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We have full control of Iraqi city of Ramadi : IS

  • Published in World
Islamic State militants said they had taken full control of the western Iraqi city of Ramadi on Sunday in the biggest defeat for the Baghdad government since last summer.

In a statement, the group said it had seized tanks and killed "dozens of apostates", its description for members of the Iraqi security forces.

Ramadi is the capital of Iraq's western Anbar province, which is dominated by Sunni Muslims. Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi signed off on the deployment of Shi'ite militias to attempt to seize back the area, a move he previously resisted for fear of provoking a sectarian backlash.

Earlier, security sources said government forces evacuated a key military base after it came under attack by the insurgents, who had already taken one of the last districts still holding out.

It was the biggest victory for Islamic State in Iraq since security forces and Shi'ite paramilitary groups began pushing the militants back last year, aided by air strikes from a U.S.-led coalition.

The U.S. Defense Department, while not confirming the fall of Ramadi, sought to play down the impact on the broader Iraq military campaign of an Islamic State seizure of the city.

"Ramadi has been contested since last summer and ISIL now has the advantage," Pentagon spokeswoman Elissa Smith said, using another acronym for Islamic State. She said the loss of the city would not mean the overall Iraq military campaign was turning in Islamic State's favor, but acknowledged it would give the group a "propaganda boost."

"That just means the coalition will have to support Iraqi forces to take it back later," Smith said, adding that the United States was continuing to provide it air support and advice.

The Iraqi government had vowed to liberate Anbar after routing the militants from the city of Tikrit last month. But the security forces, which partly disintegrated under an Islamic State onslaught last June, have struggled to gain traction in the vast desert province.

An officer who withdrew from the besieged army base said the militants were urging them via loudspeaker to discard their weapons, promising to show mercy in return.

"Most of the troops withdrew from the operations command headquarters and Daesh fighters managed to break in from the southern gate," the officer said. Daesh is an Arabic name for Islamic State.

"We are retreating to the west to reach a safe area".


Earlier on Sunday, Anbar provincial council member Athal Fahdawi described the situation in Ramadi as "total collapse".

It was one of only a few towns and cities to have remained under government control in the vast desert terrain, which borders Saudi Arabia, Syria and Jordan.

Islamic State, which emerged as an offshoot of al Qaeda, controls large parts of Iraq and Syria in a self-proclaimed caliphate where it has massacred members of religious minorities and slaughtered Western and Arab hostages.

The United States and its allies have been pounding the militants for months with air strikes in both countries. Washington said on Saturday its special forces had killed a senior Islamic State figure in a raid into Syria.

Over a period of 24 hours up to 0500 GMT (0100 EDT) on Sunday, the U.S.-led coalition carried out seven air strikes near Ramadi, according to a statement - the highest number on any single location in Iraq and Syria.

Iraq tries hard to save Ramadi

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BAGHDAD: Iraq’s military has dispatched reinforcements to help its battered forces in Ramadi, a city now largely held by the Islamic State group after its militants swept across it the day before, an Iraqi military spokesman said Saturday.The spokesman of the Joint Operations Command, Brig. Gen. Saad Maan Ibrahim, told Iraqi state television that the US-led coalition was supporting Iraqi troops with “painful” airstrikes since late Friday.

Ibrahim didn’t give details on the ongoing battles, but described the situation on the ground as “positive” and vowed that the Islamic State group would be pushed out of the city “in the coming hours.”Local officials said dozens of security forces and civilians were killed, mainly the families of the troops, including 10 police officers and some 30 tribal fighters allied with Iraqi forces.

In a sign of how the latest advance is worrying Washington, US Vice President Joe Biden spoke with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi on Friday, promising the delivery of heavy weapons, including AT-4 shoulder-held rockets to counter suicide car bombs, according to a US Embassy statement.

The statement said both leaders agreed on the “importance and urgency of mobilizing tribal fighters working in coordination with Iraqi security forces to counter IS and to ensure unity of effort among all of Iraq’s communities,” using a different acronym for the group.
Meanwhile, the terror group massacred dozens of civilians as they closed in on Syria’s ancient metropolis of Palmyra.
Women and children were among 23 people executed in cold blood outside Palmyra, monitoring groups said, as fears grew that advancing IS troops would destroy the ancient city renowned as a world heritage site.
Palmyra, a 2,000-year-old desert oasis site known in Arabic as Tadmor, is one of Syria’s most prized historical gems and experts fear IS plans to destroy the city after it sacked the Iraqi archaeological sites of Nimrud and Hatra.
“It is our responsibility to alert the (UN) Security Council so that it will take strong decisions,” UNESCO chief Irina Bokova said, adding that the world body was “very worried.”
US President Barack Obama said Friday Syria would not likely see peace before he leaves office in early 2017 and reaffirmed his belief that there is no “military solution” to the conflict.
“The situation in Syria is heartbreaking but it’s extremely complex” Obama told the Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya television network, adding that “too often in the Middle East region, people attribute everything to the United States.”

Former aide to Saddam Hussain, Al Douri killed by Iraqi forces

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BAGHDAD: A former aide to late Iraqi President Saddam Hussain and a leader of Iraq’s insurgency, Ezzat Ebrahim Al Douri, may have been killed by Iraqi forces and Shi’ite militias involved in an operation against insurgent forces.

Raed Al Jubouri, the governor of Salahuddin province, told Al Arabiya television that Al Douri had been killed, and the station broadcast a photo of a dead man who looked like Al Douri.

“This is a major victory for those involved in the operation,” Al Jubouri said. “He is considered a mastermind for this terrorist group,” he said, referring to Daesh 9 the so called Islamic State), an offshoot of Al Qaida, which has taken swathes of Syria and Iraq.

“For sure this will have an impact on them ... There will be a break among them,” he said.

Baghdad has mounted an offensive against Daesh and former Baathists once loyal to Saddam Hussain to retake territory in Iraq’s Sunni heartland captured by jihadists last summer. Al Douri was believed to be a key figure in that insurgency.

While Baghdad has announced Al Douri’s death several times before, this time photos were circulating showing a man with similar features and red hair like Al Douri’s. DNA from the body will be tested to confirm it is him, Al Jubouri.

Ahmad Al Kraim, the head of Salahuddin provincial council, said news of Al Douri’s death was not confirmed and intelligence officers who tracked his movements did not believe he was the man in the photographs.

Khaled Jassam, a member of the security committee in Salahuddin provincial council, said the committee were 70 per cent sure Al Douri had been killed but were awaiting medical tests.

Here are some facts about Al Douri

He was the senior member of Saddam’s regime still at large and ranked six on the US military’s list of 55 most-wanted Iraqis, with a $10 million reward offered for his capture.

After Saddam Hussain was toppled and before Al Qaida and later Daesh rose to prominence, Al Douri led an insurgency against Baghdad’s Shi’ite-led government, organising and leading major attacks against symbols of the new rule.

Iraqi Security officials and the US military have said he helped lead the Sunni Arab-led insurgency that erupted after the 2003 invasion. Rumours of his capture have surfaced periodically, but he remained on the run until the report of his death.

Hailing from the Tikrit region, he helped plot the 1968 coup that brought the Baath party to power. His frail appearance hid a ruthlessness that helped Saddam keep his grip at the top.

He served as vice-president and deputy chairman of Iraq’s powerful Revolutionary Command Council until the 2003 US-led invasion that ousted Saddam.

He was a senior official responsible for northern Iraq when poison gas was used on Halabja in 1988, killing some 5,000 Kurds. He cut short a visit to Vienna for medical treatment in 1999 to avoid arrest for suspected crimes against humanity.

Born in 1942, he did not finish high school or do military training, but Saddam made him deputy commander-in-chief of the armed forces with the rank of lieutenant general

Islamic State video 'shows destruction of Nimrud'

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The images appear to confirm reports in March that the jihadists had vandalised Nimrud, one of Iraq's greatest archaeological treasures.

The video shows them using bulldozers and then explosives on the ruins of the ancient city.

IS has attacked Nimrud and other ancient sites in Iraq as part of what it sees as a war against "false idols".

In March, the Iraqi ministry of tourism said IS was heavy machinery to destroy the Assyrian ruins.

Nimrud, which was founded in the 13th Century BC, lies about 30km (18 miles) south-east of Mosul.

IS has controlled Mosul, Iraq's second largest city, and nearby areas since June 2014.

The video showed militants using power tools to cut up and destroy stone artefacts at the site. After that, they place large amounts of explosions which are detonated in a huge blast, which appears to have levelled the site.

Many treasures from Nimrud are in foreign museums, but a number of giant "lamassu" statues, depicting winged beasts with human heads, and stones friezes were still at Nimrud.

The region held by the militants in Iraq has nearly 1,800 of the country's 12,000 registered archaeological sites.

The reported destruction of the statues followed reports that IS burnt down Mosul Library, which housed over 8,000 ancient manuscripts.

Iraq says Islamic State militants 'bulldozed' ancient site

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Islamic State militants “bulldozed” the renowned archaeological site of the ancient city of Nimrud in northern Iraq on Thursday using heavy military vehicles, the government said.

A statement from Iraq’s Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities didn’t elaborate on the extent of the damage, saying only that the group continues to “defy the will of the world and the feelings of humanity” with this latest act, which came after an attack on the Mosul museum just days earlier.

The destruction of the site of one of ancient Mesopotamia’s greatest cities recalled the Taliban’s annihilation of large Buddha statues in Afghanistan more than a dozen years ago, experts said.

Nimrud was the second capital of Assyria, an ancient kingdom that began in about 900 B.C., partially in present-day Iraq, and became a great regional power. The city, which was destroyed in 612 B.C., is located on the Tigris River just south of Iraq’s second largest city, Mosul, which was captured by the Islamic State group in June.

The late 1980s discovery of treasures in Nimrud’s royal tombs was one of the 20th century’s most significant archaeological finds. After Iraq was invaded in 2003, archaeologists were relieved when they were found hidden in the country’s central Bank in a secret vault-inside-a-vault submerged in sewage water.

The Islamic State extremists, who control a third of Iraq and Syria, have attacked other archaeological and religious sites, claiming that they promote apostasy. Earlier this week, a video emerged on militant websites showing Islamic State militants with sledgehammers destroying ancient artefacts at the Mosul museum, sparking global outrage.

Last year, the militants destroyed the Mosque of the Prophet Younis or Jonah and the Mosque of the Prophet Jirjis, two revered ancient shrines in Mosul. They also threatened to destroy Mosul’s 850-year old Crooked Minaret, but residents surrounded the structure, preventing the militants from approaching.

Suzanne Bott, the heritage conservation project director for Iraq and Afghanistan in the University of Arizona’s College of Architecture, Planning and Archaeology, worked at Nimrud on and off for two years between 2008 and 2010. She helped stabilise structures and survey Nimrud for the U.S. State Department as part of a joint U.S. military and civilian unit.

She described Nimrud as one of four main Assyrian capital cities that practiced medicine, astrology, agriculture, trade and commerce, and had some of the earliest writings. “It’s really called the cradle of Western civilisation, that’s why this particular loss is so devastating,” Ms. Bott said. “What was left on site was stunning in the information it was able to convey about ancient life.

“People have compared it to King Tut’s tomb,” she said. Iraq’s national museum in Baghdad opened its doors to the public last week for the first time in 12 years in a move Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said was to defy efforts “to destroy the heritage of mankind and Iraq’s civilisation.”

Jack Green, chief curator of the Oriental Institute Museum at the University of Chicago and expert on Iraqi art, said Thursday that the IS group seems bent on destroying objects they view as idols representing religions and cultures that don’t conform to their beliefs.

“It’s the deliberate destruction of a heritage and its images, intended to erase history and the identity of the people of Iraq, whether in the past or the present,” Mr. Green said. “And it has a major impact on the heritage of the region.” Mr. Green noted that in many of these attacks on art, pieces that can be carried away are then sold to fund the IS group, while the larger artefacts and sculptures are destroyed at the site.

UNESCO decries destruction

The head of the U.N.’s cultural agency says the deliberate destruction of cultural heritage like that at an archaeological site in Nimrud, Iraq, amounts to a “war crime.”

UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova appealed in a statement Friday to people around the world “especially youth” to protect “the heritage of the whole of humanity.”

The Iraqi government says Islamic State militants “bulldozed” the renowned archaeological site of the ancient city in northern Iraq with heavy military vehicles on Thursday.

Bokova denounced “this cultural chaos” and said she had alerted both U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court.

The discovery of treasures in Nimrud’s royal tombs in the 1980s is considered one of the 20th century’s most significant archaeological finds.

Two Saudi guards killed in attack on Iraq frontier: Saudi ministry

  • Published in Saudi Arabia
Riyadh: A suicide bomber killed two Saudi guards Monday on the border with Iraq, where Daesh militants have seized a swathe of territory, the interior ministry said.

The blast in the Arar region followed a firefight between the border patrol and the assailants, one of whom was shot dead, a ministry spokesman said in a statement carried by the official SPA news agency.
“A border patrol in Suwayf, in the northern Arar region, came under fire by terrorist elements,” the spokesman said.

As forces killed one of the assailants, another attacker “detonated an explosive belt he was carrying” killing himself and two guards and wounding another.

The ministry did not specify how many assailants in total were involved in the dawn attack or their motives. It said an investigation was under way.

In July, three shells fired from inside Iraq hit the Arar area, without causing any casualties.

In November, Iraqi Shiite group Jaish Al Mukhtar claimed it had fired six mortar rounds into a remote area of northeastern Saudi Arabia as a “warning” to the kingdom.

Saudi Arabia shares a more than 800 kilometre (500 mile) border with Iraq.

The kingdom has been taking part in US-led air strikes against Daesh in Syria, in a move that has drawn threats of retaliation from the militants.

In a purported audio recording released on social media networks last month, Daesh leader Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi warned Saudi leaders they would see “no more security or rest.”

Iraq Kurds press fightback as top rebel reported killed

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Iraq: Kurdish forces pressed their biggest offensive against the Islamic State group so far on Friday, buoyed by US reports that IS supremo, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi’s top aide in Iraq has been killed.

Kurdish peshmerga forces were securing the surroundings of Mount Sinjar after breaking a months-old siege of the northwestern region while fighting was also reported near the city of Tall Afar further east.

The Pentagon said Thursday that US strikes had killed several top leaders of the group that proclaimed a “caliphate” straddling Syria and Iraq six months ago and rose to be the world’s most feared militant organization.

“I can confirm that since mid-November, targeted coalition air strikes successfully killed multiple senior and mid-level leaders,” spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby said.

US officials said among those killed was Abu Muslim Al-Turkmani, who was Baghdadi’s deputy in charge of Iraq and would be the most senior IS leader to fall this year.

Kirby said strikes against the group’s leadership were disrupting the militants’ “ability to command and control current operations against” Iraqi federal and Kurdish forces.

The leaders of autonomous Kurdistan described the operation they have spearheaded since Wednesday as the most successful so far against the militants.

After the US-led coalition paved the way with some 50 air strikes, around 8,000 peshmerga reclaimed some 700 square km in the Zumar and Sinjar regions in two days.

Late Thursday, they reached Mount Sinjar, where thousands of fighters and civilians from the Yazidi minority had been besieged for months.
“The peshmerga have liberated around 70 percent of the areas around Mount Sinjar, but the southern part of the Sinjar region is still under IS control,” said Faisal Saleh, a Yazidi who has been stranded on the mountain with his family.

“The peshmerga are currently offering assistance to those who need it the most and they are planning to take them to Kurdistan but that hasn’t happened yet,” he told AFP by telephone.Khalaf Shamo, a Yazidi fighter also on the mountain, said the militants were destroying positions before withdrawing.

“We can see IS fighters blowing up houses in Sinuni and Khan as-Sur, we can see it clearly,” he said, referring to two villages north of the mountain.

Mount Sinjar in August saw one of the most dramatic episodes of the six-month-old conflict in Iraq when tens of thousands of Yazidis were trapped there without food nor water.

Fears of a genocide against the small Kurdish-speaking minority were one of the reasons US President Barack Obama put forward for starting an air war against the militants.

The peshmerga also closed in on Tall Afar, a large city from which huge numbers of Shiite Turkmen were displaced when IS fighters attacked in June.

But residents said the Iraqi army’s elite counter-terrorism unit, known as the Golden Brigade, was leading operations around the city.
“There’s fighting going on, it started last night. I can hear shooting and explosions not that far away even as we speak. I can sometimes hear fighter jets,” said Abu Hussein, a 26-year-old who was a teacher before the militants offensive.

“Where I live, in the Kasek neighborhood of Tall Afar, I can see many IS members preparing to flee the city,” he said. According to a US military statement, two of the five air strikes carried out by coalition warplanes on Thursday targeted IS vehicles near Tall Afar.

The Iraqi portion of the militants’ caliphate has shrunk in recent weeks, with central government troops and Shiite militia making significant gains in the east of the country and south of Baghdad.

Kurdish officers have said the latest peshmerga-led operation forced many IS militants to seek refuge across the Syria border or in their main hub of Mosul, Iraq’s second city, around which they have been building berms and trenches.

US launches 22 air strikes against IS positions in Iraq

  • Published in World

Washington: The US military has carried out 22 air strikes against Islamic State (IS) positions in Iraq and one in Syria over the past two days, the US Central Command said Saturday. The aerial bombardment in Syria took place near the Kurdish city of Kobani and destroyed an IS artillery piece, CENTCOM, which is coordinating the US campaign against the Sunni militants said in a statement.

 Kobani is one of the militants' strategic enclaves due to its location on the border with Turkey and, according to the Pentagon, has become the main target of its air strikes in Syria, Xinhua reported.

 In Iraq, an air strike to the southeast of the strategic Mosul dam struck a large IS unit, while 10 other attacks to the west of that hydroelectric facility destroyed a building, six combat positions and two staging locations used by the jihadis, CENTCOM said.

 Three other air strikes were carried out to the south of the Baiji oil refinery and struck two IS combat units, destroyed a building, damaged another and wiped out two of the jihadis' mortar positions, according to the statement.

 Among other air strikes, the US military also targeted IS positions near the central city of Fallujah. Other members of the US-led international coalition that are conducting air strikes in Iraq include France, Britain, Australia, Belgium and the Netherlands.

 In Syria, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan and Bahrain are also conducting airstrikes. The Sunni extremists took control of a large swath of northern Iraq, including Mosul, a city of more than 1 million people, in June. IS, a coalition of jihadis, tribal militias and veterans of the late Saddam Hussein's army, has proclaimed a caliphate in the parts of Syria and neighbouring Iraq under its control.

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