Archive for July 5, 2016

By Geoff Ziezulewicz

May 10, 2016

WASHINGTON, May 10 (UPI) — Pakistani officials are pushing back against concerns from U.S. lawmakers over a planned $700 million F-16 fighter jet sale.

The country needs the eight F-16s for its battle against terrorists, Pakistani Foreign Secretary Aizaz Chaudhry said Saturday, according to Pakistani newspaper Dawn. As such, Chaudhry said, no conditions should be attached to the jet sale, Dawn reported.

The deal initially called for Pakistan to foot roughly $270 million of the $699 million price tag, with the rest coming from the U.S. Foreign Military Financing fund, according to Dawn.

But the proposed plan, announced on the U.S. side in February, has come under fire from U.S. politicians concerned over Pakistan’s track record battling Islamist extremism and how such a sale could affect tensions with neighboring India. The deal would also include training, maintenance and logistical support.

U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Bob Corker, R-Tenn., allowed the F-16 sale to go forward in February, but he used his power as a chairman to block any U.S. help in bankrolling the deal, Politico reported.

Senators from both sides of the aisle questioned the wisdom of selling the F-16s to Pakistan.

“The Pakistanis have been an unreliable partner over the course of the last 10 years in the fight against extremism,” Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., said on the Senate floor. “But what I worry more is that these F-16s will provide cover, will provide substitute for truly meaningful action inside Pakistan to take on the roots of extremism.”

Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., insisted the deal go through as planned. “It is pretty standard to help with the financing, especially of countries that one, are not very wealthy, and two are our allies,” McCain said. “And it’s important they have these capabilities.”

U.S. House members have also expressed concerns about the sale recently.

U.S. Rep. Matt Salmon, R-Ariz., criticized “the Administration’s recent attempt to subsidize with taxpayer dollars the sale of F-16s to Pakistan” during an April 27 Foreign Affairs Committee hearing.

“Many Members of Congress, including me, seriously question the judgment and timing of such a sale,” Salmon said in his opening statement. “Additionally, India-Pakistan tensions remain elevated, and some question whether the F-16s could ultimately be used against India or other regional powers, rather than the terrorists as Pakistan has asserted.”

Source: United Press International (UPI).


July 3, 2016

Hundreds of families have fled northern Iraq as fighting rages on between Iraqi forces and Daesh militants, according to the Ministry of Migration and Displacement.

In a Saturday statement, ministry official Muhannad Saleh said 455 families have fled the northern Salahuddin province in the past two days.

“The ministry is pursuing efforts to evacuate and welcome families displaced from liberated areas,” he said.

Earlier this month, the Iraqi army launched an offensive north of the Salahuddin province with a view to recapturing Daesh-held areas.

The city of Sharqat is currently the only remaining area controlled by Daesh in the Salahuddin province.

According to Salahuddin mayor Ahmed al-Jabouri, more than 350,000 people are still trapped in Sharqat. Efforts are underway to liberate the area,” he said, going on to call for providing aid to these families.

UN estimates that more than two million Iraqis will flee northern Iraq following an expected Iraqi offensive to recapture Mosul from Daesh. Last week, the Iraqi army, backed by U.S.-led coalition airstrikes, retook the city of Fallujah from Daesh after a more than one-month battle.

Iraq has suffered a devastating security vacuum since mid-2014, when Daesh captured Mosul and overran large swathes of territory in the northern and western parts of the country.

According to the UN, more than 3.4 million people are now displaced in Iraq — more than half of them children — while more than 10 million are in desperate need of humanitarian assistance.

Source: Middle East Monitor.


Friday 1 July 2016

Suadad al-Salhy

BAGHDAD – Hundreds of Iraqi soldiers were killed and more than 3,000 wounded during the five-week battle to recapture Fallujah from the Islamic State (IS) group, Middle East Eye can reveal.

Since the beginning of Iraq’s war against IS in June 2014, when almost a third of the country’s territory was seized after the dramatic collapse of the Iraqi army, officials have either refused to comment or downplayed the numbers of casualties among Iraqi security forces.

General Hadi Erzaje, deputy of the Fallujah military operations commander, previously told MEE: “We have casualties, but not that many. We are involved in fighting so we cannot reveal such information.”

But a senior security official speaking on condition of anonymity told MEE that at least 394 members of the security forces were killed and 3,308 wounded in the battle, which started on 23 May and ended earlier this month.

Medical and other military sources put the death toll even higher, telling MEE this week that more than 900 soldiers were killed in the battle.

These numbers do not include members of militias slain while fighting in Fallujah. Nor have Iraqi officials released figures for deaths of Fallujah residents. More than 80,000 residents are estimated to have been displaced during the fighting.

The same sources said that 35,000 Iraqi forces, backed by multi-sect paramilitary troops and the US-led international coalition against IS, killed thousands of militants during the offensive.

The recapture of the city represents a “devastating blow” to the organisation, analysts and military officers told MEE.

A US military official told the Military Times on Thursday that the true size of IS’s fighting force was in question after Fallujah.

For at least the second time in recent weeks, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi on Sunday announced the liberation of Fallujah and raised the Iraqi flag on government buildings in the city center.

But until now, it has been unclear what the cost of the campaign has been for Iraqis.

‘A nuclear bomb’

Most of the security forces who died in Fallujah were killed either by suicide car bombs or rocket attacks used by the militants on a wide scale towards the end of the battle to block the advancing forces, sources said.

The Iraqi Counter-Terrorism Squad, an elite fighting unit, had the lowest number of deaths. The highest casualties, military sources said, were among federal police troops who fought without air cover in the northern region of Fallujah and also secured the city center.

“We are not army or counter-terrorism services, we are federal police… We do not have tanks or jets. We were fighting in our flesh,” General Lieutenant Ra’ad Jawdat, the commander of Iraqi federal police, told MEE.

Jawdat said federal police operating in the city’s northern hub were attacked by 90 suicide car bombs.

“If we put them together, their impact would be equal to a nuclear bomb,” he said.

Jawdat would not comment on how many police died in Fallujah.

Militant casualties

Fallujah – which is also called the City of Mosques after the hundreds of places of worship built in the era of Saddam Hussein, who encouraged Sunni Muslim merchants to build the religious establishments tax-free – had been the base of most of IS’s senior commanders in Iraq and Syria.

Some experts say its capture may mark the beginning of the end for IS in Iraq, although the group still controls the key northern city of Mosul.

“Fallujah was the brain of the insect,” Hisham al-Hashimi, an Iraqi expert on armed Islamic groups and a governmental security adviser, told MEE.

Hashimi and most Iraqi officials that MEE spoke with say that Fallujah was the weak flank of Baghdad, Babel, Karbala, Najaf, Ssalahuddin and Anbar provinces and was used as a launching pad for most suicide attacks that targeted these provinces over the past decade.

Iraqi military sources told MEE that at least 2,500 IS fighters were killed in Fallujah and its suburbs. Another 2,186 were arrested by Iraqi forces trying to flee the city among displaced families.

“They [IS militants] left the city with the fleeing families. Some of them used fake IDs, others were disguised in women’s clothing,” General Erzaje told MEE.

The number of arrested militants may increase because Iraqi security authorities are still screening the records of another 6,000 detainees held by local security authorities in temporary detention sites near Fallujah, Erzaje said.

The number of casualties on both sides is also expected to increase as current figures do not include those deemed missing or the bodies of soldiers and militants still in the city, the sources said.

Despite the losses, some analysts said the recapture of Fallujah should be seen as a triumph that has raised the morale of Iraqi forces.

“Fallujah was the dynamo of the organisation. Whoever won the battle in Fallujah, won the war,” Hashimi said.

“Now, we can say Daesh [IS] lost the war. When it lost Fallujah, it lost the war in Iraq.”

Source: Middle East Eye.


June 13, 2016

BAGHDAD (AP) — An aid group says 4,000 more people have fled the Islamic State-held city of Fallujah in Iraq after government forces retook a key road to the IS stronghold over the weekend. The Norwegian Refugee Council, which works with refugees and internally displaced Iraqis, said on Monday that this brings the total number of residents who have fled Fallujah since the Iraqi offensive to retake the city started in late May to 27,580.

Aid groups estimate that 50,000 civilians still remain trapped inside Fallujah, which has been under IS control for over two years — the last major city in western Iraq still held by the extremist group.

NRC says some refugees reported that IS militants are demanding payments of 150,000 Iraqi Dinars, around $130, per person to let them leave.

June 05, 2016

NAYMIYAH, Iraq (AP) — Iraqi forces secured the southern edge of the Islamic State group stronghold of Fallujah on Sunday, two weeks after the launch of an operation to recapture the city, the Iraqi special forces commander overseeing the operation said.

Iraqi special forces, also known as its counterterrorism forces, have secured the largely agricultural southern neighborhood of Naymiyah under cover of U.S.-led coalition airstrikes, Lt. Gen. Abdel Wahab al-Saadi said. Special forces are now poised to enter the main city, al-Saadi said.

The Fallujah operation coincides with a twin offensive on IS-strongholds in neighboring Syria. Syrian Kurdish forces are advancing on Manbij, an IS-held city controlling the supply route between the Turkish border and the town of Raqqa, the militants’ de facto capital. At the same time, Syrian government troops are advancing on Raqqa from the south.

The slow-moving Iraqi operation was announced in May. An array of troops including Iraqi military divisions, the federal police and the largely Shiite militia groups, known as the Popular Mobilization Forces, had cleared IS from the majority of Fallujah’s suburbs.

On Monday, Iraq’s elite special forces began pushing into the city center, but they have faced stiff resistance as Fallujah has been under IS control for more than two years, and the militants have been able to erect complex defenses.

Tall dirt berms dot the dusty fields to the city’s south. A single column of counterterrorism Humvees snaked up toward a row of low lying houses that mark the beginning of the main city. “VIBED! VIBED!” shouted an Iraqi air commander from a small mobile base on Fallujah’s southern edge. Using an acronym for a car bomb, the Iraqi special forces officer called to Australian coalition forces over a hand-held radio. Moments later, a plume of white, then black smoke appeared on the horizon. Commanders at the scene said the explosion was created by a coalition rocket destroying the incoming car bomb.

Car bombs were once the most deadly form of IS counterattack for Iraq’s special forces, who have taken the lead in a number of anti-IS operations, including in the cities of Tikrit and Ramadi. Al-Saadi, who also commanded the Tikrit operation, says coalition air power in Fallujah has prevented car bombs from inflicting casualties on his forces, but they have still succeeded in slowing progress.

“We are expecting many more,” once inside the city’s more urban neighborhoods, al-Saadi said. Fallujah is one of the last strongholds of IS in Iraq. While the militants once held nearly a third of the country’s territory, their grip has slipped to less than half that, according to the Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi. IS still controls patches of territory in northern and western Iraq, as well as its second largest city, Mosul.

June 4, 2016

The government in Baghdad announced on Friday that it was shutting down social media from midnight until further notice, has reported.

“The leadership issued an order to shut down the social media platforms in all the areas across the capital,” a security source explained. No further details were provided.

The shutdown was put in place due to fears that demonstrations calling for reform might have been organised on Friday evening. The security services also closed six main streets leading to the Green Zone in the center of Baghdad, where large numbers of troops and police were deployed in the early morning.

At the time of writing, no news was available about whether or not the shutdown is still in place.

Source: Middle East Monitor.



KILIS, Turkey

Millions of Syrians living in Turkey will have a chance to become citizens of the country that gave them shelter, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced on Saturday.

Speaking in the southern Turkish province of Kilis, which borders Syria and hosts more than 120,000 Syrians, Erdogan said that many of the Syrians now in Turkey want to become citizens of the Republic of Turkey.

“There are steps our Interior Ministry has taken on the issue,” he said.

“We will give the chance to [acquire] citizenship by helping out these brothers and sisters by monitoring through offices set up by the ministry,” Erdogan said.

Around 2.7 million Syrians who have fled the civil war in their country are being sheltered at camps inside Turkey.

Referring to the Syrian crisis, which turned violent in 2011 when regime leader Bashar al-Assad cracked down on peaceful protesters, Erdogan said the Syrians had been prevented from governing themselves.

“The organization called Daesh is, in fact, a puppet put forward with this aim. The organization called the PYD, [and] the YGP are subcontractors which were empowered for the same purpose.”

Stating that just as Daesh does not represent Muslims, the PYD and YPG likewise do not represent Kurds, Erdogan said those groups “are tools used for dirty designs on the region by those who hold their leashes in their hands.”

About Turkey’s attitude toward Syrians, Erdogan said: “Even today we are defending the same principles that we defended six years ago. We are saying the same things.”

Syria has remained locked in a vicious civil war since early 2011, when the Assad regime cracked down on pro-democracy protests with unexpected ferocity.

Since then, more than 250,000 people have been killed and more than 10 million displaced, according to UN figures.

The conflict in Syria has now driven more than 4 million people – a sixth of the country’s population – to seek sanctuary in neighboring countries, making it the largest refugee crisis for a quarter of a century, according to the UN.

Source: Anadolu Agency.


July 02, 2016

ISTANBUL (AP) — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared Saturday that Syrian President Bashar Assad was a “more advanced terrorist” than the Islamic State group, despite the deadly attack on Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport that Turkish officials blame on IS.

Speaking in the town of Kilis near the border with Syria, Erdogan said the Syrian leader was responsible for the deaths of some 600,000 of his own citizens and was the root cause of the war in Syria. “He is a more advanced terrorist than a terrorist from the PYD or the YPG,” Erdogan said. “He is a more advanced terrorist than Daesh.” Erdogan was referring to Syrian Kurdish militia, which Ankara accuses of being a terror organization because of their affiliation with Turkey’s Kurdish rebels, and to the IS group by its Arabic name.

Three militants armed with assault rifles and suicide bombs attacked one of the world’s busiest airports on Tuesday night, killing at least 44 people. Although no one has claimed responsibility for the attack, Turkish officials say they believe it was the work of IS.

Turkish authorities have detained at least 24 people in raids in several Istanbul neighborhoods over possible connections to the attack. Seventeen other people were detained in the province of Gaziantep, the state-run Anadolu Agency reported.

Erdogan paid an unannounced visit to the airport on Saturday, saying a prayer in front of a memorial set up for the victims, which features the pictures of airport employees killed in the rampage. He later flew to Kilis, where the number of Syrian refugees is higher than the local Turkish population. IS militants have also attacked the town with cross-border rocket fire, killing 21 people there since January.

Erdogan said countries he did not name were supporting the Syrian Kurdish militia and the IS in a bid to prevent democracy in Syria and for their “dirty calculations” in the region. He also announced that his government would allow Syrian refugees in Turkey to take on Turkish citizenship.

Turkey has been accused of long turning a blind eye to jihadi fighters who crossed into Syria from Turkish territory in the hope that they would hasten Assad’s downfall. Turkey has also been accused of not doing enough to fight IS, despite allowing the U.S.-led coalition to use a key air base to conduct air strikes against jihadists.

Turkey denies the accusations but such statements from Erdogan help reinforce beliefs that fighting IS is not a priority for Ankara despite the extremist groups’ attacks on Turkish territory. Earlier, the Istanbul governor’s office said 52 people were still in the hospital — 20 of them in intensive care — four days after the devastating airport attack. It said 184 airport victims had been discharged from hospitals so far, including 13 people released Saturday.

Prosecutors have established the identity of two of the three airport attackers — giving their names as Rakim Bulgarov and Vadim Osmanov — and were trying to identify the third, Anadolu said. Other media reports have given different versions of Osmanov’s name.

Investigators’ attentions have reportedly focused on whether a Chechen extremist known to be a top lieutenant in the Islamic State group masterminded the attack. U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, told CNN that Akhmed Chatayev directed the attack. The CIA and White House declined to comment on McCaul’s assertion and officials said the investigation into the airport bombings is still ongoing. McCaul could not be reached for further comment.

Turkish officials also were not able to confirm Chatayev’s possible role in the deadly attack. The Sabah newspaper, which is close to the Turkish government, said police had launched a manhunt for him.

The Islamic State group, which has used the porous border with Turkey to establish itself in neighboring Syria and Iraq, has repeatedly threatened Turkey. In turn, Turkey has blamed IS for several major bombings in the past year in Ankara and Istanbul.

Fraser reported from Ankara, Turkey.