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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)

80,000 of Iraq’s displaced Sunnis stopped from returning home

Image of internally displaced Iraqi civilians after having fled from Daesh controlled areas [Anadolu]

Some 80,000 people from north of the province of Babil have not been allowed to return home two years after the area was recaptured from Daesh, the National Forces Union, the largest Sunni bloc in the Iraqi parliament, said yesterday.

In a statement, the bloc said: “There is a real intention to conduct demographic change in the area.”

It called on Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi to allow the residents of the Jurf Al Jabal area to return to their homes.

Read: Iraq, US bomb airport as Mosul advance continues

According to the bloc, officials in the province have issued a series of statements which place “obstacles to prevent the displaced people from returning to their areas”.

The head of the security committee in the Babil province, Falah Al-Rahdi, denied local authorities had any intention to conduct demographic change in the region.

He told the Anadolu Agency that the areas in question lack basic services including electricity and water.

“The Babil Provincial Council has prepared a list of damages caused by Daesh in the area, noting that the area needs $400 million to restore the services.”

(Source / 23.02.2017)

Iraq government, Shia militias, Daesh all committed war crimes in 2016 – Amnesty

Internally relocated people, who fled their homes due to the clashes, wait to be placed at refugee camps, as the operation to liberate Iraq’s Mosul from Daesh continues [Feriq Fereç - Anadolu Agency]

Internally relocated people, who fled their homes due to the clashes, wait to be placed at refugee camps, as the operation to liberate Iraq’s Mosul from Daesh continues

A major international human rights organisation has said that the Iraqi authorities, Iran-backed Shia jihadists and Daesh militants had all perpetrated war crimes throughout 2016, as a US and Iran-backed war against the militant group continues into 2017.

Amnesty International accused all parties to the conflict of committing various abuses, and has previously criticised the United States and the international anti-Daesh coalition for not using their leverage with Baghdad to force it to comply with international law and for allowing the authorities to allow their armed forces to violate human rights.

Government use of torture, rape ‘rife’

 The Iraqi authorities have been heavily criticised by Amnesty in its reporting throughout 2016. In its annual review, the human rights organisation said that torture and other ill-treatment in Iraqi prisons and detention facilities controlled by the interior and defence ministries “remained rife”. Secret prisons controlled by Shia militants were also accused of the same abuses.

“The most frequently reported methods of torture used against detainees were beatings on the head and body with metal rods and cables, suspension in stress positions by the arms or legs, electric shocks and threats of rape of female relatives,” the report revealed.

Read: Amnesty: Ill treatment of detainees rife in Middle East

“Torture appeared to be carried out to extract ‘confessions’, obtain information and punish detainees,” Amnesty said, concluding that “several detainees died in custody as a result of torture.”

The torture inflicted upon Iraqis, many of whom were accused of being Daesh members of sympathisers, was in order to extract confessions which would then lead to their executions. The vast majority of those tortured and executed were from the persecuted Sunni Arab community.

“The criminal justice system remained deeply flawed and trials were systematically unfair…Courts continued to admit into evidence torture-tainted ‘confessions’…Some of those convicted after unfair trials were sentenced to death,” Amnesty reported.

Violations by Shia jihadists, Daesh

 Apart from implicating Baghdad in war crimes relating to the ongoing campaign against Daesh, Amnesty also heavily criticised the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), now an official part of the Iraqi military, as well as Daesh itself for committing grave abuses.

“Paramilitary militias and government forces committed war crimes and other violations…mostly against members of the Sunni Arab community,” Amnesty said.

Identifying two incidents of many that took place throughout 2016, Amnesty said that PMF militants had carried out revenge attacks against Muqdadiya’s Sunni Arab community, “killing dozens of men and burning and destroying Sunnis mosques, shops and other property.”

Read: Iraq, US bomb airport as Mosul advance continues

In another incident during the battle for Fallujah in Iraq’s western Anbar province, Amnesty also confirmed that the PMF abducted 1,300 men and boys on 3 June 2016. Three days later, 605 men reappeared bearing marks of torture, with the fate of 643 remaining unknown.

“An investigative committee established by the Governor of Anbar [Sohaib Al-Rawi] found that 49 had been killed by being shot, tortured or burned to death,” Amnesty recounted.

As these abuses were going on, however, Daesh continued its campaign against Iraqi civilian targets, that “targeted civilians in crowded markets, Shia religious shrines and other public spaces. [Daesh] particularly targeted locations within Baghdad.”

Read: Iraq defence minister meets Shia ‘terrorist’ wanted by US

Although Amnesty did not mention it, Daesh claimed responsibility for the Karrada bombing last summer that claimed almost 300 lives in central Baghdad.

Meanwhile, in areas under Daesh control, the militant extremists carried out abductions and “systematically tortured captives”. Daesh also used “chemical weapons to attack the town of [Qayyarah] after it had been recaptured by Iraqi forces, leading to burns and other injuries among civilians.”

(Source / 22.02.2017)

Will Raqqa be site for clash of titan generals?

The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps commander, Gen. Qasem Soleimani, uses a walkie-talkie at the front line during offensive operations against Islamic State militants in the town of Tal Ksaiba, Iraq, March 8, 2015

In this tale of two men, both are national heroes backed by unmatched political and popular support while commanding the best-equipped, most elite armed units in Iraq and Syria. More topically, both are now closely following the developments at al-Bab and preparing for their aftermath.

One of the two people I am talking about is already a well-known social phenomenon: Gen. Qasem Soleimani, known as “Iran’s sword in the Middle East.” Since 1988, he has been commanding the Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. His every visit to Iraq and Syria becomes a social media event, with all his pictures and statements going viral.

Born in 1957 in a mountain village of Kirman province in southeast Iran, he worked in construction for a while and then joined the Revolutionary Guard. His official education is limited to elementary school.

The star of Soleimani, who proved his loyalty to the Iranian regime and revolution with his success in putting down the 1979 Kurdish uprising at Mahabad, truly shone in the Iran-Iraq War. Currently, the Iranian security bureaucracy is managed by generals who, like Soleimani, proved themselves in that war while amassing significant combat experience. The links between these generals set the course in Iran’s domestic politics and now also Iran’s policies in Iraq and Syria.

Even a brief Google search will yield enough information on Soleimani’s reputation and achievements to impress anyone. For some, he is the shadow commander of Iran. For others, he is the conqueror of Aleppo — lately, he has been called “the architect of the victory at Mosul.”

But today Soleimani has a rival in Iraq and especially in Syria: Lt. Gen. Zekai Aksakalli, commander of the Turkish Special Forces (TSF), who is directly attached to the chief of general staff.

Aksakalli has been commanding the TSF, the Turkish military’s most elite unit, since 2013. His already impeccable reputation skyrocketed during the July 15 abortive coup, when he avoided capture by the coup plotters, then played a major role in thwarting the attempt. Because of his major success and the gratitude felt toward him, he was promoted to the rank of lieutenant general in July, even though rumors had circulated that he was going to retire in August.

Aksakalli was born in the eastern Turkish city of Erzurum in 1962. After finishing high school, he enrolled in the Army War Academy, where he made global achievements in cross-country track competitions. He was commissioned as a second lieutenant in 1984 and spent most of his career in commando units and combating the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) with the Special Forces Command, and then training the Azerbaijani military. He first became visible in the media in November 2014 when he visited the Azerbaijan-Armenia border. Photos of him aiming a sniper rifle became a hit in Turkish media. He was next seen on a national TV channel the night of the coup attempt, when his unyielding opposition to the coup attempt won the public’s admiration and confidence. Next, in August, we saw Aksakalli at Jarablus, Syria.

At Jarablus, Aksakalli was wearing standard military field fatigues with no rank insignia so he would appear to be a regular trooper to anyone looking through a scope from a distance. This month, Aksakalli was photographed observing the al-Bab region through binoculars, but this time he was dressed in military-type civilian clothes, as Soleimani does.

Today under Aksakalli, the TSF maintains about 15 liaison offices in Iraq’s Bashiqa, Zakho, Dahuk, Kanimasi and Bamerni. He is effectively in charge of the entire Operation Euphrates Shield.

Both commanders hail from modest rural backgrounds and have charismatic personalities. They don’t have academic degrees and don’t conceal their nationalist inclinations. Both are supported by their own headquarters staff members who have been loyally serving them for a long time. Both are adored by the public and can count on full political support for their activities, especially in Syria. Both are tough soldiers who overcame many adversities in their military careers but also acquired impressive combat experience.

Both men excel in motivating their subordinates. They are experts in unconventional warfare. Their photos add to their charisma, but neither is a good orator. Both are strongly anti-US, and they see the United States as the source of all regional problems. However, that doesn’t make them pro-Russia, as their nationalist-independent ideologies are not a secret. Both prefer to be in the field instead of talking politics in Ankara and Tehran, constantly accessible to the media. Neither is really comfortable with rigid civilian political control. For example, in November, when the parliamentary inquiry commission on the coup attempt invited Aksakalli to come to Ankara to testify, he refused, saying, “I am fighting in Syria.”

It is well-known that Soleimani has been having persistent disagreements with civilian decision-makers in Tehran over the status, functions and responsibilities of Shiite militias in Iraq.

Meanwhile, the biggest difference between the two commanders is that they are commanding in Syria and Iraq the elite forces of two rival countries and their allied indigenous armed militias — making them rivals in the field. Although there has not been any armed confrontation between the national units and local militias they command, developments in northern Syria signal that this probability is not too far off.

Their military careers are not similar. Aksakalli is a uniformed military man who served in conventional units of the Turkish army, obedient to the chain of command with strict field discipline. Soleimani, however, frequently takes personal initiatives and achieved amazing status as a paramilitary civilian who could solve problems by himself.

Although it may sound much too speculative at this point, I think one way or another the paths of Aksakalli and Soleimani will eventually cross for the first time in northern Syria, particularly around Raqqa. If Turkey heads toward Raqqa after the capture of al-Bab, will there be clashes between the Shiite militias commanded by Soleimani and the Sunni Free Syrian Army elements controlled by Aksakalli?

I admit, it may difficult to answer now. But six months ago I was laughing off such an eventuality, and now I am seriously scratching my head over it.

(Source / 17.02.2017)

Dozens of ISIS Leaders Escape from Iraq to Syria

Iraqi special forces soldiers drive in a desert near Mosul, Iraq October 25, 2016.

Iraqi special forces soldiers drive in a desert near Mosul, Iraq October 25, 2016

Erbil – Several ISIS commanders and their families are escaping from Mosul through Tal Afar and al-Baaj to Syria after managing to break the siege imposed by militias of Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) around Tal Afar.

Sheikh of al-Shammar Tribe had confirmed that ISIS caliphate Abu Baker al-Baghdadi was injured after the coalition’s raid on Tal Afar while he was still inside the town.

Media Official of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) in Mosul, Ghyath al-Surji told Asharq Al-Awsat that ISIS militants launched an extensive attack on PMF front lines to the west of Tal Afar. Using armored vehicles, tanks, and bombed cars, and after six continuous hours of battling, ISIS was able to break siege and open a passage towards Baaj.

According to Surji, during the night, dozens of cars carrying ISIS leaders and their families escaped on the road dug by the militants from Tal Afar to Syria, through Baaj.

Sheikh Thair Abdul Karim Watban al-Jarba, of the Arab Tribe Shammar in west Mosul, said that about 50 cars carrying militants of ISIS’ special forces coming from Syria tried to enter Tal Afar a few days ago.

The convoy was led by Iraqi national Abu Jannat, Baghdadi’s deputy, and was on a mission to accompany Baghdadi himself and several leaders and their families. Yet, Iraqi Air Force attacked them near al-Houl area where all but two cars were completely destroyed.

Jarba told Asharq Al-Awsat that during the air strike, Abu Jannat was killed along with head of security in Tal Afar, Zeid al-Afari.

According to information retrieved by the sheikh, Afari was one of the most prominent militants in ISIS and he was buried in Baaj, a day after the air strike.

Jarba confirmed that Baghdadi was injured during a coalition air raid in Tal Afar, almost ten days ago, and that was why he hadn’t been able to leave the city.

He added that ISIS militants are escaping daily from Baaj and nearby areas towards Syrian territory. He also stated that ISIS is murdering any civilian who tries to escape from the occupied right coast of the city towards the liberated left coast. Over 50 young men from Mosul had been executed by ISIS for attempting to escape.

Sheikh Jarba revealed that all of Arab families had returned to areas liberated by Peshmerga forces.

Based on directives of the President of Kurdistan Region Masoud Barzani, a brigade of Arab volunteers has been formed as part of the elite Peshmerga force, to protect their areas. Jarba said that on February 07, the first batch of volunteers graduated and it included 1,000 fighters who would form al-Jazira Brigade.

A resident in Mosul told Asharq Al-Awsat over the phone that the situation is getting worse on the right coast of Mosul, cautioning that the area may be on the brink of a humanitarian disaster if Iraqi Forces are late to liberate it.

(Source / 16.02.2017)

Iraq: Around 6,000 civilians return home to eastern Mosul

A displaced Iraqi woman and child, who fled the violence in the northern city of Mosul walk by the tents at the Hasan Sham camp on February 11, 2017 east of Erbil. (AFP/Safin Hamid)

A displaced Iraqi woman and child, who fled the violence in the northern city of Mosul walk by the tents at the Hasan Sham camp on February 11, 2017 east of Erbil

More than 6,000 displaced Iraqi civilians have returned to their homes in areas recently recaptured from Daesh in eastern Mosul, according to an Iraqi aid official.

Iraqi forces have driven Daesh from most of Mosul’s eastern districts as part of a wide-ranging Iraqi army offensive launched last October to retake the city, which was overrun by the extremist group in mid-2014.

“More than 6,000 people, mostly women and children, have now left the refugee camps and returned to their homes [in eastern Mosul],” Iyad Rafed of the Iraqi Red Crescent Society told Anadolu Agency on Wednesday.

According to Rafed, the return of refugees to their homes is being overseen by Iraqi security forces in coordination with humanitarian relief officials.

The Iraqi authorities estimate that more than 191,000 civilians have fled their homes in eastern Mosul since the army’s Mosul campaign began four months ago.

Last week, Iraqi officials said some 60,000 people had returned to their homes in “liberated” parts of Mosul, once considered Iraq’s second largest city in terms of population.

(Source / 15.02.2017)

Iraq army, Shia militias execute Sunnis in east Mosul

Grim footage has emerged from eastern Mosul, supposedly “liberated” from Daesh control late last month,showing members of the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) and men who appeared to be from the Shia-dominated Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) paramilitary organisation executing unarmed men in the streets.


The footage shows armed Shia militants, who are fighting under the banner of Iraq, dragging a bound and clearly terrified man through the streets. The militants are heard abusing the man, and can be clearly seen beating him as they drag him to his death.

The victim is then placed at gunpoint by two other unarmed men in front of a row of houses, before about a dozen Shia jihadists fighting with the PMF and Iraqi soldiers open fire and gun them down in cold blood.

Even after the men have been shot and are clearly dead, the Iraqi soldiers and Shia militants continue to taunt and curse them, and occasionally other soldiers would walk over to the dead men and beginning firing at their corpses at point blank range. They would also stamp on the heads of the unarmed men, which is a deep sign of disrespect in Arab culture.

“Sadly, we have become accustomed to seeing such violence against people who are likely civilians,” Ahmad Al-Mahmoud, an analyst with the London-based Iraq monitoring group Foreign Relations Bureau of Iraq (FRB), told MEMO. “Even if they are ISIS, they should be tried in transparent and just courts, not shot dead in the middle of the street,” Al-Mahmoud said, using another acronym for the Daesh extremist organisation.

“What separates the Iraqi government from them [Daesh] if they are killing people in the streets?”

Extremist Shia militants fighting within the ISF or as part of the PMF, sanctioned by Baghdad and accepted as a formal branch of the Iraqi military last year, frequently justify their field executions by stating that the men they kill are Daesh militants.

It is unclear if the unarmed men in the video are civilians or Daesh militants. However, under international law, it is a war crime to put people to death without properly conducted due process. As these men formally fight under the authority of the Iraqi government, this could mean that Iraq has violated international human rights law and could be found guilty of crimes against humanity and war crimes.

 Daesh strikes back

Although the Iraqi government claimed to have recaptured the entirety of the eastern bank of Mosul, bisected by the Tigris River, the fighting has yet to be concluded.

Security sources confirmed that, two nights ago, Daesh fighters managed to infiltrate the ISF’s positions in east Mosul by conducting an amphibious operation from the western bank, still under their control, and evading detection by the ISF.

The militants crossed the river by using small boats and landed in several sectors, causing disarray in ISF defensive positions. Heavy fighting ensued, leading the ISF to sustain heavy casualties before successfully repelling the attacks, killing an unspecified number of militants and forcing the others to withdraw back across the Tigris.

Daesh also released video footage it claims shows its forces bombarding neighbourhoods in east Mosul. Al Jazeera cited medical sources as confirming that this shelling led to the deaths of six civilians and the wounding of 25 others in what can only be described as indiscriminate fire.

A US and Iran-backed Iraqi operation to recapture Mosul from Daesh began on 17 October 2016, gathering together a force of 100,000 soldiers and militiamen versus around 5,000 Daesh militants. Almost four months later, Iraqi forces may have sustained more than 6,500 fatalities, and have only just managed to gain an insecure level of control over eastern Mosul.

(Source / 08.02.2017)

Will Mosul see peace post-Islamic State?

General view of a building of the University of Mosul destroyed during the battle with Islamic State militants, in Mosul, Iraq, Jan. 30, 2017

Following the Jan. 25 announcement of the liberation of eastern Mosul by Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, an increasing number of families are leaving the camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the Kurdistan Region. They are returning to Mosul and its surrounding area in the hope of rebuilding their lives as the Islamic State (IS) retreats further and the government tries to shoulder its responsibilities.

On a burnt-out road in Nour neighborhood in eastern Mosul, where just two weeks earlier IS militants and Iraqi security forces fought a ferocious battle, former civilian pilot Abu Salim, 75, has a smile on his face and is happy to be alive in spite of the fighting and the airstrikes that targeted his neighborhood repeatedly. People like Abu Salim, flanked by two of his sons, are volunteering to clean the streets in the hope to restore a normal routine to their lives after living under IS terror for more than two years.

“[IS] destroyed all the Sunni cities in Iraq; they were the enemy of the Sunnis,” Abu Salim said, echoing a prevailing sentiment in the city of Mosul.

This sentiment is in stark contrast with how the residents of Mosul felt in June 2014, when many Sunni residents were happy to see the Iraqi army and federal police, perceived to be highly corrupt and sectarian, being routed by a group of several hundred militants that morphed into IS.

The caliphate that IS proclaimed was a result of years of grievances and open revolt against the central government by the Sunnis in Ninevah province since the invasion of 2003. However, over 2½ years of IS rule has made residents question the insurgents and hope for a reconciliation with the government in Baghdad — a crucial opportunity for Abadi to make peace in this turbulent region. By the time the Mosul operation started in late October 2016, people in Mosul were so fed up with IS that hundreds if not thousands volunteered to provide intelligence to the army and the peshmerga forces to rid their city of what many described as the “savage” militants. The residents had enough of IS in a city that is renowned for its ancient history and coexistence between various communities and religious denominations.

But IS brutality reappeared, even if far away, once the Iraqi Counter Terrorism Service (CTS) liberated the eastern neighborhoods in early November. IS militants fired rocket after rocket into these neighborhoods, as they regarded the residents to have strayed from its puritanical interpretation of Islam by assisting the Iraqi security forces. In late January, two CTS officers attended to a motionless 71-year-old man lying on a stretcher with injuries to his right leg and his face in a clinic in Baladiyat neighborhood. “My father was cleaning outside our house in Sediq neighborhood when an improvised explosive device blew up in the rubble,” said his son, who was erratically trying to help the medics as thick blood dripped from the old man’s face.

The father’s injuries were not life-threatening, but the sound of mortars landing in the distance meant more civilians like him were at the militants’ mercy. The punishment of the civilians by the militants was in contradiction to their message propagated to the Sunnis of Mosul for over 2½ years — that they were there to protect the Sunnis against their Shiite rulers in Baghdad.

This brutality from IS coupled with the supportive conduct of the CTS officers in dealing with civilians caught up in the fighting has played a crucial role in alleviating the people’s fear. In the early days of the Mosul operation, when CTS reached the first neighborhoods of the city on its eastern side, hundreds of civilians were treated by tireless CTS officers in rudimentary field clinics set up in damaged houses.

“Life is much better now,” Mahmoud Kheder, who has been an employee at the Ministry of Education for 35 years, told Al-Monitor. “[IS] only knew killing.” Life for Kheder and other residents is still very difficult; with no water and electricity this winter, it means his seven children will be shivering in the cold at night. But he said the fact that they have no IS terror hovering over their heads is enough to celebrate life.

“Our top priority in the local government is for the IDPs to return to their areas in and around Mosul,” Sido Hussein, a member of the Ninevah provincial council, told Al-Monitor. “We are working hard to resume services such as water and electricity, but given the level of destruction by [IS], it will take some time.”

Many in Mosul have lost everything, including their vehicles and homes in airstrikes, suicide car bombs or during the fighting. People who spoke to Al-Monitor said they hope the government will take responsibility for providing services and compensation so the residents can rebuild their lives. Mosul used to be the center for trade and industry in northern Iraq, and with its close proximity to Syria and Turkey, its economy could revive fast.

Peace in Mosul is crucial if Abadi wants to see stability in Iraq. Since the 2003 invasion, Mosul has been the strategic center of gravity for terrorist groups and it’s been in a state of rebellion. Until now, by and large the Iraqi security forces and in particular the CTS have treated the people in east Mosul with dignity and respect. However, in recent days, videos have surfaced on the internet that show individuals accused of collaboration with IS being killed on the spot. Other videos show children and adults accused of IS ties or membership being tortured and humiliated. Abadi has ordered a field investigation.

Mosul residents say that peace is possible in Mosul if the government continues its commitment to prevent sectarianism, provide services and increase transparency in a city where the government and corruption have gone hand in hand for years. But for now, while more than 750,000 people are under siege in west Mosul and await a bloody battle to be liberated, people in the east have different priorities. When asked about the three things the government can do for the residents right now, Abu Salim replied, “[Provide] water, electricity and kerosene.”

He has no qualms about the damage that IS has done to the fabric of Iraqi society. “These beasts brought Iraq to its lowest point in history,” Abu Salim said, adding in broken English while still smiling, “But I stay hopeful.”

(Source / 07.02.2017)

The forgotten generations: Palestinian refugees in Iraq

Erbil, Iraq – Inside Baharka IDP Camp, a government-run refugee camp that provides emergency shelter for over 4,000 internally displaced people, 18 Palestinian families live in a cluster of makeshift homes. Located near the Kurdish city of Erbil, the camp is managed by the Barzani Charity Foundation and the Erbil Refugee Council.

Born and raised in Baghdad, 30-year-old Palestinian Yahia Mahmoud has lived in Baharka camp for over two years. Without permission to work, travel or build a life as a citizen, and with nowhere else to go, Mahmoud and his family, like other Palestinian refugees in Iraq, are trapped in a cycle of isolation, discrimination and continual displacement.

For this family, as is the case for many Palestinians, their identity as stateless refugees is passed down from generation to generation.

Mahmoud’s parents were also born as refugees in Iraq. His grandfather fled Palestine during the exodus of 1948, known as the Nakba, when 700,000 Palestinian Arabs were expelled from their homes.

Mahmoud spent most of his childhood in refugee camps surrounding Baghdad. After being continually displaced throughout his life, most recently fleeing from Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, known as ISIS) fighters in Ramadi, he now lives in Baharka camp with his wife and two children, together with his brother and other relatives.

In August 2016, Mahmoud’s mother, Hudda Awad, died from cancer at the age of 57. For four months, she had been unable to continue with her chemotherapy in Iraq; her son believes that she was denied the treatment in part because of her ethnicity. “They did not give it to her because it cost a lot of money and also because we are Arabs, not Kurds,” he says.

For Mahmoud and his family, their options are limited. Desperate to provide a brighter and safer future for his children, Mahmoud hopes of someday escaping Iraq in search of the opportunity to build a better life for him and his family as citizens, and not as refugees.

Shiite militias open offices in Iraq’s liberated Sunni areas

Shiite fighters ride on the back of a truck with their weapons in al-Fatha, Iraq, Oct. 18, 2015

BAGHDAD — After the liberation of Sunni areas from the clutches of the Islamic State (IS), Shiite parties and their affiliated armed factions have established offices in those areas, despite not having a popular base there.

The Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) opened a bureau in the city of Fallujah on Jan. 16. Sunni journalists have expressed concern about this development, commenting that the PMU is trying to “a get a foothold in the liberated Sunni areas.”

Some media commentators are highly alarmed, warning that this step is a prelude to annihilating the Sunni identity. Jamila al-Obaidi, a parliament member for the National Iraqi Alliance, told Al-Monitor, “The PMU offices in the Sunni areas are politically motivated. It is an attempt to gain popularity in such areas in order to draw a new policy in the country in line with the aspirations of the [Shiite] parties in the liberated areas.”

In the Fallujah district, which was liberated a few months ago from IS, the PMU-affiliated armed factions are interfering in the work of the security forces stationed there, sometimes contravening the policies and efforts of the local police.

Mohammed al-Alwani, a citizen of Fallujah in Anbar governorate, was surprised to see the picture of a Shiite cleric hung on a wall near the office of an armed Shiite faction. “I don’t have any problem with Shiites as a community. They are my brethren. However, I do have a problem with their politics. I don’t know what the motives are behind these bureaus, which don’t have any supporters or followers in our city,” Alwani told Al-Monitor.

Some believe that Iran is seeking to expand its influence from the Shiite areas to Sunni ones through the PMU, gaining a foothold in more Iraqi cities as part of the rise of the political Shiite tide.

PMU spokesman Youssef al-Kilabi told Al-Monitor, “The opening of the resistance factions’ bureaus in the Sunni areas has nothing to do with the concept of political Shiism. The PMU is an official, lawful institution that represents all Iraqis. It is also a military institution as legitimate as the army, whose vision is not different from that of the government. The PMU was established to fight terrorism.”

He added, “The majority of the PMU factions had a political presence before the establishment of the institution. They have the right to engage in political activity, but apart from the PMU and according to the law regulating political parties. We will not allow the establishment of militia bureaus in the Sunni areas, and we are working on distributing tasks according to the appropriate powers.”

On Dec. 21, 2016, some local police sources revealed to reporters on condition of anonymity that some PMU factions, including Hezbollah, the Badr Organization and the Ali al-Akbar Brigade, planned to open three official bureaus in the liberated districts of Ramadi and Fallujah, affiliated with Anbar governorate.

Salem al-Issawi, a member of parliament for Anbar, told Al-Monitor, “The existence of armed factions’ bureaus in the Sunni areas is a provocation and a politically motivated step that would benefit no one.” He added, “I do not know what the purpose is of opening bureaus for political parties that do not have wide popular bases in the Sunni areas. All this could aggravate the security and social situation in the Sunni areas.”

Despite the Sunni residents’ dissatisfaction with these bureaus, some local residents revealed to Fath News that they are being established according to the wishes of some tribal leaders and dignitaries who requested a PMU presence in the Sunni areas to help maintain security.

The PMU has already established at least 10 offices in the past few months in Ramadi, Fallujah, Saqlawiyah, Ratba and Haditha.

In the cities of Tarmiyah and Taji, north of Baghdad, the PMU factions opened bureaus ostensibly to maintain security in the areas that were liberated by these forces. The moves suggest that more bureaus will open in other areas where the PMU took part in the liberation operations.

According to Issawi, all this could further escalate tension in these areas, though some believe that the PMU is a lawful official institution that has the right to be present where it deems appropriate. It could be a risky venture for armed factions that were once accused of committing human rights violations and of being affiliated with Iran to build a presence in Sunni areas. However, their presence may be justified by local forces’ inability to protect the lands and maintain security.

Preserving security in the liberated Sunni areas will not be easy. While the locals are demanding that their own forces take care of security, the PMU is insisting on extending its influence and taking control of the situation. These new offices could themselves be attacked or boycotted by Sunni locals, destabilizing the areas rather than securing them.

(Source / 02.02.2017)