22 January 2017
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PRESS RELEASE

For immediate release 18th January 2017

 

Iran Appoints Terrorist Chief as Ambassador to Iraq

 

The recent appointment of Brigadier Iraj Masjadi as Iran’s ambassador to Iraq has provided the clearest evidence yet of the theocratic regime’s aggressive dominance over its closest neighbour. The appointment has been roundly condemned by the European Iraqi Freedom Association (EIFA), whose President – Struan Stevenson – says that Masjadi’s appointment clearly demonstrates how Iran exults in its role as the world’s leading exporter of terror. Speaking in Scotland, Stevenson said: “The Iranian mullahs finance and supply men and material to the brutal Shi’ia militias in Iraq, Bashar al-Assad in Syria, the Houthi rebels in Yemen and Hezbollah in Lebanon. Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and Qods Force are involved in every Middle East conflict. Masjadi was the senior deputy of General Qasem Soleimani, commander of the Quds Force of the IRGC. Both organisations are on international terrorist lists. Iranian media outlets have confirmed that Masjadi’s appointment was based on a proposal by General Qasem Soleimani, with the approval of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of Iran. This is an outrage against the norms of international diplomacy.”

 The IRGC considers the Iranian embassy in Baghdad to be the most strategically important of its embassies within the range of Middle East countries that are subject to Tehran’s influence, including Lebanon, Syria and Yemen. Masjadi has been one of the key mentors of the mullahs’ policy of aggressive expansionism. He claimed, during the battle to recapture the ancient Iraqi city of Fallujah from Daesh (ISIS) that: “The involvement of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards in the battle of Fallujah was in order to preserve Iran’s status as the Shi’ite centre of the world. We are defending Iran and its borders.” Masjadi and General Qasem Soleimani masterminded the ruthless ethnic cleansing of the Sunni population in Fallujah and Ramadi by the pro-Iranian Shi’ia militias that led to the destruction of both cities and the death of many thousands of innocent civilians. A similar bloodbath is now taking place in Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city and a predominantly Sunni stronghold. Masjadi had a very active role in repression of the Syrian people and also the killing of Iranian dissidents in Camp Liberty near Baghdad airport.

 In a statement last May, Brigadier Masjadi also revealed the role of the Iranian Quds Force in maintaining the murderous regime of Bashar al-Assad saying: “Without the interference of the Quds forces in the last moments, the Syrian regime would have fallen into the hands of the Syrian opposition. After the Syrian armed opposition took control of most areas in Damascus and its countryside, Syria was on the verge of completely falling down. We finally intervened at the last minute and saved Damascus and the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from an inevitable downfall. The fall of the Syrian government in Damascus at the hands of the Syrian armed opposition would have meant disrupting the link between Iran and Hezbollah in Lebanon. In this case we believe that Hezbollah would have been besieged, its position would be very weak and it would have experienced hardship in Lebanon.”

 Struan Stevenson stated: “The appointment of a Revolutionary Guard commander and adviser as the Iranian ambassador in Baghdad once again proves that the fascist Iranian regime has no interest whatsoever in seeking peace and conflict resolution in the Middle East. Iran is the main problem in the zone. It can never be the solution.”

 He added: “This also shows that Iran, by misusing the war against Daesh, is determined to expand its influence in Iraq more than ever. As EIFA has repeatedly stated, if the new US administration wishes to get rid of Daesh completely, it must evict the Iranian regime, the IRGC and its affiliated militias from Iraq. This is the only way the criminal Iranian regime can be prevented from exploiting the USA and its allies to its advantage in Iraq.”

 

Note: Struan Stevenson was a Member of the European Parliament representing Scotland (1999-2014). He was President of the Parliament’s Delegation for Relations with Iraq (2009- 2014) and Chair of Friends of a Free Iran Intergroup (Caucus) from 2004-2014. He is now President of the European Iraqi Freedom Association (EIFA).

 

As Iraq gears up for provincial elections, the floor under the ruling Shia alliance is cracking. Anger is mounting among a population that says its demands have not been met, as shown during recent protests against Iraqi Vice- President Nuri al-Maliki in southern Iraq.

Maliki’s unsolicited, self-funded political tour to several southern cities in December drew crowds of enraged protesters demanding the departure of a man they blame for Iraq’s current situation. Dissatisfied masses scolded Maliki — as their placards read — for plundering Iraq’s oil wealth and allowing one-third of the country to slip into the grasp of the Islamic State (ISIS).

“The aim of Maliki’s tour,” Amman-based activist Marjan al-Hilali explained in a telephone interview, “is to nurture the loyalty of certain segments of society through hollow promises and cash.”

Hilali said money was the order of the day in the “new Iraq”. The highest bidder, he said, “is he who solidifies his power over ministries of state”. Maliki’s promises of reform and sweeping changes have come to mean very little. Suspicion and distrust of his motives are grounded in a history of his repressive and sectarian rule.

Iraqi-based activist Uday al-Zaidi said, “Maliki and his State of Law Party have lost the popular vote”, especially among Shias in Iraq. Any legitimacy he had was extracted under electoral fraud and vote rigging. Even this was lost the moment protesters took to the streets during February uprisings in 2010”.

“He cannot defy his fate by walking over the cracks in the floor beneath him,” Zaidi said. “Power is no longer narrowly concentrated around him or his allies.”

Maliki denounced the protests, labelling the participants as outlaws belonging to the Sadrist political movement. Days earlier, Islamic Dawa Party leader Ammar al-Kuzai was attacked by armed groups in Basra. The Sadrists released a statement three days following Maliki’s eviction from Basra’s oil cultural centre denying responsibility and involvement. Wathiq al-Battat, leader of Iraq’s Hezbollah, stereotyped demonstrators as “baltajiyya” — “thugs” — and defended Maliki “as not the only man responsible for the blood Iraq has shed”.

Maliki is widely remembered for crushing Iraq’s “Arab spring” in 2012 after a raid was ordered on the Ministry of Finance headed by Rafi al-Issawi, a Sunni. His guards were arrested under terrorism charges and another Sunni MP, Ahmad al- Alwani, was imprisoned.

Starting in Falluja, thousands of Iraqis rallied to condemn Maliki’s sectarian governance. The popular uprising lasted more than a year but its “leaders were incarcerated, forced into exile, and many of them killed”, Ahmad Mahmoud, an organiser of the 2010 uprisings, now based in London, explained.

“The same approach was used the subsequent years as protests continued,” he said. Those who marched, Mahmoud added, “whether in Falluja, Ramadi or Basra were conceptualised by Maliki and his henchman as seditionists and criminals”, allegations Maliki returned to after the demonstrations against him in southern Iraq.

Zaidi said that, while political groups joined the protests, “Maliki’s projection of what really happened is a mere illusion that Iraqis can no longer be fed”. His reception suggests his popularity is waning.

Though rifts between Maliki and the Sadrist movement are not new, they have intensified in recent months. Both blocs, on paper, are partners in the ruling national alliance criticised by Zaidi “as a house that is divided” along religious lines.

In late December, Muqtada al Sadr met with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to discuss the war against ISIS, reform plans and the elevation of moderate voices within the establishment reportedly without mentioning names.

“Lest we forget, the political system in Iraq was essentially founded upon injustices and the existing alliances that form the political process lack popular support,” Zaidi said. “Whether it is Sunni or Shia or Kurdish, these are all political blocs moulded by the hands of US occupiers.”

With only a few months before Iraqi elections, Zaidi maintained that Iraq is witnessing the “rise of a new popular movement… the biggest threat to those in power”.

He said that April’s vote “will give birth to new political parties and trends with old faces”. He added that observers should expect several delays under “invented pretences” of the ruling national Shia alliance to postpone the results.

Growing friction between Maliki’s State of Law Coalition and the Sadrist movement are expected and alliances will likely shift as political blocs try to consolidate power. These agendas, Zaidi said, “will not go undetected by the Iraqi people”.

 Source: Middle East online

By Nazli Tarzi - LONDON

Nazli Tarzi is an independent journalist, whose writings and films focus on Iraq’s ancient history and contemporary political scene.

 

 

The Islamic Republic continues on its path of death and destruction.

A conglomerate of Iran-backed Shiite militias in Iraq, known as the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU), or more commonly by the Arabic label al-Hashd al-Shaabi, pose a very dire threat for the future of Iraq. This sectarian group of dangerous armed elements is resorting to any and all crimes with the objective of pursuing Tehran’s policies across Mesopotamia.

The PMU, established back in the mid-2014, has taken part in the battles of Syria from mid-2013 onward and now, despite participating in the offensive to retake Mosul from Daesh (ISIS/ISIL), this phenomenon poses the gravest of all threats for the Iraqi nation. 

Conditions allowing the PMU’s presence and its foreign connections have raised major concerns across the board. Human rights violations and crimes by this group against dissidents in areas retaken from Daesh are amongst the many other reasons intensifying anxieties about the very nature of this alliance. The PMU is also accused of launching revenge attacks and atrocities against displaced Sunnis fleeing these areas.

A strange and disturbing irony lies in the fact that the arms provided by a broad spectrum of the international community are being used for ill purposes.

“Paramilitary militias nominally operating as part of the Iraqi armed forces in the fight against the armed group calling itself Islamic State (IS) are using arms from Iraqi military stockpiles, provided by the USA, Europe, Russia and Iran, to commit war crimes, revenge attacks and other atrocities,” Amnesty International reported.

The PMU “have used those arms to facilitate the enforced disappearance and abduction of thousands of mainly Sunni men and boys, torture and extrajudicial executions as well as wanton destruction of property,” the alarming statement adds.

The report highlights “four main militias that Amnesty International has documented committing serious human rights violations: Munathamat Badr (Badr Brigades or Badr Organization), Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq (League of the Righteous), Kata’ib

Hezbollah (Hezbollah Brigades) and the Saraya al-Salam (Peace Brigades).”

Source: FRONTPAGE MAG

Other international human rights organizations have time and again exposed the sectarian crimes committed by PMU ranks and files.

“Human Rights Watch and the UN have previously blamed the pro-government militias for perpetrating atrocities against civilians,” Alaraby reported.

“Members of Shia militias, who the Iraqi government has included among its state forces, abducted and killed scores of Sunni residents in a central Iraq town and demolished Sunni homes,” HRW warned back in January 2016.

While such warnings fell to deaf ears, HRW demanded from Baghdad to “prevent militias with records of serious abuses from taking part in planned military operations for the city of Mosul.”

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein cited strong evidence that Kata’ib Hezbollah perpetrated atrocities against a Sunni community.

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubair has gone as far as describing this group as extremely sectarian and run by Iranian military officers. Topping this list of commanders is none other than Revolutionary Guards Quds Force chief Qassem Suleimani.

The Iraqi Parliament in late 2016 adopted a bill recognizing the PMU as an official security entity, throwing “a wrench into efforts to adopt a national settlement proposal — basically a grand plan to abolish sectarian and ethnic quotas,” as described in Al-Monitor.

This law is in fact in violation of the Iraqi Constitution Article 9 banning the establishment of any militia group not falling under the command and control of the armed forces. The PMU is a force parallel to the Iraqi military – much like Iran’s IRGC alongside its classic army – and not part of its structure and framework. Their very existence is in violation of the Iraqi Constitution and as a result lacks any legality. 

It is an undeniable fact that the PMU pursues the fundamental interests of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, receiving their orders directly from Tehran. The Iranian opposition, itself the target of the Iranian regime’s attacks, has time and again warned of Tehran’s increasing meddling in Iraq.

“Commander of Iraq’s al-Hashd al-Shaabi militant group affiliated to the Iranian regime, referring to the possibility that these mobilization forces are present in Syria to help Assad regime for more killings and massacre of Syrian people, claimed that Hashd al-Shaabi could help Syria to get rid of terrorism,” according to a report posted by the National Council of Resistance of Iran, an umbrella group of Iranian dissident organizations including the People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK) and others.

With a sectarian structure, the PMU first poses a major threat for Iraq and its sovereignty, and will move on to spread their disease across the Middle East. If the international community seeks to calm and resolve crises plaguing the Middle East, one very necessary step is to bring an end to Iran’s meddling across the region.

As NCRI President Maryam Rajavi explained, “The regime in Tehran is the source of crisis in the region and killings in Syria; it has played the greatest role in the expansion and continuation of ISIS. Peace and tranquility in the region can only be achieved by evicting this regime from the region.”

BAGHDAD — On Dec. 26, the leader of the Sadrist movement, Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, met with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to discuss the reform project advanced by Sadr over a year ago through popular protests against those accused of corruption. One of those blamed was former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, currently one of Iraq’s vice presidents.

The meeting came after a series of demonstrations against Maliki, who has been visiting Shiite cities in central and southern Iraq. Anti-Maliki demonstrations in the south have revived concerns about Shiite infighting, especially after hundreds of angry protesters from Iraq’s southern province of Basra stormed a meeting in which Maliki was expected to address a group of influential figures, driving the attendees out of the hall. Sadr and his followers were held responsible for mobilizing the protests; Sadr refused to comment about them.

From Dec. 7-11, Maliki faced demonstrations in the south in Maysan, Dhi Qar and Basra provinces during his visits there with top officials. These visits were part of Maliki’s early campaign aimed at increasing his chances in local and parliamentary elections slated for 2018 and rebuilding the popularity he lost after one-third of the country fell in the hands of the Islamic State (IS) in June 2014, when he was still in power.

Maliki was surrounded by a swarm of protesters chanting against him. But the worst incident took place in Basra province, where the former prime minister had to call off his visit amid the public outcry. The angry crowds sought to remind Maliki of what happened during his term, where one-third of the country was lost to IS and about 1,700 young men from southern cities were killed in the Camp Speicher massacre in Salahuddin province. The protesters sarcastically called Maliki “Speicherman” in an allusion to the superhero Spiderman.

After his return to Baghdad Dec. 11, Maliki released a statement in which he expressed his exasperation about what he called “the rise in gang and outlaw militia activities” in Basra; this came in response to the slogans against him and the angry crowd that stopped him from speaking to his supporters in Basra.

Although Maliki’s statement only spoke of “militia activity,” the Islamic Dawa Party’s statement went further, saying that what its secretary-general and his companions went through was “a flagrant attack,” labeling the protesters as “outlaw delinquents.” However, the most notable escalation came when the Shiite party — which has had three of its members hold the prime minister’s post since 2003 — called on “all its members to show restraint and resort to the law,” while warning, “If legal authorities fail to take deterrent actions and protect citizens from the evils of these criminal gangs, then it had better prepare for a second Charge of the Knights.” Operation Charge of the Knights was carried out against the Mahdi Army, the Sadrist militia, in Basra province in 2008.

In light of these events, concerns resurfaced about a possible Shiite confrontation involving, on the one hand, the Dawa Party and Maliki’s supporters, and on the other, the Sadr-led militia, Maliki’s staunchest opponent. This led lawmaker Hanan al-Fatlawi, who is close to Maliki, to speak to the Financial Times about a possible Shiite-Shiite conflict in post-IS Iraq.

However, a military clash seems unlikely, especially after the Sadrist movement refrained from responding to the allegations that it was staging anti-Maliki demonstrations. Writer Safaa Khalaf, originally from Basra province, told Al-Monitor that the Sadrist movement may have mobilized a number of supporters in Dhi Qar and Maysan provinces against Maliki, leading him to “visit Basra to regain his dignity after coming under public fire in Amarah and Nasiriyah, the capitals of the two southern provinces.” Khalaf said, “It is a completely political confrontation that will not necessarily lead to a bloody one.”

Khalaf, who is preparing to publish a book about the political changes and the rise of militias in Basra since 2003, said, “Maliki was attempting a political maneuver in three provinces in the hope of restoring his pride.” Khalaf added, “It could be that Maliki now realizes that he is out of the equation.”

Khalaf said of Basra residents’ indignation against Maliki, “Basrawis had to deal with the failures of two former governors appointed by Maliki, not to mention pervasive corruption, sale of posts, monopoly of large services and investment contracts. This has led to the deterioration of service quality.”

Maliki, who was denied the third term he sought in 2014, spoke of the importance of political majority rule in Iraq only days after the events in the south. Earlier, Maliki did not deny his intention to return to power as prime minister.

If those who took part in the anti-Maliki demonstrations in the south were indeed Sadrist opponents wishing to crush Maliki’s political hopes, then it must be said that the mistakes he committed when he was prime minister have taken their toll. Anger about this has been shown to a great extent in the slogans shouted during the demonstrations that started in July 2015 in most of the central and southern Iraqi cities. 

Source: Al-Monitor



BRUSSELS, Jan. 6 (UPI) -- When President Barack Obama leaves the White House later this month, he will leave behind a shocking legacy of death and destruction in the Middle East. His foreign policy vision, which saw the United States focus on cooperation with Iran as its core strategy, has unlocked a Pandora's box of conflict and sectarian strife across the zone.

Obama has now belatedly, during the closing days of his administration, come to realize that the nuclear deal with Iran and his concessions to that ruthless regime have in fact not only threatened the security of the Middle East, but have even undermined the interests of the United States. Saudi Arabia, the Gulf states and Turkey have tried in vain to prevent Iran's aggressive expansionism in the region, but they have been repeatedly thwarted by U.S. empathy for the mullahs' regime. His failure to back the Syrian opposition has allowed the bloody civil war in that country to rage on into its seventh year, costing hundreds of thousands of lives and sparking the huge migration crisis in Europe.

Following the nuclear deal, a sum of $150 billion of frozen assets was released to Iran by the U.S. administration, providing a windfall for the Tehran government, which was teetering on the brink of economic collapse. But far from investing in its own people, the fascist mullah-led regime used this money to redouble its spending on exporting terror through the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps and Quds Force, both of which are listed terrorist organizations in the West and are involved in almost every conflict in the Middle East. As well as Bashar al-Assad in Syria and Yemen's Houthi rebels, Iran funds and supplies Hezbollah in Lebanon and the brutal Shi'ia militias in Iraq.

Demonstrating complete disdain for the West, the Iranian regime has consistently breached the nuclear deal. Last March, two Qadr-H missiles were fired in open defiance of a U.N. Security Council resolution tied to the agreement. The missiles were chillingly marked with the phrase: "Israel must be wiped out" and the test firing took place provocatively on the same day that the U.S. Vice President Joe Biden was visiting Israel. Last August, Vladimir Putin, in a further flagrant signal of aggression to the West, sent the first shipment of Russian S-300 surface-to-air missiles to Iran.

But under Obama's misguided Middle East policy, his determined efforts to do deals with the so-called "moderate" and "smiling" Iranian President Hassan Rouhani have provided a green light for Tehran's dogmatic expansionist policy. Rouhani is in fact in charge of a venally corrupt government, which has executed around 3,000 people since he took office in 2013. Ten have been hanged this year. Mass hangings are now the order of the day; many are carried out in public, even in football stadiums. But this should come as no surprise; in a further scandalous development it has been revealed that the mass-murder by the regime in 1988 of over 30,000 political prisoners from the opposition People's Mojahedin of Iran was supervised by Mostafa Pour-Mohammadi, who has been appointed by Rouhani as his justice minister.

Despite repeated warnings, Obama began his administration by capitulating to Iranian demands to back the corrupt and murderous Nouri al-Maliki as prime minister in Iraq. Maliki was a puppet of the mullahs, doing their bidding by opening a direct route for Iranian troops and equipment heading to Syria to bolster the murderous Assad regime. Iran's support for Maliki in Iraq and for Assad in Syria, two corrupt dictators who repressed and brutalized their own people, resulted in the rise of Daesh, also known as the Islamic State.Thanks to U.S. acquiescence over Tehran, Daesh grew and became a threat to the whole world.

Obama compounded this grievous mistake by providing American military support and air cover for the genocidal campaign being waged by pro-Iranian Shi'ia militias in Iraq. Once again Iran exploited its role in ousting Daesh as a means for implementing its ruthless policy of ethnic cleansing to annihilate the Sunnis in Iraq's al-Anbar Province. Horrific sectarian atrocities were committed during the so-called "liberation" of the ancient cities of Fallujah and Ramadi. The Shi'ia militias, who formed the main part of the force fighting to recapture these cities from Daesh and are now engaged in the battle to recapture Mosul, are led by Gen. Qasem Soleimani, commander of the Iranian terrorist Quds Force. Soleimani has also played a key role in Syria and the massacre in Aleppo.

Tehran is relentlessly strengthening its grip over Iraq. Corruption and poor training has rendered the Iraqi army almost useless, leaving a vacuum, which the Iranian regime has been quick to fill, pressurizing Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi into allowing the Iranian-funded militias to take control of military operations. Political disarray in Baghdad, combined with Obama's directionless and dysfunctional American foreign policy, has paved the way for Iran to consolidate its hold in Iraq.

President-elect Donald Trump will have the unenviable task of trying to sort out Obama's Middle East mess. There are many people on his team who believe that Iran is the main source of conflict in the Middle East and as such, poses a greater threat to the West than North Korea or even Russia. It will be interesting to see if Trump can slam the lid back down on the mullahs' Pandora's box before the Iranian malignancy is allowed to metastasize.

Struan Stevenson, president of the European Iraqi Freedom Association, was a member of the European Parliament representing Scotland (1999-2014), president of the Parliament's Delegation for Relations with Iraq (2009-14) and chairman of Friends of a Free Iran Intergroup (2004-14).

Shi’ite Muslim militias have reportedly been using weapons from Iraqi military stockpiles.

Militias fighting alongside Iraqi troops against Islamic State are committing war crimes using weapons provided to the Iraqi military by the United States, Europe, Russia and Iran, Amnesty International said on Thursday.

The rights group said that predominantly Shi’ite Muslim militias, known collective as the Hashid Shaabi, were using weapons from Iraqi military stockpiles to commit war crimes including enforced disappearances, torture and summary killings.

Parliament voted for the Hashid to formally become part of Iraq’s armed forces in November but the session was boycotted by Sunni representatives who worry it will entrench Shi’ite majority rule as well as Iran’s regional influence.

Iraqi and Western officials have expressed serious concerns about the government’s ability to bring the Shi’ite militias under greater control.

“International arms suppliers, including the USA, European countries, Russia and Iran, must wake up to the fact that all arms transfers to Iraq carry a real risk of ending up in the hands of militia groups with long histories of human rights violations,” said Amnesty researcher Patrick Wilcken in a statement.

States wishing to sell arms to Iraq should ensure strict measures to ensure weapons will not be used by militias to violate human rights, he added.

Amnesty cited nearly 2-1/2 years of its own field research, including interviews with dozens of former detainees, witnesses, survivors, and relatives of those killed, detained or missing.

Its report focused on four powerful groups, most of which receive backing from Iran: the Badr Organisation, Asaib Ahl al-Haq, Kataib Hezbollah and Saraya al-Salam.

Spokesmen for the Hashid and for the prime minister, to whom the fighters technically report, did not respond to requests for comment.

The Hashid deny having sectarian aims or committing widespread abuses and say they saved the nation by pushing Islamic State back from Baghdad’s borders after the army crumbled in the face of the jihadists’ lightning advance in 2014. The dispute threatens to complicate efforts to pull the country back together.

A major offensive by Iraqi security forces to retake the northern city of Mosul from Islamic State is nearing the end of its third month. Thousands of fighters from various Hashid groups are participating.

Source: Huffington Post

More than 2,000 Iraqis a day are fleeing Mosul, several hundred more each day than before U.S.-led coalition forces began a new phase of their battle to retake the city from Islamic State, the United Nations said on Wednesday.

After quick initial advances, the operation stalled for several weeks but last Thursday Iraqi forces renewed their push from Mosul's east towards the Tigris River on three fronts.

Elite interior ministry troops were clearing the Mithaq district on Wednesday, after entering it on Tuesday when counterterrorism forces also retook an industrial zone.

 
Federal police advanced in the Wahda district, the military said on Wednesday, in the 12th week of Iraq's largest military campaign since the U.S.-led invasion of 2003.

As they advanced, many more civilian casualties were also being recorded, the U.N. said.

Vastly outnumbered, the militants have embedded themselves among residents and are using the city terrain to their advantage, concealing car bombs in narrow alleys, posting snipers on tall buildings with civilians on lower floors, and making tunnels and surface-level passageways between buildings.

"We were very afraid," one Mithaq resident said.

"A Daesh (Islamic State) anti-aircraft weapon was positioned close to our house and was opening fire on helicopters. We could see a small number of Daesh fighters in the street carrying light and medium weapons. They were hit by planes."

Security forces have retaken about a quarter of Mosul since October but, against expectations and despite severe shortages of food and water, most residents have stayed put until now.

More than 125,000 people have been displaced out of a population of roughly 1.5 million, but the numbers have increased by nearly 50 percent to 2,300 daily from 1,600 over the last few days, the U.N. refugee agency said.

The humanitarian situation was "dire", with food stockpiles dwindling and the price of staples spiralling, boreholes drying up or turning brackish from over-use and camps and emergency sites to the south and east reaching maximum capacity, it said.

Most of the fleeing civilians are from the eastern districts but people from the besieged west, still under the militants' control, are increasingly attempting to escape, scaling bridges bombed by the coalition and crossing the Tigris by boat.

An Iraqi victory in Mosul would probably spell the end for Islamic State's self-styled caliphate but in recent days the militants have displayed the tactics to which they are likely to resort if they lose the city, killing dozens with bombs in Baghdad and attacking security forces elsewhere.

Source: Reuters

Suicide Bombing in Baghdad Kills at Least 36 Wednesday, 04 January 2017 15:17

BAGHDAD — A suicide bomber detonated a pickup truck loaded with explosives on Monday in a busy Baghdad market, killing at least 36 people hours after President François Hollande of France arrived in the Iraqi capital.

The Islamic State later claimed responsibility for the attack.

The bomb went off in a produce market that was packed with day laborers, a police officer said, adding that another 52 people were wounded.

During a news conference with Mr. Hollande, Haider al-Abadi, Iraq’s prime minister, said the suicide bomber had pretended to be a man seeking to hire day laborers. Once the workers gathered around, he detonated the vehicle.

The Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, claimed the attack in a statement circulated on a website that is often used by the group. It was the third such attack in three days in or near Baghdad, underscoring the lingering threat posed by the extremist group despite a string of setbacks for it elsewhere in the country over the past year, including in and around the northern city of Mosul.

The attack took place in Sadr City, a vast Shiite district in eastern Baghdad that has been repeatedly targeted by Sunni extremists since the 2003 American-led invasion.

Militiamen loyal to the Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr were seen evacuating bodies in their trucks before ambulances arrived. Bodies were scattered across the bloody pavement alongside fruit, vegetables and laborers’ shovels and axes. A minibus filled with dead passengers was on fire.

Asaad Hashim, 28, an owner of a nearby cellphone store, described how the laborers had pushed and shoved around the bomber’s vehicle, trying to get hired.

“Then a big boom came, sending them up into the air,” said Mr. Hashim, who suffered shrapnel wounds to his right hand. He blamed “the most ineffective security forces in the world” for failing to prevent the attack.

An angry crowd cursed the government, even after a representative of Mr. Sadr tried to calm them. Late last month, the Iraqi authorities started removing some of the security checkpoints in Baghdad in a bid to ease traffic for the capital’s six million residents.

“We have no idea who will kill at any moment and who’s supposed to protect us,” said Ali Abbas, a 40-year-old father of four who was hurled over his vegetable stand by the blast. “If the securities forces can’t protect us, then allow us to do the job.”

Several smaller bombings elsewhere in the city on Monday killed at least 20 civilians and wounded at least 70, according to medics and police officials. All officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to reporters.

The United States State Department condemned the attacks.

Separately, the American military announced on Monday the death of a coalition service member in Iraq in a “noncombat-related incident,” without providing further details.

Mr. Hollande met with Mr. Abadi and President Fuad Masum, and later traveled to the self-governing northern Kurdish region to meet with French troops and local officials. He pledged to help displaced Iraqis return to Mosul, where Iraqi forces are waging a large offensive against the Islamic State.

France is part of the American-led coalition formed in 2014 to fight the Islamic State after the extremist group seized large areas in Iraq and neighboring Syria. France has suffered multiple attacks claimed by the extremist group.

Source: The New York Times

UN mission in Iraq says the figure does not include casualties from western Anbar for May, July, August and December.

 At least 6,878 civilians were killed in Iraq last year as the Iraqi government struggled to maintain security and dislodge fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) group from areas under its control.

The UN Assistance Mission for Iraq, known as UNAMI, said on Tuesday that its numbers "have to be considered as the absolute minimum" as it was not able to verify casualties among civilians in conflict areas.

It added that last year figures did not include casualties among civilians in Iraq's western Anbar province for the months of May, July, August and December.

According to UNAMI figures, at least 12,388 civilians were wounded in 2016.

The monthly UN casualty report for December 2016 showed that a total of 386 civilians were killed and another 1,066 were wounded.

The worst affected area was the northern province of Ninevah, where government forces are fighting to retake the ISIL-held city of Mosul, with 208 civilians killed and 511 injured. The capital, Baghdad, came next with 109 civilians killed and 523 injured.

 

In the last week alone, ISIL claimed responsibility for a string of bombings in Baghdad that killed more than 50 people .

The deadliest ISIL attack was in July when a massive suicide bombing in a bustling market area in central Baghdad killed almost 300 people, the bloodiest single attack in the capital in 13 years of war.

"This is, no doubt, an attempt by [ISIL] to divert attention from their losses in Mosul and, unfortunately, it is the innocent civilians who are paying the price," Jan Kubis, the special representative of the UN secretary-general for Iraq, said in a statement.

US-backed Iraqi forces are currently fighting to push ISIL fighters from Mosul, the armed group's last major stronghold in the country, but are facing fierce resistance.

Unlike other reports, last month's report did not include casualties among security forces.

The UN came under criticism from the Iraqi military last month after reporting that nearly 2,000 members of the Iraqi forces had been killed in November. The Iraqi government has not publicised the casualty figures for government troops and paramilitary forces fighting in Mosul and elsewhere in northern Iraq.

Source: aljazeera.com

There were no big New Year's celebrations for the Iraqi men, women and children who narrowly escaped the fighting in Mosul, only to wait for hours under armed guard while the fighting-age males among them were cleared of links to the Islamic State.

The lucky ones would go with their families to one of the wind-swept camps for displaced Iraqis, where they will endure the remainder of northern Iraq's bitterly cold winter in tents and learn to survive on insufficient supplies of food, heating oil and blankets.

Those whose names were found on the wanted list would be detained, interrogated and likely face trial.

Many of the Iraqis told of going hungry in Mosul for weeks, surviving on a single daily meal and drinking murky water extracted from recently dug wells. There was no formula for their small children, who survived on bread soaked in tea or soup made of rice or crushed wheat. Life was miserable without electricity or medical care. They watched mortar shells or stray bullets kill their relatives and neighbors.

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They don't know when they will go home, but are thankful.

"The camp is the lesser of two evils. Life in Mosul now kills you," said 33-year-old English teacher Ahmed Abu Karam, from the IS-held Karama neighborhood east of the Tigris River. "What happens in 2017 is in the hands of God alone, but let me tell you this: My escape, thanks be to God, has given me a new life."

Abu Karam was among about 200 men ordered by grim faced Iraqi soldiers to squat outside a row of abandoned stores on a main road close to the mainly Christian town of Bartella near Mosul. It is the gathering point for the mainly Sunni residents who fled Mosul to avoid being killed in the crossfire between government troops and IS militants or because they ran out of food and money.

The ground where they gathered was wet from a heavy downpour a few days before and scattered with trash. Many men sported long beards they had to grow under IS rule, but some were shaving off their facial hair on Saturday as they waited. As the men were processed, the women and children sat on buses. The men were expected to be transferred separately, many in the back of army trucks, one of which flew a Shiite banner.

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"We Sunnis are marginalized," said Abu Karam. "The security forces ran away and left us with Daesh in 2014. Now they suspect us of being terrorists," he said, using the Arabic acronym for IS.

Iraq's Shiite-dominated military and security forces launched a new offensive in Mosul on Tuesday, breaking a two-week lull in fighting that began in mid-October, more than two years after Iraq's military and police melted away in the face of an IS blitz across northern and western Iraq.

The renewed fighting in Mosul has forced hundreds of civilians to flee, joining an estimated 120,000 who already left. Most gathered in Bartella on Saturday came from neighborhoods where the latest fighting is taking place.

Electrician Ibrahim Saleh and his family escaped Mosul's Quds neighborhood on Friday and spent the night at the home of "kind strangers" in a suburb just east of the city. He said he, his wife and children endured most of the last two months hiding under their house's staircase for fear of shelling.

"We have survived only by divine intervention," he said.

The camps for Iraqis displaced by the fighting in and around Mosul are mostly south and east of the city in Nineveh province and in the nearby self-ruled Kurdish region. There, many complain of rain and other severe winter conditions, or inadequate supplies of heating oil and medicines.

But in one of the larger camps for the displaced in the Kurdish region — Hassan Sham — a local non-governmental organization provided a welcome change from the drab daily life there by throwing a New Year's party for the children, complete with clowns and face painting.

But the children's excitement did little to conceal the camp's grim realities, or erode the painful memories of life under IS and the horrors of war in Mosul since October.

Shortly before the party began, camp residents pushed and shoved over blankets and clothes distributed by local donors. Some spoke of feeling imprisoned in the camp, unable to secure a sponsor allowing them to live in the urban bustle of nearby Irbil, the Kurdish region's capital.

Akram Ali, a former cameraman for a Mosul TV channel, now makes less than 10 dollars a day cutting hair, but still enough to buy fresh vegetables and fruit to supplement the food handouts he, his wife and four children get from camp organizers.

"We died 20 times every day when we lived under fire in Mosul," he recounted emotionally. "Under Daesh, it was oppression, tragedies, persecution and suffering. I can do without food and water, as long as I and my family are safe."

Fellow camp resident Mustafa Mahmoud, a 21-year-old who quit school when IS took over his native Mosul in 2014, sees little to celebrate with the arrival of 2017. Since arriving at the camp six weeks ago, he goes to bed at 7 or 8 every evening.

"Nothing will change tonight," he said.

Source: Fox News

PRESS RELEASE

For immediate release 18th January 2017

 

Iran Appoints Terrorist Chief as Ambassador to Iraq

 

The recent appointment of Brigadier Iraj Masjadi as Iran’s ambassador to Iraq has provided the clearest evidence yet of the theocratic regime’s aggressive dominance over its closest neighbour. The appointment has been roundly condemned by the European Iraqi Freedom Association (EIFA), whose President – Struan Stevenson – says that Masjadi’s appointment clearly demonstrates how Iran exults in its role as the world’s leading exporter of terror. Speaking in Scotland, Stevenson said: “The Iranian mullahs finance and supply men and material to the brutal Shi’ia militias in Iraq, Bashar al-Assad in Syria, the Houthi rebels in Yemen and Hezbollah in Lebanon. Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and Qods Force are involved in every Middle East conflict. Masjadi was the senior deputy of General Qasem Soleimani, commander of the Quds Force of the IRGC. Both organisations are on international terrorist lists. Iranian media outlets have confirmed that Masjadi’s appointment was based on a proposal by General Qasem Soleimani, with the approval of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of Iran. This is an outrage against the norms of international diplomacy.”

 The IRGC considers the Iranian embassy in Baghdad to be the most strategically important of its embassies within the range of Middle East countries that are subject to Tehran’s influence, including Lebanon, Syria and Yemen. Masjadi has been one of the key mentors of the mullahs’ policy of aggressive expansionism. He claimed, during the battle to recapture the ancient Iraqi city of Fallujah from Daesh (ISIS) that: “The involvement of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards in the battle of Fallujah was in order to preserve Iran’s status as the Shi’ite centre of the world. We are defending Iran and its borders.” Masjadi and General Qasem Soleimani masterminded the ruthless ethnic cleansing of the Sunni population in Fallujah and Ramadi by the pro-Iranian Shi’ia militias that led to the destruction of both cities and the death of many thousands of innocent civilians. A similar bloodbath is now taking place in Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city and a predominantly Sunni stronghold. Masjadi had a very active role in repression of the Syrian people and also the killing of Iranian dissidents in Camp Liberty near Baghdad airport.

 In a statement last May, Brigadier Masjadi also revealed the role of the Iranian Quds Force in maintaining the murderous regime of Bashar al-Assad saying: “Without the interference of the Quds forces in the last moments, the Syrian regime would have fallen into the hands of the Syrian opposition. After the Syrian armed opposition took control of most areas in Damascus and its countryside, Syria was on the verge of completely falling down. We finally intervened at the last minute and saved Damascus and the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from an inevitable downfall. The fall of the Syrian government in Damascus at the hands of the Syrian armed opposition would have meant disrupting the link between Iran and Hezbollah in Lebanon. In this case we believe that Hezbollah would have been besieged, its position would be very weak and it would have experienced hardship in Lebanon.”

 Struan Stevenson stated: “The appointment of a Revolutionary Guard commander and adviser as the Iranian ambassador in Baghdad once again proves that the fascist Iranian regime has no interest whatsoever in seeking peace and conflict resolution in the Middle East. Iran is the main problem in the zone. It can never be the solution.”

 He added: “This also shows that Iran, by misusing the war against Daesh, is determined to expand its influence in Iraq more than ever. As EIFA has repeatedly stated, if the new US administration wishes to get rid of Daesh completely, it must evict the Iranian regime, the IRGC and its affiliated militias from Iraq. This is the only way the criminal Iranian regime can be prevented from exploiting the USA and its allies to its advantage in Iraq.”

 

Note: Struan Stevenson was a Member of the European Parliament representing Scotland (1999-2014). He was President of the Parliament’s Delegation for Relations with Iraq (2009- 2014) and Chair of Friends of a Free Iran Intergroup (Caucus) from 2004-2014. He is now President of the European Iraqi Freedom Association (EIFA).

 

As Iraq gears up for provincial elections, the floor under the ruling Shia alliance is cracking. Anger is mounting among a population that says its demands have not been met, as shown during recent protests against Iraqi Vice- President Nuri al-Maliki in southern Iraq.

Maliki’s unsolicited, self-funded political tour to several southern cities in December drew crowds of enraged protesters demanding the departure of a man they blame for Iraq’s current situation. Dissatisfied masses scolded Maliki — as their placards read — for plundering Iraq’s oil wealth and allowing one-third of the country to slip into the grasp of the Islamic State (ISIS).

“The aim of Maliki’s tour,” Amman-based activist Marjan al-Hilali explained in a telephone interview, “is to nurture the loyalty of certain segments of society through hollow promises and cash.”

Hilali said money was the order of the day in the “new Iraq”. The highest bidder, he said, “is he who solidifies his power over ministries of state”. Maliki’s promises of reform and sweeping changes have come to mean very little. Suspicion and distrust of his motives are grounded in a history of his repressive and sectarian rule.

Iraqi-based activist Uday al-Zaidi said, “Maliki and his State of Law Party have lost the popular vote”, especially among Shias in Iraq. Any legitimacy he had was extracted under electoral fraud and vote rigging. Even this was lost the moment protesters took to the streets during February uprisings in 2010”.

“He cannot defy his fate by walking over the cracks in the floor beneath him,” Zaidi said. “Power is no longer narrowly concentrated around him or his allies.”

Maliki denounced the protests, labelling the participants as outlaws belonging to the Sadrist political movement. Days earlier, Islamic Dawa Party leader Ammar al-Kuzai was attacked by armed groups in Basra. The Sadrists released a statement three days following Maliki’s eviction from Basra’s oil cultural centre denying responsibility and involvement. Wathiq al-Battat, leader of Iraq’s Hezbollah, stereotyped demonstrators as “baltajiyya” — “thugs” — and defended Maliki “as not the only man responsible for the blood Iraq has shed”.

Maliki is widely remembered for crushing Iraq’s “Arab spring” in 2012 after a raid was ordered on the Ministry of Finance headed by Rafi al-Issawi, a Sunni. His guards were arrested under terrorism charges and another Sunni MP, Ahmad al- Alwani, was imprisoned.

Starting in Falluja, thousands of Iraqis rallied to condemn Maliki’s sectarian governance. The popular uprising lasted more than a year but its “leaders were incarcerated, forced into exile, and many of them killed”, Ahmad Mahmoud, an organiser of the 2010 uprisings, now based in London, explained.

“The same approach was used the subsequent years as protests continued,” he said. Those who marched, Mahmoud added, “whether in Falluja, Ramadi or Basra were conceptualised by Maliki and his henchman as seditionists and criminals”, allegations Maliki returned to after the demonstrations against him in southern Iraq.

Zaidi said that, while political groups joined the protests, “Maliki’s projection of what really happened is a mere illusion that Iraqis can no longer be fed”. His reception suggests his popularity is waning.

Though rifts between Maliki and the Sadrist movement are not new, they have intensified in recent months. Both blocs, on paper, are partners in the ruling national alliance criticised by Zaidi “as a house that is divided” along religious lines.

In late December, Muqtada al Sadr met with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to discuss the war against ISIS, reform plans and the elevation of moderate voices within the establishment reportedly without mentioning names.

“Lest we forget, the political system in Iraq was essentially founded upon injustices and the existing alliances that form the political process lack popular support,” Zaidi said. “Whether it is Sunni or Shia or Kurdish, these are all political blocs moulded by the hands of US occupiers.”

With only a few months before Iraqi elections, Zaidi maintained that Iraq is witnessing the “rise of a new popular movement… the biggest threat to those in power”.

He said that April’s vote “will give birth to new political parties and trends with old faces”. He added that observers should expect several delays under “invented pretences” of the ruling national Shia alliance to postpone the results.

Growing friction between Maliki’s State of Law Coalition and the Sadrist movement are expected and alliances will likely shift as political blocs try to consolidate power. These agendas, Zaidi said, “will not go undetected by the Iraqi people”.

 Source: Middle East online

By Nazli Tarzi - LONDON

Nazli Tarzi is an independent journalist, whose writings and films focus on Iraq’s ancient history and contemporary political scene.

 

 

The Islamic Republic continues on its path of death and destruction.

A conglomerate of Iran-backed Shiite militias in Iraq, known as the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU), or more commonly by the Arabic label al-Hashd al-Shaabi, pose a very dire threat for the future of Iraq. This sectarian group of dangerous armed elements is resorting to any and all crimes with the objective of pursuing Tehran’s policies across Mesopotamia.

The PMU, established back in the mid-2014, has taken part in the battles of Syria from mid-2013 onward and now, despite participating in the offensive to retake Mosul from Daesh (ISIS/ISIL), this phenomenon poses the gravest of all threats for the Iraqi nation. 

Conditions allowing the PMU’s presence and its foreign connections have raised major concerns across the board. Human rights violations and crimes by this group against dissidents in areas retaken from Daesh are amongst the many other reasons intensifying anxieties about the very nature of this alliance. The PMU is also accused of launching revenge attacks and atrocities against displaced Sunnis fleeing these areas.

A strange and disturbing irony lies in the fact that the arms provided by a broad spectrum of the international community are being used for ill purposes.

“Paramilitary militias nominally operating as part of the Iraqi armed forces in the fight against the armed group calling itself Islamic State (IS) are using arms from Iraqi military stockpiles, provided by the USA, Europe, Russia and Iran, to commit war crimes, revenge attacks and other atrocities,” Amnesty International reported.

The PMU “have used those arms to facilitate the enforced disappearance and abduction of thousands of mainly Sunni men and boys, torture and extrajudicial executions as well as wanton destruction of property,” the alarming statement adds.

The report highlights “four main militias that Amnesty International has documented committing serious human rights violations: Munathamat Badr (Badr Brigades or Badr Organization), Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq (League of the Righteous), Kata’ib

Hezbollah (Hezbollah Brigades) and the Saraya al-Salam (Peace Brigades).”

Source: FRONTPAGE MAG

Other international human rights organizations have time and again exposed the sectarian crimes committed by PMU ranks and files.

“Human Rights Watch and the UN have previously blamed the pro-government militias for perpetrating atrocities against civilians,” Alaraby reported.

“Members of Shia militias, who the Iraqi government has included among its state forces, abducted and killed scores of Sunni residents in a central Iraq town and demolished Sunni homes,” HRW warned back in January 2016.

While such warnings fell to deaf ears, HRW demanded from Baghdad to “prevent militias with records of serious abuses from taking part in planned military operations for the city of Mosul.”

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein cited strong evidence that Kata’ib Hezbollah perpetrated atrocities against a Sunni community.

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubair has gone as far as describing this group as extremely sectarian and run by Iranian military officers. Topping this list of commanders is none other than Revolutionary Guards Quds Force chief Qassem Suleimani.

The Iraqi Parliament in late 2016 adopted a bill recognizing the PMU as an official security entity, throwing “a wrench into efforts to adopt a national settlement proposal — basically a grand plan to abolish sectarian and ethnic quotas,” as described in Al-Monitor.

This law is in fact in violation of the Iraqi Constitution Article 9 banning the establishment of any militia group not falling under the command and control of the armed forces. The PMU is a force parallel to the Iraqi military – much like Iran’s IRGC alongside its classic army – and not part of its structure and framework. Their very existence is in violation of the Iraqi Constitution and as a result lacks any legality. 

It is an undeniable fact that the PMU pursues the fundamental interests of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, receiving their orders directly from Tehran. The Iranian opposition, itself the target of the Iranian regime’s attacks, has time and again warned of Tehran’s increasing meddling in Iraq.

“Commander of Iraq’s al-Hashd al-Shaabi militant group affiliated to the Iranian regime, referring to the possibility that these mobilization forces are present in Syria to help Assad regime for more killings and massacre of Syrian people, claimed that Hashd al-Shaabi could help Syria to get rid of terrorism,” according to a report posted by the National Council of Resistance of Iran, an umbrella group of Iranian dissident organizations including the People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK) and others.

With a sectarian structure, the PMU first poses a major threat for Iraq and its sovereignty, and will move on to spread their disease across the Middle East. If the international community seeks to calm and resolve crises plaguing the Middle East, one very necessary step is to bring an end to Iran’s meddling across the region.

As NCRI President Maryam Rajavi explained, “The regime in Tehran is the source of crisis in the region and killings in Syria; it has played the greatest role in the expansion and continuation of ISIS. Peace and tranquility in the region can only be achieved by evicting this regime from the region.”

BAGHDAD — On Dec. 26, the leader of the Sadrist movement, Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, met with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to discuss the reform project advanced by Sadr over a year ago through popular protests against those accused of corruption. One of those blamed was former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, currently one of Iraq’s vice presidents.

The meeting came after a series of demonstrations against Maliki, who has been visiting Shiite cities in central and southern Iraq. Anti-Maliki demonstrations in the south have revived concerns about Shiite infighting, especially after hundreds of angry protesters from Iraq’s southern province of Basra stormed a meeting in which Maliki was expected to address a group of influential figures, driving the attendees out of the hall. Sadr and his followers were held responsible for mobilizing the protests; Sadr refused to comment about them.

From Dec. 7-11, Maliki faced demonstrations in the south in Maysan, Dhi Qar and Basra provinces during his visits there with top officials. These visits were part of Maliki’s early campaign aimed at increasing his chances in local and parliamentary elections slated for 2018 and rebuilding the popularity he lost after one-third of the country fell in the hands of the Islamic State (IS) in June 2014, when he was still in power.

Maliki was surrounded by a swarm of protesters chanting against him. But the worst incident took place in Basra province, where the former prime minister had to call off his visit amid the public outcry. The angry crowds sought to remind Maliki of what happened during his term, where one-third of the country was lost to IS and about 1,700 young men from southern cities were killed in the Camp Speicher massacre in Salahuddin province. The protesters sarcastically called Maliki “Speicherman” in an allusion to the superhero Spiderman.

After his return to Baghdad Dec. 11, Maliki released a statement in which he expressed his exasperation about what he called “the rise in gang and outlaw militia activities” in Basra; this came in response to the slogans against him and the angry crowd that stopped him from speaking to his supporters in Basra.

Although Maliki’s statement only spoke of “militia activity,” the Islamic Dawa Party’s statement went further, saying that what its secretary-general and his companions went through was “a flagrant attack,” labeling the protesters as “outlaw delinquents.” However, the most notable escalation came when the Shiite party — which has had three of its members hold the prime minister’s post since 2003 — called on “all its members to show restraint and resort to the law,” while warning, “If legal authorities fail to take deterrent actions and protect citizens from the evils of these criminal gangs, then it had better prepare for a second Charge of the Knights.” Operation Charge of the Knights was carried out against the Mahdi Army, the Sadrist militia, in Basra province in 2008.

In light of these events, concerns resurfaced about a possible Shiite confrontation involving, on the one hand, the Dawa Party and Maliki’s supporters, and on the other, the Sadr-led militia, Maliki’s staunchest opponent. This led lawmaker Hanan al-Fatlawi, who is close to Maliki, to speak to the Financial Times about a possible Shiite-Shiite conflict in post-IS Iraq.

However, a military clash seems unlikely, especially after the Sadrist movement refrained from responding to the allegations that it was staging anti-Maliki demonstrations. Writer Safaa Khalaf, originally from Basra province, told Al-Monitor that the Sadrist movement may have mobilized a number of supporters in Dhi Qar and Maysan provinces against Maliki, leading him to “visit Basra to regain his dignity after coming under public fire in Amarah and Nasiriyah, the capitals of the two southern provinces.” Khalaf said, “It is a completely political confrontation that will not necessarily lead to a bloody one.”

Khalaf, who is preparing to publish a book about the political changes and the rise of militias in Basra since 2003, said, “Maliki was attempting a political maneuver in three provinces in the hope of restoring his pride.” Khalaf added, “It could be that Maliki now realizes that he is out of the equation.”

Khalaf said of Basra residents’ indignation against Maliki, “Basrawis had to deal with the failures of two former governors appointed by Maliki, not to mention pervasive corruption, sale of posts, monopoly of large services and investment contracts. This has led to the deterioration of service quality.”

Maliki, who was denied the third term he sought in 2014, spoke of the importance of political majority rule in Iraq only days after the events in the south. Earlier, Maliki did not deny his intention to return to power as prime minister.

If those who took part in the anti-Maliki demonstrations in the south were indeed Sadrist opponents wishing to crush Maliki’s political hopes, then it must be said that the mistakes he committed when he was prime minister have taken their toll. Anger about this has been shown to a great extent in the slogans shouted during the demonstrations that started in July 2015 in most of the central and southern Iraqi cities. 

Source: Al-Monitor



BRUSSELS, Jan. 6 (UPI) -- When President Barack Obama leaves the White House later this month, he will leave behind a shocking legacy of death and destruction in the Middle East. His foreign policy vision, which saw the United States focus on cooperation with Iran as its core strategy, has unlocked a Pandora's box of conflict and sectarian strife across the zone.

Obama has now belatedly, during the closing days of his administration, come to realize that the nuclear deal with Iran and his concessions to that ruthless regime have in fact not only threatened the security of the Middle East, but have even undermined the interests of the United States. Saudi Arabia, the Gulf states and Turkey have tried in vain to prevent Iran's aggressive expansionism in the region, but they have been repeatedly thwarted by U.S. empathy for the mullahs' regime. His failure to back the Syrian opposition has allowed the bloody civil war in that country to rage on into its seventh year, costing hundreds of thousands of lives and sparking the huge migration crisis in Europe.

Following the nuclear deal, a sum of $150 billion of frozen assets was released to Iran by the U.S. administration, providing a windfall for the Tehran government, which was teetering on the brink of economic collapse. But far from investing in its own people, the fascist mullah-led regime used this money to redouble its spending on exporting terror through the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps and Quds Force, both of which are listed terrorist organizations in the West and are involved in almost every conflict in the Middle East. As well as Bashar al-Assad in Syria and Yemen's Houthi rebels, Iran funds and supplies Hezbollah in Lebanon and the brutal Shi'ia militias in Iraq.

Demonstrating complete disdain for the West, the Iranian regime has consistently breached the nuclear deal. Last March, two Qadr-H missiles were fired in open defiance of a U.N. Security Council resolution tied to the agreement. The missiles were chillingly marked with the phrase: "Israel must be wiped out" and the test firing took place provocatively on the same day that the U.S. Vice President Joe Biden was visiting Israel. Last August, Vladimir Putin, in a further flagrant signal of aggression to the West, sent the first shipment of Russian S-300 surface-to-air missiles to Iran.

But under Obama's misguided Middle East policy, his determined efforts to do deals with the so-called "moderate" and "smiling" Iranian President Hassan Rouhani have provided a green light for Tehran's dogmatic expansionist policy. Rouhani is in fact in charge of a venally corrupt government, which has executed around 3,000 people since he took office in 2013. Ten have been hanged this year. Mass hangings are now the order of the day; many are carried out in public, even in football stadiums. But this should come as no surprise; in a further scandalous development it has been revealed that the mass-murder by the regime in 1988 of over 30,000 political prisoners from the opposition People's Mojahedin of Iran was supervised by Mostafa Pour-Mohammadi, who has been appointed by Rouhani as his justice minister.

Despite repeated warnings, Obama began his administration by capitulating to Iranian demands to back the corrupt and murderous Nouri al-Maliki as prime minister in Iraq. Maliki was a puppet of the mullahs, doing their bidding by opening a direct route for Iranian troops and equipment heading to Syria to bolster the murderous Assad regime. Iran's support for Maliki in Iraq and for Assad in Syria, two corrupt dictators who repressed and brutalized their own people, resulted in the rise of Daesh, also known as the Islamic State.Thanks to U.S. acquiescence over Tehran, Daesh grew and became a threat to the whole world.

Obama compounded this grievous mistake by providing American military support and air cover for the genocidal campaign being waged by pro-Iranian Shi'ia militias in Iraq. Once again Iran exploited its role in ousting Daesh as a means for implementing its ruthless policy of ethnic cleansing to annihilate the Sunnis in Iraq's al-Anbar Province. Horrific sectarian atrocities were committed during the so-called "liberation" of the ancient cities of Fallujah and Ramadi. The Shi'ia militias, who formed the main part of the force fighting to recapture these cities from Daesh and are now engaged in the battle to recapture Mosul, are led by Gen. Qasem Soleimani, commander of the Iranian terrorist Quds Force. Soleimani has also played a key role in Syria and the massacre in Aleppo.

Tehran is relentlessly strengthening its grip over Iraq. Corruption and poor training has rendered the Iraqi army almost useless, leaving a vacuum, which the Iranian regime has been quick to fill, pressurizing Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi into allowing the Iranian-funded militias to take control of military operations. Political disarray in Baghdad, combined with Obama's directionless and dysfunctional American foreign policy, has paved the way for Iran to consolidate its hold in Iraq.

President-elect Donald Trump will have the unenviable task of trying to sort out Obama's Middle East mess. There are many people on his team who believe that Iran is the main source of conflict in the Middle East and as such, poses a greater threat to the West than North Korea or even Russia. It will be interesting to see if Trump can slam the lid back down on the mullahs' Pandora's box before the Iranian malignancy is allowed to metastasize.

Struan Stevenson, president of the European Iraqi Freedom Association, was a member of the European Parliament representing Scotland (1999-2014), president of the Parliament's Delegation for Relations with Iraq (2009-14) and chairman of Friends of a Free Iran Intergroup (2004-14).

Shi’ite Muslim militias have reportedly been using weapons from Iraqi military stockpiles.

Militias fighting alongside Iraqi troops against Islamic State are committing war crimes using weapons provided to the Iraqi military by the United States, Europe, Russia and Iran, Amnesty International said on Thursday.

The rights group said that predominantly Shi’ite Muslim militias, known collective as the Hashid Shaabi, were using weapons from Iraqi military stockpiles to commit war crimes including enforced disappearances, torture and summary killings.

Parliament voted for the Hashid to formally become part of Iraq’s armed forces in November but the session was boycotted by Sunni representatives who worry it will entrench Shi’ite majority rule as well as Iran’s regional influence.

Iraqi and Western officials have expressed serious concerns about the government’s ability to bring the Shi’ite militias under greater control.

“International arms suppliers, including the USA, European countries, Russia and Iran, must wake up to the fact that all arms transfers to Iraq carry a real risk of ending up in the hands of militia groups with long histories of human rights violations,” said Amnesty researcher Patrick Wilcken in a statement.

States wishing to sell arms to Iraq should ensure strict measures to ensure weapons will not be used by militias to violate human rights, he added.

Amnesty cited nearly 2-1/2 years of its own field research, including interviews with dozens of former detainees, witnesses, survivors, and relatives of those killed, detained or missing.

Its report focused on four powerful groups, most of which receive backing from Iran: the Badr Organisation, Asaib Ahl al-Haq, Kataib Hezbollah and Saraya al-Salam.

Spokesmen for the Hashid and for the prime minister, to whom the fighters technically report, did not respond to requests for comment.

The Hashid deny having sectarian aims or committing widespread abuses and say they saved the nation by pushing Islamic State back from Baghdad’s borders after the army crumbled in the face of the jihadists’ lightning advance in 2014. The dispute threatens to complicate efforts to pull the country back together.

A major offensive by Iraqi security forces to retake the northern city of Mosul from Islamic State is nearing the end of its third month. Thousands of fighters from various Hashid groups are participating.

Source: Huffington Post

More than 2,000 Iraqis a day are fleeing Mosul, several hundred more each day than before U.S.-led coalition forces began a new phase of their battle to retake the city from Islamic State, the United Nations said on Wednesday.

After quick initial advances, the operation stalled for several weeks but last Thursday Iraqi forces renewed their push from Mosul's east towards the Tigris River on three fronts.

Elite interior ministry troops were clearing the Mithaq district on Wednesday, after entering it on Tuesday when counterterrorism forces also retook an industrial zone.

 
Federal police advanced in the Wahda district, the military said on Wednesday, in the 12th week of Iraq's largest military campaign since the U.S.-led invasion of 2003.

As they advanced, many more civilian casualties were also being recorded, the U.N. said.

Vastly outnumbered, the militants have embedded themselves among residents and are using the city terrain to their advantage, concealing car bombs in narrow alleys, posting snipers on tall buildings with civilians on lower floors, and making tunnels and surface-level passageways between buildings.

"We were very afraid," one Mithaq resident said.

"A Daesh (Islamic State) anti-aircraft weapon was positioned close to our house and was opening fire on helicopters. We could see a small number of Daesh fighters in the street carrying light and medium weapons. They were hit by planes."

Security forces have retaken about a quarter of Mosul since October but, against expectations and despite severe shortages of food and water, most residents have stayed put until now.

More than 125,000 people have been displaced out of a population of roughly 1.5 million, but the numbers have increased by nearly 50 percent to 2,300 daily from 1,600 over the last few days, the U.N. refugee agency said.

The humanitarian situation was "dire", with food stockpiles dwindling and the price of staples spiralling, boreholes drying up or turning brackish from over-use and camps and emergency sites to the south and east reaching maximum capacity, it said.

Most of the fleeing civilians are from the eastern districts but people from the besieged west, still under the militants' control, are increasingly attempting to escape, scaling bridges bombed by the coalition and crossing the Tigris by boat.

An Iraqi victory in Mosul would probably spell the end for Islamic State's self-styled caliphate but in recent days the militants have displayed the tactics to which they are likely to resort if they lose the city, killing dozens with bombs in Baghdad and attacking security forces elsewhere.

Source: Reuters

Suicide Bombing in Baghdad Kills at Least 36 Wednesday, 04 January 2017 15:17

BAGHDAD — A suicide bomber detonated a pickup truck loaded with explosives on Monday in a busy Baghdad market, killing at least 36 people hours after President François Hollande of France arrived in the Iraqi capital.

The Islamic State later claimed responsibility for the attack.

The bomb went off in a produce market that was packed with day laborers, a police officer said, adding that another 52 people were wounded.

During a news conference with Mr. Hollande, Haider al-Abadi, Iraq’s prime minister, said the suicide bomber had pretended to be a man seeking to hire day laborers. Once the workers gathered around, he detonated the vehicle.

The Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, claimed the attack in a statement circulated on a website that is often used by the group. It was the third such attack in three days in or near Baghdad, underscoring the lingering threat posed by the extremist group despite a string of setbacks for it elsewhere in the country over the past year, including in and around the northern city of Mosul.

The attack took place in Sadr City, a vast Shiite district in eastern Baghdad that has been repeatedly targeted by Sunni extremists since the 2003 American-led invasion.

Militiamen loyal to the Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr were seen evacuating bodies in their trucks before ambulances arrived. Bodies were scattered across the bloody pavement alongside fruit, vegetables and laborers’ shovels and axes. A minibus filled with dead passengers was on fire.

Asaad Hashim, 28, an owner of a nearby cellphone store, described how the laborers had pushed and shoved around the bomber’s vehicle, trying to get hired.

“Then a big boom came, sending them up into the air,” said Mr. Hashim, who suffered shrapnel wounds to his right hand. He blamed “the most ineffective security forces in the world” for failing to prevent the attack.

An angry crowd cursed the government, even after a representative of Mr. Sadr tried to calm them. Late last month, the Iraqi authorities started removing some of the security checkpoints in Baghdad in a bid to ease traffic for the capital’s six million residents.

“We have no idea who will kill at any moment and who’s supposed to protect us,” said Ali Abbas, a 40-year-old father of four who was hurled over his vegetable stand by the blast. “If the securities forces can’t protect us, then allow us to do the job.”

Several smaller bombings elsewhere in the city on Monday killed at least 20 civilians and wounded at least 70, according to medics and police officials. All officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to reporters.

The United States State Department condemned the attacks.

Separately, the American military announced on Monday the death of a coalition service member in Iraq in a “noncombat-related incident,” without providing further details.

Mr. Hollande met with Mr. Abadi and President Fuad Masum, and later traveled to the self-governing northern Kurdish region to meet with French troops and local officials. He pledged to help displaced Iraqis return to Mosul, where Iraqi forces are waging a large offensive against the Islamic State.

France is part of the American-led coalition formed in 2014 to fight the Islamic State after the extremist group seized large areas in Iraq and neighboring Syria. France has suffered multiple attacks claimed by the extremist group.

Source: The New York Times

UN mission in Iraq says the figure does not include casualties from western Anbar for May, July, August and December.

 At least 6,878 civilians were killed in Iraq last year as the Iraqi government struggled to maintain security and dislodge fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) group from areas under its control.

The UN Assistance Mission for Iraq, known as UNAMI, said on Tuesday that its numbers "have to be considered as the absolute minimum" as it was not able to verify casualties among civilians in conflict areas.

It added that last year figures did not include casualties among civilians in Iraq's western Anbar province for the months of May, July, August and December.

According to UNAMI figures, at least 12,388 civilians were wounded in 2016.

The monthly UN casualty report for December 2016 showed that a total of 386 civilians were killed and another 1,066 were wounded.

The worst affected area was the northern province of Ninevah, where government forces are fighting to retake the ISIL-held city of Mosul, with 208 civilians killed and 511 injured. The capital, Baghdad, came next with 109 civilians killed and 523 injured.

 

In the last week alone, ISIL claimed responsibility for a string of bombings in Baghdad that killed more than 50 people .

The deadliest ISIL attack was in July when a massive suicide bombing in a bustling market area in central Baghdad killed almost 300 people, the bloodiest single attack in the capital in 13 years of war.

"This is, no doubt, an attempt by [ISIL] to divert attention from their losses in Mosul and, unfortunately, it is the innocent civilians who are paying the price," Jan Kubis, the special representative of the UN secretary-general for Iraq, said in a statement.

US-backed Iraqi forces are currently fighting to push ISIL fighters from Mosul, the armed group's last major stronghold in the country, but are facing fierce resistance.

Unlike other reports, last month's report did not include casualties among security forces.

The UN came under criticism from the Iraqi military last month after reporting that nearly 2,000 members of the Iraqi forces had been killed in November. The Iraqi government has not publicised the casualty figures for government troops and paramilitary forces fighting in Mosul and elsewhere in northern Iraq.

Source: aljazeera.com

There were no big New Year's celebrations for the Iraqi men, women and children who narrowly escaped the fighting in Mosul, only to wait for hours under armed guard while the fighting-age males among them were cleared of links to the Islamic State.

The lucky ones would go with their families to one of the wind-swept camps for displaced Iraqis, where they will endure the remainder of northern Iraq's bitterly cold winter in tents and learn to survive on insufficient supplies of food, heating oil and blankets.

Those whose names were found on the wanted list would be detained, interrogated and likely face trial.

Many of the Iraqis told of going hungry in Mosul for weeks, surviving on a single daily meal and drinking murky water extracted from recently dug wells. There was no formula for their small children, who survived on bread soaked in tea or soup made of rice or crushed wheat. Life was miserable without electricity or medical care. They watched mortar shells or stray bullets kill their relatives and neighbors.

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They don't know when they will go home, but are thankful.

"The camp is the lesser of two evils. Life in Mosul now kills you," said 33-year-old English teacher Ahmed Abu Karam, from the IS-held Karama neighborhood east of the Tigris River. "What happens in 2017 is in the hands of God alone, but let me tell you this: My escape, thanks be to God, has given me a new life."

Abu Karam was among about 200 men ordered by grim faced Iraqi soldiers to squat outside a row of abandoned stores on a main road close to the mainly Christian town of Bartella near Mosul. It is the gathering point for the mainly Sunni residents who fled Mosul to avoid being killed in the crossfire between government troops and IS militants or because they ran out of food and money.

The ground where they gathered was wet from a heavy downpour a few days before and scattered with trash. Many men sported long beards they had to grow under IS rule, but some were shaving off their facial hair on Saturday as they waited. As the men were processed, the women and children sat on buses. The men were expected to be transferred separately, many in the back of army trucks, one of which flew a Shiite banner.

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"We Sunnis are marginalized," said Abu Karam. "The security forces ran away and left us with Daesh in 2014. Now they suspect us of being terrorists," he said, using the Arabic acronym for IS.

Iraq's Shiite-dominated military and security forces launched a new offensive in Mosul on Tuesday, breaking a two-week lull in fighting that began in mid-October, more than two years after Iraq's military and police melted away in the face of an IS blitz across northern and western Iraq.

The renewed fighting in Mosul has forced hundreds of civilians to flee, joining an estimated 120,000 who already left. Most gathered in Bartella on Saturday came from neighborhoods where the latest fighting is taking place.

Electrician Ibrahim Saleh and his family escaped Mosul's Quds neighborhood on Friday and spent the night at the home of "kind strangers" in a suburb just east of the city. He said he, his wife and children endured most of the last two months hiding under their house's staircase for fear of shelling.

"We have survived only by divine intervention," he said.

The camps for Iraqis displaced by the fighting in and around Mosul are mostly south and east of the city in Nineveh province and in the nearby self-ruled Kurdish region. There, many complain of rain and other severe winter conditions, or inadequate supplies of heating oil and medicines.

But in one of the larger camps for the displaced in the Kurdish region — Hassan Sham — a local non-governmental organization provided a welcome change from the drab daily life there by throwing a New Year's party for the children, complete with clowns and face painting.

But the children's excitement did little to conceal the camp's grim realities, or erode the painful memories of life under IS and the horrors of war in Mosul since October.

Shortly before the party began, camp residents pushed and shoved over blankets and clothes distributed by local donors. Some spoke of feeling imprisoned in the camp, unable to secure a sponsor allowing them to live in the urban bustle of nearby Irbil, the Kurdish region's capital.

Akram Ali, a former cameraman for a Mosul TV channel, now makes less than 10 dollars a day cutting hair, but still enough to buy fresh vegetables and fruit to supplement the food handouts he, his wife and four children get from camp organizers.

"We died 20 times every day when we lived under fire in Mosul," he recounted emotionally. "Under Daesh, it was oppression, tragedies, persecution and suffering. I can do without food and water, as long as I and my family are safe."

Fellow camp resident Mustafa Mahmoud, a 21-year-old who quit school when IS took over his native Mosul in 2014, sees little to celebrate with the arrival of 2017. Since arriving at the camp six weeks ago, he goes to bed at 7 or 8 every evening.

"Nothing will change tonight," he said.

Source: Fox News

PRESS RELEASE

For immediate release 18th January 2017

 

Iran Appoints Terrorist Chief as Ambassador to Iraq

 

The recent appointment of Brigadier Iraj Masjadi as Iran’s ambassador to Iraq has provided the clearest evidence yet of the theocratic regime’s aggressive dominance over its closest neighbour. The appointment has been roundly condemned by the European Iraqi Freedom Association (EIFA), whose President – Struan Stevenson – says that Masjadi’s appointment clearly demonstrates how Iran exults in its role as the world’s leading exporter of terror. Speaking in Scotland, Stevenson said: “The Iranian mullahs finance and supply men and material to the brutal Shi’ia militias in Iraq, Bashar al-Assad in Syria, the Houthi rebels in Yemen and Hezbollah in Lebanon. Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and Qods Force are involved in every Middle East conflict. Masjadi was the senior deputy of General Qasem Soleimani, commander of the Quds Force of the IRGC. Both organisations are on international terrorist lists. Iranian media outlets have confirmed that Masjadi’s appointment was based on a proposal by General Qasem Soleimani, with the approval of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of Iran. This is an outrage against the norms of international diplomacy.”

 The IRGC considers the Iranian embassy in Baghdad to be the most strategically important of its embassies within the range of Middle East countries that are subject to Tehran’s influence, including Lebanon, Syria and Yemen. Masjadi has been one of the key mentors of the mullahs’ policy of aggressive expansionism. He claimed, during the battle to recapture the ancient Iraqi city of Fallujah from Daesh (ISIS) that: “The involvement of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards in the battle of Fallujah was in order to preserve Iran’s status as the Shi’ite centre of the world. We are defending Iran and its borders.” Masjadi and General Qasem Soleimani masterminded the ruthless ethnic cleansing of the Sunni population in Fallujah and Ramadi by the pro-Iranian Shi’ia militias that led to the destruction of both cities and the death of many thousands of innocent civilians. A similar bloodbath is now taking place in Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city and a predominantly Sunni stronghold. Masjadi had a very active role in repression of the Syrian people and also the killing of Iranian dissidents in Camp Liberty near Baghdad airport.

 In a statement last May, Brigadier Masjadi also revealed the role of the Iranian Quds Force in maintaining the murderous regime of Bashar al-Assad saying: “Without the interference of the Quds forces in the last moments, the Syrian regime would have fallen into the hands of the Syrian opposition. After the Syrian armed opposition took control of most areas in Damascus and its countryside, Syria was on the verge of completely falling down. We finally intervened at the last minute and saved Damascus and the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from an inevitable downfall. The fall of the Syrian government in Damascus at the hands of the Syrian armed opposition would have meant disrupting the link between Iran and Hezbollah in Lebanon. In this case we believe that Hezbollah would have been besieged, its position would be very weak and it would have experienced hardship in Lebanon.”

 Struan Stevenson stated: “The appointment of a Revolutionary Guard commander and adviser as the Iranian ambassador in Baghdad once again proves that the fascist Iranian regime has no interest whatsoever in seeking peace and conflict resolution in the Middle East. Iran is the main problem in the zone. It can never be the solution.”

 He added: “This also shows that Iran, by misusing the war against Daesh, is determined to expand its influence in Iraq more than ever. As EIFA has repeatedly stated, if the new US administration wishes to get rid of Daesh completely, it must evict the Iranian regime, the IRGC and its affiliated militias from Iraq. This is the only way the criminal Iranian regime can be prevented from exploiting the USA and its allies to its advantage in Iraq.”

 

Note: Struan Stevenson was a Member of the European Parliament representing Scotland (1999-2014). He was President of the Parliament’s Delegation for Relations with Iraq (2009- 2014) and Chair of Friends of a Free Iran Intergroup (Caucus) from 2004-2014. He is now President of the European Iraqi Freedom Association (EIFA).

 

As Iraq gears up for provincial elections, the floor under the ruling Shia alliance is cracking. Anger is mounting among a population that says its demands have not been met, as shown during recent protests against Iraqi Vice- President Nuri al-Maliki in southern Iraq.

Maliki’s unsolicited, self-funded political tour to several southern cities in December drew crowds of enraged protesters demanding the departure of a man they blame for Iraq’s current situation. Dissatisfied masses scolded Maliki — as their placards read — for plundering Iraq’s oil wealth and allowing one-third of the country to slip into the grasp of the Islamic State (ISIS).

“The aim of Maliki’s tour,” Amman-based activist Marjan al-Hilali explained in a telephone interview, “is to nurture the loyalty of certain segments of society through hollow promises and cash.”

Hilali said money was the order of the day in the “new Iraq”. The highest bidder, he said, “is he who solidifies his power over ministries of state”. Maliki’s promises of reform and sweeping changes have come to mean very little. Suspicion and distrust of his motives are grounded in a history of his repressive and sectarian rule.

Iraqi-based activist Uday al-Zaidi said, “Maliki and his State of Law Party have lost the popular vote”, especially among Shias in Iraq. Any legitimacy he had was extracted under electoral fraud and vote rigging. Even this was lost the moment protesters took to the streets during February uprisings in 2010”.

“He cannot defy his fate by walking over the cracks in the floor beneath him,” Zaidi said. “Power is no longer narrowly concentrated around him or his allies.”

Maliki denounced the protests, labelling the participants as outlaws belonging to the Sadrist political movement. Days earlier, Islamic Dawa Party leader Ammar al-Kuzai was attacked by armed groups in Basra. The Sadrists released a statement three days following Maliki’s eviction from Basra’s oil cultural centre denying responsibility and involvement. Wathiq al-Battat, leader of Iraq’s Hezbollah, stereotyped demonstrators as “baltajiyya” — “thugs” — and defended Maliki “as not the only man responsible for the blood Iraq has shed”.

Maliki is widely remembered for crushing Iraq’s “Arab spring” in 2012 after a raid was ordered on the Ministry of Finance headed by Rafi al-Issawi, a Sunni. His guards were arrested under terrorism charges and another Sunni MP, Ahmad al- Alwani, was imprisoned.

Starting in Falluja, thousands of Iraqis rallied to condemn Maliki’s sectarian governance. The popular uprising lasted more than a year but its “leaders were incarcerated, forced into exile, and many of them killed”, Ahmad Mahmoud, an organiser of the 2010 uprisings, now based in London, explained.

“The same approach was used the subsequent years as protests continued,” he said. Those who marched, Mahmoud added, “whether in Falluja, Ramadi or Basra were conceptualised by Maliki and his henchman as seditionists and criminals”, allegations Maliki returned to after the demonstrations against him in southern Iraq.

Zaidi said that, while political groups joined the protests, “Maliki’s projection of what really happened is a mere illusion that Iraqis can no longer be fed”. His reception suggests his popularity is waning.

Though rifts between Maliki and the Sadrist movement are not new, they have intensified in recent months. Both blocs, on paper, are partners in the ruling national alliance criticised by Zaidi “as a house that is divided” along religious lines.

In late December, Muqtada al Sadr met with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to discuss the war against ISIS, reform plans and the elevation of moderate voices within the establishment reportedly without mentioning names.

“Lest we forget, the political system in Iraq was essentially founded upon injustices and the existing alliances that form the political process lack popular support,” Zaidi said. “Whether it is Sunni or Shia or Kurdish, these are all political blocs moulded by the hands of US occupiers.”

With only a few months before Iraqi elections, Zaidi maintained that Iraq is witnessing the “rise of a new popular movement… the biggest threat to those in power”.

He said that April’s vote “will give birth to new political parties and trends with old faces”. He added that observers should expect several delays under “invented pretences” of the ruling national Shia alliance to postpone the results.

Growing friction between Maliki’s State of Law Coalition and the Sadrist movement are expected and alliances will likely shift as political blocs try to consolidate power. These agendas, Zaidi said, “will not go undetected by the Iraqi people”.

 Source: Middle East online

By Nazli Tarzi - LONDON

Nazli Tarzi is an independent journalist, whose writings and films focus on Iraq’s ancient history and contemporary political scene.

 

 

The Islamic Republic continues on its path of death and destruction.

A conglomerate of Iran-backed Shiite militias in Iraq, known as the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU), or more commonly by the Arabic label al-Hashd al-Shaabi, pose a very dire threat for the future of Iraq. This sectarian group of dangerous armed elements is resorting to any and all crimes with the objective of pursuing Tehran’s policies across Mesopotamia.

The PMU, established back in the mid-2014, has taken part in the battles of Syria from mid-2013 onward and now, despite participating in the offensive to retake Mosul from Daesh (ISIS/ISIL), this phenomenon poses the gravest of all threats for the Iraqi nation. 

Conditions allowing the PMU’s presence and its foreign connections have raised major concerns across the board. Human rights violations and crimes by this group against dissidents in areas retaken from Daesh are amongst the many other reasons intensifying anxieties about the very nature of this alliance. The PMU is also accused of launching revenge attacks and atrocities against displaced Sunnis fleeing these areas.

A strange and disturbing irony lies in the fact that the arms provided by a broad spectrum of the international community are being used for ill purposes.

“Paramilitary militias nominally operating as part of the Iraqi armed forces in the fight against the armed group calling itself Islamic State (IS) are using arms from Iraqi military stockpiles, provided by the USA, Europe, Russia and Iran, to commit war crimes, revenge attacks and other atrocities,” Amnesty International reported.

The PMU “have used those arms to facilitate the enforced disappearance and abduction of thousands of mainly Sunni men and boys, torture and extrajudicial executions as well as wanton destruction of property,” the alarming statement adds.

The report highlights “four main militias that Amnesty International has documented committing serious human rights violations: Munathamat Badr (Badr Brigades or Badr Organization), Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq (League of the Righteous), Kata’ib

Hezbollah (Hezbollah Brigades) and the Saraya al-Salam (Peace Brigades).”

Source: FRONTPAGE MAG

Other international human rights organizations have time and again exposed the sectarian crimes committed by PMU ranks and files.

“Human Rights Watch and the UN have previously blamed the pro-government militias for perpetrating atrocities against civilians,” Alaraby reported.

“Members of Shia militias, who the Iraqi government has included among its state forces, abducted and killed scores of Sunni residents in a central Iraq town and demolished Sunni homes,” HRW warned back in January 2016.

While such warnings fell to deaf ears, HRW demanded from Baghdad to “prevent militias with records of serious abuses from taking part in planned military operations for the city of Mosul.”

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein cited strong evidence that Kata’ib Hezbollah perpetrated atrocities against a Sunni community.

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubair has gone as far as describing this group as extremely sectarian and run by Iranian military officers. Topping this list of commanders is none other than Revolutionary Guards Quds Force chief Qassem Suleimani.

The Iraqi Parliament in late 2016 adopted a bill recognizing the PMU as an official security entity, throwing “a wrench into efforts to adopt a national settlement proposal — basically a grand plan to abolish sectarian and ethnic quotas,” as described in Al-Monitor.

This law is in fact in violation of the Iraqi Constitution Article 9 banning the establishment of any militia group not falling under the command and control of the armed forces. The PMU is a force parallel to the Iraqi military – much like Iran’s IRGC alongside its classic army – and not part of its structure and framework. Their very existence is in violation of the Iraqi Constitution and as a result lacks any legality. 

It is an undeniable fact that the PMU pursues the fundamental interests of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, receiving their orders directly from Tehran. The Iranian opposition, itself the target of the Iranian regime’s attacks, has time and again warned of Tehran’s increasing meddling in Iraq.

“Commander of Iraq’s al-Hashd al-Shaabi militant group affiliated to the Iranian regime, referring to the possibility that these mobilization forces are present in Syria to help Assad regime for more killings and massacre of Syrian people, claimed that Hashd al-Shaabi could help Syria to get rid of terrorism,” according to a report posted by the National Council of Resistance of Iran, an umbrella group of Iranian dissident organizations including the People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK) and others.

With a sectarian structure, the PMU first poses a major threat for Iraq and its sovereignty, and will move on to spread their disease across the Middle East. If the international community seeks to calm and resolve crises plaguing the Middle East, one very necessary step is to bring an end to Iran’s meddling across the region.

As NCRI President Maryam Rajavi explained, “The regime in Tehran is the source of crisis in the region and killings in Syria; it has played the greatest role in the expansion and continuation of ISIS. Peace and tranquility in the region can only be achieved by evicting this regime from the region.”

BAGHDAD — On Dec. 26, the leader of the Sadrist movement, Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, met with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to discuss the reform project advanced by Sadr over a year ago through popular protests against those accused of corruption. One of those blamed was former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, currently one of Iraq’s vice presidents.

The meeting came after a series of demonstrations against Maliki, who has been visiting Shiite cities in central and southern Iraq. Anti-Maliki demonstrations in the south have revived concerns about Shiite infighting, especially after hundreds of angry protesters from Iraq’s southern province of Basra stormed a meeting in which Maliki was expected to address a group of influential figures, driving the attendees out of the hall. Sadr and his followers were held responsible for mobilizing the protests; Sadr refused to comment about them.

From Dec. 7-11, Maliki faced demonstrations in the south in Maysan, Dhi Qar and Basra provinces during his visits there with top officials. These visits were part of Maliki’s early campaign aimed at increasing his chances in local and parliamentary elections slated for 2018 and rebuilding the popularity he lost after one-third of the country fell in the hands of the Islamic State (IS) in June 2014, when he was still in power.

Maliki was surrounded by a swarm of protesters chanting against him. But the worst incident took place in Basra province, where the former prime minister had to call off his visit amid the public outcry. The angry crowds sought to remind Maliki of what happened during his term, where one-third of the country was lost to IS and about 1,700 young men from southern cities were killed in the Camp Speicher massacre in Salahuddin province. The protesters sarcastically called Maliki “Speicherman” in an allusion to the superhero Spiderman.

After his return to Baghdad Dec. 11, Maliki released a statement in which he expressed his exasperation about what he called “the rise in gang and outlaw militia activities” in Basra; this came in response to the slogans against him and the angry crowd that stopped him from speaking to his supporters in Basra.

Although Maliki’s statement only spoke of “militia activity,” the Islamic Dawa Party’s statement went further, saying that what its secretary-general and his companions went through was “a flagrant attack,” labeling the protesters as “outlaw delinquents.” However, the most notable escalation came when the Shiite party — which has had three of its members hold the prime minister’s post since 2003 — called on “all its members to show restraint and resort to the law,” while warning, “If legal authorities fail to take deterrent actions and protect citizens from the evils of these criminal gangs, then it had better prepare for a second Charge of the Knights.” Operation Charge of the Knights was carried out against the Mahdi Army, the Sadrist militia, in Basra province in 2008.

In light of these events, concerns resurfaced about a possible Shiite confrontation involving, on the one hand, the Dawa Party and Maliki’s supporters, and on the other, the Sadr-led militia, Maliki’s staunchest opponent. This led lawmaker Hanan al-Fatlawi, who is close to Maliki, to speak to the Financial Times about a possible Shiite-Shiite conflict in post-IS Iraq.

However, a military clash seems unlikely, especially after the Sadrist movement refrained from responding to the allegations that it was staging anti-Maliki demonstrations. Writer Safaa Khalaf, originally from Basra province, told Al-Monitor that the Sadrist movement may have mobilized a number of supporters in Dhi Qar and Maysan provinces against Maliki, leading him to “visit Basra to regain his dignity after coming under public fire in Amarah and Nasiriyah, the capitals of the two southern provinces.” Khalaf said, “It is a completely political confrontation that will not necessarily lead to a bloody one.”

Khalaf, who is preparing to publish a book about the political changes and the rise of militias in Basra since 2003, said, “Maliki was attempting a political maneuver in three provinces in the hope of restoring his pride.” Khalaf added, “It could be that Maliki now realizes that he is out of the equation.”

Khalaf said of Basra residents’ indignation against Maliki, “Basrawis had to deal with the failures of two former governors appointed by Maliki, not to mention pervasive corruption, sale of posts, monopoly of large services and investment contracts. This has led to the deterioration of service quality.”

Maliki, who was denied the third term he sought in 2014, spoke of the importance of political majority rule in Iraq only days after the events in the south. Earlier, Maliki did not deny his intention to return to power as prime minister.

If those who took part in the anti-Maliki demonstrations in the south were indeed Sadrist opponents wishing to crush Maliki’s political hopes, then it must be said that the mistakes he committed when he was prime minister have taken their toll. Anger about this has been shown to a great extent in the slogans shouted during the demonstrations that started in July 2015 in most of the central and southern Iraqi cities. 

Source: Al-Monitor



BRUSSELS, Jan. 6 (UPI) -- When President Barack Obama leaves the White House later this month, he will leave behind a shocking legacy of death and destruction in the Middle East. His foreign policy vision, which saw the United States focus on cooperation with Iran as its core strategy, has unlocked a Pandora's box of conflict and sectarian strife across the zone.

Obama has now belatedly, during the closing days of his administration, come to realize that the nuclear deal with Iran and his concessions to that ruthless regime have in fact not only threatened the security of the Middle East, but have even undermined the interests of the United States. Saudi Arabia, the Gulf states and Turkey have tried in vain to prevent Iran's aggressive expansionism in the region, but they have been repeatedly thwarted by U.S. empathy for the mullahs' regime. His failure to back the Syrian opposition has allowed the bloody civil war in that country to rage on into its seventh year, costing hundreds of thousands of lives and sparking the huge migration crisis in Europe.

Following the nuclear deal, a sum of $150 billion of frozen assets was released to Iran by the U.S. administration, providing a windfall for the Tehran government, which was teetering on the brink of economic collapse. But far from investing in its own people, the fascist mullah-led regime used this money to redouble its spending on exporting terror through the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps and Quds Force, both of which are listed terrorist organizations in the West and are involved in almost every conflict in the Middle East. As well as Bashar al-Assad in Syria and Yemen's Houthi rebels, Iran funds and supplies Hezbollah in Lebanon and the brutal Shi'ia militias in Iraq.

Demonstrating complete disdain for the West, the Iranian regime has consistently breached the nuclear deal. Last March, two Qadr-H missiles were fired in open defiance of a U.N. Security Council resolution tied to the agreement. The missiles were chillingly marked with the phrase: "Israel must be wiped out" and the test firing took place provocatively on the same day that the U.S. Vice President Joe Biden was visiting Israel. Last August, Vladimir Putin, in a further flagrant signal of aggression to the West, sent the first shipment of Russian S-300 surface-to-air missiles to Iran.

But under Obama's misguided Middle East policy, his determined efforts to do deals with the so-called "moderate" and "smiling" Iranian President Hassan Rouhani have provided a green light for Tehran's dogmatic expansionist policy. Rouhani is in fact in charge of a venally corrupt government, which has executed around 3,000 people since he took office in 2013. Ten have been hanged this year. Mass hangings are now the order of the day; many are carried out in public, even in football stadiums. But this should come as no surprise; in a further scandalous development it has been revealed that the mass-murder by the regime in 1988 of over 30,000 political prisoners from the opposition People's Mojahedin of Iran was supervised by Mostafa Pour-Mohammadi, who has been appointed by Rouhani as his justice minister.

Despite repeated warnings, Obama began his administration by capitulating to Iranian demands to back the corrupt and murderous Nouri al-Maliki as prime minister in Iraq. Maliki was a puppet of the mullahs, doing their bidding by opening a direct route for Iranian troops and equipment heading to Syria to bolster the murderous Assad regime. Iran's support for Maliki in Iraq and for Assad in Syria, two corrupt dictators who repressed and brutalized their own people, resulted in the rise of Daesh, also known as the Islamic State.Thanks to U.S. acquiescence over Tehran, Daesh grew and became a threat to the whole world.

Obama compounded this grievous mistake by providing American military support and air cover for the genocidal campaign being waged by pro-Iranian Shi'ia militias in Iraq. Once again Iran exploited its role in ousting Daesh as a means for implementing its ruthless policy of ethnic cleansing to annihilate the Sunnis in Iraq's al-Anbar Province. Horrific sectarian atrocities were committed during the so-called "liberation" of the ancient cities of Fallujah and Ramadi. The Shi'ia militias, who formed the main part of the force fighting to recapture these cities from Daesh and are now engaged in the battle to recapture Mosul, are led by Gen. Qasem Soleimani, commander of the Iranian terrorist Quds Force. Soleimani has also played a key role in Syria and the massacre in Aleppo.

Tehran is relentlessly strengthening its grip over Iraq. Corruption and poor training has rendered the Iraqi army almost useless, leaving a vacuum, which the Iranian regime has been quick to fill, pressurizing Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi into allowing the Iranian-funded militias to take control of military operations. Political disarray in Baghdad, combined with Obama's directionless and dysfunctional American foreign policy, has paved the way for Iran to consolidate its hold in Iraq.

President-elect Donald Trump will have the unenviable task of trying to sort out Obama's Middle East mess. There are many people on his team who believe that Iran is the main source of conflict in the Middle East and as such, poses a greater threat to the West than North Korea or even Russia. It will be interesting to see if Trump can slam the lid back down on the mullahs' Pandora's box before the Iranian malignancy is allowed to metastasize.

Struan Stevenson, president of the European Iraqi Freedom Association, was a member of the European Parliament representing Scotland (1999-2014), president of the Parliament's Delegation for Relations with Iraq (2009-14) and chairman of Friends of a Free Iran Intergroup (2004-14).

Shi’ite Muslim militias have reportedly been using weapons from Iraqi military stockpiles.

Militias fighting alongside Iraqi troops against Islamic State are committing war crimes using weapons provided to the Iraqi military by the United States, Europe, Russia and Iran, Amnesty International said on Thursday.

The rights group said that predominantly Shi’ite Muslim militias, known collective as the Hashid Shaabi, were using weapons from Iraqi military stockpiles to commit war crimes including enforced disappearances, torture and summary killings.

Parliament voted for the Hashid to formally become part of Iraq’s armed forces in November but the session was boycotted by Sunni representatives who worry it will entrench Shi’ite majority rule as well as Iran’s regional influence.

Iraqi and Western officials have expressed serious concerns about the government’s ability to bring the Shi’ite militias under greater control.

“International arms suppliers, including the USA, European countries, Russia and Iran, must wake up to the fact that all arms transfers to Iraq carry a real risk of ending up in the hands of militia groups with long histories of human rights violations,” said Amnesty researcher Patrick Wilcken in a statement.

States wishing to sell arms to Iraq should ensure strict measures to ensure weapons will not be used by militias to violate human rights, he added.

Amnesty cited nearly 2-1/2 years of its own field research, including interviews with dozens of former detainees, witnesses, survivors, and relatives of those killed, detained or missing.

Its report focused on four powerful groups, most of which receive backing from Iran: the Badr Organisation, Asaib Ahl al-Haq, Kataib Hezbollah and Saraya al-Salam.

Spokesmen for the Hashid and for the prime minister, to whom the fighters technically report, did not respond to requests for comment.

The Hashid deny having sectarian aims or committing widespread abuses and say they saved the nation by pushing Islamic State back from Baghdad’s borders after the army crumbled in the face of the jihadists’ lightning advance in 2014. The dispute threatens to complicate efforts to pull the country back together.

A major offensive by Iraqi security forces to retake the northern city of Mosul from Islamic State is nearing the end of its third month. Thousands of fighters from various Hashid groups are participating.

Source: Huffington Post

More than 2,000 Iraqis a day are fleeing Mosul, several hundred more each day than before U.S.-led coalition forces began a new phase of their battle to retake the city from Islamic State, the United Nations said on Wednesday.

After quick initial advances, the operation stalled for several weeks but last Thursday Iraqi forces renewed their push from Mosul's east towards the Tigris River on three fronts.

Elite interior ministry troops were clearing the Mithaq district on Wednesday, after entering it on Tuesday when counterterrorism forces also retook an industrial zone.

 
Federal police advanced in the Wahda district, the military said on Wednesday, in the 12th week of Iraq's largest military campaign since the U.S.-led invasion of 2003.

As they advanced, many more civilian casualties were also being recorded, the U.N. said.

Vastly outnumbered, the militants have embedded themselves among residents and are using the city terrain to their advantage, concealing car bombs in narrow alleys, posting snipers on tall buildings with civilians on lower floors, and making tunnels and surface-level passageways between buildings.

"We were very afraid," one Mithaq resident said.

"A Daesh (Islamic State) anti-aircraft weapon was positioned close to our house and was opening fire on helicopters. We could see a small number of Daesh fighters in the street carrying light and medium weapons. They were hit by planes."

Security forces have retaken about a quarter of Mosul since October but, against expectations and despite severe shortages of food and water, most residents have stayed put until now.

More than 125,000 people have been displaced out of a population of roughly 1.5 million, but the numbers have increased by nearly 50 percent to 2,300 daily from 1,600 over the last few days, the U.N. refugee agency said.

The humanitarian situation was "dire", with food stockpiles dwindling and the price of staples spiralling, boreholes drying up or turning brackish from over-use and camps and emergency sites to the south and east reaching maximum capacity, it said.

Most of the fleeing civilians are from the eastern districts but people from the besieged west, still under the militants' control, are increasingly attempting to escape, scaling bridges bombed by the coalition and crossing the Tigris by boat.

An Iraqi victory in Mosul would probably spell the end for Islamic State's self-styled caliphate but in recent days the militants have displayed the tactics to which they are likely to resort if they lose the city, killing dozens with bombs in Baghdad and attacking security forces elsewhere.

Source: Reuters

Suicide Bombing in Baghdad Kills at Least 36 Wednesday, 04 January 2017 15:17

BAGHDAD — A suicide bomber detonated a pickup truck loaded with explosives on Monday in a busy Baghdad market, killing at least 36 people hours after President François Hollande of France arrived in the Iraqi capital.

The Islamic State later claimed responsibility for the attack.

The bomb went off in a produce market that was packed with day laborers, a police officer said, adding that another 52 people were wounded.

During a news conference with Mr. Hollande, Haider al-Abadi, Iraq’s prime minister, said the suicide bomber had pretended to be a man seeking to hire day laborers. Once the workers gathered around, he detonated the vehicle.

The Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, claimed the attack in a statement circulated on a website that is often used by the group. It was the third such attack in three days in or near Baghdad, underscoring the lingering threat posed by the extremist group despite a string of setbacks for it elsewhere in the country over the past year, including in and around the northern city of Mosul.

The attack took place in Sadr City, a vast Shiite district in eastern Baghdad that has been repeatedly targeted by Sunni extremists since the 2003 American-led invasion.

Militiamen loyal to the Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr were seen evacuating bodies in their trucks before ambulances arrived. Bodies were scattered across the bloody pavement alongside fruit, vegetables and laborers’ shovels and axes. A minibus filled with dead passengers was on fire.

Asaad Hashim, 28, an owner of a nearby cellphone store, described how the laborers had pushed and shoved around the bomber’s vehicle, trying to get hired.

“Then a big boom came, sending them up into the air,” said Mr. Hashim, who suffered shrapnel wounds to his right hand. He blamed “the most ineffective security forces in the world” for failing to prevent the attack.

An angry crowd cursed the government, even after a representative of Mr. Sadr tried to calm them. Late last month, the Iraqi authorities started removing some of the security checkpoints in Baghdad in a bid to ease traffic for the capital’s six million residents.

“We have no idea who will kill at any moment and who’s supposed to protect us,” said Ali Abbas, a 40-year-old father of four who was hurled over his vegetable stand by the blast. “If the securities forces can’t protect us, then allow us to do the job.”

Several smaller bombings elsewhere in the city on Monday killed at least 20 civilians and wounded at least 70, according to medics and police officials. All officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to reporters.

The United States State Department condemned the attacks.

Separately, the American military announced on Monday the death of a coalition service member in Iraq in a “noncombat-related incident,” without providing further details.

Mr. Hollande met with Mr. Abadi and President Fuad Masum, and later traveled to the self-governing northern Kurdish region to meet with French troops and local officials. He pledged to help displaced Iraqis return to Mosul, where Iraqi forces are waging a large offensive against the Islamic State.

France is part of the American-led coalition formed in 2014 to fight the Islamic State after the extremist group seized large areas in Iraq and neighboring Syria. France has suffered multiple attacks claimed by the extremist group.

Source: The New York Times

UN mission in Iraq says the figure does not include casualties from western Anbar for May, July, August and December.

 At least 6,878 civilians were killed in Iraq last year as the Iraqi government struggled to maintain security and dislodge fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) group from areas under its control.

The UN Assistance Mission for Iraq, known as UNAMI, said on Tuesday that its numbers "have to be considered as the absolute minimum" as it was not able to verify casualties among civilians in conflict areas.

It added that last year figures did not include casualties among civilians in Iraq's western Anbar province for the months of May, July, August and December.

According to UNAMI figures, at least 12,388 civilians were wounded in 2016.

The monthly UN casualty report for December 2016 showed that a total of 386 civilians were killed and another 1,066 were wounded.

The worst affected area was the northern province of Ninevah, where government forces are fighting to retake the ISIL-held city of Mosul, with 208 civilians killed and 511 injured. The capital, Baghdad, came next with 109 civilians killed and 523 injured.

 

In the last week alone, ISIL claimed responsibility for a string of bombings in Baghdad that killed more than 50 people .

The deadliest ISIL attack was in July when a massive suicide bombing in a bustling market area in central Baghdad killed almost 300 people, the bloodiest single attack in the capital in 13 years of war.

"This is, no doubt, an attempt by [ISIL] to divert attention from their losses in Mosul and, unfortunately, it is the innocent civilians who are paying the price," Jan Kubis, the special representative of the UN secretary-general for Iraq, said in a statement.

US-backed Iraqi forces are currently fighting to push ISIL fighters from Mosul, the armed group's last major stronghold in the country, but are facing fierce resistance.

Unlike other reports, last month's report did not include casualties among security forces.

The UN came under criticism from the Iraqi military last month after reporting that nearly 2,000 members of the Iraqi forces had been killed in November. The Iraqi government has not publicised the casualty figures for government troops and paramilitary forces fighting in Mosul and elsewhere in northern Iraq.

Source: aljazeera.com

There were no big New Year's celebrations for the Iraqi men, women and children who narrowly escaped the fighting in Mosul, only to wait for hours under armed guard while the fighting-age males among them were cleared of links to the Islamic State.

The lucky ones would go with their families to one of the wind-swept camps for displaced Iraqis, where they will endure the remainder of northern Iraq's bitterly cold winter in tents and learn to survive on insufficient supplies of food, heating oil and blankets.

Those whose names were found on the wanted list would be detained, interrogated and likely face trial.

Many of the Iraqis told of going hungry in Mosul for weeks, surviving on a single daily meal and drinking murky water extracted from recently dug wells. There was no formula for their small children, who survived on bread soaked in tea or soup made of rice or crushed wheat. Life was miserable without electricity or medical care. They watched mortar shells or stray bullets kill their relatives and neighbors.

THE BEST STORIES, INTERVIEWS AND EXPOSES OF 2016

They don't know when they will go home, but are thankful.

"The camp is the lesser of two evils. Life in Mosul now kills you," said 33-year-old English teacher Ahmed Abu Karam, from the IS-held Karama neighborhood east of the Tigris River. "What happens in 2017 is in the hands of God alone, but let me tell you this: My escape, thanks be to God, has given me a new life."

Abu Karam was among about 200 men ordered by grim faced Iraqi soldiers to squat outside a row of abandoned stores on a main road close to the mainly Christian town of Bartella near Mosul. It is the gathering point for the mainly Sunni residents who fled Mosul to avoid being killed in the crossfire between government troops and IS militants or because they ran out of food and money.

The ground where they gathered was wet from a heavy downpour a few days before and scattered with trash. Many men sported long beards they had to grow under IS rule, but some were shaving off their facial hair on Saturday as they waited. As the men were processed, the women and children sat on buses. The men were expected to be transferred separately, many in the back of army trucks, one of which flew a Shiite banner.

STARS WE'VE LOST IN 2016

"We Sunnis are marginalized," said Abu Karam. "The security forces ran away and left us with Daesh in 2014. Now they suspect us of being terrorists," he said, using the Arabic acronym for IS.

Iraq's Shiite-dominated military and security forces launched a new offensive in Mosul on Tuesday, breaking a two-week lull in fighting that began in mid-October, more than two years after Iraq's military and police melted away in the face of an IS blitz across northern and western Iraq.

The renewed fighting in Mosul has forced hundreds of civilians to flee, joining an estimated 120,000 who already left. Most gathered in Bartella on Saturday came from neighborhoods where the latest fighting is taking place.

Electrician Ibrahim Saleh and his family escaped Mosul's Quds neighborhood on Friday and spent the night at the home of "kind strangers" in a suburb just east of the city. He said he, his wife and children endured most of the last two months hiding under their house's staircase for fear of shelling.

"We have survived only by divine intervention," he said.

The camps for Iraqis displaced by the fighting in and around Mosul are mostly south and east of the city in Nineveh province and in the nearby self-ruled Kurdish region. There, many complain of rain and other severe winter conditions, or inadequate supplies of heating oil and medicines.

But in one of the larger camps for the displaced in the Kurdish region — Hassan Sham — a local non-governmental organization provided a welcome change from the drab daily life there by throwing a New Year's party for the children, complete with clowns and face painting.

But the children's excitement did little to conceal the camp's grim realities, or erode the painful memories of life under IS and the horrors of war in Mosul since October.

Shortly before the party began, camp residents pushed and shoved over blankets and clothes distributed by local donors. Some spoke of feeling imprisoned in the camp, unable to secure a sponsor allowing them to live in the urban bustle of nearby Irbil, the Kurdish region's capital.

Akram Ali, a former cameraman for a Mosul TV channel, now makes less than 10 dollars a day cutting hair, but still enough to buy fresh vegetables and fruit to supplement the food handouts he, his wife and four children get from camp organizers.

"We died 20 times every day when we lived under fire in Mosul," he recounted emotionally. "Under Daesh, it was oppression, tragedies, persecution and suffering. I can do without food and water, as long as I and my family are safe."

Fellow camp resident Mustafa Mahmoud, a 21-year-old who quit school when IS took over his native Mosul in 2014, sees little to celebrate with the arrival of 2017. Since arriving at the camp six weeks ago, he goes to bed at 7 or 8 every evening.

"Nothing will change tonight," he said.

Source: Fox News

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