Archive for November 17, 2014


By Donna Abu-Nasr

Jul 9, 2014

Iraqi laboratory technician Younes was smoking a shisha water pipe and playing cards with his friends in the Iraqi city of Mosul last week when a dozen men with Kalashnikov rifles over their shoulders showed up.

“They told the cafe owner that allowing such forms of entertainment was sinful and they didn’t leave until he pledged to ban it,” said Younes, 30, who was too scared of reprisals to give his full name. “We’re hurtling fast toward the unknown.”

The group, dressed in baggy pants and long shirts, were members of the Islamic State, extremists who set up a caliphate in the Sunni Muslim heartland. Younes had been among the Sunnis who had welcomed the takeover of Mosul last month, believing it would liberate them from the military grip of the Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad.

The Islamic State is now starting to alienate the people who cheered its swift takeover of their cities and towns as it imposes a strict Islamic lifestyle. Since their takeover, the militants haven’t been able to compensate state workers who haven’t been paid or restore government-supplied water and electricity, which have been scarce.

Euphoria Over

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s government halted salaries for employees living in areas under Islamic State’s control, said Noureddin Qablan, vice chairman of the council in Nineveh province, whose capital is Mosul.

The Islamic State called itself the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, known as ISIL or ISIS, until the end of last month. It may eventually try to form its own social welfare system to win local support, emulating Lebanon’s Hezbollah group and the Palestinian Hamas faction, Qablan said.

“But they won’t succeed because people don’t want to live the kind of life that will come with the welfare system,” he said. At the start of the crisis, people cheered “but that was the euphoria of winning. Now, people realize it’s not only about winning, it’s also about making things work,” he said.

Unlike after the U.S.-led invasion, the al-Qaeda breakaway group may be able to survive local displeasure with no American troops on the ground for moderate Sunni Iraqis to turn to, said Austin Long, an assistant professor at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs.

“So even if the population in Mosul gets fed up, it’s not clear they will be able to then fight back against the Islamic State very effectively,” Long said in a telephone interview. “The Islamic State is nothing if not a very ruthless and effective military organization.”

The Awakening

The Islamic State evolved from al-Qaeda in Iraq, which U.S. troops and Sunni militias defeated after its powers peaked in 2006 to 2007 in a campaign that was known as the awakening. It regrouped and was able to expand last year in Syria, where a civil war has raged for more than three years, attracting fighters from Chechnya, Afghanistan and Europe.

The group’s push into Mosul last month came at a time of discontent among Iraqi Sunnis who feel marginalized by the Shiite-dominated government of Maliki. Though they don’t share the same militant values as the Islamic State, some Sunni clans joined the group, driven by anger at Maliki, whom they accuse of excluding Sunnis from government.

Now, some tribes in Salahuddin province have formed armed groups to fight the Islamic State, tribal leader Wanas al-Jabbar told al-Mada Press. He said the groups voluntarily took up arms and are not coordinating with the government, according to the Iraqi news agency, which says it’s independent.

Al-Jabbar said the Islamic State “deceived” some people in the early days of its takeover, “but those who have been duped have rebelled against its atrocities.”

Economic Grievances

Some of the complaints have economic roots, said Mohsin Khan, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East. The Maliki government has been hiring workers steadily over the past seven years, with most of the jobs going to its Shiite supporters, Khan said.

“Sunnis have economic grievances that the Maliki government has largely ignored,” said Khan. “Without the support of dissatisfied Sunni tribes, ISIL would not have been able to gain traction and achieve such rapid success.”

The Islamic State will have to decide at some point if it wants to consolidate power and govern or just be a war machine, said Vali Nasr, dean of the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies in Washington.

Hezbollah and Hamas are “ruling over their own people, whereby these people are coming from the outside,” Nasr said. “It creates an open question: ISIS can only govern if it’s able to do so by recruiting locals.”

Tired People

Younes said he’s not interested in any kind of social services the Islamic State could provide. What he wants is a fair government in Baghdad that would treat its citizens equally irrespective of their religious sect.

“The people are tired,” he said by telephone.

The evenings that follow fast-breaking meals of Ramadan, in previous years dedicated to family or gatherings at cafes or entertainment parks, are now spent close to home.

“I don’t go to any cafes anymore,” said Younes. “I just sit with my friends on the pavement in front of my house so that if ISIL comes we can immediately disappear into our homes.”

Source: Bloomberg.

Link: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-07-08/snuffing-out-shisha-alienates-iraqis-bemoaning-islamic-clampdown.html.

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7/8/2014

Baghdad (Asharq Al-Awsat) —Anti-government Iraqi Sunni tribes are marching on Baghdad with the objective of toppling Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki and forming a national “salvation” government, a tribal spokesman told Asharq Al-Awsat.

Abu Abed Al-Naimi, spokesman for the “Iraqi Tribal Rebels,” said: “Our aim is to topple Maliki’s government, end Iran’s intervention [in Iraq] and form a salvation government.

“Several sides, including Iraqi military officers in Baghdad, are supporting us and are prepared to join our fighters once we enter the capital,” he added.

Naimi’s comments come after embattled Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki refused to give up his quest for a controversial third term in office. “I will never give up my candidacy for the post of prime minister.

I will remain a soldier, defending the interests of Iraq and its people,” he said in a statement on Friday in response to an earlier offer by Sunni rival Osama Al-Nujaifi to facilitate the establishment of a new government.

Nujaifi, leader of the Mutahidoun coalition, had said that he would agree not to seek another term of Speaker of Parliament if Maliki agreed not to seek another term in office.

The Iraqi Tribal Rebels is a shadowy coalition of Iraqi Sunni Arab tribes, mostly present in the Sunni-majority provinces of Anbar, Diyala, Karbala, Nineveh, Salah Al-Din and Kirkuk, where dissatisfaction towards the policies of the Maliki government have peaked.

Observers are unclear over the precise nature of the relationship between Iraq’s anti-government Sunni Arab tribes and Sunni militant group the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) which last week announced the establishment of an Islamic caliphate comprising territory in eastern Syria and western Iraq.

While both sides oppose the Mailki government, which Iraq’s Sunnis claim has pursued a policy of sectarianism, it is not clear whether Sunni tribesman are fighting directly alongside ISIS against the government or are exploiting the presence of the Islamist militant group to launch a separate insurgency.

Contradicting the prevailing narrative that Tikrit is under ISIS control, Naimi told Asharq Al-Awsat that the city is in the hands of Iraq’s Arab Sunni tribes.

“It is the Iraqi tribal rebels who are in control of the city of Tikrit and its suburbs, with the exception of the [neighboring city of] Samarra,” Naimi said.

He claimed that state media was exaggerating fears of ISIS in order to gain regional and international support, denying that Iraq’s tribal rebels are supporting the militant group.

“We are Iraqis and we side with our people, whether they are Shi’ites, Sunnis—whether Arabs, Kurds or Turkmen—and Christians. We do not wish to establish sectarian rule like Maliki and his group did.”

“We will seek to eliminate ISIS after we realize our goals of getting rid of Maliki,” the Iraqi Tribal Rebels spokesman added.

Source: People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran.

Link: http://www.mojahedin.org/newsen/29429/Iraqi-Sunni-tribal-rebels-advancing-on-Baghdad-says-spokesman.

June 22, 2014

BAGHDAD (AP) — Sunni insurgents led by an al-Qaida breakaway group have expanded their offensive in a volatile western province of Iraq, capturing three strategic towns and the first border crossing with Syria to fall on the Iraqi side.

The advance Friday and Saturday dealt another blow to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who is fighting for his political life even as forces beyond his control are pushing the country toward a sectarian showdown.

In a reflection of the bitter divide, thousands of heavily armed Shiite militiamen — eager to take on the Sunni insurgents — marched through Iraqi cities in military-style parades Saturday on streets where many of them battled U.S. forces a half decade ago.

The towns of Qaim, Rawah and Anah are the first territory seized in predominantly Sunni Anbar province, west of Baghdad, since fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant overran the city of Fallujah and parts of the provincial capital of Ramadi earlier this year.

The capture of Rawah on the Euphrates River and the nearby town of Anah appeared to be part of march toward a key dam in the city of Haditha, the destruction of which would damage the country’s electrical grid and cause major flooding.

Iraqi military officials said more than 2,000 troops were quickly dispatched to the site of the dam to protect it. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

The Islamic State’s Sunni militants have carved out a large fiefdom along the Iraqi-Syrian border and have long traveled back and forth with ease, but control over crossings like that one in Qaim allows them to more easily move weapons and heavy equipment to different battlefields. Syrian rebels already have seized the facilities on the Syrian side of the border and several other posts in areas under their control.

The vast Anbar province stretches from the western edges of Baghdad all the way to Jordan and Syria to the northwest, and the fighting has greatly disrupted use of the highway linking Baghdad to the Jordanian border, a key artery for goods and passengers.

Al-Maliki’s Shiite-dominated government has struggled to push back against the Sunni militants, who have seized large swaths of the country’s north since taking control of the second-largest city of Mosul on June 10 as Iraqi government forces melted away.

The prime minister, who has led the country since 2006 and has not yet secured a third term after recent parliamentary elections, also has increasingly turned to Iranian-backed Shiite militias and Shiite volunteers to bolster his beleaguered security forces.

The parades in Baghdad and other cities in the mainly Shiite south revealed the depth and diversity of the militias’ arsenal, from field artillery and missiles to multiple rocket launchers and heavy machine guns, adding to mounting evidence that Iraq is inching closer to a religious war between Sunnis and Shiites.

Al-Maliki has come under growing pressure to reach out to disaffected Kurds and Sunnis, with many blaming his failure to promote reconciliation for the country’s worst crisis since the U.S. military withdrew its forces nearly three years ago.

In Baghdad, about 20,000 militiamen loyal to anti-U.S. Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, many in military fatigues, marched through the sprawling Shiite Sadr City district, which saw some of the worst fighting between Shiite militias and U.S. soldiers before a cease-fire was reached in 2008 that helped stem the sectarian bloodshed that was pushing the country to the brink of civil war.

Similar parades took place in the southern cities of Amarah and Basra, both strongholds of al-Sadr supporters.

Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the most respected voice for Iraq’s Shiite majority, who normally stays above the political fray, on Friday joined calls for al-Maliki to reach out to the Kurdish and Sunni minorities. A day earlier President Barack Obama challenged the prime minister to create a leadership representative of all Iraqis.

Al-Maliki’s State of Law bloc won the most seats in the April vote, but his hopes to retain his job have been thrown into doubt, with rivals challenging him from within the broader Shiite alliance.

The U.S., meanwhile, has been drawn back into the conflict. Obama announced Thursday he was deploying up to 300 military advisers to help quell the insurgency. They join some 275 troops in and around Iraq to provide security and support for the U.S. Embassy and other American interests.

Obama has been adamant that U.S. troops would not be returning to combat, but has said he could approve “targeted and precise” strikes requested by Baghdad.

Manned and unmanned U.S. aircraft are now flying over Iraq 24 hours a day on intelligence missions, U.S. officials say.

Iraq enjoyed several years of relative calm before violence spiked a year ago after al-Maliki moved to crush a Sunni protest movement against what the minority sect claimed was discrimination and abuse at the hands of his government and security forces.

Meanwhile, on Saturday four separate explosions killed 10 people, including two policemen, and wounded 22 in Baghdad, according to police and hospital officials. And in an incident harkening back to the peak days of sectarian killings in 2006 and 2007, two bodies, presumably of Sunnis, were found riddled with bullets in Baghdad’s Shiite district of Zafaraniyah, police and morgue officials said.

All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to journalists.

Source: The Epoch Times.

Link: http://www.theepochtimes.com/n3/753183-sunni-insurgents-capture-more-iraq-cities/.

June 18, 2014

Fehim Tastekin

KIRKUK, Iraq — I was just about to press the shutter on my camera outside the Iraqi Turkmen Front’s (ITC) provincial office in Kirkuk, the nerve center of the Turkmen cause in the city, when a security guard holding an automatic rifle emerged from his nearby booth and entered the frame, posing like a hardened warrior under the scorching sun. I should have known that very moment that the Turkmens were taking up arms. Once inside the building, I listened to heated discussions about the future of Turkmeneli (Turkmen lands), driven by the argument that the creation of an armed militia was now inevitable. In a few days, ITC leader Arshad Salihi and his comrades would appear before the press, brandishing arms, and formally announce their decision to form such a force.

The “Sunni insurgency” against Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s government, led by the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) along with opposition from Sunni tribes, Baathists and some Sufi groups, presented the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) with its long-awaited opportunity to take control of Kirkuk. Kurdish peshmerga took over bases and checkpoints abandoned by the Iraqi army in Kirkuk and assumed control of security in Tuz Khormato, whose Turkmen population is in the majority. The question the Turkmen are now trying to answer is how it is going to respond if the current control by peshmergas, justified for now by the need to provide security against the ISIS threat, becomes permanent? With the Zab River now a de facto border, a poster hanging on Governorate Avenue clearly presents the Kurdish position: “The peshmerga will provide security all over Kurdistan.”

Kirkuk’s oil came to light in 1927, leading it to become the scene of a rivalry between Kurds, Turkmens and Arabs. The results of Iraq’s April 30 parliamentary elections in Kirkuk — Kurds won eight of the 13 seats — is a clear indication that the city’s political and demographic landscape has changed in line with KRG aspirations. The Kurds hope that an eventual referendum, envisaged in the constitution but so far deferred, will allow them to annex Kirkuk to Iraqi Kurdistan, while the Turkmens advocate a federal administration run jointly by Turkmens, Kurds and Arabs.

When I arrived at the ITC headquarters, a heavily guarded fortress not far from the ITC provincial office, the party leadership was in the middle of a meeting. A sense of abandonment has prevailed in the ITC after Turkey, opting for strategic ties with the KRG, advised the Turkmens to “act in unison with the Kurds.” The Turkmen community had until now refrained from establishing an armed defense force, relying on Turkey as its guarantor. The Turkmens now appear to have embraced the notion that since Turkey has done away with its red lines, leaving the Turkmens unprotected, they need to set up a militia force.

In remarks to Al-Monitor, the ITC’s Salihi urged the Kurds to avoid attempting fait accomplis, but also stressed that Turkmens should have autonomous status in northern Iraq. “The peshmerga are today positioned around Kirkuk. And our people will stand up to any sort of civilian threat. Our people, too, will be arming themselves for their self-defense. No one can object to this, because all the other groups have their own militias. We are often in trouble for being unarmed. The central government’s arms go to our Shiite brothers. The Sunnis and the Kurds are already armed. We are absolutely determined to set up our own armed force. People have to defend themselves,” said Salihi.

“We are ready for any eventuality,” the ITC leader asserted, glancing at the pistol and Kalashnikov on top of his desk. He issued a warning to the Kurdish administration: “In abruptly developing situations, there is no army whatsoever, and the peshmerga are in charge. Once this story is over, a collective army should be built anew. In no way do we see Kirkuk as part of Kurdistan. Should they [the Kurds] resort to a fait accompli at our expense and make a transient situation permanent, this would cause serious disturbances to them as well in the future.”

Asked whether they had received adequate support from Turkey, Salihi replied, “Turkey should have stood closer to the Turkmens. It has stood at an equal distance to everybody, but we should have been better supported. Turkmens cannot exist a single day here without Turkey’s moral support.”

Despite his concerns, Salihi dismissed the risk of armed confrontation between Turkmens and Kurds in the future. “I don’t think this could happen. If the peshmerga make mistakes, this will cost them the gains and stability they have today. The Turkmens are a key factor. They [the Kurds] know how influential the Turkmen lobby is in Ankara,” he said.

Salihi voiced pessimism about Iraq’s prospects of overcoming its de facto breakup at present. “Iraq has virtually disintegrated. Putting the country back together seems difficult from now on. That’s the reason why we are concerned. We have jumped out of the frying pan into the fire. We are faced with a fait accompli. An autonomous Turkmen region will be the best solution for us. If there are Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish regions, the Turkmens, too, should have autonomy in their regions [Tal Afar, Tuz Khormato, Taza Khormato], along with a jointly administered Kirkuk.”

When ISIS captured Tal Afar on June 16, Salihi held a press conference to formally announce the decision to establish an armed militia. Flanked by armed Turkmens and wearing a flak jacket, he told reporters, “Turkmens, too, have the right to arm themselves for their self-defense. We are obliged to do that to protect our people and region.”

In Taza Khormato, a town 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) south of Kirkuk populated by Shiite Turkmen, some 1,500 armed men were already on guard against ISIS. Although the peshmerga were absent from Taza Khormato, Kurdistan’s forces were again on the frontline in the nearby Shiite Turkmen village of Bashir, fighting off ISIS attacks.

The Iraqi Turkmen community, which has both Sunni and Shiite adherents, has acted in unity on many issues, but this time they are divided, just as during the Sunni-Shiite conflict in 2007 that followed a bomb attack in Tuz Khormato. The Shiite Turkmens are siding with Iraqi government forces, while some of their Sunni brethren look favorably on the ISIS-led rebellion. According to local sources who spoke to Al-Monitor, the polarization has already erupted into confrontations in Tal Afar. Even more strikingly, while Sunni Turkmens feel resentment toward Turkey for allegedly having abandoned its red lines, Shiite Turkmens blame Ankara for the wave of revolt sweeping the Sunni areas.

In addition to the earful of criticism I heard on this issue, I was personally involved in a telling incident. Security forces on guard at a barricaded road outside Taza Khormato stopped me from entering the town. One of the men took my passport and asked about the purpose of my visit. I explained I was a journalist and wanted to speak to the people there. In response came the harsh reply, “What do you want to know? It is Turkey itself that put us into all this trouble.”

With the ISIS capture of Tal Afar, the Turkish government came under mounting pressure and faced opposition accusations of being indifferent to the Turkmens’ fate. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the government was acting cautiously to prevent any harm to dozens of ISIS-held Turkish hostages. “Things have grown beyond the actions of ISIS elements, escalating virtually into sectarian strife and perhaps even a war,” Erdogan said.

The government has been acting as if it is left with few options in the name of keeping the hostages safe, while also obtaining a court order to ban media coverage of the issue. What it has managed to do so far is to make a decision to consider aid for Turkmens who fled Tal Afar for nearby settlements, including Sinjar and Duhok.

Source: al-Monitor.

Link: http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2014/06/tastekin-iraqi-turkmen-isis-kirkuk-mosul-arms-itf.html.

Baghdad (AFP)

June 17, 2014

Fighting erupted at the northern approaches to Baghdad Tuesday as the United Nations warned Iraq is in danger of disintegrating in the face of the assault by Sunni Arab militants.

Washington deployed some 275 military personnel to protect its embassy in Baghdad, the first time it has sent troops to Iraq since it withdrew its forces at the end of 2011 after a bloody and costly intervention launched in 2003.

It was also mulling air strikes against the militants, who are led by the jihadist Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) but include loyalists of now-executed Sunni Arab dictator Saddam Hussein.

A relative calm in Baghdad — ostensibly as militants have focused on their northern assault — was shattered by a string of bombings that left 17 people dead, while the bodies of 18 soldiers and police were found near the city of Samarra, all shot in the head and chest.

Since the insurgents launched their lightning assault on June 9, they have captured Mosul, a city of two million people, and a big chunk of mainly Sunni Arab territory stretching towards the capital.

The offensive has displaced hundreds of thousands of people and sent jitters through world oil markets as the militants have advanced ever nearer Baghdad leaving the Shiite-led government in disarray.

Officials said on Tuesday that militants briefly held parts of the city of Baquba, just 60 kilometers (40 miles) from the capital.

They also took control of most of Tal Afar, a strategic Shiite-majority town between Mosul and the border with Syria, where ISIL also has fighters engaged in that country’s three-year-old civil war.

– Fighting near Baghdad –

The overnight attack on Baquba, which was pushed back by security forces but left 44 prisoners dead at a police station, marked the closest that fighting has come to the capital.

In Tal Afar, militants controlled most of the town but pockets of resistance remained.

Further south, security personnel abandoned the Iraqi side of a key crossing on the border with Syria, officers said.

Syrian rebel groups opposed to ISIL, who already controlled the other side of the Al-Qaim crossing, advanced across the border to take over.

A cameraman was also killed and a correspondent wounded while covering the unrest, their television channel said.

The swift advance of the militants has sparked international alarm, with UN envoy to Baghdad Nickolay Mladenov warning that Iraq’s territorial integrity was at stake.

“Right now, it’s life-threatening for Iraq but it poses a serious danger to the region,” Mladenov told AFP.

“Iraq faces the biggest threat to its sovereignty and territorial integrity” in years.

The violence has stoked regional tensions, with Iraq accusing neighboring Saudi Arabia on Tuesday of “siding with terrorism” and of being responsible for financing the militants.

The comments came a day after the Sunni kingdom blamed “sectarian” policies by Iraq’s Shiite-led government for triggering the unrest.

The prime minister of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region told the BBC it would be “almost impossible” for the country to return to how it was before the offensive, and called for Sunni Arabs to be granted an autonomous region of their own.

– Diplomatic pull-out –

Alarmed by the collapse of much of the security forces in the face of the militant advance, foreign governments have begun pulling out diplomatic staff.

US President Barack Obama announced that around 275 military personnel “equipped for combat” were being deployed to Iraq to help protect the embassy in Baghdad and assist US nationals.

Washington has already deployed an aircraft carrier to the Gulf, but Obama has ruled out a return to combat in Iraq for US soldiers.

As the US weighed its next move, Secretary of State John Kerry said on Monday that drone strikes could be used.

Washington has ruled out cooperating militarily with Tehran, but the two governments — which have been bitter foes for more than 30 years — held “brief discussions” on the crisis in Vienna.

Drones have been used by the US against militants in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen, but have been criticized by human rights groups for their heavy civilian toll.

Doubts are growing that the Iraqi security forces can hold back the militant tide, despite military commanders trumpeting a counter-offensive.

Soldiers and police fled en masse as the insurgents swept into Iraq’s second city of Mosul a week ago, abandoning their vehicles and uniforms.

The jihadists are said to have killed scores of Iraqi soldiers as they pushed their advance, including in a “horrifying” massacre in Salaheddin province that has drawn international condemnation.

Top Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani has called for volunteers to join the battle against the militants and thousands have signed up.

More have returned home from neighboring Syria, where they had been fighting alongside government forces against mainly Sunni rebels there, a monitoring group said.

Source: Space War.

Link: http://www.spacewar.com/reports/Fighting_nears_Baghdad_as_UN_warns_of_Iraq_break-up_999.html.

2014-11-14

By Mussa Hattar – AMMAN

Jordan is cracking down on firebrand preachers and online extremism to tackle jihadists after joining US-led air strikes on the Islamic State group.

The desert kingdom shares borders with conflict-hit Iraq and Syria, and is struggling to cope with hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees, adding to its own problems with homegrown Islamists.

Its decision in September to join the anti-IS coalition has put Jordan in even graver danger, but authorities insist its borders are secure and have launched a sweep against jihadists that extends to the Internet.

“Jordan is waging a war against jihadist ideology and amended the anti-terrorism law… because the Internet has become the main tool for mobilizing and recruiting” militants, said analyst Hasan Abu Haniya.

Since joining the anti-IS fight, “130 IS sympathizers have been arrested, most of them members of Salafist groups,” said defense lawyer Mussa Abdalat, referring to adherents of a strict Sunni interpretation of Islam.

“Only 50 of them have been brought to trial before the state security court… while the rest are still awaiting prosecution,” Abdalat said.

But for those already convicted or facing trials at military tribunals, the charge has often been the same: spreading the ideology of a terrorist group on the Internet.

– ‘Stopping extremist ideas’ –

Wary of Salafists, authorities have also moved to bring some of the country’s nearly 6,000 mosques under tighter control by weeding out preachers who deliver fiery pro-jihadist sermons.

“We have stopped 25 imams from preaching because they violated regulations,” Ahmad Ezzat, the spokesman for the ministry of religious endowments and Islamic affairs, said.

“Some of them tried to use the minbar (pulpit) for political reasons while others used it to propagate extremist ideas,” he added.

As in many other Arab countries where fears are mounting over the growing influence of Salafists, Jordan’s ministry of Islamic affairs appoints imams, pays their salaries and monitors their sermons.

Preachers must promote moderate Islam and refrain from making political statements as well as saying anything that could undermine the sovereignty of the state or fan civil unrest.

Egypt has also moved to control mosques by laying out the theme of sermons on Fridays, as it faces growing unrest following the military’s ouster last year of the Islamist president Mohamed Morsi.

Authorities say 1,300 Salafists are fighting in the ranks of IS, which has declared an Islamic “caliphate” on territory it has seized in Iraq and Syria.

They are estimated to number 4,000 in Jordan itself.

Hundreds are followers of Al-Qaeda’s Syria franchise, Al-Nusra Front, but many switched allegiance to back the Islamic State group when Jordan joined the US-led coalition.

– ‘War on three fronts’ –

“The war on terror is a continuous process, (fought) on three fronts,” government spokesman Mohammed Momeni said.

These were “direct military confrontation, security efforts to monitor terrorist organizations… and religious awareness” in places like schools and mosques “to eradicate extremist ideology”.

Jordan passed its first anti-terrorism law in 2006, when Al-Qaeda suicide attacks on three Amman hotels killed 60 people.

In April parliament adopted controversial measures to tighten the noose, as fears grew that the more than three-year war in Syria could spill over and threaten the kingdom’s security.

These criminalized “the use of information technology, the Internet or any means of publication… to facilitate terrorist acts or back groups that promote, support or fund terrorism”.

The amendments as terrorist acts “joining or attempting to join armed or terrorist groups, or recruiting or attempting to recruit people to join these groups” acts of terrorism.

They also outlaw “acts that would expose Jordan or Jordanians to the danger of acts of aggression, or harm the kingdom’s relations with another country.”

On Monday two Jordanians were sentenced to five years each for IS membership and two others for allegedly posting pro-jihadist comments and articles online.

Last month former Al-Qaeda mentor Issam Barqawi, also known as Abu Mohammed al-Maqdessi, was arrested only four months after being released from jail.

Barqawi, who was once mentor to Iraq’s slain Al-Qaeda leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, was jailed again after the state prosecutor accused him of using the Internet to promote Al-Nusra Front.

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=68924.