Category: Iraqi Revolution


July 12, 2014

BAGHDAD (AP) — Kurdish security forces took over two major oil fields outside the disputed northern city of Kirkuk before dawn Friday and said they would use some of the production for domestic purposes, further widening a split with the central government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

The takeover of the Bai Hassan and Kirkuk oil fields were the latest land grabs by Kurds, who have responded to the Sunni militant insurgency that has overrun large parts of Iraq by seizing territory of their own, effectively expanding the Kurdish autonomous zone in the north. Those moves have infuriated al-Maliki’s government while stoking independence sentiment among the Kurds.

Kurdish fighters known as peshmerga pushed into the city of Kirkuk, a major hub for the oil industry in the north, and the surrounding area weeks ago in the early days of the Sunni militant blitz. But until now they had not moved into the oil fields in the area. On Friday, however, the fighters took over the Bai Hassan and Kirkuk fields and expelled local workers, the Oil Ministry in Baghdad said.

Oil Ministry spokesman Assem Jihad denounced the move as “a violation to the constitution” and warned that it poses “a threat to national unity.” The Kurdish Regional Government said its forces moved to secure the fields after learning of what it said were orders by officials in the Oil Ministry to sabotage a pipeline linking oil facilities in the area. It said production would continue, and that staff can return but will operate under Kurdish management.

Production from the fields will be used to fill the shortage of refined products in the domestic market, it said, in a reference to a fuel crunch in the Kurdish region. It also said the Kurdish Regional Government will claim its “constitutional share” of revenues from the fields to compensate for Baghdad’s cutting off the 17 percent of the state budget — some $20 billion in this year’s projected budget — that is supposed to be given to the Kurdish region.

The central government withheld the funds after the Kurds began moving oil from fields inside the autonomous zone to Turkey independently against Baghdad’s wishes. The Kurds have said their earlier moves into disputed lands were intended to protect the areas from Sunni militants after the collapse of the Iraqi military in the face of the insurgency the past month. But the territory they seized has large Kurdish communities and has long been claimed by the autonomy zone.

In past weeks, the president of the Kurdish zone has said the areas won’t be returned — including the highly disputed, flashpoint city of Kirkuk — and he called for Kurdish lawmakers to prepare to hold an independence referendum in the area, a move strongly opposed by Baghdad and the United States. Sunni Arabs and ethnic Turkmens who also claim Kirkuk as theirs have warned of a backlash if Kurds try to monopolize the oil in the region.

The Kurds and Baghdad have feuded for years over oil resources, disputed territory and a host of other issues. Yet, they have also found room for compromise, and the Kurds have provided critical backing to help al-Maliki become prime minister.

But their ties are rapidly unraveling as the country fragments in the face of the Sunni militant blitz, led by the Islamic State extremist group. The country is effectively being cleaved along ethnic and sectarian lines — the swath of militant-held Sunni areas, the Shiite-majority south and center ruled by the Shiite-led government in Baghdad and the Kurdish north.

The conflict has also fueled fears of sectarian bloodshed between Shiites and Sunnis. On Friday, Human Rights Watch said Iraqi security forces and government-affiliated militias appear to have killed at least 255 prisoners in six cities and villages since June 9. It said five of the mass killings took place as the security forces were fleeing as militants advanced, and that the vast the prisoners killed were Sunni. Most members of the security forces and militias are Shiite.

The six incidents appear to be aimed at avenging the deaths of Shiites captured and killed by the Islamic State group. The Kurds also find themselves fighting the Sunni militants across the northern front. On Friday, a suicide bomber blew himself up at a peshmerga checkpoint outside Kirkuk, killing 28 people and wounding 30, said Kirkuk police chief Maj. Gen. Torhan Abdul-Rahman Youssef. The explosion set several vehicles in the vicinity on fire.

Hospital officials confirmed the casualty figures. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to brief the media. In recent days, the political divisions between Baghdad and the Kurds have grown increasingly bitter. On Wednesday, al-Maliki accused the Kurds of harboring Sunni militants.

The Kurds responded by declaring their politicians will boycott Cabinet meetings, renewing demands that al-Maliki step down. Baghdad, in turn, suspended all cargo flights to the Kurdish region’s two main airports. And on Friday, al-Maliki appointed temporary replacements for all five Kurdish ministers in his Cabinet, said Deputy Prime Minister Hussain al-Shahristani.

Al-Shahristani said he himself was appointed acting foreign minister to stand in for Hoshyar Zebari, who was one of the most prominent Kurds in the government and has been Iraq’s top diplomat for more than a decade.

The dispute comes as al-Maliki is struggling to fend off an attempt to remove him from his post by political factions — including the Kurds but also from former Shiite allies who blame him for the failures to confront the Sunni militant offensive and have long accused him of monopolizing power.

In Baghdad, national lawmakers are struggling broker an agreement on a new government and leadership, including the posts of prime minister, president and speaker of parliament, after April elections.

The legislature is scheduled to meet Sunday for its second session amid calls for the quick formation of a new government that can confront the militants and hold the country together. Al-Maliki, whose State of Law bloc won the most seats in the elections, has shrugged off calls to step aside.

The United States and other world powers, as well as Iraq’s top Shiite cleric, have pressed for a more inclusive government that Iraqis of all stripes can rally around. On Friday, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani again urged lawmakers to move swiftly toward a compromise, calling on them to “rise above selfish aims.”

“The challenges … threaten civil peace and the unity of the social fabric and forecast a divided and disputed future for Iraq,” Abdul-Mahdi al-Karbalaie, a cleric who represents the reclusive al-Sistani, told worshipers in a sermon Friday in the holy city of Karbala.

Associated Press writers Qassim Abdul-Zahra and Ryan Lucas in Baghdad, and Maamoun Youssef and Mariam Rizk in Cairo contributed to this report.

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/.

17 Jun 2014

Sunni rebels have briefly held parts of Baquba, the provincial capital of Diyala province, just 60km north of Baghdad before being repelled by government forces following a battle that left dozens dead.

Three police officers said on Tuesday that the police station in Baquba, which has a small jail, came under attack overnight by the Sunni fighters of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant armed group who tried to free the Sunni detainees, the AP news agency reported.

The officers said Shia gunmen, who rushed to defend the facility, killed the detainees at close range. A morgue official in Baquba said many of the dead had bullet wounds to the head and chest. All four officials spoke on condition of anonymity fearing for their own safety.

Al Jazeera’s Imran Khan, reporting from Baghdad, said at least 63 prisoners were reported killed by the Shia gunmen, according to local sources, but the government released a statement blaming ISIL for the killings in Baquba.

“So clearly there is an information war going on here as well as that battle for Baquba,” Khan said.

Meanwhile, Nouri al-Maliki, Iraq’s prime minister, fired the country’s four top security officers for the fall of another city, Mosul, a government statement said later on Tuesday.

Battle near Kirkuk

Sunni rebels also attacked a northern Iraqi village of Basheer, 15km south of Kirkuk city, inhabited by Shia ethnic Turkmens, police said on Tuesday.

The fighters, using mortar and machineguns, were beaten back from Basheer after an hour of clashes with local gunmen and police forces assisted by forces from a nearby Iraqi Kurdish semi-autonomous region, police said.

A senior Kurdish police brigadier was wounded and six of his bodyguards were killed in the clashes, police said.

Meanwhile, the gunmen loyal to the rebel Free Syrian Army and al-Qaeda-linked al-Nusra Front took control of al-Qaim, the Iraqi side of a border crossing with Syria, on Tuesday after Iraqi security forces withdrew, police and army officers told the AFP news agency.

Source: al-Jazeera.

Link: http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2014/06/iraq-rebels-battle-baquba-city-2014617124856327794.html.