02 December 2016
English Arabic

The Iraqi parliament passed a law Saturday making militia units, including ­Iranian-backed groups accused of human rights abuses, an official part of the country’s security forces.

Lawmakers passed the measure 208 to 0 in a session that was boycotted by most Sunni politicians, who opposed an initiative that extends the influence of powerful Shiite groups that many Iraqi Sunnis view with suspicion.

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi praised the law, saying that it gave due to fighters who had proved themselves a key part of Iraqi defenses since the onslaught by Islamic State militants in 2014.

“Those heroic fighters, young and old, need our loyalty for the sacrifices they have made,” a statement issued by Abadi’s office said. “This is the least we can do.”

But the measure, which also legitimizes smaller Sunni tribal groups that have fought alongside Iraqi forces since 2014, threatens to inflame sectarian tensions that could surge anew after the defeat of the Islamic State. It could also complicate Iraq’s military cooperation with the United States and other Western partners.

Some of the most powerful militias included in the “popular mobilization units” are closely aligned to Tehran, and the United States considers one of them a terrorist group. Some of the fighters have been accused of abuses and mistreatment of Sunnis in their response to the Islamic State.

The units, which have more than 110,000 members, were formed in the summer of 2014, partly in response to a call from Iraq’s most senior Shiite religious leader. They drew from existing militia groups and from volunteers who rushed to defend Iraq against its extremist adversary.

Since then, the units have played an important role in most of the major battles against the Islamic State. They are now conducting operations west of the city of Mosul, where a major government offensive is underway.

Militia groups were involved in attacks against the United States during the years after the 2003 invasion of Iraq. U.S. military leaders have said that groups such as Kitaeb Hezbollah, considered a terrorist organization by the U.S. government, and Asaib Ahl al-Haq were responsible for the deaths of at least 500 American military personnel.

Sunni politicians who opposed Saturday’s measure accused the parliament’s Shiite majority of ignoring their objections.

“What was passed today is a breach to the principle of the state and of balance in our security institutions,” Vice President Osama al-Nujaifi said in remarks released by the parliamentary media center. “It would weaken the Iraqi state and weaken hopes for building a stable Iraq.”

Raed al-Dahlaki, another Sunni politician, said the official status would give “legal cover to all these militias who committed and are still committing countless violations against the Iraqi people, like killing, kidnapping, looting and burning houses.”

While human rights groups have complained repeatedly about abuses by militia forces, the Abadi government has said it has identified only a few isolated actions. Last week, Abadi said the Mosul campaign has been conducted without such problems.

Salim al-Jubouri, a Sunni who is speaker of the Iraqi parliament, sought to reassure those worried by the measure, promising that the law would not grant immunity to those who had committed crimes or abuses in the past.

Jubouri said that once Iraq’s major cities have been cleared of the Islamic State, the popular mobilization units will be responsible for holding ground and maintaining security. But important details still must be worked out, such as who will command the troops on the ground and how they will be structured and funded.

Abadi’s office said the fighters will be under the prime minister’s direct control, as is Iraq’s elite counterterrorism force. ­Under former prime minister Nouri al-Maliki, that force was seen as having been used at times for the prime minister’s purposes.

“With a sensitive law like this one, the prime minister needs to be careful how he implements it,” said Ahmed al-Mayali, a political analyst.

The incorporation of groups such as Kitaeb Hezbollah into Iraqi security forces could require adjustments in the way security partners such as the United States assist Iraq with its security.

In addition to the approximately 6,000 U.S. troops on Iraqi soil, the United States sells weapons and aircraft to Iraq and provides training to its military. But U.S. law requires that military units receiving American assistance be vetted to ensure they are not guilty of abuses.

The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad declined to comment on the new law. The U.S. military has made a point of seeking to withhold air support to the militia units, although, at times, its firepower has helped those units indirectly.

Ahmed al-Asadi, a lawmaker who is also the spokesman for the government committee overseeing the mobilization units, said that once incorporated into the government, they will not retain their command structure.

“All the links they had previously to political parties will be severed, and it will be under the commander in chief,” he said.

Source: Washington Post

By:

Sources say more than 14,000 Iraqis have crossed Syrian border since October, including 8,000 who have reached Hasakah.

More than 14,000 Iraqis fleeing the offensive against ISIL in Mosul have crossed the border into Syria since the start of the operation a month ago, sources from a UN affiliated agency told Al Jazeera.

According to the sources, as many as 8,000 of the Iraqis crossed into Syria's Hasakah province, and some are now in the al-Hol refugee camp.

Close to 5,000 have also reached Raqqa, ISIL's stronghold in Syria, while hundreds of others are spread out in Deir Az Zor, Aleppo and Idlib, but are not staying in refugee camps.

Medical sources also confirmed to Al Jazeera that they have treated or met Iraqi civilians in Syria's Idlib province who were coming from Mosul.

Al Jazeera has also learned that at least one family tried to cross the border from Bab Al Hawwa into Turkey, but were not allowed in.

Sources also said that the Iraqi men were afraid of going into the Iraqi Kurdish territory, for fear of being taken into custody and accused of links to ISIL, also known as Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIS. 

Most of the Iraqi families and individuals have come from Mosul and surrounding areas, while a small number have fled from Anbar.

Stranded at the border

Earlier reports had said that the UN was unable to deliver aid parcels to the al-Hol camp camp in Hasakah, because of security concerns.

But Matthew Saltmarsh, spokesman at UN's refugee agency, told Al Jazeera that UN workers have now been able to deliver "daily" aid, including food and water, to the camp.

Saltmarsh also confirmed that in the last five days, almost 2,000 people - mostly Iraqis - have been moved to al-Hol camp. A smaller number of refugees at the camp are Syrians. 

He clarified that the majority of the Iraqi refugees at the al-Hol camp "predates" the anti-ISIL operation in Mosul.

Currently, the al-Hol camp can accommodate up to 15,000 people, but it is being expanded to hold as many as 50,000, Saltmarsh said.

"It is correct that the conditions at the border are difficult, and for us to get access to the refugees and IDPs [internally displaced people] took some time, because of the security situation and inhospitable terrain," he said.  

He said hundreds of Iraqi refugees remain "stranded" in the border with Syria, and that the UN is trying to move them to al-Hol.

Leading up to the Mosul operation, the UN had warned that up to one million people are likely to try and escape to other parts of Iraq and Syria.

Overall, some 2.6 million Iraqis have fled the country since the beginning of the crisis in January 2014 when ISIL overran large swaths of the country, according to UN figures.

Additionally, more than one million Iraqis fled the country between 2006 and 2008 owing to growing violence following the US-led invasion and occupation in 2003.

 

 


For months prior to the offensive, Iran, and its Iraqi proxies pressured the Iraqi government to accept the militias’ role in the Mosul offensive, a move that could give them a share of victory and provide them with a pretext to justify their activities long after the defeat of ISIS. That would secure Iran’s influence in Iraq that predominantly relies on these militias, a prospect that many believe to be the Hezbollah-ization of Iraq.

On October 29, the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) predominantly comprised of Iran-backed Shiite militias, joined the military offensive led by the Iraqi army, US and Kurdish forces to reclaim the Sunni-populated city of Mosul from the Islamic State (ISIS). The Shiite militias opened a new front in western Mosul, a trajectory that could cut off ISIS from their bases in Syria. While the Iraqi Prime Minister, Haider al-Abadi had agreed to the militia’s role, there was no agreement on entering the city itself.

According to press reports, Qassem Suleimani, chief commander of Iran Revolutionary Guards Quds Force is in Western Mosul commanding Shiite militias, and Hezbollah members are also present and assisting the militias.

The PMF’s chief commander Hadi Al Amiri and his deputy Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis have been members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Quds Force and commanders of the Badr Brigade in Iran, a militia group formed by the Revolutionary Guards in the 1980s to fight alongside Iranian forces against Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq War.
Following the fall of Saddam in 2003, the Badr Brigade changed to the Badr organization with an armed militia, which has become Iran’s key proxy force in Iraq.

For the Iranian regime, PMF’s participation in the Mosul offensive is a crucial step in securing the future of its Shiite militias in Iraq.

On October 28, PMF’s deputy chief commander, al-Muhandis gave an interview to pro-Hezbollah Al-Akhbar that was also posted on an IRGC-tied website in which he confirmed the PMF’s role in the Mosul operation and declared that “after the defeat of ISIS, PMF will continue to exist, will combat terrorism and defend Iraq against any threat. PMF will expand its activities into Syria.”

It is worth noting that many of the Shiite militias that form the PMF have already sent thousands of fighters to Syria defending the Assad regime.

Muhandis’ use of “defending Iraq against the threat of terrorism” as a justification for maintaining armed Shiite militias in Iraq is similar to Hezbollah’s pretext in keeping its army in Lebanon allegedly to “defend Lebanon against Zionist threat” even though Israel withdrew from Lebanon in 2000.

For months prior to the offensive, Iran, and its Iraqi proxies pressured the Iraqi government to accept the militias’ role in the Mosul offensive, a move that could give them a share of the victory and provide them with a pretext to justify their existence in Iraq long after the defeat of ISIS. This would secure Iran’s influence in Iraq, which predominantly relies on these militias, a prospect that many believe to be the Hezbollah-ization of Iraq.

Iran has been clear about its intentions on the role of PMF in Mosul and the future of its Shiite militias in Iraq. In late August, cleric Akram al Ka’bi, the leader of the Harakat al Nujaba, a main Iranian proxy militia in Iraq which is part of the PMF and is also heavily involved in Syria, traveled to Iran, met with the regime’s top officials including IRGC commanders and was given a platform to show his allegiance to the Iranian Supreme Leader and to echo the regime’s views about the Mosul offensive and the PMF’s future.

In his meeting with the speaker of the Iranian parliament, Ka’bi declared: “The battle for Mosul is a defining battle for the future of Iraq that could shape the future of Islamic resistance in Iraq. Mosul is the scene of battle against the US and Barzani, the leader of Kurdistan who wants to create a pro-Israeli government in Kurdistan.”

In his press conference, Ka’bi declared that “No country including the US can prevent us from participating in the Mosul offensive and cannot eliminate us and the PMF will continue its activities after the defeat of ISIS.”

He continued: “the PMF militants are trained by Hezbollah. We do not believe in geographical borders and commander Suleimani represents the resistance front in the world.”

In his interview with Iran state TV, Ka’bi declared that despite US opposition, the PMF would definitely participate in the Mosul offensive. He stated that the PMF could agree to be integrated into the Iraqi Defense Ministry only if its organizational structure, its hierarchy, and its leadership remain intact and the PMF is subordinated to resistance groups (a term used by the Iranian regime to identify its proxies across the Middle East).

In the meeting with Ali Akbar Velayati, top foreign policy advisor to the supreme leader, Velayati emphasized the significance of PMF participation in the Mosul offensive. According to Mashrigh news website, Ka’bi told Velayati that his militia follows the orders of Iran’s Supreme Leader. 

A more aggressive Iran 

In the absence of being held accountable for its crimes in Syria or its hegemonic drive across the region, Iran seems to be emboldened and on the offensive.

Since Iran and the 5+1 countries reached a nuclear agreement and the economic sanctions against Iran were lifted, Iran has become more aggressive in pursuing its radical agenda in the region. It has accelerated its missile program, increased its military support to Yemeni rebels who are firing Iranian missile to Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies, increased support to Islamist groups in Palestine, expanded its military involvement in Syria, taken more American hostages and provoked US ships in the Arab Gulf.

Iran is also encouraged by the recent developments in Lebanon as its proxy Hezbollah successfully bullied the entire political establishment in Lebanon in surrendering to its demand and accept its candidate for the Lebanese Presidency.

For Iran, the participation of its proxy militias in the Mosul offensive and securing the continuation of their activities in Iraq is a sign of having the upper hand in the region.

Mashrigh, a website affiliated to the Revolutionary Guards, echoed this attitude in an editorial published on October 28: “The summit of three foreign ministers from Russia, Iran, and Syria in Moscow is a signal that these three countries have decided to take the offensive in the region. This change of attitude is well demonstrated by PMF’s decision to take part in the Mosul offensive. In the summit, the foreign ministers discussed the aftermath of ISIS defeat and how to counter US plots.” 

Bleak outlook 

PMF’s role in the Mosul offensive and the prospect that these Shiite militias remain active in Iraq will have disastrous consequences for Iraq and the whole region. These militias have a long record of accomplishment of sectarian violence and human rights abuses and are accused of war crimes in the Sunni regions of Iraq.

A US embassy cable from Baghdad dated December 9, 2009, that was revealed by WikiLeaks writes the following regarding Hadi Ameri, the head of PMF and the leader of Badr organization: “Ameri is widely known to have played a leading role in organizing attacks by the Badr Corps militia (the strongest, most disciplined Shia militia at the time and precursor to the current Badr Organization) against Sunnis during the sectarian violence of 2004-2006. Sources indicate that he may have personally ordered attacks on up to 2,000 Sunnis. One of his preferred methods of killing allegedly involved using a power drill to pierce the skulls of his adversaries.”

Since the creation of PMF in 2014, these militias have been involved in atrocities against Sunni minorities in Iraq. They have repeatedly been denounced by international human rights organizations such as Amnesty International, which has reported “Evidence of war crimes by government-backed Shi’a militias.”

In January 2016, Human Rights Watch deputy Middle East director denounced these crimes and declared, “again civilians are paying the price for Iraq’s failure to rein in the out-of-control militias. Countries that support Iraqi security forces and the Popular Mobilization Forces should insist that Baghdad brings an end to this violent abuse.”

It is also imperative to note the role that Iran and its proxies have played to fuel sectarian tensions across the region and contributed to the rise of radical Sunni groups including ISIS in Iraq and Syria.

In March 2011, in the midst of the Arab Spring, the Syrian people rose up against the Bashar Assad regime. The regime’s security forces reacted brutally and used deadly force to crush the uprising. In response, to the government crackdown, Syrians took to arms and joined the Syrian Free Army. In late 2011, the anti-regime forces were on the brink of triumph to topple the Assad regime. At which point, the Iranian regime decided to intervene on a large-scale to prevent the downfall of Assad, deploying its Revolutionary Guards members along with Hezbollah fighters, Shiites from Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.

Assad and Iranian force begun the widespread massacre of the Syrian people. As a result, the situation took a dramatic turn for the worse and became significantly more radicalized. As the Free Syrian Army and other moderate opposition groups became increasingly weakened, the extremist elements such as the Al-Nusra Front and ISIS grew intense.

Following the US troop’s withdrawal from Iraq in December 2011, the Iran-backed Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his allies, the Shiite militias, stepped up their repressive and sectarian policies against a Sunni minority. Consequently, protests erupted in the Sunni-populated regions. The Maliki government suppressed and murdered protestors with renewed brutality. Sunnis rebelled in many of these regions creating a power vacuum in these areas.

In the spring of 2014, ISIS forces, which had already emerged and strengthened in Syria, exploited the rebellion in Sunni regions of Iraq against the central government and took over important Sunni-populated cities including Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq, establishing dominance over significant parts of both Iraq and Syria.

Participation of Iran-backed Shiite militias in the Mosul offensive highlights the crucial issue of Iranian influence and role in Iraq. Since the fall of Saddam in 2003, Iran’s proxies have been the primary force in fueling sectarian tensions, undermining democracy and spreading violence and instability in Iraq and across the region.

The longer it takes for the Iraqi government and the international community to realize the need to confront Iran and its militias, the costlier it would be for the people in Iraq and the region.


Source: Al Arabiya

Thursday, 10 November 2016

ERBIL, Iraq — As Iraq comes closer to ejecting the Islamic State from its last major stronghold in the country, the question is no longer whether it can succeed.

The question is whether it will all have to be done again someday.

Even a complete military victory over the Sunni extremists in Mosul will not change the reality that there is still no political agreement in place, or even basic trust, that could reconcile Iraq’s Sunni Arab minority with the Shiite-dominated national government.

Not only are there fears that another Sunni insurgency could rise after the Islamic State is beaten, but there also seems to be little beyond this immediate military campaign to unite the profoundly differing factions that have temporarily come together to fight the militants — government forces, Sunni tribesmen, Kurds, local Yazidis and Christians, and Iran-backed militias. Each has a different endgame in mind.

While the fighting has raged near Mosul, diplomats, analysts and tribal sheikhs who oppose the Islamic State have been meeting in hotel ballrooms in Erbil, the capital of the Kurdish region, to start a discussion about reconciliation and political reforms. They agree, at least, that those are critical steps to prevent the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, from gaining new footholds in Sunni communities down the line.

“The reasons that created Daesh still exist,” said Mohammed Muhsin, a tribal sheikh from Hawija, an Islamic State-controlled town near Kirkuk, using the Arabic acronym for the group. Speaking at a workshop in Erbil organized by the United States Institute of Peace and an Iraqi organization, Sanad for Peacebuilding, he ticked off the reasons: poverty, injustice, marginalization.

After years of abuse and exclusion by the government and its Shiite militia allies, some of Iraq’s Sunni Arabs welcomed the Islamic State in 2014 as potential protectors — in part because many of the militants were from those same communities.

Now many Sunnis say they are weary of Islamic State rule, and are ready to welcome even Shiite forces as short-term liberators. But they still fear revenge attacks and more exclusion from the government and its allies, as the forces that clear Mosul also bring in a large swath of the Sunni population under suspicion of being collaborators or hidden Islamic State members.

No one thinks the guns will fall silent for long.

“The problem is, the politics are against us,” said Hassan Nusaif, a Sunni Arab politician from Hawija, who also participated in the recent reconciliation workshop in Erbil. “Let me be honest with you: The bloodshed will continue. This is the reality.”

This critical gap between battlefield successes and political progress reflects a running theme throughout the long American involvement in Iraq: Each military victory seems to further shake loose Iraq’s divisions, leading to more political disagreement and fighting.

Some analysts warn that the Iraqi government and the Obama administration may be risking even more chaos by pushing an all-out military campaign against the Islamic State before any political arrangement to accommodate aggrieved Sunnis is reached.

In a paper published by the Brookings Institution, Ian A. Merritt and Kenneth M. Pollack warned that defeat of the Islamic State in Mosul “will likely expose the deep sectarian tensions and grievances that have been somewhat masked by the common struggle against it.” Ramzy Mardini, of the Atlantic Council, warned of “a new, and perhaps more deadly, civil war.” And Dylan O’Driscoll, of the Middle East Research Institute, based in Erbil, wrote that given the depth of Sunni marginalization, “liberating Mosul under these circumstances will only result in I.S. or another radical entity returning in the future.”

American officials acknowledge that political measures have lagged behind the military progress.

But Brett McGurk, President Obama’s envoy to the international coalition fighting the Islamic State, told reporters recently, “The problem here is that if you try to resolve all of these issues, Daesh will remain in Mosul for the foreseeable future and perhaps forever.”

In the fears expressed over what comes after the Mosul campaign are echoes of the missteps and chaos that followed the American invasion of Iraq in 2003.

In particular, there is the problem of how to handle the many Islamic State collaborators assumed to be among the million-plus people left in Mosul. As with the controversial policy of de-Baathification imposed by the Americans after the invasion, a debate is underway about a process some are already calling “de-ISISification.”

The worry is that a campaign to purge all who might have collaborated with the Islamic State will go too far by targeting innocents or relatives of the militants, and sowing the seeds of future dissent. To bring order to this process, there is talk of the Iraqi government setting up a special tribunal in Mosul to hear cases, with the Iraqi bar association providing free legal defense to detainees.

On the ground, a critical aim of the central government is to place local Sunnis in charge of security in Mosul after it is cleared. That may help avoid abuses by the Shiite-dominated security forces, whose mistreatment of the local population under the former prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, contributed to the Islamic State’s capture of Mosul in 2014.

But even that is no guarantee of security, because of conflicts within the Sunni community between those who supported the Islamic State and those who opposed it, which many worry will lead to rounds of revenge killings.

The landscape of war in Qaraqosh, at the edge of Mosul, is as familiar as it is blighted — collapsed buildings, burned storefronts, church crosses on their sides, the charred chassis left by a car bomb. A slogan painted in red across a crumbling wall is a plea for unity in a fraying country: “All of us are Iraq.”

For the moment, Qaraqosh is home for Staff Gen. Wathiq al-Hamdani, a Sunni Arab who is the commander of Mosul’s police, as he waits to secure his hometown after liberation. It is a deeply personal mission. Smiling, he pulled out his cellphone to show a photograph of his son, a 22-year-old law student wearing a red plaid shirt, killed by the Sunni extremists of the Islamic State three years ago. “He was a great guy, polite, brave,” he said.

Now, he is on Mosul’s doorstep, and justice, or at least revenge, is close at hand.

“We know who everyone is,” he said. “We have a list. I know exactly who killed my son. I will catch him.”

He said his intention is to turn over Islamic State collaborators to the courts, but he was also quick to say he has no confidence in Iraq’s judicial system — it is easy for prisoners to bribe their way out of prison, he noted. And besides, he believes no Islamic State fighter will surrender.

“I think they will resist and we will kill them,” he said.

With no wider framework for reconciliation, Osama Gharizi, the regional program manager at the United States Institute of Peace, has been working at the grass-roots level across Iraq.

He has been bringing tribal sheikhs together to agree on ways to avoid further violence. Some of the ideas include negotiating compensation payments to forestall revenge killings; ending collective punishment by protecting innocent family members of Islamic State militants; and agreeing on timetables for the return of displaced residents.

Mr. Gharizi said the workshops have yielded results in places like Tikrit, where bloody score-settling after a massacre of nearly 1,700 Shiite military recruits by the Islamic State was largely avoided.

Mosul, he said, will be more complicated because of its diversity. The area has been home to numerous minorities — Christians, Yazidis, Shabaks, Kurds — all of whom have suffered.

“Bottom-up approaches will only get so far, and are in need of a national reconciliation process that will tackle some of the main grievances related to the political system and governance framework,” Mr. Gharizi said.

Others hold out hope for that most Iraqi of solutions: the rise of a powerful figure to bring the country together. Some versions of that longing, at least, picture more of a benign unifier than the kind of authoritarian strongman Iraq has become known for.

“Until now, there is no Mandela in Iraq,” said Mr. Muhsin, the local leader from Hawija. “We need a Mandela in Iraq. We need to push the Iraqis to be like South Africa, and we need to create a Mandela.

“How are we to do this?” he added. “I don’t know.”

Source: www.nytimes.com

Islamic State fighters targeted Iraqi troops with car bombs and ambushes in Mosul, stalling an army advance in their north Iraq stronghold, but faced attack on a new front on Sunday when U.S.-backed rebels launched a campaign for the Syrian city of Raqqa.

The jihadists have lost control of seven eastern districts of Mosul to Iraqi special forces who broke through their lines last Monday. Officials say the militants are now sheltering among civilians in those neighborhoods and targeting soldiers in what one called the world's "toughest urban warfare".

Mosul, the largest Islamic State-controlled city in either Iraq or Syria, has been held by the jihadist fighters since they drove the army out of northern Iraq in June 2014.

The three-week Mosul campaign has brought together a force of around 100,000 soldiers, security forces, Shi'ite militias and Kurdish fighters, backed by a U.S.-led coalition, to crush the Sunni jihadists.

Across the border, U.S.-backed Syrian fighters announced on Sunday the start of their own campaign, called Euphrates Anger, to recapture Islamic State's Syrian bastion of Raqqa.

The Syria Democratic Forces (SDF) is an alliance of Kurdish and Arab armed groups which has seized large swathes of territory along the Syria-Turkey border from Islamic State and pushed to within 30 km (20 miles) of Raqqa.

But the prominence within SDF ranks of the Kurdish People's Protection Units, or YPG, has raised questions over its suitability as a force to capture the predominantly Arab city.

Turkey, which has battled Kurdish separatists for three decades, regards the YPG as anathema and Western officials have said the Raqqa operation should be fought mainly by Arab forces.

Washington says the battle for Raqqa will "overlap" with the assault on Mosul, in part because of concerns that any delay would allow Islamic State to use it as a base to launch attacks on targets abroad.

France also wants a coordinated campaign against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. "Mosul-Raqqa can't be disassociated because Islamic State and the territories it occupies span that area," Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said.

TWIN OFFENSIVES

Twin offensives on Raqqa and Mosul could bring to an end the self-styled caliphate declared by Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi from the pulpit of a Mosul mosque in 2014.

Baghdadi, however, has told his followers there can be no retreat in a "total war" with their enemies, and the militants in Mosul have been waging a fierce and brutal defense.

They have deployed waves of suicide car bombs, as well as mortar attacks, roadside bombs and sniper fire against the advancing troops, and officers say they have also left behind fighters among residents of districts taken over by the army.

"That's why we are carrying out the toughest urban warfare that any force in the world could undertake," said Sabah al-Numani, spokesman for Iraq's elite Counter Terrorism Service (CTS).

"Sometimes they climb to the rooftops of houses where civilians are still living and they hold them hostage and open fire on our forces, because they know we will not use air strikes against targets that have civilians."

Militants also targeted the troops with car bombs, sometimes waving white flags as they approached, he said.

Major General Maan al-Sadi, a CTS commander, told state television Islamic State fighters had launched more than 100 car bombs against his forces in the east, which is just one of several fronts in the Mosul offensive.

A top Kurdish security official said Islamic State had also deployed drones strapped with explosives, and long-range artillery shells filled with chlorine and mustard gas.

It could resort to even more devastating weapons including a network of booby traps that can blow up whole neighborhoods, Masrour Barzani, head of the Kurdistan Regional Government's Security Council, told Reuters.

FORCES SURROUNDED

Late on Friday, a CTS unit came under attack from the rear after advancing into east Mosul, said a colonel in the Ninth Armoured Division which is also taking part in operations there.

Islamic State militants emerged from houses behind them and isolated the convoy, preventing reinforcements from reaching them. Surrounded and low on ammunition, they had to shelter in houses before they finally got out on Saturday.

The Islamic State news agency Amaq released footage on Sunday of captured or destroyed military vehicles, including the burnt wreckage of a Humvee it said was taken in the eastern district of Aden. Fighters shouted "Allahu Akbar (God is Greatest)" and unloaded ammunition and communications equipment.

Amaq also said Islamic State was behind two bomb attacks on Sunday in Tikrit and Samarra, cities to the south of Mosul, which killed 21 people. Officials said the attacks, carried out by suicide bombers driving ambulances packed with explosives, targeted a checkpoint and a car park for Shi'ite pilgrims.

While the army and special forces have been pushing into Mosul from the east, Kurdish peshmerga fighters are holding territory to the northeast, and mainly Shi'ite militias have sought to seal off the desert routes to Syria to the west.

Security forces have also advanced from the south, entering the last town before Mosul on Saturday and reaching within 4 km (2.5 miles) of Mosul airport on the city's southwest edge, a senior commander said.

The United Nations has warned of a possible exodus of hundreds of thousands of refugees from a city which is still home to up to 1.5 million people. So far 34,000 have been displaced, the International Organization for Migration said.

Many of those still in Mosul feel trapped, including those in districts which the army says it has entered.

"We still can't go out of our houses.... mortars are falling continuously on the quarter," a resident of the Quds neighborhood on the eastern edge of the city told Reuters by telephone.

Although there was no fighting in his own district, for the first time in five days, he said he could hear clashes in the two neighborhoods immediately to the north and south.

In the northern Malayeen district a witness said Islamic State fighters had set fire to a collection of mobile homes, once used by Iraqi security forces, apparently to create a smokescreen against air strikes.

"I can see flames rising up, near the main street," he said. "Daesh (Islamic State) don't let the fire engines get to the fire to extinguish it".

Several witnesses, on both sides of the Tigris River which splits Mosul's eastern and western halves, said they heard bursts of celebratory gunfire after the militants claimed falsely they had made sweeping counter-attacks against the army.

"We heard a voice from the mosque - outside prayer time - of a man shouting: 'Allahu Akbar...brave soldiers of the caliphate have regained control of Bartella and Qayyara," said one resident, referring to two forward bases used by Iraqi forces.

"We know they are lying," he said. "The truth is hidden from no one."

Source: Reuters

Sun Nov 6, 2016 | 11:27am EST

At least 24 people have been killed in the latest suicide bombings to strike Iraq.

In Samarra, about 70 miles north of Baghdad, at least 11 Shia pilgrims were killed when a bomb blew up an ambulance in the car park of a religious shrine on Sunday.

Ali al-Hamdani, spokesman for the Salahuddin province, said the bomber walked into the crowd of people before detonating the vehicle and blowing himself up.

Five female students are believed to be among the dead and more than 100 people have been injured.

Meanwhile, in Tikrit in the northwest, annother ambulance was detonated at the entrance to the city during the morning rush hour, killing a further 13 people. 

Isis has claimed responsibility for the attacks in retaliation for their loss of territory in the north of the country.

The jihadist group identified two of the bombers as "Al-Moslawi" – a nom de guerre that would indicate they were from Mosul, though it could be a propaganda attempt to link militants from other areas with the ongoing battle for Iraq's second city.

The Iraqi Army and Kurdish fighters are currently locked in a battle with Isis to regain control of Mosul – the jihadi group's last major stronghold in the country. 

Iraqi forces entered the city on Thursday for the first time in two years, but fighting remains intense and there are fears the terrorists could destroy the city in their wake. 

The World Health Organisation condemned the use of ambulances in the bombings, saying this form of attack made it harder for emergency services to help people in need.

In a statement to The Independent, a spokesman said: "The reported use of medical vehicles as weapons threatens the ability to deliver health care and urgent medical services.  

"When ambulances are suspected as potential security threats, their freedom of movement to care for the sick and injured is at risk of life-threatening delays. Such delays will leave vulnerable people with even less access to life-saving medical care.  

"WHO is increasingly concerned by the continuous threats to health workers, facilities and transport.

"WHO is working together with national health authorities and partners to protect patients, health workers, health infrastructure and supplies from violence and thus minimise disruptions to desperately needed health care."

Source: Independent

Every effort must be made to protect civilians from the onslaught of war and potential revenge attacks in Mosul, said Amnesty International today as the operation to recapture the city from the armed group calling itself the Islamic State gets under way.

Tomorrow, 18 October 2016, Amnesty International will launch a major new report ‘Punished for Daesh’s crimes’: Displaced Iraqis abused by militias and government forces which documents serious human rights violations - including war crimes committed by Iraqi militias and government forces against displaced civilians during past military operations. The report warns against a repeat of such violations on an even greater scale in the Mosul offensive.

“Iraqi authorities must take concrete steps to ensure there is no repeat of the gross violations witnessed in Falluja and other parts of Iraq during confrontations between government forces and the Islamic State armed group,” said Philip Luther, Research and Advocacy Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International.

“Prime Minister Haydar al-Abadi’s instructions to exercise ‘caution and vigilance’ to ensure protection of civilians must be more than token words. The Iraqi authorities must exercise effective command and control over militias, and they must ensure that personnel implicated in past violations do not take part in the Mosul operations. All parties to the conflict must take all feasible precautions to avoid civilian casualties during their attack on Mosul.”

Iraqi and Kurdish authorities involved in the planning of the military operation must ensure that civilians fleeing the fighting are provided with a safe route.

“The authorities must spare no effort to avoid leaving civilians trapped in the crossfire with no way out,” said Philip Luther.

“Civilians fleeing the fighting must also be protected from revenge attacks and provided with shelter and humanitarian assistance. With up to a million people possibly to be displaced from Mosul and the surrounding areas, the situation could rapidly deteriorate into a humanitarian catastrophe. The Islamic State armed group must allow civilians to leave, and not use them as human shields.”

Source: Amnesty International

Press release- 9 September 2016

A big victory for the Iranian opposition PMOI as the last remaining members in Camp Liberty, leave Iraq for Albania


This afternoon the main Iranian opposition PMOI, moved their remaining members who were previously trapped in Camp Liberty near Baghdad airport. This successful huge transfer took place while the Iranian regime planned to either eliminate or rip apart its main enemy while they were still in Iraq.

This final round of departures marks the successful conclusion of the process of relocating members of the PMOI to countries of safety outside Iraq despite the Iranian regime’s conspiracies, obstruction and threats, which continued until the very last day.

I was a member of the European Parliament from 1999 to 2014 and President of the Delegation for Relations with Iraq during my final 5-year mandate. I was able to learn at first hand about the Iraqi government’s repeated attempts to annihilate the defenceless PMOI refugees in Camp Ashraf and Camp Liberty, under the guidance of the Iranian regime.

Since the American occupying forces transferred control and jurisdiction for the residents of Ashraf to the Iraqi government under Nouri al-Maliki seven years ago, there was a constant state of intense siege imposed by the Iraqi government, puppets of the mullahs in Tehran, which continued to the last day. This siege involved the complete imprisonment of the residents of Camp Liberty in a small compound vulnerable to repeated rocket attacks. The residents suffered a sporadic blockade against fuel, food and essential equipment and a determined resistance by the Iraqi authorities against the provision of protective concrete T-walls inside the camp. In addition a medical blockade of the camp cost many lives and much suffering and there was constant psychological torture involving bogus so-called ‘family members’ from Iran, who were allowed to penetrate the security perimeter and shout abuse and threats at the residents through loudspeakers, while carrying out reconnaissance missions to prepare for further rocket attacks.

These serial violations of the basic human rights of the civilian residents of Camp Liberty were ignored by the UN. Three massacres at Camp Ashraf, five missile attacks on Camp Liberty, two cases of abduction of defenceless residents, and the imposition of a fully-fledged eight-year siege, which left 177 residents dead, constituted parts of this vicious, although ultimately futile, plan.

As far as the mullahs are concerned they wanted to eliminate all of the people in Liberty or to make them give up and surrender. This did not happen due to the courage and resistance of PMOI members who stood up against numerous conspiracies, as well as the inspiring leadership of Mrs Maryam Rajavi and the  active backing of thousands of parliamentarians and Iranian communities all around the world.

The victorious transfer of the PMOI members and the regime’s ultimate major defeat in this regard, opens a new chapter for the Iranian people and its Resistance. Now that the main organized democratic opposition is safely out of Iraq, we need to focus on the human rights situation, the end of executions and a democratic change; a free Iran. We also need to redouble legal efforts to bring those to justice in Iraq who orchestrated the serial abuse and murder of the Ashraf and Liberty residents and who looted their property worth tens of millions of dollars.

Struan Stevenson

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 from 2005-2014. He is now President of the European Iraqi Freedom Association (EIFA)

An Iraqi Shi'ite militia said on Wednesday it had dispatched more than 1,000 fighters to the frontline in neighboring Syria, escalating foreign involvement in the battle for Aleppo, the biggest prize in five years of relentless civil war.

New footage emerged of civilians choking in the aftermath of an apparent attack with poison chlorine gas on an opposition-held district as the battle for Syria's biggest city approaches what could be a decisive phase.

Aleppo has been divided for years into government and rebel sectors, but President Bashar al-Assad's army has put the opposition areas under siege and now hopes to capture the whole city in what would be a devastating blow to his enemies.

Government forces are backed by Russian air power and battle-hardened Lebanese and Iraqi Shi'ite militia fighters under the apparent oversight of an Iranian general.

The arrival of reinforcements from Iraq, where Shi'ite militia are fighting their own war against the Islamic State group, shows how the Syrian and Iraqi conflicts have leapt borders, to become a broad sectarian war across the Middle East.

Hashim al-Moussawi, a spokesman for the Iraqi Shi'ite militia Harakat al-Nujab, said its fighters would reinforce areas captured from the rebels in southern Aleppo.

The militia's Twitter account showed pictures of its fighters at the Syrian front with Iranian Major General Qassem Soleimani, commander of foreign operations for the elite Revolutionary Guards, who has led operations by Tehran's allies in both Syria and Iraq.

Rebel commanders said they are preparing to launch their own counter-offensive aimed at breaking the siege of the city, which was reimposed in recent days following weeks of intense fighting around a military complex.

Rebels lost the complex of military colleges to pro-government forces on Sunday near the Ramousah area of southwestern Aleppo, where they had opened a way into the city.

Five years after the multi-sided war began, hundreds of thousands of people have been killed and 11 million - half of Syria's pre-war population - displaced. But there is little sign that any party is poised for victory or can restore stability, and foreign powers are becoming more involved.

In recent weeks, Turkey has sent its troops across the border to combat Islamic State and Kurdish fighters. The United States, which is trying to negotiate a ceasefire with Russia, has backed Kurdish forces advancing against Islamic State.

Meanwhile, the plight of some 250,000 civilians trapped in rebel-held districts of Aleppo has spurred international efforts to agree a new humanitarian truce. But Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry have not reached agreement over the details of a ceasefire.

POISON GAS

Western countries, Turkey and most Arab states oppose both Assad's government and Islamic State, while supporting other anti-Assad factions. Russia and Iran support Assad.

The latest apparent poison gas attack adds to a litany of what Assad's opponents say is deliberate targeting of civilians, often with banned weapons, to force rebels to surrender.

Footage of the apparent chlorine gas attack on the Sukari district, near Aleppo's main battlefield in the city's southwest, showed crying children being doused with water and then lying on hospital beds and breathing through respirators.

Rescue workers in the rebel-held area said army helicopters had dropped the chlorine in incendiary barrel bombs, an accusation the government has rejected.

"We have not and will not use at any point this type of weapon," a Syrian military source said, accusing rebels of making false accusations to distract attention from their defeats.

However, the government has a history of being accused of similar attacks. An inquiry by the United Nations and Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) seen by Reuters last month said the Syrian army had been responsible for two chlorine gas attacks in 2014 and 2015.

In 2013 Western countries accused Assad's government of attacking a Damascus suburb with nerve gas. At the time, Assad fended off a threatened U.S. bombing campaign only by agreeing to give up his arsenal of chemical weapons, later destroyed by the OPCW. But Syria still possesses chlorine, which is used for water purification and other legitimate industrial processes.

Ramousah, its surroundings, and the countryside between it and the village of Khan Touman seven km (four miles) to its southwest were the site of intense bombardment by Russian jets and attacks by Shi'ite militias in recent weeks, rebels say.

On Tuesday night, jets bombed Khan Touman and neighboring areas, and intense clashes took place in Ramousah and its surroundings, with rebels targeting an army tank, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a U.K.-based war monitor reported.

Rebels also shelled government-held residential districts in western Aleppo, the Observatory reported.

"All the (rebel) factions are trying to prepare themselves to launch a new attack on the regime positions in Ramousah. It's not over," a senior source in the insurgency said.

Source: Reuters

BAGHDAD — Iraq's Foreign Ministry said the government on Sunday formally requested that the Saudi ambassador in Baghdad be replaced after he claimed that Iranian-backed Shiite militias are plotting to assassinate him.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Ahmed Jamal told The Associated Press that the government sent a formal request to Saudi Arabia to replace the kingdom's ambassador in Baghdad, Thamer al-Sabhan. Jamal said al-Sabhan's reported comments are untrue and harm relations between the two countries. He said the allegations are considered interference in Iraq's internal affairs and that al-Sabhan has not provided the ministry with any proof or evidence of these claims.

Shiite-led Iran and Sunni-led Saudi Arabia are regional rivals and broke off diplomatic ties in January after several years of frayed relations. In 2011, U.S. authorities said they had disrupted an Iranian plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to Washington at the time.

Al-Sabhan was quoted as telling the Saudi-owned al-Hayat newspaper that Iraqi intelligence provided him with information about the assassination plans. He said this was happening as Iran tries to block reform efforts in Iraq and other Arab countries.

Al-Sabhan was also quoted by the Saudi-owned al-Arabiya news channel saying "sectarian radical groups" are behind the threats. The channel, quoting unnamed sources, alleged that Iranian-backed senior figures in Iraq's Popular Mobilization Committee are among those behind the assassination plots and that they had given the Iraqi Foreign Ministry a deadline to expel al-Sabhan.

In the Saudi-owned Ashraq al-Awsat newspaper, an unnamed Iraqi official was quoted as saying militias were planning to attack the ambassador's armored cars with rocket-propelled grenades.

In an interview aired on Iraqi channel Wesal TV, Aws al-Khafaji, who heads the Iraqi militia group Abu al-Fadhl al-Abbas, said many factions in Iraq want to target al-Sabhan.

"If al-Sabhan was killed in Iraq, any factions involved would admit it, especially because he is wanted ... We clearly stated that we do not want al-Sabhan in Iraq." he said, before adding that if he were assassinated, "it will be an honor and will be proudly admitted."

AUG. 28, 2016

The Iraqi parliament passed a law Saturday making militia units, including ­Iranian-backed groups accused of human rights abuses, an official part of the country’s security forces.

Lawmakers passed the measure 208 to 0 in a session that was boycotted by most Sunni politicians, who opposed an initiative that extends the influence of powerful Shiite groups that many Iraqi Sunnis view with suspicion.

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi praised the law, saying that it gave due to fighters who had proved themselves a key part of Iraqi defenses since the onslaught by Islamic State militants in 2014.

“Those heroic fighters, young and old, need our loyalty for the sacrifices they have made,” a statement issued by Abadi’s office said. “This is the least we can do.”

But the measure, which also legitimizes smaller Sunni tribal groups that have fought alongside Iraqi forces since 2014, threatens to inflame sectarian tensions that could surge anew after the defeat of the Islamic State. It could also complicate Iraq’s military cooperation with the United States and other Western partners.

Some of the most powerful militias included in the “popular mobilization units” are closely aligned to Tehran, and the United States considers one of them a terrorist group. Some of the fighters have been accused of abuses and mistreatment of Sunnis in their response to the Islamic State.

The units, which have more than 110,000 members, were formed in the summer of 2014, partly in response to a call from Iraq’s most senior Shiite religious leader. They drew from existing militia groups and from volunteers who rushed to defend Iraq against its extremist adversary.

Since then, the units have played an important role in most of the major battles against the Islamic State. They are now conducting operations west of the city of Mosul, where a major government offensive is underway.

Militia groups were involved in attacks against the United States during the years after the 2003 invasion of Iraq. U.S. military leaders have said that groups such as Kitaeb Hezbollah, considered a terrorist organization by the U.S. government, and Asaib Ahl al-Haq were responsible for the deaths of at least 500 American military personnel.

Sunni politicians who opposed Saturday’s measure accused the parliament’s Shiite majority of ignoring their objections.

“What was passed today is a breach to the principle of the state and of balance in our security institutions,” Vice President Osama al-Nujaifi said in remarks released by the parliamentary media center. “It would weaken the Iraqi state and weaken hopes for building a stable Iraq.”

Raed al-Dahlaki, another Sunni politician, said the official status would give “legal cover to all these militias who committed and are still committing countless violations against the Iraqi people, like killing, kidnapping, looting and burning houses.”

While human rights groups have complained repeatedly about abuses by militia forces, the Abadi government has said it has identified only a few isolated actions. Last week, Abadi said the Mosul campaign has been conducted without such problems.

Salim al-Jubouri, a Sunni who is speaker of the Iraqi parliament, sought to reassure those worried by the measure, promising that the law would not grant immunity to those who had committed crimes or abuses in the past.

Jubouri said that once Iraq’s major cities have been cleared of the Islamic State, the popular mobilization units will be responsible for holding ground and maintaining security. But important details still must be worked out, such as who will command the troops on the ground and how they will be structured and funded.

Abadi’s office said the fighters will be under the prime minister’s direct control, as is Iraq’s elite counterterrorism force. ­Under former prime minister Nouri al-Maliki, that force was seen as having been used at times for the prime minister’s purposes.

“With a sensitive law like this one, the prime minister needs to be careful how he implements it,” said Ahmed al-Mayali, a political analyst.

The incorporation of groups such as Kitaeb Hezbollah into Iraqi security forces could require adjustments in the way security partners such as the United States assist Iraq with its security.

In addition to the approximately 6,000 U.S. troops on Iraqi soil, the United States sells weapons and aircraft to Iraq and provides training to its military. But U.S. law requires that military units receiving American assistance be vetted to ensure they are not guilty of abuses.

The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad declined to comment on the new law. The U.S. military has made a point of seeking to withhold air support to the militia units, although, at times, its firepower has helped those units indirectly.

Ahmed al-Asadi, a lawmaker who is also the spokesman for the government committee overseeing the mobilization units, said that once incorporated into the government, they will not retain their command structure.

“All the links they had previously to political parties will be severed, and it will be under the commander in chief,” he said.

Source: Washington Post

By:

Sources say more than 14,000 Iraqis have crossed Syrian border since October, including 8,000 who have reached Hasakah.

More than 14,000 Iraqis fleeing the offensive against ISIL in Mosul have crossed the border into Syria since the start of the operation a month ago, sources from a UN affiliated agency told Al Jazeera.

According to the sources, as many as 8,000 of the Iraqis crossed into Syria's Hasakah province, and some are now in the al-Hol refugee camp.

Close to 5,000 have also reached Raqqa, ISIL's stronghold in Syria, while hundreds of others are spread out in Deir Az Zor, Aleppo and Idlib, but are not staying in refugee camps.

Medical sources also confirmed to Al Jazeera that they have treated or met Iraqi civilians in Syria's Idlib province who were coming from Mosul.

Al Jazeera has also learned that at least one family tried to cross the border from Bab Al Hawwa into Turkey, but were not allowed in.

Sources also said that the Iraqi men were afraid of going into the Iraqi Kurdish territory, for fear of being taken into custody and accused of links to ISIL, also known as Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIS. 

Most of the Iraqi families and individuals have come from Mosul and surrounding areas, while a small number have fled from Anbar.

Stranded at the border

Earlier reports had said that the UN was unable to deliver aid parcels to the al-Hol camp camp in Hasakah, because of security concerns.

But Matthew Saltmarsh, spokesman at UN's refugee agency, told Al Jazeera that UN workers have now been able to deliver "daily" aid, including food and water, to the camp.

Saltmarsh also confirmed that in the last five days, almost 2,000 people - mostly Iraqis - have been moved to al-Hol camp. A smaller number of refugees at the camp are Syrians. 

He clarified that the majority of the Iraqi refugees at the al-Hol camp "predates" the anti-ISIL operation in Mosul.

Currently, the al-Hol camp can accommodate up to 15,000 people, but it is being expanded to hold as many as 50,000, Saltmarsh said.

"It is correct that the conditions at the border are difficult, and for us to get access to the refugees and IDPs [internally displaced people] took some time, because of the security situation and inhospitable terrain," he said.  

He said hundreds of Iraqi refugees remain "stranded" in the border with Syria, and that the UN is trying to move them to al-Hol.

Leading up to the Mosul operation, the UN had warned that up to one million people are likely to try and escape to other parts of Iraq and Syria.

Overall, some 2.6 million Iraqis have fled the country since the beginning of the crisis in January 2014 when ISIL overran large swaths of the country, according to UN figures.

Additionally, more than one million Iraqis fled the country between 2006 and 2008 owing to growing violence following the US-led invasion and occupation in 2003.

 

 


For months prior to the offensive, Iran, and its Iraqi proxies pressured the Iraqi government to accept the militias’ role in the Mosul offensive, a move that could give them a share of victory and provide them with a pretext to justify their activities long after the defeat of ISIS. That would secure Iran’s influence in Iraq that predominantly relies on these militias, a prospect that many believe to be the Hezbollah-ization of Iraq.

On October 29, the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) predominantly comprised of Iran-backed Shiite militias, joined the military offensive led by the Iraqi army, US and Kurdish forces to reclaim the Sunni-populated city of Mosul from the Islamic State (ISIS). The Shiite militias opened a new front in western Mosul, a trajectory that could cut off ISIS from their bases in Syria. While the Iraqi Prime Minister, Haider al-Abadi had agreed to the militia’s role, there was no agreement on entering the city itself.

According to press reports, Qassem Suleimani, chief commander of Iran Revolutionary Guards Quds Force is in Western Mosul commanding Shiite militias, and Hezbollah members are also present and assisting the militias.

The PMF’s chief commander Hadi Al Amiri and his deputy Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis have been members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Quds Force and commanders of the Badr Brigade in Iran, a militia group formed by the Revolutionary Guards in the 1980s to fight alongside Iranian forces against Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq War.
Following the fall of Saddam in 2003, the Badr Brigade changed to the Badr organization with an armed militia, which has become Iran’s key proxy force in Iraq.

For the Iranian regime, PMF’s participation in the Mosul offensive is a crucial step in securing the future of its Shiite militias in Iraq.

On October 28, PMF’s deputy chief commander, al-Muhandis gave an interview to pro-Hezbollah Al-Akhbar that was also posted on an IRGC-tied website in which he confirmed the PMF’s role in the Mosul operation and declared that “after the defeat of ISIS, PMF will continue to exist, will combat terrorism and defend Iraq against any threat. PMF will expand its activities into Syria.”

It is worth noting that many of the Shiite militias that form the PMF have already sent thousands of fighters to Syria defending the Assad regime.

Muhandis’ use of “defending Iraq against the threat of terrorism” as a justification for maintaining armed Shiite militias in Iraq is similar to Hezbollah’s pretext in keeping its army in Lebanon allegedly to “defend Lebanon against Zionist threat” even though Israel withdrew from Lebanon in 2000.

For months prior to the offensive, Iran, and its Iraqi proxies pressured the Iraqi government to accept the militias’ role in the Mosul offensive, a move that could give them a share of the victory and provide them with a pretext to justify their existence in Iraq long after the defeat of ISIS. This would secure Iran’s influence in Iraq, which predominantly relies on these militias, a prospect that many believe to be the Hezbollah-ization of Iraq.

Iran has been clear about its intentions on the role of PMF in Mosul and the future of its Shiite militias in Iraq. In late August, cleric Akram al Ka’bi, the leader of the Harakat al Nujaba, a main Iranian proxy militia in Iraq which is part of the PMF and is also heavily involved in Syria, traveled to Iran, met with the regime’s top officials including IRGC commanders and was given a platform to show his allegiance to the Iranian Supreme Leader and to echo the regime’s views about the Mosul offensive and the PMF’s future.

In his meeting with the speaker of the Iranian parliament, Ka’bi declared: “The battle for Mosul is a defining battle for the future of Iraq that could shape the future of Islamic resistance in Iraq. Mosul is the scene of battle against the US and Barzani, the leader of Kurdistan who wants to create a pro-Israeli government in Kurdistan.”

In his press conference, Ka’bi declared that “No country including the US can prevent us from participating in the Mosul offensive and cannot eliminate us and the PMF will continue its activities after the defeat of ISIS.”

He continued: “the PMF militants are trained by Hezbollah. We do not believe in geographical borders and commander Suleimani represents the resistance front in the world.”

In his interview with Iran state TV, Ka’bi declared that despite US opposition, the PMF would definitely participate in the Mosul offensive. He stated that the PMF could agree to be integrated into the Iraqi Defense Ministry only if its organizational structure, its hierarchy, and its leadership remain intact and the PMF is subordinated to resistance groups (a term used by the Iranian regime to identify its proxies across the Middle East).

In the meeting with Ali Akbar Velayati, top foreign policy advisor to the supreme leader, Velayati emphasized the significance of PMF participation in the Mosul offensive. According to Mashrigh news website, Ka’bi told Velayati that his militia follows the orders of Iran’s Supreme Leader. 

A more aggressive Iran 

In the absence of being held accountable for its crimes in Syria or its hegemonic drive across the region, Iran seems to be emboldened and on the offensive.

Since Iran and the 5+1 countries reached a nuclear agreement and the economic sanctions against Iran were lifted, Iran has become more aggressive in pursuing its radical agenda in the region. It has accelerated its missile program, increased its military support to Yemeni rebels who are firing Iranian missile to Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies, increased support to Islamist groups in Palestine, expanded its military involvement in Syria, taken more American hostages and provoked US ships in the Arab Gulf.

Iran is also encouraged by the recent developments in Lebanon as its proxy Hezbollah successfully bullied the entire political establishment in Lebanon in surrendering to its demand and accept its candidate for the Lebanese Presidency.

For Iran, the participation of its proxy militias in the Mosul offensive and securing the continuation of their activities in Iraq is a sign of having the upper hand in the region.

Mashrigh, a website affiliated to the Revolutionary Guards, echoed this attitude in an editorial published on October 28: “The summit of three foreign ministers from Russia, Iran, and Syria in Moscow is a signal that these three countries have decided to take the offensive in the region. This change of attitude is well demonstrated by PMF’s decision to take part in the Mosul offensive. In the summit, the foreign ministers discussed the aftermath of ISIS defeat and how to counter US plots.” 

Bleak outlook 

PMF’s role in the Mosul offensive and the prospect that these Shiite militias remain active in Iraq will have disastrous consequences for Iraq and the whole region. These militias have a long record of accomplishment of sectarian violence and human rights abuses and are accused of war crimes in the Sunni regions of Iraq.

A US embassy cable from Baghdad dated December 9, 2009, that was revealed by WikiLeaks writes the following regarding Hadi Ameri, the head of PMF and the leader of Badr organization: “Ameri is widely known to have played a leading role in organizing attacks by the Badr Corps militia (the strongest, most disciplined Shia militia at the time and precursor to the current Badr Organization) against Sunnis during the sectarian violence of 2004-2006. Sources indicate that he may have personally ordered attacks on up to 2,000 Sunnis. One of his preferred methods of killing allegedly involved using a power drill to pierce the skulls of his adversaries.”

Since the creation of PMF in 2014, these militias have been involved in atrocities against Sunni minorities in Iraq. They have repeatedly been denounced by international human rights organizations such as Amnesty International, which has reported “Evidence of war crimes by government-backed Shi’a militias.”

In January 2016, Human Rights Watch deputy Middle East director denounced these crimes and declared, “again civilians are paying the price for Iraq’s failure to rein in the out-of-control militias. Countries that support Iraqi security forces and the Popular Mobilization Forces should insist that Baghdad brings an end to this violent abuse.”

It is also imperative to note the role that Iran and its proxies have played to fuel sectarian tensions across the region and contributed to the rise of radical Sunni groups including ISIS in Iraq and Syria.

In March 2011, in the midst of the Arab Spring, the Syrian people rose up against the Bashar Assad regime. The regime’s security forces reacted brutally and used deadly force to crush the uprising. In response, to the government crackdown, Syrians took to arms and joined the Syrian Free Army. In late 2011, the anti-regime forces were on the brink of triumph to topple the Assad regime. At which point, the Iranian regime decided to intervene on a large-scale to prevent the downfall of Assad, deploying its Revolutionary Guards members along with Hezbollah fighters, Shiites from Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.

Assad and Iranian force begun the widespread massacre of the Syrian people. As a result, the situation took a dramatic turn for the worse and became significantly more radicalized. As the Free Syrian Army and other moderate opposition groups became increasingly weakened, the extremist elements such as the Al-Nusra Front and ISIS grew intense.

Following the US troop’s withdrawal from Iraq in December 2011, the Iran-backed Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his allies, the Shiite militias, stepped up their repressive and sectarian policies against a Sunni minority. Consequently, protests erupted in the Sunni-populated regions. The Maliki government suppressed and murdered protestors with renewed brutality. Sunnis rebelled in many of these regions creating a power vacuum in these areas.

In the spring of 2014, ISIS forces, which had already emerged and strengthened in Syria, exploited the rebellion in Sunni regions of Iraq against the central government and took over important Sunni-populated cities including Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq, establishing dominance over significant parts of both Iraq and Syria.

Participation of Iran-backed Shiite militias in the Mosul offensive highlights the crucial issue of Iranian influence and role in Iraq. Since the fall of Saddam in 2003, Iran’s proxies have been the primary force in fueling sectarian tensions, undermining democracy and spreading violence and instability in Iraq and across the region.

The longer it takes for the Iraqi government and the international community to realize the need to confront Iran and its militias, the costlier it would be for the people in Iraq and the region.


Source: Al Arabiya

Thursday, 10 November 2016

ERBIL, Iraq — As Iraq comes closer to ejecting the Islamic State from its last major stronghold in the country, the question is no longer whether it can succeed.

The question is whether it will all have to be done again someday.

Even a complete military victory over the Sunni extremists in Mosul will not change the reality that there is still no political agreement in place, or even basic trust, that could reconcile Iraq’s Sunni Arab minority with the Shiite-dominated national government.

Not only are there fears that another Sunni insurgency could rise after the Islamic State is beaten, but there also seems to be little beyond this immediate military campaign to unite the profoundly differing factions that have temporarily come together to fight the militants — government forces, Sunni tribesmen, Kurds, local Yazidis and Christians, and Iran-backed militias. Each has a different endgame in mind.

While the fighting has raged near Mosul, diplomats, analysts and tribal sheikhs who oppose the Islamic State have been meeting in hotel ballrooms in Erbil, the capital of the Kurdish region, to start a discussion about reconciliation and political reforms. They agree, at least, that those are critical steps to prevent the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, from gaining new footholds in Sunni communities down the line.

“The reasons that created Daesh still exist,” said Mohammed Muhsin, a tribal sheikh from Hawija, an Islamic State-controlled town near Kirkuk, using the Arabic acronym for the group. Speaking at a workshop in Erbil organized by the United States Institute of Peace and an Iraqi organization, Sanad for Peacebuilding, he ticked off the reasons: poverty, injustice, marginalization.

After years of abuse and exclusion by the government and its Shiite militia allies, some of Iraq’s Sunni Arabs welcomed the Islamic State in 2014 as potential protectors — in part because many of the militants were from those same communities.

Now many Sunnis say they are weary of Islamic State rule, and are ready to welcome even Shiite forces as short-term liberators. But they still fear revenge attacks and more exclusion from the government and its allies, as the forces that clear Mosul also bring in a large swath of the Sunni population under suspicion of being collaborators or hidden Islamic State members.

No one thinks the guns will fall silent for long.

“The problem is, the politics are against us,” said Hassan Nusaif, a Sunni Arab politician from Hawija, who also participated in the recent reconciliation workshop in Erbil. “Let me be honest with you: The bloodshed will continue. This is the reality.”

This critical gap between battlefield successes and political progress reflects a running theme throughout the long American involvement in Iraq: Each military victory seems to further shake loose Iraq’s divisions, leading to more political disagreement and fighting.

Some analysts warn that the Iraqi government and the Obama administration may be risking even more chaos by pushing an all-out military campaign against the Islamic State before any political arrangement to accommodate aggrieved Sunnis is reached.

In a paper published by the Brookings Institution, Ian A. Merritt and Kenneth M. Pollack warned that defeat of the Islamic State in Mosul “will likely expose the deep sectarian tensions and grievances that have been somewhat masked by the common struggle against it.” Ramzy Mardini, of the Atlantic Council, warned of “a new, and perhaps more deadly, civil war.” And Dylan O’Driscoll, of the Middle East Research Institute, based in Erbil, wrote that given the depth of Sunni marginalization, “liberating Mosul under these circumstances will only result in I.S. or another radical entity returning in the future.”

American officials acknowledge that political measures have lagged behind the military progress.

But Brett McGurk, President Obama’s envoy to the international coalition fighting the Islamic State, told reporters recently, “The problem here is that if you try to resolve all of these issues, Daesh will remain in Mosul for the foreseeable future and perhaps forever.”

In the fears expressed over what comes after the Mosul campaign are echoes of the missteps and chaos that followed the American invasion of Iraq in 2003.

In particular, there is the problem of how to handle the many Islamic State collaborators assumed to be among the million-plus people left in Mosul. As with the controversial policy of de-Baathification imposed by the Americans after the invasion, a debate is underway about a process some are already calling “de-ISISification.”

The worry is that a campaign to purge all who might have collaborated with the Islamic State will go too far by targeting innocents or relatives of the militants, and sowing the seeds of future dissent. To bring order to this process, there is talk of the Iraqi government setting up a special tribunal in Mosul to hear cases, with the Iraqi bar association providing free legal defense to detainees.

On the ground, a critical aim of the central government is to place local Sunnis in charge of security in Mosul after it is cleared. That may help avoid abuses by the Shiite-dominated security forces, whose mistreatment of the local population under the former prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, contributed to the Islamic State’s capture of Mosul in 2014.

But even that is no guarantee of security, because of conflicts within the Sunni community between those who supported the Islamic State and those who opposed it, which many worry will lead to rounds of revenge killings.

The landscape of war in Qaraqosh, at the edge of Mosul, is as familiar as it is blighted — collapsed buildings, burned storefronts, church crosses on their sides, the charred chassis left by a car bomb. A slogan painted in red across a crumbling wall is a plea for unity in a fraying country: “All of us are Iraq.”

For the moment, Qaraqosh is home for Staff Gen. Wathiq al-Hamdani, a Sunni Arab who is the commander of Mosul’s police, as he waits to secure his hometown after liberation. It is a deeply personal mission. Smiling, he pulled out his cellphone to show a photograph of his son, a 22-year-old law student wearing a red plaid shirt, killed by the Sunni extremists of the Islamic State three years ago. “He was a great guy, polite, brave,” he said.

Now, he is on Mosul’s doorstep, and justice, or at least revenge, is close at hand.

“We know who everyone is,” he said. “We have a list. I know exactly who killed my son. I will catch him.”

He said his intention is to turn over Islamic State collaborators to the courts, but he was also quick to say he has no confidence in Iraq’s judicial system — it is easy for prisoners to bribe their way out of prison, he noted. And besides, he believes no Islamic State fighter will surrender.

“I think they will resist and we will kill them,” he said.

With no wider framework for reconciliation, Osama Gharizi, the regional program manager at the United States Institute of Peace, has been working at the grass-roots level across Iraq.

He has been bringing tribal sheikhs together to agree on ways to avoid further violence. Some of the ideas include negotiating compensation payments to forestall revenge killings; ending collective punishment by protecting innocent family members of Islamic State militants; and agreeing on timetables for the return of displaced residents.

Mr. Gharizi said the workshops have yielded results in places like Tikrit, where bloody score-settling after a massacre of nearly 1,700 Shiite military recruits by the Islamic State was largely avoided.

Mosul, he said, will be more complicated because of its diversity. The area has been home to numerous minorities — Christians, Yazidis, Shabaks, Kurds — all of whom have suffered.

“Bottom-up approaches will only get so far, and are in need of a national reconciliation process that will tackle some of the main grievances related to the political system and governance framework,” Mr. Gharizi said.

Others hold out hope for that most Iraqi of solutions: the rise of a powerful figure to bring the country together. Some versions of that longing, at least, picture more of a benign unifier than the kind of authoritarian strongman Iraq has become known for.

“Until now, there is no Mandela in Iraq,” said Mr. Muhsin, the local leader from Hawija. “We need a Mandela in Iraq. We need to push the Iraqis to be like South Africa, and we need to create a Mandela.

“How are we to do this?” he added. “I don’t know.”

Source: www.nytimes.com

Islamic State fighters targeted Iraqi troops with car bombs and ambushes in Mosul, stalling an army advance in their north Iraq stronghold, but faced attack on a new front on Sunday when U.S.-backed rebels launched a campaign for the Syrian city of Raqqa.

The jihadists have lost control of seven eastern districts of Mosul to Iraqi special forces who broke through their lines last Monday. Officials say the militants are now sheltering among civilians in those neighborhoods and targeting soldiers in what one called the world's "toughest urban warfare".

Mosul, the largest Islamic State-controlled city in either Iraq or Syria, has been held by the jihadist fighters since they drove the army out of northern Iraq in June 2014.

The three-week Mosul campaign has brought together a force of around 100,000 soldiers, security forces, Shi'ite militias and Kurdish fighters, backed by a U.S.-led coalition, to crush the Sunni jihadists.

Across the border, U.S.-backed Syrian fighters announced on Sunday the start of their own campaign, called Euphrates Anger, to recapture Islamic State's Syrian bastion of Raqqa.

The Syria Democratic Forces (SDF) is an alliance of Kurdish and Arab armed groups which has seized large swathes of territory along the Syria-Turkey border from Islamic State and pushed to within 30 km (20 miles) of Raqqa.

But the prominence within SDF ranks of the Kurdish People's Protection Units, or YPG, has raised questions over its suitability as a force to capture the predominantly Arab city.

Turkey, which has battled Kurdish separatists for three decades, regards the YPG as anathema and Western officials have said the Raqqa operation should be fought mainly by Arab forces.

Washington says the battle for Raqqa will "overlap" with the assault on Mosul, in part because of concerns that any delay would allow Islamic State to use it as a base to launch attacks on targets abroad.

France also wants a coordinated campaign against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. "Mosul-Raqqa can't be disassociated because Islamic State and the territories it occupies span that area," Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said.

TWIN OFFENSIVES

Twin offensives on Raqqa and Mosul could bring to an end the self-styled caliphate declared by Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi from the pulpit of a Mosul mosque in 2014.

Baghdadi, however, has told his followers there can be no retreat in a "total war" with their enemies, and the militants in Mosul have been waging a fierce and brutal defense.

They have deployed waves of suicide car bombs, as well as mortar attacks, roadside bombs and sniper fire against the advancing troops, and officers say they have also left behind fighters among residents of districts taken over by the army.

"That's why we are carrying out the toughest urban warfare that any force in the world could undertake," said Sabah al-Numani, spokesman for Iraq's elite Counter Terrorism Service (CTS).

"Sometimes they climb to the rooftops of houses where civilians are still living and they hold them hostage and open fire on our forces, because they know we will not use air strikes against targets that have civilians."

Militants also targeted the troops with car bombs, sometimes waving white flags as they approached, he said.

Major General Maan al-Sadi, a CTS commander, told state television Islamic State fighters had launched more than 100 car bombs against his forces in the east, which is just one of several fronts in the Mosul offensive.

A top Kurdish security official said Islamic State had also deployed drones strapped with explosives, and long-range artillery shells filled with chlorine and mustard gas.

It could resort to even more devastating weapons including a network of booby traps that can blow up whole neighborhoods, Masrour Barzani, head of the Kurdistan Regional Government's Security Council, told Reuters.

FORCES SURROUNDED

Late on Friday, a CTS unit came under attack from the rear after advancing into east Mosul, said a colonel in the Ninth Armoured Division which is also taking part in operations there.

Islamic State militants emerged from houses behind them and isolated the convoy, preventing reinforcements from reaching them. Surrounded and low on ammunition, they had to shelter in houses before they finally got out on Saturday.

The Islamic State news agency Amaq released footage on Sunday of captured or destroyed military vehicles, including the burnt wreckage of a Humvee it said was taken in the eastern district of Aden. Fighters shouted "Allahu Akbar (God is Greatest)" and unloaded ammunition and communications equipment.

Amaq also said Islamic State was behind two bomb attacks on Sunday in Tikrit and Samarra, cities to the south of Mosul, which killed 21 people. Officials said the attacks, carried out by suicide bombers driving ambulances packed with explosives, targeted a checkpoint and a car park for Shi'ite pilgrims.

While the army and special forces have been pushing into Mosul from the east, Kurdish peshmerga fighters are holding territory to the northeast, and mainly Shi'ite militias have sought to seal off the desert routes to Syria to the west.

Security forces have also advanced from the south, entering the last town before Mosul on Saturday and reaching within 4 km (2.5 miles) of Mosul airport on the city's southwest edge, a senior commander said.

The United Nations has warned of a possible exodus of hundreds of thousands of refugees from a city which is still home to up to 1.5 million people. So far 34,000 have been displaced, the International Organization for Migration said.

Many of those still in Mosul feel trapped, including those in districts which the army says it has entered.

"We still can't go out of our houses.... mortars are falling continuously on the quarter," a resident of the Quds neighborhood on the eastern edge of the city told Reuters by telephone.

Although there was no fighting in his own district, for the first time in five days, he said he could hear clashes in the two neighborhoods immediately to the north and south.

In the northern Malayeen district a witness said Islamic State fighters had set fire to a collection of mobile homes, once used by Iraqi security forces, apparently to create a smokescreen against air strikes.

"I can see flames rising up, near the main street," he said. "Daesh (Islamic State) don't let the fire engines get to the fire to extinguish it".

Several witnesses, on both sides of the Tigris River which splits Mosul's eastern and western halves, said they heard bursts of celebratory gunfire after the militants claimed falsely they had made sweeping counter-attacks against the army.

"We heard a voice from the mosque - outside prayer time - of a man shouting: 'Allahu Akbar...brave soldiers of the caliphate have regained control of Bartella and Qayyara," said one resident, referring to two forward bases used by Iraqi forces.

"We know they are lying," he said. "The truth is hidden from no one."

Source: Reuters

Sun Nov 6, 2016 | 11:27am EST

At least 24 people have been killed in the latest suicide bombings to strike Iraq.

In Samarra, about 70 miles north of Baghdad, at least 11 Shia pilgrims were killed when a bomb blew up an ambulance in the car park of a religious shrine on Sunday.

Ali al-Hamdani, spokesman for the Salahuddin province, said the bomber walked into the crowd of people before detonating the vehicle and blowing himself up.

Five female students are believed to be among the dead and more than 100 people have been injured.

Meanwhile, in Tikrit in the northwest, annother ambulance was detonated at the entrance to the city during the morning rush hour, killing a further 13 people. 

Isis has claimed responsibility for the attacks in retaliation for their loss of territory in the north of the country.

The jihadist group identified two of the bombers as "Al-Moslawi" – a nom de guerre that would indicate they were from Mosul, though it could be a propaganda attempt to link militants from other areas with the ongoing battle for Iraq's second city.

The Iraqi Army and Kurdish fighters are currently locked in a battle with Isis to regain control of Mosul – the jihadi group's last major stronghold in the country. 

Iraqi forces entered the city on Thursday for the first time in two years, but fighting remains intense and there are fears the terrorists could destroy the city in their wake. 

The World Health Organisation condemned the use of ambulances in the bombings, saying this form of attack made it harder for emergency services to help people in need.

In a statement to The Independent, a spokesman said: "The reported use of medical vehicles as weapons threatens the ability to deliver health care and urgent medical services.  

"When ambulances are suspected as potential security threats, their freedom of movement to care for the sick and injured is at risk of life-threatening delays. Such delays will leave vulnerable people with even less access to life-saving medical care.  

"WHO is increasingly concerned by the continuous threats to health workers, facilities and transport.

"WHO is working together with national health authorities and partners to protect patients, health workers, health infrastructure and supplies from violence and thus minimise disruptions to desperately needed health care."

Source: Independent

Every effort must be made to protect civilians from the onslaught of war and potential revenge attacks in Mosul, said Amnesty International today as the operation to recapture the city from the armed group calling itself the Islamic State gets under way.

Tomorrow, 18 October 2016, Amnesty International will launch a major new report ‘Punished for Daesh’s crimes’: Displaced Iraqis abused by militias and government forces which documents serious human rights violations - including war crimes committed by Iraqi militias and government forces against displaced civilians during past military operations. The report warns against a repeat of such violations on an even greater scale in the Mosul offensive.

“Iraqi authorities must take concrete steps to ensure there is no repeat of the gross violations witnessed in Falluja and other parts of Iraq during confrontations between government forces and the Islamic State armed group,” said Philip Luther, Research and Advocacy Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International.

“Prime Minister Haydar al-Abadi’s instructions to exercise ‘caution and vigilance’ to ensure protection of civilians must be more than token words. The Iraqi authorities must exercise effective command and control over militias, and they must ensure that personnel implicated in past violations do not take part in the Mosul operations. All parties to the conflict must take all feasible precautions to avoid civilian casualties during their attack on Mosul.”

Iraqi and Kurdish authorities involved in the planning of the military operation must ensure that civilians fleeing the fighting are provided with a safe route.

“The authorities must spare no effort to avoid leaving civilians trapped in the crossfire with no way out,” said Philip Luther.

“Civilians fleeing the fighting must also be protected from revenge attacks and provided with shelter and humanitarian assistance. With up to a million people possibly to be displaced from Mosul and the surrounding areas, the situation could rapidly deteriorate into a humanitarian catastrophe. The Islamic State armed group must allow civilians to leave, and not use them as human shields.”

Source: Amnesty International

Press release- 9 September 2016

A big victory for the Iranian opposition PMOI as the last remaining members in Camp Liberty, leave Iraq for Albania


This afternoon the main Iranian opposition PMOI, moved their remaining members who were previously trapped in Camp Liberty near Baghdad airport. This successful huge transfer took place while the Iranian regime planned to either eliminate or rip apart its main enemy while they were still in Iraq.

This final round of departures marks the successful conclusion of the process of relocating members of the PMOI to countries of safety outside Iraq despite the Iranian regime’s conspiracies, obstruction and threats, which continued until the very last day.

I was a member of the European Parliament from 1999 to 2014 and President of the Delegation for Relations with Iraq during my final 5-year mandate. I was able to learn at first hand about the Iraqi government’s repeated attempts to annihilate the defenceless PMOI refugees in Camp Ashraf and Camp Liberty, under the guidance of the Iranian regime.

Since the American occupying forces transferred control and jurisdiction for the residents of Ashraf to the Iraqi government under Nouri al-Maliki seven years ago, there was a constant state of intense siege imposed by the Iraqi government, puppets of the mullahs in Tehran, which continued to the last day. This siege involved the complete imprisonment of the residents of Camp Liberty in a small compound vulnerable to repeated rocket attacks. The residents suffered a sporadic blockade against fuel, food and essential equipment and a determined resistance by the Iraqi authorities against the provision of protective concrete T-walls inside the camp. In addition a medical blockade of the camp cost many lives and much suffering and there was constant psychological torture involving bogus so-called ‘family members’ from Iran, who were allowed to penetrate the security perimeter and shout abuse and threats at the residents through loudspeakers, while carrying out reconnaissance missions to prepare for further rocket attacks.

These serial violations of the basic human rights of the civilian residents of Camp Liberty were ignored by the UN. Three massacres at Camp Ashraf, five missile attacks on Camp Liberty, two cases of abduction of defenceless residents, and the imposition of a fully-fledged eight-year siege, which left 177 residents dead, constituted parts of this vicious, although ultimately futile, plan.

As far as the mullahs are concerned they wanted to eliminate all of the people in Liberty or to make them give up and surrender. This did not happen due to the courage and resistance of PMOI members who stood up against numerous conspiracies, as well as the inspiring leadership of Mrs Maryam Rajavi and the  active backing of thousands of parliamentarians and Iranian communities all around the world.

The victorious transfer of the PMOI members and the regime’s ultimate major defeat in this regard, opens a new chapter for the Iranian people and its Resistance. Now that the main organized democratic opposition is safely out of Iraq, we need to focus on the human rights situation, the end of executions and a democratic change; a free Iran. We also need to redouble legal efforts to bring those to justice in Iraq who orchestrated the serial abuse and murder of the Ashraf and Liberty residents and who looted their property worth tens of millions of dollars.

Struan Stevenson

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 from 2005-2014. He is now President of the European Iraqi Freedom Association (EIFA)

An Iraqi Shi'ite militia said on Wednesday it had dispatched more than 1,000 fighters to the frontline in neighboring Syria, escalating foreign involvement in the battle for Aleppo, the biggest prize in five years of relentless civil war.

New footage emerged of civilians choking in the aftermath of an apparent attack with poison chlorine gas on an opposition-held district as the battle for Syria's biggest city approaches what could be a decisive phase.

Aleppo has been divided for years into government and rebel sectors, but President Bashar al-Assad's army has put the opposition areas under siege and now hopes to capture the whole city in what would be a devastating blow to his enemies.

Government forces are backed by Russian air power and battle-hardened Lebanese and Iraqi Shi'ite militia fighters under the apparent oversight of an Iranian general.

The arrival of reinforcements from Iraq, where Shi'ite militia are fighting their own war against the Islamic State group, shows how the Syrian and Iraqi conflicts have leapt borders, to become a broad sectarian war across the Middle East.

Hashim al-Moussawi, a spokesman for the Iraqi Shi'ite militia Harakat al-Nujab, said its fighters would reinforce areas captured from the rebels in southern Aleppo.

The militia's Twitter account showed pictures of its fighters at the Syrian front with Iranian Major General Qassem Soleimani, commander of foreign operations for the elite Revolutionary Guards, who has led operations by Tehran's allies in both Syria and Iraq.

Rebel commanders said they are preparing to launch their own counter-offensive aimed at breaking the siege of the city, which was reimposed in recent days following weeks of intense fighting around a military complex.

Rebels lost the complex of military colleges to pro-government forces on Sunday near the Ramousah area of southwestern Aleppo, where they had opened a way into the city.

Five years after the multi-sided war began, hundreds of thousands of people have been killed and 11 million - half of Syria's pre-war population - displaced. But there is little sign that any party is poised for victory or can restore stability, and foreign powers are becoming more involved.

In recent weeks, Turkey has sent its troops across the border to combat Islamic State and Kurdish fighters. The United States, which is trying to negotiate a ceasefire with Russia, has backed Kurdish forces advancing against Islamic State.

Meanwhile, the plight of some 250,000 civilians trapped in rebel-held districts of Aleppo has spurred international efforts to agree a new humanitarian truce. But Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry have not reached agreement over the details of a ceasefire.

POISON GAS

Western countries, Turkey and most Arab states oppose both Assad's government and Islamic State, while supporting other anti-Assad factions. Russia and Iran support Assad.

The latest apparent poison gas attack adds to a litany of what Assad's opponents say is deliberate targeting of civilians, often with banned weapons, to force rebels to surrender.

Footage of the apparent chlorine gas attack on the Sukari district, near Aleppo's main battlefield in the city's southwest, showed crying children being doused with water and then lying on hospital beds and breathing through respirators.

Rescue workers in the rebel-held area said army helicopters had dropped the chlorine in incendiary barrel bombs, an accusation the government has rejected.

"We have not and will not use at any point this type of weapon," a Syrian military source said, accusing rebels of making false accusations to distract attention from their defeats.

However, the government has a history of being accused of similar attacks. An inquiry by the United Nations and Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) seen by Reuters last month said the Syrian army had been responsible for two chlorine gas attacks in 2014 and 2015.

In 2013 Western countries accused Assad's government of attacking a Damascus suburb with nerve gas. At the time, Assad fended off a threatened U.S. bombing campaign only by agreeing to give up his arsenal of chemical weapons, later destroyed by the OPCW. But Syria still possesses chlorine, which is used for water purification and other legitimate industrial processes.

Ramousah, its surroundings, and the countryside between it and the village of Khan Touman seven km (four miles) to its southwest were the site of intense bombardment by Russian jets and attacks by Shi'ite militias in recent weeks, rebels say.

On Tuesday night, jets bombed Khan Touman and neighboring areas, and intense clashes took place in Ramousah and its surroundings, with rebels targeting an army tank, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a U.K.-based war monitor reported.

Rebels also shelled government-held residential districts in western Aleppo, the Observatory reported.

"All the (rebel) factions are trying to prepare themselves to launch a new attack on the regime positions in Ramousah. It's not over," a senior source in the insurgency said.

Source: Reuters

BAGHDAD — Iraq's Foreign Ministry said the government on Sunday formally requested that the Saudi ambassador in Baghdad be replaced after he claimed that Iranian-backed Shiite militias are plotting to assassinate him.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Ahmed Jamal told The Associated Press that the government sent a formal request to Saudi Arabia to replace the kingdom's ambassador in Baghdad, Thamer al-Sabhan. Jamal said al-Sabhan's reported comments are untrue and harm relations between the two countries. He said the allegations are considered interference in Iraq's internal affairs and that al-Sabhan has not provided the ministry with any proof or evidence of these claims.

Shiite-led Iran and Sunni-led Saudi Arabia are regional rivals and broke off diplomatic ties in January after several years of frayed relations. In 2011, U.S. authorities said they had disrupted an Iranian plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to Washington at the time.

Al-Sabhan was quoted as telling the Saudi-owned al-Hayat newspaper that Iraqi intelligence provided him with information about the assassination plans. He said this was happening as Iran tries to block reform efforts in Iraq and other Arab countries.

Al-Sabhan was also quoted by the Saudi-owned al-Arabiya news channel saying "sectarian radical groups" are behind the threats. The channel, quoting unnamed sources, alleged that Iranian-backed senior figures in Iraq's Popular Mobilization Committee are among those behind the assassination plots and that they had given the Iraqi Foreign Ministry a deadline to expel al-Sabhan.

In the Saudi-owned Ashraq al-Awsat newspaper, an unnamed Iraqi official was quoted as saying militias were planning to attack the ambassador's armored cars with rocket-propelled grenades.

In an interview aired on Iraqi channel Wesal TV, Aws al-Khafaji, who heads the Iraqi militia group Abu al-Fadhl al-Abbas, said many factions in Iraq want to target al-Sabhan.

"If al-Sabhan was killed in Iraq, any factions involved would admit it, especially because he is wanted ... We clearly stated that we do not want al-Sabhan in Iraq." he said, before adding that if he were assassinated, "it will be an honor and will be proudly admitted."

AUG. 28, 2016

The Iraqi parliament passed a law Saturday making militia units, including ­Iranian-backed groups accused of human rights abuses, an official part of the country’s security forces.

Lawmakers passed the measure 208 to 0 in a session that was boycotted by most Sunni politicians, who opposed an initiative that extends the influence of powerful Shiite groups that many Iraqi Sunnis view with suspicion.

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi praised the law, saying that it gave due to fighters who had proved themselves a key part of Iraqi defenses since the onslaught by Islamic State militants in 2014.

“Those heroic fighters, young and old, need our loyalty for the sacrifices they have made,” a statement issued by Abadi’s office said. “This is the least we can do.”

But the measure, which also legitimizes smaller Sunni tribal groups that have fought alongside Iraqi forces since 2014, threatens to inflame sectarian tensions that could surge anew after the defeat of the Islamic State. It could also complicate Iraq’s military cooperation with the United States and other Western partners.

Some of the most powerful militias included in the “popular mobilization units” are closely aligned to Tehran, and the United States considers one of them a terrorist group. Some of the fighters have been accused of abuses and mistreatment of Sunnis in their response to the Islamic State.

The units, which have more than 110,000 members, were formed in the summer of 2014, partly in response to a call from Iraq’s most senior Shiite religious leader. They drew from existing militia groups and from volunteers who rushed to defend Iraq against its extremist adversary.

Since then, the units have played an important role in most of the major battles against the Islamic State. They are now conducting operations west of the city of Mosul, where a major government offensive is underway.

Militia groups were involved in attacks against the United States during the years after the 2003 invasion of Iraq. U.S. military leaders have said that groups such as Kitaeb Hezbollah, considered a terrorist organization by the U.S. government, and Asaib Ahl al-Haq were responsible for the deaths of at least 500 American military personnel.

Sunni politicians who opposed Saturday’s measure accused the parliament’s Shiite majority of ignoring their objections.

“What was passed today is a breach to the principle of the state and of balance in our security institutions,” Vice President Osama al-Nujaifi said in remarks released by the parliamentary media center. “It would weaken the Iraqi state and weaken hopes for building a stable Iraq.”

Raed al-Dahlaki, another Sunni politician, said the official status would give “legal cover to all these militias who committed and are still committing countless violations against the Iraqi people, like killing, kidnapping, looting and burning houses.”

While human rights groups have complained repeatedly about abuses by militia forces, the Abadi government has said it has identified only a few isolated actions. Last week, Abadi said the Mosul campaign has been conducted without such problems.

Salim al-Jubouri, a Sunni who is speaker of the Iraqi parliament, sought to reassure those worried by the measure, promising that the law would not grant immunity to those who had committed crimes or abuses in the past.

Jubouri said that once Iraq’s major cities have been cleared of the Islamic State, the popular mobilization units will be responsible for holding ground and maintaining security. But important details still must be worked out, such as who will command the troops on the ground and how they will be structured and funded.

Abadi’s office said the fighters will be under the prime minister’s direct control, as is Iraq’s elite counterterrorism force. ­Under former prime minister Nouri al-Maliki, that force was seen as having been used at times for the prime minister’s purposes.

“With a sensitive law like this one, the prime minister needs to be careful how he implements it,” said Ahmed al-Mayali, a political analyst.

The incorporation of groups such as Kitaeb Hezbollah into Iraqi security forces could require adjustments in the way security partners such as the United States assist Iraq with its security.

In addition to the approximately 6,000 U.S. troops on Iraqi soil, the United States sells weapons and aircraft to Iraq and provides training to its military. But U.S. law requires that military units receiving American assistance be vetted to ensure they are not guilty of abuses.

The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad declined to comment on the new law. The U.S. military has made a point of seeking to withhold air support to the militia units, although, at times, its firepower has helped those units indirectly.

Ahmed al-Asadi, a lawmaker who is also the spokesman for the government committee overseeing the mobilization units, said that once incorporated into the government, they will not retain their command structure.

“All the links they had previously to political parties will be severed, and it will be under the commander in chief,” he said.

Source: Washington Post

By:

Sources say more than 14,000 Iraqis have crossed Syrian border since October, including 8,000 who have reached Hasakah.

More than 14,000 Iraqis fleeing the offensive against ISIL in Mosul have crossed the border into Syria since the start of the operation a month ago, sources from a UN affiliated agency told Al Jazeera.

According to the sources, as many as 8,000 of the Iraqis crossed into Syria's Hasakah province, and some are now in the al-Hol refugee camp.

Close to 5,000 have also reached Raqqa, ISIL's stronghold in Syria, while hundreds of others are spread out in Deir Az Zor, Aleppo and Idlib, but are not staying in refugee camps.

Medical sources also confirmed to Al Jazeera that they have treated or met Iraqi civilians in Syria's Idlib province who were coming from Mosul.

Al Jazeera has also learned that at least one family tried to cross the border from Bab Al Hawwa into Turkey, but were not allowed in.

Sources also said that the Iraqi men were afraid of going into the Iraqi Kurdish territory, for fear of being taken into custody and accused of links to ISIL, also known as Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIS. 

Most of the Iraqi families and individuals have come from Mosul and surrounding areas, while a small number have fled from Anbar.

Stranded at the border

Earlier reports had said that the UN was unable to deliver aid parcels to the al-Hol camp camp in Hasakah, because of security concerns.

But Matthew Saltmarsh, spokesman at UN's refugee agency, told Al Jazeera that UN workers have now been able to deliver "daily" aid, including food and water, to the camp.

Saltmarsh also confirmed that in the last five days, almost 2,000 people - mostly Iraqis - have been moved to al-Hol camp. A smaller number of refugees at the camp are Syrians. 

He clarified that the majority of the Iraqi refugees at the al-Hol camp "predates" the anti-ISIL operation in Mosul.

Currently, the al-Hol camp can accommodate up to 15,000 people, but it is being expanded to hold as many as 50,000, Saltmarsh said.

"It is correct that the conditions at the border are difficult, and for us to get access to the refugees and IDPs [internally displaced people] took some time, because of the security situation and inhospitable terrain," he said.  

He said hundreds of Iraqi refugees remain "stranded" in the border with Syria, and that the UN is trying to move them to al-Hol.

Leading up to the Mosul operation, the UN had warned that up to one million people are likely to try and escape to other parts of Iraq and Syria.

Overall, some 2.6 million Iraqis have fled the country since the beginning of the crisis in January 2014 when ISIL overran large swaths of the country, according to UN figures.

Additionally, more than one million Iraqis fled the country between 2006 and 2008 owing to growing violence following the US-led invasion and occupation in 2003.

 

 


For months prior to the offensive, Iran, and its Iraqi proxies pressured the Iraqi government to accept the militias’ role in the Mosul offensive, a move that could give them a share of victory and provide them with a pretext to justify their activities long after the defeat of ISIS. That would secure Iran’s influence in Iraq that predominantly relies on these militias, a prospect that many believe to be the Hezbollah-ization of Iraq.

On October 29, the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) predominantly comprised of Iran-backed Shiite militias, joined the military offensive led by the Iraqi army, US and Kurdish forces to reclaim the Sunni-populated city of Mosul from the Islamic State (ISIS). The Shiite militias opened a new front in western Mosul, a trajectory that could cut off ISIS from their bases in Syria. While the Iraqi Prime Minister, Haider al-Abadi had agreed to the militia’s role, there was no agreement on entering the city itself.

According to press reports, Qassem Suleimani, chief commander of Iran Revolutionary Guards Quds Force is in Western Mosul commanding Shiite militias, and Hezbollah members are also present and assisting the militias.

The PMF’s chief commander Hadi Al Amiri and his deputy Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis have been members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Quds Force and commanders of the Badr Brigade in Iran, a militia group formed by the Revolutionary Guards in the 1980s to fight alongside Iranian forces against Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq War.
Following the fall of Saddam in 2003, the Badr Brigade changed to the Badr organization with an armed militia, which has become Iran’s key proxy force in Iraq.

For the Iranian regime, PMF’s participation in the Mosul offensive is a crucial step in securing the future of its Shiite militias in Iraq.

On October 28, PMF’s deputy chief commander, al-Muhandis gave an interview to pro-Hezbollah Al-Akhbar that was also posted on an IRGC-tied website in which he confirmed the PMF’s role in the Mosul operation and declared that “after the defeat of ISIS, PMF will continue to exist, will combat terrorism and defend Iraq against any threat. PMF will expand its activities into Syria.”

It is worth noting that many of the Shiite militias that form the PMF have already sent thousands of fighters to Syria defending the Assad regime.

Muhandis’ use of “defending Iraq against the threat of terrorism” as a justification for maintaining armed Shiite militias in Iraq is similar to Hezbollah’s pretext in keeping its army in Lebanon allegedly to “defend Lebanon against Zionist threat” even though Israel withdrew from Lebanon in 2000.

For months prior to the offensive, Iran, and its Iraqi proxies pressured the Iraqi government to accept the militias’ role in the Mosul offensive, a move that could give them a share of the victory and provide them with a pretext to justify their existence in Iraq long after the defeat of ISIS. This would secure Iran’s influence in Iraq, which predominantly relies on these militias, a prospect that many believe to be the Hezbollah-ization of Iraq.

Iran has been clear about its intentions on the role of PMF in Mosul and the future of its Shiite militias in Iraq. In late August, cleric Akram al Ka’bi, the leader of the Harakat al Nujaba, a main Iranian proxy militia in Iraq which is part of the PMF and is also heavily involved in Syria, traveled to Iran, met with the regime’s top officials including IRGC commanders and was given a platform to show his allegiance to the Iranian Supreme Leader and to echo the regime’s views about the Mosul offensive and the PMF’s future.

In his meeting with the speaker of the Iranian parliament, Ka’bi declared: “The battle for Mosul is a defining battle for the future of Iraq that could shape the future of Islamic resistance in Iraq. Mosul is the scene of battle against the US and Barzani, the leader of Kurdistan who wants to create a pro-Israeli government in Kurdistan.”

In his press conference, Ka’bi declared that “No country including the US can prevent us from participating in the Mosul offensive and cannot eliminate us and the PMF will continue its activities after the defeat of ISIS.”

He continued: “the PMF militants are trained by Hezbollah. We do not believe in geographical borders and commander Suleimani represents the resistance front in the world.”

In his interview with Iran state TV, Ka’bi declared that despite US opposition, the PMF would definitely participate in the Mosul offensive. He stated that the PMF could agree to be integrated into the Iraqi Defense Ministry only if its organizational structure, its hierarchy, and its leadership remain intact and the PMF is subordinated to resistance groups (a term used by the Iranian regime to identify its proxies across the Middle East).

In the meeting with Ali Akbar Velayati, top foreign policy advisor to the supreme leader, Velayati emphasized the significance of PMF participation in the Mosul offensive. According to Mashrigh news website, Ka’bi told Velayati that his militia follows the orders of Iran’s Supreme Leader. 

A more aggressive Iran 

In the absence of being held accountable for its crimes in Syria or its hegemonic drive across the region, Iran seems to be emboldened and on the offensive.

Since Iran and the 5+1 countries reached a nuclear agreement and the economic sanctions against Iran were lifted, Iran has become more aggressive in pursuing its radical agenda in the region. It has accelerated its missile program, increased its military support to Yemeni rebels who are firing Iranian missile to Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies, increased support to Islamist groups in Palestine, expanded its military involvement in Syria, taken more American hostages and provoked US ships in the Arab Gulf.

Iran is also encouraged by the recent developments in Lebanon as its proxy Hezbollah successfully bullied the entire political establishment in Lebanon in surrendering to its demand and accept its candidate for the Lebanese Presidency.

For Iran, the participation of its proxy militias in the Mosul offensive and securing the continuation of their activities in Iraq is a sign of having the upper hand in the region.

Mashrigh, a website affiliated to the Revolutionary Guards, echoed this attitude in an editorial published on October 28: “The summit of three foreign ministers from Russia, Iran, and Syria in Moscow is a signal that these three countries have decided to take the offensive in the region. This change of attitude is well demonstrated by PMF’s decision to take part in the Mosul offensive. In the summit, the foreign ministers discussed the aftermath of ISIS defeat and how to counter US plots.” 

Bleak outlook 

PMF’s role in the Mosul offensive and the prospect that these Shiite militias remain active in Iraq will have disastrous consequences for Iraq and the whole region. These militias have a long record of accomplishment of sectarian violence and human rights abuses and are accused of war crimes in the Sunni regions of Iraq.

A US embassy cable from Baghdad dated December 9, 2009, that was revealed by WikiLeaks writes the following regarding Hadi Ameri, the head of PMF and the leader of Badr organization: “Ameri is widely known to have played a leading role in organizing attacks by the Badr Corps militia (the strongest, most disciplined Shia militia at the time and precursor to the current Badr Organization) against Sunnis during the sectarian violence of 2004-2006. Sources indicate that he may have personally ordered attacks on up to 2,000 Sunnis. One of his preferred methods of killing allegedly involved using a power drill to pierce the skulls of his adversaries.”

Since the creation of PMF in 2014, these militias have been involved in atrocities against Sunni minorities in Iraq. They have repeatedly been denounced by international human rights organizations such as Amnesty International, which has reported “Evidence of war crimes by government-backed Shi’a militias.”

In January 2016, Human Rights Watch deputy Middle East director denounced these crimes and declared, “again civilians are paying the price for Iraq’s failure to rein in the out-of-control militias. Countries that support Iraqi security forces and the Popular Mobilization Forces should insist that Baghdad brings an end to this violent abuse.”

It is also imperative to note the role that Iran and its proxies have played to fuel sectarian tensions across the region and contributed to the rise of radical Sunni groups including ISIS in Iraq and Syria.

In March 2011, in the midst of the Arab Spring, the Syrian people rose up against the Bashar Assad regime. The regime’s security forces reacted brutally and used deadly force to crush the uprising. In response, to the government crackdown, Syrians took to arms and joined the Syrian Free Army. In late 2011, the anti-regime forces were on the brink of triumph to topple the Assad regime. At which point, the Iranian regime decided to intervene on a large-scale to prevent the downfall of Assad, deploying its Revolutionary Guards members along with Hezbollah fighters, Shiites from Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.

Assad and Iranian force begun the widespread massacre of the Syrian people. As a result, the situation took a dramatic turn for the worse and became significantly more radicalized. As the Free Syrian Army and other moderate opposition groups became increasingly weakened, the extremist elements such as the Al-Nusra Front and ISIS grew intense.

Following the US troop’s withdrawal from Iraq in December 2011, the Iran-backed Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his allies, the Shiite militias, stepped up their repressive and sectarian policies against a Sunni minority. Consequently, protests erupted in the Sunni-populated regions. The Maliki government suppressed and murdered protestors with renewed brutality. Sunnis rebelled in many of these regions creating a power vacuum in these areas.

In the spring of 2014, ISIS forces, which had already emerged and strengthened in Syria, exploited the rebellion in Sunni regions of Iraq against the central government and took over important Sunni-populated cities including Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq, establishing dominance over significant parts of both Iraq and Syria.

Participation of Iran-backed Shiite militias in the Mosul offensive highlights the crucial issue of Iranian influence and role in Iraq. Since the fall of Saddam in 2003, Iran’s proxies have been the primary force in fueling sectarian tensions, undermining democracy and spreading violence and instability in Iraq and across the region.

The longer it takes for the Iraqi government and the international community to realize the need to confront Iran and its militias, the costlier it would be for the people in Iraq and the region.


Source: Al Arabiya

Thursday, 10 November 2016

ERBIL, Iraq — As Iraq comes closer to ejecting the Islamic State from its last major stronghold in the country, the question is no longer whether it can succeed.

The question is whether it will all have to be done again someday.

Even a complete military victory over the Sunni extremists in Mosul will not change the reality that there is still no political agreement in place, or even basic trust, that could reconcile Iraq’s Sunni Arab minority with the Shiite-dominated national government.

Not only are there fears that another Sunni insurgency could rise after the Islamic State is beaten, but there also seems to be little beyond this immediate military campaign to unite the profoundly differing factions that have temporarily come together to fight the militants — government forces, Sunni tribesmen, Kurds, local Yazidis and Christians, and Iran-backed militias. Each has a different endgame in mind.

While the fighting has raged near Mosul, diplomats, analysts and tribal sheikhs who oppose the Islamic State have been meeting in hotel ballrooms in Erbil, the capital of the Kurdish region, to start a discussion about reconciliation and political reforms. They agree, at least, that those are critical steps to prevent the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, from gaining new footholds in Sunni communities down the line.

“The reasons that created Daesh still exist,” said Mohammed Muhsin, a tribal sheikh from Hawija, an Islamic State-controlled town near Kirkuk, using the Arabic acronym for the group. Speaking at a workshop in Erbil organized by the United States Institute of Peace and an Iraqi organization, Sanad for Peacebuilding, he ticked off the reasons: poverty, injustice, marginalization.

After years of abuse and exclusion by the government and its Shiite militia allies, some of Iraq’s Sunni Arabs welcomed the Islamic State in 2014 as potential protectors — in part because many of the militants were from those same communities.

Now many Sunnis say they are weary of Islamic State rule, and are ready to welcome even Shiite forces as short-term liberators. But they still fear revenge attacks and more exclusion from the government and its allies, as the forces that clear Mosul also bring in a large swath of the Sunni population under suspicion of being collaborators or hidden Islamic State members.

No one thinks the guns will fall silent for long.

“The problem is, the politics are against us,” said Hassan Nusaif, a Sunni Arab politician from Hawija, who also participated in the recent reconciliation workshop in Erbil. “Let me be honest with you: The bloodshed will continue. This is the reality.”

This critical gap between battlefield successes and political progress reflects a running theme throughout the long American involvement in Iraq: Each military victory seems to further shake loose Iraq’s divisions, leading to more political disagreement and fighting.

Some analysts warn that the Iraqi government and the Obama administration may be risking even more chaos by pushing an all-out military campaign against the Islamic State before any political arrangement to accommodate aggrieved Sunnis is reached.

In a paper published by the Brookings Institution, Ian A. Merritt and Kenneth M. Pollack warned that defeat of the Islamic State in Mosul “will likely expose the deep sectarian tensions and grievances that have been somewhat masked by the common struggle against it.” Ramzy Mardini, of the Atlantic Council, warned of “a new, and perhaps more deadly, civil war.” And Dylan O’Driscoll, of the Middle East Research Institute, based in Erbil, wrote that given the depth of Sunni marginalization, “liberating Mosul under these circumstances will only result in I.S. or another radical entity returning in the future.”

American officials acknowledge that political measures have lagged behind the military progress.

But Brett McGurk, President Obama’s envoy to the international coalition fighting the Islamic State, told reporters recently, “The problem here is that if you try to resolve all of these issues, Daesh will remain in Mosul for the foreseeable future and perhaps forever.”

In the fears expressed over what comes after the Mosul campaign are echoes of the missteps and chaos that followed the American invasion of Iraq in 2003.

In particular, there is the problem of how to handle the many Islamic State collaborators assumed to be among the million-plus people left in Mosul. As with the controversial policy of de-Baathification imposed by the Americans after the invasion, a debate is underway about a process some are already calling “de-ISISification.”

The worry is that a campaign to purge all who might have collaborated with the Islamic State will go too far by targeting innocents or relatives of the militants, and sowing the seeds of future dissent. To bring order to this process, there is talk of the Iraqi government setting up a special tribunal in Mosul to hear cases, with the Iraqi bar association providing free legal defense to detainees.

On the ground, a critical aim of the central government is to place local Sunnis in charge of security in Mosul after it is cleared. That may help avoid abuses by the Shiite-dominated security forces, whose mistreatment of the local population under the former prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, contributed to the Islamic State’s capture of Mosul in 2014.

But even that is no guarantee of security, because of conflicts within the Sunni community between those who supported the Islamic State and those who opposed it, which many worry will lead to rounds of revenge killings.

The landscape of war in Qaraqosh, at the edge of Mosul, is as familiar as it is blighted — collapsed buildings, burned storefronts, church crosses on their sides, the charred chassis left by a car bomb. A slogan painted in red across a crumbling wall is a plea for unity in a fraying country: “All of us are Iraq.”

For the moment, Qaraqosh is home for Staff Gen. Wathiq al-Hamdani, a Sunni Arab who is the commander of Mosul’s police, as he waits to secure his hometown after liberation. It is a deeply personal mission. Smiling, he pulled out his cellphone to show a photograph of his son, a 22-year-old law student wearing a red plaid shirt, killed by the Sunni extremists of the Islamic State three years ago. “He was a great guy, polite, brave,” he said.

Now, he is on Mosul’s doorstep, and justice, or at least revenge, is close at hand.

“We know who everyone is,” he said. “We have a list. I know exactly who killed my son. I will catch him.”

He said his intention is to turn over Islamic State collaborators to the courts, but he was also quick to say he has no confidence in Iraq’s judicial system — it is easy for prisoners to bribe their way out of prison, he noted. And besides, he believes no Islamic State fighter will surrender.

“I think they will resist and we will kill them,” he said.

With no wider framework for reconciliation, Osama Gharizi, the regional program manager at the United States Institute of Peace, has been working at the grass-roots level across Iraq.

He has been bringing tribal sheikhs together to agree on ways to avoid further violence. Some of the ideas include negotiating compensation payments to forestall revenge killings; ending collective punishment by protecting innocent family members of Islamic State militants; and agreeing on timetables for the return of displaced residents.

Mr. Gharizi said the workshops have yielded results in places like Tikrit, where bloody score-settling after a massacre of nearly 1,700 Shiite military recruits by the Islamic State was largely avoided.

Mosul, he said, will be more complicated because of its diversity. The area has been home to numerous minorities — Christians, Yazidis, Shabaks, Kurds — all of whom have suffered.

“Bottom-up approaches will only get so far, and are in need of a national reconciliation process that will tackle some of the main grievances related to the political system and governance framework,” Mr. Gharizi said.

Others hold out hope for that most Iraqi of solutions: the rise of a powerful figure to bring the country together. Some versions of that longing, at least, picture more of a benign unifier than the kind of authoritarian strongman Iraq has become known for.

“Until now, there is no Mandela in Iraq,” said Mr. Muhsin, the local leader from Hawija. “We need a Mandela in Iraq. We need to push the Iraqis to be like South Africa, and we need to create a Mandela.

“How are we to do this?” he added. “I don’t know.”

Source: www.nytimes.com

Islamic State fighters targeted Iraqi troops with car bombs and ambushes in Mosul, stalling an army advance in their north Iraq stronghold, but faced attack on a new front on Sunday when U.S.-backed rebels launched a campaign for the Syrian city of Raqqa.

The jihadists have lost control of seven eastern districts of Mosul to Iraqi special forces who broke through their lines last Monday. Officials say the militants are now sheltering among civilians in those neighborhoods and targeting soldiers in what one called the world's "toughest urban warfare".

Mosul, the largest Islamic State-controlled city in either Iraq or Syria, has been held by the jihadist fighters since they drove the army out of northern Iraq in June 2014.

The three-week Mosul campaign has brought together a force of around 100,000 soldiers, security forces, Shi'ite militias and Kurdish fighters, backed by a U.S.-led coalition, to crush the Sunni jihadists.

Across the border, U.S.-backed Syrian fighters announced on Sunday the start of their own campaign, called Euphrates Anger, to recapture Islamic State's Syrian bastion of Raqqa.

The Syria Democratic Forces (SDF) is an alliance of Kurdish and Arab armed groups which has seized large swathes of territory along the Syria-Turkey border from Islamic State and pushed to within 30 km (20 miles) of Raqqa.

But the prominence within SDF ranks of the Kurdish People's Protection Units, or YPG, has raised questions over its suitability as a force to capture the predominantly Arab city.

Turkey, which has battled Kurdish separatists for three decades, regards the YPG as anathema and Western officials have said the Raqqa operation should be fought mainly by Arab forces.

Washington says the battle for Raqqa will "overlap" with the assault on Mosul, in part because of concerns that any delay would allow Islamic State to use it as a base to launch attacks on targets abroad.

France also wants a coordinated campaign against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. "Mosul-Raqqa can't be disassociated because Islamic State and the territories it occupies span that area," Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said.

TWIN OFFENSIVES

Twin offensives on Raqqa and Mosul could bring to an end the self-styled caliphate declared by Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi from the pulpit of a Mosul mosque in 2014.

Baghdadi, however, has told his followers there can be no retreat in a "total war" with their enemies, and the militants in Mosul have been waging a fierce and brutal defense.

They have deployed waves of suicide car bombs, as well as mortar attacks, roadside bombs and sniper fire against the advancing troops, and officers say they have also left behind fighters among residents of districts taken over by the army.

"That's why we are carrying out the toughest urban warfare that any force in the world could undertake," said Sabah al-Numani, spokesman for Iraq's elite Counter Terrorism Service (CTS).

"Sometimes they climb to the rooftops of houses where civilians are still living and they hold them hostage and open fire on our forces, because they know we will not use air strikes against targets that have civilians."

Militants also targeted the troops with car bombs, sometimes waving white flags as they approached, he said.

Major General Maan al-Sadi, a CTS commander, told state television Islamic State fighters had launched more than 100 car bombs against his forces in the east, which is just one of several fronts in the Mosul offensive.

A top Kurdish security official said Islamic State had also deployed drones strapped with explosives, and long-range artillery shells filled with chlorine and mustard gas.

It could resort to even more devastating weapons including a network of booby traps that can blow up whole neighborhoods, Masrour Barzani, head of the Kurdistan Regional Government's Security Council, told Reuters.

FORCES SURROUNDED

Late on Friday, a CTS unit came under attack from the rear after advancing into east Mosul, said a colonel in the Ninth Armoured Division which is also taking part in operations there.

Islamic State militants emerged from houses behind them and isolated the convoy, preventing reinforcements from reaching them. Surrounded and low on ammunition, they had to shelter in houses before they finally got out on Saturday.

The Islamic State news agency Amaq released footage on Sunday of captured or destroyed military vehicles, including the burnt wreckage of a Humvee it said was taken in the eastern district of Aden. Fighters shouted "Allahu Akbar (God is Greatest)" and unloaded ammunition and communications equipment.

Amaq also said Islamic State was behind two bomb attacks on Sunday in Tikrit and Samarra, cities to the south of Mosul, which killed 21 people. Officials said the attacks, carried out by suicide bombers driving ambulances packed with explosives, targeted a checkpoint and a car park for Shi'ite pilgrims.

While the army and special forces have been pushing into Mosul from the east, Kurdish peshmerga fighters are holding territory to the northeast, and mainly Shi'ite militias have sought to seal off the desert routes to Syria to the west.

Security forces have also advanced from the south, entering the last town before Mosul on Saturday and reaching within 4 km (2.5 miles) of Mosul airport on the city's southwest edge, a senior commander said.

The United Nations has warned of a possible exodus of hundreds of thousands of refugees from a city which is still home to up to 1.5 million people. So far 34,000 have been displaced, the International Organization for Migration said.

Many of those still in Mosul feel trapped, including those in districts which the army says it has entered.

"We still can't go out of our houses.... mortars are falling continuously on the quarter," a resident of the Quds neighborhood on the eastern edge of the city told Reuters by telephone.

Although there was no fighting in his own district, for the first time in five days, he said he could hear clashes in the two neighborhoods immediately to the north and south.

In the northern Malayeen district a witness said Islamic State fighters had set fire to a collection of mobile homes, once used by Iraqi security forces, apparently to create a smokescreen against air strikes.

"I can see flames rising up, near the main street," he said. "Daesh (Islamic State) don't let the fire engines get to the fire to extinguish it".

Several witnesses, on both sides of the Tigris River which splits Mosul's eastern and western halves, said they heard bursts of celebratory gunfire after the militants claimed falsely they had made sweeping counter-attacks against the army.

"We heard a voice from the mosque - outside prayer time - of a man shouting: 'Allahu Akbar...brave soldiers of the caliphate have regained control of Bartella and Qayyara," said one resident, referring to two forward bases used by Iraqi forces.

"We know they are lying," he said. "The truth is hidden from no one."

Source: Reuters

Sun Nov 6, 2016 | 11:27am EST

At least 24 people have been killed in the latest suicide bombings to strike Iraq.

In Samarra, about 70 miles north of Baghdad, at least 11 Shia pilgrims were killed when a bomb blew up an ambulance in the car park of a religious shrine on Sunday.

Ali al-Hamdani, spokesman for the Salahuddin province, said the bomber walked into the crowd of people before detonating the vehicle and blowing himself up.

Five female students are believed to be among the dead and more than 100 people have been injured.

Meanwhile, in Tikrit in the northwest, annother ambulance was detonated at the entrance to the city during the morning rush hour, killing a further 13 people. 

Isis has claimed responsibility for the attacks in retaliation for their loss of territory in the north of the country.

The jihadist group identified two of the bombers as "Al-Moslawi" – a nom de guerre that would indicate they were from Mosul, though it could be a propaganda attempt to link militants from other areas with the ongoing battle for Iraq's second city.

The Iraqi Army and Kurdish fighters are currently locked in a battle with Isis to regain control of Mosul – the jihadi group's last major stronghold in the country. 

Iraqi forces entered the city on Thursday for the first time in two years, but fighting remains intense and there are fears the terrorists could destroy the city in their wake. 

The World Health Organisation condemned the use of ambulances in the bombings, saying this form of attack made it harder for emergency services to help people in need.

In a statement to The Independent, a spokesman said: "The reported use of medical vehicles as weapons threatens the ability to deliver health care and urgent medical services.  

"When ambulances are suspected as potential security threats, their freedom of movement to care for the sick and injured is at risk of life-threatening delays. Such delays will leave vulnerable people with even less access to life-saving medical care.  

"WHO is increasingly concerned by the continuous threats to health workers, facilities and transport.

"WHO is working together with national health authorities and partners to protect patients, health workers, health infrastructure and supplies from violence and thus minimise disruptions to desperately needed health care."

Source: Independent

Every effort must be made to protect civilians from the onslaught of war and potential revenge attacks in Mosul, said Amnesty International today as the operation to recapture the city from the armed group calling itself the Islamic State gets under way.

Tomorrow, 18 October 2016, Amnesty International will launch a major new report ‘Punished for Daesh’s crimes’: Displaced Iraqis abused by militias and government forces which documents serious human rights violations - including war crimes committed by Iraqi militias and government forces against displaced civilians during past military operations. The report warns against a repeat of such violations on an even greater scale in the Mosul offensive.

“Iraqi authorities must take concrete steps to ensure there is no repeat of the gross violations witnessed in Falluja and other parts of Iraq during confrontations between government forces and the Islamic State armed group,” said Philip Luther, Research and Advocacy Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International.

“Prime Minister Haydar al-Abadi’s instructions to exercise ‘caution and vigilance’ to ensure protection of civilians must be more than token words. The Iraqi authorities must exercise effective command and control over militias, and they must ensure that personnel implicated in past violations do not take part in the Mosul operations. All parties to the conflict must take all feasible precautions to avoid civilian casualties during their attack on Mosul.”

Iraqi and Kurdish authorities involved in the planning of the military operation must ensure that civilians fleeing the fighting are provided with a safe route.

“The authorities must spare no effort to avoid leaving civilians trapped in the crossfire with no way out,” said Philip Luther.

“Civilians fleeing the fighting must also be protected from revenge attacks and provided with shelter and humanitarian assistance. With up to a million people possibly to be displaced from Mosul and the surrounding areas, the situation could rapidly deteriorate into a humanitarian catastrophe. The Islamic State armed group must allow civilians to leave, and not use them as human shields.”

Source: Amnesty International

Press release- 9 September 2016

A big victory for the Iranian opposition PMOI as the last remaining members in Camp Liberty, leave Iraq for Albania


This afternoon the main Iranian opposition PMOI, moved their remaining members who were previously trapped in Camp Liberty near Baghdad airport. This successful huge transfer took place while the Iranian regime planned to either eliminate or rip apart its main enemy while they were still in Iraq.

This final round of departures marks the successful conclusion of the process of relocating members of the PMOI to countries of safety outside Iraq despite the Iranian regime’s conspiracies, obstruction and threats, which continued until the very last day.

I was a member of the European Parliament from 1999 to 2014 and President of the Delegation for Relations with Iraq during my final 5-year mandate. I was able to learn at first hand about the Iraqi government’s repeated attempts to annihilate the defenceless PMOI refugees in Camp Ashraf and Camp Liberty, under the guidance of the Iranian regime.

Since the American occupying forces transferred control and jurisdiction for the residents of Ashraf to the Iraqi government under Nouri al-Maliki seven years ago, there was a constant state of intense siege imposed by the Iraqi government, puppets of the mullahs in Tehran, which continued to the last day. This siege involved the complete imprisonment of the residents of Camp Liberty in a small compound vulnerable to repeated rocket attacks. The residents suffered a sporadic blockade against fuel, food and essential equipment and a determined resistance by the Iraqi authorities against the provision of protective concrete T-walls inside the camp. In addition a medical blockade of the camp cost many lives and much suffering and there was constant psychological torture involving bogus so-called ‘family members’ from Iran, who were allowed to penetrate the security perimeter and shout abuse and threats at the residents through loudspeakers, while carrying out reconnaissance missions to prepare for further rocket attacks.

These serial violations of the basic human rights of the civilian residents of Camp Liberty were ignored by the UN. Three massacres at Camp Ashraf, five missile attacks on Camp Liberty, two cases of abduction of defenceless residents, and the imposition of a fully-fledged eight-year siege, which left 177 residents dead, constituted parts of this vicious, although ultimately futile, plan.

As far as the mullahs are concerned they wanted to eliminate all of the people in Liberty or to make them give up and surrender. This did not happen due to the courage and resistance of PMOI members who stood up against numerous conspiracies, as well as the inspiring leadership of Mrs Maryam Rajavi and the  active backing of thousands of parliamentarians and Iranian communities all around the world.

The victorious transfer of the PMOI members and the regime’s ultimate major defeat in this regard, opens a new chapter for the Iranian people and its Resistance. Now that the main organized democratic opposition is safely out of Iraq, we need to focus on the human rights situation, the end of executions and a democratic change; a free Iran. We also need to redouble legal efforts to bring those to justice in Iraq who orchestrated the serial abuse and murder of the Ashraf and Liberty residents and who looted their property worth tens of millions of dollars.

Struan Stevenson

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 from 2005-2014. He is now President of the European Iraqi Freedom Association (EIFA)

An Iraqi Shi'ite militia said on Wednesday it had dispatched more than 1,000 fighters to the frontline in neighboring Syria, escalating foreign involvement in the battle for Aleppo, the biggest prize in five years of relentless civil war.

New footage emerged of civilians choking in the aftermath of an apparent attack with poison chlorine gas on an opposition-held district as the battle for Syria's biggest city approaches what could be a decisive phase.

Aleppo has been divided for years into government and rebel sectors, but President Bashar al-Assad's army has put the opposition areas under siege and now hopes to capture the whole city in what would be a devastating blow to his enemies.

Government forces are backed by Russian air power and battle-hardened Lebanese and Iraqi Shi'ite militia fighters under the apparent oversight of an Iranian general.

The arrival of reinforcements from Iraq, where Shi'ite militia are fighting their own war against the Islamic State group, shows how the Syrian and Iraqi conflicts have leapt borders, to become a broad sectarian war across the Middle East.

Hashim al-Moussawi, a spokesman for the Iraqi Shi'ite militia Harakat al-Nujab, said its fighters would reinforce areas captured from the rebels in southern Aleppo.

The militia's Twitter account showed pictures of its fighters at the Syrian front with Iranian Major General Qassem Soleimani, commander of foreign operations for the elite Revolutionary Guards, who has led operations by Tehran's allies in both Syria and Iraq.

Rebel commanders said they are preparing to launch their own counter-offensive aimed at breaking the siege of the city, which was reimposed in recent days following weeks of intense fighting around a military complex.

Rebels lost the complex of military colleges to pro-government forces on Sunday near the Ramousah area of southwestern Aleppo, where they had opened a way into the city.

Five years after the multi-sided war began, hundreds of thousands of people have been killed and 11 million - half of Syria's pre-war population - displaced. But there is little sign that any party is poised for victory or can restore stability, and foreign powers are becoming more involved.

In recent weeks, Turkey has sent its troops across the border to combat Islamic State and Kurdish fighters. The United States, which is trying to negotiate a ceasefire with Russia, has backed Kurdish forces advancing against Islamic State.

Meanwhile, the plight of some 250,000 civilians trapped in rebel-held districts of Aleppo has spurred international efforts to agree a new humanitarian truce. But Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry have not reached agreement over the details of a ceasefire.

POISON GAS

Western countries, Turkey and most Arab states oppose both Assad's government and Islamic State, while supporting other anti-Assad factions. Russia and Iran support Assad.

The latest apparent poison gas attack adds to a litany of what Assad's opponents say is deliberate targeting of civilians, often with banned weapons, to force rebels to surrender.

Footage of the apparent chlorine gas attack on the Sukari district, near Aleppo's main battlefield in the city's southwest, showed crying children being doused with water and then lying on hospital beds and breathing through respirators.

Rescue workers in the rebel-held area said army helicopters had dropped the chlorine in incendiary barrel bombs, an accusation the government has rejected.

"We have not and will not use at any point this type of weapon," a Syrian military source said, accusing rebels of making false accusations to distract attention from their defeats.

However, the government has a history of being accused of similar attacks. An inquiry by the United Nations and Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) seen by Reuters last month said the Syrian army had been responsible for two chlorine gas attacks in 2014 and 2015.

In 2013 Western countries accused Assad's government of attacking a Damascus suburb with nerve gas. At the time, Assad fended off a threatened U.S. bombing campaign only by agreeing to give up his arsenal of chemical weapons, later destroyed by the OPCW. But Syria still possesses chlorine, which is used for water purification and other legitimate industrial processes.

Ramousah, its surroundings, and the countryside between it and the village of Khan Touman seven km (four miles) to its southwest were the site of intense bombardment by Russian jets and attacks by Shi'ite militias in recent weeks, rebels say.

On Tuesday night, jets bombed Khan Touman and neighboring areas, and intense clashes took place in Ramousah and its surroundings, with rebels targeting an army tank, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a U.K.-based war monitor reported.

Rebels also shelled government-held residential districts in western Aleppo, the Observatory reported.

"All the (rebel) factions are trying to prepare themselves to launch a new attack on the regime positions in Ramousah. It's not over," a senior source in the insurgency said.

Source: Reuters

BAGHDAD — Iraq's Foreign Ministry said the government on Sunday formally requested that the Saudi ambassador in Baghdad be replaced after he claimed that Iranian-backed Shiite militias are plotting to assassinate him.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Ahmed Jamal told The Associated Press that the government sent a formal request to Saudi Arabia to replace the kingdom's ambassador in Baghdad, Thamer al-Sabhan. Jamal said al-Sabhan's reported comments are untrue and harm relations between the two countries. He said the allegations are considered interference in Iraq's internal affairs and that al-Sabhan has not provided the ministry with any proof or evidence of these claims.

Shiite-led Iran and Sunni-led Saudi Arabia are regional rivals and broke off diplomatic ties in January after several years of frayed relations. In 2011, U.S. authorities said they had disrupted an Iranian plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to Washington at the time.

Al-Sabhan was quoted as telling the Saudi-owned al-Hayat newspaper that Iraqi intelligence provided him with information about the assassination plans. He said this was happening as Iran tries to block reform efforts in Iraq and other Arab countries.

Al-Sabhan was also quoted by the Saudi-owned al-Arabiya news channel saying "sectarian radical groups" are behind the threats. The channel, quoting unnamed sources, alleged that Iranian-backed senior figures in Iraq's Popular Mobilization Committee are among those behind the assassination plots and that they had given the Iraqi Foreign Ministry a deadline to expel al-Sabhan.

In the Saudi-owned Ashraq al-Awsat newspaper, an unnamed Iraqi official was quoted as saying militias were planning to attack the ambassador's armored cars with rocket-propelled grenades.

In an interview aired on Iraqi channel Wesal TV, Aws al-Khafaji, who heads the Iraqi militia group Abu al-Fadhl al-Abbas, said many factions in Iraq want to target al-Sabhan.

"If al-Sabhan was killed in Iraq, any factions involved would admit it, especially because he is wanted ... We clearly stated that we do not want al-Sabhan in Iraq." he said, before adding that if he were assassinated, "it will be an honor and will be proudly admitted."

AUG. 28, 2016

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