@mod_Russia has confirmed that Syria is now 100% free from ISIS terrorists. Mission accomplished!
Major operations in populated areas of Iraq may have ended in a decisive win for Iraq’s armed forces but the decimation of Da’ish in the land of two rivers is not over yet. What was left of Da’ish’s military contingents fled to Iraq’s western desert looking for reprieve but did not find any there. Riding the wave of victory, Iraqi forces are now initiating a new phase in their war on terrorism as they look to root out the Da’ish elements aiming to revive an insurgency. With elections looming on the horizon, the security situation is steadily but cautiously improving.
Not so quiet on the Western front
Over the last fortnight, Iraqi forces have conducted one of the biggest clearing operations in western Iraq to date, with the aim of dislodging Da’ish remnants from the Jazirah desert region that connects the restive provinces of Ninawa, Salahuddin and Anbar. Within the first five days of this operation, Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi announced that 14,000km2 had been recaptured and secured as Da’ish elements in the desert melted away. This operation marks a historic achievement for the government as it is reasserting control over land that has been out of Baghdad’s reach since the collapse of the former regime in 2003.
Upwards of eighty villages have so far been retaken as operations continue in the area that spans around 30,000km2, reaching out from north of the Euphrates River in Anbar and extending into the desert region in western Salahuddin province and all the way up to southern Ninawa. This vast and lawless expanse of desert has been home to training bases, weapons depots and staging areas for launching terror attacks for over a decade, utilized by both Da’ish and its predecessors during their previous terror campaigns in Iraq. Recapturing and securing this area will deal a major blow to Da’ish aspirations of regrouping and rebuilding their organization into a competent fighting force once more.
The most lucrative target in this desert is Wadi Horan, the longest valley in Iraq, which stretches for 350km from the border region with Saudi Arabia all the way to the Euphrates River. The valley, with its famous 200-metre- deep gorges, has been under Da’ish control since the Iraqi military collapse in 2014 and has been converted into a Da’ish stronghold deep into the desert. Da’ish commanders have used this area as a safe haven to shield themselves from Iraqi and US-led coalition aircraft for years, as well as a critical logistics hub. The campaign to secure this terrain will also serve to bolster security along Iraq’s borders with Saudi, Jordan and most importantly Syria. In cooperation with hundreds of local Sunni tribesmen, Iraqi forces have launched several operations in the peripheries of Rawah and Rutba to tackle Da’ish terror cells camping in the area, and who have carried out dozens of deadly attacks on isolated army outposts in western Anbar over the past year.
The city of peace tastes some serenity
Meanwhile, last month saw Baghdad experiencing its most peaceful month in five years. The city escaped any car bomb or major IED attacks, marking the city’s least deadly month since November 2012. This milestone underscores how far the Iraqi people have come since the disastrous summer of 2014 and this success bears testament to the hard work of the security and intelligence apparatus which has fought and continues to fight a covert battle with Da’ish terror cells in Baghdad and the rest of the country.
However, the Iraqi government and military leadership must not fall into the trap of complacency. Da’ish terror cells are still active in the capital and provinces across the country and can strike at any moment. More resources and manpower must now be diverted away from the battlefield and into a functioning security structure that can ensure this peace continues in Baghdad and the rest of the country. Low-level terror attacks, which are a hallmark of a fledgling insurgency, are on the rise across Iraq in the wake of Da’ish’s military defeat. The terror cells behind these attacks must be terminated in order to build and maintain a new standard of security for the Iraqi people.
Sunni-on-Sunni violence is coming
The wounds of the Da’ish era will soon begin to heal but the scars might never fade away. One way in which these scars will remain is the fractured Sunni communities across Iraq, divided along the lines of support for the Da’ish takeover of the Sunni heartland. Across Anbar, Diyala, Salahuddin, Ninawa and Kirkuk provinces, Sunni communities are encountering a growing trend of backlash against those who supported and aided Da’ish over the past few years. Thousands of families whose members joined the terror group or helped them are being physically targeted, threatened and in many cases banished from their homes. The families of those who have suffered under Da’ish are acting on their hatred and suspicions of those who chose to ally themselves with the terrorists who desecrated the fabric of society in villages, towns and neighbourhoods across the country.
Women who married and bore the children of Da’ish terrorists are among the most targeted group, with many communities calling for the women’s prosecution as terrorists themselves. Camps in the Iraqi desert currently house many of these women but this situation is not sustainable and will have to be addressed by the government sooner than later.
These tensions will soon come to a head in Iraq, inevitably in the form of violence. Tribes like Al-Nimr in central Anbar had hundreds, if not thousands, of their members brutally massacred by Da’ish during the height of their power in the province. It will prove to be a difficult task to hold these tribes back from exacting revenge on the members of fellow Sunni tribes who welcomed Da’ish into the province with open arms. To avoid bloodshed, Baghdad must mediate between these tribes and judicially deal with any tribesmen found to have aided Da’ish, in the hope that such measures might avoid deadly tribal clashes in areas that already need billions of dollars worth of aid and rebuilding.
Tensions run high in the disputed areas
Militarily speaking, the situation in Kirkuk and the regions of Iraq disputed between Baghdad and Erbil has seen no dramatic changes since major operations ended. However, the war of words between different ethnic and political actors involved has continued. The situation is likely to improve with recent reports that US troops have entered Kirkuk and are currently moving from base to base in the region with the aim of preventing flare-ups between the different sides in the equation. Such a move had to be approved by Baghdad and was likely requested by the Kurds, but it will anger other parties, namely the Hashd Al-Sha’abi (Popular Mobilization Units) who largely oppose foreign intervention in Iraqi affairs. While unlikely to spur physical confrontation, this development will likely put unnecessary pressure on Abadi’s government.
Turkmen politicians have used the tipping of the scales in Kirkuk as a bargaining chip, adamantly demanding that Turkmen must run disputed areas like Kirkuk and Tuz Khurmatu. These manoeuvres are not surprising after years of unfair and hostile treatment by Kurdish authorities towards the Turkmen minority in northern Iraq. However, these tensions mean that hotly disputed areas like Tuz Khurmatu will remain a tinderbox for the foreseeable future. Clashes in Tuz Khurmatu are not scarce and could continue to escalate between an emboldened Turkmen community and a Kurdish one still reeling from a colossal and humiliating defeat in Kirkuk and other disputed lands.
All in all, Iraq is living through a rare moment of calm with the joy of victory in the air. But trouble is not too far away, yet.
“I felt quite liberated because we had a clear mandate and there was no questioning that.”
– U.S. Marine Col. Seth Folsom
US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley defended President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital at an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council on Friday — slamming member countries for their treatment of Israel, in the face of harsh criticism over the controversial US policy move.
The meeting — which was called in response to Trump’s Wednesday announcement about plans to also relocate the US Embassy to Jerusalem — highlighted the broad global opposition to the move despite Haley’s insistence that the US remains committed to a two-state solution.
She also said that the US has credibility with both the Israelis and the Palestinians and any peace agreement would likely be “signed on the White House Lawn.”
“The United States is not predetermining final status issues. We remain committed to achieving a lasting peace agreement. We support a two-state solution if agreed to by the parties,” Haley said.
Several countries voiced their opposition to the US decision prior to Haley’s comments.
“As was indicated by Macron, we regret the decisions announced by the US President on Wednesday to unilaterally recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and to prepare for the transfer of the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem,” said French Ambassador Francois Delattre.
Egyptian Ambassador Abdellatif Aboulatta stated: “We’d also like to stress that such unilateral decisions is a violation of international legitimacy and thus it has no impact on the legal status of Jerusalem since it is a city under occupation.”
“There will also be grave negative impact of such a decision on the peace process between the Palestinians and Israelis,” he added.
The Palestinians are not a member of the Security Council but Palestinian Ambassador Riyad Mansour was invited to attend the meeting.
“The US decision to award Israelis impunity undermines and essentially disqualifies its leadership role to seek peace in the region,” he said.
“Indeed, the resounding rejection of this provocative decision by the world leaders is indicative of the injection of all such illegal policies and measures and of the immense concerns regarding the dangerous implications of this decision including on the prospects for peace and security in the region and beyond,” Mansour added.
Haley also went on to condemn the United Nations for its treatment of Israel and said the US will not stand by while Israel is attacked or be lectured by other countries about its position on Israeli’s and Palestinians.
“Over many years the United Nations has outrageously been of the world’s foremost centers of hostility towards Israel,” Haley said. “The UN has done much more damage to the prospects of Middle East peace than to advance them. We will not be a party to that.”
“The US no longer stands by when Israel is unfairly attacked in the United Nations,” she added. “And the United States will not be lectured to by countries that lack any credibility when it comes to treating both Israelis and Palestinians fairly.”
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said any final decision on the status of Jerusalem would depend on negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis.
“As far as the rest of Jerusalem is concerned, the president has not indicated any final status for Jerusalem,” Tillerson said, “it was very clear that the final status, including the borders, would be left to negotiation and decision between the parties.”
Tillerson, who is in Paris for talks with his French counterpart Jean-Yves Le Derrion, said it was unlikely the US embassy would move from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem this year, or even next year.
Tillerson pointed to the steps to transfer the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, which includes finding a location, making plans, obtaining congressional approval for the expected expenses, and “building the embassy effectively.”
Tilson’s comments come as Trump’s decision to unilaterally recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel provokes angry reactions in the Middle East and the Muslim world. Palestinians called for a “day of anger” over a resolution that goes against seven decades of US foreign policy.
Diyala (IraqiNews.com) An official from Diyala province has indicated infighting among the members of Islamic State members in several regions.
“The sleeper cells of IS deployed in four regions in Diyala, including Hamreen, Waqf basin, al-Zour and al-Nada basin, have recently witnessed internal disputes as leaders seek dominating the whole group,” Sadiq al-Husseini, head of the security committee of Diyala provincial council, told AlSumaria News on Friday.
“IS in Diyala disappears after its military presence is eliminated . Only sporadic cells are there,” Husseini added.
On Wednesday, Husseini said in remarks that an intelligence team managed to infiltrate the Hamreen Mountains area and killed IS commando chief in the province.
Being an area of tough geography, Hamreen served as a suitable haven for the militant group.
An IS leader and his companion were reportedly killed last week as clashes broke out between the group’s elite leaders in Um al-Sharr in Mutaibija, on borders between Diyala and Salahuddin
Iraqi forces, backed by a U.S.-led coalition and paramilitary troops, have been fighting since October 2016 to retake territories Islamic State had occupied. Since then, forces took back the group’s former capital, Mosul, the town of Tal Afar, Kirkuk’s Hawija, and Anbar’s Annah, Rawa and Qaim.
The war against IS has displaced at least five million people. Thousands others fled towards neighboring countries including Syria, Turkey and other European countries, since IS emerged to proclaim its self-styled “caliphate”.
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