Thursday 26 June 2014

Iraq civil war update - 06/25/2014

ISIL strengthened on Syria border after Qaeda unit joins it
The local unit of Al-Qaeda's Syrian branch in the tinderbox town of Albu Kamal on the Iraqi border pledged loyalty Wednesday to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, giving ISIL control over both sides of the frontier.

The Daily Star (Lebanon)
25 June, 2014

The move is also significant because it reflects how ISIL is fast gaining the upper hand in eastern Syria, where it has been locked in combat with fighters from Al-Qaeda franchise Al-Nusra Front and allied local rebels virtually all year.

Al-Nusra's oath of loyalty in Albu Kamal comes days after Iraqi security forces abandoned Al-Qaim, just across the border, and ISIL and other Sunni militants seized it on Saturday.

ISIL, which aspires to create an Islamic state that straddles Iraq and Syria, has spearheaded a lightning jihadist offensive that has already captured swathes of territory north and west of the capital.

ISIL waded in to Syria's civil war in the spring of last year on the side of rebels seeking to oust President Bashar al-Assad, but its systematic abuses and quest for hegemony quickly turned Syrian rebels, including Islamists, against it.

As a result, fighting broke out in January between ISIL and Syrian rebels, which eventually drew Al-Nusra in against its fellow jihadist organisation.

Despite the fighting, which has killed hundreds, activists say the offensive in Iraq has empowered the group, partly because its fighters have captured large amounts of heavy weaponry from fleeing Iraqi troops.

On Wednesday, Al-Nusra's Albu Kamal branch "pledged loyalty to ISIL," said Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman.

"They are rivals, but both groups are jihadist and extremists. This move will create tension now with other rebel groups, including Islamists, in the area," said Abdel Rahman.

An ISIL jihadist confirmed the reports on Twitter, posting a photo showing an Egyptian Al-Nusra Front commander shaking hands with an ISIL leader of Chechen origin.

An opposition activist in Albu Kamal told AFP via the Internet that "there is a lot of tension, and the situation is only going to get worse."

Using a pseudonym for security reasons, Hadi Salameh also said the merger would "cause a big problem with the local tribes, who will not welcome this change."

Another activist said the move comes days after local rebel brigades who had been working with Al-Nusra signed a declaration demanding that it take a clear stance against ISIL.

"The loyalty oath (to ISIL) comes after tension between Al-Nusra and the local rebels," said Abdel Salam al-Hussein.

He also said hundreds of thousands of people, including displaced families from neighbouring Iraq as well as flashpoint areas in Syria, are living in Albu Kamal, and that it would be a "catastrophe" if fighting broke out in the town.

Hussein said: "ISIL fighters are now positioned at the entrance of Albu Kamal, on the Iraqi side."

Meanwhile, Deir Ezzor province's rebel spokesman Omar Abu Leyla warned that "Albu Kamal is a red line." If ISIL fighters cross over from Iraq, he said the opposition "Free Syrian Army will fight them."

Rebels fighting ISIL and the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad distributed amateur video footage of a rebel parade in Albu Kamal, which Abu Leyla described as a warning to the jihadists positioned just across the border.

Abu Leyla complained that "the FSA has received no external support at all, even though we are fighting ISIL."

Separately Wednesday, the Syrian air force raided ISIL-controlled Raqa in the north of the country and Muhassen in the east.

In Raqa, "12 civilians, including a woman and a child, were killed in the air strikes. Not one strike directly hit an ISIL position."

The Assad regime has rarely targeted ISIL-held areas, except in recent days after the group and other Sunni militants launched an offensive in Iraq, wresting control of Mosul and other pars of Iraq.

A Syrian government newspaper reiterated frequent regime claims that the United States and Israel are behind the rising violence, and that they are vying to "divide Syria along sectarian and religious lines."

Iraq PM rejects call for unity

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has rejected growing international calls for a unity government to fight off the threat from Sunni ISIS insurgents.

26 June, 2014

The United States and Britain have both called for him to invite more Kurds and Sunnis into his Shia-dominated government to help counter the threat from ISIS and other Sunni militants who have captured much of the north.

But in a defiant speech Mr al-Maliki has ignored the calls and refused to change his administration.

In his weekly televised address, Mr Maliki called on "all political forces to reconcile" in the face of a "fierce terrorist onslaught".

But he gave no promise of greater representation in government for the minority Sunni Arab community, whose anger at what they say are his sectarian and authoritarian policies has been exploited by ISIS militants, the BBC reports.

Mr Maliki said forming an emergency administration that included all religious and ethnic groups would go against the results of April's parliamentary elections, which were won by his State of Law alliance.

Sunni insurgents - led by ISIS - are continuting to advance towards Baghdad.
Fighting was reported to have continued on Wednesday, with an attack by rebels on the Balad airbase, about 80km north of the capital.

The crisis in Iraq was discussed by NATO leaders at a meeting in Brussels on Thursday.

They were joined by US Secretary of State John Kerry, who has just returned from a two-day visit to Baghdad and Irbil.

He announced he will be going to Saudi Arabia on Friday to hold further talks on the crisis.

Sounds as if they were talking about Russia. What is Washington's game? I wouldn't take anything coming out of Washington seriously, except for giving a clue as to the thinking. A bit like Kremlin-watching in the old days

I remember Robert Fisk talking about weasel words - "officials said"....

Iran Secretly Sending Drones and Supplies Into Iraq, U.S. Officials Say
Iran is directing surveillance drones over Iraq from an airfield in Baghdad and is secretly supplying Iraq with tons of military equipment, supplies and other assistance, American officials said. Tehran has also deployed an intelligence unit there to intercept communications, the officials said.

25 June, 2014

The secret Iranian programs are part of a broader effort by Tehran to gather intelligence and help Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki’s government in its struggle against Sunni militants with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

Gen. Qassim Suleimani, the head of Iran’s paramilitary Quds Force, has visited Iraq at least twice to help Iraqi military advisers plot strategy. And Iran has deployed about a dozen other Quds Force officers to advise Iraqi commanders, and help mobilize more than 2,000 Shiite militiamen from southern Iraq, American officials said.

Iranian transport planes have also been making two daily flights of military equipment and supplies to Baghdad — 70 tons per flight — for Iraqi security forces.

It’s a substantial amount,” said an American official, who declined to be identified because he was discussing classified reports. “It’s not necessarily heavy weaponry but it’s not just light arms and ammunition.”

The Iranian moves come as the United States is deploying the first of as many as 300 military advisers to assist Iraqi forces and to try to stabilize the deteriorating security situation in Iraq.

The American and Iranian military moves are not coordinated, American officials said. Even though the United States and Iran both oppose the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, known as ISIS, they are still competing for influence in Iraq and are backing opposing sides in the civil war in Syria.

The Iranians are playing in a big way in Iraq,” Senator Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, the ranking Republican on the Intelligence Committee, said in an interview.

The security crisis in Iraq was one of the topics in Secretary of State John Kerry’s meetings with allied officials who have gathered here for a meeting of NATO foreign ministers to discuss Ukraine and other issues. On Tuesday night, Mr. Kerry reviewed a number of pressing issues with Catherine Ashton, the foreign policy chief for the European Union, including Ukraine and “the grave security situation on the ground in Iraq,” Jen Psaki, the State Department spokeswoman, said in a statement.

The Obama administration has sought to open a dialogue with Iran on the Iraq crisis. William J. Burns, the deputy secretary of State, met briefly last week with an Iranian diplomat at the margins of negotiations in Vienna over Iran’s nuclear program.

But Western officials say there appear to be divisions between the Iranian Foreign Ministry, which may be open to some degree of cooperation, and General Suleimani, who was the mastermind of Iran’s strategy in Iraq when, American officials say, Iraqi Shiite militias trained by Iran attacked American troops there with powerful explosive devices supplied by Tehran. The general is also the current architect of Iranian military support in Syria for President Bashar al-Assad.

Iran has many different power centers and different elements of Iran are sending different messages and doing different things,” a senior State Department official told reporters on Sunday. “They are definitely extremely interested in what’s happening here, to say the least.”

The United States has increased its manned and unmanned surveillance flights over Iraq since ISIS swept across the north of the country, and is now flying about 30 to 35 missions a day. The American flights include F-18s and P-3 surveillance planes, as well as drones.

Iran has mounted a parallel effort, according to American officials. It has set up a special control center at Al Rashid airfield in Baghdad, and is flying its own small fleet of Ababil surveillance drones over Iraq, said one American official.

An Iranian signals intelligence unit has been deployed at the same airfield to intercept electronic communications between ISIS fighters and commanders, said a second American official, who also declined to be named because he was discussing classified information.

While Iran has not sent large numbers of troops into Iraq, as many as 10 divisions of Iranian military and Quds Force troops are massed on the border, ready to come to Mr. Maliki’s aid if the Iraqi capital is imperiled or Shiite shrines in cities like Samarra are seriously threatened, American officials say.

Iran is likely to be playing somewhat of an overarching command role within the central Iraqi military apparatus, with an emphasis on maintaining cohesiveness in Baghdad and the Shia south and managing the reconstitution of Shia militias,” said Charles Lister, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Doha Center in Qatar

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.