Iran & Hezbollah Prove They Don’t Give A Damn About Lebanon’s Laws

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

Lebanon Investigates Visit of Iraqi Militia Leader to the South

Sunday, 10 December, 2017 – 10:30
Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri speaks after a cabinet meeting in Baabda near Beirut, Lebanon December 5, 2017. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir/ File Photo
Beirut- Caroline Akoum

The appearance of the head of an Iran-backed Iraqi militia during a visit to Lebanon’s border with Israel, accompanied by Hezbollah fighters, sparked a wave of anger, especially as it came shortly after the government announced the adoption of a policy to dissociate the country from external conflicts.

In a video released on Saturday, Qais al-Khazali, leader of the Iraqi paramilitary group Asaib Ahl al-Haq, declared his readiness “to stand together with the Lebanese people and the Palestinian cause”, just four days after the Lebanese political parties announced the adoption of the policy of “dissociation” from external and regional conflicts.

The video showed an unidentified commander, presumably from Hezbollah, gesturing toward military outposts located along the borders, while Khazali was talking to another person through a wireless device, telling him: “ I am now with the brothers in Hezbollah in the area of Kfarkila, which is a few meters away from occupied Palestine; we declare the full readiness to stand together with the Lebanese people and the Palestinian cause.”

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri ordered the security apparatus to conduct the necessary investigations into the presence of the Iraqi leader on the Lebanese territories, which he said violated the Lebanese laws.

Presidential sources told Asharq al-Awsat newspaper that President Michel Aoun has requested further information about the video, while military sources denied that Khazali has entered the Lebanese territories in a legitimate way.

“The entry of any foreigner to this border area requires a permit from the Lebanese Army, which did not happen,” the sources said, stressing that Khazali has entered the area illegaly.

A statement issued by the premier’s office said: “Hariri contacted the concerned military and security officials to conduct the necessary investigations and take measures to prevent any person or party from carrying out any military activity on the Lebanese territory, and to thwart any illegal act as shown in the video.”

The Lebanese prime minister also ordered that Qais Al-Khazali would be banned from entering Lebanon again, the statement added.

Iraq Holds Military Parade Celebrating ISIS Defeat  

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

Iraq Holds Military Parade Celebrating ISIS Defeat

Sunday, 10 December, 2017 – 10:00
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi delivers a speech in Baghdad, Iraq, December 9, 2017. Iraqi Prime Minister Media Office/Handout via REUTERS
Baghdad- Asharq Al Awsat

An Iraqi military parade celebrating final victory over Islamic State is underway in Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone, Reuters quoted an Iraqi military spokesman as saying on Sunday.

Almost one year after the launch of military operations from Mosul, north Iraq, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced on Saturday that his country’s forces have “completely controlled” the Syrian-Iraqi borders, declaring that the war against ISIS has officially ended.

“Our forces are in complete control of the Iraqi-Syrian border and I, therefore, announce the end of the war against ISIS,” Abadi told a conference in Baghdad.

The Prime Minister added that Iraq’s enemy “wanted to kill our civilization, but we have won through our unity and our determination. We have triumphed in little time.”

In another speech delivered at the Defense Ministry in the presence of representatives from the entire armed forces, Abadi announced that Iraq’s next battle would be to defeat the scourge of corruption.

“Weapons should only be in the state’s hands,” Abadi confirmed.

He said that the rule of law and respect for it are the way to build the state and achieve justice, equality, and stability, adding that the unity of Iraq and its people is the most important and greatest accomplishment.

Authorities in Iraq announced a public holiday on Sunday “to celebrate the victory.”

The prime minister’s declaration came three years after the militant group captured some third of Iraq’s territory.

Meanwhile, Naim el-Kaoud, leader of the al-Bounmar tribes in Anbar told Asharq al-Awsat on Saturday the “battles that continued following the liberation of Rawa, including the western desert, were now completed and the area is now combined to the entire border with Syria after clearing ISIS militants.”

For his part, Hisham al-Hashemi, an expert on jihadist groups, told Asharq Al-Awsat that although the terrorist group was military defeated in Iraq, ISIS would still hold some pockets in some Iraqi areas.

He said that around 800 fighters were still present in the country, especially in east Tigris, and the Hamrin Mountains.

Iraq militia threatens US forces

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Iraq militia threatens US forces after Trump Jerusalem move

Head of Islamic State-aligned, Iran-backed Al-Nojaba says it is now ‘legitimate to strike the American forces in Iraq’

Al-Nojaba militia chief Akram al-Kaabi (c-r) in 2016. (Screen capture: YouTube)

Al-Nojaba militia chief Akram al-Kaabi (c-r) in 2016. (Screen capture: YouTube)

BAGHDAD, Iraq — An Iranian-backed militia in Iraq threatened on Thursday to attack US forces in the country in retaliation for US President Donald Trump recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

“The decision by Trump on Al-Quds (Jerusalem) makes it legitimate to strike the American forces in Iraq,” Al-Nojaba militia chief Akram al-Kaabi said in a statement.

The group, established in 2013 and supported by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, numbers around 1,500 fighters and is part of the Hashed al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilization) auxiliary force that has fought alongside the army against the Islamic State terror group.

Trump’s move to end decades of US policy has sparked a storm of condemnation around the globe, both from Washington’s traditional allies and its international foes.

Trump said the move was long overdue, and was simply acknowledging the reality that Jerusalem is the seat of Israel’s government.

Tehran has slammed the decision as “provocative and unwise” and warned that it will rile Muslims and stir a new Palestinian intifada, or uprising.

The US has thousands of troops stationed in Iraq to help in the fight against IS.

Officially, the Pentagon says it has 5,262 personnel in Iraq, but other figures released by the US military have put the number at almost 9,000.

READ MORE:

7.2 magnitude earthquake jolts Iran-Iraq border area

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE PAKISTANI NEWS AGENCY ‘DAWN’)

 

A magnitude 7.2 earthquake shook Iraq on Sunday, authorities said, without causing any casualties or major damage in the country or in neighboring Iran and Turkey where it was also felt.

The temblor was centred 32 kilometres southwest of Halabja, near the northeastern border with Iran, the US Geological Survey said.

It struck the mountainous area of Sulaimaniyah province at 9:18 pm (local time) at a depth of 33.9 kilometres (21 miles), the monitor said.

It was felt for about 20 seconds in Baghdad, and sometimes for longer in other provinces of Iraq, AFP journalists said.

In the province of Sulaimaniyah, located in Iraq’s Kurdistan region, residents ran out onto the streets at the time of the quake and some minor property damage was recorded, an AFP reporter said.

In Iran, the ISNA news agency said that the earthquake was felt in several cities in the west of the country including Tabriz.

In southeastern Turkey, the earthquake was felt “from Malatya to Van”, an AFP correspondent said. In the town of Diyarbakir, residents also left their homes before returning.

U.S. Government Commits Treason Against Its Kurdish Allies; Again

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

 

Michael Weiss is a national security analyst for CNN and author of “ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror.”

(CNN)Two weeks ago, one of Iraq’s top security officials asked a trusted Kurdish intermediary to deliver a message to Massoud Barzani, president of the Kurdistan Regional Government, the semiautonomous fief in northern Iraq which has been something of an American protectorate since 1991.

“Tell Massoud that war is coming if he doesn’t back off,” Hadi al-Ameri said, according to someone privy to the conversation. “Do not provoke us by counting on the Americans.”
Ameri was referring to the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, which the Kurdistan Regional Government, or KRG, has controlled militarily for three years and politically for even longer.   Iraqi forces had left the city in 2014 as their war with ISIS raged, but now that the terrorist group was on the run, Iraq had every intention of recapturing it.

Michael Weiss

On October 16 some 9,000 Iraqi government forces, including Shia militias under the command of Ameri, invaded and took Kirkuk in a matter of hours. With rare exception, Kurdish peshmerga, a professionalized guerrilla army, whose name translates as “those who face death,” retreated northward in a snaking, convoy of Humvees, tanks and armored vehicles. Tens of thousands of Kurdish civilians also fled to Erbil, the capital of the KRG, where officials were plunged into a state of late-night chaos and confusion.
Long considered the Kurds’ Jerusalem, Kirkuk had fallen without much of a fight. And what violence did occur was between two US allies, with American taxpayer-financed weaponry. American-made Abrams tanks operated by Iraqi forces fired on American-armed Kurdish peshmerga, who returned fire, destroying at least five American-made Humvees.
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This is because in spite of its meek professions of neutrality, Washington did take a side in this conflict: that of Iraq’s central government. But it did more than that by attempting to minimize the role its regional adversary, Iran, apparently played in the reconquest of Kirkuk. The commander of the Quds Force, the foreign expeditionary arm of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps, was reportedly instrumental in the Kirkuk operation.
Nothing better illustrates the incoherence of America’s stance in the Middle East than the fact that it turned out to be on the same side as Major General Qasem Soleimani, who occupies a status within US intelligence circles somewhere between Professor Moriarty and Darth Vader. He and his proxies are believed by US officials to have caused hundreds of American fatalities and injuries on the battlefields of Iraq.
Yet it’s hard to overstate what the Iranian operative has just pulled off. Not only did Soleimani out-marshal and humiliate Washington by brokering a cleverer and more cynical deal, which undercut its own vain attempts at conflict resolution, but he was then rewarded with US legitimization of his scheme. (Iran officially denied any involvement in the recapture of Kirkuk.)
All this occurred less than 72 hours after President Trump heralded a get-tough-on-Iran policy, which included the designation of Soleimani’s parent body, the Revolutionary Guards Corps, as a terrorist organization. In his strategy statement, Trump said: “The Revolutionary Guard is the Iranian Supreme Leader’s corrupt personal terror force and militia,” and he promised, “We will work with our allies to counter the regime’s destabilizing activity and support for terrorist proxies in the region.”
Except the US just did the opposite in Kirkuk and alienated its longest and most stalwart counter-terrorism ally in Iraq, who, as the Kurds like to remind us, have never burned American flags much less attacked American soldiers.

Kirkuk on edge after Peshmerga pushed out

Kirkuk on edge after Peshmerga pushed out 02:31
“We had so much trust in America,” a top Kurdish officer told me last week. “We never thought America would accept Iranian proxies using American weapons against their allies.”  One of his colleagues put it even more plangently than that: “It might be better if we just join Iran’s axis.”
Such are the paradoxes and unintended consequences of how America wages its never-ending war on terror — by alienating its friends and empowering its enemies — in the name of national security.

America’s singular focus on ISIS

In the three years since ISIS stormed the Iraqi city of Mosul in June 2014, the United States has had monomaniacal tactical focus on smashing Sunni extremist head-loppers at the expense of underwriting its long-term strategic interests.
In a rush to dismantle the so-called caliphate, Washington has assembled and empowered a host of sectarian actors with antagonistic agendas who have been forced into a tenuous polygamous marriage of convenience. But now that ISIS is on its back foot — it just lost its de facto capital of Raqqa in the same week as the Kirkuk drama, in large part because of the spadework of another Kurdish-led proxy army — that marriage is disintegrating.
“For America, it’s all about counterterrorism and ISIS,” said Emma Sky, the British former governorate coordinator of Kirkuk during the US-led occupation of Iraq. “Across the region, ISIS isn’t people’s number-one enemy. They’re more at odds with each other. The US still doesn’t understand this.”
For the Kurds, the power struggles are as much internal as they are external.  The Kirkuk crisis would almost certainly not have happened without two precipitating events which fell within quick succession of each other.
The first was a referendum for independence held on September 25. A symbolic, non-binding plebiscite, and the second since the US toppled Saddam in 2003, it nonetheless drew opposition from every regional and Western government (save Israel’s), which argued that the referendum violated the sovereignty and geographical integrity of Iraq — concepts that hold mythical sway in foreign ministries more than they reflect brute reality in a deeply balkanized Iraq.
Conceived by Massoud Barzani and sold as a prelude to the world’s largest stateless people, long reliant on the caprices and mercies of the great powers, attaining their century-long dream of establishing a homeland, the referendum was a domestic political victory in its breadth even if an international defeat. Ninety-three percent of Kurds voted in favor of independence, in defiance of just about everybody, not least of all Baghdad and Washington.
The second precipitating event was the death of Jalal Talabani, the first non-Arab president of Iraq and the eminence grise of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, or PUK, one of two shot-calling parties in Iraqi Kurdistan. Headquartered in the governorate of Sulaimaniya, the PUK had also commanded the peshmerga in Kirkuk and so the near-bloodless loss of the city on Monday can only have happened because of a prearranged agreement between that party and Baghdad.
Absent from the backroom dealmaking was the other, stronger shot-caller, the Kurdistan Democratic Party, or KDP, based in Erbil. This party is headed by Barzani and his family, who control the KRG’s foreign policy and their own peshmerga paramilitary.

Kurds’ ‘Game of Thrones’

Iraq's President's Jalal Talabani attends the 11th Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) Summit in Istanbul on December 23, 2010.

For decades, the PUK and KDP — which is to say the House of Talabani and the House of Barzani — have vied for dominance in northern Iraq, often aligning with their mortal enemy Saddam Hussein to get the better of the other in internecine disputes which have devolved into civil war. In recent years, the PUK has developed a close working relationship with Qasem Soleimani.
The plan was apparently set in motion around the time of Talabani’s memorial ceremony in Baghdad on October 8. The dead leader’s eldest son Bafel met with Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, according to a senior KDP official I spoke to, who speculated that Bafel “saw the obvious, an opening in the Kurdish political parties to exploit in his family’s interests.” Days later, Soleimani paid a call on Bafel to reaffirm Abadi’s seriousness, according to Reuters, citing a PUK official.
Bafel was almost certainly acting under the instructions of Jalal’s widow, Hero Talabani, who along with her sister Shahnaz, represent what remains of the Talabani brain trust.
“Jalal was the tactician, the strategist, everything,” Nibras Kazimi, an Iraqi scholar and former advisor to the US Department of Defense, told me. “Hero and her sister were the enforcers. They handled money, they handled keeping people in line.” But now their patriarch is dead, and their futures uncertain.
Challengers exist within the PUK to assume Jalal’s throne, chief among them KRG’s Vice President Kostrat Rasoul Ali and, the governor of Kirkuk, up until Monday, Najmaldin Karim, who are seen as Hero’s top rivals within the party.  Perhaps not coincidentally, both not only opposed Baghdad’s reclamation of Kirkuk but were also driven from the city the instant it happened — in Ali’s case, after peshmerga fighters loyal to him put up some resistance to Iraqi forces.
“If I go back, my life is in danger,” Karim told Bloomberg. “Even the night when all this happened, I had to maneuver carefully to go to safety.”

Iraq seizes disputed city from Kurdish control

Iraq seizes disputed city from Kurdish control 01:45
In this telling, Hero has cast herself as a kind of Cersei Lannister of Kurdistan after her husband’s demise, seeking to secure her political relevance and enormous fortune — the Talabanis are thought to be worth millions — by cutting a deal with Iran’s master operative to undermine Barzani and scatter her enemies within the PUK. Not bad for someone unused to strategizing.
Bafel Talabani rejects the claim that the PUK and Iran orchestrated their own deal. “Unfortunately we reacted too slowly,” he told Reuters. “And we find ourselves where we are today.” (Attempts to reach Saddi Pira, the head of the PUK’s foreign relations, for comment on this story were unsuccessful.)
One US national security official believes that machinations by Hero Talabani are the real story of the Kirkuk debacle. “Look at the crowd Barzani managed to draw in Sulaimaniya on the eve of the referendum,” that official told me. “It was something like 25,000 people. Hero could never draw such numbers on her own. You think that didn’t factor into calculations about what to do about Kirkuk?” Rather than submit to Barzani’s dominance in the absence of her force-of-nature husband, she’s underwritten her longevity by siding with Abadi and Soleimani.
Working in her favor is the fact that Iraq’s prime minister is up for re-election in 2018.  A Shia ally of Washington and Tehran, Abadi is looking to capitalize on his government’s military victory against ISIS and brand himself the standard-bearer of Iraqi nationalism. The prime minister is facing fierce competition next year.  Among his likely opponents are former prime minister Nuri al-Maliki, another Shia from Abadi’s own political party, whose sectarian thuggishness against Sunni Iraqis helped invite ISIS back into the country; and Hadi al-Ameri, the Iraqi security chief who delivered the message to Barzani and is not just considered as close to Iran by US intelligence, but an active agent of Iran. (Ameri fought on Iran’s side in the Iran-Iraq War under the aegis of the IRGC.)
To stand a chance at being given another term next year, Abadi had to regain Kirkuk — no premier can allow it to fall outside the hands of the central government. And he needed Tehran’s help, from which he only stands to benefit in a forthcoming context with Iranian surrogate contenders for the leadership.  “Iran wanted to expand its influence and remove the last obstacle to control all of Iraq,” a KDP official told me. “The whole operation was planned and executed by Qassem Soleimani.”

A busy Sunday

KDP officials blame the Talabanis for reneging on a late-hour agreement, brokered on the eve of the Kirkuk recapture, about how to proceed with negotiations over the fate of the city with Baghdad. At a meeting held in Dukan, Sulaimaniya, on October 15, Massoud Barzani, his son and intelligence chief Masrour, his nephew and KRG prime minister Nechirvan sat down with their PUK counterparts, including Hero and Bafel.
According to one of the attendees of the meeting, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, Bafel told the KDP that he had consulted Abadi as well as Americans and British diplomats about reintroducing Iraqi forces into Kirkuk. However, Bafel apparently denied reaching any formal agreement with Abadi; he was merely tabling a proposal for further dialogue with the central government and both powerhouse Kurdish parties.
Kirkuk fell within 24 hours.

Kirkuk governor: Time is right for Kurds' vote

Kirkuk governor: Time is right for Kurds’ vote 05:25
According to the The New Yorker, Soleimani met that same day with PUK officials in Sulaimaniya, not long after the bipartisan confab in Dukan had wrapped up. “It’s not clear what was included in the deal,” journalist Dexter Filkins wrote, “but the speculation is that [Soleimani] offered a mix of threats and inducements, including money and access to oil-smuggling routes.”
Whether or not the US actively tried to forestall such side action is beside the point because the Kurds now view it as an accomplice to the seizure of its Jerusalem, a psychic scar already being likened to Saddam’s “Arabization” policies of the mid-1970s when forced population transfers changed the demography of Kirkuk from a city with a Kurdish majority into one with a plurality of Kurds, Arabs and Turkmen.

America’s misfire

Reproach is the soap of the soul in the Middle East, where American allies have a habit of speaking melodramatically when slighted or jilted, only to then return to the fold when they once again realize that aligning with even an unreliable superpower is better than not doing so. (The Kurds are first among equals in this regard.) But American credibility has taken a lashing in the last week. And even an overly emotional KDP can point, convincingly, to a trifecta of falsehoods coming from Washington.
First, the Pentagon denied any untoward military buildup south of Kirkuk by Iraqi government forces in preparation for the city’s takeover. On October 12, Major General Robert White, the commanding general of US ground troops in Iraq, told reporters that Iraqi forces, including Shia militias, were in positions to the south of Kirkuk but only in order to protect the city of Hawija, which had just been freed of ISIS, from a jihadist resurgence. “And they haven’t moved since they occupied,” White said.
Nonsense, said a senior Kurdish intelligence officer. “We were feeding solid intelligence to coalition members, including the US, about Iraqi deployments. Detailed information on locations, numbers, groups and types of weapons in the field — including American weapons — days in advance of the operation.”
I asked the US Army Public Affairs office if General White still stood by his assessment that Iraqi deployments were only in Hawija on an anti-ISIS mission. A spokesperson for the office didn’t respond in time for publication.
I was shown an email sent by a Kurdish intelligence officer to various US lawmakers on October 12. “We are facing an unprecedented military threat by Iraq and its Shiite militias,” the email read, “[a]nd possibly an imminent attack. “Thousands have been deployed near Kurdish front lines. These areas have zero ISIS presence. They are armed with heavy weapons, some American in fact, including tanks, armored vehicles, mortars and artillery.”
The office of one US senator who received the email confirmed its authenticity but stressed that information delivered by foreign intelligence service takes time to vet and corroborate.
Next, Central Command called the exchange of artillery and gunfire between some PUK commanders who resisted orders to evacuate and Iraqi forces a “misunderstanding” and professed not to take a “side” between Baghdad and Erbil, a position President Trump, who once famously mistook the Quds Force as a Kurdish entity, reiterated on Tuesday on the White House lawn.
Finally, the Pentagon denied that any Shia militias were in Kirkuk. This, in spite of the demonstrable fact that Hadi al-Ameri and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandes, whom the US Treasury Department sanctioned in 2009 and described as an “advisor” to Soleimani, were present for the lowering of the Kurdistan flag at the city’s provincial council building, and the raising of the Iraqi one. (Al-Muhandes was convicted in absentia in Kuwait and sentenced to death for planning lethal terrorist attacks against the US and French embassies there in 1983.)
The head of one notorious Shia militia, the League of the Righteous, which in 2007 killed five US servicemen in the Iraqi city of Karbala, even publicly thanked the PUK for its cooperation in the Kirkuk handover. “We salute and appreciate the courageous position of the peshmerga fighters who refused to fight their brothers in the Iraqi forces,” he tweeted.
The US has also, bizarrely, downplayed Soleimani’s role in the Kirkuk affair. One State Department official told reporters last Thursday, “I’m not aware of any Iranian involvement in that, per se” —   an assessment the Kurds find risible at best and iniquitous at worst.
The US dismissal of Iranian aggression against Iraqi Kurds also carries troubling implications in Syria.
A race-to-Berlin scenario is unfolding between US backed Kurdish-led paramilitaries and Bashar al-Assad’s army in the campaign against ISIS in the eastern Syrian province of Deir Ezzor.
According to Lieutenant Colonel Rick Francona, the former military attache at the US embassy in Damascus and a CNN contributor, Washington’s wishy-washiness on the Kirkuk question has sent a stark message to its other Kurdish allies in the Syrian Democratic Forces, as the US-backed forces are called: “We may not be there to protect you, either.”
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“Once ISIS has lost all or most of its territory in Syria as it has in Iraq, the Syrian regime will attempt to reassert its control over the areas now held by the SDF,” Francona  told me. “The Iraqis have set a precedent for that.”
And if Assad and his Soleimani-built militias try to reclaim territory gained by the Syrian Kurds, will the U.S. defend or abandon its friends in that fight?
“There is no doubt that Barzani overreached with his ill-timed referendum and his belief in America’s unqualified support for him,” said Sir John Jenkins, the former British ambassador to Iraq. “But it should never have got to this point. It may not be about Iran for Abadi. But sure as hell it’s about Iran for Iran. They must be loving it.”

Hundreds of Iraqi Christian Families Forced to Flee Again After Resettling

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE CHRISTIAN POST)

 

Hundreds of Iraqi Christian Families Forced to Flee Again After Resettling in Town Liberated From ISIS

(PHOTO: REUTERS/AHMED JADALLAH)Displaced Iraq Christians who fled from Islamic State militants in Mosul, pray at a school acting as a refugee camp in Erbil, Iraq, September 6, 2014.

Hundreds of Iraqi Christian families who recently returned to their hometown after being displaced for years by the Islamic State were forced to flee again from a town in northern Iraq because of conflict between Iraqi government forces and the Kurdish Peshmerga.

A source with knowledge of the situation told The Christian Post that hundreds of families in the Kurdish town of Telskuf were warned by the Iraqi army on Tuesday evening to flee the town because Iraqi forces were planning to retake the Kurdish-controlled town with heavy weapons and shelling on Wednesday after skirmishes and gunfire broke out during the day on Tuesday.

About 1,000 Christian families had settled back into the town, which lies about 20 miles north of Mosul, after it was liberated from the Islamic State a year ago. The town has been viewed as somewhat of a model for the return of Christians to their ancient homeland in the Nineveh Plains.

But after the warning from the Iraqi army, nearly all of the Christians who had returned to Telskuf after being displaced from their homes fled their hometown again and sought shelter in the town of Alqosh. According to the source, the only people who stayed in Telskuf were a priest and a handful of people who worked for the local church.

Although they were forced to evacuate in preparation for a military showdown, the source told CP many of the Christian families were in the process of returning to the town on Wednesday afternoon after external diplomatic pressure applied to the Kurdish Regional Government and the Iraqi government created an “uneasy peace.”

“After a lot of outcry from a number of different quarters, people are moving back to the town from Al Qosh,” the source explained. “There is kind of an uneasy peace and a hope that this will be resolved without conflict in the town.”

“This is the town that the Hungarian government put $2 million into rebuilding and was the model for repopulation minority communities and towns that had been [taken over] by ISIS,” the source added. “As you can imagine, the Hungarians are not happy about this town being in the line of fire. Nobody wants this to be collateral damage in a contest between these two entities. It’s a Christian town and you have the Kurdish Peshmerga and the Iraqi army fighting over it and the people who had just faced genocide and just moved home are going to be the unintended victims here.”

Carl Anderson, head of the Catholic-fraternal organization and advocacy group Knights of Columbus, said during a speech at the 2017 In Defense of Christians solidarity dinner in Washington, D.C., Wednesday night that the U.S. government played a role in helping defuse the situation in Telskuf. Anderson made the remark before introducing keynote speaker, Vice President Mike Pence.

“We are very grateful that just this evening American government involvement was able to stop the planned battle for Telskuf — a town in Nineveh recently liberated from ISIS and rebuilt with a $2 million grant from the government of Hungary,” Anderson said. “The destruction of that town could have been in a very real way, the beginning of the end of Christianity in Iraq. There are so few towns left that every one of them is precious. While the peace is fragile, we are grateful for our government’s attention to this issue. We hope that the vice president will convey our gratitude to the president for this action.”

Although tensions have been lowered in Telskuf, the source told CP that “it’s touch-and-go and it could still go sideways.”

“If this had gone really badly, people there were saying that this would basically be the end of Christianity in Iraq,” the source asserted. “If a Western government-rebuilt town where everybody had moved home after the genocide — the big success story — went upside down, how could people see any future there?”

Displaced Christian communities in Iraq have had a hard time resettling to their hometowns because they have experienced a shortage of funding and have received very little, if any, resources from the U.S. government and the United Nations to rebuild the infrastructure in their towns.

Although the Hungarian government, the Knights of Columbus and other humanitarian organizations have supported rebuilding efforts in some Iraqi Christian communities, advocates have cried out for foreign governments to provide more support.

On Wednesday, Pence answered that call, telling a roomful of Christian leaders from the Middle East that President Donald Trump has ordered the U.S. State Department to provide aid directly to faith-based organizations and other groups serving the displaced Christian and other religious minority communities.

“We will no longer rely on the United Nations alone to assist persecuted Christians and minorities in the wake of genocide and the atrocities of terrorist groups,” Pence explained. “The United States will work hand-in-hand from this day forward with faith-based groups and private organizations to help those who are persecuted.”

According to Kurdistan 24, four civilians were injured by shelling from an Iranian-backed paramilitary allied with the Iraqi forces in Telskuf on Tuesday. Two of those injured were Christians.

Saudi-Iraqi Joint Statement: Opening Border Crossings, Developing Ports and Roads  

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

Saudi-Iraqi Joint Statement: Opening Border Crossings, Developing Ports and Roads

Monday, 23 October, 2017 – 07:15
Saudi Arabia’s King Salman he speaks with Iraqi prime minister Haider Al Abadi in Riyadh on October 22, 2017. Saudi Press Agency via Reuters
Riyadh – Asharq Al-Awsat

Saudi-Iraqi ties have entered a new stage of cooperation and coordination in which the two countries signed on Sunday a minutes of establishing a Saudi-Iraqi Coordination Council (SICC).

The first meeting of the council was convened and it resulted in an agreement to open border crossings and develop ports, roads and border areas. They also agreed to review an agreement on customs cooperation and study bilateral trade.

The council expressed its satisfaction with the state of the oil market following an agreement between the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and non-OPEC producers. The SICC stressed the importance of participants’ full commitment to the agreement until its target is achieved.

“The Council was briefed on the results of the Kingdom’s participation in the Baghdad International Fair, which was a great contribution to economic and trade relations. The Saudi side also noted the level of welcome and hospitality enjoyed by the Saudi delegation from reception to departure,” a statement said.

They also agreed to develop private sector partnerships, inform businessmen of trade and investment opportunities and encourage the exchange of technical and scientific expertise and research.

The Iraqi side thanked the Kingdom for its initiative in studying the implementation of customs ports, which will facilitate bilateral trade.

The SICC announced the resumption of flights from the Kingdom to Iraq, the opening of a Saudi Consulate there, and the reopening of Saudi chemical manufacturing company SABIC’s office in Iraq.

In addition, it was agreed that Saudi Arabia will participate in exhibitions in Iraq, including the Baghdad International Fair, the Basra Oil and Gas Exhibition, and the Business and Investment Forum.

During the SICC’s first meeting, the two parties discussed its priorities for the next two years, implementation of its work and the formation of a working group. Its second meeting will be held in Iraq’s capital Baghdad in the presence of ministers and senior officials from both countries.

 

An Israeli Woman Has Been Elected To Top UN Space Committee

(THIS ARTICLE IS FROM THE WORDPRESS BLOG OF SEELISTENUNDERSTAND COURTESY OF AMIR)

 

Post-Oct. 20th 2017
1. Despite opposition by anti-Israel elements, an Israeli woman was elected to a top UN space committee. An Israeli representative was elected to the bureau of the United Nations’ Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS) on Tuesday following a vote in the United Nations General Assembly Fourth Committee. This was the first time an Israeli was elected to the prestigious position. Israel sees the nomination as a significant victory, defying efforts by Israel’s adversaries to thwart the representative’s election. The successful candidate, Keren Shahar, who serves as the Director of the Treaties Department in the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, had been selected by the Western European and Others (WEOG) regional group as their choice for the position. After a vote was called, Canada, the United States and others led efforts to “ensure a fair and unbiased process in the Committee,” Israel’s mission to the UN reported after the victory. Together with Israeli diplomatic efforts, this ensured that Israel succeeded in securing the necessary votes and the motion passed. In addition to Israel, Brazil, Mexico, Poland, South Africa and Indonesia were also elected to COPUOS. Israel’s Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon welcomed the results of the election. “We have proven once again that Israel can succeed in all roles as we spearhead positive new initiatives as an equal partner in the UN,” Danon stated, vowing to “continue to stand strong against attempts to harm Israel in the international arena.” COPUOS is charged by the UN with governing the exploration and use of space for the benefit of all humanity, reviewing international cooperation in peaceful uses of outer space, encouraging space research, and studying legal problems arising from the exploration of outer space. Israel joined the 84 member organization in 2015.
2. “Iran needs to understand that Israel will not allow” its military build-up in Syria, Netanyahu told Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met on Tuesday in Jerusalem with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, who is in the country for a two-day visit to meet with Israeli leaders for discussions on Iran and security coordination in Syria. Shoigu’s visit to Israel is his first since becoming Russia’s defense minister in 2012. According to an Israeli statement, the meeting mostly dealt with Iran’s attempt to establish itself militarily in Syria. Iran currently commands a large force of up to 25,000 Shi’ite Muslims fighting alongside Bashar al-Assad’s forces in Syria, including 500 Iranian army soldiers, 5,000 Hezbollah terrorists and several thousand guerrillas from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq. Netanyahu told Shoigu that “Iran needs to understand that Israel will not allow this.” Russia and Iran are considered allies, while Russia is currently the main power broker inside Syria, which has been ravaged by six years of civil war. The issue of the Iranian nuclear agreement was also discussed. Netanyahu warned that Iran will have an arsenal of nuclear weapons within 8-10 years if the deal is not changed. Netanyahu has repeatedly called to alter or nix the nuclear accord with Iran, which Israel says does not prevent it from developing nuclear weapon, which it has repeatedly threatened to use against the Jewish state. Before meeting with Netanyahu, Shoigu visited Yad Vashem, Israel’s national Holocaust memorial, and met with his Israeli counterpart, Avigdor Liberman in Tel Aviv. During the meeting with Liberman, Shoigu expressed certainty that the talks would help “to better understand each other” and contribute to the strengthening of friendly relations between the Russian and Israeli militaries. Israel and Russia have collaborated closely on their respective militaries’ operations in Syria. Netanyahu and Russian President Vladimir Putin have held six bilateral meetings over the past two years to discuss regional issues and to maintain a protocol that prevents friction between their militaries in Syria. During a meeting in June with Putin in Sochi on the Black Sea, Netanyahu warned that Iran’s military build-up is a significant danger not only to Israel, but to other countries as well. “Iran makes huge efforts to cement its presence in Syria. This poses a threat to Israel, the Middle East and the whole world,” Netanyahu told Putin. Shoigu’s arrival in Israel came just hours after the Israeli Air Force (IAF) launched a retaliatory strike against a Syrian army anti-aircraft battery Monday morning. IDF spokesman Brig. Gen. Ronen Manelis said the Russian military was notified in real time as the Israeli strike was launched and that the incident will be addressed directly with Shoigu.
3. Would you, my friend, agree to spend your money/taxes, in helping the following? Visam Zvidat was an Israeli citizen. His wife convinced him to move to Iraq to Join DAESH. He, there, got wounded. He returned to Israel. He was sentenced to jail. As his health is, now, problematic, he needs Israeli health care. If Israel was a normal state he should have been sent back to Iraq and ask them to take care of him. But Israel, the most disgraced state in the world, due to lies of its enemies, of apartheid, accepted him back. We are the most social state in the world. Leave the Arab propaganda. Just search for the facts. The written here/in my posts is the truth.
4. The open/sincere declaration of the leader of Hamas in Gaza, Ihie Sinwar was: “Hamas was never a terror organization. We are freedom revolutionary fighters that fight for our people. The time that we were discussing recognition of Israel has passed. Now we deal with the question when we will erase Israel “. This is the face of the Hamas. They are proud of it. This is the spirit of the Quran. You guys, the readers, never read the Quran so you don’t know how awful it is. How sensible people can live with it. It is amazing how so many people hear such declarations, don’t stop for a minute to think: Is the declarer got out of his mind? Such declarations are made only by people that got out of their minds. People that their holy book is full with murdering orders and instructions how to implement it, by stoning, for example. Yes, this is true.
5. A missile was launched from Syria to the Golan Heights. No casualties. Israeli tank destroyed another Syrian army position. The Israeli Minister of defense said that Israel will not allow any fire into its space. Every such a case will get its clear answer/treatment.
6. With/in spite of all these problems and hardship Israel still behave logically and develop medicines for the people and the Arabs as well. It was announced that the new medicine of “KitePharma”, Israeli development, which is called: “Yescarta”, that treats the Lymphoma disease, (the same that I was honored to have, 10 years ago and the super Israeli doctors managed to fight before this medicine was available), was approved by the FDA for use by the public. Just to remind you: Gilead bought it for the sum of as little as $11.9 billion. I wish the sick people to get out of it like I did. It is very nice to talk about such a win after you get out of it healthy/healthier.
7. More good news from Israel: the unemployment is just 3.5% and we are looking for laborers/ workers. Te inflation is something above “0” (which is too low) and the yearly economy growth is 3.5% which is too, too little, but at least we are in the most positive situation. So, if you are qualified for working and you want to work in the most social place, you are invited to join Israel developing/dealing/producing the most sophisticated technology. Forget about the Arabs threat. We will solve this problem.
8. Last for today is the way of Arab thoughts: Iran is preparing its nuclear bomb to attack Israel. This is according to the Iranian declarations. Now, in order to do it the missile must fly/pass Arab space like Iran itself, Iraq, Jordan, S. Arabia. The flight time is about 8 minutes. Israeli Radar see the missile the minute it gets out from its shell/hide. Israeli missile “arrow 3/5” will be launched, the latest, after 20 seconds. The Israeli missile will meet the Iranian after 2 minutes, as it is faster than the Iranian. This meeting will take place somewhere in the Arabic space. The explosion will create heat and radioactive dust that will spread above the poor state that the explosion reached. OK, it will be very high, but its results will, sometime reach the ground. This will cause a lot of damage, sickness and casualties to the Arabs. Israel, due to its small size, will not suffer that much, if at all. Now, this is the time for you mankind, to resist the Iranian bomb and you Arabs to start thinking if this scenario, which is true, does pays you with all your wars against Israel. If it is not better to have a comprehensive peace agreement and to solve all disputes around the table instead of following the “Harb” (war) of the Quran?
Have Shabat Shalom and nice weekend .
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Am

In 40 Minutes A Life Time Of Work Is Gone

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

 

When Iraqi government forces seized control of the contested city of Kirkuk on Monday, hundreds of Kurdish families were sent scattering to nearby safe havens.

The swift military operation came just weeks after Iraqi Kurds voted overwhelmingly for independence in a controversial referendum that was condemned by the United States and Baghdad.
The loss of Kirkuk and its nearby oil fields is a setback for Kurds, who have held the city — home to more than one million people — for the last three years. The Kurds took control of the city after it was abandoned by Iraqi forces during ISIS’ lightning offensive in 2014, but it lies outside the recognized borders of the autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government.
Now, driven out of Kirkuk, with their dreams of building a separate nation in northern Iraq suffering a major setback, displaced Kurds are still reeling.

Families flee Kirkuk on the road to Erbil and Sulaymaniyah on Monday.

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From noisy cafés and bars, to the quiet of people’s homes, everyone in Erbil — the capital of the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq — is trying to make sense of what happened.
Many of the Kirkuk residents who fled to Erbil for fear of potential clashes expressed their displeasure, grief, and shock that Iraqi troops — backed by Shia militias known as the Popular Mobilization Units — were able to take the city in a single day.
The same forces were later cheered on by Arab and Turkmen residents on Monday as they removed a Kurdish flag that had flown over the Kirkuk governor’s office.
“The shock is too great and I cannot imagine what happened overnight, especially after all the threat and intimidation of the Peshmerga forces against those approaching the province,” Samal Omar, a 33-year-old government employee, told CNN.
“We fled to Erbil before noon on Monday when we heard that the Popular Mobilization [Units] would enter Kirkuk for fear of aggression.”

Some residents celebrate after Iraqi forces took control of Kirkuk on Monday.

Some Kurdish civilians said they took up arms and deployed to the streets in an attempt to ward off the Iraqi army operation.
One of them, Mohamed Werya, 37, said he didn’t sleep for two consecutive days before fleeing Erbil.
“I saw officials leave and I said to myself, ‘why should I stay and danger my life and my family?'” Werya said, describing chaotic scenes as people scrambled to flee the city. “What I saw on the road I have not seen before, only during the [Kurdish] uprising of 1991.”
“Who is responsible for what happened?” he asked.
A version of the same question was echoed by other Kurds.

Kurdish forces open fire on Iraqi troops in the streets in Kirkuk on Monday.

“I cannot express my sorrow and my displeasure. But the question is, why did the Peshmerga forces withdraw? Why they did not they tell us earlier and we lived in a strong feeling that there was someone defending us?” Abu Mahmoud, 55, asked.
“I did not expect the effort of many years lost in 40 minutes,” he added.
There was still much confusion over what transpired during the clashes between Iraqi and Kurdish forces, with reports of a split between Kurdish factions. The Peshmerga General Command accused members of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, a political party within the Kurdistan region, of abandoning their posts as Iraqi forces entered, in what it described as a betrayal.

Kirkuk residents cross a Kurdish checkpoint in Altun Kupri on Monday.

“No one understands what exactly happened,” said Fouad Aziz, 40, who fled Kirkuk for Sulaymaniyah, while his brother went to Erbil. “There are accusations against the Kurdish parties in the region, some accused of deception and leaving the fighting sites.”
“We were welcomed by the people of Erbil and Sulaymaniyah in a way we did not expect,” he added.
Dozens of young people lined the road to Erbil on Monday, handing out food and water to those fleeing, while other Erbil residents opened their doors to those displaced by the fighting.
Abu Nebez, 55, said he hosted dozens in his home.
“I welcomed in my house seven families consisting of 37 people, 14 of whom we do not know,” Nebez said. “They were on the main road in a deplorable condition when they fled from Kirkuk to Erbil.”

Locals wave to Iraqi forces as they arrive in southern Kirkuk on Monday.

On Tuesday, some Kurdish residents began to trickle back into Kirkuk, wary of what might come next.
Qais Book, a Kurdish blogger and social media consultant who lives in Kirkuk, stayed behind as others fled on Monday.
He watched the celebration in the governor’s square, as Arab and Turkmen residents celebrated.
“There are many different feelings in the city now,” Book said. “Some people feel disappointed about what happened, especially the Kurdish people, and some of the Arabs, because they were loyal to the Kurds here. And they feel sorry because many Kurdish families left their houses here and fled to Kurdistan.”
“The city is calm now, but people are waiting to see what happens next.”

Kurds Feel Twice Betrayed Iraqi Forces Take Disputed Kirkuk

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF TIME.COM NEWS)

 

Kurds Feel Twice Betrayed as Iraqi Forces Take Disputed Kirkuk

Armed Kurdish civilians set-up checkpoints in Kirkuk Monday morning as they tried to prevent Kurdish peshmerga fighters from evacuating the city as Iraqi government forces advanced.

The peshmerga left along with tens of thousands of fleeing civilians that jammed the road from Kirkuk to Erbil. Resident burnt tires and shouted “shame on you,” while some civilians pointed guns as the peshmerga departed.

By mid-afternoon, the Kurds had lost control of Kirkuk, Iraq’s most contested city. Young Arab men hung an Iraqi flag from a bridge as American-made Humvees rolled through the streets, closely followed by pick-up trucks filled with fighters from the mostly-Shia Popular Mobilization Forces.

“Now all Kirkuk can see this flag,” said Abdullah Gubal as he hung it over a billboard for the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), the leading Kurdish political party in Kirkuk.

Claimed by both the Iraqi government in Baghdad and the Kurdish regional authority in Erbil, the fate of Kirkuk should have been decided by referendum a decade ago. Kurds took control of Kirkuk when Iraqi forces fled ISIS’s advance in June of 2014. The Kurdish leadership vowed they wouldn’t hand the city back. But Kirkuk’s government buildings and Kurdish party headquarters were virtual empty Monday and residents said they saw Kurdish officials and forces leave before the Iraqi forces advanced.

“They sold Kirkuk,” said Ahmad Mohamed holding his Kalashnikov at the edge of the city with a group of angry Kurdish volunteer fighters pledging to go back and push the Iraqi forces out.

“This is shame on the Kurdish leaders and most of the Kurdish commanders in Kirkuk,” said Wyra Ali. “They didn’t fire one bullet from their weapons. They should defended Kirkuk, but they didn’t.”

Hiwa Osman, a Kurdish analyst, says the peshmerga retreat may have been the result of both confusion and internal division. Since the Kurds’ controversial referendum on sovereignty last month, the division between the Kurdistan Democratic Party, the party of Kurdish President Masoud Barzani, and the PUK has been growing and many here believe the PUK struck a deal to hand over Kirkuk to Baghdad.

“One camp said stay at home,” says Osman. “The other camp said take your weapons and go in to the street.”

In the end, Iraqi forces and allied militias met little resistance in the urban center after clashes with forces outside the city. Overnight Iraqi forces took control of the areas outside the city and by afternoon American-trained elite forces had taken the Kurdish flag off the governors’ office and raised the Iraqi one instead.

Monday’s Iraqi advance on Kirkuk was spurred by the controversial Kurdish referendum on September 25. Washington and Baghdad both urged the Kurdish leadership to postpone the vote, but they went ahead. Since then, Baghdad has been increasing pressure on the Kurds’ semi-autonomous region — halting international flights out of the Kurds’ two international airports and threatening to take control of the borders.

Kurds were outnumbered, out-armed and also unsupported by the ally they share with Baghdad. Both the Iraqi forces entering the city today and the Kurdish forces that left, are funded, trained and equipped by the U.S. and allies in the fight against ISIS, putting Washington in difficult position.

“Where are the American planes?” asked another man. The pop of gunfire could be heard in the distance as the volunteer Kurdish fighters talked about heading in to Kirkuk.
President Donald Trump said Monday that the U.S. would not take sides in the Kurdish-Iraqi dispute. But Jennifer Cafarella, senior analyst at the Institute for the Study of War, says it’s this position and American tunnel vision on the fight against ISIS that allowed this situation to escalate.

“The U.S. is in a terrible position because we remained focused on the very narrow anti-ISIS mission,” says Cafarella, explaining the U.S. needed to be more engaged before these tensions between the Iraqis and the Kurds spiraled. She also cautions that while U.S. has not been involved, the Iranians have. “Now the U.S. is sitting on the sidelines asking for everyone to deescalate.”