25 February 2017
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Video evidence of executions and torture stokes Sunni-Shia tension as troops launch final push to retake city from Isis

Graphic videos of men in Iraqi security force uniforms carrying out beatings and summary executions on the streets of Mosul have cast a shadow over the campaign to retake the city from Islamic State as prime minister announced the launch of military operations.

“We announce the start of a new phase in the operation, we are coming Nineveh to liberate the western side of Mosul,” said Haider al-Abadi in a brief televised speech.

The violent scenes, posted on social media pages supporting the Iraqi government forces, are reminiscent of Isis’s own propaganda and starkly contrast with the overwhelmingly positive impression left so far by the US-trained troops leading the battle to retake Iraq’s second city.

The videos have been condemned by the UN and human rights groups, and raise concerns about the next stage of the campaign, when troops will move into the western side of Mosul, and the Iraqi government’s ability to bring long-term stability to the city.

Security forces have been welcomed by residents weary of Isis’s brutal rule, and praised for their restraint through months of gruelling urban warfare, defying fears that the assault by Shia-dominated forces on a Sunni-majority city could spark a sectarian bloodbath.

But underlying tensions have not vanished. The population remains wary of Baghdad and the Shia militias that bolster its power, and with the second major part of the campaign for Mosul expected to start within days, abuse could feed dangerous resentment.

In one of the bloodiest films, a man behind the camera urges on a group in Iraqi federal police uniforms as he films them clubbing four men in civilian clothes. “Well done – you did a good job,” he says, before the attackers drag the men down an asphalt road, and summarily execute three with machine guns.

In other videos circulated on Facebook young men are beaten, or forced to imitate animals – one a dog, another made to bleat like a goat.

The men abusing the prisoners appear to wear the insignia of various security forces including federal police, the regular army, the Counter Terrorism Service (CTS) and militias known as the Popular Mobilisation Forces.

Several of these groups are trained and armed by the US-led coalition in a programme that is meant to cover international laws of war, including treatment of prisoners. The UN’s commissioner for human rights described the footage as “deeply disturbing” and called on the Iraqi government to investigate.

And while all the videos claim to show abuse of Isis fighters, a lack of safeguards means civilians are likely to be at risk. In the race to disrupt sleeper cells and round up collaborators, security forces have already cast such a wide net that their targets included at least one Shia family who lived in hiding under Isis.

The prime minister’s office has launched an investigation into the videos as “a precaution”, although it insisted it considers them a fabricated slur. “If it is proven that there were abuses, the perpetrators will be handed over to the courts. In other operations there were individuals who committed abuses and … some were sentenced,” spokesman Saad al-Hadithi said.

Most of the videos and pictures were posted on the internet after the second phase of the Mosul operation started in late December. They stand in stark contrast to matching posts on the official special forces Facebook page, which shows them posing for selfies with newly liberated residents, handing out food and water, and even feeding animals. But though they show abuse, the images appear to have been posted by government supporters rather than whistleblowers, garnering thousands of likes and shares. The Facebook pages they appear on unofficially document the progress of the campaign.

One of the most popular posts, liked nearly 9,000 times, is drafted like an ad-hoc poll about summary execution. Below a photo of a young captive, blindfolded on the floor while two police officers place their feet on his head, a caption asks what readers think the officers should do with him.

“Swear on Qur’an, these young men sent us this photo from Mosul and arrested this Daesh [fighter] with their own hands. They say if you like and comment, they would flatten him in this place now, no arrest, no court and nothing else … it is up to you,” it reads.

There were around 1,200 comments, most of them calling for the prisoner’s blood. “Oh heroes! Put a bullet to his head, finish him off. Don’t imprison him. Don’t spend anything on him. An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, they were the ones who committed crimes first,” said one user with the name Warda al-Sabah. There was no update on what had happened to the man.

The videos threaten not only to tarnish the image of security forces, but potentially to undermine public support for the Mosul offensive, human rights activists said, calling on the government to investigate thoroughly.

“While this operation has seen so few incidents of abuse compared with earlier operations, it is vital that prime minister Haider al-Abadi takes them seriously when they do come up,” said Belkis Wille, who has documented human rights abuses in Iraq for Human Rights Watch. “We often see the authorities creating investigative committees – we rarely see results. Let’s hope it is different this time.”

It is difficult to identify the men and young boys in the images because after two and a half years surviving Isis terror, people in the city do not want to be seen as critical of the security forces for fear of being labelled as Isis sympathisers. As the videos show, it can be deadly.

In another video dated 22 January a terrified young boy identified as a suicide attacker is led on his knees and the palms of his hands by an officer of the interior ministry’s US-trained Quick Reaction Force.

He is forced to bark like a dog, repeat “I am a dog, son of a dog”, then bite the boot of soldier, as an officer commands him to show his face so his humiliation is public. “Raise your head so your face is visible,” the man says.

Almost all the comments on the video praise the soldiers for humiliating the young fighter, although there is one lone voice of dissent, warning that the attackers risked sinking to the level of the group they are trying to destroy.

“Even if he is Daesh, he is still a human, brothers please do not violate the reputation of the army and the police, we do not want to behave like Daesh,” wrote a commentator with the name Arkan Alazy, who said he had lost a brother to the group.

“My brother was in the army and was killed by Daesh but this does not mean that I would become a criminal like them,” he wrote. “Prisoners are treated differently, that is what our religion teaches us.”

Source: The Guardian

The U.S. military is "not in Iraq to seize anybody's oil", Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said, distancing himself from remarks by President Donald Trump, as he held talks with Iraqi leaders on Monday.

Mattis was the highest-ranking Trump administration official to visit Iraq since Trump irked Iraqis with a temporary ban on travel to the United States and for saying America should have seized Iraq's oil after toppling Saddam Hussein in 2003.

Trump told CIA staff in January: "We should have kept the oil. But okay. Maybe you'll have another chance."

Mattis, however, flatly ruled out any such intent. "We're not in Iraq to seize anybody's oil," he told reporters traveling with him late on Sunday, ahead of his arrival.

"All of us in America have generally paid for our gas and oil all along and I'm sure that we will continue to do so in the future," said Mattis, a retired Marine general who once led forces in Iraq.

His remarks are the latest sign of differences with Trump. Trump has acknowledged that Mattis disagrees with him about the usefulness of torture in interrogation and said he would defer to his defense secretary on the issue.

Mattis has been more critical than Trump of RussianPresident Vladimir Putin, and distanced himself from Trump's labeling of the media as "the enemy of the American people", saying he had no problems with the press.

A retired Marine general who led American troops in Iraq, Mattis has sought an exemption from Trump's travel ban for Iraqis who have served with U.S. troops, including translators.

He said he had not seen a new executive order which the administration is considering. "But I right now am assured that we will take steps to allow those who have fought alongside us, for example, to be allowed into the United States," Mattis said.

Mattis' visit came a day after Iraqi Prime Minister Haideral-Abadi announced the start of a ground offensive on westernMosul, where Islamic State militants are under siege along with an estimated 650,000 civilians.

It was unclear whether Trump's remarks on oil had come up during Mattis' with Abadi, who has told Washington that Iraq's oil is the property of Iraqis.

Mattis also met Iraq's defense minister and top U.S. officials in Iraq.

WILL US FORCES STAY AFTER MOSUL?

Influential Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr on Monday called on Iraq's government to order the withdrawal of U.S. and allied forces after the battle of Mosul is over.

"The Iraqi government has to demand that all occupying and so-called friendly forces leave Iraq in order to preserve the prestige and the sovereignty of the state," Sadr said.

Mattis declined to address Sadr's remarks directly, describing them as an internal political matter.

But he said he was reassured after his talks in Baghdad that Iraq's leaders recognized the value of its relationship with the United States.

"I imagine we’ll be in this fight for a while and we’ll stand by each other," he said, repeatedly praising the resilience of Iraqi forces.

The U.S. commander in Iraq, Army Lieutenant General StephenTownsend, has said he believes U.S.-backed forces will recapture both of Islamic State's major strongholds - Mosul and the city of Raqqa in Syria - within the next six months.

Trump is looking for a plan to accelerate the campaign against Islamic State, which could lead to an additional deployment of U.S. forces, who currently number less than 6,000 in Iraq and Syria.

The Pentagon may also look at increasing the number of attack helicopters and air strikes and bringing in more artillery, as well as granting greater authority to battlefield commanders fighting Islamic State.

Townsend told a news conference in Baghdad he had been putting U.S. military advisers closer to front lines in Mosul than before, a move that would increase risk but bolster their ability to aid Iraqis, including by directing air strikes.  

"We adjusted our posture during the east Mosul fight and we embedded advisers a bit further down into the formation," he said.

Townsend added he was certain victory in Mosul was within sight. "The Iraqi security forces are going to take that city back. No doubt about it," he said.

Source: Reuters

(Erbil) – Armed forces fighting Islamic State (also known as ISIS) to retake a town and four villages near Mosul looted, damaged, and destroyed homes, Human Rights Watch said today. There was no apparent military necessity for the demolitions, which may amount to war crimes and which took place between November 2016 and February 2017.

The Iraqi authorities should investigate allegations of war crimes and hold those responsible to account, Human Rights Watch said. The United States and other countries providing military assistance to the Iraqi Security Forces should press the government to carry out these investigations. The United Nations Human Rights Council should expand the investigation it established in 2014 on ISIS abuses to include serious violations by all parties, including the Popular Mobilization Forces (known as the PMF or Hashd al-Sha'abi), units that were formed largely to combat ISIS, and are under the direct command of Prime Minister al-Abadi.

“Absent a legitimate military objective, there is no excuse for destroying civilian homes,” said Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “All the destruction does is to keep civilians from going home.”

To the southwest of Mosul, Human Rights Watch documented looting and extensive demolition of buildings in three villages using explosives, heavy machinery, and fire. Witness statements about the extent and timing of the demolitions, between late December and early February, were corroborated by satellite imagery showing the destruction of at least 350 buildings, including the main mosque, in the village of Ashwa during that time. Satellite imagery reviewed by Human Rights Watch showed that the abuses took place after anti-ISIS forces incorporated the villages into a large network of earthen berms and trenches. Locals told Human Rights Watch the only armed forces in the areas taken from ISIS were different groups within the PMF.

Human Rights Watch asked a representative of the PMF about the destruction in all three villages. In a written response received on February 12, the PMF stated that some buildings were used as artillery positions by ISIS while other houses were booby-trapped by ISIS in order to detonate around advancing PMF forces. They also said the PMF slowed their advance for nearly two days to avoid destroying infrastructure and private property and that after being pushed out, ISIS forces continued to aim artillery fire at the villages.

The PMF did not say how long ISIS attacks on the villages continued and did not provide the number of homes destroyed by ISIS or say which groups within the PMF were in the villages. The statement did not acknowledge that the PMF conducted extensive property demolitions after retaking the areas, let alone provide an explanation for the destruction.

Despite the PMF statement about booby-trapped homes, the satellite imagery reviewed by Human Rights Watch shows that the houses were destroyed by explosives, heavy machinery, and fire after the PMF had retaken the villages. Burning, demolishing, or bulldozing homes is a wholly inappropriate mechanism for mine clearance, and would likely detonate any improvised explosive devices (IEDs). In addition, almost all of the burnt buildings still have their load-bearing exterior and interior walls intact, with only the roof missing, which is inconsistent with IED blasts.

Given the broader investigation and the continued pattern of destruction for almost two months after the PMF were firmly in control of the area, Human Rights Watch did not find evidence to support claims that the demolitions may have been undertaken for legitimate military reasons.

Satellite imagery shows that the PMF incorporated the retaken villages within a security network of earthen berms and trenches. That network suggests that the whole area inside was well enough protected that there would have been no military need for PMF forces to demolish the homes inside the secured zone. In addition, satellite imagery shows no demolitions in other villages nearby; if there was a military need for the destruction, there should be a more even distribution of demolitions in adjacent villages.

The laws of war prohibit attacks on civilian property except when an enemy is using it for military purposes. They also prohibit indiscriminate attacks, including attacks that treat an entire area, such as a village, as a military objective.

Human Rights Watch also documented looting and burning of homes in two villages southeast of Mosul: in the Christian town of Bakhdida, also known as Hamdaniyah or Qaraqosh, and the mixed Sunni and Christian village of al-Khidir. The looting and destruction took place after they were retaken from ISIS, between November 2016 and January 2017. Multiple forces including the Nineveh Plain Protection Units (NPU), the Iraqi military’s 9th Division, local police, and Federal Police were present in Bakhdida, according to military personnel in the area and residents interviewed by Human Rights Watch.

Human Rights Watch was unable to identify the specific forces responsible for these abuses. In al-Khidir, 30 kilometers southeast of Mosul, Human Rights Watch also saw evidence of looted homes. Residents said that they fled the village one week before the area was retaken, on November 19, and when they returned home 20 days later, their homes had been looted. During that time there were several PMF units present, including the Christian Babylon Brigades, according to military personnel in the area.

Elsewhere in Iraq, Human Rights Watch has documented looting and destruction of civilian property, amounting to war crimes by the PMF and by the Kurdistan Regional Government’s Peshmerga forces, in their operations to retake territory from ISIS.

Iraqi authorities should take immediate steps to investigate these alleged war crimes and other allegations of unlawful demolitions, looting, and destruction of civilian property. They should hold armed forces that loot or destroy civilian property to account. The committee established by law to compensate victims of “terrorism and military errors” should process claims of victims of looting and destruction by armed forces.

“The Iraqi government may win its fight against ISIS, but it also needs to win the peace,” Fakih said. “That will be difficult if forces under its control violate international laws by looting and destroying the homes of local villagers.”

Ashwa
Human Rights Watch interviewed six residents of the village of Ashwa, who said that on December 12, 2016, ISIS forces who had taken control of the area in June 2014 left the village as fighters belonging to the PMF’s League of the Righteous (Asa'ib Ahl al-Haqq) and the Ali al-Akbar Brigade (Lua Ali al-Akbar) took control of the area. The residents could identify which PMF groups came to the village from their banners, flags, and badges. Once the PMF took over, they told residents to leave the area for a displaced persons camp to the south.

Residents said ISIS prevented locals from fleeing by reinforcing pre-existing security earthen berms surrounding the village. Human Rights Watch reviewed satellite imagery that showed ISIS had substantially reinforced the berms by August 2016. When the PMF arrived, the residents said they opened up a section of the berm so that villagers could leave.

Satellite imagery of the village shows that after the PMF captured it, they incorporated the pre-existing berms into much larger, newly-constructed security earthen berms to the south and west of the village between December 11 and December 22.

Human Rights Watch reviewed satellite images that show 46 buildings were destroyed between December 8 and December 20, and an additional 94 buildings were destroyed between December 20 and February 10. Visible damage signatures were consistent with the use of high explosives, heavy machinery, and fire. One of the buildings destroyed by explosives was the Ashwa Mosque, the primary mosque in the village.

Mashirafat al-Jisr
Human Rights Watch interviewed three displaced residents of Mashirafat al-Jisr, the neighboring village to Ashwa. One said that on the morning of December 12, at about 10 a.m., he saw four cars with ISIS fighters pull into the village and immediately come under fire. At that time, the majority of the village residents, roughly 100 people, fled by car to a nearby hill, residents told Human Rights Watch, and watched as ISIS forces left the village and fighters flying PMF banners entered.

One villager remained behind to protect his property. He said he saw 10 cars arrive, and the fighters who descended introduced themselves to him as members of the Martyrs of Sayyid Battalions (Kata'ib Sayyid al-Shuhada). They told him to leave the area, to which he responded that if the villagers returned to find their homes looted he would blame their unit.

He said he left, joined the other villagers, and traveled on to a camp, where they remained. The three residents said that most villagers did not return home but seven days later, one young villager who was recruited by the PMF inside the camp went back to the village with two other new recruits and sent his relatives photos suggesting their homes had been looted or destroyed.

The photos, which Human Rights Watch saw, show at least one house burned from the inside, one house destroyed, and two looted.

One of the new recruits said that when he got to the village on December 19, he saw that many homes had been destroyed, and those still standing had been looted, many had also been burned. At that time, the village was under the control of the PMF unit League of the Righteous. He heard one fighter ask a League of the Righteous officer what had happened in the village, and he replied that the homes had been full of IEDs. He also said that the Martyrs of Sayyid Battalions had been in the area at one point, but did not give a date.

The satellite imagery shows that more than 90 per cent of the affected buildings in the village were destroyed by fire.

Human Rights Watch reviewed satellite images of the village taken on December 6, January 1, January 24, and February 2. The first set showed no signs of significant building damage, the later images showed that 100 buildings had likely been burnt down or demolished with high explosives. In addition, the village appears to have been incorporated into a military post, with security earthen berms running along the western edge.

Khoytlah
Anti-ISIS fighters retook the village of Khoytlah from ISIS on December 13, at which point all the residents left and have not yet returned. Federal Police officers at a base in Qayyarah told Human Rights Watch that the PMF retook the village from ISIS and that only PMF fighters remained in the area after the clashes. Human Rights Watch was unable to identify which PMF were present.

A local leader who was present in the village under ISIS and withdrew as the village was being retaken by the PMF said that he did not witness ISIS destroying buildings before he and the rest of the villagers left their homes.

Human Rights Watch reviewed satellite images of the village that showed armed forces likely demolished at least 63 buildings with explosives, heavy machinery, and fire between December 8 and 22, and an additional 47 buildings between December 22 and February 10.

A satellite image taken on January 1 captured a smoke plume from an active building fire, indicating burning continued in the village two weeks after it had been occupied by anti-ISIS forces.

Southeast of Mosul

Bakhdida
In early January, Human Rights Watch researchers visited the Christian town of Bakhdida, 20 kilometers southeast of Mosul, and observed evidence of extensive looting and burning of homes. Human Rights Watch spoke with six residents who had been displaced from the town in 2014 when ISIS took it over and were now living in Erbil. Three said their homes in Bakhdida had been looted and three others said their homes were damaged by fire after anti-ISIS forces took control of the town in October.

Human Rights Watch reviewed satellite images of the town from October 18, showing multiple building fires burning across the city before anti-ISIS forces took over, but the displaced residents who spoke to Human Rights Watch said that they visited their homes after anti-ISIS forces took over the town and saw that they had not been impacted by the fighting or intentional destruction under ISIS.

In the months following the ISIS withdrawal, no residents were living in the town and it was occupied only by anti-ISIS security forces, according to the residents interviewed by Human Rights Watch.

According to local military personnel, the Nineveh Plain Protection Units (NPU), an Assyrian Christian brigade within the PMF, the Iraqi military’s 9th Division, and local and federal police took control of the town after ISIS was forced out . Human Rights Watch passed through NPU checkpoints in the town and saw NPU graffiti tags on walls throughout the town.

Three displaced residents told researchers that in the days after the town was retaken by a range of anti-ISIS forces, on October 22, they traveled back to their town from Erbil to check on their homes and saw that their homes were not damaged and that most of their personal items were still there. They said that after surveying their property they locked up and returned to Erbil.

Afterwards they returned regularly to the town and said that during these visits, from mid-November to early January, they saw their homes had been broken into and the contents looted.

Another displaced resident told Human Rights Watch that he visited his home on November 6, and found that the federal police had established a base in the building next door, and the NPU another behind his house. At the time, he said some of his furniture and personal belongings had been moved out onto his lawn but that his belongings were for the most part still there. He said that his home had not been damaged.

He returned to the town again on November 21, but this time said that he found that some of his furniture and one room had been burned. He went to the Federal Police base to ask what had happened, and an officer said that the fire had somehow been the result of a recent ISIS insurgent attack, without providing any details. Human Rights Watch could not verify whether such an attack occurred.

A fifth resident also displaced to Erbil since 2014, told Human Rights Watch that he visited his home in Bakhdida on December 2, and saw no signs of damage to his property. He said at that point the town was occupied by anti-ISIS forces, including from the local police and NPU, and the situation was calm. He said he left at 3 p.m. the same day, and two days later, his cousin called to say he had seen the house had been burned from the inside. The resident returned to the town on December 5, and confirmed that his house had been set on fire. He told Human Rights Watch he heard a rumor in mid-January that the local police, in conjunction with the NPU, had arrested two men from the Shabak community (a minority group in Iraq) accused of having committed another arson attack, and had sent them to Baghdad. Human Rights Watch was unable to confirm this or to connect these men to any of documented incidents of home burning

Another resident, also displaced to Erbil, who had visited his home in Bakhdida on December 26 and confirmed his property was not damaged, received a call on January 10 from a friend who said he heard that his house had been burned. The resident traveled back home the next morning and confirmed it had been destroyed. He said that while there, he saw local police and NPU fighters present in the town and that other anti-ISIS fighters may have also been there.

Al-Khidir
In the village of al-Khidir, 30 kilometers southeast of Mosul, Human Rights Watch also saw evidence of destruction of a few homes in early January. Three residents said that they fled the village one week before the area was retaken by anti-ISIS forces on November 19, and when they returned home 20 days later, their homes had been looted. During that time, according to military personnel in the area, there were several PMF units present, including the Babylon Brigades.

A local commander present in the area throughout the operation, told Human Rights Watch that he had observed the extensive looting, knew which forces were behind it, but would not divulge their identity. His statement, however, reflected that the looting was not done by ISIS fighters before they withdrew from the village, Human Rights Watch said.

Source: Human Rights Watch

Bloody protests in Baghdad over the weekend by followers of influential cleric Moqtada al-Sadr signal the resumption of a power struggle between Iraq's Shi'ite leaders which had been put on hold to focus on the war against Islamic State.

With Iraqi forces all but certain to defeat Islamic State in Mosul this year, Sadr has begun mobilizing his supporters ahead of two elections, for provincial councils in September and the crucial parliamentary vote, by April 2018.

His main rival is former Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, a pro-Iranian politician who started positioning himself last year as a possible kingmaker or even for a return to the premiership itself.

The political tussle played out on the streets of central Baghdad on Saturday when five demonstrators and a policeman were killed in clashes between security forces and Sadr followers demanding an overhaul of the state election commission, which the cleric believes favors Maliki.

A return to power for Maliki would bolster Iranian influence in Baghdad, giving Tehran leverage in any conflict with U.S. President Donald Trump's administration, which put new sanctions on the Islamic Republic following its missile test last month.

Although Sadr is openly hostile to Washington's policies in the Middle East and has spent considerable time in Iran, he would be a less dependable ally for Tehran in Baghdad. He has a troubled relationship with Iraqi political groups allied with Iran, and portrays himself as an Iraqi nationalist.

Maliki's eight-year rule ended in 2014, when the Iraqi army collapsed in the face of an Islamic State offensive, forcing him to hand over power to current Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi. Both men are members of the Shi'ite Dawa party.

He now holds the ceremonial position of vice president but still wields considerable influence, chairing the Dawa party which controls the largest bloc in parliament.

IRAN WANTS "LOYAL ALLY"

Abadi, a moderate Shi'ite politician, was better able to work with the Americans who helped rebuild the army and provided critical air and ground support to troops battling the Sunni jihadists after they seized a third of Iraq in 2014.

Iraqi forces have completed the first phase of the campaign to retake Mosul, the biggest city under Islamic State control, removing the militants from the eastern side of the city.

Abadi has overseen the two-year fightback, but lacks a political powerbase to match Sadr or Maliki.

"Abadi came as a compromise between the Americans and the Iranians," said Wathiq al-Hashimi, chairman of the Baghdad-based Iraqi Group for Strategic Studies think tank.

"Given the escalation with the Trump administration, Iran would for sure seek to have a strong, loyal ally in Baghdad" to take over after the parliamentary elections next year, he said.

The new American president says he has put Iran "on notice" after it test-fired a medium-range ballistic missile in January.

Some Western powers say that any launch of nuclear-capable ballistic missiles would violate a U.N. Security Council which enshrined a deal which curbed Iran's nuclear program in return for an easing of international sanctions. Iran says its missile launches do not breach the deal.

The escalation, and the Trump administration's halt to immigrants from seven mainly Muslim nations, placed Abadi in a dilemma. He resisted calls from influential pro-Iranian Shi'ite politicians to retaliate against the ban, citing Iraq's need for U.S. military support.

Commenting on his phone call on Thursday with Trump, he said Baghdad will steer clear of U.S.-Iran tension.

CALLS TO END CORRUPTION

Sadr's followers held several demonstrations last year to press for anti-corruption reforms, and stormed the Green Zone, a heavily protected cluster of government and foreign diplomatic buildings, after clashes with security forces.

Oil-rich Iraq ranks 161st out of 168 nations in Transparency International's Corruption Index.

Fourteen years after the U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein, the country still suffers a shortage of electricity, water, schools and hospitals, while existing facilities and infrastructure suffer widespread neglect.

Street mobilization is important for Sadr as he cannot rely on a regional backer to sustain his popularity.

Reacting to the killing of his followers on Saturday evening, Sadr said he was suspending protests for the time being, but added: "Their blood won't have been shed in vain."

Hashimi said Saturday's violence was unlikely to herald a dramatic shift in the balance of power, but the protesters had served notice that Sadr cannot be ignored. The protests enabled him "to mobilize his base under patriotic slogans and reassert his leadership," he said.

Sadr is the heir to a clerical dynasty which suffered under Saddam Hussein. While the Sadr family remained in Iraq, his main Shi'ite rivals, including Maliki, fled Saddam's persecution and returned to Iraq only after the invasion.

Iran has trained and armed Shi'ite militias collectively known as Popular Mobilization forces to counter Islamic State. Most of their leaders have close links with Maliki.

Maliki's Dawa party accuses Sadr of obstructing the war on Islamic State, saying his street protests increase the burden on the armed forces at the time when they are about to dislodge the militants from Mosul, their last city stronghold in Iraq.

A lawmaker close to Maliki, Ahmed al-Badri, also accuses the Sadrists of "being part of the corruption problem".

"The elections are around the corner and everybody wants to win the street, and everybody, including the Sadrists, are part of the corruption problem through their participation in different governments," he told Reuters.

Sadr's followers reject the accusations of obstructing the war effort. "It's their corruption that facilitate the entry of Daesh," said Ali Abu Mahdi, a 42 year-old state employee who marched in Saturday's demonstration. "Both are in the same bag."

Source: Reuters

Grim footage has emerged from eastern Mosul, supposedly “liberated” from Daesh control late last month,showing members of the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) and men who appeared to be from the Shia-dominated Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) paramilitary organisation executing unarmed men in the streets.

The footage shows armed Shia militants, who are fighting under the banner of Iraq, dragging a bound and clearly terrified man through the streets. The militants are heard abusing the man, and can be clearly seen beating him as they drag him to his death.

The victim is then placed at gunpoint by two other unarmed men in front of a row of houses, before about a dozen Shia jihadists fighting with the PMF and Iraqi soldiers open fire and gun them down in cold blood.

Even after the men have been shot and are clearly dead, the Iraqi soldiers and Shia militants continue to taunt and curse them, and occasionally other soldiers would walk over to the dead men and beginning firing at their corpses at point blank range. They would also stamp on the heads of the unarmed men, which is a deep sign of disrespect in Arab culture.

“Sadly, we have become accustomed to seeing such violence against people who are likely civilians,” Ahmad Al-Mahmoud, an analyst with the London-based Iraq monitoring group Foreign Relations Bureau of Iraq (FRB), told MEMO. “Even if they are ISIS, they should be tried in transparent and just courts, not shot dead in the middle of the street,” Al-Mahmoud said, using another acronym for the Daesh extremist organisation.

“What separates the Iraqi government from them [Daesh] if they are killing people in the streets?”

Extremist Shia militants fighting within the ISF or as part of the PMF, sanctioned by Baghdad and accepted as a formal branch of the Iraqi military last year, frequently justify their field executions by stating that the men they kill are Daesh militants.

It is unclear if the unarmed men in the video are civilians or Daesh militants. However, under international law, it is a war crime to put people to death without properly conducted due process. As these men formally fight under the authority of the Iraqi government, this could mean that Iraq has violated international human rights law and could be found guilty of crimes against humanity and war crimes.

 Daesh strikes back

Although the Iraqi government claimed to have recaptured the entirety of the eastern bank of Mosul, bisected by the Tigris River, the fighting has yet to be concluded.

Security sources confirmed that, two nights ago, Daesh fighters managed to infiltrate the ISF’s positions in east Mosul by conducting an amphibious operation from the western bank, still under their control, and evading detection by the ISF.

The militants crossed the river by using small boats and landed in several sectors, causing disarray in ISF defensive positions. Heavy fighting ensued, leading the ISF to sustain heavy casualties before successfully repelling the attacks, killing an unspecified number of militants and forcing the others to withdraw back across the Tigris.

Daesh also released video footage it claims shows its forces bombarding neighbourhoods in east Mosul. Al Jazeera cited medical sources as confirming that this shelling led to the deaths of six civilians and the wounding of 25 others in what can only be described as indiscriminate fire.

A US and Iran-backed Iraqi operation to recapture Mosul from Daesh began on 17 October 2016, gathering together a force of 100,000 soldiers and militiamen versus around 5,000 Daesh militants. Almost four months later, Iraqi forces may have sustained more than 6,500 fatalities, and have only just managed to gain an insecure level of control over eastern Mosul.

Source: Middle East Monitor

PRESS RELEASE

For immediate release 7th February 2017

 IRAN’S MIDDLE EAST AGGRESSION

IS ABOUT TO COME TO A JUDDERING HALT

 The Iranian regime’s days of aggressive expansionism in the Middle East are about to come to a juddering halt. This is the message from well-known Middle East lecturer and expert Struan Stevenson, President of the European Iraqi Freedom Association (EIFA). Speaking following his lecture at the Jean Moulin University in Lyon, Mr Stevenson said: “New sanctions ordered by the US government on several Iranian companies and individuals associated with the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps and its foreign terrorist wing the Qods Force, were a warning shot across the bows of the theocratic fascist regime. President Trump has made it quite clear that he regards Iran’s recent missile test and the attack on a Saudi frigate in the Gulf by an Iranian-backed Houthi rebel suicide boat, as direct provocations and breaches of the 2015 nuclear deal, which he is not prepared to tolerate. The president even tweeted: “Iran is playing with fire - they don't appreciate how 'kind' President Obama was to them. Not me!” To underline the message, General James Mattis, the newly appointed US Defense Secretary stated that Iran is “the biggest state sponsor of terrorism.” 

In Europe, the German Foreign Minister stipulated that Iran has blatantly violated several international agreements by testing ballistic missiles. He then supported the U.S. sanctions by saying that this measure is quite appropriate. 

The reality is that the Iranian regime has set the region on fire.

Following years of craven appeasement by the West, the turbaned tyrants in Iran are reeling from the tough new approach by the Americans. Accustomed to dealing with a spineless US foreign policy, weakly endorsed by the EU and UN, the ruthless Iranian regime has relentlessly spread its evil influence across the Middle East, backing Bashar al-Assad’s bloodstained regime in Syria, the brutal Shi’ia militias in Iraq, the Houthi rebels in Yemen and Hezbollah in Lebanon. Their pledge to deploy further ballistic missiles which is a direct breach of the UN resolutions linked to the nuclear deal, is a huge mistake, which could cost Tehran dearly.

“The UN Security Council resolution urged Tehran to refrain from work on ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads. However, the Iranians lamely deny ever having had a nuclear weapons programme in the first place and therefore say that none of their missiles are capable of carrying nuclear warheads. Unwilling to confront this patent falsehood and unravel the nuclear deal that he regarded as his greatest foreign policy achievement, Barack Obama allowed repeated Iranian missile tests to take place. Spin doctors in Washington even argued that the West should now exploit rich commercial trading opportunities with Iran’s ‘moderate’ president Rouhani, omitting to observe that under his three year term in office, more than 3000 people have been executed, often hanged in public in football stadiums. Breaches of human rights and women’s rights in Iran are endemic.

“Like all bullies, the Iranian mullahs believe that being aggressive pays dividends. They are about to discover that toughness is not about being a bully, it’s about having a backbone.”

Struan Stevenson added: “I support the jointletter on 7 January 2017 by 23 former top US political and military officials from both the Democrats and Republicans, who emphasized that the current crisis in the Middle East, particularly in Iraq and Syria, and the rise of ISIS (Daesh) is directly linked to the repressive regime in Iran and that the solution is to adopt a firm policy towards Iran, ending their cynical and destructive meddling in the region. “

Struan Stevenson was a Member of the European Parliament representing Scotland (1999-2014). He was President of the Parliament’s Delegation for Relations with Iraq (2009- 2014) and Chair of Friends of a Free Iran Intergroup (Caucus) from 2004-2014. He is now President of the European Iraqi Freedom Association (EIFA).

None of the camps housing Mosul's displaced allow for freedom of movement and some camps even ban mobile phones.

The 16-year-old boy had been following us as we made our way through Nargizlia. It is the most recent addition to the camps housing the 135,000 people who have fled the fighting as the Iraqi government tries to retake Mosul, its second-largest city, from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, known as ISIS) group.

Ghazi, who had been hiding behind tents each time we stopped to speak with someone, finally approached. He quietly told me he was living in a tent with a group of unaccompanied men and boys he didn't know. He looked at me, so full of fear at his surroundings, and asked if there was anything I could do to help him join his family, who had been sent to a different camp.

I took him to the manager's office and found a staff member who said he would take Ghazi in to see the manager. We had to leave, it was late in the day, but it absolutely broke my heart to leave this boy, with no guarantee that he would be able to join his family.

The people in these camps were terrorised by ISIL and have had to leave their lives behind. Some were separated from family members in the chaos in 2014, when ISIL took over the region.

Some were separated from family members by accident as they fled recently, and others were separated from the men and older boys in their family for security checks, to make certain they aren't ISIL fighters.

No freedom of movement

But none of the camps housing Mosul's displaced allow for free movement, a fundamental right, and only one is allowing family reunification at the moment, as far as I know.

At least two camps prohibit visitors and ban mobile phones, ostensibly for security reasons. Ghazi's was confiscated as he arrived at the camp's euphemistically named "reception centre", or screening facility. This makes the displaced significantly more vulnerable - those whose loved ones were detained for alleged affiliation with ISIL have no way of reaching out to contacts to help locate them.

Since the first days of the Mosul operation in October, husbands and sons in the four Kurdish Regional Government-controlled (KRG) camps I have visited have come to me asking for help to rejoin their families. They happened to leave the city on a different bus from their families, either because they were held back in screening, or because they left Mosul at a different time.

But none of the camps housing Mosul's displaced allow for free movement, a fundamental right, and only one is allowing family reunification at the moment, as far as I know.

At least two camps prohibit visitors and ban mobile phones, ostensibly for security reasons. Ghazi's was confiscated as he arrived at the camp's euphemistically named "reception centre", or screening facility. This makes the displaced significantly more vulnerable - those whose loved ones were detained for alleged affiliation with ISIL have no way of reaching out to contacts to help locate them.

Since the first days of the Mosul operation in October, husbands and sons in the four Kurdish Regional Government-controlled (KRG) camps I have visited have come to me asking for help to rejoin their families. They happened to leave the city on a different bus from their families, either because they were held back in screening, or because they left Mosul at a different time.

But none of the camps housing Mosul's displaced allow for free movement, a fundamental right, and only one is allowing family reunification at the moment, as far as I know.

At least two camps prohibit visitors and ban mobile phones, ostensibly for security reasons. Ghazi's was confiscated as he arrived at the camp's euphemistically named "reception centre", or screening facility. This makes the displaced significantly more vulnerable - those whose loved ones were detained for alleged affiliation with ISIL have no way of reaching out to contacts to help locate them.

Since the first days of the Mosul operation in October, husbands and sons in the four Kurdish Regional Government-controlled (KRG) camps I have visited have come to me asking for help to rejoin their families. They happened to leave the city on a different bus from their families, either because they were held back in screening, or because they left Mosul at a different time.

Ghazi's parents fled Mosul in a wave of escapees, while he stayed behind to check on an ailing uncle. They called him as they reached the Iraqi security forces checkpoint to say they were being sent to the Qaymawa camp. He then fled Mosul alone.

When he reached the security checkpoint, he asked the soldiers to send him to join his family. But they ignored him and sent him with hundreds of other displaced families to Nargizlia.

One woman in Nargizlia told me that when the 100 families from her area of Mosul escaped from the ISIL-controlled territory and reached an area under KRG military control, the women, girls and young boys were separated from the men and boys aged 15 and above in their family, and all of them were held in a school, in different rooms.

When buses arrived to take them all to the camp, this woman's husband and son were missing. She asked security forces at the "reception centre" and later at the camp about their fate, but she said they refused to answer her.

Now she is sitting in her tent, unable to leave the camp and without even a phone to call any friends, family, or international organisations for help in locating her loved ones.

Another prison

Aid workers told me that they have made some, very minor, progress around advocating for freedom of movement of displaced people or to reunite them with their families, as a result of the demands on them to provide other urgent services for the people in these camps. But it has not been their priority.

One worker said to me candidly, when they speak to camp residents, free movement is not their main complaint. 

But when I ask residents about their human rights concerns, the feeling that they are being held in open air prisons and the impact this has on their ability to communicate with their families is one of the first things they regularly raise.

One man at Nargizlia begged for my help to leave the camp, to meet a 2-year-old daughter he never met who is now in Kirkuk, a major city 160km away, and to mourn the death of his mother with his siblings, who escaped Mosul before ISIL took control.

He told me, "We escaped from prison, just to be put in another prison," and shook his head as he walked away.

Source: Aljazereera

International Armed Conflict Back to Iraq Saturday, 04 February 2017 09:17

U.S. President Donald Trump criticized his predecessor Barack Obama several times for squandering three trillion dollars to build an allied Iraq and leaving the country an easy target for the Iranians.

Instead of assuring Trump, Iranian authorities indirectly sent Trump indirect threatening messages through giving orders to one of its militias in Iraq “Harakat al-Nujaba” to launch missiles in order to show off its’ power. Al-Nujaba is one of the militias that can target neighboring countries and is similar to the Yemeni Houthis that are also used by Iran to bomb Saudi Arabia with Iranian-funded missiles.

The ultimate danger of Iran laying its hands over Iraq affects Iraqis themselves first more than the Gulf and the region.

Iran’s main objective is to take over Iraq, the second richest country in the region, in order to fund its military and economic needs. During the past six years, Iran has transformed Iraq into an Iranian military base from where it wages its wars in Syria and threatens Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Jordan.

Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) brags that foreign military actions in Syria and Iraq haven’t impinge on the Iranian treasury any additional cost because it depends on the Iraqi treasury, which has become IRGC financial portfolio and ruled by pro-Iran groups, especially after marginalizing the powers of Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.

A number of officials from Trump’s administration have served in Iraq previously and are familiar with the role of the Iranian regime there.

What to expect from Trump’s administration in the battle regarding the Iranians in Baghdad?

It is very unlikely for this administration to send military forces to Iraq, but some measures will be taken to limit Iran’s role. Most probably the U.S. administration will hold the Iraqi government responsible and will be given tough choices. It might also reactivate the role of U.S.-pro forces such as Kurds to achieve a balance of power with Iran. Plus, it will push opposing Sunni and Shi’ite national forces to reconsider the Civil State project that was neglected by Obama.

The question is not about what Trump can do to end the Iranian takeover of Iraq, but what the region can do to support national forces there. Terrible failures occurred after the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. Countries of the region refused the U.S. call to build an Iraqi national regime.

When some of these countries, including the Gulf, left Iraq, Iran seized the opportunity to be the sole regional force to offer cooperation with Americans to manage the new Iraq.

At the same time, Iran and Assad regime in Syria were supporting operations of the so-called Iraqi resistance and al-Qaeda to kick out the U.S. military forces from there. Tehran succeeded in its dual project: cooperation and conspiracy, specially after the arrival of Obama who found that Iran has influence in Iraq and hence chose to communicate with the Iranians rather than confront them.

The current US leadership in the White House, along with Defense and intelligence authorities, that have worked previously in Iraq are aware that Iran was behind the war on its troops in Iraq, including al-Qaeda.They are also familiar with Iran’s way of managing battles through using local forces such as the so-called Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas and Islamic Jihad Movement in Palestine in Gaza, Fatah al-Islam in Lebanon and a number of al-Qaeda organizations in Syria and Iraq as well as Houthis in Yemen.

Therefore, I believe that confrontations are now more likely than ever in Iraq and elsewhere. These confrontations are a natural result for Obama’s policy that allowed the Iranian regime to expand in the region until it became a threat to the moderate countries including Egypt, Turkey, Jordan and the Gulf; not to mention the American interests and international peace.

Source: Asharq Al- Awsat

Iraq: Activity report 2016 Thursday, 02 February 2017 20:24

Millions of people throughout Iraq continue to suffer the consequences of armed conflict and the lingering effects of past violence. Tens of thousands of people were killed or injured. Since 2014, over 3.3 million people have been displaced in various parts of the country.

In addition, over 140,000 people have been displaced since October 2016, when the Iraqi military launched a campaign to retake the city of Mosul. Displaced people and communities living near front lines, in retaken villages or other affected areas have limited, if any, access to essential services and basic supplies, due to widespread violence and the destruction of vital infrastructure.

With its established presence across Iraq, the ICRC was able to respond quickly to the needs of people effected by fighting, including those living near the front lines and in areas where there are few or no other humanitarian organizations. In response to the increased needs linked to the Mosul military operation, the ICRC scaled up its activities during the last months of 2016. As a core part of our mandate, we promoted compliance with international humanitarian law  and other rules protecting civilians. We provided displaced people, host communities and returnees in newly retaken areas with food and essential household items; other conflict-affected communities were provided with cash and livelihood support.

The ICRC also helped improve access to water and health services for millions of people. We visited detainees to monitor their treatment and living conditions, including access to health care and respect for judicial guarantees. We facilitated contact between relatives separated by the current and past conflicts.

Source: ICRC

Archbishop Bashar Warda said the Church wanted displaced people to return to their villages in peace and security

Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil has unveiled plans to provide a future for Iraq’s displaced Christians – despite fresh reports showing the extent of the destruction of their homes in the Nineveh Plains.

Archbishop Warda said the Churches aim to rebuild “so that the IDPs (internally displaced people) are able to return to the villages of their forefathers with hope and security”.

The Chaldean archbishop stressed that reconstruction could not begin until Mosul is liberated and villages are cleared of bombs and booby traps.

Archbishop Warda described the extent of the devastation saying: “However the desecration and destruction in the newly liberated villages was so personal in its hatred and anger, that it dealt further deep and destabilising blows to the IDPs when witnessing their destroyed homes, livelihoods and communities.”

Aid to the Church in Need’s (ACN) Middle East project head Fr Andrzej Halemba, who carried out a survey of the villages in the Nineveh Plains at the end of 2016, revealed that growing numbers of displaced Christians are wanting to return.

He said: “The conclusions of this first ACN survey showed us that not more than one percent of people that wanted to go back. Now during my visit to Alqosh I was told that there are more as 50 percent of IDPs willing to return. And this number keeps increasing.”

Source: Catholic Herald

The priest added that the charity would help with the rebuilding of the Christian villages that were destroyed by Isis.

Fr Halemba said: “ACN will support, of course, the reconstruction. However, we have to work together with other charities, alone [it] is impossible to manage this.”

Archbishop Warda underlined the need to continue to support Christian families who fled to Ankawa and other parts of the Kurdish capital Erbil.
He said: “[T]here is an urgent need for us to continue to exist here in Ankawa during a possible two to three year transition period, and we will need continued donor funds to achieve this.”

Archbishop Warda added: “We do all this in an environment of conflict, recession, high unemployment… power cuts, landlords now seeking higher rents – all of this amidst political and religious uncertainty.”


Video evidence of executions and torture stokes Sunni-Shia tension as troops launch final push to retake city from Isis

Graphic videos of men in Iraqi security force uniforms carrying out beatings and summary executions on the streets of Mosul have cast a shadow over the campaign to retake the city from Islamic State as prime minister announced the launch of military operations.

“We announce the start of a new phase in the operation, we are coming Nineveh to liberate the western side of Mosul,” said Haider al-Abadi in a brief televised speech.

The violent scenes, posted on social media pages supporting the Iraqi government forces, are reminiscent of Isis’s own propaganda and starkly contrast with the overwhelmingly positive impression left so far by the US-trained troops leading the battle to retake Iraq’s second city.

The videos have been condemned by the UN and human rights groups, and raise concerns about the next stage of the campaign, when troops will move into the western side of Mosul, and the Iraqi government’s ability to bring long-term stability to the city.

Security forces have been welcomed by residents weary of Isis’s brutal rule, and praised for their restraint through months of gruelling urban warfare, defying fears that the assault by Shia-dominated forces on a Sunni-majority city could spark a sectarian bloodbath.

But underlying tensions have not vanished. The population remains wary of Baghdad and the Shia militias that bolster its power, and with the second major part of the campaign for Mosul expected to start within days, abuse could feed dangerous resentment.

In one of the bloodiest films, a man behind the camera urges on a group in Iraqi federal police uniforms as he films them clubbing four men in civilian clothes. “Well done – you did a good job,” he says, before the attackers drag the men down an asphalt road, and summarily execute three with machine guns.

In other videos circulated on Facebook young men are beaten, or forced to imitate animals – one a dog, another made to bleat like a goat.

The men abusing the prisoners appear to wear the insignia of various security forces including federal police, the regular army, the Counter Terrorism Service (CTS) and militias known as the Popular Mobilisation Forces.

Several of these groups are trained and armed by the US-led coalition in a programme that is meant to cover international laws of war, including treatment of prisoners. The UN’s commissioner for human rights described the footage as “deeply disturbing” and called on the Iraqi government to investigate.

And while all the videos claim to show abuse of Isis fighters, a lack of safeguards means civilians are likely to be at risk. In the race to disrupt sleeper cells and round up collaborators, security forces have already cast such a wide net that their targets included at least one Shia family who lived in hiding under Isis.

The prime minister’s office has launched an investigation into the videos as “a precaution”, although it insisted it considers them a fabricated slur. “If it is proven that there were abuses, the perpetrators will be handed over to the courts. In other operations there were individuals who committed abuses and … some were sentenced,” spokesman Saad al-Hadithi said.

Most of the videos and pictures were posted on the internet after the second phase of the Mosul operation started in late December. They stand in stark contrast to matching posts on the official special forces Facebook page, which shows them posing for selfies with newly liberated residents, handing out food and water, and even feeding animals. But though they show abuse, the images appear to have been posted by government supporters rather than whistleblowers, garnering thousands of likes and shares. The Facebook pages they appear on unofficially document the progress of the campaign.

One of the most popular posts, liked nearly 9,000 times, is drafted like an ad-hoc poll about summary execution. Below a photo of a young captive, blindfolded on the floor while two police officers place their feet on his head, a caption asks what readers think the officers should do with him.

“Swear on Qur’an, these young men sent us this photo from Mosul and arrested this Daesh [fighter] with their own hands. They say if you like and comment, they would flatten him in this place now, no arrest, no court and nothing else … it is up to you,” it reads.

There were around 1,200 comments, most of them calling for the prisoner’s blood. “Oh heroes! Put a bullet to his head, finish him off. Don’t imprison him. Don’t spend anything on him. An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, they were the ones who committed crimes first,” said one user with the name Warda al-Sabah. There was no update on what had happened to the man.

The videos threaten not only to tarnish the image of security forces, but potentially to undermine public support for the Mosul offensive, human rights activists said, calling on the government to investigate thoroughly.

“While this operation has seen so few incidents of abuse compared with earlier operations, it is vital that prime minister Haider al-Abadi takes them seriously when they do come up,” said Belkis Wille, who has documented human rights abuses in Iraq for Human Rights Watch. “We often see the authorities creating investigative committees – we rarely see results. Let’s hope it is different this time.”

It is difficult to identify the men and young boys in the images because after two and a half years surviving Isis terror, people in the city do not want to be seen as critical of the security forces for fear of being labelled as Isis sympathisers. As the videos show, it can be deadly.

In another video dated 22 January a terrified young boy identified as a suicide attacker is led on his knees and the palms of his hands by an officer of the interior ministry’s US-trained Quick Reaction Force.

He is forced to bark like a dog, repeat “I am a dog, son of a dog”, then bite the boot of soldier, as an officer commands him to show his face so his humiliation is public. “Raise your head so your face is visible,” the man says.

Almost all the comments on the video praise the soldiers for humiliating the young fighter, although there is one lone voice of dissent, warning that the attackers risked sinking to the level of the group they are trying to destroy.

“Even if he is Daesh, he is still a human, brothers please do not violate the reputation of the army and the police, we do not want to behave like Daesh,” wrote a commentator with the name Arkan Alazy, who said he had lost a brother to the group.

“My brother was in the army and was killed by Daesh but this does not mean that I would become a criminal like them,” he wrote. “Prisoners are treated differently, that is what our religion teaches us.”

Source: The Guardian

The U.S. military is "not in Iraq to seize anybody's oil", Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said, distancing himself from remarks by President Donald Trump, as he held talks with Iraqi leaders on Monday.

Mattis was the highest-ranking Trump administration official to visit Iraq since Trump irked Iraqis with a temporary ban on travel to the United States and for saying America should have seized Iraq's oil after toppling Saddam Hussein in 2003.

Trump told CIA staff in January: "We should have kept the oil. But okay. Maybe you'll have another chance."

Mattis, however, flatly ruled out any such intent. "We're not in Iraq to seize anybody's oil," he told reporters traveling with him late on Sunday, ahead of his arrival.

"All of us in America have generally paid for our gas and oil all along and I'm sure that we will continue to do so in the future," said Mattis, a retired Marine general who once led forces in Iraq.

His remarks are the latest sign of differences with Trump. Trump has acknowledged that Mattis disagrees with him about the usefulness of torture in interrogation and said he would defer to his defense secretary on the issue.

Mattis has been more critical than Trump of RussianPresident Vladimir Putin, and distanced himself from Trump's labeling of the media as "the enemy of the American people", saying he had no problems with the press.

A retired Marine general who led American troops in Iraq, Mattis has sought an exemption from Trump's travel ban for Iraqis who have served with U.S. troops, including translators.

He said he had not seen a new executive order which the administration is considering. "But I right now am assured that we will take steps to allow those who have fought alongside us, for example, to be allowed into the United States," Mattis said.

Mattis' visit came a day after Iraqi Prime Minister Haideral-Abadi announced the start of a ground offensive on westernMosul, where Islamic State militants are under siege along with an estimated 650,000 civilians.

It was unclear whether Trump's remarks on oil had come up during Mattis' with Abadi, who has told Washington that Iraq's oil is the property of Iraqis.

Mattis also met Iraq's defense minister and top U.S. officials in Iraq.

WILL US FORCES STAY AFTER MOSUL?

Influential Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr on Monday called on Iraq's government to order the withdrawal of U.S. and allied forces after the battle of Mosul is over.

"The Iraqi government has to demand that all occupying and so-called friendly forces leave Iraq in order to preserve the prestige and the sovereignty of the state," Sadr said.

Mattis declined to address Sadr's remarks directly, describing them as an internal political matter.

But he said he was reassured after his talks in Baghdad that Iraq's leaders recognized the value of its relationship with the United States.

"I imagine we’ll be in this fight for a while and we’ll stand by each other," he said, repeatedly praising the resilience of Iraqi forces.

The U.S. commander in Iraq, Army Lieutenant General StephenTownsend, has said he believes U.S.-backed forces will recapture both of Islamic State's major strongholds - Mosul and the city of Raqqa in Syria - within the next six months.

Trump is looking for a plan to accelerate the campaign against Islamic State, which could lead to an additional deployment of U.S. forces, who currently number less than 6,000 in Iraq and Syria.

The Pentagon may also look at increasing the number of attack helicopters and air strikes and bringing in more artillery, as well as granting greater authority to battlefield commanders fighting Islamic State.

Townsend told a news conference in Baghdad he had been putting U.S. military advisers closer to front lines in Mosul than before, a move that would increase risk but bolster their ability to aid Iraqis, including by directing air strikes.  

"We adjusted our posture during the east Mosul fight and we embedded advisers a bit further down into the formation," he said.

Townsend added he was certain victory in Mosul was within sight. "The Iraqi security forces are going to take that city back. No doubt about it," he said.

Source: Reuters

(Erbil) – Armed forces fighting Islamic State (also known as ISIS) to retake a town and four villages near Mosul looted, damaged, and destroyed homes, Human Rights Watch said today. There was no apparent military necessity for the demolitions, which may amount to war crimes and which took place between November 2016 and February 2017.

The Iraqi authorities should investigate allegations of war crimes and hold those responsible to account, Human Rights Watch said. The United States and other countries providing military assistance to the Iraqi Security Forces should press the government to carry out these investigations. The United Nations Human Rights Council should expand the investigation it established in 2014 on ISIS abuses to include serious violations by all parties, including the Popular Mobilization Forces (known as the PMF or Hashd al-Sha'abi), units that were formed largely to combat ISIS, and are under the direct command of Prime Minister al-Abadi.

“Absent a legitimate military objective, there is no excuse for destroying civilian homes,” said Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “All the destruction does is to keep civilians from going home.”

To the southwest of Mosul, Human Rights Watch documented looting and extensive demolition of buildings in three villages using explosives, heavy machinery, and fire. Witness statements about the extent and timing of the demolitions, between late December and early February, were corroborated by satellite imagery showing the destruction of at least 350 buildings, including the main mosque, in the village of Ashwa during that time. Satellite imagery reviewed by Human Rights Watch showed that the abuses took place after anti-ISIS forces incorporated the villages into a large network of earthen berms and trenches. Locals told Human Rights Watch the only armed forces in the areas taken from ISIS were different groups within the PMF.

Human Rights Watch asked a representative of the PMF about the destruction in all three villages. In a written response received on February 12, the PMF stated that some buildings were used as artillery positions by ISIS while other houses were booby-trapped by ISIS in order to detonate around advancing PMF forces. They also said the PMF slowed their advance for nearly two days to avoid destroying infrastructure and private property and that after being pushed out, ISIS forces continued to aim artillery fire at the villages.

The PMF did not say how long ISIS attacks on the villages continued and did not provide the number of homes destroyed by ISIS or say which groups within the PMF were in the villages. The statement did not acknowledge that the PMF conducted extensive property demolitions after retaking the areas, let alone provide an explanation for the destruction.

Despite the PMF statement about booby-trapped homes, the satellite imagery reviewed by Human Rights Watch shows that the houses were destroyed by explosives, heavy machinery, and fire after the PMF had retaken the villages. Burning, demolishing, or bulldozing homes is a wholly inappropriate mechanism for mine clearance, and would likely detonate any improvised explosive devices (IEDs). In addition, almost all of the burnt buildings still have their load-bearing exterior and interior walls intact, with only the roof missing, which is inconsistent with IED blasts.

Given the broader investigation and the continued pattern of destruction for almost two months after the PMF were firmly in control of the area, Human Rights Watch did not find evidence to support claims that the demolitions may have been undertaken for legitimate military reasons.

Satellite imagery shows that the PMF incorporated the retaken villages within a security network of earthen berms and trenches. That network suggests that the whole area inside was well enough protected that there would have been no military need for PMF forces to demolish the homes inside the secured zone. In addition, satellite imagery shows no demolitions in other villages nearby; if there was a military need for the destruction, there should be a more even distribution of demolitions in adjacent villages.

The laws of war prohibit attacks on civilian property except when an enemy is using it for military purposes. They also prohibit indiscriminate attacks, including attacks that treat an entire area, such as a village, as a military objective.

Human Rights Watch also documented looting and burning of homes in two villages southeast of Mosul: in the Christian town of Bakhdida, also known as Hamdaniyah or Qaraqosh, and the mixed Sunni and Christian village of al-Khidir. The looting and destruction took place after they were retaken from ISIS, between November 2016 and January 2017. Multiple forces including the Nineveh Plain Protection Units (NPU), the Iraqi military’s 9th Division, local police, and Federal Police were present in Bakhdida, according to military personnel in the area and residents interviewed by Human Rights Watch.

Human Rights Watch was unable to identify the specific forces responsible for these abuses. In al-Khidir, 30 kilometers southeast of Mosul, Human Rights Watch also saw evidence of looted homes. Residents said that they fled the village one week before the area was retaken, on November 19, and when they returned home 20 days later, their homes had been looted. During that time there were several PMF units present, including the Christian Babylon Brigades, according to military personnel in the area.

Elsewhere in Iraq, Human Rights Watch has documented looting and destruction of civilian property, amounting to war crimes by the PMF and by the Kurdistan Regional Government’s Peshmerga forces, in their operations to retake territory from ISIS.

Iraqi authorities should take immediate steps to investigate these alleged war crimes and other allegations of unlawful demolitions, looting, and destruction of civilian property. They should hold armed forces that loot or destroy civilian property to account. The committee established by law to compensate victims of “terrorism and military errors” should process claims of victims of looting and destruction by armed forces.

“The Iraqi government may win its fight against ISIS, but it also needs to win the peace,” Fakih said. “That will be difficult if forces under its control violate international laws by looting and destroying the homes of local villagers.”

Ashwa
Human Rights Watch interviewed six residents of the village of Ashwa, who said that on December 12, 2016, ISIS forces who had taken control of the area in June 2014 left the village as fighters belonging to the PMF’s League of the Righteous (Asa'ib Ahl al-Haqq) and the Ali al-Akbar Brigade (Lua Ali al-Akbar) took control of the area. The residents could identify which PMF groups came to the village from their banners, flags, and badges. Once the PMF took over, they told residents to leave the area for a displaced persons camp to the south.

Residents said ISIS prevented locals from fleeing by reinforcing pre-existing security earthen berms surrounding the village. Human Rights Watch reviewed satellite imagery that showed ISIS had substantially reinforced the berms by August 2016. When the PMF arrived, the residents said they opened up a section of the berm so that villagers could leave.

Satellite imagery of the village shows that after the PMF captured it, they incorporated the pre-existing berms into much larger, newly-constructed security earthen berms to the south and west of the village between December 11 and December 22.

Human Rights Watch reviewed satellite images that show 46 buildings were destroyed between December 8 and December 20, and an additional 94 buildings were destroyed between December 20 and February 10. Visible damage signatures were consistent with the use of high explosives, heavy machinery, and fire. One of the buildings destroyed by explosives was the Ashwa Mosque, the primary mosque in the village.

Mashirafat al-Jisr
Human Rights Watch interviewed three displaced residents of Mashirafat al-Jisr, the neighboring village to Ashwa. One said that on the morning of December 12, at about 10 a.m., he saw four cars with ISIS fighters pull into the village and immediately come under fire. At that time, the majority of the village residents, roughly 100 people, fled by car to a nearby hill, residents told Human Rights Watch, and watched as ISIS forces left the village and fighters flying PMF banners entered.

One villager remained behind to protect his property. He said he saw 10 cars arrive, and the fighters who descended introduced themselves to him as members of the Martyrs of Sayyid Battalions (Kata'ib Sayyid al-Shuhada). They told him to leave the area, to which he responded that if the villagers returned to find their homes looted he would blame their unit.

He said he left, joined the other villagers, and traveled on to a camp, where they remained. The three residents said that most villagers did not return home but seven days later, one young villager who was recruited by the PMF inside the camp went back to the village with two other new recruits and sent his relatives photos suggesting their homes had been looted or destroyed.

The photos, which Human Rights Watch saw, show at least one house burned from the inside, one house destroyed, and two looted.

One of the new recruits said that when he got to the village on December 19, he saw that many homes had been destroyed, and those still standing had been looted, many had also been burned. At that time, the village was under the control of the PMF unit League of the Righteous. He heard one fighter ask a League of the Righteous officer what had happened in the village, and he replied that the homes had been full of IEDs. He also said that the Martyrs of Sayyid Battalions had been in the area at one point, but did not give a date.

The satellite imagery shows that more than 90 per cent of the affected buildings in the village were destroyed by fire.

Human Rights Watch reviewed satellite images of the village taken on December 6, January 1, January 24, and February 2. The first set showed no signs of significant building damage, the later images showed that 100 buildings had likely been burnt down or demolished with high explosives. In addition, the village appears to have been incorporated into a military post, with security earthen berms running along the western edge.

Khoytlah
Anti-ISIS fighters retook the village of Khoytlah from ISIS on December 13, at which point all the residents left and have not yet returned. Federal Police officers at a base in Qayyarah told Human Rights Watch that the PMF retook the village from ISIS and that only PMF fighters remained in the area after the clashes. Human Rights Watch was unable to identify which PMF were present.

A local leader who was present in the village under ISIS and withdrew as the village was being retaken by the PMF said that he did not witness ISIS destroying buildings before he and the rest of the villagers left their homes.

Human Rights Watch reviewed satellite images of the village that showed armed forces likely demolished at least 63 buildings with explosives, heavy machinery, and fire between December 8 and 22, and an additional 47 buildings between December 22 and February 10.

A satellite image taken on January 1 captured a smoke plume from an active building fire, indicating burning continued in the village two weeks after it had been occupied by anti-ISIS forces.

Southeast of Mosul

Bakhdida
In early January, Human Rights Watch researchers visited the Christian town of Bakhdida, 20 kilometers southeast of Mosul, and observed evidence of extensive looting and burning of homes. Human Rights Watch spoke with six residents who had been displaced from the town in 2014 when ISIS took it over and were now living in Erbil. Three said their homes in Bakhdida had been looted and three others said their homes were damaged by fire after anti-ISIS forces took control of the town in October.

Human Rights Watch reviewed satellite images of the town from October 18, showing multiple building fires burning across the city before anti-ISIS forces took over, but the displaced residents who spoke to Human Rights Watch said that they visited their homes after anti-ISIS forces took over the town and saw that they had not been impacted by the fighting or intentional destruction under ISIS.

In the months following the ISIS withdrawal, no residents were living in the town and it was occupied only by anti-ISIS security forces, according to the residents interviewed by Human Rights Watch.

According to local military personnel, the Nineveh Plain Protection Units (NPU), an Assyrian Christian brigade within the PMF, the Iraqi military’s 9th Division, and local and federal police took control of the town after ISIS was forced out . Human Rights Watch passed through NPU checkpoints in the town and saw NPU graffiti tags on walls throughout the town.

Three displaced residents told researchers that in the days after the town was retaken by a range of anti-ISIS forces, on October 22, they traveled back to their town from Erbil to check on their homes and saw that their homes were not damaged and that most of their personal items were still there. They said that after surveying their property they locked up and returned to Erbil.

Afterwards they returned regularly to the town and said that during these visits, from mid-November to early January, they saw their homes had been broken into and the contents looted.

Another displaced resident told Human Rights Watch that he visited his home on November 6, and found that the federal police had established a base in the building next door, and the NPU another behind his house. At the time, he said some of his furniture and personal belongings had been moved out onto his lawn but that his belongings were for the most part still there. He said that his home had not been damaged.

He returned to the town again on November 21, but this time said that he found that some of his furniture and one room had been burned. He went to the Federal Police base to ask what had happened, and an officer said that the fire had somehow been the result of a recent ISIS insurgent attack, without providing any details. Human Rights Watch could not verify whether such an attack occurred.

A fifth resident also displaced to Erbil since 2014, told Human Rights Watch that he visited his home in Bakhdida on December 2, and saw no signs of damage to his property. He said at that point the town was occupied by anti-ISIS forces, including from the local police and NPU, and the situation was calm. He said he left at 3 p.m. the same day, and two days later, his cousin called to say he had seen the house had been burned from the inside. The resident returned to the town on December 5, and confirmed that his house had been set on fire. He told Human Rights Watch he heard a rumor in mid-January that the local police, in conjunction with the NPU, had arrested two men from the Shabak community (a minority group in Iraq) accused of having committed another arson attack, and had sent them to Baghdad. Human Rights Watch was unable to confirm this or to connect these men to any of documented incidents of home burning

Another resident, also displaced to Erbil, who had visited his home in Bakhdida on December 26 and confirmed his property was not damaged, received a call on January 10 from a friend who said he heard that his house had been burned. The resident traveled back home the next morning and confirmed it had been destroyed. He said that while there, he saw local police and NPU fighters present in the town and that other anti-ISIS fighters may have also been there.

Al-Khidir
In the village of al-Khidir, 30 kilometers southeast of Mosul, Human Rights Watch also saw evidence of destruction of a few homes in early January. Three residents said that they fled the village one week before the area was retaken by anti-ISIS forces on November 19, and when they returned home 20 days later, their homes had been looted. During that time, according to military personnel in the area, there were several PMF units present, including the Babylon Brigades.

A local commander present in the area throughout the operation, told Human Rights Watch that he had observed the extensive looting, knew which forces were behind it, but would not divulge their identity. His statement, however, reflected that the looting was not done by ISIS fighters before they withdrew from the village, Human Rights Watch said.

Source: Human Rights Watch

Bloody protests in Baghdad over the weekend by followers of influential cleric Moqtada al-Sadr signal the resumption of a power struggle between Iraq's Shi'ite leaders which had been put on hold to focus on the war against Islamic State.

With Iraqi forces all but certain to defeat Islamic State in Mosul this year, Sadr has begun mobilizing his supporters ahead of two elections, for provincial councils in September and the crucial parliamentary vote, by April 2018.

His main rival is former Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, a pro-Iranian politician who started positioning himself last year as a possible kingmaker or even for a return to the premiership itself.

The political tussle played out on the streets of central Baghdad on Saturday when five demonstrators and a policeman were killed in clashes between security forces and Sadr followers demanding an overhaul of the state election commission, which the cleric believes favors Maliki.

A return to power for Maliki would bolster Iranian influence in Baghdad, giving Tehran leverage in any conflict with U.S. President Donald Trump's administration, which put new sanctions on the Islamic Republic following its missile test last month.

Although Sadr is openly hostile to Washington's policies in the Middle East and has spent considerable time in Iran, he would be a less dependable ally for Tehran in Baghdad. He has a troubled relationship with Iraqi political groups allied with Iran, and portrays himself as an Iraqi nationalist.

Maliki's eight-year rule ended in 2014, when the Iraqi army collapsed in the face of an Islamic State offensive, forcing him to hand over power to current Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi. Both men are members of the Shi'ite Dawa party.

He now holds the ceremonial position of vice president but still wields considerable influence, chairing the Dawa party which controls the largest bloc in parliament.

IRAN WANTS "LOYAL ALLY"

Abadi, a moderate Shi'ite politician, was better able to work with the Americans who helped rebuild the army and provided critical air and ground support to troops battling the Sunni jihadists after they seized a third of Iraq in 2014.

Iraqi forces have completed the first phase of the campaign to retake Mosul, the biggest city under Islamic State control, removing the militants from the eastern side of the city.

Abadi has overseen the two-year fightback, but lacks a political powerbase to match Sadr or Maliki.

"Abadi came as a compromise between the Americans and the Iranians," said Wathiq al-Hashimi, chairman of the Baghdad-based Iraqi Group for Strategic Studies think tank.

"Given the escalation with the Trump administration, Iran would for sure seek to have a strong, loyal ally in Baghdad" to take over after the parliamentary elections next year, he said.

The new American president says he has put Iran "on notice" after it test-fired a medium-range ballistic missile in January.

Some Western powers say that any launch of nuclear-capable ballistic missiles would violate a U.N. Security Council which enshrined a deal which curbed Iran's nuclear program in return for an easing of international sanctions. Iran says its missile launches do not breach the deal.

The escalation, and the Trump administration's halt to immigrants from seven mainly Muslim nations, placed Abadi in a dilemma. He resisted calls from influential pro-Iranian Shi'ite politicians to retaliate against the ban, citing Iraq's need for U.S. military support.

Commenting on his phone call on Thursday with Trump, he said Baghdad will steer clear of U.S.-Iran tension.

CALLS TO END CORRUPTION

Sadr's followers held several demonstrations last year to press for anti-corruption reforms, and stormed the Green Zone, a heavily protected cluster of government and foreign diplomatic buildings, after clashes with security forces.

Oil-rich Iraq ranks 161st out of 168 nations in Transparency International's Corruption Index.

Fourteen years after the U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein, the country still suffers a shortage of electricity, water, schools and hospitals, while existing facilities and infrastructure suffer widespread neglect.

Street mobilization is important for Sadr as he cannot rely on a regional backer to sustain his popularity.

Reacting to the killing of his followers on Saturday evening, Sadr said he was suspending protests for the time being, but added: "Their blood won't have been shed in vain."

Hashimi said Saturday's violence was unlikely to herald a dramatic shift in the balance of power, but the protesters had served notice that Sadr cannot be ignored. The protests enabled him "to mobilize his base under patriotic slogans and reassert his leadership," he said.

Sadr is the heir to a clerical dynasty which suffered under Saddam Hussein. While the Sadr family remained in Iraq, his main Shi'ite rivals, including Maliki, fled Saddam's persecution and returned to Iraq only after the invasion.

Iran has trained and armed Shi'ite militias collectively known as Popular Mobilization forces to counter Islamic State. Most of their leaders have close links with Maliki.

Maliki's Dawa party accuses Sadr of obstructing the war on Islamic State, saying his street protests increase the burden on the armed forces at the time when they are about to dislodge the militants from Mosul, their last city stronghold in Iraq.

A lawmaker close to Maliki, Ahmed al-Badri, also accuses the Sadrists of "being part of the corruption problem".

"The elections are around the corner and everybody wants to win the street, and everybody, including the Sadrists, are part of the corruption problem through their participation in different governments," he told Reuters.

Sadr's followers reject the accusations of obstructing the war effort. "It's their corruption that facilitate the entry of Daesh," said Ali Abu Mahdi, a 42 year-old state employee who marched in Saturday's demonstration. "Both are in the same bag."

Source: Reuters

Grim footage has emerged from eastern Mosul, supposedly “liberated” from Daesh control late last month,showing members of the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) and men who appeared to be from the Shia-dominated Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) paramilitary organisation executing unarmed men in the streets.

The footage shows armed Shia militants, who are fighting under the banner of Iraq, dragging a bound and clearly terrified man through the streets. The militants are heard abusing the man, and can be clearly seen beating him as they drag him to his death.

The victim is then placed at gunpoint by two other unarmed men in front of a row of houses, before about a dozen Shia jihadists fighting with the PMF and Iraqi soldiers open fire and gun them down in cold blood.

Even after the men have been shot and are clearly dead, the Iraqi soldiers and Shia militants continue to taunt and curse them, and occasionally other soldiers would walk over to the dead men and beginning firing at their corpses at point blank range. They would also stamp on the heads of the unarmed men, which is a deep sign of disrespect in Arab culture.

“Sadly, we have become accustomed to seeing such violence against people who are likely civilians,” Ahmad Al-Mahmoud, an analyst with the London-based Iraq monitoring group Foreign Relations Bureau of Iraq (FRB), told MEMO. “Even if they are ISIS, they should be tried in transparent and just courts, not shot dead in the middle of the street,” Al-Mahmoud said, using another acronym for the Daesh extremist organisation.

“What separates the Iraqi government from them [Daesh] if they are killing people in the streets?”

Extremist Shia militants fighting within the ISF or as part of the PMF, sanctioned by Baghdad and accepted as a formal branch of the Iraqi military last year, frequently justify their field executions by stating that the men they kill are Daesh militants.

It is unclear if the unarmed men in the video are civilians or Daesh militants. However, under international law, it is a war crime to put people to death without properly conducted due process. As these men formally fight under the authority of the Iraqi government, this could mean that Iraq has violated international human rights law and could be found guilty of crimes against humanity and war crimes.

 Daesh strikes back

Although the Iraqi government claimed to have recaptured the entirety of the eastern bank of Mosul, bisected by the Tigris River, the fighting has yet to be concluded.

Security sources confirmed that, two nights ago, Daesh fighters managed to infiltrate the ISF’s positions in east Mosul by conducting an amphibious operation from the western bank, still under their control, and evading detection by the ISF.

The militants crossed the river by using small boats and landed in several sectors, causing disarray in ISF defensive positions. Heavy fighting ensued, leading the ISF to sustain heavy casualties before successfully repelling the attacks, killing an unspecified number of militants and forcing the others to withdraw back across the Tigris.

Daesh also released video footage it claims shows its forces bombarding neighbourhoods in east Mosul. Al Jazeera cited medical sources as confirming that this shelling led to the deaths of six civilians and the wounding of 25 others in what can only be described as indiscriminate fire.

A US and Iran-backed Iraqi operation to recapture Mosul from Daesh began on 17 October 2016, gathering together a force of 100,000 soldiers and militiamen versus around 5,000 Daesh militants. Almost four months later, Iraqi forces may have sustained more than 6,500 fatalities, and have only just managed to gain an insecure level of control over eastern Mosul.

Source: Middle East Monitor

PRESS RELEASE

For immediate release 7th February 2017

 IRAN’S MIDDLE EAST AGGRESSION

IS ABOUT TO COME TO A JUDDERING HALT

 The Iranian regime’s days of aggressive expansionism in the Middle East are about to come to a juddering halt. This is the message from well-known Middle East lecturer and expert Struan Stevenson, President of the European Iraqi Freedom Association (EIFA). Speaking following his lecture at the Jean Moulin University in Lyon, Mr Stevenson said: “New sanctions ordered by the US government on several Iranian companies and individuals associated with the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps and its foreign terrorist wing the Qods Force, were a warning shot across the bows of the theocratic fascist regime. President Trump has made it quite clear that he regards Iran’s recent missile test and the attack on a Saudi frigate in the Gulf by an Iranian-backed Houthi rebel suicide boat, as direct provocations and breaches of the 2015 nuclear deal, which he is not prepared to tolerate. The president even tweeted: “Iran is playing with fire - they don't appreciate how 'kind' President Obama was to them. Not me!” To underline the message, General James Mattis, the newly appointed US Defense Secretary stated that Iran is “the biggest state sponsor of terrorism.” 

In Europe, the German Foreign Minister stipulated that Iran has blatantly violated several international agreements by testing ballistic missiles. He then supported the U.S. sanctions by saying that this measure is quite appropriate. 

The reality is that the Iranian regime has set the region on fire.

Following years of craven appeasement by the West, the turbaned tyrants in Iran are reeling from the tough new approach by the Americans. Accustomed to dealing with a spineless US foreign policy, weakly endorsed by the EU and UN, the ruthless Iranian regime has relentlessly spread its evil influence across the Middle East, backing Bashar al-Assad’s bloodstained regime in Syria, the brutal Shi’ia militias in Iraq, the Houthi rebels in Yemen and Hezbollah in Lebanon. Their pledge to deploy further ballistic missiles which is a direct breach of the UN resolutions linked to the nuclear deal, is a huge mistake, which could cost Tehran dearly.

“The UN Security Council resolution urged Tehran to refrain from work on ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads. However, the Iranians lamely deny ever having had a nuclear weapons programme in the first place and therefore say that none of their missiles are capable of carrying nuclear warheads. Unwilling to confront this patent falsehood and unravel the nuclear deal that he regarded as his greatest foreign policy achievement, Barack Obama allowed repeated Iranian missile tests to take place. Spin doctors in Washington even argued that the West should now exploit rich commercial trading opportunities with Iran’s ‘moderate’ president Rouhani, omitting to observe that under his three year term in office, more than 3000 people have been executed, often hanged in public in football stadiums. Breaches of human rights and women’s rights in Iran are endemic.

“Like all bullies, the Iranian mullahs believe that being aggressive pays dividends. They are about to discover that toughness is not about being a bully, it’s about having a backbone.”

Struan Stevenson added: “I support the jointletter on 7 January 2017 by 23 former top US political and military officials from both the Democrats and Republicans, who emphasized that the current crisis in the Middle East, particularly in Iraq and Syria, and the rise of ISIS (Daesh) is directly linked to the repressive regime in Iran and that the solution is to adopt a firm policy towards Iran, ending their cynical and destructive meddling in the region. “

Struan Stevenson was a Member of the European Parliament representing Scotland (1999-2014). He was President of the Parliament’s Delegation for Relations with Iraq (2009- 2014) and Chair of Friends of a Free Iran Intergroup (Caucus) from 2004-2014. He is now President of the European Iraqi Freedom Association (EIFA).

None of the camps housing Mosul's displaced allow for freedom of movement and some camps even ban mobile phones.

The 16-year-old boy had been following us as we made our way through Nargizlia. It is the most recent addition to the camps housing the 135,000 people who have fled the fighting as the Iraqi government tries to retake Mosul, its second-largest city, from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, known as ISIS) group.

Ghazi, who had been hiding behind tents each time we stopped to speak with someone, finally approached. He quietly told me he was living in a tent with a group of unaccompanied men and boys he didn't know. He looked at me, so full of fear at his surroundings, and asked if there was anything I could do to help him join his family, who had been sent to a different camp.

I took him to the manager's office and found a staff member who said he would take Ghazi in to see the manager. We had to leave, it was late in the day, but it absolutely broke my heart to leave this boy, with no guarantee that he would be able to join his family.

The people in these camps were terrorised by ISIL and have had to leave their lives behind. Some were separated from family members in the chaos in 2014, when ISIL took over the region.

Some were separated from family members by accident as they fled recently, and others were separated from the men and older boys in their family for security checks, to make certain they aren't ISIL fighters.

No freedom of movement

But none of the camps housing Mosul's displaced allow for free movement, a fundamental right, and only one is allowing family reunification at the moment, as far as I know.

At least two camps prohibit visitors and ban mobile phones, ostensibly for security reasons. Ghazi's was confiscated as he arrived at the camp's euphemistically named "reception centre", or screening facility. This makes the displaced significantly more vulnerable - those whose loved ones were detained for alleged affiliation with ISIL have no way of reaching out to contacts to help locate them.

Since the first days of the Mosul operation in October, husbands and sons in the four Kurdish Regional Government-controlled (KRG) camps I have visited have come to me asking for help to rejoin their families. They happened to leave the city on a different bus from their families, either because they were held back in screening, or because they left Mosul at a different time.

But none of the camps housing Mosul's displaced allow for free movement, a fundamental right, and only one is allowing family reunification at the moment, as far as I know.

At least two camps prohibit visitors and ban mobile phones, ostensibly for security reasons. Ghazi's was confiscated as he arrived at the camp's euphemistically named "reception centre", or screening facility. This makes the displaced significantly more vulnerable - those whose loved ones were detained for alleged affiliation with ISIL have no way of reaching out to contacts to help locate them.

Since the first days of the Mosul operation in October, husbands and sons in the four Kurdish Regional Government-controlled (KRG) camps I have visited have come to me asking for help to rejoin their families. They happened to leave the city on a different bus from their families, either because they were held back in screening, or because they left Mosul at a different time.

But none of the camps housing Mosul's displaced allow for free movement, a fundamental right, and only one is allowing family reunification at the moment, as far as I know.

At least two camps prohibit visitors and ban mobile phones, ostensibly for security reasons. Ghazi's was confiscated as he arrived at the camp's euphemistically named "reception centre", or screening facility. This makes the displaced significantly more vulnerable - those whose loved ones were detained for alleged affiliation with ISIL have no way of reaching out to contacts to help locate them.

Since the first days of the Mosul operation in October, husbands and sons in the four Kurdish Regional Government-controlled (KRG) camps I have visited have come to me asking for help to rejoin their families. They happened to leave the city on a different bus from their families, either because they were held back in screening, or because they left Mosul at a different time.

Ghazi's parents fled Mosul in a wave of escapees, while he stayed behind to check on an ailing uncle. They called him as they reached the Iraqi security forces checkpoint to say they were being sent to the Qaymawa camp. He then fled Mosul alone.

When he reached the security checkpoint, he asked the soldiers to send him to join his family. But they ignored him and sent him with hundreds of other displaced families to Nargizlia.

One woman in Nargizlia told me that when the 100 families from her area of Mosul escaped from the ISIL-controlled territory and reached an area under KRG military control, the women, girls and young boys were separated from the men and boys aged 15 and above in their family, and all of them were held in a school, in different rooms.

When buses arrived to take them all to the camp, this woman's husband and son were missing. She asked security forces at the "reception centre" and later at the camp about their fate, but she said they refused to answer her.

Now she is sitting in her tent, unable to leave the camp and without even a phone to call any friends, family, or international organisations for help in locating her loved ones.

Another prison

Aid workers told me that they have made some, very minor, progress around advocating for freedom of movement of displaced people or to reunite them with their families, as a result of the demands on them to provide other urgent services for the people in these camps. But it has not been their priority.

One worker said to me candidly, when they speak to camp residents, free movement is not their main complaint. 

But when I ask residents about their human rights concerns, the feeling that they are being held in open air prisons and the impact this has on their ability to communicate with their families is one of the first things they regularly raise.

One man at Nargizlia begged for my help to leave the camp, to meet a 2-year-old daughter he never met who is now in Kirkuk, a major city 160km away, and to mourn the death of his mother with his siblings, who escaped Mosul before ISIL took control.

He told me, "We escaped from prison, just to be put in another prison," and shook his head as he walked away.

Source: Aljazereera

International Armed Conflict Back to Iraq Saturday, 04 February 2017 09:17

U.S. President Donald Trump criticized his predecessor Barack Obama several times for squandering three trillion dollars to build an allied Iraq and leaving the country an easy target for the Iranians.

Instead of assuring Trump, Iranian authorities indirectly sent Trump indirect threatening messages through giving orders to one of its militias in Iraq “Harakat al-Nujaba” to launch missiles in order to show off its’ power. Al-Nujaba is one of the militias that can target neighboring countries and is similar to the Yemeni Houthis that are also used by Iran to bomb Saudi Arabia with Iranian-funded missiles.

The ultimate danger of Iran laying its hands over Iraq affects Iraqis themselves first more than the Gulf and the region.

Iran’s main objective is to take over Iraq, the second richest country in the region, in order to fund its military and economic needs. During the past six years, Iran has transformed Iraq into an Iranian military base from where it wages its wars in Syria and threatens Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Jordan.

Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) brags that foreign military actions in Syria and Iraq haven’t impinge on the Iranian treasury any additional cost because it depends on the Iraqi treasury, which has become IRGC financial portfolio and ruled by pro-Iran groups, especially after marginalizing the powers of Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.

A number of officials from Trump’s administration have served in Iraq previously and are familiar with the role of the Iranian regime there.

What to expect from Trump’s administration in the battle regarding the Iranians in Baghdad?

It is very unlikely for this administration to send military forces to Iraq, but some measures will be taken to limit Iran’s role. Most probably the U.S. administration will hold the Iraqi government responsible and will be given tough choices. It might also reactivate the role of U.S.-pro forces such as Kurds to achieve a balance of power with Iran. Plus, it will push opposing Sunni and Shi’ite national forces to reconsider the Civil State project that was neglected by Obama.

The question is not about what Trump can do to end the Iranian takeover of Iraq, but what the region can do to support national forces there. Terrible failures occurred after the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. Countries of the region refused the U.S. call to build an Iraqi national regime.

When some of these countries, including the Gulf, left Iraq, Iran seized the opportunity to be the sole regional force to offer cooperation with Americans to manage the new Iraq.

At the same time, Iran and Assad regime in Syria were supporting operations of the so-called Iraqi resistance and al-Qaeda to kick out the U.S. military forces from there. Tehran succeeded in its dual project: cooperation and conspiracy, specially after the arrival of Obama who found that Iran has influence in Iraq and hence chose to communicate with the Iranians rather than confront them.

The current US leadership in the White House, along with Defense and intelligence authorities, that have worked previously in Iraq are aware that Iran was behind the war on its troops in Iraq, including al-Qaeda.They are also familiar with Iran’s way of managing battles through using local forces such as the so-called Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas and Islamic Jihad Movement in Palestine in Gaza, Fatah al-Islam in Lebanon and a number of al-Qaeda organizations in Syria and Iraq as well as Houthis in Yemen.

Therefore, I believe that confrontations are now more likely than ever in Iraq and elsewhere. These confrontations are a natural result for Obama’s policy that allowed the Iranian regime to expand in the region until it became a threat to the moderate countries including Egypt, Turkey, Jordan and the Gulf; not to mention the American interests and international peace.

Source: Asharq Al- Awsat

Iraq: Activity report 2016 Thursday, 02 February 2017 20:24

Millions of people throughout Iraq continue to suffer the consequences of armed conflict and the lingering effects of past violence. Tens of thousands of people were killed or injured. Since 2014, over 3.3 million people have been displaced in various parts of the country.

In addition, over 140,000 people have been displaced since October 2016, when the Iraqi military launched a campaign to retake the city of Mosul. Displaced people and communities living near front lines, in retaken villages or other affected areas have limited, if any, access to essential services and basic supplies, due to widespread violence and the destruction of vital infrastructure.

With its established presence across Iraq, the ICRC was able to respond quickly to the needs of people effected by fighting, including those living near the front lines and in areas where there are few or no other humanitarian organizations. In response to the increased needs linked to the Mosul military operation, the ICRC scaled up its activities during the last months of 2016. As a core part of our mandate, we promoted compliance with international humanitarian law  and other rules protecting civilians. We provided displaced people, host communities and returnees in newly retaken areas with food and essential household items; other conflict-affected communities were provided with cash and livelihood support.

The ICRC also helped improve access to water and health services for millions of people. We visited detainees to monitor their treatment and living conditions, including access to health care and respect for judicial guarantees. We facilitated contact between relatives separated by the current and past conflicts.

Source: ICRC

Archbishop Bashar Warda said the Church wanted displaced people to return to their villages in peace and security

Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil has unveiled plans to provide a future for Iraq’s displaced Christians – despite fresh reports showing the extent of the destruction of their homes in the Nineveh Plains.

Archbishop Warda said the Churches aim to rebuild “so that the IDPs (internally displaced people) are able to return to the villages of their forefathers with hope and security”.

The Chaldean archbishop stressed that reconstruction could not begin until Mosul is liberated and villages are cleared of bombs and booby traps.

Archbishop Warda described the extent of the devastation saying: “However the desecration and destruction in the newly liberated villages was so personal in its hatred and anger, that it dealt further deep and destabilising blows to the IDPs when witnessing their destroyed homes, livelihoods and communities.”

Aid to the Church in Need’s (ACN) Middle East project head Fr Andrzej Halemba, who carried out a survey of the villages in the Nineveh Plains at the end of 2016, revealed that growing numbers of displaced Christians are wanting to return.

He said: “The conclusions of this first ACN survey showed us that not more than one percent of people that wanted to go back. Now during my visit to Alqosh I was told that there are more as 50 percent of IDPs willing to return. And this number keeps increasing.”

Source: Catholic Herald

The priest added that the charity would help with the rebuilding of the Christian villages that were destroyed by Isis.

Fr Halemba said: “ACN will support, of course, the reconstruction. However, we have to work together with other charities, alone [it] is impossible to manage this.”

Archbishop Warda underlined the need to continue to support Christian families who fled to Ankawa and other parts of the Kurdish capital Erbil.
He said: “[T]here is an urgent need for us to continue to exist here in Ankawa during a possible two to three year transition period, and we will need continued donor funds to achieve this.”

Archbishop Warda added: “We do all this in an environment of conflict, recession, high unemployment… power cuts, landlords now seeking higher rents – all of this amidst political and religious uncertainty.”


Video evidence of executions and torture stokes Sunni-Shia tension as troops launch final push to retake city from Isis

Graphic videos of men in Iraqi security force uniforms carrying out beatings and summary executions on the streets of Mosul have cast a shadow over the campaign to retake the city from Islamic State as prime minister announced the launch of military operations.

“We announce the start of a new phase in the operation, we are coming Nineveh to liberate the western side of Mosul,” said Haider al-Abadi in a brief televised speech.

The violent scenes, posted on social media pages supporting the Iraqi government forces, are reminiscent of Isis’s own propaganda and starkly contrast with the overwhelmingly positive impression left so far by the US-trained troops leading the battle to retake Iraq’s second city.

The videos have been condemned by the UN and human rights groups, and raise concerns about the next stage of the campaign, when troops will move into the western side of Mosul, and the Iraqi government’s ability to bring long-term stability to the city.

Security forces have been welcomed by residents weary of Isis’s brutal rule, and praised for their restraint through months of gruelling urban warfare, defying fears that the assault by Shia-dominated forces on a Sunni-majority city could spark a sectarian bloodbath.

But underlying tensions have not vanished. The population remains wary of Baghdad and the Shia militias that bolster its power, and with the second major part of the campaign for Mosul expected to start within days, abuse could feed dangerous resentment.

In one of the bloodiest films, a man behind the camera urges on a group in Iraqi federal police uniforms as he films them clubbing four men in civilian clothes. “Well done – you did a good job,” he says, before the attackers drag the men down an asphalt road, and summarily execute three with machine guns.

In other videos circulated on Facebook young men are beaten, or forced to imitate animals – one a dog, another made to bleat like a goat.

The men abusing the prisoners appear to wear the insignia of various security forces including federal police, the regular army, the Counter Terrorism Service (CTS) and militias known as the Popular Mobilisation Forces.

Several of these groups are trained and armed by the US-led coalition in a programme that is meant to cover international laws of war, including treatment of prisoners. The UN’s commissioner for human rights described the footage as “deeply disturbing” and called on the Iraqi government to investigate.

And while all the videos claim to show abuse of Isis fighters, a lack of safeguards means civilians are likely to be at risk. In the race to disrupt sleeper cells and round up collaborators, security forces have already cast such a wide net that their targets included at least one Shia family who lived in hiding under Isis.

The prime minister’s office has launched an investigation into the videos as “a precaution”, although it insisted it considers them a fabricated slur. “If it is proven that there were abuses, the perpetrators will be handed over to the courts. In other operations there were individuals who committed abuses and … some were sentenced,” spokesman Saad al-Hadithi said.

Most of the videos and pictures were posted on the internet after the second phase of the Mosul operation started in late December. They stand in stark contrast to matching posts on the official special forces Facebook page, which shows them posing for selfies with newly liberated residents, handing out food and water, and even feeding animals. But though they show abuse, the images appear to have been posted by government supporters rather than whistleblowers, garnering thousands of likes and shares. The Facebook pages they appear on unofficially document the progress of the campaign.

One of the most popular posts, liked nearly 9,000 times, is drafted like an ad-hoc poll about summary execution. Below a photo of a young captive, blindfolded on the floor while two police officers place their feet on his head, a caption asks what readers think the officers should do with him.

“Swear on Qur’an, these young men sent us this photo from Mosul and arrested this Daesh [fighter] with their own hands. They say if you like and comment, they would flatten him in this place now, no arrest, no court and nothing else … it is up to you,” it reads.

There were around 1,200 comments, most of them calling for the prisoner’s blood. “Oh heroes! Put a bullet to his head, finish him off. Don’t imprison him. Don’t spend anything on him. An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, they were the ones who committed crimes first,” said one user with the name Warda al-Sabah. There was no update on what had happened to the man.

The videos threaten not only to tarnish the image of security forces, but potentially to undermine public support for the Mosul offensive, human rights activists said, calling on the government to investigate thoroughly.

“While this operation has seen so few incidents of abuse compared with earlier operations, it is vital that prime minister Haider al-Abadi takes them seriously when they do come up,” said Belkis Wille, who has documented human rights abuses in Iraq for Human Rights Watch. “We often see the authorities creating investigative committees – we rarely see results. Let’s hope it is different this time.”

It is difficult to identify the men and young boys in the images because after two and a half years surviving Isis terror, people in the city do not want to be seen as critical of the security forces for fear of being labelled as Isis sympathisers. As the videos show, it can be deadly.

In another video dated 22 January a terrified young boy identified as a suicide attacker is led on his knees and the palms of his hands by an officer of the interior ministry’s US-trained Quick Reaction Force.

He is forced to bark like a dog, repeat “I am a dog, son of a dog”, then bite the boot of soldier, as an officer commands him to show his face so his humiliation is public. “Raise your head so your face is visible,” the man says.

Almost all the comments on the video praise the soldiers for humiliating the young fighter, although there is one lone voice of dissent, warning that the attackers risked sinking to the level of the group they are trying to destroy.

“Even if he is Daesh, he is still a human, brothers please do not violate the reputation of the army and the police, we do not want to behave like Daesh,” wrote a commentator with the name Arkan Alazy, who said he had lost a brother to the group.

“My brother was in the army and was killed by Daesh but this does not mean that I would become a criminal like them,” he wrote. “Prisoners are treated differently, that is what our religion teaches us.”

Source: The Guardian

The U.S. military is "not in Iraq to seize anybody's oil", Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said, distancing himself from remarks by President Donald Trump, as he held talks with Iraqi leaders on Monday.

Mattis was the highest-ranking Trump administration official to visit Iraq since Trump irked Iraqis with a temporary ban on travel to the United States and for saying America should have seized Iraq's oil after toppling Saddam Hussein in 2003.

Trump told CIA staff in January: "We should have kept the oil. But okay. Maybe you'll have another chance."

Mattis, however, flatly ruled out any such intent. "We're not in Iraq to seize anybody's oil," he told reporters traveling with him late on Sunday, ahead of his arrival.

"All of us in America have generally paid for our gas and oil all along and I'm sure that we will continue to do so in the future," said Mattis, a retired Marine general who once led forces in Iraq.

His remarks are the latest sign of differences with Trump. Trump has acknowledged that Mattis disagrees with him about the usefulness of torture in interrogation and said he would defer to his defense secretary on the issue.

Mattis has been more critical than Trump of RussianPresident Vladimir Putin, and distanced himself from Trump's labeling of the media as "the enemy of the American people", saying he had no problems with the press.

A retired Marine general who led American troops in Iraq, Mattis has sought an exemption from Trump's travel ban for Iraqis who have served with U.S. troops, including translators.

He said he had not seen a new executive order which the administration is considering. "But I right now am assured that we will take steps to allow those who have fought alongside us, for example, to be allowed into the United States," Mattis said.

Mattis' visit came a day after Iraqi Prime Minister Haideral-Abadi announced the start of a ground offensive on westernMosul, where Islamic State militants are under siege along with an estimated 650,000 civilians.

It was unclear whether Trump's remarks on oil had come up during Mattis' with Abadi, who has told Washington that Iraq's oil is the property of Iraqis.

Mattis also met Iraq's defense minister and top U.S. officials in Iraq.

WILL US FORCES STAY AFTER MOSUL?

Influential Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr on Monday called on Iraq's government to order the withdrawal of U.S. and allied forces after the battle of Mosul is over.

"The Iraqi government has to demand that all occupying and so-called friendly forces leave Iraq in order to preserve the prestige and the sovereignty of the state," Sadr said.

Mattis declined to address Sadr's remarks directly, describing them as an internal political matter.

But he said he was reassured after his talks in Baghdad that Iraq's leaders recognized the value of its relationship with the United States.

"I imagine we’ll be in this fight for a while and we’ll stand by each other," he said, repeatedly praising the resilience of Iraqi forces.

The U.S. commander in Iraq, Army Lieutenant General StephenTownsend, has said he believes U.S.-backed forces will recapture both of Islamic State's major strongholds - Mosul and the city of Raqqa in Syria - within the next six months.

Trump is looking for a plan to accelerate the campaign against Islamic State, which could lead to an additional deployment of U.S. forces, who currently number less than 6,000 in Iraq and Syria.

The Pentagon may also look at increasing the number of attack helicopters and air strikes and bringing in more artillery, as well as granting greater authority to battlefield commanders fighting Islamic State.

Townsend told a news conference in Baghdad he had been putting U.S. military advisers closer to front lines in Mosul than before, a move that would increase risk but bolster their ability to aid Iraqis, including by directing air strikes.  

"We adjusted our posture during the east Mosul fight and we embedded advisers a bit further down into the formation," he said.

Townsend added he was certain victory in Mosul was within sight. "The Iraqi security forces are going to take that city back. No doubt about it," he said.

Source: Reuters

(Erbil) – Armed forces fighting Islamic State (also known as ISIS) to retake a town and four villages near Mosul looted, damaged, and destroyed homes, Human Rights Watch said today. There was no apparent military necessity for the demolitions, which may amount to war crimes and which took place between November 2016 and February 2017.

The Iraqi authorities should investigate allegations of war crimes and hold those responsible to account, Human Rights Watch said. The United States and other countries providing military assistance to the Iraqi Security Forces should press the government to carry out these investigations. The United Nations Human Rights Council should expand the investigation it established in 2014 on ISIS abuses to include serious violations by all parties, including the Popular Mobilization Forces (known as the PMF or Hashd al-Sha'abi), units that were formed largely to combat ISIS, and are under the direct command of Prime Minister al-Abadi.

“Absent a legitimate military objective, there is no excuse for destroying civilian homes,” said Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “All the destruction does is to keep civilians from going home.”

To the southwest of Mosul, Human Rights Watch documented looting and extensive demolition of buildings in three villages using explosives, heavy machinery, and fire. Witness statements about the extent and timing of the demolitions, between late December and early February, were corroborated by satellite imagery showing the destruction of at least 350 buildings, including the main mosque, in the village of Ashwa during that time. Satellite imagery reviewed by Human Rights Watch showed that the abuses took place after anti-ISIS forces incorporated the villages into a large network of earthen berms and trenches. Locals told Human Rights Watch the only armed forces in the areas taken from ISIS were different groups within the PMF.

Human Rights Watch asked a representative of the PMF about the destruction in all three villages. In a written response received on February 12, the PMF stated that some buildings were used as artillery positions by ISIS while other houses were booby-trapped by ISIS in order to detonate around advancing PMF forces. They also said the PMF slowed their advance for nearly two days to avoid destroying infrastructure and private property and that after being pushed out, ISIS forces continued to aim artillery fire at the villages.

The PMF did not say how long ISIS attacks on the villages continued and did not provide the number of homes destroyed by ISIS or say which groups within the PMF were in the villages. The statement did not acknowledge that the PMF conducted extensive property demolitions after retaking the areas, let alone provide an explanation for the destruction.

Despite the PMF statement about booby-trapped homes, the satellite imagery reviewed by Human Rights Watch shows that the houses were destroyed by explosives, heavy machinery, and fire after the PMF had retaken the villages. Burning, demolishing, or bulldozing homes is a wholly inappropriate mechanism for mine clearance, and would likely detonate any improvised explosive devices (IEDs). In addition, almost all of the burnt buildings still have their load-bearing exterior and interior walls intact, with only the roof missing, which is inconsistent with IED blasts.

Given the broader investigation and the continued pattern of destruction for almost two months after the PMF were firmly in control of the area, Human Rights Watch did not find evidence to support claims that the demolitions may have been undertaken for legitimate military reasons.

Satellite imagery shows that the PMF incorporated the retaken villages within a security network of earthen berms and trenches. That network suggests that the whole area inside was well enough protected that there would have been no military need for PMF forces to demolish the homes inside the secured zone. In addition, satellite imagery shows no demolitions in other villages nearby; if there was a military need for the destruction, there should be a more even distribution of demolitions in adjacent villages.

The laws of war prohibit attacks on civilian property except when an enemy is using it for military purposes. They also prohibit indiscriminate attacks, including attacks that treat an entire area, such as a village, as a military objective.

Human Rights Watch also documented looting and burning of homes in two villages southeast of Mosul: in the Christian town of Bakhdida, also known as Hamdaniyah or Qaraqosh, and the mixed Sunni and Christian village of al-Khidir. The looting and destruction took place after they were retaken from ISIS, between November 2016 and January 2017. Multiple forces including the Nineveh Plain Protection Units (NPU), the Iraqi military’s 9th Division, local police, and Federal Police were present in Bakhdida, according to military personnel in the area and residents interviewed by Human Rights Watch.

Human Rights Watch was unable to identify the specific forces responsible for these abuses. In al-Khidir, 30 kilometers southeast of Mosul, Human Rights Watch also saw evidence of looted homes. Residents said that they fled the village one week before the area was retaken, on November 19, and when they returned home 20 days later, their homes had been looted. During that time there were several PMF units present, including the Christian Babylon Brigades, according to military personnel in the area.

Elsewhere in Iraq, Human Rights Watch has documented looting and destruction of civilian property, amounting to war crimes by the PMF and by the Kurdistan Regional Government’s Peshmerga forces, in their operations to retake territory from ISIS.

Iraqi authorities should take immediate steps to investigate these alleged war crimes and other allegations of unlawful demolitions, looting, and destruction of civilian property. They should hold armed forces that loot or destroy civilian property to account. The committee established by law to compensate victims of “terrorism and military errors” should process claims of victims of looting and destruction by armed forces.

“The Iraqi government may win its fight against ISIS, but it also needs to win the peace,” Fakih said. “That will be difficult if forces under its control violate international laws by looting and destroying the homes of local villagers.”

Ashwa
Human Rights Watch interviewed six residents of the village of Ashwa, who said that on December 12, 2016, ISIS forces who had taken control of the area in June 2014 left the village as fighters belonging to the PMF’s League of the Righteous (Asa'ib Ahl al-Haqq) and the Ali al-Akbar Brigade (Lua Ali al-Akbar) took control of the area. The residents could identify which PMF groups came to the village from their banners, flags, and badges. Once the PMF took over, they told residents to leave the area for a displaced persons camp to the south.

Residents said ISIS prevented locals from fleeing by reinforcing pre-existing security earthen berms surrounding the village. Human Rights Watch reviewed satellite imagery that showed ISIS had substantially reinforced the berms by August 2016. When the PMF arrived, the residents said they opened up a section of the berm so that villagers could leave.

Satellite imagery of the village shows that after the PMF captured it, they incorporated the pre-existing berms into much larger, newly-constructed security earthen berms to the south and west of the village between December 11 and December 22.

Human Rights Watch reviewed satellite images that show 46 buildings were destroyed between December 8 and December 20, and an additional 94 buildings were destroyed between December 20 and February 10. Visible damage signatures were consistent with the use of high explosives, heavy machinery, and fire. One of the buildings destroyed by explosives was the Ashwa Mosque, the primary mosque in the village.

Mashirafat al-Jisr
Human Rights Watch interviewed three displaced residents of Mashirafat al-Jisr, the neighboring village to Ashwa. One said that on the morning of December 12, at about 10 a.m., he saw four cars with ISIS fighters pull into the village and immediately come under fire. At that time, the majority of the village residents, roughly 100 people, fled by car to a nearby hill, residents told Human Rights Watch, and watched as ISIS forces left the village and fighters flying PMF banners entered.

One villager remained behind to protect his property. He said he saw 10 cars arrive, and the fighters who descended introduced themselves to him as members of the Martyrs of Sayyid Battalions (Kata'ib Sayyid al-Shuhada). They told him to leave the area, to which he responded that if the villagers returned to find their homes looted he would blame their unit.

He said he left, joined the other villagers, and traveled on to a camp, where they remained. The three residents said that most villagers did not return home but seven days later, one young villager who was recruited by the PMF inside the camp went back to the village with two other new recruits and sent his relatives photos suggesting their homes had been looted or destroyed.

The photos, which Human Rights Watch saw, show at least one house burned from the inside, one house destroyed, and two looted.

One of the new recruits said that when he got to the village on December 19, he saw that many homes had been destroyed, and those still standing had been looted, many had also been burned. At that time, the village was under the control of the PMF unit League of the Righteous. He heard one fighter ask a League of the Righteous officer what had happened in the village, and he replied that the homes had been full of IEDs. He also said that the Martyrs of Sayyid Battalions had been in the area at one point, but did not give a date.

The satellite imagery shows that more than 90 per cent of the affected buildings in the village were destroyed by fire.

Human Rights Watch reviewed satellite images of the village taken on December 6, January 1, January 24, and February 2. The first set showed no signs of significant building damage, the later images showed that 100 buildings had likely been burnt down or demolished with high explosives. In addition, the village appears to have been incorporated into a military post, with security earthen berms running along the western edge.

Khoytlah
Anti-ISIS fighters retook the village of Khoytlah from ISIS on December 13, at which point all the residents left and have not yet returned. Federal Police officers at a base in Qayyarah told Human Rights Watch that the PMF retook the village from ISIS and that only PMF fighters remained in the area after the clashes. Human Rights Watch was unable to identify which PMF were present.

A local leader who was present in the village under ISIS and withdrew as the village was being retaken by the PMF said that he did not witness ISIS destroying buildings before he and the rest of the villagers left their homes.

Human Rights Watch reviewed satellite images of the village that showed armed forces likely demolished at least 63 buildings with explosives, heavy machinery, and fire between December 8 and 22, and an additional 47 buildings between December 22 and February 10.

A satellite image taken on January 1 captured a smoke plume from an active building fire, indicating burning continued in the village two weeks after it had been occupied by anti-ISIS forces.

Southeast of Mosul

Bakhdida
In early January, Human Rights Watch researchers visited the Christian town of Bakhdida, 20 kilometers southeast of Mosul, and observed evidence of extensive looting and burning of homes. Human Rights Watch spoke with six residents who had been displaced from the town in 2014 when ISIS took it over and were now living in Erbil. Three said their homes in Bakhdida had been looted and three others said their homes were damaged by fire after anti-ISIS forces took control of the town in October.

Human Rights Watch reviewed satellite images of the town from October 18, showing multiple building fires burning across the city before anti-ISIS forces took over, but the displaced residents who spoke to Human Rights Watch said that they visited their homes after anti-ISIS forces took over the town and saw that they had not been impacted by the fighting or intentional destruction under ISIS.

In the months following the ISIS withdrawal, no residents were living in the town and it was occupied only by anti-ISIS security forces, according to the residents interviewed by Human Rights Watch.

According to local military personnel, the Nineveh Plain Protection Units (NPU), an Assyrian Christian brigade within the PMF, the Iraqi military’s 9th Division, and local and federal police took control of the town after ISIS was forced out . Human Rights Watch passed through NPU checkpoints in the town and saw NPU graffiti tags on walls throughout the town.

Three displaced residents told researchers that in the days after the town was retaken by a range of anti-ISIS forces, on October 22, they traveled back to their town from Erbil to check on their homes and saw that their homes were not damaged and that most of their personal items were still there. They said that after surveying their property they locked up and returned to Erbil.

Afterwards they returned regularly to the town and said that during these visits, from mid-November to early January, they saw their homes had been broken into and the contents looted.

Another displaced resident told Human Rights Watch that he visited his home on November 6, and found that the federal police had established a base in the building next door, and the NPU another behind his house. At the time, he said some of his furniture and personal belongings had been moved out onto his lawn but that his belongings were for the most part still there. He said that his home had not been damaged.

He returned to the town again on November 21, but this time said that he found that some of his furniture and one room had been burned. He went to the Federal Police base to ask what had happened, and an officer said that the fire had somehow been the result of a recent ISIS insurgent attack, without providing any details. Human Rights Watch could not verify whether such an attack occurred.

A fifth resident also displaced to Erbil since 2014, told Human Rights Watch that he visited his home in Bakhdida on December 2, and saw no signs of damage to his property. He said at that point the town was occupied by anti-ISIS forces, including from the local police and NPU, and the situation was calm. He said he left at 3 p.m. the same day, and two days later, his cousin called to say he had seen the house had been burned from the inside. The resident returned to the town on December 5, and confirmed that his house had been set on fire. He told Human Rights Watch he heard a rumor in mid-January that the local police, in conjunction with the NPU, had arrested two men from the Shabak community (a minority group in Iraq) accused of having committed another arson attack, and had sent them to Baghdad. Human Rights Watch was unable to confirm this or to connect these men to any of documented incidents of home burning

Another resident, also displaced to Erbil, who had visited his home in Bakhdida on December 26 and confirmed his property was not damaged, received a call on January 10 from a friend who said he heard that his house had been burned. The resident traveled back home the next morning and confirmed it had been destroyed. He said that while there, he saw local police and NPU fighters present in the town and that other anti-ISIS fighters may have also been there.

Al-Khidir
In the village of al-Khidir, 30 kilometers southeast of Mosul, Human Rights Watch also saw evidence of destruction of a few homes in early January. Three residents said that they fled the village one week before the area was retaken by anti-ISIS forces on November 19, and when they returned home 20 days later, their homes had been looted. During that time, according to military personnel in the area, there were several PMF units present, including the Babylon Brigades.

A local commander present in the area throughout the operation, told Human Rights Watch that he had observed the extensive looting, knew which forces were behind it, but would not divulge their identity. His statement, however, reflected that the looting was not done by ISIS fighters before they withdrew from the village, Human Rights Watch said.

Source: Human Rights Watch

Bloody protests in Baghdad over the weekend by followers of influential cleric Moqtada al-Sadr signal the resumption of a power struggle between Iraq's Shi'ite leaders which had been put on hold to focus on the war against Islamic State.

With Iraqi forces all but certain to defeat Islamic State in Mosul this year, Sadr has begun mobilizing his supporters ahead of two elections, for provincial councils in September and the crucial parliamentary vote, by April 2018.

His main rival is former Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, a pro-Iranian politician who started positioning himself last year as a possible kingmaker or even for a return to the premiership itself.

The political tussle played out on the streets of central Baghdad on Saturday when five demonstrators and a policeman were killed in clashes between security forces and Sadr followers demanding an overhaul of the state election commission, which the cleric believes favors Maliki.

A return to power for Maliki would bolster Iranian influence in Baghdad, giving Tehran leverage in any conflict with U.S. President Donald Trump's administration, which put new sanctions on the Islamic Republic following its missile test last month.

Although Sadr is openly hostile to Washington's policies in the Middle East and has spent considerable time in Iran, he would be a less dependable ally for Tehran in Baghdad. He has a troubled relationship with Iraqi political groups allied with Iran, and portrays himself as an Iraqi nationalist.

Maliki's eight-year rule ended in 2014, when the Iraqi army collapsed in the face of an Islamic State offensive, forcing him to hand over power to current Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi. Both men are members of the Shi'ite Dawa party.

He now holds the ceremonial position of vice president but still wields considerable influence, chairing the Dawa party which controls the largest bloc in parliament.

IRAN WANTS "LOYAL ALLY"

Abadi, a moderate Shi'ite politician, was better able to work with the Americans who helped rebuild the army and provided critical air and ground support to troops battling the Sunni jihadists after they seized a third of Iraq in 2014.

Iraqi forces have completed the first phase of the campaign to retake Mosul, the biggest city under Islamic State control, removing the militants from the eastern side of the city.

Abadi has overseen the two-year fightback, but lacks a political powerbase to match Sadr or Maliki.

"Abadi came as a compromise between the Americans and the Iranians," said Wathiq al-Hashimi, chairman of the Baghdad-based Iraqi Group for Strategic Studies think tank.

"Given the escalation with the Trump administration, Iran would for sure seek to have a strong, loyal ally in Baghdad" to take over after the parliamentary elections next year, he said.

The new American president says he has put Iran "on notice" after it test-fired a medium-range ballistic missile in January.

Some Western powers say that any launch of nuclear-capable ballistic missiles would violate a U.N. Security Council which enshrined a deal which curbed Iran's nuclear program in return for an easing of international sanctions. Iran says its missile launches do not breach the deal.

The escalation, and the Trump administration's halt to immigrants from seven mainly Muslim nations, placed Abadi in a dilemma. He resisted calls from influential pro-Iranian Shi'ite politicians to retaliate against the ban, citing Iraq's need for U.S. military support.

Commenting on his phone call on Thursday with Trump, he said Baghdad will steer clear of U.S.-Iran tension.

CALLS TO END CORRUPTION

Sadr's followers held several demonstrations last year to press for anti-corruption reforms, and stormed the Green Zone, a heavily protected cluster of government and foreign diplomatic buildings, after clashes with security forces.

Oil-rich Iraq ranks 161st out of 168 nations in Transparency International's Corruption Index.

Fourteen years after the U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein, the country still suffers a shortage of electricity, water, schools and hospitals, while existing facilities and infrastructure suffer widespread neglect.

Street mobilization is important for Sadr as he cannot rely on a regional backer to sustain his popularity.

Reacting to the killing of his followers on Saturday evening, Sadr said he was suspending protests for the time being, but added: "Their blood won't have been shed in vain."

Hashimi said Saturday's violence was unlikely to herald a dramatic shift in the balance of power, but the protesters had served notice that Sadr cannot be ignored. The protests enabled him "to mobilize his base under patriotic slogans and reassert his leadership," he said.

Sadr is the heir to a clerical dynasty which suffered under Saddam Hussein. While the Sadr family remained in Iraq, his main Shi'ite rivals, including Maliki, fled Saddam's persecution and returned to Iraq only after the invasion.

Iran has trained and armed Shi'ite militias collectively known as Popular Mobilization forces to counter Islamic State. Most of their leaders have close links with Maliki.

Maliki's Dawa party accuses Sadr of obstructing the war on Islamic State, saying his street protests increase the burden on the armed forces at the time when they are about to dislodge the militants from Mosul, their last city stronghold in Iraq.

A lawmaker close to Maliki, Ahmed al-Badri, also accuses the Sadrists of "being part of the corruption problem".

"The elections are around the corner and everybody wants to win the street, and everybody, including the Sadrists, are part of the corruption problem through their participation in different governments," he told Reuters.

Sadr's followers reject the accusations of obstructing the war effort. "It's their corruption that facilitate the entry of Daesh," said Ali Abu Mahdi, a 42 year-old state employee who marched in Saturday's demonstration. "Both are in the same bag."

Source: Reuters

Grim footage has emerged from eastern Mosul, supposedly “liberated” from Daesh control late last month,showing members of the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) and men who appeared to be from the Shia-dominated Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) paramilitary organisation executing unarmed men in the streets.

The footage shows armed Shia militants, who are fighting under the banner of Iraq, dragging a bound and clearly terrified man through the streets. The militants are heard abusing the man, and can be clearly seen beating him as they drag him to his death.

The victim is then placed at gunpoint by two other unarmed men in front of a row of houses, before about a dozen Shia jihadists fighting with the PMF and Iraqi soldiers open fire and gun them down in cold blood.

Even after the men have been shot and are clearly dead, the Iraqi soldiers and Shia militants continue to taunt and curse them, and occasionally other soldiers would walk over to the dead men and beginning firing at their corpses at point blank range. They would also stamp on the heads of the unarmed men, which is a deep sign of disrespect in Arab culture.

“Sadly, we have become accustomed to seeing such violence against people who are likely civilians,” Ahmad Al-Mahmoud, an analyst with the London-based Iraq monitoring group Foreign Relations Bureau of Iraq (FRB), told MEMO. “Even if they are ISIS, they should be tried in transparent and just courts, not shot dead in the middle of the street,” Al-Mahmoud said, using another acronym for the Daesh extremist organisation.

“What separates the Iraqi government from them [Daesh] if they are killing people in the streets?”

Extremist Shia militants fighting within the ISF or as part of the PMF, sanctioned by Baghdad and accepted as a formal branch of the Iraqi military last year, frequently justify their field executions by stating that the men they kill are Daesh militants.

It is unclear if the unarmed men in the video are civilians or Daesh militants. However, under international law, it is a war crime to put people to death without properly conducted due process. As these men formally fight under the authority of the Iraqi government, this could mean that Iraq has violated international human rights law and could be found guilty of crimes against humanity and war crimes.

 Daesh strikes back

Although the Iraqi government claimed to have recaptured the entirety of the eastern bank of Mosul, bisected by the Tigris River, the fighting has yet to be concluded.

Security sources confirmed that, two nights ago, Daesh fighters managed to infiltrate the ISF’s positions in east Mosul by conducting an amphibious operation from the western bank, still under their control, and evading detection by the ISF.

The militants crossed the river by using small boats and landed in several sectors, causing disarray in ISF defensive positions. Heavy fighting ensued, leading the ISF to sustain heavy casualties before successfully repelling the attacks, killing an unspecified number of militants and forcing the others to withdraw back across the Tigris.

Daesh also released video footage it claims shows its forces bombarding neighbourhoods in east Mosul. Al Jazeera cited medical sources as confirming that this shelling led to the deaths of six civilians and the wounding of 25 others in what can only be described as indiscriminate fire.

A US and Iran-backed Iraqi operation to recapture Mosul from Daesh began on 17 October 2016, gathering together a force of 100,000 soldiers and militiamen versus around 5,000 Daesh militants. Almost four months later, Iraqi forces may have sustained more than 6,500 fatalities, and have only just managed to gain an insecure level of control over eastern Mosul.

Source: Middle East Monitor

PRESS RELEASE

For immediate release 7th February 2017

 IRAN’S MIDDLE EAST AGGRESSION

IS ABOUT TO COME TO A JUDDERING HALT

 The Iranian regime’s days of aggressive expansionism in the Middle East are about to come to a juddering halt. This is the message from well-known Middle East lecturer and expert Struan Stevenson, President of the European Iraqi Freedom Association (EIFA). Speaking following his lecture at the Jean Moulin University in Lyon, Mr Stevenson said: “New sanctions ordered by the US government on several Iranian companies and individuals associated with the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps and its foreign terrorist wing the Qods Force, were a warning shot across the bows of the theocratic fascist regime. President Trump has made it quite clear that he regards Iran’s recent missile test and the attack on a Saudi frigate in the Gulf by an Iranian-backed Houthi rebel suicide boat, as direct provocations and breaches of the 2015 nuclear deal, which he is not prepared to tolerate. The president even tweeted: “Iran is playing with fire - they don't appreciate how 'kind' President Obama was to them. Not me!” To underline the message, General James Mattis, the newly appointed US Defense Secretary stated that Iran is “the biggest state sponsor of terrorism.” 

In Europe, the German Foreign Minister stipulated that Iran has blatantly violated several international agreements by testing ballistic missiles. He then supported the U.S. sanctions by saying that this measure is quite appropriate. 

The reality is that the Iranian regime has set the region on fire.

Following years of craven appeasement by the West, the turbaned tyrants in Iran are reeling from the tough new approach by the Americans. Accustomed to dealing with a spineless US foreign policy, weakly endorsed by the EU and UN, the ruthless Iranian regime has relentlessly spread its evil influence across the Middle East, backing Bashar al-Assad’s bloodstained regime in Syria, the brutal Shi’ia militias in Iraq, the Houthi rebels in Yemen and Hezbollah in Lebanon. Their pledge to deploy further ballistic missiles which is a direct breach of the UN resolutions linked to the nuclear deal, is a huge mistake, which could cost Tehran dearly.

“The UN Security Council resolution urged Tehran to refrain from work on ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads. However, the Iranians lamely deny ever having had a nuclear weapons programme in the first place and therefore say that none of their missiles are capable of carrying nuclear warheads. Unwilling to confront this patent falsehood and unravel the nuclear deal that he regarded as his greatest foreign policy achievement, Barack Obama allowed repeated Iranian missile tests to take place. Spin doctors in Washington even argued that the West should now exploit rich commercial trading opportunities with Iran’s ‘moderate’ president Rouhani, omitting to observe that under his three year term in office, more than 3000 people have been executed, often hanged in public in football stadiums. Breaches of human rights and women’s rights in Iran are endemic.

“Like all bullies, the Iranian mullahs believe that being aggressive pays dividends. They are about to discover that toughness is not about being a bully, it’s about having a backbone.”

Struan Stevenson added: “I support the jointletter on 7 January 2017 by 23 former top US political and military officials from both the Democrats and Republicans, who emphasized that the current crisis in the Middle East, particularly in Iraq and Syria, and the rise of ISIS (Daesh) is directly linked to the repressive regime in Iran and that the solution is to adopt a firm policy towards Iran, ending their cynical and destructive meddling in the region. “

Struan Stevenson was a Member of the European Parliament representing Scotland (1999-2014). He was President of the Parliament’s Delegation for Relations with Iraq (2009- 2014) and Chair of Friends of a Free Iran Intergroup (Caucus) from 2004-2014. He is now President of the European Iraqi Freedom Association (EIFA).

None of the camps housing Mosul's displaced allow for freedom of movement and some camps even ban mobile phones.

The 16-year-old boy had been following us as we made our way through Nargizlia. It is the most recent addition to the camps housing the 135,000 people who have fled the fighting as the Iraqi government tries to retake Mosul, its second-largest city, from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, known as ISIS) group.

Ghazi, who had been hiding behind tents each time we stopped to speak with someone, finally approached. He quietly told me he was living in a tent with a group of unaccompanied men and boys he didn't know. He looked at me, so full of fear at his surroundings, and asked if there was anything I could do to help him join his family, who had been sent to a different camp.

I took him to the manager's office and found a staff member who said he would take Ghazi in to see the manager. We had to leave, it was late in the day, but it absolutely broke my heart to leave this boy, with no guarantee that he would be able to join his family.

The people in these camps were terrorised by ISIL and have had to leave their lives behind. Some were separated from family members in the chaos in 2014, when ISIL took over the region.

Some were separated from family members by accident as they fled recently, and others were separated from the men and older boys in their family for security checks, to make certain they aren't ISIL fighters.

No freedom of movement

But none of the camps housing Mosul's displaced allow for free movement, a fundamental right, and only one is allowing family reunification at the moment, as far as I know.

At least two camps prohibit visitors and ban mobile phones, ostensibly for security reasons. Ghazi's was confiscated as he arrived at the camp's euphemistically named "reception centre", or screening facility. This makes the displaced significantly more vulnerable - those whose loved ones were detained for alleged affiliation with ISIL have no way of reaching out to contacts to help locate them.

Since the first days of the Mosul operation in October, husbands and sons in the four Kurdish Regional Government-controlled (KRG) camps I have visited have come to me asking for help to rejoin their families. They happened to leave the city on a different bus from their families, either because they were held back in screening, or because they left Mosul at a different time.

But none of the camps housing Mosul's displaced allow for free movement, a fundamental right, and only one is allowing family reunification at the moment, as far as I know.

At least two camps prohibit visitors and ban mobile phones, ostensibly for security reasons. Ghazi's was confiscated as he arrived at the camp's euphemistically named "reception centre", or screening facility. This makes the displaced significantly more vulnerable - those whose loved ones were detained for alleged affiliation with ISIL have no way of reaching out to contacts to help locate them.

Since the first days of the Mosul operation in October, husbands and sons in the four Kurdish Regional Government-controlled (KRG) camps I have visited have come to me asking for help to rejoin their families. They happened to leave the city on a different bus from their families, either because they were held back in screening, or because they left Mosul at a different time.

But none of the camps housing Mosul's displaced allow for free movement, a fundamental right, and only one is allowing family reunification at the moment, as far as I know.

At least two camps prohibit visitors and ban mobile phones, ostensibly for security reasons. Ghazi's was confiscated as he arrived at the camp's euphemistically named "reception centre", or screening facility. This makes the displaced significantly more vulnerable - those whose loved ones were detained for alleged affiliation with ISIL have no way of reaching out to contacts to help locate them.

Since the first days of the Mosul operation in October, husbands and sons in the four Kurdish Regional Government-controlled (KRG) camps I have visited have come to me asking for help to rejoin their families. They happened to leave the city on a different bus from their families, either because they were held back in screening, or because they left Mosul at a different time.

Ghazi's parents fled Mosul in a wave of escapees, while he stayed behind to check on an ailing uncle. They called him as they reached the Iraqi security forces checkpoint to say they were being sent to the Qaymawa camp. He then fled Mosul alone.

When he reached the security checkpoint, he asked the soldiers to send him to join his family. But they ignored him and sent him with hundreds of other displaced families to Nargizlia.

One woman in Nargizlia told me that when the 100 families from her area of Mosul escaped from the ISIL-controlled territory and reached an area under KRG military control, the women, girls and young boys were separated from the men and boys aged 15 and above in their family, and all of them were held in a school, in different rooms.

When buses arrived to take them all to the camp, this woman's husband and son were missing. She asked security forces at the "reception centre" and later at the camp about their fate, but she said they refused to answer her.

Now she is sitting in her tent, unable to leave the camp and without even a phone to call any friends, family, or international organisations for help in locating her loved ones.

Another prison

Aid workers told me that they have made some, very minor, progress around advocating for freedom of movement of displaced people or to reunite them with their families, as a result of the demands on them to provide other urgent services for the people in these camps. But it has not been their priority.

One worker said to me candidly, when they speak to camp residents, free movement is not their main complaint. 

But when I ask residents about their human rights concerns, the feeling that they are being held in open air prisons and the impact this has on their ability to communicate with their families is one of the first things they regularly raise.

One man at Nargizlia begged for my help to leave the camp, to meet a 2-year-old daughter he never met who is now in Kirkuk, a major city 160km away, and to mourn the death of his mother with his siblings, who escaped Mosul before ISIL took control.

He told me, "We escaped from prison, just to be put in another prison," and shook his head as he walked away.

Source: Aljazereera

International Armed Conflict Back to Iraq Saturday, 04 February 2017 09:17

U.S. President Donald Trump criticized his predecessor Barack Obama several times for squandering three trillion dollars to build an allied Iraq and leaving the country an easy target for the Iranians.

Instead of assuring Trump, Iranian authorities indirectly sent Trump indirect threatening messages through giving orders to one of its militias in Iraq “Harakat al-Nujaba” to launch missiles in order to show off its’ power. Al-Nujaba is one of the militias that can target neighboring countries and is similar to the Yemeni Houthis that are also used by Iran to bomb Saudi Arabia with Iranian-funded missiles.

The ultimate danger of Iran laying its hands over Iraq affects Iraqis themselves first more than the Gulf and the region.

Iran’s main objective is to take over Iraq, the second richest country in the region, in order to fund its military and economic needs. During the past six years, Iran has transformed Iraq into an Iranian military base from where it wages its wars in Syria and threatens Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Jordan.

Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) brags that foreign military actions in Syria and Iraq haven’t impinge on the Iranian treasury any additional cost because it depends on the Iraqi treasury, which has become IRGC financial portfolio and ruled by pro-Iran groups, especially after marginalizing the powers of Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.

A number of officials from Trump’s administration have served in Iraq previously and are familiar with the role of the Iranian regime there.

What to expect from Trump’s administration in the battle regarding the Iranians in Baghdad?

It is very unlikely for this administration to send military forces to Iraq, but some measures will be taken to limit Iran’s role. Most probably the U.S. administration will hold the Iraqi government responsible and will be given tough choices. It might also reactivate the role of U.S.-pro forces such as Kurds to achieve a balance of power with Iran. Plus, it will push opposing Sunni and Shi’ite national forces to reconsider the Civil State project that was neglected by Obama.

The question is not about what Trump can do to end the Iranian takeover of Iraq, but what the region can do to support national forces there. Terrible failures occurred after the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. Countries of the region refused the U.S. call to build an Iraqi national regime.

When some of these countries, including the Gulf, left Iraq, Iran seized the opportunity to be the sole regional force to offer cooperation with Americans to manage the new Iraq.

At the same time, Iran and Assad regime in Syria were supporting operations of the so-called Iraqi resistance and al-Qaeda to kick out the U.S. military forces from there. Tehran succeeded in its dual project: cooperation and conspiracy, specially after the arrival of Obama who found that Iran has influence in Iraq and hence chose to communicate with the Iranians rather than confront them.

The current US leadership in the White House, along with Defense and intelligence authorities, that have worked previously in Iraq are aware that Iran was behind the war on its troops in Iraq, including al-Qaeda.They are also familiar with Iran’s way of managing battles through using local forces such as the so-called Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas and Islamic Jihad Movement in Palestine in Gaza, Fatah al-Islam in Lebanon and a number of al-Qaeda organizations in Syria and Iraq as well as Houthis in Yemen.

Therefore, I believe that confrontations are now more likely than ever in Iraq and elsewhere. These confrontations are a natural result for Obama’s policy that allowed the Iranian regime to expand in the region until it became a threat to the moderate countries including Egypt, Turkey, Jordan and the Gulf; not to mention the American interests and international peace.

Source: Asharq Al- Awsat

Iraq: Activity report 2016 Thursday, 02 February 2017 20:24

Millions of people throughout Iraq continue to suffer the consequences of armed conflict and the lingering effects of past violence. Tens of thousands of people were killed or injured. Since 2014, over 3.3 million people have been displaced in various parts of the country.

In addition, over 140,000 people have been displaced since October 2016, when the Iraqi military launched a campaign to retake the city of Mosul. Displaced people and communities living near front lines, in retaken villages or other affected areas have limited, if any, access to essential services and basic supplies, due to widespread violence and the destruction of vital infrastructure.

With its established presence across Iraq, the ICRC was able to respond quickly to the needs of people effected by fighting, including those living near the front lines and in areas where there are few or no other humanitarian organizations. In response to the increased needs linked to the Mosul military operation, the ICRC scaled up its activities during the last months of 2016. As a core part of our mandate, we promoted compliance with international humanitarian law  and other rules protecting civilians. We provided displaced people, host communities and returnees in newly retaken areas with food and essential household items; other conflict-affected communities were provided with cash and livelihood support.

The ICRC also helped improve access to water and health services for millions of people. We visited detainees to monitor their treatment and living conditions, including access to health care and respect for judicial guarantees. We facilitated contact between relatives separated by the current and past conflicts.

Source: ICRC

Archbishop Bashar Warda said the Church wanted displaced people to return to their villages in peace and security

Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil has unveiled plans to provide a future for Iraq’s displaced Christians – despite fresh reports showing the extent of the destruction of their homes in the Nineveh Plains.

Archbishop Warda said the Churches aim to rebuild “so that the IDPs (internally displaced people) are able to return to the villages of their forefathers with hope and security”.

The Chaldean archbishop stressed that reconstruction could not begin until Mosul is liberated and villages are cleared of bombs and booby traps.

Archbishop Warda described the extent of the devastation saying: “However the desecration and destruction in the newly liberated villages was so personal in its hatred and anger, that it dealt further deep and destabilising blows to the IDPs when witnessing their destroyed homes, livelihoods and communities.”

Aid to the Church in Need’s (ACN) Middle East project head Fr Andrzej Halemba, who carried out a survey of the villages in the Nineveh Plains at the end of 2016, revealed that growing numbers of displaced Christians are wanting to return.

He said: “The conclusions of this first ACN survey showed us that not more than one percent of people that wanted to go back. Now during my visit to Alqosh I was told that there are more as 50 percent of IDPs willing to return. And this number keeps increasing.”

Source: Catholic Herald

The priest added that the charity would help with the rebuilding of the Christian villages that were destroyed by Isis.

Fr Halemba said: “ACN will support, of course, the reconstruction. However, we have to work together with other charities, alone [it] is impossible to manage this.”

Archbishop Warda underlined the need to continue to support Christian families who fled to Ankawa and other parts of the Kurdish capital Erbil.
He said: “[T]here is an urgent need for us to continue to exist here in Ankawa during a possible two to three year transition period, and we will need continued donor funds to achieve this.”

Archbishop Warda added: “We do all this in an environment of conflict, recession, high unemployment… power cuts, landlords now seeking higher rents – all of this amidst political and religious uncertainty.”


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