Archive for July 15, 2015


May 26, 2015

BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraq vowed Tuesday to retake Anbar province — now mostly held by the Islamic State — by launching a large-scale military operation less than two weeks after suffering a humiliating defeat at the hands of the extremists in the provincial capital of Ramadi.

The operation, which Iraqi state TV said was backed by Shiite militias and Sunni pro-government fighters, is deemed critical in regaining momentum in the fight. But as a sandstorm descended across the region, there was no sign of any major engagement against the extremists, who have been gaining ground in the province west of Baghdad despite U.S.-led airstrikes.

A Pentagon spokesman, Col. Steve Warren, said Iraqi forces have begun “shaping operations” and “security zone interactions,” which he described as probing and reconnaissance actions that would precede any major combat in or around Ramadi.

The Iraqis have begun moving forward from their base at Habbaniyah, and IS fighters likewise are probing in the direction of Habbaniyah, Warren said. He added that he could not confirm that the Iraqi forces have surrounded Ramadi.

The Islamic State — also known by the acronyms ISIS and ISIL, and Daesh in Arabic — seized large parts of Anbar in early 2014 and captured Ramadi earlier in May. Iraqi forces, which had been making steady progress against the extremists in recent months with the help of the air campaign, scored a major victory in recapturing Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit last month.

Elsewhere in Anbar province, the Islamic State group last week captured the Iraqi side of the key al-Walid border crossing with Syria. Those gains followed the IS seizure of the ancient town of Palmyra in Syria.

The launch of the operation in Anbar came only days after U.S. officials, including Defense Secretary Ash Carter, criticized Iraq’s forces, saying its troops fled the IS advance on Ramadi without fighting back, leaving behind weapons and vehicles for the extremists.

Baghdad defended its troops and said preparations were underway for the large-scale counteroffensive in Anbar, involving Iranian-backed Shiite militias known as Popular Mobilization Units. That possibility sparked fears of potential sectarian violence in the Sunni-dominated province, long the site of protests and criticism of the Shiite-led government in Baghdad.

The Shiite militias chose a religious name for their campaign, deepening those worries and drawing criticism from the Pentagon. The Popular Mobilization Units have named it “Labaik Ya Hussein,” which is Arabic for “I am here, Hussein” — referring to a grandson of the Prophet Muhammad and one of the most revered figures of Shiite Islam.

Warren called the title “unhelpful,” adding: “We’ve long said … the key to expelling ISIL from Iraq is a unified Iraq that separates itself from sectarian divides.” Karim al-Nouri, a spokesman for the Popular Mobilization Units, said the name wasn’t sectarian.

“This name has no sectarian dimension (or meaning) because all Iraqis, regardless of their sect or religion, love Imam Hussein,” al-Nouri said. A spokesman for Iraq’s Shiite militias said the operation would “not last for a long time,” and that Iraqi forces have surrounded Ramadi on three sides.

New weapons are being used in the battle “that will surprise the enemy,” said Ahmed al-Assadi, who is also a member of parliament. He told reporters that another operation was underway north of the nearby province of Salahuddin.

Plans called for the forces in Salahuddin to move against Ramadi from its northeastern side, al-Assadi added. The Anbar operation aims to cut off supply routes and recapture the outskirts of Ramadi first — not the city itself, according to provincial councilman Faleh al-Issawi and tribesman Rafie al-Fahdawi.

They told The Associated Press there was ongoing fighting and airstrikes west and south of Ramadi on Tuesday, adding that more Sunni fighters will be armed starting Wednesday to fight the Islamic State.

The sandstorm complicated efforts to retake the city, al-Issawi said. “There is zero visibility on the front lines and our men are highly concerned that they might come under attack by Daesh in such bad weather,” he said.

Security forces and Sunni militiamen who had been battling the extremists in Ramadi for months collapsed as IS fighters overran the city. The militants gained not only new territory 70 miles (115 kilometers) west of Baghdad, but also large stocks of weapons abandoned by government forces as they fled.

Carter said Sunday that Iraqi forces had “vastly outnumbered” the IS militants in Ramadi but “showed no will to fight.” Saad al-Hadithi, a spokesman for Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, said Carter’s remarks surprised the government and that he “was likely given incorrect information.”

White House spokesman Josh Earnest defended Carter’s remarks, saying the Iraqi government acknowledged that the setback in Ramadi was the result of a breakdown in command and planning. Earnest added that the Iraqi forces in Ramadi had not benefited from U.S. or allied training.

He praised Iraq’s announcement it had launched a major military operation to drive Islamic State from Anbar, adding: “I think that is a clear indication of the will of the Iraqi security forces to fight. And the United States and our coalition partners will stand with them as they do so.”

Gen. Qassim Soleimani, the head of the elite Quds forces in Iran’s Revolutionary Guard who has taken on an advisory role with the Shiite militias, lashed out Monday at U.S. efforts. The Iranian daily newspaper Javan, seen as close to the Revolutionary Guard, quoted Soleimani as saying the U.S. didn’t do a “damn thing” to stop the advance on Ramadi.

“Does it mean anything else than being an accomplice in the plot?” he reportedly asked, later saying the U.S. showed “no will” in fighting IS. Al-Abadi had urged the Shiite militias to help retake Anbar province. The militiamen have played a key role in clawing back territory from IS elsewhere in Iraq, although rights groups and Sunni residents have accused them of looting, destroying property and carrying out revenge attacks — especially after government forces recaptured Tikrit last month. Militia leaders deny the allegations.

The participation of the Shiite militias in the Anbar operation risks exacerbating tensions that arose amid retaliatory sectarian killings that roiled Iraq in 2006 and 2007. Distrust of the Shiite-led government runs deep in Anbar, where U.S. troops fought some of their bloodiest battles since Vietnam and only succeeded in rolling back militants when Sunni tribesmen and former insurgents rallied to their side as part of the Sahwa, or Awakening, movement in 2006. After the U.S. troop withdrawal, Sunni anger at Baghdad has grown steadily.

Associated Press writers Sameer N. Yacoub in Baghdad and Robert Burns and Jim Kuhnhenn in Washington contributed to this report.

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May 26, 2015

BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraq on Tuesday announced the launch of a military operation to drive the Islamic State group out of the western Anbar province, where the extremists captured the provincial capital, Ramadi, earlier this month.

Iraqi state TV declared the start of the operation, in which troops will be backed by Shiite and Sunni paramilitary forces, but did not provide further details. The Islamic State group seized large parts of Anbar starting in early 2014 and captured Ramadi earlier this month. The fall of the city marked a major defeat for Iraqi forces, which had been making steady progress against the extremists over the past year with the help of U.S.-led airstrikes.

Security forces and Sunni militiamen who had been battling the extremists in Ramadi for months collapsed as IS fighters overran the city. The militants gained not only new territory 70 miles (115 kilometers) west of Baghdad, but also large stocks of weapons abandoned by the government forces as they fled.

The capture of Ramadi was a major blow to the U.S.-backed strategy against the Islamic State group. Defense Secretary Ash Carter said Sunday that Iraqi forces had “vastly outnumbered” the IS militants in Ramadi but “showed no will to fight.”

Saad al-Hadithi, a spokesman for Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, said the government was surprised by Carter’s remarks, and that the defense secretary “was likely given incorrect information.” Al-Abadi has called on Shiite militias to help Iraqi troops retake the Sunni province of Anbar. The militiamen have played a key role in clawing back territory from the IS group elsewhere in Iraq but rights groups accuse them of looting, destroying property and carrying out revenge attacks. Militia leaders deny the allegations.

May 31, 2015

CAIRO (AP) — Egyptian workers, using construction drills and cranes, began Sunday to demolish the former headquarters of ousted President Hosni Mubarak’s now-defunct party, a towering structure which was torched by protesters during the 2011 uprising that ended Mubarak’s rule.

The military’s corps of engineers started bringing down the National Democratic Party’s headquarters — a prime piece of real-estate alongside the city’s central Tahrir square, adjacent to the Egyptian Museum and overlooking the Nile.

The fate of the 56-year old property — which originally housed the offices of the Cairo municipality — has been a contentious issue, with various government bodies bickering over its future. Rights groups and the family of the building’s architect have campaigned to stop the demolition.

Mahmoud M. Riad, the grandson of the architect and himself an architect, said the building was registered with the government as a landmark in the mid-2000s as one of the first to blend modernist architecture with art-deco, and Arab styles.

The demolition violates the law on dealing with registered landmarks, Riad said, explaining that an earlier attempt to demolish the building was stalled. “There are a lot of different factors that make this building an iconic one that needs to be preserved and adoptively used,” said Riad, who is collecting signatures on a petition to stop the demolition. “It is one of the most studied pan-Arab modernist buildings. It started a new wave by Egyptian architects who were trying to create a new identity.”

The deputy governor of Cairo told the state-owned Al-Ahram Online site that the municipality had issued the demolition permits. For protesters, the building was a charred reminder of the revolt against Mubarak’s 29-year reign. The building was set ablaze on Jan. 28, 2011, when protesters overwhelmed Mubarak’s police forces and took control of Tahrir Square.

“The NDP building was one of the last remaining physical reminders of the (2011) revolution,” activist Sherief Gaber tweeted. Lamenting the failure of the pro-democracy movement to take hold in Egypt, Gaber wrote: “The state is in the process of erasing even that.”

July 12, 2015

SREBRENICA, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) — A crowd of furious Bosnian Muslims jumped over fences and attacked Serbia’s prime minister with stones and water bottles on Saturday, marring the 20th anniversary commemorations of the Srebrenica massacre.

Aleksandar Vucic, a former ultranationalist during the Balkan wars but who is now a moderate with a pro-Western stance, escaped serious injury. He said he was hit in the face with a rock as the crowds chanted “Kill, Kill” and “Allahu akbar,” the Arabic phrase for “God is great.”

The scenes overshadowed what was supposed to be a day of reflection and remembrance for the 8,000 Muslim men and boys slaughtered at the hands of Serb forces in the eastern Bosnian town of Srebrenica. Two U.N. courts ruled that the killings constituted genocide.

Vucic is among the most hated individuals for Bosnian Muslims, with some viewing him in worse terms than late strongman Slobodan Milosevic. During the 1992-95 Bosnian war, Vucic was an ultranationalist politician in opposition to Milosevic, criticizing the Serb leader of leniency toward Bosnian Muslims.

Many Bosnian Muslims also still remember Vucic’s incendiary statement during the Balkan wars that for every dead Serb, 100 Muslims should be killed. Some in the crowd held a banner with the quote to remind him of his past.

Vucic’s security detail rushed him away, trying to protect him with bags, umbrellas and their raised arms from the projectiles raining down. His guards shoved through the angry crowd before pushing the prime minister inside an armored vehicle.

“We were attacked from all sides. It was well organized and prepared,” a visibly shaken Vucic said upon his quick return to Serbia. He blamed hooligan soccer groups from Serbia and Bosnia for initiating the attack.

“I heard Muslim people telling the attackers ‘why are you attacking him? It is not his fault. He had not done anything here.'” He added: “Except for my glasses, I’m missing nothing else.” Vucic, who came to represent Serbia at the commemoration in an apparent gesture of reconciliation, said after the attack that, “Today we are talking more about a bunch of fools rather than about the innocent victims of Srebrenica.” He added that his “arms of reconciliation remain stretched toward the Bosniaks.”

Serbia’s foreign ministry sent a protest note to Bosnia, saying the attack was a murder attempt against Vucic and urged that the culprits be caught. Although the crowd booed Vucic’s arrival, Srebrenica widows and mothers welcomed his presence.

“Only on truth we can build a future. You cannot deny the truth,” Kada Hotic, who lost her son and husband in the massacre, told Vucic before the ceremony. The Muslim Bosniak mayor of Srebrenica, Camil Durakovic, apologized to Vucic, saying he was “deeply disappointed” about the attack.

Tens of thousands of people came to the commemorations marking two decades since Europe’s worst massacre since the Holocaust. Foreign dignitaries urged the international community not to allow such atrocities to happen again and to call the crime “genocide.”

Serbia and Bosnian Serbs deny the killings were genocide, and claim that the death toll has been exaggerated. Dozens of foreign dignitaries — including former U.S. President Bill Clinton, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, Britain’s Princess Anne and Jordan’s Queen Noor.

“I grieve that it took us so long to unify … to stop this violence,” said Clinton, who was in office at the time of the massacre and whose administration led the NATO airstrikes against Serb positions. This ended the Bosnian war and the U.S. brokered a peace agreement.

Clinton said before the attack on Vucic: “I want to thank the prime minister of Serbia for having the courage to come here today and I think it is important that we acknowledge that.” U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson, who witnessed the attack, condemned the “deplorable acts of violence” against Vucic. He said it was “far removed from the spirit I felt at this dignified and solemn commemoration.”

It wasn’t the first time that top Serbian officials visited Srebrenica for commemorations. The former pro-democratic president, Boris Tadic, was there twice, including on the 10th anniversary of the massacre, and there were no major incidents.

During the war, the United Nations declared Srebrenica a safe haven for civilians. But on July 11, 1995, Serb troops overran the Muslim enclave. Some 15,000 men tried to flee through the woods toward government-held territory while others joined the town’s women and children in seeking refuge at the base of the Dutch U.N. troops.

The outnumbered Dutch troops could only watch as Serb soldiers rounded up about 2,000 men for killing and later hunted down and killed another 6,000 men in the woods. The United Nations admitted its failure to protect the town’s people and on Saturday, Bert Koenders, foreign minister of Netherland said that “the Dutch government shares responsibility” and that the U.N. must strengthen United Nations missions in the future.

“Nobody can undo what happened here but we mourn with you,” Koenders added. The 1992-95 war in Bosnia, pitting Christian Orthodox Serbs against Bosnian Muslims and Croatian Catholics, left more than 100,000 people dead and millions homeless. The Serbs, who wanted to remain in the Serb-led Yugoslavia, fought against the secession of Bosnia and Croatia from the former federation.

So far, remains of some 7,000 victims have been excavated from 93 graves or collected from 314 surface locations and identified through DNA technology. At the end of the ceremony Saturday, families laid the incomplete remains of 136 victims recently found in mass graves, including 19 teenagers.

“Most of the boys I played with are in these graves or in yet undiscovered mass graves,” the mayor, Durakovic, said. “With them lies my own childhood.”

AP writers Jovana Gec and Dusan Stojanovic contributed from Belgrade, Serbia.

July 11, 2015

SREBRENICA, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) — Tens of thousands of people are pouring into Srebrenica to mark the 20th anniversary of Europe’s worst massacre since the Holocaust and to attend the funeral of 136 newly found victims.

Dozens of foreign dignitaries — including former U.S. President Bill Clinton, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, Britain’s Princess Anne and Jordan’s Queen Noor — will join Saturday’s ceremony mourning the 8,000 Muslim men and boys killed in the eastern Bosnian town of Srebrenica after Bosnian Serb troops overran the U.N. protected enclave in July 1995. The crime was later defined as an act of genocide by two international courts.

Families will lay the remains of 136 victims to rest at a memorial center next to the graves of over 6,000 previously found in mass graves.

July 10, 2015

SREBRENICA, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) — A look back at the 1995 Srebrenica massacre in Bosnia.

THE TOWN AND ITS PEOPLE

Near the Serbian border, Srebrenica, or silver town, is named after the ore mined by the Romans. Its prewar population, with surrounding villages, was 36,666 — 27,572 Bosnian Muslims, the rest Bosnian Serbs and Croats. Now, most of the 10,000 people in the region are Serbs. They are mostly shunned by the 1,000 Muslim returnees.

SERB SIEGE OF SREBRENICA

Serb forces besieged the town at the start of the 1992-95 Bosnian war, shelling it and preventing U.N. food convoys from reaching it. The U.N. Security Council declared the town a safe haven protected by U.N. troops in April 1993, but the Serbs increased the pressure in July 1995. Muslim Bosnian fighters asked the 600 Dutch peacekeepers to give back weapons they had turned in, but were refused. Serb troops overran U.N. posts around the city and took about 30 peacekeepers hostage. The Dutch commander’s repeated requests for NATO airstrikes were either rejected or not acted upon.

SERBS TAKE SREBRENICA

Serb troops entered Srebrenica on July 11, 1995. After they raised their flag over the town, Dutch F-16 warplanes dropped two bombs on Serb positions. Further strikes were suspended after the Serbs threatened to kill their Dutch hostages and shell the refugees. By then, more than 20,000 Muslim Bosnians, mostly women, children and the elderly, had fled to the main Dutch base at Potocari, a Srebrenica suburb. Some 15,000 men and boys fled into the woods, trying to reach government-held territory.

On July 12, Serb troops moved into the U.N. compound and separated from the crowd about 2,000 men to be killed. The women were taken by buses and trucks to government-held territory. Dressed in U.N. uniforms and driving U.N. vehicles, Serb soldiers then hunted down about 6,000 Muslim men and boys in the woods and put them in front of firing squads.

KILLING BEGINS AT SREBRENICA

Captured Muslim Bosnian men and boys were brought to sites around Srebrenica and on July 13, 1995, Serb forces began killing them. One of the major massacre sites was the warehouse in the nearby village of Kravica, where Serbs killed 1,000 people in one night. Serb forces let the Dutch peacekeepers leave Srebrenica, but kept their weapons.

U.N. COUNTS THE SREBRENICA DEAD

The International Committee on Missing Persons listed around 8,000 Srebrenica residents — most of them males — as missing. The U.N. war crimes court considers them victims of the killing spree, labeling the crime as genocide. This qualification was confirmed by the International Court of Justice. So far, forensic experts have found and identified 6,930 bodies in 93 mass graves and on 314 on-surface locations in the area. The identification was done through DNA analysis. Of these, 6,241 have been buried at the Potocari Memorial Center for victims and another 136 will be laid to rest there on Saturday.

NATO AIRSTRIKES/PEACE DEAL

As news of the Srebrenica killings spread, NATO launched massive airstrikes against Serb military positions across the country in September 1995, forcing Serbs to negotiate a peace deal. The peace agreement brokered in Dayton, Ohio, in November 1995 recognized the territorial integrity of Bosnia, but divided it in two mini-states along ethnic lines.

July 09, 2015

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) — Thousands lined Sarajevo’s main street on Thursday as a huge truck bearing 136 coffins passed on its way to Srebrenica, where newly identified victims of Europe’s worst massacre since World War II will be buried on the 20th anniversary of the crime.

As the truck covered with a huge Bosnian flag and with hundreds of flowers tucked into the canvas rolled down the street covered with white rose petals, the sobbing of mothers, sisters and wives of the victims broke the silence.

It stopped in front of Bosnia’s presidency where the weeping crowd tucked more flowers into the canvas or simply approached it to touch it or caress the canvas that was hiding the remains of the victims found in mass graves and identified through DNA analysis.

On July 11, 1995, Serb troops overran the eastern Bosnian Muslim enclave of Srebrenica and executed some 8,000 Muslim men and boys. International courts labeled the crime an act of genocide. The remains of Srebrenica victims are still being found in mass graves. So far some 7,000 victims have been excavated from 93 graves or collected from 314 on-surface locations and identified through DNA technology.

Edin Nuhic, who lost numerous male relatives in the massacre, has not yet found the remains of all of them. “All we can do is to think about them, to remember them and to hope that one day this country will find a way to move on,” he said.

Among the 136 victims to be laid to rest on Saturday are 18 minors. The oldest victim, Jusuf Smajlovic, was 75 when he was executed and he will be laid to rest together with his 29-year-old grandson, Hebib.

The truck also carried the coffins of father Ismet Mehmedovic and his three sons Fikret, 20, Rifet, 18, and Salih, 16. Dozens of people walked next to the truck that was slowly passing through the capital, with more and more people tucking flowers in the canvas, the wheels and anywhere else they could reach.

In Srebrenica, organizers expect some 50,000 people to attend the funeral along with international delegations. The United States, which led the military intervention and brokered Bosnia’s peace agreement that ended the country’s war after it claimed 100,000 victims, will be represented by a delegation led by former President Bill Clinton.

July 10, 2015

DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) — A stampede in central Bangladesh left 22 women and a child dead early Friday when hundreds of people stormed the home of a businessman for a charity handout during the holy Muslim month of Ramadan, police said.

Another 30 were injured and rushed to a hospital in Mymensingh, a town 115 kilometers (70 miles) north of the capital, Dhaka, said police officer Kamrul Islam. The crowd gathered outside the tobacco businessman’s home around 4 a.m. and stormed in when the gates were opened to collect free clothing, Islam said. Twenty-two women and one child were killed, he said. Survivors said there were about 1,000 people, mostly elderly women, in front of the house.

Ambia Begum, 45, went with seven female relatives at dawn. One of them died in the stampede. “Oh Allah, why did I come here? Why?” she wailed as the body of her 60-year-old relative was retrieved. The businessman distributes clothes every year ahead of Eid al-Fitr, the festival marking the end of Ramadan.

Authorities detained six people, including the businessman, who did not request police presence at his house for the distribution. Stampedes are common at religious places and during charity handouts in South Asian countries.

June 12, 2015

BAKU, Azerbaijan (AP) — A journalist jailed in Azerbaijan has criticized the country for corruption and human rights violations on the day the first European Games get underway in the capital, Baku.

Khadija Ismayilova was imprisoned last year after investigating corruption allegedly involving President Ilham Aliyev. Activists say the jailing was part of a wider crackdown on opposition ahead of the games, the continent’s version of the Olympics.

“The truth is that Azerbaijan is in the midst of a human rights crisis. Things have never been worse,” says Ismayilova’s letter, released Thursday by the PEN organization. “As those at the top continue to profit from corruption, ordinary people are struggling to work, struggling to live, struggling for freedom.”

The organization said her letter was smuggled from prison in pieces. “I am carrying on my struggle here, from jail. My investigations into corruption continue, thanks to the help of dedicated colleagues,” wrote Ismayilova, who worked for the U.S. government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. “I have been punished for speaking out from jail, placed into solitary confinement, and prevented from seeing my family and lawyers.”

Ismayilova was convicted of libel and accused of tax evasion and inciting a colleague to commit suicide. The cases have been dismissed by critics as an attempt to intimidate independent journalists. Protests against Azerbaijan’s human rights record took place in cities around the world Friday in the hours leading up to the opening ceremony for the European Games, the largest sports event ever held in the country.

In the Azerbaijani capital, Baku, where demonstrations against the government are subject to numerous restrictions, opposition groups did not announce any protests ahead of the opening ceremony.

Saturday, 11 July 2015

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has offered his condolences to the families of thousands of Bosnian civilians murdered during the 1995 Srebrenica massacre.

His comments came in a written statement on Saturday, the 20th anniversary of the genocide. Erdogan described the incident as one of the most “disgraceful” events in the history of humanity.

“On that day, whatever pain you experienced there, believe me, we felt the same thing from here in our hearts,” Erdogan said.

“Today, without forgetting the past, we are responsible for building a future with peace…where similar tragedies are not seen,” he added.

Two decades ago in July, towards the end of Bosnia’s 1992-95 war, a town called Srebrenica in the eastern part of the former Yugoslav country witnessed the murder of at least 8,000 Bosnian men and boys.

Along with the forced deportation of around 30,000 women from their land, the incident became the worst mass murder in postwar Europe.

“We are dreaming of a world, where children are not killed while they are flying a kite on a coast, while sleeping in their mother’s arms or playing with their children. There is no doubt that the United Nations Security Council countries and international and regional powers have big responsibilities on this point,” Erdogan said.

Erdogan thanked politicians and civil societies which had contributed in bringing those responsible for the massacre to account.

In his statement, the president said that Turkey had exerted efforts to provide stability and trust in the Balkans especially in Bosnia-Herzegovina, adding that it would continue to do so.

“Our wish and prayer now is also an end of tragedies, which the children of Iraq, Yemen, Palestine, Egypt, Libya, Afghanistan and Somalia experience.”

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/europe/19790-turkish-president-pays-tribute-to-srebrenica-dead.