Tag Archives: Tikrit

​Iraqi troops push back ISIS militants in Tikrit as PM under pressure to quit

Iraqi government forces backed by helicopter gunships began an offensive on Saturday to retake Tikrit from Sunni Islamist militants, while party leaders pursued talks to end Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s rule, which is seen as highly divisive.

Politicians in Baghdad and around the world have warned that as well as taking back cities captured by insurgents from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS/ISIL), Iraqi authorities must quickly form a government that might be able to bring the country’s split communities together.

Since the beginning of June, ISIS jihadists have overrun mainly Sunni areas in the north and west of Iraq.

ISIS’ aim is to re-create a medieval-style caliphate stretching from the Mediterranean to the Gulf. They believe that Shiite Muslims are heretics that should be killed, and there is already confirmation that they have staged mass executions of Shiite government soldiers, as well as civilians captured in Tikrit.

On the battlefield, Iraqi troops have been advancing on Tikrit from Samarra, and have stemmed the militant advance south towards Baghdad.

Iraqi special forces air-dropped snipers inside Tikrit University on Thursday, which had been taken over by ISIS fighters. Helicopter gunships were used against other targets in the city on Saturday, and ISIS fighters abandoned the main city administration building.

A senior Iraqi official told AFP that his security forces were coordinating with Washington, which has military advisors on the ground to help push back the militants. There were also reports of US drones flying over the city, the hometown of former dictator Saddam Hussein.

Qassim Atta, a spokesman for the Iraqi military, told reporters on Saturday that militant commanders are starting to struggle because “their morale has started to collapse.” He added that 29 terrorists were killed in Tikrit on Friday.

But in the south of the country, ISIS militants were on the offensive. In Jurf al-Sakhar – located 85 kilometers south of Baghdad – police sources said that 60 ISIS fighters and 15 Iraqi security forces were killed in an attack on an army camp, but the militants retreated when they could not hold their positions.

Political wrangling

Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, a powerful Shiite cleric, intervened Friday and urged Iraq’s political blocs to agree on a new premier, parliament speaker, and president before the newly-elected legislature meets in Baghdad on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia promised US Secretary of State John Kerry to use his influence to encourage Sunni Muslims to throw their weight behind a new, more inclusive Iraqi government, in an effort to undermine support for the Sunni Islamist insurgents. The king’s words are a significant shift from Riyadh’s unwillingness to support a new government unless Maliki steps down, which may reflect his disquiet about the regional implications of ISIS’ rise.

A Shiite lawmaker from the National Alliance, which groups all Shiite Muslim parties, said that a session of the Alliance – including Maliki’s State of Law party – would be held throughout the weekend and that a number of Sunni political parties would also meet later on Saturday.

The next 72 hours are very important to come up with an agreement to push the political process forward,” the lawmaker, who asked to be kept anonymous, told Reuters.

Iraq’s Sunnis accuse Maliki of pushing them aside and repressing their community, which has led many armed Sunni tribes to support the hardline ISIS insurgency.

The president of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan region has also said that Maliki should go. Maliki’s party won the most seats in the April election and was pushing for a third term before the ISIS offensive began. Now, some senior officials in his party say there is a possibility of him being replaced.

“It’s a card game and State of Law plays a poker game very well. For the Prime Minster, it will go down to the wire,” one official told Reuters.

Meanwhile, on the Iraq-Syria border, other Islamist rebels have challenged ISIS’ grip on power and have launched a counter-offensive on the border town of Albu Kamal.

Advertisements

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.

Iran Deploys Forces to Fight Militants in Iraq

The commander of Iran's Quds Force, Maj. Gen. Qasem Solaimani, went to Baghdad this week. Shahaboddin Vajedi

The commander of Iran‘s Quds Force, Maj. Gen. Qasem Solaimani, went to Baghdad this week. Shahaboddin Vajedi

BEIRUT—The threat of Sunni extremists eclipsing the power of its Shiite-dominated Arab ally presents Iran with the biggest security and strategic challenge it has faced since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

With the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, an offshoot of al Qaeda, rapidly gaining territory, Iran deployed Revolutionary Guards units to Iraq, according to Iranian security officials.

Iran has invested considerable financial, political and military resources over the past decade to ensure Iraq emerged from U.S. war as a strategic partner for the Islamic Republic and a strong Shiite-led state. The so-called Shiite crescent—stretching from Iran to Iraq, Lebanon and Syria—was forged largely as a result of this effort.

Two Guards’ units, dispatched from Iran’s western border provinces on Wednesday, were tasked with protecting Baghdad and the holy Shiite cities of Karbala and Najaf, these security sources said.

The involvement of Iran would pose yet another security challenge for the White House, and raises the prospect of the U.S. and Iran fighting on the same side. The U.S. opposes Iran’s support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, but with Tehran is jointly supporting Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

State Department officials on Thursday refused to outline what steps the Obama administration would take if Iranian forces entered Iraq.

Spokeswoman Jen Psaki said American diplomats who met with Iranian officials in Geneva this week to discuss Tehran’s nuclear program didn’t raise the issue of the Iraqi crisis.

“We’ve encouraged them to play a constructive role in Iraq,” Ms. Psaki said about the Iranians.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, reached by phone in London, said of the report that Iran’s Revolutionary Guards were entering the fight: “Frankly I have no idea about that. I am in London now.”

Syria’s conflict has turned Iraq into an important operational base for Iran to aid another ally, the Assad regime, which is dominated by an offshoot of Shiite Islam. Shiite militia trained by Iran, weapons and cash have flowed from Iran to Syria via Iraq.

“Iraq is viewed as a vital priority in Iran’s foreign policy in the region and they go to any length to protect this interest,” said Roozbeh Miribrahimi, an independent Iran expert based in New York.

House Speaker John Boehner ripped the President for not doing more in recent days to prevent Sunni jihadist militants from taking control of key Iraqi cities, including Mosul and Tikrit. Insurgents have been advancing through Iraq’s heartland with their eyes set on Baghdad, the country’s capital.

“They are 100 miles from Baghdad,” said Boehner Thursday. “And what’s the president do? Taking a nap.”

“It’s not like we haven’t seen this problem coming for over a year,” he added.

Boehner believes the U.S. should provide “the equipment and technical assistance that the Iraqis have been asking for.” The U.S. has rebuffed requests by the Iraqi government to order airstrikes in extremist areas, according to The New York Times. The Obama Administration has been reluctant to engage the recent extremist uprising as the American public largely endorsed withdrawing the last of its troops from Iraq in 2011.

Boehner said he did not know “enough of the details” to comment on whether or not the U.S. should engage in airstrikes.

Some of Boehner’s Republican colleagues in the Senate were also critical of the Obama Administration on Thursday, none more so than Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). McCain told reporters that Obama’s entire national security team, including the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, should be replaced.

Kurdish military units known as peshmerga deployed armor at the provincial capital of Kirkuk on Thursday as Iraq edged closer to full-scale sectarian conflict following lightning strikes on major cities

Kurdish military units known as peshmerga deployed armor at the provincial capital of Kirkuk on Thursday as Iraq edged closer to full-scale sectarian conflict following lightning strikes on major cities

That coarsely worded threat further vindicated Iran’s view that the fight unfolding in Iraq is an existential sectarian battle between the two rival sects of Islam-Sunni and Shiite—and by default a proxy battle between their patrons Saudi Arabia and Iran.

“Until now we haven’t received any requests for help from Iraq. Iraq’s army is certainly capable in handling this,” Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afgham said Wednesday.

Iranian President Hasan Rouhani cut short a religious celebration on Thursday and said he had to attend an emergency meeting of the country’s National Security Council about events in Iraq.

“We, as the Islamic Republic of Iran, won’t tolerate this violence and terrorism…. We will fight and battle violence and extremism and terrorism in the region and the world,” he said in a speech.

ISIS’s rapid territorial gains in the past few days appeared to have caught Iranian officials by surprise and opened a debate within the regime over whether Iran should publicly enter the battle.

Iran’s chief of police, Esmail Ahmadi-Moghaddam said the National Security Council would consider intervening in Iraq to “protect Shiite shrines and cities,” according to Iranian media.

In the short-term, analysts said the outcome of the crisis in Iraq will only strengthen and increase the influence of Iran and the Revolutionary Guards.

Boehner : Obama ‘Taking A Nap’ as Violence Tearing Iraq Apart

John A. Boehner

John A. Boehner

House Speaker John Boehner ripped the President for not doing more in recent days to prevent Sunni jihadist militants from taking control of key Iraqi cities, including Mosul and Tikrit. Insurgents have been advancing through Iraq’s heartland with their eyes set on Baghdad, the country’s capital.

“They are 100 miles from Baghdad,” said Boehner Thursday. “And what’s the president do? Taking a nap.”

“It’s not like we haven’t seen this problem coming for over a year,” he added.

Boehner believes the U.S. should provide “the equipment and technical assistance that the Iraqis have been asking for.” The U.S. has rebuffed requests by the Iraqi government to order airstrikes in extremist areas, according to The New York Times. The Obama Administration has been reluctant to engage the recent extremist uprising as the American public largely endorsed withdrawing the last of its troops from Iraq in 2011.

Boehner said he did not know “enough of the details” to comment on whether or not the U.S. should engage in airstrikes.

Some of Boehner’s Republican colleagues in the Senate were also critical of the Obama Administration on Thursday, none more so than Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). McCain told reporters that Obama’s entire national security team, including the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, should be replaced.

President Obama said Thursday that his team is looking to identify how the U.S. can provide greater assistance to the Iraqis.

“Over the last year we have been providing them with additional assistance to try to address the problems that they have in Anbar, the northwest portions of the country, as well as the Iraqi and Syrian border,” said Obama. “That includes in some cases military equipment, it includes intelligence assistance, includes a whole host of issues.”

“What we’ve seen over the last couple of days indicates the degree to which Iraq’s going to need more help,” he said. “It’s going to need more help from us, and it’s going to need more help from the international community…So my team is working around the clock to identify how we can provide the most effective assistance to them. I don’t rule out anything, because we do have a stake in making sure these jihadists are not getting a permanent foothold in either Iraq or Syria.”

Iraq crisis : Militants take Tikrit’ after taking Mosul

the jihadist group the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) allegedly shows ISIL militants near the central Iraqi city of Tikrit. Militants battled Iraqi security forces in Tikrit on June 11, 2014. (ISIS)

the jihadist group the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) allegedly shows ISIL militants near the central Iraqi city of Tikrit. Militants battled Iraqi security forces in Tikrit on June 11, 2014. (ISIS)

Al-Qaeda-inspired militants on Wednesday seized the northern Iraqi city of Tikrit, a day after Mosul, the country’s second largest city, fell under their control.

The sweeping advances of the extremist Islamist State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and the rapid collapse of the Iraqi army, on which the United States spent at least $16 billion to build, has sent shockwaves across the region and internationally.

Militants took control of government buildings, financial institutions, weapon stockpiles, which could help them gain strength in their war against the rule of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

68899

In Tikrit, the hometown of Saddam Hussein and the Salaheddin provincial capital, the militants seized a local prison and freed hundreds of prisoners. It lies roughly half way between Baghdad and Iraq’s second city Mosul which fell on Tuesday.

“All of Tikrit is in the hands of the militants,” a police colonel was quoted by AFP as saying.

Tikrit is the second major gain for the militants in three days

Tikrit is the second major gain for the militants in three days

A police brigadier general said that the militants attacked from the north, west and south of the city, and that they were from powerful jihadist group ISIS.

In Mosul, the militants on Wednesday seized 48 Turks from the Turkish consulate in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, including the consul-general, three children and several members of Turkey’s Special Forces, a source in the Turkish prime minister’s office said.

Read the latest about the seizure of the Turkish consulate here

The United States has said Jihadist militants in Iraq pose a threat to the entire region and voiced deep concern about the “serious situation.”

“It should be clear that ISIL is not only a threat to the stability of Iraq, but a threat to the entire region,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki has said, referring to the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) group.

Meanwhile, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon expressed grave concern about the takeover of Mosul, calling on political leaders to unite in the face of threats.

His spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Ban was “gravely concerned by the serious deteriorating of the security situation in Mosul, where thousands of civilians have been displaced.”

Full-scale war

Chris Doyle, the director of the Council for Arab-British Understanding (Caabu), told the BBC on Wednesday that Iraq is no longer an uprising or a crisis, but a full scale war.

Doyle said alongside other crises in the region, Iraq needs to be addressed with urgency and seriousness by the international community that it has lacked so far.

“It is essential that the leading international powers work with regional partners to ensure that this full scale war does not intensify further. Events in Iraq are a product of an Iraqi, regional and international failure over many years,” Doyle added.

Nouzad Hadi, the governor of the Iraqi Kurdish city of Arbil, blamed Maliki’s government for the fall of Nineveh Province, including its capital city Mosul.

Hadi told the Dubai-based Hadath TV channel that the Iraqi military forces “are well-armed with the latest weaponry from the United States” but “that Maliki’s security policy has led to this failure.”

“This is a real tragedy,” Hadi said.

Commenting on Maliki’s policy towards the Sunnis in Iraq, Doyle said “there needs to be a political approach that is inclusive, one which does not alienate the Sunni community or other major constituencies.”

“This has been a considerable failure of the government of Nouri al-Maliki, that has taken sectarian politics to a new low. Any assistance given to Iraq must be based on an inclusive political situation without which there can be no military one.”

In October 2013, Maliki and before he arrived in Washington on an official visit, six influential U.S. senators sent a letter to President Barack Obama in which they accused Maliki of pursuing sectarian policies in Iraq and of marginalizing the Sunnis.

Democrats Carl Levin and Robert Menendez and Republicans John McCain, James Inhofe, Bob Corker and Lindsey Graham warned in the letter that “security conditions in Iraq have dramatically worsened over the past two years” and that “al-Qaeda in Iraq has returned with a vengeance.”

“Unfortunately, Prime Minister Maliki’s mismanagement of Iraqi politics is contributing to the recent surge of violence,” they said.