Daily Archives: June 16, 2014

Who are the major players in the Iraq crisis?

Nouri al-Maliki

As Iraq edges toward civil war, here’s a look at major players and groups in the crisis.

Insurgents

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) is a Sunni jihadist group that has its roots in the al-Qaeda-linked insurgents that formed the backbone of the resistance against U.S. forces in Iraq after the 2003 invasion. It has since expanded operations into Syria, where it is fighting the regime of Bashar Assad, and has broken formal ties with al-Qaeda. It embraces a radical form of Islam and consists of battle-hardened fighters.

Earlier this year, the group ransacked Fallujah and Ramadi, two influential Sunni cities in western Iraq. It has managed to hold much of Fallujah and portions of Ramadi. More recently it seized parts of Mosul and was positioned to edge toward Baghdad.

ISIL is also referred to as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Nouri al-Maliki

The prime minister of Iraq leads a Shiite dominated government that has alienated many of the Sunnis in Iraq over the past several years. Maliki has been criticized for not taking more steps to include rival Sunni leaders in his government.

Shiites are the majority sect in Iraq, but for most of Iraq’s history they were oppressed by the Sunnis, who dominated the government. Saddam Hussein and his key leaders were all Sunnis. Shiite leaders during that time were driven into exile.

Iraq’s armed forces

Organized, trained and, to some extent, equipped by the United States, the Iraqi military was a competent force when the United States pulled all its forces out in 2011.

But over the past several years Maliki has been accused of appointing political cronies to key leadership positions and the military has ceased to conduct regular training. Sunnis have said the army is little more than another Shiite militia and have little confidence in its ability to protect them. Many units simply collapsed when insurgents attacked Mosul and other cities in Iraq.

Shiite militias

During the U.S. occupation of Iraq, Shiite militias, some of which were backed by Iran, grew to become powerful forces. Among the strongest such militias is the Mahdi Army, a group loyal to anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

Shiite militias at various times attacked U.S. forces and also participated in sectarian warfare in Iraq between Sunnis and Shiites, which peaked in 2006. Most of the insurgent gains were in Sunni or mixed areas. Shiite militias will likely try to protect Shiite neighborhoods if insurgents attempt to move into Baghdad.

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Islamists kill 50 in Kenya, some during World Cup screening

Al-Shabaab militants on Kenya (archive)

Al-Shabaab militants on Kenya (archive)

(Reuters) – Somali-linked Islamists have killed at least 50 people in a Kenyan coastal town, executing men in front of their families and killing others who had gathered to watch World Cup soccer on television.

The al Shabaab group said on Monday that its commandos launched Sunday night’s strike on Mpeketoni because Kenya had sent its forces to Somalia and accused Nairobi of assassinating Muslim scholars, a charge Kenyan officials have denied.

“Kenya is now officially a war zone and as such any tourists visiting the country do so at their own peril,” it said, after staging the biggest assault since its gunmen attacked Nairobi’s Westgate shopping mall in September, leaving 67 dead.

Mpeketoni, where shells of buildings smoldered and pools of blood congealed on the streets, is not normally a stopover for foreign visitors on Kenya’s popular coast, but the attack is likely to hurt further an already struggling tourist industry.

Western nations have in recent weeks tightened their warnings about travel to Kenya, which has been hit by a spate of recent gun attacks and bombings in Nairobi and around the main port of Mombasa, though none have been as serious as Sunday’s.

“The attackers were so many and were all armed with guns. They entered the video hall where we were watching a World Cup match and shot indiscriminately at us,” Meshack Kimani told Reuters, adding about 10 people were killed there.

“They targeted only men but I was lucky. I escaped by hiding behind the door,” he said.

FAMILIES WATCH MEN KILLED

Other witnesses said those gathering for the screenings fled just before the attackers arrived but were found in hiding places and then shot. Hotels, a bank and a police station were also attacked, leaving a trail of dead across the town.

“The wives who came to identify the bodies said the attackers forced them and their children to watch as they killed their husbands,” said Peter Kamotho, a tailor volunteering at a makeshift morgue where bodies of 48 men lay under a cover.

A Reuters witness saw several men with shots directly to the head. Kamotho said they had been shot at close range.

Muiruri Kinyanjui, the Kenya Red Cross regional director for the coastal area, said the death toll was at least 50 but could rise because many residents were still unaccounted for while others had suffered serious injuries.

Many people fled to nearby forests for safety.

Some of the wounded were taken to a hospital in Lamu, a historic Arab trading port that is a big tourist attraction about 30 km (20 miles) from Mpeketoni, which is on the coastline between Mombasa and the Somali border in the north.

Kenyan hotels say bookings have dropped sharply because of recent attacks and Western travel warnings. Some hotels on the coast say they face closure, while some hoteliers inland who offer safaris say reservations are down by 30 percent or more. Witnesses said gunmen roamed for hours into Monday morning. Issah Birido, who hid up a tree shrouded in darkness, said he heard them chanting slogans and speaking in Somali, a language many Kenyan citizens with Somali origins also speak.

WORLD CUP ALERTS

Kenya, which has blamed al Shabaab for the previous attacks, had said it would be on alert during the World Cup to ensure public showings of matches were kept safe.

Although the gunmen struck a range of sites, the assault is likely to heighten worries in other African states such as Nigeria, which is battling the Boko Haram Islamist insurgency, that venues hosting World Cup screenings could be vulnerable.

After Westgate, al Shabaab had warned of more attacks, saying it was determined to drive out Kenyan forces battling the Islamist militants in Somalia along with other African peacekeepers. Kenya has repeatedly said it would not withdraw.

The al Shabaab statement also referred to the killing in drive-by shootings of at least three high-profile Kenyan Muslim preachers, seen as sympathetic to militant Islam. Supporters of the clerics have said their deaths were extra-judicial killings.

Kenya has denied the charge. Police have not found the gunmen behind those shootings.

Interior Minister Joseph Ole Lenku told a news conference before traveling to the area that the security forces would find the perpetrators, fending off questions about public anger at the failure of the government to do more to secure Kenya.

In an apparent swipe at political opponents, he said the government was cautioning “political leaders … to desist from destructive politics and ethnic profiling that may be responsible for this heinous act”. He did not elaborate.

Stop Calling the Iraq War a ‘Mistake’ | Dennis J. Kucinich

As Iraq descends into chaos again, more than a decade after “Mission Accomplished,” media commentators and politicians have mostly agreed upon calling the war a “mistake.” But the “mistake” rhetoric is the language of denial, not contrition: it minimizes the Iraq War‘s disastrous consequences, removes blame, and deprives Americans of any chance to learn from our generation’s foreign policy disaster. The Iraq War was not a “mistake” — it resulted from calculated deception. The painful, unvarnished fact is that we were lied to. Now is the time to have the willingness to say that.

In fact, the truth about Iraq was widely available, but it was ignored. There were no WMD. Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with 9/11. The war wasn’t about liberating the Iraqi people. I said this in Congress in 2002. Millions of people who marched in America in protest of the war knew the truth, but were maligned by members of both parties for opposing the president in a time of war — and even leveled with the spurious charge of “not supporting the troops.”

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I’ve written and spoken widely about this topic, so today I offer two ways we can begin to address our role:

1) President Obama must tell us the truth about Iraq and the false scenario that caused us to go to war.

When Obama took office in 2008, he announced that his administration would not investigate or prosecute the architects of the Iraq War. Essentially, he suspended public debate about the war. That may have felt good in the short term for those who wanted to move on, but when you’re talking about a war initiated through lies, bygones can’t be bygones.

The unwillingness to confront the truth about the Iraq War has induced a form of amnesia which is hazardous to our nation’s health. Willful forgetting doesn’t heal, it opens the door to more lying. As today’s debate ensues about new potential military “solutions” to stem violence in Iraq, let’s remember how and why we intervened in Iraq in 2003.

2) Journalists and media commentators should stop giving inordinate air and print time to people who were either utterly wrong in their support of the war or willful in their calculations to make war.

By and large, our Fourth Estate accepted uncritically the imperative for war described by top administration officials and congressional leaders. The media fanned the flames of war by not giving adequate coverage to the arguments against military intervention.

President Obama didn’t start the Iraq War, but he has the opportunity now to tell the truth. That we were wrong to go in. That the cause of war was unjust. That more problems were created by military intervention than solved. That the present violence and chaos in Iraq derives from the decision which took America to war in 2003. More than a decade later, it should not take courage to point out the Iraq war was based on lies.

‘Blair has finally gone mad’ : London mayor ridicules ex-PM over Iraq

This combo photo shows British former prime minister Tony Blair (left) and London Mayor Boris Johnson.

Tony Blair’s essay on how the Middle East should blame its own religious dynamics for its troubles – instead of Western attempts at intervention – has seen London Mayor Boris Johnson launch a scathing attack on the “unhinged” former PM.

Johnson’s strong condemnation is a reaction to the arguments made in the former British Prime Minister’s piece entitled ‘Iraq, Syria and the Middle East,’ where claims range from placing blame on the Shiite government in Iraq to the inherent religious dynamics within the Middle East region, even to Syria for allowing the recent attack on Mosul to take place from within its borders, as well as Shiite fighters from Iran – all to explain why militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/ISIS) are making such progress these days.

But perhaps the most off-the-wall remark that has sent everyone, from the British press to Blair’s former party mates, to Boris Johnson, over the edge was Blair’s claim that Britain should be thanked, not blamed, for the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Lashing out at the former Prime Minister, Johnson wrote for The Telegraph on Sunday that “I have come to the conclusion that Tony Blair has finally gone mad.”

His essay “struck me as unhinged in its refusal to face facts. In discussing the disaster of modern Iraq he made assertions that are so jaw-droppingly and breathtakingly at variance with reality that he surely needs professional psychiatric help.”

Attacking also the former PM’s vague claim that Islam should act more responsibly in watching out for both Shia and Sunni extremism on its fringes (since extremism, allegedly, arises out of thin air), Johnson writes: “He said that the allied invasion of 2003 was in no way responsible for the present nightmare – in which Al-Qaeda has taken control of a huge chunk of the country and is beheading and torturing Shias, women, Christians and anyone else who falls foul of its ghastly medieval agenda. Tony Blair now believes that all this was ‘always, repeat always’ going to happen.”

Not so, Johnson believes.

An Iraqi weeps as he walks away from the ministries of justice and labour following a suicide bombing on October 25, 2009.

“The reality is that before the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, there was no Al-Qaeda presence in that country, none at all.” Despite his brutal tyranny, “Saddam did not have anything to do with the 9/11 attack and he did not possess Weapons of Mass Destruction.”

Hammering the point home about just what exactly British and American interventionism accomplished in Iraq, Johnson lays it out simply, “The truth is that we destroyed the institutions of authority in Iraq without having the foggiest idea what would come next. As one senior British general has put it to me, ‘we snipped the spinal cord’ without any plan to replace it. There are more than 100,000 dead Iraqis who would be alive today if we had not gone in and created the conditions for such a conflict, to say nothing of the troops from America, Britain and other countries who have lost their lives in the shambles.”

The London mayor makes the admission that he was among those that voted for the war in the belief that it was the right thing to do – after all, Saddam was considered a madman whose prolonged rule would only bring about a further stagnation in Iraq. But because there was no government waiting to replace him, as well as no institutions or infrastructure set up in place for after the devastation of the conflict, Johnson, like others, became disillusioned with the Bush/Blair plans.

By refusing to admit the colossal miscalculations and lack of foresight that led to Iraq’s present state a decade after invasion, “Blair is now undermining the very cause he advocates – the possibility of serious and effective intervention.”

An image uploaded on June 14, 2014 on the jihadist website Welayat Salahuddin allegedly shows militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) capturing dozens of Iraqi security forces members prior to transporting them to an unknown location in the Salaheddin province ahead of executing them.

“Yes, we helped cause the disaster in Iraq; but that does not mean we are incapable of trying to make some amends. It might be that there are specific and targeted things we could do – and, morally, perhaps should do – to help protect the people of Iraq from terrorism (to say nothing of Syria, where 100,000 people have died in the past three years),” Johnson wrote of Iraq’s neighbor, whom Blair accused of being guilty of leading his country into a war with extremist insurgents, while also accusing the West of not doing more to topple the president – the Alawite Bashar Assad, who has been fighting the same Sunni extremism plaguing Iraq for three years now.

Johnson asserts that unless Britain, with its great military spending and permanent seat on the UN Security Council, does not admit to its failures as well as enjoy its successes, it would be completely self-defeating for what it tries to accomplish.

When it comes to the question of why the Iraq invasion happened in the first place, the London mayor alleges that the former British leader’s whole campaign arose out of a desire to achieve personal “grandeur.”

“Somebody needs to get on to Tony Blair and tell him to put a sock in it – or at least to accept the reality of the disaster he helped to engender. Then he might be worth hearing. The truth shall set you free, Tony.”

Boris Johnson traveled to Iraq and wrote his own piece for The Spectator in May 2003, giving his thoughts on life in Iraq after Saddam Hussein.

He reminisced about how “within the space of the last half-hour, I had slunk past a ten-year-old with an AK47 over his shoulder, chewing the fat with his dad in the door of the shop” to the harrowing theme of gunfire, and his tragic near-death experience “in a city with no recognized authority” after accidentally interfering with its shopkeeper.

“It was troubling that we were preparing war against a sovereign country that had, so far, done us no direct harm,” Johnson wrote. Despite this, he stated that the disorder was rampant and it wasn’t solely at the direct hands of the US but the subsequent post-invasion turmoil.

“Weeks after the invasion, buildings are still burning, not from missiles but from the looting. Most of the shops are shut. There is glass everywhere, and rubbish all over the streets, because there are no municipal services; and there are no municipal services because civic order has broken down,” Johnson wrote, citing the concerns of one Iraqi emphatically questioning: “Where is our gas, our electricity? They just make promises!”

Power is being contested on every corner, between Shia moderates and extremists. It is being fought for by umpteen Kurdish parties, Assyrian parties, secular parties,” he added.

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Desperate times : Kerry says US ready to turn to Iran, drone strikes, to fight ISIS

Fighters of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant

US Secretary of State John Kerry says that Washington is ready to use radical measures to halt the ISIS offensive in Iraq – including enlisting Iran’s help and launching air strikes.

“We’re open to discussions if there is something constructive that can be contributed by Iran, if Iran is prepared to do something that is going to respect the integrity and sovereignty of Iraq,” the diplomat told Yahoo News on Monday when questioned about joining forces with Iran, which enjoys religious ties with the embattled government in Baghdad.

But Kerry warned that the US should “see what Iran might or might not be willing to do before we start making any pronouncements.”

Later, the State Department and the Pentagon clarified that any joint action would be political and not military.

“There is absolutely no intention and no plan to coordinate military activity between the United States and Iran…there are no plans to have consultations with Iran about military activities in Iraq,” said Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby.

The Al-Qaeda offshoot ISIS (or ISIL) – the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant – has pushed from its strongholds on the Syrian border and taken the major urban centers of Mosul and Tikrit over the past week. Its militias are currently stationed on the outskirts of Baghdad, where the government is staging a counter-offensive. Over the weekend, it claimed to have executed 1,700 loyalist officers.

“This is a challenge to the stability of the region. It is obviously an existential challenge to Iraq itself. This is a terrorist group,” Kerry said of ISIS, a Sunni organization which has exploited the sectarian tensions partially incited by the hardline Shia policies of the current government.

The diplomat heavily criticized Prime Minister Nouri Maliki, but said the US will not be “issuing instructions or orders” for him to resign or share power. He did, however, call on the “Iraqi people to form a government that represents all of the interests of Iraq — not one sectarian group over another.”

Nonetheless, Kerry reiterated previous statements saying that the US would consider using air strikes – whether manned or unmanned – to prevent Baghdad from being taken by extremists.

“They’re not the whole answer, but they may well be one of the options that are important,” said Kerry. “I wouldn’t rule out anything that would be constructive.”

The diplomat said that President Barack Obama is conducting “a very thorough vetting of every option that is available.”

Obama previously said the US would avoid a direct military intervention in the country it invaded in 2003 and left only three years ago.

Kerry echoed concerns by other US politicians that the growing might of ISIS – which plundered US$425 million from a government vault in Mosul last week and enjoys generous funding from Wahhabis in the Arabian peninsula – is endangering American national security.

ISIS “clearly are focused not just there, but they’re focused on trying to do harm to Europe, to America and other people, and that’s why we believe it is so important for us to be engaged.”

Kerry said the organization counted fighters from the US, Australia, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, and the Netherlands in its ranks – and that those could later return to their home countries to stage terrorist acts.

Iran + US = a far-fetched plan?

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani

While the idea that Washington and Tehran may work alongside each other is a testament to the thawing of relations between recent adversaries, it currently seems unlikely that the initiative will bear fruit.

The two countries share a genuine strategic interest in keeping the Maliki government afloat (though their motives for doing so are fundamentally different) and Western media outlets have reported that the Islamic Republic has already dispatched elite Revolutionary Guards troops to buffer the Iraqi government, citing Iraqi and American officials.

But Iran has denied any military involvement in its neighbor’s conflict, as the head of the country’s Supreme National Security Council, Ali Shamkhani, publicly rebuffed the US offer, calling it “unrealistic.”

The two countries are also locked in tense late-stage negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program and potential sanctions relief. On Monday, the State Department released a statement saying that while it will discuss Iraq with Iranian officials at upcoming talks in Vienna, it is reluctant to link the two issues together.

FBI Questions Disrupt 9/11 Case At Guantanamo

This image reviewed by the U.S. military shows the guard tower at the entrance to “Camp Five” and “Camp Six” detention facilities of the Joint Detention Group at the U.S. Naval Station in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, on Jan. 19, 2012.

GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba — Lawyers for Guantanamo prisoners charged in the Sept. 11 attack say the FBI has questioned more people who work as support staff on their legal teams than previously disclosed, a development that may prompt a new detour in an already snarled case as the war crimes tribunal reconvened Monday at this U.S. base.

The trial by military commission of the five prisoners was derailed in April when the attorney for one defendant revealed that a member of his support staff had been questioned at home by the FBI and asked to provide information on others who work for the defense.

Lawyers say they have since learned that at least three other staffers have been questioned in two separate investigations over the past year. They want the judge to conduct a full hearing with witnesses into the issue despite government assurances that the investigations have been closed.

“The facts as we know them give rise to a potential conflict of interest, and when that happens, U.S. Supreme Court decisions are clear: The judge has an obligation to conduct a thorough inquiry,” said David Nevin, the lead civilian attorney for defendant Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

Little is publicly known about the two investigations. Lawyers say the FBI questioned an investigator and a classified material analyst for the team representing defendant Ramzi Binalshibh; an investigator for defendant Mustafa al-Hawsawi; and a translator on the team representing Mohammed, who has portrayed himself as the mastermind of the terror attack on Sept. 11, 2001.

James Harrington, a civilian lawyer for Binalshibh, told the court his investigator denied speaking to the FBI and has since left his team. “We have had basically a spy within our team for a number of months,” he said.

Prosecutors have said the FBI questioned the evidence technician as part of a preliminary investigation into the mishandling of classified evidence and the probe ended without charges, though the matter was referred to the Defense Department for possible further action.

Nevin told the court that the questioning of support personnel has prompted him to curb his defense activities, prompting him to cancel an investigative trip to the Middle East, out of fear that he is under scrutiny. “I am trimming my sails. I am pulling my punches,” he said.

The government is seeking to resume pretrial proceedings for the five prisoners, who face charges that include terrorism and murder for their alleged roles planning and providing logistics in the attack and could get the death penalty if convicted. Since their May 2012 arraignment, there have been 10 pretrial hearings in what officials have called the most complex terrorism trial in U.S. history.

Brig. Gen. Mark Martins, the chief prosecutor, said the case is making “methodical and deliberate movement” toward trial but no date has been set. “Delay is frustrating and I acknowledge that.”

Lawyers for the defendants say the FBI investigations of defense team staff are part of a pattern of interference in their ability to represent the men, including the monitoring of written communications with their clients and the revelation in February 2013 that the rooms in which they meet with clients contained microphones apparently disguised to look like smoke detectors.

They are seeking a weeklong hearing in August that would feature testimony from the FBI agents and the defense team members who were questioned as well as a former member of the prosecution team who now works as a senior FBI official. Prosecutors say it’s time to move on.

Sunni militants seize Tal Afar city of 200k citizens enlarging control of Iraq

The Sunni militants fighting to make an Islamic state in Iraq have scored another victory in their move to control more territory. They captured Tal Afar, a city of 200,000 residents in north-west of the country.The city was taken just before dawn on Monday, Mayor Abdulal Abdoul confirmed to AP. The report was also confirmed by residents on the phone.

Residents reported that there was heavy fighting within the city limits as Shiite security troops used rockets and helicopters in an attempt to stop the advancing militants.

“The situation is disastrous in Tal Afar. There is crazy fighting and most families are trapped inside houses, they can’t leave town,” a local official told Reuters on Sunday before the city was overrun. “If the fighting continues, a mass killing among civilians could result.”

Tal Afar is home to mostly ethnic Shiite and Sunni Turkmen. Residents fear persecution by the hardline orthodox Sunni fighters comprising the radical Islamic State of Iraq and Sham movement.

The city had been one of the few spots of resistance to ISIS in the north-west of Iraq because, unlike most other Iraqi troops, the unit defending it didn’t flee the militants. It is also located close to the regions controlled by Kurds, who have been autonomous from Baghdad in most regards and have their own militias.

Iraqi men, who volunteered to fight against the Jihadist militants, gather around buses in Baghdad on June 13, 2014, as security forces are bolstering defenses in the capital.

US-trained Iraqi army and security forces proved to be grossly unprepared to defend the country from the lightning operation of ISIS, which is now in control of a large territory, including Iraq’s second-largest city Mosul and Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit.

ISIS military success made US consider the prospect of joining forces with its long-time adversary Iran to help the Iraqi government in dealing with the imminent threat.

ISIS seeks to create a fundamentalist Islamist state in the territories or Iraq and Syria with the majority of Sunni population. They are one of the fiercest and most radical fighters in the region, notorious for staging suicide bombing attacks and mass executions.

Their Iraqi offensive also made them the most wealthy and well-armed militant force in the region, after they captured banks and military depots.

US warship with 550 Marines enters Arabian Gulf

The U.S.S Mesa Verde

The USS Mesa Verde with 550 Marines onboard has entered the Arabian Gulf on Monday for a possible operation in Iraq. It comes after President Obama ruled out sending ground troops to the militant-assaulted country.

The USS Mesa Verde is a San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock, a ship designed to carry an expeditionary force across the sea and deploy landing craft and helicopters.

The ship’s presence in the region “provides the commander-in-chief additional options to protect American citizens and interests in Iraq, should he choose to use them.” Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby said in a statement.

“USS Mesa Verde is capable of conducting a variety of quick reaction and crisis response operations. The ship carries a complement of MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft.” He said.

Washington already dispatched the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush to the Gulf on Saturday.

A handout picture released by the US Navy shows aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77) sailing in the Arabian Sea on June 13, 2014

President Barack Obama said he considered military action to help the Iraqi government deal with the threat of militant offensive which has already claimed large parts of the country in a surprise lightning operation.

But the president said he didn’t intend to send ground troops to Iraq again, two years after pulling out American troops from the country.

ISIS ‘execute’ 1,700 Iraqi soldiers, post gruesome pictures (GRAPHIC)

An image uploaded on June 14, 2014 on the jihadist website Welayat Salahuddin allegedly shows militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) executing dozens of captured Iraqi security forces members at an unknown location in the Salaheddin province.

Radical Sunni militants who have been capturing cities in northwest Iraq claimed on Twitter that they executed 1,700 Iraqi soldiers. The radicals posted graphic photos as evidence.

The photographs, which were posted on the Twitter account associated with the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS/ISIL), came with captions that described their alleged massacre. They did not provide a date or location, but chief military spokesman Lt. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi said the killings took place in Salahuddin province, located north of Baghdad.

Some of the images show dozens of captured men in civilian clothes loaded onto trucks, with the captions saying that they were taken to their deaths.

An image uploaded on June 14, 2014 on the jihadist website Welayat Salahuddin allegedly shows militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) transporting dozens of captured Iraqi security forces members at an unknown location in the Salaheddin province ahead of executing them.

Another image shows men lying down in a ditch with their arms behind their head. Some of the final photographs show bodies covered in blood with several gunshot wounds.

It is impossible to independently verify the photographs and the number of people killed.

Lt. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi, confirmed the photos’ authenticity on Sunday, adding that he is aware of mass executions of captured Iraqi soldiers in areas controlled by ISIS.

Following the analysis of the images by military experts, it was concluded that about 170 soldiers were shot to death by the militants, he told the Associated Press.

An image uploaded on June 14, 2014 on the jihadist website Welayat Salahuddin allegedly shows militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) executing dozens of captured Iraqi security forces members at an unknown location in the Salaheddin province.

Violence continued to escalate in Iraq on Sunday, with local residents telling to Reuters that ISIS insurgents attacked and took control of the town of Tal Afar, located in northwestern Iraq.

Iraqi Gen. Mohammed al-Quraishi confirmed to CNN that the city fell to Sunni rebels. Tal Afar is located in the Nineveh province and has a population of about 80,000 people, most of whom are Iraqi Turkmen.

Meanwhile, the US announced it will be increasing security at its embassy in Baghdad and moving some of its personnel out of the capital. Less than 100 US Marines and other military personnel are headed to Iraq to reinforce security at the US embassy in Baghdad, Reuters reported, citing a military official.

The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) also said that a number of embassy staff were withdrawn from Baghdad on Sunday. “The Australian embassy remains open with reduced staffing levels,” DFAT stated. “We are unlikely to be able to provide consular assistance in Iraq at the current time.”

An image uploaded on June 14, 2014 on the jihadist website Welayat Salahuddin allegedly shows militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) standing next to dozens of captured Iraqi security forces members at an unknown location in the Salaheddin province ahead of executing them.

Earlier, ISIS insurgents seized Iraq’s second-largest city of Mosul in the north of the country as well as Tikrit – the capital of Salahuddin province, where the alleged massacre of soldiers took place.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said Friday that the organization received a number of reports of “summary executions and extrajudicial killings” as ISIL militants raided Iraqi cities. The number of people killed last week may be in the hundreds, she added.

Once an offshoot of Al-Qaeda, ISIS fell out with the global terrorist network. The hyper-fundamentalist group, which is active in Iraq and Syria, gained notoriety for its ruthless tactics which include publicly crucifying and beheading those who violate their strict religious interpretations.

Iraq came under the influence of a Shia-majority government after the US-led invasion toppled Saddam Hussein’s Sunni-dominated regime in 2003. Since the withdrawal of US troops in 2011, sectarian tensions have boiled over, resulting in Sunni insurgents increasingly waging war against the central government.

“Leave Libya or be buried here” Hafter warns Ansar Al-Sharia

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In a swingeing attack on Ansar Al-Sharia, Operation Dignity leader General General Khalifa Hafter warned today that foreign militants who did quit Libya would die here.

“All terrorists who have entered Libya should leave it or they will be buried in it” he said in an interview on the Al-Arabiya TV channel.

He also accused Qatar of being behind a plot to kill him. “The assassination attempt that targeted us was carried out by Ansar Al-Sharia and supported and planned by Qatar and Libyan Fighting Group. It was an unsuccessful attempt”.

Hafter told the interviewer: “We are stronger than before in the level of equipment and forces and we do not need any support because the men and munitions are available”.

He added:”I assure you that 80 percent of the members of the Libyan air force, naval and army, are all with Operation Dignity. Very few who are working in the state cannot contribute and our numbers are increasing every day.”

Later at a press conference Hafter assured Libyans that Operation Dignity was gaining ground in its battle against terror and pledged to support democracy as the country moved toward the parliamentary election on 25 June.

He asked for border closures everywhere to contain the militias.

“We are progressing swiftly and gaining huge victories on the ground,” he said. “All that we ask for now is to close the borders to prevent the armed groups from fleeing or receiving support from outside.”

He said that he recognised the efforts of Chad, Niger, Egypt and Sudan over the past few months, who, he maintained, had all tightened up security at their borders, making it difficult for armed groups to move in and out.

“We are taking the armed groups step by step,” he explained. “They have not yet experienced the true meaning of war,” he threatened.

The general also lauded the Supreme Court of Libya, “which proved that it has the final call on all disputes across the country,” and expressed his appreciation for the Court’s decision on 9 June.

Greeting President Sisi and the Egyptian people, he expressed confidence in the new president, a man who “has come at just the right time—the perfect man in the perfect place”.

Claiming to be watching its every move, the general reminded Libyans that Ansar Al-Sharia has done nothing but kill, pointing out that, besides the security forces the group had targeted doctors, journalists and farmers. “Therefore,” he said, “we shall speak the same language that they do”.

He ended by assuring the public that Operation Dignity had not received any funding from outside of Libya.