Archive for June, 2016


June 01, 2016

BAGHDAD (AP) — The U.N. children’s fund on Wednesday issued a stark warning to Iraqi troops and Islamic State militants in the battle for Fallujah to spare the children, the most vulnerable among the tens of thousands of civilians who remain trapped by the fighting for control of this city west of Baghdad.

Backed by aerial support from the U.S.-led coalition and paramilitary forces mainly made up of Shiite militias, Iraqi government troops more than a week ago launched a military operation to recapture Fallujah which has been under control of the extremist group for more than two years.

As the battled unfolded — with Iraqi forces this week pushing into the city’s southern sections after securing surrounding towns and villages — more than 50,000 people are believed to be trapped inside the Sunni majority city, about 65 kilometers (40 miles) west of Baghdad.

The UNICEF estimated the number of the children trapped with their families inside the city at about 20,000, warning that they face a dire humanitarian situation, in addition to the risk of forced recruitment into the fighting by the IS militants.

“Children who are forcibly recruited into the fighting see their lives and futures jeopardized as they are forced to carry and use arms, fighting an adults’ war,” the organization said in a statement. It called on “all parties to protect children inside Fallujah” and “provide safe passage to those wishing to leave the city.”

Fallujah was the first large city in Iraq to fall to IS and it is the last major urban area controlled by the extremist group in western Iraq. The Sunni-led militants still control the country’s second-largest city, Mosul, in the north, as well as smaller towns and patches of territory in the country’s west and north.

The fight for Fallujah is expected to be protracted because the Islamic State group has had more than two years to dig in. Hidden bombs are believed to be strewn throughout the city, and the presence of trapped civilians will limit the use of supporting airstrikes.

Advertisements

May 30, 2016

The Iraqi army is reported to have suffered heavy losses during the sixth day of an assault to retake the city of Fallujah from Daesh. As many as ten Iraqi soldiers and allied militiamen were killed in a suicide bombing in the south-east of the city, Al-Jazeera has reported. Seven militiamen were also killed in another attack by the militant group near Amiriyah Al-Fallujah, to the west of Baghdad.

Fierce battles have been reported by witnesses in the town of Saqlawiyah, north-west of Fallujah, especially in Alboshgeul, where the militants attacked Iraqi troops with car bombs. The Iraqi army has advanced towards Fallujah from the north-east and reached Alsijir, which now stands between it and the city’s northern neighborhoods.

Army sources said that 40 soldiers and militiamen were killed and others were wounded, including a very senior officer, in a surprise attack by Daesh against Heit, in the west of Al-Anbar Province. The sources added that militants had crossed the Euphrates in the dead of night and launched an attack against the city, 30 kilometers west of Ramadi, and now controlled several neighborhoods. Dozens of families have been forced to flee from the fighting.

The Iraqi forces, with air support from the international coalition, pushed Daesh to withdraw from Heit more than a month ago.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20160530-iraqi-army-suffers-substantial-losses-in-fallujah/.

May 27, 2016

Scores of civilians have been killed in the ongoing Fallujah operation as a result of the Iraqi army’s airstrikes, the head of the Iraqi parliament’s human rights committee said today.

In an interview with the Anadolu Agency, Arshad Al-Salihi said tens of thousands of civilians live in Fallujah and suffer because of Daesh. They are also struggling to survive amid the random airstrikes by the Iraqi forces.

“These people are stuck between Daesh and the Iraqi army’s airstrikes,” Al-Salihi said, asserting that the government has not provided civilians a safe exit route from the area.

On Monday, Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar Al-Abadi announced the launch of a military campaign to regain control of Fallujah from Daesh with the participation of the Iraqi army, counter-terrorism units, the federal police, the Popular Mobilisation Forces and tribal fighters.

“It would be better for the civilians of Mosul and Tal Afar to abandon both cities for the time being,” Al-Salihi said, saying they may face the same fate of Fallujah’s civilians during similar operations.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20160527-iraqi-mp-army-airstrikes-are-killing-civilians-in-fallujah/.

Mohammed A. Salih

May 23, 2016

Iraqi security forces have launched Operation Break Terrorism in collaboration with the Shiite-dominated Popular Mobilization Units and local Sunni tribal mobilization forces to drive the Islamic State (IS) from the key town of Fallujah, the last major IS stronghold in western Anbar province.

Fallujah, long a bastion of anti-government insurgent groups, was one of the first areas in Iraq to fall to IS and its allies in January 2014, months before the group overran Mosul and other Sunni-dominated parts of the country.

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi ordered the launch of the operation in the early hours of May 23, saying, “There is no option for Daesh [IS] except to flee,” referring to the group by its common Arabic acronym.

The operation was launched from the southeast, southwest, northwest and northern flanks of Fallujah, according to Karim al-Nuri, a spokesman for the mobilization units who spoke to Al-Monitor via phone from the Karmah area to the southeast of Fallujah, some 60 kilometers (37 miles) west of Baghdad.

“Their [IS] resistance has not been as heavy as we have been expecting,” said Nuri. “They have been relying on vehicle-borne suicide attacks, planted bombs and snipers so far.”

IS supporters’ accounts on Twitter circulated what appeared to be an official announcement from IS’ Fallujah Wilaya, which claimed that 16 Iraqi forces were killed in a suicide car bomb attack east of Fallujah.

Nuri said that over 10,000 mobilization unit forces have been taking “an active part in the battle,” adding that his forces are cooperating with Iraqi security forces as well as tribal Sunni fighters. The Shiite paramilitaries have surrounded Fallujah since last summer.

The US-led coalition also carried out seven airstrikes in the Fallujah area between May 14 and May 20 in preparation for the assault.

US forces are currently involved in Operation Break Terrorism by advising Iraqi forces. But Col. Steve Warren, the US military spokesman in Baghdad, has told Fox News that the US-led coalition is not going to “drop bombs in support of the Shiite militias” who are based on the outskirts of Fallujah. The United States has been worried about the involvement of Shiite paramilitaries in offensives in Sunni areas because those forces are largely supported by Iran.

According to Warren, between 500 and 1,000 IS fighters are believed to have remained inside Fallujah.

No figures have been released by Iraqi authorities about the overall number of forces taking part in the battle of Fallujah, but some Iraqi news outlets have pointed out that as many as 20,000 federal police units have also joined the operation.

Iraqi forces appear to have made some progress. Local media reported that Iraqi forces killed Abu Hamza, IS governor of Fallujah, and another senior leader known as Abu Amr al-Ansari on May 23. Gen. Abdulwahab al-Saedi, the commander of the Fallujah operation, said May 23 that IS forces have fled the battlefield in the Karmah and Saqlawiyah areas in the eastern and northern sides of Fallujah. Saedi also told Iraqi news media that Iraqi forces had taken the district of Karmah, 13 kilometers (8 miles) east of Fallujah on the first day of the operation.

The attack on Fallujah by Iraqi forces came after an important victory in the nearby town of Rutba in Anbar on May 19. In December, Iraqi forces also recaptured Anbar’s provincial capital, Ramadi, from IS.

Fallujah is now the last major urban center in Anbar still under the control of IS jihadis.

“Taking Fallujah will be a big blow to IS,” Ahmed Ali, a senior fellow at the American University of Iraq-Sulaimani’s Institute of Regional and International Studies (IRIS), told Al-Monitor.

“Strategically, [the success of this operation will mean] IS will not be as close to Baghdad as now, as Fallujah is the strongest IS-controlled point to Baghdad,” he said.

But pushing IS out of Fallujah will not mean the end of IS in Anbar province, which occupies around one-third of Iraq’s area. Ali believes the extremist group will most likely relocate to the vast deserts of Anbar, “which will be very difficult to control.”

Prior to the launch of the operation, the Iraqi military called on Fallujah’s residents to evacuate the town. A day before the offensive, the town’s mayor had told the official Iraqi news agency, NINA, that over 50,000 civilians were still trapped inside the town.

An important element of the Fallujah operation is the relationship between the Shiite Popular Mobilization Units and the local Sunni forces. In the past, local Sunnis and rights groups accused the mobilization units of abusing Sunnis in areas such as Tikrit and Diyala.

But Nuri said there is no reason for concern now.

“We are fighting with [Sunni] tribal forces from the area and this is the biggest testament of the level of trust between us,” Nuri said.

Amid the political turmoil that has engulfed Iraq in recent months and culminated in attacks by angry protesters on Abadi’s and parliament’s offices, a victory in Fallujah will be a boost to the embattled prime minister, given the symbolic and strategic value of the town.

“A battlefield victory will bolster Abadi’s position and help him dictate the points of the political agenda in Iraq,” said Ali.

Source: al-Monitor.

Link: http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2016/05/iraq-fallujah-liberation-operation-isis.html.

June 15, 2016

Egyptian authorities are to build a new prison in Qalyubia Governorate, north of Cairo, the third to be built this year and the eleventh since the military coup three years ago, the Anadolu Agency reported yesterday.

Human rights groups have said that there are 40 prisons in Egypt, these along with police stations, military basis and secret prisons are all used to hold prisoners in terrible conditions.

Since the military coup against the first freely elected Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, Egyptian authorities have increased arbitrary arrests based on political opinion.

The Arab Organisation for Human Rights said that the number of prisoners held in Egyptian jails and detention centers has reached more than 41,000.

Egyptian authorities have said that the country’s constitution dictates how prisoners are treated and that they adhere to international laws, a claim human rights groups deny.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20160615-egypt-to-build-11th-prison-in-less-than-3-years/.

June 15, 2016

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan yesterday renewed his rejection of the establishment of any political entity on the Turkish-Syrian borders, Al-Resalah newspaper reported.

“We will reject with all our political, diplomatic and military power the formation of any entity on our borders with Syria,” he said at an iftar at the Presidential Palace.

“The State will target terrorists with an iron hand, but it will show the merciful face to the people in the region [of anti-terror operations].”

“No one has the right to leave Syrian, Iraqi, Afghan, Libyan and African women and children facing their fate in the dark of the Mediterranean,” he added.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20160615-erdogan-rejects-formation-of-political-entity-on-syrian-turkish-borders/.

June 10, 2016

ISTANBUL (AP) — A Kurdish militant group on Friday claimed responsibility for a car-bomb attack in Istanbul this week that killed 11 people, saying it was just the beginning of a war. In a statement posted online, the Kurdistan Freedom Falcons also warned tourists that Turkey was no longer secure for them.

“You are not our targets but Turkey is no longer safe for you,” it read. “We have just started the war.” The Kurdistan Freedom Falcons is considered an offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, and has carried out several attacks in the past.

It denounced the ruling Justice and Development Party, which was founded by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, for its “wild war” against Kurds. Turkey’s southeast plunged into violence last summer when a 2½-year fragile truce between the state and Kurdish rebels collapsed.

The rush hour car-bomb attack on Tuesday morning targeted a police vehicle in Istanbul and injured 36 people in addition to those killed. Istanbul’s bombing was followed on Wednesday by a suicide attack in the southeastern town of Midyat that killed three police officers and three civilians.

On Thursday, The PKK said the Midyat attack was carried out by one of its “comrades,” code name Dirok Amed. The authorities were quick to report they suspected Kurdish militants in both cases. The claims of responsibility confirmed those suspicions.

The Kurdistan Freedom Falcons, also known as TAK, was also behind two deadly suicide bombings this year in Ankara, the capital. The PKK routinely attacks military and police targets in the southeast, where large-scale security operations to flush out Kurdish rebels have left hundreds dead, displaced entire communities and done extensive damage to urban infrastructure.

The PKK, labeled a terror organization by Turkey and its allies, is fighting for autonomy for Turkey’s Kurds in the southeast. The decades-long conflict has claimed 40,000 lives. In the past year, Turkey has been hit by a series of bombings — including two in Istanbul targeting tourists — which the authorities have blamed on the Islamic State group. The attacks have increased in scale and frequency, scaring off tourists and hurting the economy, which relies heavily on tourism revenues.

In a bid to curb such attacks, the government is mulling measures to keep tabs on the sale of materials made to use improvised explosive devices, such as gas canisters commonly used for cooking, officials said Friday.

The announcement came a day after the agriculture minister said the government has temporarily suspended the sale of fertilizers containing nitrate that can be used to make explosives.

Suzan Fraser in Ankara contributed reporting.

May 29, 2016

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkey’s new government, led by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s loyal ally, has easily won a vote of confidence in parliament. Legislators voted 315-138 on Sunday to approve Prime Minister Binali Yildirim’s government.

Yildirim, 60, replaced former premier Ahmet Davutoglu, who stepped down after falling out of favor with Erdogan over a range of issues. They included Davutoglu’s apparent lack of enthusiasm for constitutional changes, pressed by Erdogan, which would transform his largely ceremonial presidency into one where the president wields more power.

Yildirim has promised to immediately work toward passing the controversial constitutional changes demanded by Erdogan. On Sunday, Yildirim took a more unifying tone, saying the new government would serve the whole nation and advance democracy, human rights and freedoms in Turkey.

May 24, 2016

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday approved a new government formed by one of his most trusted allies, who immediately asserted his intention to institute constitutional reforms that would expand the powers of the presidency.

Binali Yildirim, 60, formerly minister of transport and communications, replaces Ahmet Davutoglu, who stepped down on Sunday amid a range of differences with the president, including Davutoglu’s apparently less-than-enthusiastic stance toward an overhaul of the constitution to give the largely ceremonial presidency executive powers.

“We will immediately start work to achieve a new constitution, including a presidential system,” Yildirim told lawmakers of his Justice and Development Party, or AKP, in his first speech after taking office.

“Our priority is to make the constitution in harmony with the de-facto situation regarding our president’s ties to the people,” Yildirim said. Many fear the presidential system that Erdogan seeks will concentrate too many powers in the hands of the Turkish strongman, who has adopted an increasing authoritarian style of governing, has cracked down on media and government critics and is accused of meddling in the running of the government in breach of the constitution.

The new government — which Yildirim is widely believed to have formed in consultation with Erdogan — includes nine new names, although most ministers from Davutoglu’s previous Cabinet retained key portfolios.

They include Mevlut Cavusoglu, who remains foreign minister, and Mehmet Simsek, the deputy minister who heads economic affairs. Volkan Bozkir, the minister in charge of relations with the European Union, was replaced by Omer Celik, a founding member of the AKP who is known to be close to the president. Erdogan’s son-in-law, Berat Albayrak, kept his position as energy minister.

In a clear sign that Erdogan would continue to influence government, he was scheduled to chair the new Cabinet’s first meeting at his palace on Wednesday. Domestically, the political reshuffling takes place as Turkey faces serious security threats including increased attacks by Kurdish and Islamic State militants. It is also comes as parliament is in disarray after a government-backed constitutional amendment has left 138 lawmakers vulnerable to prosecution.

Internationally, Turkey is also facing a delicate moment in its relations with the European Union. The implementation of a Turkey-EU deal to help stem the influx of migrants to Europe — which Davutoglu had helped negotiate — has repeatedly come into question.

Erdogan has warned that the migrant deal could collapse if the Europeans renege on their pledges to grant Turkish citizens the right to visa-free travel. The EU says Ankara must meet all of the EU’s conditions to secure visa-free travel, including narrowing the definition of “terrorist” — which Erdogan says is out of the question.

Yildirim has served as transport and communications minister since 2002 with a short interruption in 2015. The engineering-trained politician who is a founding member of the ruling party, has been credited for his role in developing major infrastructure projects that have helped buoy Turkey’s economy and boost the party’s popularity.

Critics, including the leader of the main opposition party, have accused him of corruption — an accusation Yildirim rejects.

Dominique Soguel in Istanbul contributed.

May 23, 2016

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — German Chancellor Angela Merkel told Turkey’s president on Monday that Ankara must fulfill all the European Union’s conditions to secure visa-free travel for its citizens, but Turkey responded that it would suspend agreements with the EU if the bloc does not keep its promises.

The EU says Turkey must narrow its definition of “terrorist” and “terrorist act.” The bloc is concerned that journalists and political dissenters could be targeted. But Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said that is out of the question.

Speaking to reporters after a meeting with Erdogan on the sidelines of the World Humanitarian Summit meeting in Istanbul, Merkel said that she doesn’t expect the visa waiver to be implemented at the beginning of July as was originally hoped.

Merkel, who is facing pressure at home to be tough with Erdogan, also expressed concern about a move to strip legislators in Turkey of their immunity from prosecution. But she underlined her commitment to the EU-Turkey deal aimed at stemming Europe’s migrant influx, arguing that its success is a matter of “mutual interest.”

The EU has offered Turkey a visa waiver as incentive — along with up to 6 billion euros ($6.8 billion) for Syrian refugees and fast-track EU membership talks — to get it to stop migrants leaving for Europe. As part of the agreement, the EU planned to accelerate the introduction of visa-free entry for Turks, with a target date of June 30.

Turkey has fulfilled most of 72 conditions but Erdogan’s refusal to revise anti-terror laws has emerged as a stumbling block. Erdogan has increased his belligerent statements against the EU in recent weeks, including accusing it of supporting an outlawed Kurdish rebel group, and has warned that the entire migrant deal could collapse if the Europeans renege on their pledges.

On Monday, his adviser on economic issues complained of “double standards” by the EU and demanded that Brussels keep its side of the bargain. “So long as they continue with this attitude, Turkey very soon will make very radical and clear decisions.” Yigit Bulut, the adviser, told state-owned TRT television.

The prime minister of Luxembourg, Xavier Bettel, told reporters in Istanbul that Turkey had to fulfill all obligations for the visa-free travel. An official from Erdogan’s office said however, that during their meeting, the Turkish and German leaders agreed that more talks should be held between Turkey and EU institutions over the visa waiver deal to address Turkey’s “sensitivities and priorities.”

In a statement sent to journalists, the official said that Erdogan and Merkel concurred that the migration deal between Turkey and the EU was “fruitful” and that the cooperation should continue. The official cannot be named in line with government regulations.

Merkel said she “made clear … that we need the fulfillment of all points to grant visa liberalization.” Her comments were broadcast on German television. Erdogan “set out his difficulties in the fight against terrorism” and said that “changing terrorism laws is not up for debate for him at the moment,” Merkel said.

She added that “everything must be done to keep talking.” Merkel has faced criticism at home, including from within her own conservative bloc, over the deal with Turkey and a perceived unwillingness to address concerns over Erdogan’s increasingly autocratic behavior. Several high-ranking German lawmakers called on Merkel to be outspoken during her trip.

“We need independent justice, we need independent media and we need a strong parliament,” she said Monday. “And of course the lifting of the immunity of a quarter of the lawmakers in the Turkish Parliament is a cause for deep concern — I made this clear to the Turkish president.”

Merkel said that “the fight against the (Kurdish rebels) PKK is important and necessary, but on the other hand everything must be done so that people of Kurdish origin have a fair chance in Turkey to lead a life that allows them to participate in the prosperity and development of the country.”

During her trip to Istanbul, Merkel met various representatives of Turkish society, including the head of the Turkish lawyers’ association, the editor of Hurriyet Daily News, a local Human Rights Watch official and a professor of Kurdish origin who is a constitutional expert, German government spokeswoman Christiane Wirtz said in Berlin.

Moulson reported from Berlin. Dominique Soguel in Istanbul contributed.