazidi community has been particularly targeted by the Islamic State, with reports of large-scale massacres and systematic rape drawing concerns of an impending genocide if rapid action is not taken.

Syria: Hundreds of Bedouin Sentenced to Death

Category: News
Created on Sunday, 24 August 2014 09:56
BedwinsThe tribal leader of the Shaitat Bedouin tribe in eastern Syria's Deir Al-Zour region made an emotional appeal on Monday, asking his fellow Bedouin neighbors to join the war against the Islamic State (formerly the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIS).
Sunni Bedouin leaders initially pledged loyalty to the IS, which took large swaths of land in northern and eastern Syria over the past two years and recently conquered much of northern and western Iraq. 
However, a conflict between tribes resulted in the arrest of a number of Bedouin, followed by a series of bloody clashes after IS arrested three men.
Bedouin leaders claim that a pact had been made with IS for their safety, and the arrests - made in late July, according to Al-Shorfa news, violated that pact. 
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reports that during the last two weeks, IS has killed close to 700 members of the Bedouin tribe; most were following a wave of arrests. 
Snipers have besieged Shaitat communities, locals say, and the conflict has sparked a major social media campaign to organize a Bedouin uprising against IS throughout the Middle East. In addition, about 800 people are missing from the region, also mostly from Bedouin tribes - adding fuel to the campaign.  
Tribal leaders have emphasized the importance of inter-tribal unity over the past several weeks, warning that the elimination of other Bedouin in the Middle East could follow in the event IS continues to succeed in its bloody conquest of the Gulf region. 
The call surfaces following the horrific genocide and abuse of hundreds of ethnic Yazidi in Iraq, a phenomenon which has prompted a series of US airstrikes and garnered international attention. 

Iraq: Kurdish Forces Retake Mosul Dam from 'Islamic State'

Category: News
Created on Saturday, 23 August 2014 11:45
A member of Kurdish Peshmerga forces - ReutersKurdish Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq have retaken the country's largest dam from Islamic State forces, in an important strategic advance.
Backed by US air support Kurdish fighters ended IS's 11-day control of the dam, which gave them effective control of northern Iraq's water and electricity supply. There were also fears the Islamists could use the dam to flood neighboring towns and villages to drive out opposition to its rapid advance.
The retaking of Mosul dam is the biggest reversal for the Islamic State - formerly known as ISIS - since it swept through Iraq, taking the second city of Mosul and embarking on a campaign to "cleanse" the area of all non-Sunni-Muslim communities.
Kurdish forces encountered fierce resistance, but were eventually able to drive out the jihadis.
US President Barack Obama defended his decision to authorize air strikes against IS to enable the Kurds to capture the dam, saying that in doing so he was defending key American interests.
"The failure of the Mosul Dam could threaten the lives of large numbers of civilians, threaten U.S. personnel and facilities - including the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad - and prevent the Iraqi government from providing critical services to the Iraqi populace," the White House said in a statement. 
"These operations are limited in their nature, duration, and scope and are being undertaken in coordination with and at the request of the government of Iraq." 
A small contingent of American special forces are also operating on the ground to help direct the air strikes, Kurdish officials say.
Meanwhile, humanitarian aid continues to be delivered to thousands of Yazidis trapped in the Sinjar Mountains while fleeing IS's ultimatum to convert or die. The ancient Yazidi community has been particularly targeted by the Islamic State, with reports of large-scale massacres and systematic rape drawing concerns of an impending genocide if rapid action is not taken.

Yazidis Commit Mass-Suicide After Rape by Islamic State Fighters

Category: News
Created on Saturday, 23 August 2014 07:08
Yazidi refugees in IraqIn yet another harrowing chapter in the tragic plight of Iraq's Kurdish Yazidi population, eyewitnesses have described how girls raped by Muslim fighters from the "Islamic State" (formerly ISIS) committed suicide en-masse after returning to their families, as evidence of systematic rape by Islamists against non-Muslims continue to surface.
Among the tens of thousands of Yazidi refugees trapped in the Shingal mountains while fleeing IS's deadly advance through Iraq, several survivors told Kurdish Rudaw TV how a group of three girls were returned after being abducted and raped - only to hurl themselves off a cliff after being traumatized by their ordeal.
A Kurdish reporter said the mother of one of the girls had given an interview in front of the camera, but claimed Kurdish fighters from the YPG militia had seized the camera and erased the interview - possibly in an attempt to avoid sowing panic.
The mother reportedly told of how in their desperation the girls begged other refugees to kill them, but when no one would comply they killed themselves.
The YPG is the dominant Kurdish force in Syria and has taken control of some areas across the border in Iraq since IS swept away Iraqi forces earlier in the summer. It has been credited with putting up a stiff resistance against Islamist forces and helping to save many Yazidi and Christian refugees, but has also criticized as authoritarian by its opponents.
Another woman said she also witnessed what happened to the girls.
"They [IS] took the girls by force and raped them, and after they returned they killed themselves," she said.
Some Kurds say the systematic rape of Yazidi women is yet more evidence of no less than a genocide against their people by IS.
As the Islamic State rampages through northern Iraq, witnesses say they have made a point of slaughtering any men who refuse to convert to Islam, and taking women and children as slaves. In one incident on Friday, 80 Yazidi men were executed and around 100 women and children kidnapped in the tiny Yazidi village of Kojo in northern Iraq.
The Yazidi religion is indigenous to Kurdistan, and Yazidis themselves are  ethnically-Kurdish. But unlike many other Kurds, they largely avoided intermarriage with surrounding Arab tribes and thus a many of them maintained a strikingly fair "Aryan" complexion, with blond hair and blue eyes. By raping their women, IS fighters "complement" the slaughter and forced-conversions of the Yazidis by impregnating them and breaking their bloodline, according to one leading Kurdish activist.
"The Kurds and Yazidis are originally Aryans. But because the Yazidis are such a closed community they have retained a fairer complexion, blonder hair and bluer eyes. They don't marry non-Yazidis," Adnan Kochar, chairman of the Kurdish Cultural Centre in London, explained to the Daily Mail.
"ISIS have taken around 300 women from Sinjar to give to jihadists to marry and make pregnant to have a Muslim child. If they can't kill all Yazidis, they will try to smash the blond bloodline," he said.
Last week, the Special Representative of the UN's Secretary-General on Sexual Violence (SRSG) in Conflict, Zainab Hawa Bangura, and the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Iraq, Nickolay Mladenov condemned "sexual violence" being employed by Islamic State terrorists against non-Muslim women and children.
"We are gravely concerned by continued reports of acts of violence, including sexual violence against women and teenage girls and boys belonging to Iraqi minorities," read a joint-statement.
“Atrocious accounts of abduction and detention of Yazidi, Christian, as well as Turkomen and Shabak women, girls and boys, and reports of savage rapes, are reaching us in an alarming manner," Ms. Bangura and Mr. Mladenov added, saying that some 1,500 Yazidi and Christian persons may have been forced into sexual slavery. That number is now likely to be much higher as Islamists have since made further gains.
But on Sunday Kurdish Peshmerga forces, aided by US airstrikes, have reportedly made gains and are advancing on the strategically-important Mosul Dam, which was seized by IS on August 7.
Many Yazidi men have enlisted to Peshmerga forces to help push back the Islamists and reclaim their homeland from IS's self-styled "Caliphate".

IS Jihadists Kill 80 Yazidis in Northern Iraq

Category: News
Created on Wednesday, 20 August 2014 06:22
yazidisIslamists from the Islamic State (IS) killed 80 members of Iraq's Yazidi minority in a northern village on Friday, sources told Fox News.
The Kurdish-speaking ethnic and religious group, which numbers in the hundreds of thousands in Iraq, has been persecuted in the north by IS, with at least 500 killed prior to Friday's news, according to Iraq's human rights minister.
The latest killings came just a day after President Obama said U.S. air strikes and humanitarian aid drops on Sinjar mountain, where thousands of Yazidi have been stranded in an Islamic State siege had been ended.
"They arrived in vehicles and they started their killing this afternoon,'' senior Kurdish official Hoshiyar Zebari was quoted as having told Reuters. "We believe it's because of their creed: convert or be killed."
A Yazidi lawmaker and another senior Kurdish official also said the killings had taken place and that the women of the village were kidnapped.
Iraqi and Yazidi leaders say the brutal Islamic State fighters have buried Yazidi men alive, killed children and kidnapped women to be slaves.
"We have striking evidence obtained from Yazidis fleeing Sinjar and some who escaped death, and also crime scene images that show indisputably that the gangs of the Islamic States have executed at least 500 Yazidis after seizing Sinjar," Sudani told Reuters earlier this week.
The Islamic State, which has declared a caliphate in parts of Iraq and Syria it captured, forced tens of thousands of Yazidis and Christians to flee their homes or face certain death.
Members of the group have also taken hundreds of Yazidi women captive and have been holding them in schools in Mosul.
The Yazidis, followers of an ancient religion derived from Zoroastrianism, are spread over northern Iraq and are part of the country's Kurdish minority.

ISIS Defends Destruction of Religious Sites in Iraq

Category: Islam
Created on Sunday, 03 August 2014 06:09
Jihadis from ISIS in Mosul IraqThe Islamic State group, previously known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), on Tuesday defended its destruction of religious sites in the Iraqi city of Mosul on the grounds that the use of mosques built on graves amounted to idolatry, AFP reported.
"The demolition of structures erected above graves is a matter of great religious clarity," the jihadist group said in a statement posted on one of its main websites.
"Our pious predecessors have done so... There is no debate on the legitimacy of demolishing or removing those graves and shrines," the Islamic State said.
It cited the demolition by Mohammed bin Abdel Wahhab - founder of the puritanical Wahhabist brand of Islam followed by jihadists - of a dome erected above the tomb of Zaid ibn al-Khattab.
Khattab's reputedly heroic death on the battlefield earned him a posthumous following which Abdel Wahhab argued was tantamount to polytheism.
The Islamic State, which announced the restoration of the caliphate last month by declaring its sovereignty over land it has seized in Syria and Iraq, has levelled several of Mosul's most prominent religious landmarks.
They include the tomb of the Biblical Jonah, who is known as the paradigmatic example of teshuva (repentance) in the Bible, and the tomb of the Prophet Daniel.
 Mosul's new jihadist rulers also threatened to blow up the so-called "hunchback" (Hadba), a leaning minaret built in the 12th century and one of Iraq's most recognizable landmarks.
The group insisted that all schools of Islamic law "agreed that using graves as mosques was un-Islamic" since it amounted to idolatry.

ISIS Destroys Tombs of Biblical Prophets Jonah, Daniel

Category: Islam
Created on Monday, 28 July 2014 07:15
tomb of Prophet Jonah -MosulThe Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) has destroyed the tomb of Biblical Jonah, according to Arabic media outlets, in a show of disdain for non-Islamic cultures. 
“ISIS militants have destroyed the Prophet Younis (Jonah) shrine east of Mosul city after they seized control of the mosque completely,” a security source, who kept his identity anonymous, told the Iraq-based al-Sumaria News Thursday. “The militants closed all of the mosque doors and prevented worshipers from entering to pray."
A witness who did not wish to give his name said that ISIS militants “first stopped people from praying in it, they fixed explosive charges around and inside it and then blew it up in front of a large gathering of people,” according to AFP.
Mosul residents told AFP it took ISIS terrorists a full hour to rig the shrine with explosives before setting it ablaze. The shrine has reportedly been turned to "dust," an anonymous eyewitness stated. 
Jonah the Prophet is known as the paradigmatic example of teshuva, repentance, in the Bible, and his story is recorded in the Koran as well. 
According to Al-Arabiya, Jonah's tomb was dated to the eighth century BCE, and his tomb was also one of the many historic mosques said to have been destroyed by ISIS Islamists. 
A local Mosul official, Zuhair al-Chalabi, also told Iraqi news outlets last week that Prophet Daniel's tomb was also destroyed.
While Muslims reportedly consider Daniel a Prophet, he is not mentioned in the Koran.

Iraqi Christians Flee for Their Lives after ISIS Ultimatum

Category: News
Created on Tuesday, 22 July 2014 13:17
Iraqi Christians Flee for Their LivesThe Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) has emptied Mosul of Christians, Christian leaders lamented earlier this week, after the Islamist group issued them an ultimatum: convert to Islam, pay non-Muslim jhizya taxes - or die. 
“We offer [Christians] three choices: Islam; the dhimma contract - involving payment... if they refuse this they will have nothing but the sword,” an announcement blared from the city's mosques on Friday afternoon. 
Under the strict Islamic Sharia doctrine, non-Muslims living under their sovereignty must pay a special tax -- known as the "Jizyah" -- in return for the ruler's protection, or “Thima.”
Hundreds of Iraqis, the last of Iraq's shrinking Christian community, were forced to flee for their lives. 
“For the first time in the history of Iraq, Mosul is now empty of Christians,” Patriarch Louis Sako lamented to the British Telegraph, as hundreds of families fled ahead of a noon deadline.
Hundreds were walking on foot; a bishop in the neighboring city of Tel Keif told the daily that many of them were bereft of all money or possessions - and that ISIS had robbed them of all of their belongings before setting off for refugee camps. 
The announcement was issued directly from ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, now known as "Caliph Ibrahim," who has reportedly ordered all Christians on ISIS territory to convert or leave. 
And there is no way of hiding from ISIS, according to the report - as the terrorists had begun marking houses with an "N," for "Nassarah" or Christian, to ensure that the "infidels" of Mosul are well-known. 
Some 60,000 people identified as "Christian" in Mosul before 2003, according to AFP, but that dropped to some 35,000 by June 2014. Another 10,000 allegedly fled Mosul after ISIS invaded in June, leaving 25,000 stranded with the Islamist extremists. 
ISIS apparently presents this contract as standard practice, after reports in May revealed that a similar "deal" has been offered to Syria's Christian community

ISIS Promotional Video Vows to 'Conquer Israel, Rome and Spain'

Category: Islam
Created on Monday, 14 July 2014 08:34
Conquer Israel Rome and SpainThe 'Caliphate' established by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) published a full-length propaganda video earlier this week, showing the "different faces" of the Islamist state - including governmental, educational, and religious activities. 
One of the islamists, a citizen of Kosovo, spoke at a passport-burning ceremony for foreign nationals, who then accepted "passports" issued by ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi for the Caliphate. 
The speaker drew a sword from its scabbard and promised to continue the jihad, or holy war against non-Islamists, including Saudi Arabia, the Palestinian Authority (PA), Rome, and Spain, which was formerly under Islamic rule. He added that these goals are the "first step to taking over the world." 
Footage then cuts to several scenes showing "educational" activities for the public on Islamism, including classes on radical Islam, "fun days" for children and teenagers which feature sweets and violent doctrine, and "recreational days" at the beach sponsored by ISIS terrorists. None of these activities feature women. 
One child tells an interviewer during the montage that he wants "to be a jihad fighter" when he grows up so he can "fight the infidels."
Several Muslim singers also present concerts on songs whose topics include jihad and hatred for Jews and non-Muslims. 
To show the "humanitarian" and religious sides of the ISIS, scenes show the terrorists handing out food to the needy. "Morality police" roam the streets during Friday prayers and threaten store owners with lashes unless they attend services. 
An ISIS official also boasts over the new regime's literal interpretation of Islamic Sharia law, bragging over the rights to amputate the hands and feet of convicted thieves. 
ISIS territory seeks to redraw national and state lines along religious delineations, separating the Shia and Alawite-majority Syria from the Sunni majority in southern Iraq.
Its territory currently extends from the city of Aleppo in northern Syria to the Deir el-Zour province near Iraq, over state lines to most of northern and Western Iraq. 

ISIS Promotional Video Vows to 'Conquer Israel, Rome and Spain' (2)

Category: Islam
Created on Monday, 14 July 2014 08:34
Conquer Israel Rome and SpainThe 'Caliphate' established by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) published a full-length propaganda video earlier this week, showing the "different faces" of the Islamist state - including governmental, educational, and religious activities. 
One of the islamists, a citizen of Kosovo, spoke at a passport-burning ceremony for foreign nationals, who then accepted "passports" issued by ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi for the Caliphate. 
The speaker drew a sword from its scabbard and promised to continue the jihad, or holy war against non-Islamists, including Saudi Arabia, the Palestinian Authority (PA), Rome, and Spain, which was formerly under Islamic rule. He added that these goals are the "first step to taking over the world." 
Footage then cuts to several scenes showing "educational" activities for the public on Islamism, including classes on radical Islam, "fun days" for children and teenagers which feature sweets and violent doctrine, and "recreational days" at the beach sponsored by ISIS terrorists. None of these activities feature women. 
One child tells an interviewer during the montage that he wants "to be a jihad fighter" when he grows up so he can "fight the infidels."
Several Muslim singers also present concerts on songs whose topics include jihad and hatred for Jews and non-Muslims. 
To show the "humanitarian" and religious sides of the ISIS, scenes show the terrorists handing out food to the needy. "Morality police" roam the streets during Friday prayers and threaten store owners with lashes unless they attend services. 
An ISIS official also boasts over the new regime's literal interpretation of Islamic Sharia law, bragging over the rights to amputate the hands and feet of convicted thieves. 
ISIS territory seeks to redraw national and state lines along religious delineations, separating the Shia and Alawite-majority Syria from the Sunni majority in southern Iraq.
Its territory currently extends from the city of Aleppo in northern Syria to the Deir el-Zour province near Iraq, over state lines to most of northern and Western Iraq. 

ISIS Seizes Nuclear Materials in Iraq

Category: News
Created on Monday, 14 July 2014 08:12
Nuclear MaterialsIraq warned the United Nations (UN) on Thursday that in capturing large portions of the country last month, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) also seized nuclear materials used in research at a university in Mosul, Iraq's second largest city.
Iraqi Ambassador to the UN Mohammed Ali Alhakim wrote in a letter to the UN, which was seen by Reuters, that roughly 40 kilograms (88 pounds) of uranium compounds were captured by the radical Jihadist group.
"These nuclear materials, despite the limited amounts mentioned, can enable terrorist groups, with the availability of the required expertise, to use it separately or in combination with other materials in its terrorist acts," said Alhakim.
Citing fears of a "dirty bomb" or "pocket nuke," in which nuclear materials are combined with conventional explosives, Alhakim asked for international aid to "stave off the threat of their use by terrorists in Iraq or abroad."
However, the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) brushed off the plea, claiming the material was "low grade" and was not a significant threat.
IAEA spokesperson Gil Tudor said Thursday the nuclear material "would not present a significant safety, security or nuclear proliferation risk," reports BBC. At the same time, Tudor added that "any loss of regulatory control over nuclear and other radioactive materials is a cause for concern."
Meanwhile US officials also reportedly have dismissed the threat, saying the uranium was not thought to be enriched and that it would be difficult to weaponize the materials.
Iraqi and Kurdish forces at odds against ISIS
Iraqi forces have been largely unprepared to confront the sudden ISIS threat.
A falling out occurred between Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) on Wednesday, after al-Maliki claimed the Kurds were protecting ISIS fighters in the Kudish city of Erbil.
Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani's spokesperson struck back, saying Maliki is "hysterical" and urging him to retire.
"You have destroyed the country and someone who has destroyed the country cannot save the country from crises," the spokesperson said addressing Maliki.
ISIS has rapidly expanded its strength since launching a blitz offensive in Iraq last month. It has captured numerous weapons there, including a long-range Scud missile which it transferred to Syria, and which a member of the group threatened is "heading towards Israel."
The Jihadist group, which broke off from Al Qaeda last year, has captured several Syrian oil fields, including the largest oil field in the country. In Iraq, it has seized the country's largest oil refinery, a chemical weapons facility, and became the "world's richest terrorist organization" by looting 500 billion Iraqi dinars ($425 million) from banks in Mosul.
A video uploaded by the group revealed Thursday that ISIS terrorists are active in Gaza as well, firing rockets on Israeli civilian centers.

ISIS Issues a 'Passport' for its 'Caliphate'

Category: News
Created on Sunday, 13 July 2014 10:30
Caliphate PassportThe Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) declared itself an Islamic "caliphate" last Sunday, and now apparently has begun issuing "passports" to further establish its Jihadist state.
ISIS members this week circulated photographs of the supposed passport, which reads "State of the Islamic Caliphate" at the top and at the bottom states "the holder of the passport if harmed we will deploy armies for his services," reports Al Arabiya.
Regardless of the likelihood that the passport will be accepted by foreign states after ISIS conquered vast portions of Iraq and Syria, ISIS has said it will distribute the document to 11,000 citizens living in cities near the border of the two countries.
ISIS fighters already control a large corridor along the Euphrates River in Syria stretching from the Iraq border, along with Raqa in the north, as well as parts of neighboring Aleppo province. In Iraq, ISIS has captured sizeable territories in the north and west of the conflict-torn country in a lightning offensive last month.
With the reports of the passport, ISIS stated its goal is to have a caliphate spreading from Aleppo in Syria's north to Diyala in eastern Iraq.
The passport is reportedly being printed in a government facility in Iraq's Mosul, the second largest city in the country which ISIS captured at the start of its blitz offensive. The facility was scheduled by the Iraqi government to start issuing new ID cards next week before being taken over by ISIS, according to reports.
An ISIS spokesman on Monday revealed that his organization intends first to deal with "Muslims who have become infidels," and then attack Israel.
ISIS last Friday captured a Syrian oil field in the Deir el-Zour province in the east of the country near Iraq, after seizing Syria's largest oil field last Thursday in the same region.
It has already amassed great assets in Iraq, seizing Iraq's largest oil refinery, a chemical weapons facility, and becoming the "world's richest terrorist organization" by looting 500 billion Iraqi dinars ($425 million) from banks in Mosul.

'Islamic State' Leader Makes First Public Appearance in Iraq

Category: News
Created on Tuesday, 08 July 2014 09:01
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi makes his first appearance in Mosuls Great Mosque - ReutersThe elusive head of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) - which recently declared an "Islamic State" in regions under its control and called on Muslims throughout the world to accept him as their leader - has appeared in public for the first time.
Dressed entirely in black - a reference to his claims of direct descent from Mohammed, the founder of Islam - Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi delivered a sermon in the city of Mosul, which was recently captured from the Iraqi government by Sunni rebels led by his own forces. 
"The mujahedeen have been rewarded victory by God after years of jihad, and they were able to achieve their aim and hurried to announce the caliphate and choose the Imam", he said referring to himself, according to a translation by the Guardian.
"It is a burden to accept this responsibility to be in charge of you... I am not better than you or more virtuous than you. If you see me on the right path, help me. If you see me on the wrong path, advise me and halt me. And obey me as far as I obey God."
An unnamed senior Iraqi intelligence official told the paper that the man, who does bear a resemblance to the few previous pictures which exist of Baghadadi, is indeed the ISIS leader. 
Al-Baghdadi has avoided making public appearances, mindful of the fate of his predecessor and leader of the "Islamic State of Iraq", Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who was killed by US forces in part after his penchant for public appearances helped intelligence forces track him down.
The ISIS leader himself - who has declared himself a "caliph", or Islamic leader, - has a $10 million bounty on his head.
Despite that, analysts say he had little choice but to make the public appearance. His declaration of a "caliphate" or Islamic state was criticized by many rivals, both for his haste in doing so and for disobeying Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, who was opposed to the idea. Others criticized his reticence to appear before the people he was claiming to rule.
His appearance is being seen as a show of confidence and strength; indeed the fact that he was able to make such a public appearance at Mosul's Great Mosque, in front of scores of worshippers in what was once Iraq's second city, was an effective demonstration of how secure Islamist forces there feel despite the Iraqi government's promises of a counterattack.
As part of its consolidationof power in the area, ISIS members reportedly demolished at least 10 Shia Muslim shrines, which they consider to be forms of idolatry.
"He had declared himself caliph, he couldn't hide away. He had to make an appearance at some time," Middle East expert al-Tamimi  told the Guardian.

ISIS Cutting Off Baghdad in Strategic Victories

Category: News
Created on Wednesday, 02 July 2014 17:10
fighters of al-Qaida affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra group entered the Christian village of Maaloula overnight. File - ReutersThe Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), now in the second week of its lightning offensive that put large portions of Iraq under its control, continues to tighten its noose on the Iraqi capital of Baghdad.
A Kurdish official on Tuesday stated that two towns on a crucial supply route linking Baghdad with the Shi'ite majority south of the country have been captured by Sunni rebels including ISIS, reports the news site Breitbart, referencing unconfirmed reports.
The official, Jabbar Yawar, said that by capturing the towns of Iskandariyah and Mahmudiyah, ISIS is as close as six miles from Baghdad. By capturing the supply route, it was predicted that the ability of Shi'ite reinforcements to the capital could be cut off and leave Baghdad isolated.
Meanwhile Iraqi security sources on Friday told Al Arabiya that ISIS had captured the town of Al-Mansuriya near Baghdad in the Diyala province, to the immediate east of the capital.
The town is only an hour's distance from Baghdad.
Reports by the Stratford Global Intelligence agency state that ISIS is currently staging an attack on Balad Air Base (formerly Camp Anaconda) located 35 miles north of Baghdad, and has already overrun part of the facility.
The report cites anonymous Iraqi defense officials saying that seven divisions, a full half of the Iraqi army ahead of the June 10 ISIS conquest of Mosul, Iraq's second largest city, have been defeated or deserted.
Shi'ites have brutal militias too
As the Sunni ISIS Islamists approach Baghdad sectarian violence has been skyrocketing in the capital, with numerous reports of assassinations and atrocities being committed by local Shi'ite militias against Sunni residents.
One Sunni resident of Baghdad, Muthan al-Ani, told the New York Times that Shi'ite militias are patrolling the city in unmarked vehicles and capturing citizens without any reason or any explanation as to where they were being taken. He added that Iraqi soldiers are hesitant to confront the militias "because they are more powerful than us."
The United Nations (UN) reported that last week at least 21 unidentified bodies, most of them shot in the head, were found in Baghdad, while police officials said they found 23 bodies. Many more simply disappeared.
The killings are chillingly reminiscent of the worst days of sectarian violence in Iraq after the 2003 Coalition invasion, when Shi'ite death squads engaged in the systematic "cleansing" of neighborhoods, kidnapping and murdering hundreds of Sunni residents on a weekly basis.
“We certainly acknowledge there are unidentified bodies being found in Baghdad, and some evidence is emerging that people have been tortured,” said Jacqueline Badcock, deputy representative of the UN secretary general for Humanitarian and Development Affairs in Iraq.
A regional issue
The fighting in Iraq, which threatens to spill over into neighboring countries, has already killed 1,075 in Iraq in June, according to the UN.
The UN added the number is an "absolute minimum."
US Secretary of State John Kerry told BBC on Tuesday that "every country in the region will combine in order to take on and expel ISIS because it is simply unacceptable to have a terrorist organization grabbing territory and challenging the legitimacy of governments."
Kerry emphasized his push for a "political solution."
Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman met with on Thursday in Paris, and stated Israel is offering to aid "moderate" Arab states to push back against the jihadis.

Regional War Looms? Jordan Deploys Massive Force on Iraqi Border

Category: News
Created on Wednesday, 02 July 2014 11:59
Jordanian police face rioters - ReutersJordan has deployed massive army forces on its Iraqi border Friday, in yet another sign of heightening tension as the war in Iraq threatens to spill over into a full-fledged regional clash.
The Jordanian army has placed tanks, army vehicles, missile launchers and soldiers throughout the length of its Iraqi border reports Yedioth Aharonoth citing the Arab news source Asharq Al-Aswat.
The heavy deployment comes in an attempt to block the security threat posed by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), which has conquered huge portions of Iraq in a blitz military campaign that has its forces closing in on the Jordanian border.
In the Arabic report, Jordanian sources were quoted as claiming that the Iraqi army still controls the area just over the Jordanian border, but that they have already lost control over adjacent areas.
A senior Jordanian captain told the paper the army is at maximum preparedness so as to be able to get involved at a moment's notice.
Jordan has good reason to worry; ISIS Islamists have publicly called for Jordanian King Abdullah's execution, declaring him a traitor to Islam who has joined forces with the West.
ISIS threatened to "slaughter" the "tyrant" Abdullah in a recent video, which was uploaded to YouTube. The video features a Jordanian citizen and member of the Islamist group, who is seen tearing up his passport and throwing it in a fire while vowing to launch a suicide attack inside Jordan.
Arab journalist Khaled Abu Toameh wrote that ISIS leader Abu Baker al-Baghdadi recently discussed expanding the group's hold on into Jordan, which shares a border with Iraq and Syria and already has a strong presence of Islamist movements.
Regional war?
The rising blood pressure of Jordan's military comes amid signs of the Iraqi war snowballing into a regional war.
Syrian forces conducted an airstrike on ISIS forces in Iraq on Wednesday, in a cross border attack that raises questions about Syria being dragged into the fighting in Iraq. ISIS has already been active in the civil war in Syria for some time.
The Shi'ite nation of Iran also reportedly has sent forces into Iraq, allegedly to consult with the Shi'ite-ruled government in facing off with the Sunni ISIS movement.
Israel on Thursday also showed signs that it could get involved in the regional flare up to help stem the advance of radical Islamists.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman met with US Secretary of State John Kerry on Thursday in Paris, and stated Israel is offering to aid "moderate" Arab states.
"The extremists currently operating in Iraq will try to challenge the stability in the entire Gulf region, first of all in Kuwait," said Liberman in a statement from his office on the meeting. "Israel could provide effective and reliable assistance to moderate Arab states who are dealing with extremists."
It should be noted that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has been critical of American statements hinting at a collaboration with Iran against ISIS. Kuwait, the nation mentioned by Liberman, has shown signs of growing closer to Iran, with Kuwaiti emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmed al-Sabah making a historic visit to Iran at the start of the month.
The visit was the first by a leader of Kuwait, which is an ally of the US, to Iran since the 1979 Islamic revolution. Reportedly, the two countries signed six agreements, one of them a security agreement, during the visit.

Syrian Forces Bomb Sunni Targets in Iraq

Category: News
Created on Wednesday, 02 July 2014 07:27
Bombing in Aleppo - ReutersIraqi officials accused Syrian President Bashar Assad's forces of taking advantage of the crisis near Baghdad Wednesday, saying that Syrian warplanes struck several border areas in Anbar province Tuesday. 
At least 57 Iraqi civilians were killed and 120 wounded in the attacks, local officials told CNN, in cities controlled by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS). 
This is not the first time this week Syrian forces have fired into a neighboring country. On Sunday, Syrian forces lobbed a mortar shell into the Golan Heights, killing a 13 year-old boy and seriously wounding a Ministry of Defense civilian subcontractor. Israel responded with airstrikes. 
If true, the report would indicate an even broader spillover of the Syrian Civil War, which has mushroomed since 2011 from a statewide dispute into an all-out Islamic holy war between Sunni and Shi'te groups. 
Sabah Karkhout, the head of Iraq's Anbar provincial council, told CNN that Tuesday's airstrikes hit markets and fuel stations in Rutba, al-Walid and Al-Qaim Karkhout said he was certain the warplanes were Syrian because they bore the Syrian flag.
"Also, the planes flew directly from Syrian airspace and went back to Syria," he added. 
Nickolay Mladenov, head of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq, confirmed Wednesday that the 
warplanes that bombed the Iraqi cities were not Iraqi jets, but told reporters he did not have information beyond that.
State-based media in Syria called the reports "completely baseless," blaming them on "malicious media outlets." 
Meanwhile, the Iraqi military continue to hold the entire area between Samarra and Baghdad, according to several international media outlets, despite constant skirmishes with advancing ISIS forces.
The ISIS has already controlled the Iraqi city of Fallujah for five months, and has also led one of the strongest rebel movements fighting Assad in Syria. 
This month's offensive has seen the ISIS claim an unprecedented number of victories in a lighting-fast takeover of the flashpoint region. 
So far, the Islamists have made a systemic advance from northern Iraq and southward. Several weeks ago, ISIS leaders seized Mosul; just 48 hours later, Tikrit - birthplace of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein - fell to the terrorists.

ISIS Captures Saddam's Chemical Weapons Complex

Category: News
Created on Thursday, 26 June 2014 14:17
ISIS Captures Chemical Weapons ComplexThe radical Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) continues to ride high in Iraq, where it has captured large portions of the country in a blitz advance since toppling the second-largest city of Mosul last Monday.
After capturing Iraq's largest oil refinery, and becoming the "world's richest terrorist organization" by looting 500 billion Iraqi dinars ($425 million) from banks in Mosul, the Islamists have now captured a massive chemical weapons complex.
ISIS fighters on Thursday seized the al-Muthanna complex, located 60 miles north of Baghdad, which was a central base of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's chemical weapons program and stores hundreds of tons of lethal mustard and sarin gas, reports the Telegraph.
"We remain concerned about the seizure of any military site by (ISIS)" said US State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki. “We do not believe that the complex contains CW (chemical weapons) materials of military value and it would be very difficult, if not impossible, to safely move the materials.”
Despite Psaki's approximation, experts say ISIS has chemical weapons experience, and that the chemicals could be used to create an improvised chemical explosive, adding to the lethal arsenal at ISIS's disposal.
A CIA report on the sprawling facility, which includes two concrete encased bunkers, reveals that 150 tons of mustard gas were created at the site each year during peak production starting in 1983, and that production of sarin gas began in 1984.
The report's most recent description of the facility in 2007 notes that "two wars, sanctions and UN oversight reduced Iraqi’s premier production facility to a stockpile of old damaged and contaminated chemical munitions (sealed in bunkers), a wasteland full of destroyed chemical munitions, razed structures, and unusable war-ravaged facilities."
"Some of the bunkers contained large quantities of unfilled chemical munitions, conventional munitions, one-ton shipping containers, old disabled production equipment and other hazardous industrial chemicals," added the report.
CNN reports that ISIS's conquest of Iraq has doubled the number of Iraqi refugees to over 1.1 million displaced people.
US President Barack Obama so far has shown a highly inconsistent position on ISIS's advance in Iraq. Last Friday he committed to not sending troops to Iraq, only to send over 500 marines, dozens of helicopters, and the aircraft carrier George HW Bush into the Persian Gulf on Tuesday.
On Wednesday, he ruled out American airstrikes on ISIS, while hinting this was a possibility on Thursday, saying "we will be prepared to take targeted and precise military action."

Sudanese Cleric Calls for Attacks on American Targets

Category: Islam
Created on Wednesday, 25 June 2014 07:03
Sudanese Cleric Calls for Attacks on American TargetsA Sudanese cleric called last week for attacks on American targets, should the United States launch an airstrike on jihadists from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant who have taken over several cities in Iraq.
In a Friday sermon, the cleric Muhammad Al-Jazouli said that all U.S. embassies and interests would become "legitimate targets" in the event of such an airstrike, adding that targets would also include tourist resorts, universities, coffee shops, restaurants, airplanes, ships, shops, and companies.
The sermon was translated by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI).
“Oh Americans, if your armed forces land in Iraq once again, this will mean a new phase in targeting you – your tourist resorts, your embassies in our Arab capitals, your diplomatic delegations, your universities and schools, your coffee shops and restaurants, your airplanes and ships, your shops and companies,” he threatened.
“Oh Americans, give the White House idiot a smack on the hand, so that he will not lead you once again into attrition, which will cause further deterioration and collapse of your economy,” said Al-Jazouli.
“If a single American plane flies over Iraq in order to strike at ISIS, it will be one of our most obligatory religious duties to support the nucleus of the righteous caliphate, by turning all the American embassies and interests into legitimate targets. Play a role in defending the nucleus of the caliphate!” he declared.
Obama so far has shown a highly inconsistent position on Iraq. Last Friday he committed to not sending troops to Iraq, only to send over 500 marines, dozens of helicopters, and the aircraft carrier George HW Bush into the Persian Gulf on Tuesday.
On Wednesday, he ruled out American airstrikes on ISIS, while hinting this was a possibility in a speech on Thursday, in which he said, “We will be prepared to take targeted and precise military action if and when we determine that the situation on the ground requires it.”

Kurdish Forces Battle ISIS Islamists in Iraq

Category: Media
Created on Sunday, 22 June 2014 15:06
Iraqi policemen and people gather at the site of a car bomb AFPAs the radical Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) continues to seize territory in Iraq - including most recently the country's largest oil refinery - the only group standing in the way of the Islamists' complete control of northern Iraq are Kurdish militias.
Footage: Kurdish militias prepare for battle in the northern Iraqi town of Jalula:

Iraqis to ISIS: Bring It On, We Have Dug Your Graves

Category: News
Created on Sunday, 22 June 2014 12:44
arm to citizens willing to fight ISISThe Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) is moving in on Baghdad after already having taken over several cities in Iraq, but the Iraqis are unfazed.
A group of Shiite Iraqi poets, who spoke at a religious gathering in Karbala last week, roused the crowds in anti-ISIS rhetoric.
"You want to march on Baghdad?! Bring it on as soon as possible. By Allah, we have already dug your graves," poet Hussein Al-Karbalai cried, to the cheers of the crowds.
The recitations were posted to the internet on June 13, and were translated by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI).
The ISIS Islamists took control of the northern cities of Mosul and Tikrit in a rapid advance last week, and took over Tal Afar on Monday.
Advancing toward Baghdad, large-scale clashes have erupted in Samarra; on the eastern front, Kurdish forces took Kirkuk to fend off the Islamist advance on Thursday
Last week, Iraq's most senior Shiite cleric, Sheik Abdulmehdi al-Karbalai said, issued a call to arms against the ISIS rebels.
"Citizens who are able to bear arms and fight terrorists, defending their country and their people and their holy places, should volunteer and join the security forces to achieve this holy purpose," he said.

ISIS Becomes The 'World's Richest Terrorist Group'

Category: News
Created on Monday, 16 June 2014 11:47
ISIS Islamic terroristsThe Al Qaeda offshoot the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) has conquered great sections of Iraq since capturing Mosul on Tuesday, going on to expand its control southward over several other cities, with its sights set on Baghdad.
In the process of seizing the oil hub of Mosul, the Islamists made off with not only various American military equipment, but also an enormous amount of cash from the city's central bank.
Atheel al-Nujaifi, governer of the Nineveh province where Mosul is located, reported that ISIS pocketed 500 billion Iraqi dinars ($425 million) from the bank, according to International Business Times, which labeled ISIS the "world's richest terror force."
Al-Nujaifi added that a "large quantity of gold bullion" was also seized, in addition to large quantities of cash from banks all across the second-largest city in Iraq.
The amount seized by ISIS puts its holdings on par with those of small nations such as Tonga, Kiribati, the Marshall Islands and the Falkland Islands.
Indeed, according to the website Money Jihad, which uses journalistic and academic sources to estimate the wealth of various terrorist organizations, ISIS is now the wealthiest such group in the world.
The Washington Post referenced the site, noting that the Taliban reportedly had between $70-400 million at one-point, with Hezbollah boasting between $200-500 million. Al Qaeda, which ISIS broke off from, had a mere $30 million budget at the time of the September 11, 2001 attacks, according to the US Council on Foreign Relations.
"We can't beat them"
US-trained Iraqi army forces have proven unable and unwilling to confront ISIS, turning tail and leaving their equipment for spoils according to reports. In its desperation, Iraq has called for civilians to volunteer to fight ISIS, offering to arm them.
One Iraqi army officer told The Independent "we can't beat them. They're trained in street fighting and we're not. We need a whole army to drive them out of Mosul. They're like ghosts; they appear to hit and disappear within seconds."
Israeli experts suggest that the extended reach of ISIS, which also threatens Jordan with its aims of a massive regional state under Islamic law, could also pose a serious threat to the Jewish state.

Islamist Pincer Move Tightens the Noose on Baghdad

Category: News
Created on Monday, 16 June 2014 08:26
ISIS progress, moving toward Baghdad. Red circles show where ISIS have taken over full cities; X shows major clashes between Iraqi forces and ISIS. Green: Kurdish takeovers Google Maps/Annotations from A7 staffIslamists from Al Qaeda offshoot the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) continue to gain ground in northern and eastern Iraq Friday, conquering both Saadiyah and Jalawla as they move throughout the Diyala province toward Baghdad from the west.
Sources told Reuters Friday that the Islamists have also captured several small villages in the Himreen mountains, and are conquering the region, town by town. 
Battles have also broken out near Baqubah, the capital of Diyala just north of Baghdad, according to the Telegraph. 
The Iraqi government says it has boosted Baghdad's defenses later Friday, as the ISIS continues to advance toward the capital. 
"We put in place a new plan to protect Baghdad," Brigadier General Saad Maan, an interior ministry spokesman, told AFP. "The plan consists of intensifying the deployment of forces, and increasing intelligence efforts and the use of technology such as (observation) balloons and cameras and other equipment," he said.
"We have been in a war with terrorism for a while, and today the situation is exceptional," he added.
Hundreds of thousand of people are fleeing into the Kurdish regions of northern Iraq, according to the Telegraph, as this week's refugee crisis escalates.
Eyewitnesses say that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki's forces have melted away in the face of ISIS fighters, who have now captured numerous of former US military equipment - including up to 15 tanks, armored cars, and at least two helicopters, according to the Daily Mail. 
Meanwhile, images from captured cities such as Mosul and Tikrit showed a bloody massacre of Iraqi forces, as well as deserted streets, burnt homes and vehicles and discarded uniforms left by government troops fleeing the brutal fanatics. In Mosul, ISIS captured scores of US-made vehicles and equipment, as well as an airport which housed several military aircraft.
ISIS leaders have reportedly urged their jihadists to continue their march, and threatened that battle would rage in Baghdad and in the Shi'ite holy city of Karbala. Shi'ite Muslims reportedly are fleeing the region to the south.
Tracking ISIS progress
The ISIS has already controlled the Iraqi city of Fallujah for five months, and has also led one of the strongest rebel movements fighting Syrian President Bashar Assad in Syria. 
But this week's offensive has seen the ISIS claim a stunning number of victories in a lighting-fast takeover of the flashpoint region. 
So far, the Islamists have made a systemic advance from northern Iraq and southward.
On Tuesday, ISIS leaders seized Mosul; just 48 hours later, Tikrit - birthplace of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein - fell to the terrorists.
Advancing toward Baghdad, large-scale clashes have erupted in Samarra; on the eastern front, Kurdish forces took Kirkuk to fend off the Islamist advance on Thursday, and the town of Jawlala fell to ISIS on Friday.
In addition, the Daily Mail reports Friday that the Islamists have begun to "fill the gaps" between cities - taking over small villages and surrounding Baiji, which houses Iraq's largest oil refinery. 

ISIS Imposing Islamic Law on Mosul Residents

Category: News
Created on Sunday, 15 June 2014 11:55
Islamist Takeover of Iraqi CityThe Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), an Al-Qaeda-inspired Islamist group that has taken over the Iraqi city of Mosul, has begun to implement Islamic Sharia law in the city.
Since taking over Mosul, members of the group have been handing out documents to residents, stating that Islamic law is binding from now on and which ban any contact with the Iraqi government and its institutions.
Police and security forces were given the opportunity to ask for a pardon, and the document stress that those who do not do so are likely to be given a death sentence.
Men will be required to participate in public worship and those who do not will be sentenced to received lashes, while women will be required to cover their faces and remain permanently in their homes and not leave them unless necessary, the documents state.
Robbers and thieves will be sentenced to death, crucifixion or cutting off of hands and feet. Carrying weapons is now prohibited, and the penalty for violating this directive is death.
The group has begun turning southward towards Baghdad, after conquering Mosul and several other northern cities this week in a lightning offensive.
ISIS rebels have also implemented Sharia law in areas of Syria which it has taken over. Steps taken include a ban on mannequins in shop displays as well as a ban on singing and dancing at weddings.
Al-Qaeda affiliated jihadist rebel groups in Syria have also warned citizens against “hurting the dignity” of the prophet Muhammad, threatening those who do so with execution.

Turkey Threatens Retaliation if Citizens in Iraq Are Harmed

Category: News
Created on Sunday, 15 June 2014 09:28
Prime Minister Tayyip ErdoganTurkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu warned on Wednesday that Ankara will retaliate if any of its citizens and diplomats held in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul are harmed.
"Right now we are engaged in calm crisis management, considering our citizens' security. This should not be misunderstood. Any harm to our citizens and staff would be met with the harshest retaliation," Davutoglu was quoted by Reuters as having told reporters in New York.
On Tuesday, Islamists from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) captured the city of Mosul, in Iraq’s northern Nineveh Province, prompting some 150,000 panic-stricken refugees to flee to the nearby autonomous Kurdish region.
The Islamists attacked the Turkish embassy in the city, taking at least 49 people hostage.
On Wednesday, ISIS also attacked the central Iraqi city of Tikrit, located in Salaheddin province, just 150 km (95 miles) north of Baghdad.
In a desperate attempt to fend off the threat posed by the group - who will now surely be eyeing further territorial gains - Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki called a state of emergency and has offered to arm local tribes and citizens opposed to ISIS.
The Al-Qaeda-linked ISIS also has a presence in Syria, where its jihadist rebels are fighting to oust President Bashar Al-Assad.
Since joining the civil war in Syria, ISIS has been accused of torturing and murdering prisoners, among them children and teenagers, and forcing Druze men to convert to Islam or die.

World Leaders Alarmed over Islamist Takeover of Iraqi City

Category: News
Created on Thursday, 12 June 2014 18:04
Islamist Takeover of Iraqi CityWorld leaders have reacted with alarm to the capture of Iraq's second city by an Al Qaeda offshoot, whose rapidly-expanding control over vasts swathes of Iraq and Syria has seen it morph into a fully-fledged state in all but name.
The takeover of Mosul on Tuesday by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIS, prompted the United States to voice deep concern about the "extremely serious" situation and warn that the jihadist Sunni group poses "a threat to the entire region".  
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's spokesman also issue a statement, saying the UN chief was "gravely concerned by the serious deteriorating of the security situation in Mosul".
ISIS, which also seized an international airport and captured US-made weapons and equipment during its rout of Iraqi security forces, has dealt a spectacular blow to Baghdad's Shia-led government by cementing its effective control over the entirety of the country's western Nineveh Province, and now poses a clear threat across the Middle East.
In a desperate attempt to fend off the threat posed by the group - who will now surely be eyeing further territorial gains - Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki called a state of emergency and has offered to arm local tribes and citizens opposed to ISIS. 
Known for its ruthless tactics and suicide bombers, ISIS has already controlled the Iraqi city of Fallujah for five months, and is also arguably the most capable force fighting President Bashar al-Assad inside Syria. 
ISIS is led by the shadowy Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and backed by thousands of Islamist fighters in Syria and Iraq, many of them Westerners and other foreign jihadists, and it appears to be surpassing Al Qaeda as the world's most dangerous terrorist group.  
Western governments fear it could eventually emulate Al Qaeda and strike overseas, but their biggest worry for now is likely the eventual return home of foreign fighters attracted by ISIS and Baghdadi.
Among them are men like Mehdi Nemmouche, a 29-year-old Frenchman who allegedly carried out a deadly shooting on a Jewish museum in Belgium last month after spending a year fighting with ISIS in Syria.
Working towards Islamic emirate
The Soufan Group, a New York-based consultancy, estimates that 12,000 foreign fighters have traveled to Syria, including 3,000 from the West.
And ISIS appears to have the greatest appeal, with King's College London Professor Peter Neumann estimating around 80 percent of Western fighters in Syria have joined the group.
Unlike other groups fighting Assad, ISIS is seen working towards an ideal Islamic emirate that straddles Syria and Iraq. And compared with Al Qaeda's franchise in Syria, Al Nusra Front, it has lower entry barriers.
ISIS has also sought to appeal to non-Arabs, recently publishing two English-language magazines, having already released videos in English, or with English subtitles.
The jihadist group claims to have had fighters from the Britain, France, Germany and other European countries, as well as the United States, and from the Arab world and the Caucasus.
Much of the appeal also stems from Baghdadi himself - the ISIS leader is touted as a battlefield commander and tactician, a crucial distinction compared with Al Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri.
"For the last 10 years or more, (Zawahiri) has been holed up in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border area and hasn't really done very much more than issue a few statements and videos," said Richard Barrett, a former counter-terrorism chief at MI6, Britain's foreign intelligence service.
"Whereas Baghdadi has done an amazing amount - he has captured cities, he has mobilised huge amounts of people, he is killing ruthlessly throughout Iraq and Syria.
"If you were a guy who wanted action, you would go with Baghdadi," Barrett told AFP.
Baghdadi apparently joined the insurgency that erupted in Iraq soon after the 2003 US-led invasion.  
In October 2005, American forces said they believed they had killed "Abu Dua," one of Baghdadi's known aliases, in a strike on the Iraq-Syria border.  
But that appears to have been incorrect, as he took the reins of what was then known as the Islamic State of Iraq, or ISI, in May 2010 after two of its chiefs were killed in a US-Iraqi raid. ISI was Al Qaeda's official branch in that country, but after engaging in the Syrian civil war against Zawahiri's explicit instructions - and then threatening to alienate public support through his extremely brutal tactics - the newly-named ISIS was disowned by the Al Qaeda chief.
Since then, details about Baghdadi have slowly trickled out.  
Bearded man with a suit and tie
In October 2011, the US Treasury designated him as a "terrorist" in a notice that said he was born in the Iraqi city of Samarra in 1971.
And earlier this year, Iraq released a picture they said was of Baghdadi, the first from an official source, depicting a balding, bearded man in a suit and tie.
At the time Baghdadi took over, his group appeared to be on the ropes, after "the surge" of US forces combined with the shifting allegiances of Sunni tribesmen to deal him a blow.
But the group has bounced back, expanding into Syria in 2013.
Baghdadi sought to merge with Al-Nusra, which rejected the deal, and the two groups have operated separately since. More recently, the two have engaged in armed clashes against one another, as rebel groups joined forces to eject ISIS from Syria.
Rebels accuse ISIS of serving the Syrian regime's agenda; the group has embittered its rivals through its ruthless monopolization of territory, attacking rebel forces and killing several prominent rebel leaders in its quest to establish its Islamic state.
Despite losing some territory to Syrian rebels ISIS has consolidated its control over areas still under its control, and Middle East expert Aymenn al-Tamimi observed that previous conservative estimates of the group's strength were clearly vastly underestimating its capabilities.
Speaking to the Washington Post, Tamimi noted that ISIS's ability to brush aside American-trained Iraqi security forces in Mosul at the same time as it is fighting on several other fronts in Syria (against rebels, Kurdish militias and Syrian regime forces), proves its manpower is far greater than the 10,000 fighters it is widely reported to posses.
And speaking to Arutz Sheva yesterday he said its continued success should sound alarm bells.
"If it turns out ISIS have taken exclusive control without sharing with other groups then this is very significant. It means massive expansion of power and resources... so in short, they are just getting stronger and stronger."

Baghdad: Christmas Bombing Targets Iraqi Christians

Category: Islam
Created on Wednesday, 25 December 2013 17:56
christmas bombingA car bomb targeted a church in the Iraqi capital Wednesday as worshippers left after a Christmas service, killing at least 35 people, most of them Christians, security officials said.
The blast in the Dura area of south Baghdad also wounded dozens of others.    
"The attack targeted the church, and most of the martyrs are Christians," a police colonel told AFP. "The attack happened when worshippers were leaving the church" after a service.    
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack.  
"Attacks distort the image of Islam and religion, if they are carrying them out in the name of religion," said Monsignor Pios Cacha of Baghdad's St. Joseph church.
"The church is a place of love and peace, and not for wars," Cacha said.  
Earlier in the year, Cacha had said that "maybe we will follow in the steps of our Jewish brothers," referring to Iraq's once-thriving Jewish community that was all but wiped-out due to persecution, discrimination and violence at the hands of the country's Muslim majority.
Approximately one million Jews were forced to flee Muslim-majority countries during the twentieth century, wiping out entire Jewish communities, whose presence in the region predated Islam. Today, the Middle East's Christian population is facing similar challenges, with Christian communities - many of whom also predate the rise of Islam - targeted by Islamists throughout the region. Israel is currently the only Middle Eastern country with a growing Christian population.
Iraq has seen its Christian population sharply decline in the years since 2003.    
In that year, the US-led invasion of Iraq ended dictator Saddam Hussein's rule, but also turned the country into a battleground between insurgents and foreign troops, unleashing a wave of bombings and killings by terrorists in which Christians were not only caught in the crossfire, but targeted themselves.  
The bloodiest single attack on the community happened on October 31, 2010, when terrorists killed 44 worshippers and two priests in Baghdad's Our Lady of Salvation church.
Estimates of the number of Christians living in Iraq before 2003 vary from just over one million to around 1.5 million; but now there are only around 400,000, according to Chaldean Patriarch Louis Sako, head of one of the world's oldest Christian communities. Some 61 churches have been attacked in the decade since the US-led invasion, Sako said, with more than 1,000 Christians killed in violence, albeit not all in targeted attacks.
Violence in Iraq has surged this year to levels not seen since 2008, when the country was just emerging from a brutal period of sectarian unrest.
More than 6,650 people have been killed in Iraq since the beginning of 2013, according to AFP figures based on security and medical sources.

UN Decries New Execution Tactics in Iraq

Category: News
Created on Tuesday, 03 December 2013 08:03
A series of car bombs -ArchiveLast Friday 18 corpses were founded murdered in execution-style killings in Baghdad, in what appears to be part of a new wave and shift in tactics that has many fearing an all-out sectarian war in Iraq.
Nickolay Mladenov, special representative of the UN secretary-general for Iraq, sharply decried the executions, saying "I am profoundly disturbed by the recent surge in execution-style killings that have been carried out in a particularly horrendous and unspeakable manner."
Overall the bodies of 31 men, women and children shot in the head were found in separate places around Baghdad last week, a wave of execution murders which Al Jazeera notes recalls the height of sectarian violence in 2006-2007.
While UN figures show that the 659 death toll in November has lowered from the 979 killed in October, Mladenov's spokeswoman Eliana Nabaa commented that the decline is due to a shift in tactics towards targeted killings with less mass casualty bombings.
Sometimes the two tactics unite.
On Sunday, a suicide bombing at the Wajihiya village graveyard ripped through the funeral procession of an anti-Al Qaeda fighter who was killed Saturday, reports Al Jazeera. The blast left 17 dead and injured many others.
The fighter who was being buried, Mudher al-Shallal al-Araki, was part of the Sahwa ("Awakening") group of Sunni fighters that sided with US forces against Al Qaeda, leading Al Qaeda to regard the group as traitors and target them in attacks. Al-Araki's father was a leader of Sahwa.
UN figures estimate that 7,157 civilians and 952 security force members have died in sectarian violence in Iraq so far this year.
The latest spree of execution killings comes ahead of Iraq's first parliamentary elections in four years on April 30, 2014.

18 Male Corpses Found in Brutal Baghdad Terror Attack

Category: News
Created on Sunday, 01 December 2013 09:46
iraq-bodies-execution-violenceIraq's bloody path to a sectarian war continues, as Iraqi police found the bodies of 18 men who were kidnapped from their homes and killed execution-style, NDTV reports Friday. 
The corpses were found grouped together and shot in the head in Meshahda, a predominantly Sunni Muslim area, around 32 km (20 miles) north of Baghdad, police and a source at the capital's morgue said.
The victims were taken from their homes early on Friday by men wearing military uniforms and driving approximately six SUVs, the sources said. It was not clear who was behind the attack, but this area of Iraq has seen frequent abductions by terrorists dressed as soldiers. 
The men's families went to local police to report their relatives missing and police later found their bodies in an orchard.
BBC reports that at least one of the men reported dead is an army officer. 
It was the deadliest in a series of execution-style killings which are on the rise in Iraq. 13 additional people killed under similar circumstances were found across Baghdad Wednesday, CNN reports.
In that attack, Iraqi security forces found eight of the bodies in the Arab Jabour district, a Sunni enclave; 5 other bodies turned up in the Shiite area of al-Shulaa.
Bombs and terror attacks have become commonplace in Iraq, where tensions between Sunni and Shi'ite Muslims have mushroomed, especially in Iraqi capital Baghdad. On Thursday, 11 car bombs killed at least 31, and targeted crowded civilian areas all over the country.  
According to NDTV, 2013 has been Iraq's most violent since 2006-7, when tens of thousands of people died at the height of sectarian strife between Sunnis and Shi'ites. 
BBC notes that according to the United Nations, 979 people - including 158 police and 127 military personnel - were killed in violent attacks in October alone. More than 6,500 civilians have died since January, the highest annual toll since 2008.
The UN has called on Iraq's political leaders to end the bloodshed, which has escalated since a disastrous army raid on a Sunni anti-government protest camp earlier this year.
The protesters had called for the resignation of Shia Prime Minister Nouri Maliki, who they accused of targeting the minority Sunni community.
Analysts claim that some of the Iraqi violence may also be linked to Syria, which has become an all-out Islamic holy war between Sunni and Shi'ite factions.

Iraq Bomb Wave Raises Fears of Sectarian War

Category: News
Created on Sunday, 01 December 2013 09:16
Syrian explosion - ReutersEleven car bombs wrought havoc throughout Iraq on Thursday, leaving at least 31 dead and raising fears of an all-out sectarian war between Shi'ite and Sunni Muslims.
Iraq has suffered ongoing attacks, as just last week a truck bomb killed at least 48 at a fruit and vegetable market in Baghdad. Earlier this month attacks marred the Shi'ite pilgrimage holiday of Ashura and left 41 dead. Estimates put the number killed in Iraq this year at over 6,000.
The attacks Thursday hit wide ranging parts of the country and targeted markets, bus stations, a funeral tent, and a top police official's convoy, reports Al Jazeera. The official, Major General Juma al-Dulaimi, who is the police chief of Sunni-majority Salaheddin province, was unharmed by the blast that killed 3 civilians and wounded 2.
Salaheddin province was targetted in other attacks as well. A suicide car bombing killed 3 police in the province at a checkpoint. Furthermore rebels set up a fake checkpoint where they gunned down 6, including a senior official in Iraq's identity card department, his wife, 2 police and 2 civilians.
Thursday's attacks come just months before a general election. Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki reportedly asked for greater intelligence sharing and new weapons systems during a recent trip to Washington, and France and Turkey have likewise offered aid.
Shia religious leader Muqtada al-Sadr, a powerful figure in Iraqi politics, warned "the Iraqi people will disintegrate, its government will disintegrate, and it will be easy for external powers to control the country," according to The Independent.
Sadr added "the near future is dark" for Iraq due to sectarian divides.
Many of the Shi'ite terrorist groups operating in Iraq are closely aligned with Shi'ite-majority Iran, and at least some of them have been taking part in the civil war in neighboring Syria by sending men to fight on the side of the Assad regime.
The founder and leader of one such group, the Al Mukhtar Army, said in an October 23 interview on Iraqi TV that were war to break out between Iran and Iraq, he would side with Iran against his own country. Watheq Al-Battat's statement highlight the Sunni-Shi'ite divide in Iraq.

Iraq: Over 50 killed in mass executions

Category: News
Created on Friday, 29 November 2013 16:26
mass executions
More than 50 people were killed in mass executions across Iraq on Friday, security and medical officials said.
Violence struck in and around Baghdad and mostly Sunni Arab parts of the country, including in Diyala, Nineveh, and Salaheddin provinces, as well as in the city of Kirkuk, Agence France-Presse reported.
The recent surge in violence has seen victims kidnapped from their homes, only for their corpses to be found later, raising fears of Iraq deadly sectarian violence from 2006 to 2008.
Early Friday, authorities discovered the bodies of 18 men, including two tribal chiefs, four policemen and an army major, dumped in farmland near the Sunni Arab town of Tarmiyah, just north of Baghdad, according to AFP. 
All of them had been shot in the head and chest, police and a medical source said.
Their bodies were found hours later, the sources also said. 
The killings come just days after authorities discovered the bodies of 19 people shot dead in various parts of Baghdad, including eight found blindfolded and six whose corpses were left in a canal. 
Friday’s violence makes the nationwide death toll of last week to more than 200. More than 6,000 people have been killed this year, forcing Baghdad to appeal for international help in battling the rise of militants especially from al-Qaeda.
During Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki recent trip to Washington he tried to push for greater intelligence sharing and the timely delivery of new weapons systems in a bid to combat militancy.
The U.N. Security Council condemned the violence on Wednesday and voiced support for government efforts to tackle the bloodshed.

Iran-linked Group Claims Saudi Arabia Mortar Bombings

Category: News
Created on Friday, 22 November 2013 08:15
Terrorists brandish RPG in GazaSix mortar bombs landed in a remote part of Saudi Arabia near the Iraq and Kuwait border on Thursday. The attack, still under investigation, was claimed by the Iraqi Shi'ite militia group Al Mukhtar Army, which is closely aligned with Iran.
Watheq Al-Battat, founder and leader of Al Mukhtar Army, said the bombings were "a warning message to Saudis to tell them that their border stations and patrol are within our range of fire," reports BBC.
The clash highlights the rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran, a rivalry that could potentially turn nuclear given Saudi Arabia's reported intention to obtain nuclear warheads from Pakistan should Iran break the nuclear threshold. 
Tensions between the two nations have been raised over the war in Syria. Sunni-majority Saudi Arabia backs the Sunni rebels, while Iran and Shi'ite terrorist groups such as Al Mukhtar support President Bashar Assad's regime.
The connection between Al Mukhtar and Iran was made very clear in an interview Al-Battat gave on an Iraqi TV station. The interview, which aired October 23, was translated by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI).
In the interview Al-Battat said that were a war to break out between Iraq and Iran he would side with Iran against his own country. He added that he would fight for the "Infallible Imam," Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, no matter what.
When asked if Iran was behind Al Mukhtar, Al-Battat responded that in terms of politics, "our authority is the leader, Ali Khamenei." 
According to Al-Battat his terrorist organization boasts 23,600 "martyrdom-seekers," has international members from Syria, Egypt and Iran, and even members in Sweden.

About 600 Saudi fighters are in Syria

Category: News
Created on Saturday, 16 November 2013 10:05
Faris Bin Hizam Al ArabiyaAn estimated 600 Saudis have joined al-Qaeda-affiliated groups in Syria fighting against President Bashar’s al-Assad’s regime, a Saudi expert in Islamist movements told Al Arabiya’s weekly program “Death making” on Friday.
Faris Bin Hizam said many Saudis are fighting on the ranks of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and the al-Nusra Front.
But the Saudi fighters are only a small number if compared to other foreign nationalities fighting in Syria, Bin Hizam said.
He added that unlike Iraq and Afghanistan, where al-Qaeda has a strong presence, there is increased awareness amongst Saudis regarding the dangers of belonging to al-Qaeda, and a widely held belief that the Syrian revolution does not need more fighters but rather financial support.
Bin Hizam noted that Saudi Arabia’s tight security measures are able to contain the al-Qaeda, something Libya and Tunisia failed to do after their revolution.
The ISIL is al-Qaeda’s main branch in Syria, although al-Qaeda Chief Ayman al-Zawahiri recently ordered its disbanding. He said al-Qaeda in Syria is to be represented only by the al-Nusra Front.
The al-Nusra Front, created in January 2012, joined al-Qaeda in December of that year and is on a U.S. list of foreign terrorist’s organizations.
The al-Nusra Front has carried out major attacks against the Syrian armed forces, including several suicide bombings.
The Saudi expert said that there were no Saudis among the top 10 commanders in the al-Qaeda groups in Syria. According to him, they join the terrorist group only to take part in suicide bombings and civil operations.
Bin Hizam noted that the al-Qaeda tends to amplify the number of its Saudi members in Syria, Pakistan, Yemen and Iraq as a way to attract more more volunteers and more financial support from its donors.
Most-wanted Saudi man
The program also aired the latest images of Saleh al-Qarawi, the most-wanted man on a list of 85 terrorists, issued by the Saudi Interior Ministry in 2009. Qarawi appeared to have lost an eye, his right hand and his feet.
The analyst said Qarawi sustained those injuries last month and is now in Saudi Arabia as he surrendered to the authorities to receive treatment.
Al-Qarawi served as a senior leader and operative for the Abdullah Azzam Brigades (AAB), a Lebanese militant organization and also operated in Iran and Afghanistan.

Shi'ite Pilgrimage Holiday Bombed in Iraq, 41 Dead

Category: Islam
Created on Friday, 15 November 2013 10:52
Muslim Shiites AFP
Explosions rocked various parts of Iraq on Thursday during the Shi'ite pilgrimage holiday of Ashura, leaving at least 41 dead, according to the BBC. Iraq has recently seen a fierce upswing in bombings. 
Of the three blasts targeting the pilgrims, Al Arabiya reports that the major one occurred in Diyala province north of Baghdad, where a religious procession was struck by a suicide bombing that left over 30 dead.
The Shi'ite holiday of Ashura sees roughly 2 million pilgrims arrive at the Iraqi city of Karbala. There, the Muslim prophet Mohammed's grandson, Hussein, is said to have been killed in 680 CE, an incident which greatly contributed to the centuries-old bloody sectarian divide in Islam.
Shi'ites flock to Hussein’s mausoleum on Ashura, ritually showing guilt and remorse for not defending him by beating their heads, chests and sometimes making incisions on their scalps with swords.
The UN notes that more than 6,500 civillians have been killed in Iraq this year.
Shi'ites make up the majority in Iraq and have been frequently targeted by Sunni terrorists linked to Al-Qaeda.

Iraq: 7 Members of One Family Killed in Another Day of Violence

Category: News
Created on Sunday, 27 October 2013 14:40
A series of car bombs killed at least 16 people and wounded dozens of others.AFPAttacks in Iraq killed 10 people on Saturday, seven of them from the same family, security and medical officials told the AFP news agency.
In the Dura area of southern Baghdad, gunmen armed with silenced weapons shot dead a father, mother, four sons and the wife of one of them at their home, the officials said.
The father was a member of the Sahwa anti-Al-Qaeda militia, who joined forces with the United States from late 2006 and are frequently targeted by Sunni terrorists, who view them as traitors.
In another attack in the Mansur area of west Baghdad, a lawyer was killed by a magnetic “sticky bomb” attached to his car.
In a third incident, gunmen opened fire on a bus carrying Shiite pilgrims in Balad, north of Baghdad, killing two people and wounding 11. It was unclear if they were Iraqis or not.
Shiites are also often targeted by Sunni terrorists, who consider them apostates.
More than 580 people have now been killed in Iraq this month, and 5,300 since the beginning of the year, according to AFP figures based on security and medical sources.
A study released this month by academics based in the United States, Canada and Iraq found that nearly half a million people have died from war-related causes in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion of 2003.
The past few months have seen an upsurge in terrorism, with the recent wave of bloodshed triggered after authorities in April forcibly cleared a protest tent-village erected by Sunni Muslims, who were demonstrating against what they see as the marginalization of their community by the Shiite-led government.
The uptick in violence, particularly towards the Shiite population - rivals the anti-Shiite campaign waged by the founder and former leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, in the years immediately following the overthrow of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
Zarqawi was eventually killed in a U.S. air force bombing raid, but the brutality of his attacks against Iraqi civilians - contributed towards a backlash against Al-Qaeda which seriously hampered the group's operations and forced it to "tone-down" its anti-Shiite campaign somewhat.
Now, a resurgent Al Qaeda has drawn on the wave of sectarian hatred fueled by the Syrian civil war to increase its operations in Iraq and Syria, merging various Islamist factions in the regions to become the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Shams (Levant) or ISIS.
Last month, sixteen members of the same Shiite family were killed south of Baghdad.
Unknown terrorists blew up two adjacent houses belonging to brothers from a Shiite family in Latifiya, 40 km (25 miles) south of Baghdad, after shooting dead sixteen members of the same family, according to eyewitnesses.
Eight women and six children are believed to be among the dead.

At Least 42 Killed in Baghdad Car Bomb Attacks

Category: News
Created on Monday, 30 September 2013 17:00
A series of car bombs killed at least 16 people and wounded dozens of others.AFP (File)At least 42 people have been killed and scores wounded in a series of car bomb blasts in Baghdad, as the country faces one of its bloodiest years since 2003.
In a familiar pattern, neighborhoods with a Shia Muslim majority were targeted by more than a dozen car bombs. The attacks took place during rush hour, and ripped through markets, car parks and places where laborers were gathered for the start of the working day.
The worst attack took place in Sadr City district, where seven people were killed and 75 injured in an attack on a crowded vegetable market.
As is often the case in such attacks, no organization has officially claimed responsibility, but the suspicion has already fallen on Al Qaeda-linked Sunni terrorists, who have been blamed for a wave of similar attacks this year. 
Interior Ministry spokesman Saad Maan vowed to defeat the Al Qaeda-linked groups he said were capitalizing on domestic and regional strife to sow violence in Iraq.
"Our war with terrorism goes on," he declared in an interview with the Associated Press.
At least 5,000 people have been killed in Iraq so far this year, in a campaign of violence not seen since the peek of the conflict between western forces and Iraqi insurgents in 2008.
Western forces have since withdrawn from Iraq, but have left behind a country that is far from stable - wallowing in a political stalemate and a widening sectarian chasm between the country's Shia majority and Sunni minority. Under Saddam Hussein's rule, the Sunni minority - which comprises around 40% of the Iraqi population - was empowered at the expense of the Shia majority.
Since Saddam's ouster the country's Shia majority has risen to the top of Iraq's political pile, and many Sunnis now complain of discrimination at the hands of authorities. This - along with the raging sectarian conflict in neighboring Syria - has fueled an Al Qaeda resurgence in Iraq. That has meant a serious escalation in sectarian attacks targeting the Shia population, which in turn has provoked a crackdown by security forces on the Sunni areas suspected of harboring the terrorists.
But that government crackdown - in spite of many tactical successes in dismantling local Al Qaeda cells - seems to have done little to quell the overall wave of violence. If anything, the perception that authorities are targeting the Sunni population is fanning the flames of resentment, and amplifying Al Qaeda's call to arms.
Many have expressed concern that violence could return to the levels seen in 2006 and 2007, when open conflict between Sunni and Shiite Muslim groups left tens of thousands of people dead.

Multiple Blasts Kill 23 in Iraq

Category: News
Created on Saturday, 28 September 2013 15:48
iraq-car-bomb (file)Officials say at least 23 people have been killed in blasts targeting outdoor markets in Iraq's capital Baghdad. Al Qaeda are thought to be behind the attacks. 
Three bombs exploded simultaneously in the Shiite village of Sabaa al-Bour, located almost 20 miles north of Baghdad. Police have reported that bombs went off at the entrance to the town's busy market area, with another detonated inside killing 16 people and wounding 41 more.
The BBC reported seven people were also killed by bomb in the Sunni Dora district, south of Baghdad. The report also said an attempt by the Iraqi government to arrest some Al Qaeda members in Baghdad had failed to halt the torrent of attacks on the country in recent weeks. 
Eight people were killed in three terrorist attacks in Iraq on Tuesday, continuing a wave of violence that has sparked fears of a return to all-out sectarian conflict.
Last Friday, a double bombing at a Sunni mosque north of Baghdad killed 18 people. The next day, a Shiite Muslim funeral in Baghdad was targeted by bombers; 73 people were killed.
In total, over 610 people have been killed in terrorist attacks in Iraq in September, and over 4,400 have died since the beginning of 2013, according to the AFP news agency, which based the numbers on data from Iraqi security and medical sources.
There are fears of a return to the all-out Sunni-Shia sectarian violence that peaked in 2006-2007 and killed tens of thousands of people. Iraq's population is around 65% Shia with 35% Sunni Muslim. It is thought Sunni aligned Al Qaeda have been responsible for the majority of violence against Shia areas of the country. 

At Least 60 Dead in Weekend Attack in Iraq

Category: News
Created on Tuesday, 24 September 2013 06:42
iraq-car-bombAt least 60 people were killed at a funeral in the mainly Shiite Muslim Sadr City district of the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, on the weekend.
The BBC reported that a tent where mourners were gathered was hit by two explosions, one of them a suicide car bomb.
A third explosion followed as police, ambulances and firefighters gathered at the scene, according to one report.
Officials said that women and children were among the dead and that more than 120 people had been injured.
No group has claimed responsibility for the bombing, which happened early on Saturday evening.
The explosions reportedly set the tents and nearby cars on fire, with eyewitnesses describing the scene as an "inferno," according to the BBC.
"I saw several charred bodies on the ground and tents on fire and also burning cars. Wounded people were screaming in pain,'' one of the mourners, Sheikh Sattar al-Fartousi, said.
Medics in nearby hospitals confirmed the scale of the casualties.
Also on Saturday, eight people were killed in a separate bomb attack in a street in the nearby neighborhood of Ur, reported the BBC.
As well, at least five police officers were killed in an assault on a police station in Baiji, north of Baghdad.
Sectarian violence has surged across Iraq in recent months, reaching its highest level since 2008.
The violence was triggered in April by an army raid on a Sunni Muslim anti-government protest camp near Hawija, also north of Baghdad.
The country has also seen a spill-over of violence from the conflict in Syria, which has taken on increasingly sectarian overtones.
In recent weeks, Iraqi security forces have reportedly arrested hundreds of alleged al-Qaeda members in and around Baghdad as part of a campaign which the Shiite-led government is calling "Revenge for the martyrs".
More than 5,000 people have died so far this year in Iraq, 800 of them in August alone, according to the United Nations.

At least 49 dead in series of Baghdad bombings

Category: News
Created on Wednesday, 04 September 2013 08:51
Iraqi policemen and people gather at the site of a car bomb AFPAt least 49 people have been killed and hundreds wounded in series of car blasts mostly in Shiite neighborhoods in Baghdad on Tuesday, medical and security sources said.
The explosions hit a number of civilian’s shops, markets and mosques and are the deadliest attacks in the nationwide unfolding violence, AFP reported.
No group has claimed responsibility yet for the violence, but Sunni militants linked to al-Qaeda have been known to target the Iraqi Shiite minority in similar attacks.
The killing comes amid a spike in deadly violence in recent months as insurgents try to capitalize on rising sectarian and ethnic tensions, according to The Associated Press.
Officials said nine other people were killed earlier Tuesday. AFP reported that gunmen entered the home of a Sunni Arab militiaman in south Baghdad and killed him, his wife, two sons and a daughter.
The militia is known as the Sahwa, who sided with the U.S troops in fighting al-Qaeda since 2006, becoming targets for insurgents.
Violent attacks have also taken place on Monday, when prominent Sahwa leader Wisam al-Hardan managed to escape an assassination attempt by two suicide bombers. Six of his bodyguards and a bystander were killed according to AP.
Violence has been on the rise in Iraq since April, attacks have killed more than 3,900 people since the start of the year, according to an AFP tally.

Obama is a Prisoner of his own Agenda

Category: Op-Eds
Created on Monday, 19 August 2013 23:15
Sharia lawHow does Obama react to the Muslim Brotherhood's excesses? With open arms.
If the American President was not a prisoner to his own pro-Muslim Brotherhood agenda, the U.S. Administration would now be applauding the Egyptian military’s crackdown on the anti-Western, anti-Semitic and anti-Israel Muslim Brotherhood thugs who have instigated horrific violence in Cairo and throughout much of the country.
Indeed, his own agenda has resulted in untold bloodshed and a human rights meltdown in Syria, Iraq, North Africa, Afghanistan and Yemen. It threatens Jordan, Saudi-Arabia and the Gulf States while leaving Iran free to acquire nuclear weapons capability. And it imposes upon Israel a course which will inevitably lead to national suicide unless the Lion of Judah can finally awake and roar back.
The Egyptian military, acceding to the demands of some 33 million of its citizens to remove the Islamic and Sharia colluding Morsi regime, redeployed to end Mohammed Morsi’s Brotherhood supporters from their occupation of areas of the Egyptian capital. They were met by heavy gunfire and over 100 soldiers and police were killed in the first few hours of the confrontation.
Not surprisingly, Obama never mentioned this fact during his August 15th press conference; a long harangue during which, according to former UN Ambassador John Bolton, Obama predictably blamed not the Morsi rioters but the Egyptian military; again revealing this president’s egregious and systemic support for the Muslim extremists who wish to turn Egypt into an Islamic republic.
Nor did Obama castigate fully the pro-Morsi thugs who turned their savagery upon the hapless embattled Coptic Christian community. It is estimated that perhaps as many as 50 churches and Christian establishments were burned to the ground during the Muslim anti-Christian pogrom; this after Copts have been beheaded in the streets of Cairo. And still the Vatican and world Christendom remain in the main deathly silent.
For decades, ever since the secular revolution of Gamal Abdul Nasser in 1954, successive Egyptian presidents and governments have tried to crush the Brotherhood. This has been done by popular demand from the majority of Egyptians.
Obama’s threats against the military thus fly in the face of all reality. His actions will most certainly act against the best interests of the West and particularly of the United States. But there are many who believe that Barack Hussein Obama is on track to tactically do just that – harm America economically, politically and militarily - and not by incompetence, but by a planned and mendacious strategy. After all, did not Obama promise that he would fundamentally transform America?
During Morsi’s time in office, it should be remembered that sexual assaults against women skyrocketed. Islamic discrimination against women in Egypt under Morsi echoed the horrors perpetrated against females under the Taliban in Afghanistan. It encouraged genital mutilation among Egyptian women, opposed any moves to stop polygamy, and rejected any rights for women to have equality in the distribution of inheritance and assets.
And still, apart from a very few brave souls, the feminists around the world have remained deathly silent. And was there a word of censure by President Obama? Not one peep.
Remember, too, that the first public announcement Morsi made was to call for war against Israel and utter his vile insult – straight out of the Koran – equating Jews with monkeys and pigs.
But what did Obama continue to do in the face of the Muslim Brotherhood’s excesses? Why, he showered the Morsi government with F16 fighter bombers and 400 Abrams tanks – all, no doubt, weapons that eventually could be turned against the Jewish state.
According to the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI): Egyptian cleric Dr. Khaled Said, in an interview aired on Al-Hafez TV (via the Internet) on March 17, 2013 described American foreign military aid this way:
“If the (Islamic) revolution declares a framework for dealing with the West and America – they will accept it, kiss our hands, and double the aid they give us. We consider this aid to be jizya [poll tax], not regular aid. They pay so that we will let them be. The aid constitutes jizya.”
All non-Muslims living under Muslim control were forced over the centuries to pay the discriminatory jizya tax if they refused to convert to Islam. Thus American aid to the Morsi regime was considered just that by the Muslim Brotherhood.
According to a report by Debka, an intelligence organization which some commentators often respond to negatively, whether with good reason or not, “President Barack Obama put in a call to Egypt’s strongman, Defense Minister Gen. Abdel-Fattah El-Sissi, debkafile’s intelligence sources report. The US president wanted to give the general a dressing-down much on the lines of the call he made to former president Hosni Mubarak in February, 2011.”
The Debka report continued:  “Realizing what was coming, Gen. El-Sissi decided not to accept Obama’s call. The anecdote shows that the military strongman is not only determined to avoid the pitfalls which brought Mubarak down but is equally determined to keep the US Administration from interfering in his plans for driving the Muslim Brotherhood out of Egyptian politics.”
El-Sissi has a trump card that he will use against pressure from the Obama Administration. Saudi-Arabia has already begun to provide the financial support he needs to quell the Muslim Brotherhood, whom the Saudis loathe, as do several of the Gulf States. All this will create another self-induced foreign affairs nightmare for Obama as an ever-widening rift opens up between the rulers of the Gulf States, Saudi-Arabia and the White House.
Indeed, according to Debka, “Our intelligence sources also disclose that, while President Obama was trying to get through to Gen. El-Sissi, the general was on the phone with Prince Bandar, Director of Saudi Intelligence.”
Sadly, Israel, unlike Egypt, doesn’t possess alternate allies who can help buttress the Jewish state from hostile pressure from the Obama Administration; pressure which has forced the Netanyahu government to timidly accede to obscene demands from the Holocaust denying Chairman of the so-called Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, and from U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry, to release Muslim monsters with Jewish blood on their hands:  Next, to agree to enter into “piece” talks with the Jew hating thugdom, the PA, that currently occupies parts of biblical and ancestral Jewish Judea and Samaria.
Calls have been made by myself and others in the Opinion columns of Arutz Sheva for a push by Israel to be made to create just such foreign alliances, perhaps with India or China. Israel might not be faced with such intolerable pressures from such a presidency as that of Barack Obama if thought had been given to such a strategy much earlier.
Notwithstanding the above, it would be a salutary admonition to the Netanyahu government to consider what Winston Churchill said during his fractious June, 1940 Cabinet discussions with then Foreign Minister, Lord Halifax. During those dark days, when the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) was trapped on the beaches of Dunkirk, Halifax had wanted to appease Hitler with peace overtures via Mussolini. Churchill withstood the appeasement pressure from Halifax and shot back with the following words:
“Nations which go down fighting, rise again; those that surrender timidly are finished.”
Victor SharpeVictor Sharpe
Victor Sharpe is a prolific freelance writer with many published articles in leading national and international conservative websites and magazines. Born and educated in England, he has been a broadcaster and has authored several books including a collection of short stories under the title The Blue Hour. His three-volume set of in-depth studies on the threats from resurgent Islam to Israel, the West and to Judeo-Christian civilization is titled, Politicide: The Attempted Murder of the Jewish State.

Sunni mosque attacks kill 13 in Iraq

Category: News
Created on Tuesday, 23 April 2013 18:06
car bomb exploded outside the French consular building - ReutersBomb attacks on Sunni mosques in Iraq killed 13 people and wounded dozens of other people on Tuesday, security and medical officials said.
Two rounds of mortar fire hit a mosque in Muqdadiyah, northeast of Baghdad, killing nine people and wounding 25, police and a doctor said, revising an earlier casualty toll.
Earlier, two roadside bombs exploded as Sunni worshipers were leaving dawn prayers in south Baghdad, killing at least four people and wounding 14, an interior ministry official and medic said.
Violence in Iraq has fallen significantly from its peak during the height of the sectarian conflict in 2006 and 2007, but attacks are still carried out almost every day, killing 271 people in March, according to AFP figures based on security and medical sources.

Iraq rejects Egypt’s sought request of $4 billion, talks ongoing

Category: News
Created on Friday, 29 March 2013 15:51
CurencyAn Iraqi official says Baghdad has rejected a request from Egypt for a $4 billion bond to be deposited in Egypt’s central bank to bolster its faltering economy.
The official said on Friday that it’s "too risky" to deposit such a large sum in Egypt but that talks are continuing for a smaller amount. The official didn’t elaborate. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to talk to the media.
In Egypt, the presidency’s media office confirmed in a statement to The Associated Press that discussions with Iraq are ongoing.
Egypt’s planning minister, Ashraf el-Araby, visited Iraq this week.
Egypt has sought help from several oil-wealthy Arab countries to shore up reserves in its central bank, which were depleted in the aftermath of Hosni Mubarak’s 2011 ouster.
Egypt has sought help from several oil-wealthy Arab countries after the central bank’s foreign currency reserves have tumbled to $13.5 billion as an aftermath of Hosni Mubarak’s 2011 ouster, covering little more than two months’ imports, as tourism and investment have diminished. So the central bank is rationing U.S. dollar supplies in auctions, making it hard for firms to get hold of dollars through the banking system.
It is not yet clear how much imports have been hit by the hard currency shortage, which has become more serious in the last three months. According to the most recent official data, imports rose to $16.4 billion in the final three months of 2012 from $14.6 billion a year earlier, but the increase was essentially due to higher costs for importing energy.

Iraq: When the Lights Go Off and the Dust Settles

Category: Op-Eds
Created on Wednesday, 27 March 2013 16:50
Killed inside ChurchMen running, women pleading for God’s mercy, children screaming out of fear, older women trapped under rubble and thick dust rising in the air. This has been a recurring scene in Iraqi cities for close to a decade.
Since June 26, 2004, Assyrian (also known as Chaldean and Syriac) churches have come under attack more than 80 times. The most widely publicized assault came on Oct. 31, 2010, when Islamic terrorists wearing suicide vests invaded Our Lady of Salvation Syriac Catholic Church in Baghdad during mass, shot two priests and then blew themselves up. When it was over, 62 people were killed and 78 injured.
For many people in the United States, news of this attack was their first exposure to the Assyrian people, whose history dates back to 4750 B.C. in Mesopotamia. According to Biblical tradition, they are the direct descendants of Shem, the Son of Noah. The Assyrians, whose language evolved from Akkadian to Aramaic, built the first cities and invented agriculture; river-fed irrigation systems and establishment of the first library were among many other Assyrian inventions that have shaped our world history.
Ancient Assyria, with Nineveh (today’s Mosul) as its capital city, was once a feared kingdom from western Persia into eastern Egypt. Since the fall of Nineveh in 612 B.C. to this day, however, Assyrians have faced repeated ethno-religious cleansing in the Middle East.
Having come to Christ through the disciples Thomas, Thaddeus and Bartholomew in the first century A.D., Assyrians realized a new enemy was on the horizon as Islam spread throughout the region after 622 A.D. The first Islamic attack was perpetrated against them in 650 A.D., when many monks were killed along the Byzantine border. The Assyrians have since suffered attacks on a regular basis, generation after generation. After Ottoman Turkey’s systematic killing of 750,000 Assyrians, 1.5 million Armenians and over 500,000 Greeks in the early 20th century, many Assyrians ended up in refugee camps.
Since the ouster of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, Iraqi-Assyrian Christians have endured vicious criminal acts by Islamist extremists. Systematic ethno-religious cleansing in Iraq began in 2003, when Christian families received threatening letters offering three options: convert to Islam, pay the jizya (a form of protection tax paid by non-Muslims) or leave their homes, empty-handed.
As families started to receive the letters, terrorists began systematically abducting and killing Christian clergy. To date, there have been hundreds of Christians who have been kidnapped and murdered because of their Assyrian ethnicity and their Christian faith. These acts have driven approximately 1 million people out of their homeland, where their ancestors had lived for thousands of years.
After these atrocities, the Assyrian nation once again finds itself in refugee camps in such countries as Jordan, Turkey, and Syria, waiting their turn to receive entry visas into Western countries. Approximately 450,000 Assyrians have remained in their homeland, preserving the Aramaic language and centuries-old traditions. With Islamist rebels poised to take control of Syria, many Iraqi Christians who took refuge in that country are returning to Iraq, where they face more violence.
As Christians have faced such calamities in Muslim-majority countries throughout the Middle East, the Christian West has remained silent.
Mainstream news media have largely ignored the plight of Iraqi Christians. Part of the reason is that the victims are Christians and do not fit the template of Muslim and Arab victimhood. If such acts of violence had been directed at Muslims, activists in the West would rush to raise awareness and condemn the perpetrators, as they did for the Muslim victims of genocide in Darfur. If any news has been reported about Iraqi Christians, it has come about mainly because of pressure from activists who flooded editors’ desks with news clips and press releases.
How is it that the Christian world has forgotten what the Blessed Pope John Paul II called the Right Lung of the Church? How can church leaders recite the verses from St. Paul in 1 Cor. 12:12 (“As a body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also Christ”) without cringing with guilt? How can they read verse 26 (“If [one] part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy,”) without weeping in shame?
How can Christians declare themselves followers of Christ when they forget about the church in regions where the body of Christ is being re-crucified? When the dust settles after a church is bombed, and when camera lights are turned off after an interview with the family of a kidnapped Christian, who is it that continues to care about those who are left behind?
The sad truth is that the aftermath in most cases is much harder to endure than the attack itself. Those who have survived are forced to live with the pain and the trauma for the rest of their days. Many survivors had thought their Christian brothers and sister living in the West would rush to their aid, but that help, in most cases, never came. Only silence.
For those who do not believe in the spirit of organized religion and may not want to lend a helping hand because this is happening to “Christians” who may have “deserved it” for keeping their faith, shouldn’t they be outraged at this human rights tragedy? The Assyrians, Copts, Algerians and Sudanese who choose to practice Christianity are humans and deserve the attention that other groups receive when their rights to exist are violated.
This is an age of terrible uncertainty for a people that has existed for over 6,700 years and is now on the verge of extinction.
In the aftermath of the Holocaust in Europe, the great cry was “Never again!” If the world does nothing for the Assyrians, maybe we should amend this slogan to read, “Who’ Next?”
Juliana Taimoorazy is president of the Iraqi Christian Relief Council.

Iraq is losing $27 million a day due to budget delay

Category: News
Created on Sunday, 24 February 2013 14:07
Iraqs curancy AFPIraq already marred by high deficit is losing almost $27 million per day because of a budget delay, a member of the Shiite-dominated National alliance coalition said in a press conference on Saturday.
“The National alliance coalition is insisting to issue Iraq’s budget as soon as possible,” the Iraqi news website Al-Sumaria reported the Chairman of the parliamentary Finance Committee, Haider Abadi saying. 
The secular yet Sunni-backed Iraqiya list and the Kurdistan coalition have both rejected the current budget proposal. 
In addition to this, disagreement over payment to oil companies operating in the semi-autonomous region of Kurdistan, the Iraqiya list still demands money that has been allocated to the Defense Ministry to be funneled through to the budget of other provinces. 
Iraq’s budget deficit is expected to fall to $4 billion at end-2014 from $12 billion that was planned for 2012, as the country benefits from increased oil proceeds. 
Iraq sits on $143.1 billion barrels of proven oil revenues and 126.7 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

At least 30 killed, 70 injured in attacks on Iraqi police station

Category: News
Created on Sunday, 03 February 2013 08:51
Car bomb storming a police headquarters in Kirkuk Al ArabiyaA car bomb set off by a suicide attacker and followed by gunmen storming a police headquarters in the north Iraqi city of Kirkuk, killed 30 people and wounded 70 others on Sunday, a police general said.
Militants had apparently sought to take control of the compound, but were unsuccessful, Brigadier General Natah Mohammed Sabr, the head of the city's emergency services department said.
The attackers struck at morning rush hour in the city centre, Sabr said, with the militants armed with guns, grenades and suicide vests looking to force their way into the police headquarters in the chaotic aftermath of the car bombing.
In addition to the casualties, the attack caused massive damage to nearby buildings, Sabr said.
No group immediately claimed responsibility for Sunday's coordinated attack, but Sunni militants including Al-Qaeda's front group in Iraq frequently target security forces and government land marks in a bid to destabilize the country.
Kirkuk lies at the heart of a swathe of disputed territory claimed by both the central government and Iraq's autonomous northern Kurdish region.
The unresolved row is persistently cited by diplomats and officials as the biggest threat to Iraq's long-term stability.
Militants often exploit a lack of coordination between the two sides' security forces and launch deadly attacks in the city, which remains one of the most violent in Iraq, and also in nearby towns.
The deadly violence shattered a relative calm in Iraq in recent days. 
Baghdad has been grappling with a political crisis that has pitted Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki against his former government partners amid weeks of protests calling for him to resign.

Series of bomb blasts kills up to 16 in Iraq

Category: News
Created on Tuesday, 22 January 2013 07:49
A series of car bombs killed at least 16 people and wounded dozens of others.AFPA series of car bombs in and around the Iraqi capital killed at least 16 people and wounded dozens of others on Tuesday, security and medical officials said.
The blasts struck an Iraqi army checkpoint south of Baghdad, a military base north of the capital, and a mostly Shiite neighbourhood also in the north, officials said.
In the deadliest attack, six people were killed when a car bomb was detonated near an army camp in the town of Taji, 25 kilometres north of the Iraqi capital, an army officer and a medical official said.
At least 20 other people were wounded.
South of the capital in the town of Mahmudiyah, at least five people were killed and 14 others wounded by a suicide car bomb, officials said.
And a car bomb near a market in the north Baghdad neighbourhood of Shuala killed five and wounded 12.
No group claimed responsibility, but Sunni militants often launch attacks in a bid to destabilize the government and push Iraq back towards the sectarian violence that blighted it from 2005 to 2008.
Tuesday's violence came after four days of relative calm in Iraq following a spate of attacks claimed by Al-Qaeda's front group that left at least 88 people dead on January 15-17, according to an AFP tally.

A car bomb in Iraq kills at least 20 Shiite pilgrims

Category: Islam
Created on Friday, 04 January 2013 13:08
BombA car bomb killed at least 20 Shiite Muslim pilgrims at a bus station in the Iraqi town of Mussayab on Thursday, at the peak of a Shiite religious commemoration. 
The blast erupted late in the afternoon in the town which is about 60 kilometers (40 miles) south of the Iraqi capital. It targeted worshippers returning from the Shiite holy city of Karbala following the climax of the religious commemoration known as Arbaeen.
Children were among the 20 people confirmed killed, according to a police official. He said at least 50 people were wounded.
The bomb went off in the middle of a gathering of pilgrims changing buses. They were coming from Karbala on their way to other destinations in the country, according to police.
“The explosion shook the whole block and smashed the windows of my house,” Ibrahim Mohammed, a teacher who lives nearby, told the Associated Press. “I ran to the scene of the explosion only to find charred bodies and burning cars. There were women screaming and searching for their missing children.”
A hospital official confirmed the casualty toll. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release information to reporters.
“I was getting a sandwich when a very strong explosion rocked the place and the blast threw me away. When I regained my senses and stood up, I saw dozens of bodies,” Ali Sabbar, a pilgrim who witnessed the explosion, told Reuters.
“Many cars were set on fire. I just left the place and didn't even participate in the evacuation of the victims,” Sabbar added.
Arbaeen has been a frequent target for militants since the U.S.-led invasion that toppled Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein, who banned Shiite festivals.
The latest violence followed nearly two week of protests against Shiite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki by thousands of people from the minority Sunni community in the western province of Anbar.
Although violence is far lower than during the sectarian strife of 2006-2007, a total of 4,471 civilians died last year in what one rights group described as a “low-level war” with insurgents.

Series of blasts in Iraq’s Kirkuk kill 6, wounds 30

Category: News
Created on Sunday, 16 December 2012 20:49
roadside bombs strike Iraqs Kirkuk . AFPBombings against two Shiite places of worship in the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk killed 6 people Sunday, while an attack on a Kurdish political office left two dead, police and doctors said.
Three roadside bombs exploded near a Shi'ite mosque in the city, and a car bomb and a roadside bomb detonated near a Kirkuk television channel, according to police officials.
Omar Sideeq, head of Kirkuk's health department, said six people were killed and 30 wounded. But a police official said 10 people had been killed in the attacks. No-one claimed responsibility.
The officer who spoke to AFP said the attacks took place at around 1630 GMT as a doctor from Kirkuk general hospital confirmed the toll.
Oil-rich and ethnically mixed Kirkuk is part of a swathe of territory in north Iraq that the autonomous Kurdistan region wants to incorporate, despite strong objections by Baghdad.
Earlier on Sunday, a car bomb exploded at the local headquarters of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani's Patriotic Union of Kurdistan or PUK party in the province of Diyalah, after a number of people seeking to join the Kurdish security forces had gathered.
The blast in Jalawla, which like Kirkuk lies in disputed territory, killed two recruits and wounded 13, a police officer and a doctor at the local Hospital said.
The dispute over territory in northern Iraq is the greatest threat to the country's long-term stability, diplomats and officials say. Ties between Baghdad and Kurdistan are also marred by disputes over oil and power-sharing.
While violence has decreased significantly from its peak in 2006-2007, attacks still occur almost every day across the Middle East country.

Iraq attacks kill six, including a brigadier

Category: News
Created on Sunday, 23 September 2012 16:32
A bomb attack on a minibus in the district of Sadr City -Iraq ReutersAttacks in Iraq on Sunday killed at least six people, among them a police brigadier general and two soldiers, security and medical officials said.
Gunmen using silenced weapons opened fire on a vehicle carrying police Brigadier General Nayef Abdul Razzaq, head of the interior ministry’s complaints office, in the al-Yarmuk area of west Baghdad, killing him and his driver, an interior ministry official said.
A medical source at al-Yarmuk hospital said the facility received the body of the driver, while Razzaq died within minutes of arriving.
In Sadr City in north Baghdad, a magnetic “sticky bomb” attached to a minibus killed two people and wounded six, the interior ministry official said, while a medical source put the toll at three dead and eight wounded.
And in the northern Iraq city of Mosul, a roadside bomb killed two soldiers when it exploded near their patrol, army First Lieutenant Walid Hammoud and Dr Mahmud Haddad said.
The latest violence brings the number of people killed this month to at least 175, while more than 670 have been wounded in attacks, according to an AFP tally based on security and medical sources.
Violence in Iraq is down from its peak in 2006 and 2007, but deadly attacks still occur almost every day.

Wave of attacks kills 56 in Iraq

Category: News
Created on Sunday, 09 September 2012 20:46
car bomb exploded outside the French consular building - ReutersA series of more than 20 attacks across Iraq killed 56 people and wounded over 250 others on Saturday and Sunday, security and medical officials said, with targets including security forces and markets.
The latest violence brings the number of people killed in attacks so far this month to 86, according to an AFP tally based on security and medical sources.
In the deadliest attack on Sunday, two car bombs exploded in a market near the shrine of Imam Ali al-Sharqi in southern Iraq, a security official said.
Dr. Ali al-Alaa, a Maysan province health department official, said the blasts killed 14 people and wounded 60.
Before midnight on Saturday, gunmen opened fire on an army checkpoint near Balad north of Baghdad and a roadside bomb exploded when additional soldiers arrived at the scene.
Eleven soldiers, including two officers, were killed and eight others wounded, an army colonel and a medical source at Balad hospital said.
A police captain was also shot dead on Saturday night in the town of Garma, security and medical officials said.
Early Sunday morning, a car bomb exploded in a car park at the rear gate of state-owned North Oil Company, 15 kilometers (nine miles) from the northern city of Kirkuk, killing seven people and wounding 17 others, police and Dr Othman Abdul Rahman said.
The victims were seeking to join a force that guards oil facilities, a police officer said.
In Kirkuk itself, two bombings killed three people and wounded 70 others, police and Dr Mohammed Abdullah said.
The blasts left body parts strewn in the streets, destroyed cars, and damaged government buildings, an AFP correspondent said.
The streets were deserted after the attacks.
A car bomb seriously wounded six soldiers west of Kirkuk, according to army Captain Taha Khalaf, while another in Hawija, also west of the city, wounded two people, security and medical sources said.
Volatile, oil-rich Kirkuk province is part of a swathe of disputed territory in northern Iraq that the autonomous Kurdistan region wants to incorporate over opposition from Baghdad.
Three soldiers were killed in clashes with insurgents in Abu Ghraib area, west of Baghdad, an interior ministry official and a medical source from Abu Ghraib hospital said.
Three car bombs exploded in Taji, north of the capital, killing one person and wounding at least seven others, an interior ministry official said and a medical source said.
And five roadside bombs exploded in and around Baquba, killing a soldier and wounding 17 others, a police colonel and a doctor said.
In the former insurgent stronghold of Fallujah, a sniper shot dead a soldier, army Captain Saadun al-Mohammedi and Dr Hamed Iyad from Fallujah hospital said.
In Nasiriyah, 305 kilometers (190 miles) south of Baghdad, a bomb exploded at around 9:00 am (06:00 GMT) Sunday near a French honorary consulate, causing material damage and wounding an unspecified number of people, a French diplomat said.
The city’s website put the toll from the bombing at one dead and one wounded.
The foreign ministry in France said in a statement that it “condemns with the greatest firmness the attacks in several Iraqi cities since yesterday which have killed more than 50 people and led to hundreds being wounded.”
Meanwhile, a car bomb exploded in front of a hotel in Nasiriyah, killing two people and wounding two others, according to the head of Nasiriyah hospital, Ahmed Abdul Saheb, and a security source.
Attacks in Tuz Khurmatu, 175 kilometers (110 miles) north of Baghdad killed four people, including a police captain and wounded 31, among them a police second lieutenant, its mayor Shalal Abdul and police Lieutenant Colonel Khaled al-Bayati said.
In the southern port city of Basra, a car bomb in a market killed three people and wounded at least 20 others, police and a medical official said.
In Tal Afar 380 kilometers (240 miles) northwest of Baghdad, a car bomb exploded about 8:30 am (0530 GMT) killing two people and wounding seven, police First Lieutenant Abed Ghayib and Dr Waad Mohammed from Tal Afar hospital said.
And south of Samarra, a city north of Baghdad, another car bomb killed two police, including Colonel Thair Idris, and wounded two others, a police lieutenant colonel and a medical source said.
Violence in Iraq is down significantly from its peak in 2006 and 2007, but attacks remain common, and killed 278 people in August according to an AFP tally based on security and medical officials.

Iran Funding Terror Camp in Iraq

Category: Reports
Created on Tuesday, 31 July 2012 10:10
Young Arab terrorists  illustrativeAn Iranian-funded religious academy in Iraq is training approximately 1,500 recruits from Arab countries worldwide to use “combat weapons” and engage in “street fighting,” The Gulf Daily News reported.
Iran has spent $1 million to establish and fund the camp, according to the report. Training reportedly began over the weekend.
According to a report in Gulf Daily News’ Arabic language sister publication, Akhbar Al Khaleej, citizens from Arab nations worldwide have joined the terror training camp.
“Apart from members of Hawza IImiyya Najab, the religious academy, those being trained include citizens from Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Syria and other Arab countries, the report adds.
Their countries’ national flags were flown over the main gate of the camp during the opening ceremony of the camp, it says.
Several Iraqi and Iranian officials are said to have attended the training facility’s opening ceremonies.
“Mohmmed Redha Ali Al Sistani, son of Iranian religious scholar Ali Al Sistani; Iraqi Transport Minister Hadi Al Amiri; Higher Education and Scientific Research Minister and a senior member of Iraq Islamic Dawa Party Ali Al Adeeb; Iranian General Qasim Sulaimani and other members of the State of Law Coalition attended the ceremony.

Democracy Allows 'Thieves' to Plunder Iraq

Category: News
Created on Monday, 11 June 2012 08:09
HezbollahDemocracy has allowed “thieves” to plunder and pillage Iraq, the secretary of Hizbullah said in an interview on Saturday, Al-Arabiya news reported.
“The drawback of a democratic system is that it allows thieves to pillage what they want,” Wathiq al-Battat was quoted by the Cairo-based Al-Sharqiya News as saying.
“We have yet to see a successful system governing Iraq,” he said, adding that only an Islamic system of governance, based on the Sharia, could successfully lead Iraq.
“People of other religions can have their representatives in this system,” he said. 
Battat proposed holding a referendum in which Iraqis could be asked whether they wanted the Sharia to be implemented or preferred the continuance of a “fake democracy.”
He described the latter as a “hotbed” for “thieves”, run by those who sold Iraq. 
However, he opposed the current campaign to unseat the country’s Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki who is increasingly being described as “dictator,” and said that a no-confidence vote would bring Iraq back to “square one.” 
He added that only citizens would bear the burden of such a campaign. 
“In the past, political disputes would focus on quotas but now it’s personal differences,” he said, describing “the real weakness in the current Iraqi regime is that parties who have authority are weak and not strong.”

Bombings in Iraq kill six people, including four children

Category: News
Created on Tuesday, 22 May 2012 19:18
Bombings in the center of the ethnically-mixed city of Baquba, north of Baghdad, killed six people including four children on Tuesday, an army officer and a doctor said.three bombs exploded in sequence inside a pet market
The attacks struck the homes of a Sunni anti-Qaeda militiaman and a formerly internally-displaced Shiite family, both of which are in a neighborhood that was an insurgent stronghold during the worst of Iraq's sectarian bloodshed.
In the first bombing, militants detonated explosives at the home of Arkan Mohammed, a fighter in the Sahwa, Sunni tribal militias that sided with U.S. forces against Qaeda from late 2006, helping turn the tide of Iraq’s insurgency.
Mohammed’s wife and two of his sons, aged 10 and 13, were killed in the bombing, according to an Iraqi army lieutenant colonel and Doctor Ahmed Ibrahim of Baquba hospital.
The fighter and another of his children were wounded.
Around 15 minutes later, a bomb went off at the home of a Shiite Muslim family who had been displaced from the Gatoun neighborhood but recently returned, the lieutenant colonel said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The mother and two children died, while the father Mehdi al-Timimi and two other children were wounded, the officer and Ibrahim said.
During the peak of Iraq’s confessional violence in 2006 and 2007, Gatoun was a stronghold of Qaeda fighters, but levels of unrest have significantly declined since.
Attacks remain common, however, particularly in Baquba, and 126 Iraqis died as a result of violence in April, according to official figures.

Battle in Iraq pits oil against antiquities

Category: Archeology and History
Created on Thursday, 17 May 2012 12:42
BabylonBabylon’s Hanging Gardens were one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, but heritage appears to be no match for Iraq’s booming oil industry in a dispute over a new pipeline.
As Baghdad is working to get UNESCO to list Babylon as a World Heritage Site, archaeologists and oil ministry officials are in a battle over a pipeline that one side insists threatens the site and could cause irreparable damage to the ruins.
Qais Rashid, head of the Supreme Board of Antiquities and Heritage, said the oil ministry drilled to extend a pipeline that runs about 1.5 kilometers (0.9 miles) in length, to transport petroleum products through the archaeological site of Babylon.
The pipeline was officially opened in March.
“The work could damage priceless antiquities belonging to the modern era of Babylon, especially by drilling,” Rashid said.
Mariam Omran, head of the antiquities department in Babil province where the site lies, added that much of the archaeological area was still unexplored, and while no damage was visible, there was no telling what the impact was beneath the surface.
“There may be antiquities just centimeters below the ground,” she said. “The antiquities at these sites have not yet been fully discovered, just like the rest of the historical landmark.”
But oil ministry spokesman Assem Jihad defended the Babylon project, saying “it was carried out ... hundreds of meters (yards) from the archaeological sites.”
“We did not find any traces or evidence of the existence of antiquities during the drilling operations.”
Babylon lies some 90 kilometers (50 miles) south of Baghdad and is considered one of the cradles of human civilization. It was the capital for two renowned kings of antiquity: Hammurabi (1792-1750 BC) and Nebuchadnezzar (604-562 BC), who built the Hanging Gardens.
The Inner City covers an area of 2.99 square kilometers (1.15 square miles) and the outer walls surrounding the city east and west of the Euphrates enclose another 9.56 square kilometers (3.69 square miles).
Listed as an archaeological site since 1935, it has been partially excavated over the past century, but much of the ancient city remains to be uncovered.
A 2009 report from The U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) said “the archaeological city was plundered during the US-led war in 2003 that ousted Saddam Hussein. Contents of the Nebuchadnezzar and Hammurabi museums and of the Babylon Library and Archive were stolen and destroyed.”
And the city was damaged by “digging, cutting, scraping and leveling” for a US military base that was located there from April 2003 to December 2004.
The Ishtar Gate and Processional Way were among key structures damaged, the UN agency said, as American forces made key adaptations to the historical site to fortify their base by building trenches and pits, and using chemicals to complete construction works.
Iraq is a country rich in history and archaeological sites that offer great potential for tourism, but the vast majority of government revenues still come from oil.
Exports are rising rapidly, averaging 2.508 million barrels per day in April and pulling in $8.8 billion (6.8 billion euros), with both figures at their highest levels since 1989.
The sales are providing much-needed income to help fund rebuilding of Iraq’s dilapidated infrastructure, wracked by decades of war and sanctions.
“There have been two pipelines to transport petroleum products in the same location for more than thirty years,” said Jihad, adding that “the new strategic pipeline supplies oil products from refineries to the south of Baghdad.”
But Rashid unfurled a map of the site across his desk in his office in Iraq’s National Museum and said: “The pipeline passes via the northern edge of the site, through the archaeological site, and then through the southern edge.”
He said the pipeline presented “major risks,” including pollution of the environment, and the threat of a potential explosion of the pipeline.
Omran showed off a visible section of the pipeline, which lies nearly two metres (6.5 feet) underground.
“The implementation of this project,” she said, “is an extreme violation of the law on the protection of antiquities.”
Iraq made three requests to establish Bablyon as a UNESCO World Heritage Site under Saddam Hussein’s regime, but all were rejected because the site was badly administered, the organization said.
Saddam did not properly care for the site, even rebuilding part of the city with bricks stamped with his initials.
But Rashid said “UNESCO stressed that it is not only the former regime, but the current regime in Iraq that also does not respect the antiquities.”
UNESCO told AFP when asked about the pipeline that “it will respond formally on this matter” but gave no further details.
Rashid, however, claimed that “putting in the pipeline is like a bullet that killed our efforts to include the city of Babylon” as a World Heritage Site.

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