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FAO: Iraq lost 40% of its agricultural production

Iraqis start reconstruction of their buildings after Mosul completely freed from Daesh in Mosul on 10 July, 2017 [Yunus Keleş/ Anadolu Agency]

Iraqis start the reconstruction of their buildings after Mosul completely freed from Daesh in Mosul on 10 July, 2017

Iraq has lost 40 per cent of its agricultural produce as a result of its war against Daesh, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said yesterday.

“There are 12 million Iraqis; almost a third of the country’s population who reside in rural areas and depend on agriculture for their livelihoods,” the organisation said in a statement at the Kuwait International Conference for the Reconstruction of Iraq.

“Restoring the crucial agriculture sector that has been severely damaged by ISIL’s takeover of vast areas of Iraq is critical to the country’s recovery from years of conflict and to its long-term prosperity,” it added, using another acronym for Daesh.

Read: The reconstruction of Iraq is no longer a priority for the US

Violence in the past few years forced farmers in northern and north-western parts of Iraq to abandon their farms, destroying or damaging harvests.

“Infrastructure such as water supply for drinking and agricultural production was damaged or destroyed. Agricultural equipment, seeds, crops, stored harvests and livestock were looted.”

According to the statement, the FAO has set up a large-scale programme to help rehabilitate irrigation systems and veterinary services to help 1.6 million people living in these areas by 2018.

The lack of rainfall this season has further damaged the agricultural sector with the Iraqi Ministry of Agriculture predicting a loss of up to 30 per cent of the wheat and barley crops due to drought.

(Source / 14.02.2018)

Iraq’s wanted list includes Saddam’s daughter but not Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi

Raghad Saddam Hussein, the eldest daughter of former President of Iraq, Saddam Hussein

Iraq has issued a wanted list that has been met with raised eyebrows. It includes the daughter of Saddam Hussain but omits the leader of Daesh, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi.

The list, seen by AFP, includes the name of the eldest daughter of the late Iraqi leader, Raghad, who lives in Jordan. It also features 28 suspected Daesh fighters, 12 from Al-Qaeda and 20 from the Baath party.

Arab news sources reported that a senior security official refused to explain the reasons for the absence of Al-Baghdadi, saying that the list included “the most wanted for the Iraqi judiciary”.

All those wanted are said to be Iraqis, with the exception of one Lebanese national; former Secretary-General of the Arab National Congress, Maan Bashour, accused of recruiting fighters to “participate in terrorist activities” inside the country.

Many former officers within Saddam Hussain’s regime are on the wanted list. Saddam Hussein Hamoud Al-Jubouri and Mahmoud Ibrahim Al-Mashhadani, a former officer under Saddam Hussein, are both on the list. Fawaz Mohammed Al-Mutlaq, a former member of Saddam’s Fedayeen Brigade and part of the military junta of the state and three of his sons are also on the list.

Others are said to be among the most prominent leaders of Al-Qaeda. The name of the military leader in Kirkuk, Ahmed Khalil Hassan, and Abdul Nasser Al-Janabi, Mufti and financier of the organisation in the area of ​​Jarf Al-Sakhr south of Baghdad, have also been included on the list.

Read: What you need to know about the post-Daesh battle for the Mideast

(Source / 05.02.2018)

ISIS Regroups in Kirkuk as Questions Surround Iran’s Plans


Erbil – Although Iraqi forces are close to ending the battle to liberate Mosul and eliminating ISIS militarily in Iraq, some areas in the Kirkuk province, Hamrin Basin and the outskirts of the Tuz Khurmatu district have recently witnessed intense ISIS movements.

The terrorists’ numbers have increased dramatically despite the presence of Iranian Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) military bases not far from these areas, raising questions about Tehran’s plans in the region.

“The Iranian regime wants to disrupt the referendum process on the independence of Kurdistan through ISIS’s control over Kirkuk,” Kurdish security sources told Asharq Al-Awsat.

The referendum is due to be held in September and the Kurdish leadership wants it to take place in disputed areas, like Kirkuk.

Sources added that Iran wants Kirkuk to be controlled by the Popular Mobilization Forces under the pretext of liberating it from ISIS. They noted that Iranian ambassador to Iraq Irj Musjidi, who is one of the leaders of Guards’ Quds Force, is supervising the implementation of the plan.

For his part, commander of the military wing of the Kurdistan Freedom Party (PAK) in Iran Hussein Yazdan Banna told Asharq Al-Awsat that the Iranian regime, through the IRGC and Musjidi, is overseeing the implementation of a plan by ISIS in the district of Hawija, a province of Kirkuk that is under the control of the terrorists.

The plan, Banna said, is to launch a large-scale attack on Kirkuk and occupy it or occupying a strategic area close to it to give the Popular Mobilization Forces an excuse to mobilize and send large numbers of its armed forces to Kirkuk under the pretext of liberating and protecting it.

This will achieve the Iranian goal of separating Kirkuk from Kurdistan, preventing it from participating in the referendum and disrupting the referendum altogether.

Banna pointed out that Hawija, Hamrin Basin and the Tuz Khurmatu district on the western and southern sides of the province of Kirkuk, have been witnessing intense movements by ISIS, which launched in the past weeks many attacks on Peshmerga forces positions.

(Source / 26.06.2017)

UN: More than 1,000 children killed in Iraq in 3 years

Iraqi children are in need of urgent humanitarian assistance due to the ongoing violence in Iraq


Three years after violence in Iraq intensified, 1,075 children have been killed, including 152 in the first six months of 2017, UNICEF said yesterday.

“Since 2014, in Iraq, 1,130 children have been maimed and injured, 255 in the first six months of 2017, over 4,650 children have become separated or unaccompanied by their families,” according to the agency’s assessment detailed in a new report, Nowhere to Go.

There have been 138 attacks on schools and 58 on hospitals; more than three million children do not attend school on a regular basis while 1.2 million children are out of school and, one in every four children comes from a poor household, UNICEF said.

In Iraq, children are trapped in an endless cycle of violence and increasing poverty

the children’s agency said, while noting the conflict has displaced 3 million people – half of them children.

Read: Mosul’s displaced are malnourished and weak

“In west Mosul, children are being deliberately targeted and killed to punish families and deter them from fleeing the violence. In less than two months, at least 23 children have been killed and 123 have been injured in that part of the city alone,” UNICEF said.

The agency said more than five million children are in need of urgent humanitarian assistance.

“Across Iraq, children continue to witness sheer horror and unimaginable violence,” UNICEF’s Representative in Iraq, Peter Hawkins, said in a statement. “They have been killed, injured, abducted and forced to shoot and kill in one of the most brutal wars in recent history.”

Iraq has been roiled by violence since Daesh seized vast swathes of territory in northern and western Iraq in 2014.

Iraqi forces, backed by air cover from a US-led coalition, are currently engaged in a wide-scale offensive aimed at dislodging Daesh from Mosul, the terrorist group’s last stronghold in northern Iraq.

(Source / 23.06.2017)

Moqtada Sadr to Dissociate his Military Arm


Iraqi Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr delivers a sermon to worshippers during Friday prayers at the Kufa mosque near Najaf, Iraq September 23, 2016

Baghdad- “Iraqi Cleric and Leader of Sadrist Movement Moqtada al-Sadr is expected to announce the dissociation of Saraya al-Salam, the military arm of his bloc, during his speech infront of his followers in Baghdad on Friday,” an official in the Sadrist Movement told Asharq Al-Awsat.

He added that the aim of Sadr step is to halt a potential riot called the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) and to support the government as well as to reveal bona fide towards the post-ISIS phase.

Saraya al-Salam is part of the joint armed factions in the war against ISIS and is located in Saladin and Samarra. Sadr announced forming it on June 10 2014 after ISIS seized wide space of Iraqi territories.

Back then, he said that its mission was to protect the sacred places in Iraq including mosques, churches, places of worship and shrines. The group consists of up to 40,000 fighters and around 6,000 of them are affiliated to the Popular Mobilization Forces.

Expectations of Sadr announcing dissociating Saraya al-Salam comply with what was previously announced by him on the fate of PMF after the ISIS phase is over.

Sadr called for integrating Popular Mobilization Forces discipline members with the security forces so the thereof can maintain its “stability, force and sovereignty through enacting a customized system.” He also stressed that arms in Iraq should be captured and handed out to the state through strict and clear mechanisms.

Sadrist Movement sources affirmed that its leader will urge in his speech to keep on the demonstration and calls for reforms.

Sadr followers have been protesting in Baghdad since a year in demand for “reforms and fighting corruption” – they also carried out a demonstration before the Council of Representatives and raided it end of April 2016.

(Source / 25.03.2017)

UN: Size of Mosul crisis exceeds our current capacity

Iraqi Red Crescent delivers food aid to civilians during the operation to retake Mosul from Daesh terrorists in Mosul continues on March 12, 2017 [Hemn Baban/Anadolu]

Iraqi Red Crescent delivers food aid to civilians during the operation to retake Mosul from Daesh terrorists in Mosul continues on March 12, 2017

UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq, Lise Grande, said relief organisations are preparing to receive up to 320,000 additional civilians likely to be displaced from Mosul in the coming weeks.

Image of UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq, Lise Grande [YouTube]

Image of UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq, Lise Grande [YouTube]

“We have been preparing for the Mosul operation for months, but the magnitude of the crisis has exceeded our expectations, but we will do our best to ensure that people are helped,” Grande said in a statement on Monday.

She noted that humanitarian operations on the western side of Mosul are more complex than on the eastern side and she expressed fear that the fighting could lead to the displacement of about one million Iraqis from Mosul.

Read: Civilians bear brunt of US, Iraq assault on Mosul

For its part, the Iraqi government announced that more than 180,000 people have fled from the western side of the city of Mosul since the start of military operations last month to remove Daesh.

The Iraqi forces began, on 19th February, a large operation to restore the western section of Mosul, which is more densely populated than the eastern section and remains under the militant group’s control.

(Source / 21.03.2017)

Iraq deputy FM: Daesh ‘picked the wrong country’ to invade

Iraqi security forces with weapons and armoured cars attend an operation held to retake Mosul from Daesh on 20 February 2017

Iraqi Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs Nazar Khairullah said in comments at a prestigious London-based security think tank today that the Daesh extremist organisation had “picked the wrong country” to attempt to set up their caliphate in.

Speaking earlier this afternoon at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) in the British capital, the deputy foreign minister said that Daesh and other extremist organisations would find it difficult to permanently hold territory in Iraq.

Since the last 40 years, Iraqis have been fighting wars and are trained for war, Khairullah said. “For example the war with Iran for eight years, the Gulf War…when volunteers sign up to fight Daesh, they’re sent immediately to the front because they are already trained.

Khairullah praised the Iraqi armed forces saying that Baghdad was “proud of our forces in the last six months” since just before the operation to recapture Mosul began.

Mosul, Daesh’s largest urban holding, has been under the extremist organisation’s control since June 2014 when they and several other Iraqi armed rebel groups routed the Iraqi army and captured about a third of the country.

Though he was optimistic that Iraq would eventually prevail against Daesh in Iraq, the Iraqi minister warned that “the next few weeks [in Mosul] will be harder”, as the “fighting has been tough, difficult…[and was being fought] under extremely difficult circumstances.”

Iraq needs ‘societal education’

In more controversial remarks, Khairullah said that Iraqi society required “education” for the country to be able to defeat terrorism and extremist ideologies espoused by groups like Daesh. The deputy foreign minister appeared to suggest that there was a problem with Iraqi society and its acceptance for radicalisation.

Khairullah laid the blame for this alleged Iraqi propensity for extremism firmly at the door of foreign fighters who joined extremist groups such as Al-Qaeda and subsequently Daesh following the illegal US-led invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003.

Read: Iraq unleashes mass destruction, death & displacement on Mosul

Claiming that it was unfair for critics to slam the Iraqi government and post-invasion political process for the rise of Daesh, the Iraqi diplomat said: “Why are there terrorist attacks in Belgium, France if Daesh are so interested in internal Iraqi politics?”

According to the minister, the Daesh threat was a global problem and one that needed to be fought internationally, with an ever-increasing participation of the world’s nations within the current US-led coalition.

Post-Daesh Iraq?

Due to the minister blaming foreign fighters and not the political process, MEMO asked Khairullah about the infiltration of Iran-backed Shia jihadists within the Iraqi state and security apparatus, particularly the Badr Organisation, who largely control the interior ministry and have tens of thousands of its former death squad members now in the uniform of the Iraqi federal police.

Khairullah did not respond fully to MEMO’s question, but instead said that the present Iraqi government is conscious of “previous mistakes” and that he believes that “inclusion is a main part of democracy”, indicating that Baghdad is conscious of the overall negative impact on Iraq of sectarian Shia militias. However, it was unclear if the authorities planned to do anything to counter this.

Iraqi officials are often hesitant to discuss issues relating to specific militias and death squads, as many of them receive support from Iraq’s powerful Shia neighbour Iran, who exerts control over much of Iraq’s policy. Also, many Shia jihadist groups control entire ministries, such as the Badr Organisation’s control over Iraq’s militarised police force.

However, Khairullah acknowledged that there were concerns regarding the Shia-dominated Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), an Iran-backed paramilitary organisation that was recently made as an official part of the Iraqi armed forces, though separate to the other service branches.

The Iraqi diplomat said: When the Hashd Al-Sha’abi [PMF] law was passed last year, it went through discussions in parliament. The [law legalising the PMF] now stipulates that 35 per cent of the Hashd must be from minority groups.

 By “minority groups”, Khairullah was referring to Sunni Arabs, Kurds, Turkmens and others. Collectively, however, these minorities are about 65 per cent of the total Iraqi population, so the PMF’s 35 per cent minority quota is about half of what is required for a truly representative force.

The deputy foreign minister concluded by stating that he hoped Iraq would be successful in building national institutions, including the army, and that his country may attempt to achieve this through initiatives such as reintroducing compulsory military service. In this way, the minister argued, Iraqis would be able to have a sense of joint belonging to the state in order to “preserve Iraq’s unity”.

(Source / 09.03.2017)

Iraqi Army Controls Main Roads Out of Mosul as Thousands Flee Fighting

An Iraqi Special Forces soldier moves through a hole as he searches for ISIS jihadists in Mosul, Iraq. REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic

An Iraqi Special Forces soldier moves through a hole as he searches for ISIS jihadists in Mosul, Iraq

U.S.-backed Iraqi army units on Wednesday took control of the last major road out of western Mosul that had been in ISIS’ hands as the minister of displacement and migration said 26,000 people have fled in the 10 days since the operation was launched to retake the city’s western side.

The army’s 9th Armored Division was within a kilometer of Mosul’s Syria Gate, the city’s northwestern entrance, a general from the unit told Reuters by telephone.

“We effectively control the road, it is in our sight,” he said.

Mosul residents said they had not been able to travel on the highway that starts at the Syria Gate since Tuesday. The road links Mosul to Tal Afar, another ISIS stronghold 60 km to the west, and then to Syria.

A commander in the elite Counter-Terrorism Service, Staff Lieutenant General Abdulghani al-Assadi, also told Agence France Presse on Wednesday that jihadists are putting up tough resistance in the southwest of Mosul.

The CTS is fighting “for the (Maamun) Flats area, which is considered very important for control of the Baghdad road and the surrounding neighborhoods,” al-Assadi said.

Meanwhile, Jassem Mohammed al-Jaff, the minister of displacement and migration, said field teams received “26,000 displaced people from (west) Mosul during the past 10 days.”

The number that has fled is only a small fraction of the 750,000 people who are believed to have stayed on in west Mosul under ISIS rule but is expected to rise sharply in the coming days and weeks.

Sniper fire is a significant danger in the area, said Kathy Bequary, the executive director of NYC Medics, a group providing emergency care from a mobile clinic.

“We’re seeing a lot of serious gunshot wounds from snipers,” Bequary told AFP.

“Most of our patients are combatants, but civilians are affected too. Two days ago, we treated a family — a mother, father, son and daughter — who were trying to escape Mosul and were targeted by snipers,” she said.

Iraqi forces captured the eastern side of Mosul in January after 100 days of fighting and launched their attack on the districts that lie west of the Tigris river on Feb. 19.

If they defeat ISIS in Mosul, that would crush the Iraq wing of the “caliphate” declared by the group’s leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in 2014 from the city’s grand old Nuri Mosque.

The U.S.-led coalition effort against the terrorist organization is killing the jihadists more quickly than it can replace them, British Major General Rupert Jones, deputy commander for the Combined Joint Task Force said.

With more than 45,000 killed by coalition air strikes up to August last year, “their destruction just becomes really a matter of time,” he said on Tuesday.

The U.S. commander in Iraq, Lieutenant General Stephen Townsend, has said he believes U.S.-backed forces will recapture both Mosul and Raqqa, ISIS’ Syria stronghold in neighboring Syria, within six months.

(Source / 01.03.2017)

Battle for Mosul: Iraq forces in west aim for key bridge

Government forces retook the Tigris east bank from IS a month ago, in offensive on Mosul that began on 17 October

Iraqis cross a bridge damaged by IS fighters in Mosul’s al-Sukkar neighbourhood on 21 January

Iraqi forces battled militants in west Mosul Sunday, aiming to build a floating bridge across the Tigris to establish an important supply route linked to the recaptured east bank.

A week into a major push on the western side of the city, where an estimated 2,000 holdout militants and 750,000 civilians are trapped, government forces made steady progress.

But after relatively easy gains on the city’s outskirts, they encountered increasingly stiff resistance from the Islamic State group (IS) defending its emblematic stronghold.

“We had an important operation this morning to move towards the bridge,” Colonel Falah al-Wabdan, from the interior ministry’s Rapid Response units that have spearheaded the breach into west Mosul, told AFP in the Jawsaq neighbourhood.

“We have moved past a large berm constructed by Daesh [IS] with tunnels underneath,” he said, adding that the area was heavily mined and that his forces had killed 44 militants on Sunday alone.

Wabdan was referring to what is known as “the fourth bridge,” the southernmost of five bridges – all of which are damaged and unusable – across the Tigris river, which divides the northern Iraqi city.

Government forces retook the east bank from IS a month ago, completing a key phase in an offensive on Mosul that began on 17 October and has involved tens of thousands of fighters.

Wabdan said that securing the bank area near the fourth bridge would allow engineering units to extend a ribbon bridge to the other side and further pile pressure on the militants.

“It is very important because if we take it, engineering units … will be able to throw a bridge across from the left bank so we can move supplies and ammunition from the battlefield,” he said.

Bridging operations under fire are complex and perilous, but Iraqi forces have been trained by the US military and have successfully used that strategy before in the fight against IS.

Dire conditions

A ribbon bridge assembled with US assistance over the Euphrates river was considered a turning point in the battle that eventually saw Iraqi forces retake the western stronghold of Ramadi from the jihadists a year ago.

The elite Counter-Terrorism Service that has done most of the fighting against IS in Mosul so far entered the western neighbourhood of Al-Maamun on Friday.

Troops from the US-led coalition assisting Iraq in its efforts to claw back territory it lost to IS in 2014 have stepped up their involvement on the ground in recent weeks.

They are officially deployed in Iraq as trainers and advisers but have increasingly been drawn into combat and been more visible than ever on the front lines since the push on west Mosul was launched on 19 February.

The western side of the city is a little smaller than the east but more densely populated and home to some areas considered traditional militant strongholds.

It includes the Old City, where IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi made his only public appearance and proclaimed a “caliphate” in July 2014, and several of Mosul’s key landmarks.

Around three quarters of a million people are virtually besieged there, in some cases used as human shields by the IS fighters preparing to defend their last major bastion in the country.

“With the battle to retake western Mosul now in its second week, we are extremely concerned about the 800,000 or so still trapped in some of the most dire conditions,” Karl Schembri, spokesman for the Norwegian Refugee Council, told AFP.

Food supplies have dwindled as fast as costs have soared, leaving many on barely a meal a day.

Residents and medical workers say that the combined effect of malnutrition and the shortage of drugs is starting to kill the weakest.

The United Nations has planned for an exodus of at least 250,000 people from west Mosul but, in the absence of humanitarian corridors, only a few hundred have been able to flee so far.

(Source / 26.02.2017)

Iraqi Forces Push into Western Mosul, Seize Airport from ISIS

Iraqi security forces drive past a destroyed Mosul's airport building after driving out Islamic State's militants south west Mosul, Iraq. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra

Iraqi security forces drive past a destroyed Mosul’s airport building after driving out ISIS’ militants south west Mosul, Iraq

Elite Iraqi security forces advanced deeper into the first neighborhood in western Mosul on Friday and recaptured the international airport on the city’s southwestern edge from the ISIS group, according to Iraqi officials.

The gains came one day after launching attacks on several fronts towards ISIS’ last main stronghold in the city, as troops entered a west Mosul neighborhood for the first time since the start four months ago of the offensive to retake the city.

Earlier on Friday, spokesman of the Joint Military Operation Command, Brig. Gen. Yahya Rasool said counter-terrorism forces managed to fully control the Ghozlani army base, pushing deeper towards the southwestern districts of Tal al-Rumman and al-Mamoun, a military spokesman said.

Federal police and an elite Interior Ministry unit known as Rapid Response are clearing the airport of roadside bombs and booby traps left by ISIS militants who retreated from their positions there on Thursday.

Iraqi government forces plan to repair the airport and use it as a base from which to drive the militants from Mosul’s western districts. The United Nations estimated that about 750,000 civilians are trapped in western Mosul. The initial numbers of displaced from western Mosul have been low, but Iraqi forces are yet to punch into the city’s dense urban neighborhoods.

Government forces pushed the insurgents out of eastern Mosul last month but the ISIS still holds the western sector of the city, divided by the Tigris River.

“Our forces are fighting Daesh terrorists in Tal al-Rumman and al-Mamoun. We will eliminate them soon and take control over the two districts,” Counter Terrorism Services (CTS) spokesman Sabah al-Numan said.

ISIS militants used suicide car bomb attacks and drones carrying small bombs to disrupt the CTS units from further advancing.

“There is a resistance there. The drones are particularly annoying today,” Major General Sami al-Aridi, a senior CTS commander, told Reuters in the southwestern front of Mosul.

Rapid response forces are trying to advance beyond the airport to breach ISIS defenses around districts on the southern edge of Mosul.

“We are now fighting Daesh at the southern edge of the city. We are trying to breach trenches and high berm they used as defensive line,” Colonel Falah al-Wabdan told Reuters.

Losing Mosul could spell the end of the Iraqi section of the militants’ self-styled caliphate spanning Iraq and Syria.

Iraqi commanders expect the battle in western Mosul to be the most trying yet, however, in part because tanks and armored vehicles cannot pass through narrow alleyways that crisscross the city’s ancient western districts.

(Source / 24.02.2017)