From ‘caliph’ to fugitive: Islamic State leader Baghdadi’s new life on the run

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE HINDUSTAN TIMES)

From ‘caliph’ to fugitive: Islamic State leader Baghdadi’s new life on the run

One of Baghdadi’s main concerns is to ensure those around him do not betray him for the $25 million reward offered by the United States to bring him ‘to justice’.

WORLD Updated: Jun 12, 2017 22:05 IST

Islamic State
A man purported to be the reclusive leader of the militant Islamic State Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi making what would have been his first public appearance, at a mosque in the centre of Iraq’s second city, Mosul.(Reuters File)

Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is on the brink of losing the two main centres of his ‘caliphate’ but even though he is on the run, it may take years to capture or kill him, officials and experts said.

Islamic State fighters are close to defeat in the twin capitals of the group’s territory, Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria, and officials say Baghdadi is steering clear of both, hiding in thousands of square miles of desert between the two.

“In the end, he will either be killed or captured, he will not be able to remain underground forever,” said Lahur Talabany, the head of counter-terrorism at the Kurdistan Regional Government, the Kurdish autonomous region in northern Iraq. “But this is a few years away still,” he told Reuters.

One of Baghdadi’s main concerns is to ensure those around him do not betray him for the $25 million reward offered by the United States to bring him “to justice”, said Hisham al-Hashimi, who advises Middle East governments on Islamic State affairs.

“With no land to rule openly, he can no longer claim the title caliph,” Hashimi said. “He is a man on the run and the number of his supporters is shrinking as they lose territory.”

Iraqi forces have retaken much of Mosul, the northern Iraqi city the hardline group seized in June 2014 and from which Baghdadi declared himself “caliph” or leader of all Muslims shortly afterwards. Raqqa, his capital in Syria, is nearly surrounded by a coalition of Syrian Kurdish and Arab groups.

Damaged cars are seen stacked in the middle of a road in western Mosul’s Zanjili neighbourhood on June 9, 2017, during ongoing battles to try to take the city from Islamic State (IS) group fighters. (AFP Photo)

The last public video footage of him shows him dressed in black clerical robes declaring his caliphate from the pulpit of Mosul’s medieval Grand al-Nuri mosque back in 2014.

Born Ibrahim al-Samarrai, Baghdadi is a 46-year-old Iraqi who broke away from al-Qaeda in 2013, two years after the capture and killing of the group’s leader Osama bin Laden.

He grew up in a religious family, studied Islamic Theology in Baghdad and joined the Salaafi jihadist insurgency in 2003, the year of the US-led invasion of Iraq. He was caught by the Americans who released him about a year later as they considered him then as a civilian rather than a military target.

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Bounty

He is shy and reserved, Hashimi said, and has recently stuck to the sparsely populated Iraq-Syria border where drones and strangers are easy to spot.

The US Department of State’s Counter-Terrorism Rewards Program had put the same $25 million bounty on Bin Laden and Iraqi former president Saddam Hussein and the reward is still available for Bin Laden’s successor, Ayman al-Zawahiri.

Neither Saddam nor Bin Laden were voluntarily betrayed, but the bounties complicated their movements and communications.

“The reward creates worry and tension, it restricts his movements and limit the number of his guards,” said Fadhel Abu Ragheef, a Baghdad-based expert on extremist groups. “He doesn’t stay more than 72 hours in any one place.”

Baghdadi “has become nervous and very careful in his movements”, said Talabany, whose services are directly involved in countering Islamic State plots. “His circle of trust has become even smaller.”

His last recorded speech was issued in early November, two weeks after the start of the Mosul battle, when he urged his followers to fight the “unbelievers” and “make their blood flow as rivers”.

US and Iraqi officials believe he has left operational commanders behind with diehard followers to fight the battles of Mosul and Raqqa, to focus on his own survival.

It is not possible to confirm his whereabouts.

Baghdadi does not use phones and has a handful number of approved couriers to communicate with his two main aides, Iyad al-Obaidi, his defence minister, and Ayad al-Jumaili, in charge of security. There was no confirmation of an April 1 Iraqi state TV report that Jumaili had been killed.

Baghdadi moves in ordinary cars, or the kind of pick-up trucks used by farmers, between hideouts on both sides of the Iraqi-Syrian border, with just a driver and two bodyguards, said Hashimi.

The region is well known to his men as the hotbed of the Sunni insurgency against U.S. forces that invaded Iraq and later the Shia-led governments that took over the country.

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At the height of its power two years ago, Islamic State ruled over millions of people in territory running from northern Syria through towns and villages along the Tigris and Euphrates river valleys to the outskirts of the Iraqi capital Baghdad.

It persecuted non-Sunnis and even Sunnis who did not agree with its extreme version of Islamic law, with public executions and whippings for violating strict controls on appearance, behaviour and movement.

But the group has been retreating since in the face of a multitude of local, regional and international forces, driven into action by the scores of deadly attacks around the world that it has claimed or inspired.

A few hundred thousand people now live in the areas under the group’s control, in and around Raqqa and Deir al-Zor, in Syria’s east, and in a few pockets south and west of Mosul. Hashimi said Islamic State was moving some fighters out of Raqqa before it was encircled to regroup in Deir al-Zor.

Displaced Iraqi children gather behind a fence at the Hasan Sham camp for internally displaced people on June 10, 2017. (AFP Photo)

Mosul, with pre-war population of 2 million, was at least four times the size of any other the group has held. Up to 200,000 people are still trapped in the Old City, Islamic State’s besieged enclave in Mosul, lacking supplies and being used as human shields to obstruct the progress of Iraqi forces by a US-led international coalition.

The Syrian Democratic Forces, made of Kurdish and Arab groups supported by the US-led coalition, began to attack Raqqa last week, after a months-long campaign to cut it off.

The militants are also fighting Russian and Iranian-backed forces in Syria loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, and mainly Sunni Muslim Syrian rebels backed by Turkey.

The last official report about Baghdadi was from the Iraqi military on Feb. 13. Iraqi F-16s carried out a strike on a house where he was thought to be meeting other commanders, in western Iraq, near the Syrian border, it said.

Overall, Islamic State has 8,000 fighters left, of which 2,000 are foreigners from other Arab states, Europe, Russia and central Asia, said Abu Ragheef.

“A small number compared to the tens of thousands arrayed against them in both countries, but a force to be reckoned with, made up of die-hards with nothing to lose, hiding in the middle of civilians and making extensive use of booby traps, mines and explosives,” he said.

The US government has a joint task force to track down Baghdadi which includes special operations forces, the CIA and other US intelligence agencies as well as spy satellites of the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency.

It will take more than that to erase his influence, Talabany said. “He is still considered the leader of ISIL and many continue to fight for him; that hasn’t changed drastically,” he said, using one of Islamic State’s acronyms.

Even if killed or captured, he added, “his legacy and that of ISIL will endure unless radical extremism is tackled.”

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Sadr Delegation Holds Talks with Kurdistan Leadership

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

Middle East

Sadr Delegation Holds Talks with Kurdistan Leadership

Sadr

Headed by Ahmed al-Sadr, son of the movement’s leader Moqtada, the delegation was welcomed in Irbil by President Masoud al-Barzani.

The president’s media officer Kifah Mahmoud told Asharq Al-Awsat that the two sides discussed the political situation in Iraq and the ongoing war against ISIS in the city of Mosul.

They also tackled the post-ISIS phase, especially in Iraq, he revealed.

The Sadr delegation said that they are making preparations for the upcoming elections, he said.

Meanwhile, Kirkuk governor Najm Eddine Karim announced that Baghdad is not offering any aid to the city.

He told reporters during a celebration in honor of Kurdish journalism: “There are over half a million refugees in Kirkuk, including 30,000 families that have fled al-Huweija district.”

“This is posing a major burden on the city and the residents are sharing medicine, water, electricity and other services with these refugees. Their patience will not last long,” he warned.

He therefore demanded that Baghdad work on allowing the displaced to return to the liberated areas “as soon as possible.”

“The delay in liberating al-Huweija does not serve Kirkuk or Iraq,” Karim said.

He said that Baghdad’s aid to refugees in Kirkuk is so slim that it is bordering on nonexistent, urging the Iraqi government and Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi to seriously address Kirkuk’s demands.

“Everyone in Baghdad and anywhere else should know that the residents of Kirkuk will not accept this attitude,” he warned.

Iraqi Forces Kill Baghdadi’s Top Aide

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

Middle East

Iraqi Forces Kill Baghdadi’s Aide

Mosul – Iraqi security forces killed a number of ISIS’ top commanders including Abu Baker al-Baghdadi’s aide, whereas six citizens were injured during an ISIS attack on the Algerian neighborhood, in east Mosul’s center.

Chief of the Iraqi Federal Police Lieutenant General Raed Shaker Jawdat said that the troops bombed several ISIS sites in west Mosul killing Abu Abdul Rahman, Baghdadi’s first aide.

He told Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper that the troops bombed ISIS site in al-Zanjili neighborhood. Whereas in the Old City, near al-Awsad Mosque, they killed ISIS’ commander Abul Walid al-Tunisi and four of his bodyguards, while another commander, Russian Abo Maria, was killed during the attack on Ras al-Jadah.

Civilians continue to escape areas of heavy clashes towards the demarcation with security forces while carrying white flags. Despite the constant attempts, security forces are not able to establish safe corridors for the civilians especially in the Old City, given that ISIS snipers are preventing the civilians from reaching safety. The snipers even bomb the citizens with mortars killing and injuring dozens of them.

Civilians’ presence in areas under ISIS control, especially the Old City, hinders the progress of the Iraqi troops given that these areas are highly populated. In addition, Iraqi troops are unable to use warplanes or heavy armors against militants who take advantage of the narrow alleyways where armored vehicles and tanks can’t enter.

In west Mosul, the infrastructure of the city has been destroyed because of the war which is much worse than in the east of the city. ISIS militants tend to bomb areas they are escaping leaving behind their belongings and dead bodies which begin to stench especially now that the temperatures are rising.

As the Iraqi troops headed towards liberating the remaining of the neighborhoods in the west of the city, ISIS bombed the liberated east side.

Media officer of the Mosul branch of Kurdish Democratic Party Saeed Mamuzini told Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper that two citizens were killed and four others injured on Wednesday during the mortar shelling on the Algerian neighborhood.

He added that the terrorist organization launched the attack from neighborhoods under his control in the west side.

Iraqi Christians Return To Ransacked Town With Fear And Hope

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF REUTERS)

Iraqi Christians return to ransacked town with fear and hope

A damaged statue of Jesus Christ is seen inside a church in the town of Qaraqosh, south of Mosul, Iraq, April 11, 2017. REUTERS/Marko Djurica SEARCH
By Ulf Laessing | QARAQOSH, IRAQ

With Islamic State expelled, Iraqi Christians are trickling back to the ransacked town of Qaraqosh, beset by anxiety for their security and yet hopeful they can live in friendship with Muslims of all persuasions.

The town, about 20 km (12 miles) from the battlefront with Islamic State in the northern city of Mosul, shows why Christians have mixed feelings about the future of their ancient community.

In the desecrated churches of Qaraqosh, Christians are busy removing graffiti daubed by the Sunni Muslim militants during two and a half years of control – only for new slogans to have appeared, scrawled by Shi’ite members of the Iraqi forces fighting street to street with the jihadists in Mosul.

But nearby a shopkeeper is doing a brisk trade selling Dutch beer, Greek ouzo and several whisky brands to Christians, Sunnis, Shi’ites and Kurds alike, with this kind of commerce perhaps offering a glimpse of how Iraq’s fractured communities could again live together peacefully.

Encouraged by security checkpoints and patrols by a volunteer force, up to 10 Christian families have returned to what used to be the minority’s biggest community in Iraq until Islamic State seized it in 2014.

Iraqi forces pushed the group out of Qaraqosh in October, part of a six-month offensive to retake Mosul. But residents are worried that the Shi’ite slogans signal a new kind of sectarian division.

“Oh Hussein” is daubed in red on the wall of a church torched earlier by Islamic State, praising the hero of Shi’ite Muslims who was martyred 1,300 years ago.

“We are afraid of this, of tensions,” said Girgis Youssif, a church worker. “We want to live in peace and demand security,” said Youssif, who returned after fleeing to Erbil, about 60 km away in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Shi’ites in the Iraqi government forces and paramilitary groups, mostly from further south in the country, have scribbled such slogans on buildings all over Mosul too.

Soldiers have also hoisted the flag of Ali in the city and on their on military vehicles. Shi’ites regard Ali, the son-in-law of the Prophet Mohammed, and the prophet’s grandson Hussein as his true successors.

Two Shi’ite flags also fly over Qaraqosh.

Most Sunnis, who are the dominant community in Mosul, have shrugged off the Shi’ite slogans as the work of a handful of religious zealots but Christians take them as a signal that their future remains uncertain.

“Of course we are afraid of such signs,” said Matti Yashou Hatti, a photographer who still lives in Erbil with his family. “We need international protection.”

Those families who have returned to Qaraqosh – once home to 50,000 people – are trying to revive Christian life dating back two millennia. However, most stay only two or three days at a time to refurbish their looted and burnt homes.

“We want to come back but there is no water and power,” said Mazam Nesin, a Christian who works for a volunteer force based in Qaraqosh but has left his family behind in Erbil.

By contrast, displaced Muslims have been flocking back to markets in eastern Mosul since Islamic State’s ejection from that part of the city, despite the battle raging in the Old City across the Tigris river which is the militants’ last stronghold.

ALCOHOL SHOP

Numbers of Christians in Iraq have fallen from 1.5 million to a few hundred thousand since the violence which followed the 2003 toppling of Saddam Hussein. Many Baghdad residents who could not afford to go abroad went to Qaraqosh and other northern towns where security used to be better than in the capital, rocked by sectarian warfare after the U.S.-led invasion.

But with the arrival of Islamic State, residents abandoned their homes with some applying for asylum in Europe. Germany alone took in 130,000 Iraqis, among them many Christians, in 2015 and 2016. But most ended up in Erbil with relatives or in homes paid for by aid agencies.

Supermarkets and restaurants remain closed in Qaraqosh, with windows smashed and burnt furniture strewn across floors.

One of the few businesses to have reopened is Steve Ibrahim’s alcohol shop in the town center; in the absence of cafes it has become a meeting point for local people. “Business has been good so far. Everybody comes here to stock up,” said Ibrahim, who has just reopened the store with his father.

They lost everything when Islamic State, known by its enemies as Daesh, wrecked their business. Now they have invested about $400 to refurbish the shop – new tiles shine on the walls – and customers are coming from beyond the town and from across the communities.

“I sell drinks to Christians and Muslims alike,” he said. “Many people come from Mosul or other towns.”

Many of Ibrahim’s customers ignore Islam’s forbidding of alcohol consumption. While he was talking, a Sunni Muslim from eastern Mosul drove up to buy a bottle of whisky and four cans of beer, packed in a black plastic bag to hide his purchase from the eyes of more religiously observant Muslims.

“You couldn’t drink during Daesh. I am glad this shop is open again,” said the man who gave his name only as Mohammed, shaking hands with Christians enjoying an afternoon beer. “I still only drink at home.”

Later a Shi’ite from a village south of Mosul arrived to pick up drinks. “I come here twice a week. It’s the only shop in the area,” he said, asking not to be named, before driving off.

Even Ibrahim comes every day from Erbil, bringing by car supplies and fuel for the generator to power the fridges filled with cold beer. Then he drives back at night.

Whether more Christians can live permanently in Qaraqosh depends on whether the security forces win their trust.

Army and police have tried to ease fears by stationing soldiers in front of churches, and even helping Christian volunteers to set up a massive cross at the town’s entrance.

On Palm Sunday last weekend, soldiers escorted a procession in preparation for Easter, Christianity’s most important festival, and provided chairs for worshippers during Mass.

Some Christian policemen joined in, singing “Hallelujah” with civilians. But walking along rows of burnt out homes and supermarkets, others were still afraid.

“The security measures are not sufficient,” said Hatti, the photographer. “We want security to surround the town.”

(Click here, reut.rs/2ordbfj for a Photo essay on this story)

(Editing by David Stamp)

ISIS Demons Threatens Attacks Within India And On The Taj Mahal

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE HINDUSTAN TIMES NEWS AGENCY)

Pro-Islamic State group warns of attack on Taj Mahal

INDIA Updated: Mar 16, 2017 22:17 IST

Rezaul H Laskar
Rezaul H Laskar
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Islamic State

Security agencies say about 75 Indians have joined the IS. This includes 45 who went from India, mostly from Maharashtra, Kerala and Karnataka.(Site Intelligence Group)

A pro-Islamic State media group has warned of attacks in India and published a graphic depicting the Taj Mahal as a possible target.The graphic by the Ahwaal Ummat Media Center was posted on a channel of Telegram, the encrypted communication app, on March 14, according to Site Intelligence Group, which tracks jihadi activity on the web.

The graphic features a fighter in combat fatigues and black headgear armed with an assault rifle and a rocket-propelled grenade standing near the 17th century monument to love in Agra.

An inset in the graphic features another image of the Taj Mahal within crosshairs with the words “New target” below it. There is also an image of a van with the Arabic text “Agra istishhadi” (Agra martyrdom-seeker) written in English, implying the threat of a suicide attack.

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This is not the first time a pro-IS group has threatened attacks in India. After terror suspect Saifullah was killed by police in Lucknow on March 8, another pro-IS channel on Telegram had incited attacks in India.

That channel had also posted a photo of Saifullah and described him as a “soldier of the Khilafah from India”.

Indian security officials have said they are yet to procure proof that Saifullah was directly linked to the IS. They noted the photo of Saifullah posted on the Telegram channel was one released by Uttar Pradesh Police and not an image procured by the group before his death. They also said Saifullah was “self-radicalised”.

According to security agencies, some 75 Indians have so far joined IS. This includes 45 who went from India, mostly from Maharashtra, Kerala and Karnataka, while the remainder were Indians living abroad. About 37 more were apprehended while they were making their way from India to territories controlled by IS.

Security agencies have stepped up efforts to prevent the radicalisation and recruitment of youngsters via the internet and communication apps, which are extensively used by the IS.

The US state department too has noted the threat to India from IS.

US Embassy New Delhi warns of an increased threat to places in India frequented by Westerners, such as religious sites, markets..

An advisory for American citizens issued last November said: “Recent Indian media reports indicate ISIL’s desire to attack targets in India.” The advisory warned Americans of “an increased threat in places in India frequented by Westerners”.

Ancient Palace Revealed Under Destroyed Mosul Shrine

(I FOUND THIS ARTICLE FROM THE ASSOCIATED PRESS (AP) THAT I THOUGHT SOME OF YOU WHO LIKE HISTORY  MIGHT LIKE)

Associated Press

Ancient palace revealed under destroyed Mosul shrine

MOSUL, Iraq (AP) — Iraqi archaeologists think that tunnels dug by Islamic State militants under a destroyed shrine in Mosul have revealed the palace of an ancient Assyrian king who ruled some 2,700 years ago.

IS fighters blew up the shrine of the biblical Jonah’s tomb in 2014 after taking control of the city. They started digging tunnels into the side of the hill under the shrine, leading to the discovery.

Ancient inscriptions and winged bulls and lions were found deep in the tunnels, thought to be part of the palace of King Esarhaddon, who ruled the Neo-Assyrian empire in the 7th century B.C.

The militants may have been looking for artifacts to loot. IS was pushed out of eastern Mosul by Iraqi forces in January. The battle continues for western Mosul.

Ancient artifacts are seen inside a tunnel, under the rubble of the destroyed Mosque of The Prophet Younis, or Jonah, in Mosul, Iraq, Saturday, March 11, 2017. Iraqi archeologists think that tunnels dug under a destroyed shrine in Mosul by Islamic State militants have revealed the palace of the ancient Assyrian king of Esarhaddon. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed)
Ancient artifacts are seen inside a tunnel, under the rubble of the destroyed Mosque of The Prophet Younis, or Jonah, in Mosul, Iraq, Saturday, March 11, 2017. Iraqi archeologists think that tunnels dug under a destroyed shrine in Mosul by Islamic State militants have revealed the palace of the ancient Assyrian king of Esarhaddon. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed)
Ancient artifacts are seen inside a tunnel, under the rubble of the destroyed Mosque of The Prophet Younis, or Jonah, in Mosul, Iraq, Saturday, March 11, 2017. Iraqi archeologists think that tunnels dug under a destroyed shrine in Mosul by Islamic State militants have revealed the palace of the ancient Assyrian king of Esarhaddon. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed)
Ancient artifacts are seen inside a tunnel, under the rubble of the destroyed Mosque of The Prophet Younis, or Jonah, in Mosul, Iraq, Saturday, March 11, 2017. Iraqi archeologists think that tunnels dug under a destroyed shrine in Mosul by Islamic State militants have revealed the palace of the ancient Assyrian king of Esarhaddon. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed)
Ancient artifacts are seen inside a tunnel, under the rubble of the destroyed Mosque of The Prophet Younis, or Jonah, in Mosul, Iraq, Saturday, March 11, 2017. Iraqi archeologists think that tunnels dug under a destroyed shrine in Mosul by Islamic State militants have revealed the palace of the ancient Assyrian king of Esarhaddon. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed)
Ancient artifacts are seen inside a tunnel, under the rubble of the destroyed Mosque of The Prophet Younis, or Jonah, in Mosul, Iraq, Saturday, March 11, 2017. Iraqi archeologists think that tunnels dug under a destroyed shrine in Mosul by Islamic State militants have revealed the palace of the ancient Assyrian king of Esarhaddon. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed)
Iraqi security forces guard the destroyed Mosque of The Prophet Younis, or Jonah, in Mosul, Iraq, Saturday, March 11, 2017. Iraqi archeologists think that tunnels dug under a destroyed shrine in Mosul by Islamic State militants have revealed the palace of the ancient Assyrian king of Esarhaddon. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed)
Ancient artifacts are seen inside a tunnel, under the rubble of the destroyed Mosque of The Prophet Younis, or Jonah, in Mosul, Iraq, Saturday, March 11, 2017. Iraqi archeologists think that tunnels dug under a destroyed shrine in Mosul by Islamic State militants have revealed the palace of the ancient Assyrian king of Esarhaddon. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed)
Ancient artifacts are seen inside a tunnel, under the rubble of the destroyed Mosque of The Prophet Younis, or Jonah, in Mosul, Iraq, Saturday, March 11, 2017. Iraqi archeologists think that tunnels dug under a destroyed shrine in Mosul by Islamic State militants have revealed the palace of the ancient Assyrian king of Esarhaddon. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed)

ISIS Cowards Hiding Behind Women And Children ‘Human Shields’

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

(CNN) ISIS has “executed” 232 people near the Iraqi city of Mosul and taken tens of thousands of people to use as human shields against advancing Iraqi forces, the United Nations says.

The terror group carried out the mass killings Wednesday, punishing people who had defied its orders, a spokeswoman for the UN human rights arm told CNN.
“ISIS executed 42 civilians in Hammam al-Alil, south of Mosul. Also on Wednesday ISIS executed 190 former Iraqi security forces for refusing to join them, in the Al Ghazlani base near Mosul,” said Ravina Shamdasani of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Iraqi forces gather this week in the al Shura area, south of Mosul.

Another 24 former Iraqi security forces officers were reportedly killed Tuesday, the office said.
Since October 17, ISIS has taken tens of thousands of men, women and children from the outskirts of Mosul into the city. Shamdasani said the United Nations feared the group intended “to use them as human shields against the Iraqi forces advance on Mosul.”
There have been other reported civilian deaths over the past week as ISIS tries to herd people into its last major stronghold in Iraq and the nation’s second city against the Iraqi-led operation.
Iraqi forces have now launched an operation to cut ISIS supply lines west of Mosul, according to a statement released Saturday by Hashd al Shabi, also known as the Popular Mobilization Units (PMUs).
The PMUs are fighting alongside the Iraqi military and the Kurdish Peshmerga as they attempt to re-take Mosul from ISIS.

Iraqi forces advance from south

Reports of the latest ISIS atrocities came as Iraqi security forces reported further progress Friday in their advance from the south of Mosul.

An Iraqi family is south of Mosul after fleeing the Hammam al-Alil area.

Abdulrahman al Wagga, a member of the Nineveh provincial council, told CNN the security forces had taken the town of al Shura, about 30 kilometers (19 miles) south of Mosul, and had evacuated 5,000 to 6,000 civilians.
The area is being cleared of homemade bombs and booby traps, he said.
Iraqi security forces and federal police have also now “90% surrounded Hammam al-Alil,” the largest town south of Mosul, Wagga said.

ISIS has used human shields before

Wagga said the Iraqi forces might storm Hammam al-Alil soon but it would depend on the situation on the ground since civilians were still present.
Reports indicate that ISIS has abducted at least 5,370 families from around al Shura and 150 more from around Hammam al-Alil, Shamdasani told a briefing in Geneva, Switzerland.
Another 160 families have reportedly been seized from around Qayyara, she said, and 2,210 families from the Nimrud area of Hamdaniya district.
“Forced out by gunpoint, or killed if they resist, these people are reportedly being moved to strategic locations where ISIL fighters are located,” Shamdasani said, using an alternative acronym for ISIS.
Information received by the United Nations suggests some 60,000 people are currently living in Hammam al-Alil, an ISIS stronghold with a previous population of 23,000, she said.
The use of human shields is banned under international humanitarian law, and constitutes a violation of the right not to be arbitrarily deprived of life, the UN refugee agency said.
ISIS has used the same tactic in previous battles in Iraq, notably in Falluja in June.

‘Depraved, cowardly’ strategy

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, said the terror group’s “depraved, cowardly strategy is to attempt to use the presence of civilians to render certain points, areas or military forces immune from military operations, effectively using tens of thousands of women, men and children as human shields.”
He also warned last week that ISIS fighters appeared to be using civilians in and around Mosul as human shields.

An Iraqi man waves a white flag as his family flees the fighting Thursday.

The commissioner urged those fighting ISIS not to carry out revenge attacks and called on the Iraqi government to ensure respect for the rule of law.
As the fighting around Mosul intensifies, growing numbers of civilians have sought to flee despite the risks involved.
The International Organization for Migration reported the Mosul operation had displaced 16,566 people as of Friday. Camps have been set up to accommodate an expected flood of desperate families.

ISIS ‘killed brother for spying’

Civilians continued Friday to stream out of villages to the east of Mosul that ISIS had held until recent days.

Inside the tunnels of ISIS

Inside the tunnels of ISIS02:19
Several people gave insight into life under ISIS rule, telling the Kurdish network Rudaw that militants had fired at them as they left a settlement near Darwish to the northeast of Mosul.
One woman said her brother had been killed after being accused of spying for the Peshmerga, or Kurdish fighters. She said women had been forced to wear gloves and be completely covered.
A young man told the network his brother had been killed because he had a cell phone and was allegedly a spy.
Iraqi forces are holding positions about 6 kilometers (3.7 miles) from the eastern side of Mosul.
Gen. Aly Al Saady told the al Iraqiya network his force would wait for troops on other fronts to close in on Mosul before launching an attack on the city. He said they had prepared safe corridors for civilians to get out of Mosul before starting the operation.

Battle For Mosul Iraq Continues, Hundreds Of ISIS Fighters Killed: Say U.S. Generals

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF BBC NEWS AND REUTERS NEWS AGENCY)

Mosul battle: IS ‘loses hundreds of fighters’ – US generals

Media caption Orla Guerin goes inside an IS tunnel network outside Mosul

Hundreds of Islamic State militants are thought to have been killed since Iraqi forces launched an offensive to retake Mosul last week, the US military says.

Two generals said the jihadist group had suffered the losses as troops and allied fighters, backed by US-led air strikes, advanced on several axes.

Up to 5,000 IS fighters were believed to be in Mosul ahead of the assault.

Despite the territorial gains, commanders have warned that securing Mosul could take weeks, if not months.

About 50,000 Iraqi security forces personnel, Kurdish Peshmerga fighters, Sunni Arab tribesmen and Shia militiamen are involved in the operation.

Map showing territory held by Iraqi army, Kurdish forces and IS around Mosul

More than 100 US military personnel are embedded with them, advising commanders and helping direct coalition air strikes. Other US troops are providing fire support from nearby bases.

Lt Gen Stephen Townsend, the commander of US forces in Iraq, said on Wednesday that the coalition forces had delivered more than 2,100 aerial bombs, artillery and mortar shells, rockets and missiles since 17 October.

“This relentless campaign of strikes has removed hundreds of fighters, weapons, and key leaders from the battlefield in front of the Iraqi advance,” he added.

Iraqi federal police forces take part in an operation against Islamic State militants in south of Mosul (26 October 2016)Image copyright REUTERS
Image caption Iraqi security forces advancing towards Mosul from the south have faced fierce resistance

On Thursday, the head of the US military’s Central Command, Gen Joseph Votel, told the AFP news agency: “Just in the operations over the last week and a half associated with Mosul, we estimate they’ve probably killed about 800-900 Islamic State fighters.”

The Iraqi government informed US commanders on Wednesday that 57 Iraqi soldiers had been killed and about 250 wounded. Kurdish Peshmerga fighters are thought to have suffered about 20 to 30 fatalities.

Despite the removal of hundreds militants from the battlefield, Gen Townsend warned that IS defenses were likely to grow stronger the closer they got to Mosul.

Kurdish Peshmerga fighters outside Fadiliya village, north of Mosul (27 October 2016)Image copyright REUTERS
Image caption Kurdish Peshmerga fighters have seized a string of villages to the north and east

The group had “used an extraordinary amount of indirect fire – mortars, artillery and rockets – and an exceptional number of VBIEDs (Vehicle-Borne Improvised Explosive Devices),” he told reporters during a visit to the Qayyarah airbase.

Fierce resistance by jihadists has held up soldiers in the Shura area, 40-km (25 miles) south of Mosul, prompting elite Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS) forces to pause their advance near the village of Bazwaya, only 6 km east of the city.

CTS commander Brig Gen Haider Fadhil told the Associated Press his forces would wait for other units to reach Mosul’s outskirts before entering the city.

Media caption Oil fires started by IS outside Mosul turn sheep black

But he stressed: “The operation has not been stopped and is proceeding as planned.”

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization (WHO) said it had trained 90 Iraqi medics in “mass casualty management” as part of its preparations for the Mosul operation, with a special focus on responding to chemical attacks, AP reported.

IS has previously used chemical weapons in attacks on Iraqi and coalition forces, and there are fears that it might do so again inside Mosul, where more than a million civilians live.

A displaced man carries his nephew as he stands beside tents upon his arrival at al-Khazar camp, east of Mosul, (26 October 2016)Image copyright REUTERS
Image caption Some 11,700 civilians have fled the Mosul area since the offensive began

Some 11,700 residents have fled since the offensive began and, according to the UN’s worst-case scenario, as many as 700,000 others could follow suit.

“There’s been quite a dramatic upturn in the last few days,” said Karl Schembri of the Norwegian Refugee Council, who warned that there were currently only spaces in camps for 60,000 people.

The WHO is working on the assumption that 200,000 of them will require emergency health services, including more than 90,000 children needing vaccinations and 8,000 pregnant women.

ISIS Satanic Ideology Of Mass Murder Shows It’s Ugly Face In Mosul Iraq

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

ISIS kills hundreds in Mosul area, source says

(CNN) ISIS rounded up and killed 284 men and boys as Iraqi-led coalition forces closed in on Mosul, the terror group’s last major stronghold in Iraq, an Iraqi intelligence source told CNN.

Those killed Thursday and Friday were used as human shields against attacks forcing ISIS out of southern parts of Mosul, the source said.
ISIS dumped the corpses in a mass grave at the defunct College of Agriculture in northern Mosul, the intelligence source said.
The victims — including children — were all shot, said the source, who asked for anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the media. CNN could not independently confirm the killings.

Latest developments

• US Defense Secretary Ash Carter, visiting Iraq, said he was encouraged by Iraqi efforts to retake Mosul.
• Kurdish officials accused Sunni Arabs in Kirkuk of supporting ISIS a day after attacks killed dozens.
• Iraqis displaced by the Mosul offensive are seeking shelter in camps, the UN refugee agency said.

Iraqi forces move on Hamdaniya

The Iraqi military launched a large offensive early Saturday to retake Hamdaniya — also known as Qaraqosh — from ISIS, the Iraqi Joint Operations Command center said.

ISIS using drones in battle for Mosul

ISIS using drones in battle for Mosul 02:43
The city is about 15 kilometers (nine miles) southeast of Mosul.
Iraqi troops entered the al-Askary neighborhood and liberated the mayor’s building and the main hospital, raising the Iraqi flag over those buildings, Lt. Gen. Qassim al-Maliky said.
At least 50 ISIS militants were killed and some of their equipment destroyed, he added.
Iraqi security forces and Peshmerga — as the Kurdish fighters are known — have made progress and isolated Hamdaniya, a US military official said in Baghdad, speaking on background.

Tal Kayf is next target

Iraqi troops are also advancing toward Tal Kayf and plan on storming the Chaldean town, the Iraqi Joint Operations Command said Saturday.

Iraqi army and militia forces arrive Thursday in Saleh village in the offensive to wrest Mosul from ISIS.

Tal Kayf is about 10 kilometers (six miles) north of Mosul.
It’s the closest Iraqi security forces have come to Mosul, a CNN analysis indicates.
The US military official said US and coalition aircraft were providing air support as needed Saturday. The official said land forces were working through “a hard outer crust,” and resistance would intensify as the offensive neared Mosul.
The official said ISIS fighters had infiltrated towns cleared earlier, including Bartella, requiring renewed efforts to combat them.
Kurdish security forces were going house to house Saturday in Kirkuk following a major ISIS attack a day earlier. Kirkuk is 175 kilometers (109 miles) southeast of Mosul.
Kirkuk’s police chief said 48 ISIS militants had been killed during hours of clashes.
Security officials told CNN that at least 40 others had been killed and 76 wounded in the attack, the majority of them Kurdish Peshmerga.
The ISIS attacks continued in the area Saturday, with an attempt to infiltrate the town of Laylan, 20 kilometers (12 miles) southeast of Kirkuk. Nine militants were killed, according to the mayor of Laylan, Mohammed Wais, and some security force members were injured.
Kurdish President Masoud Barzani described ISIS’ attack on Kirkuk as “a failed attempt by terrorists to make up for the defeats they have suffered at the hands of the Peshmerga on the front line.”
Previous attacks by ISIS militants on Kirkuk have been attempts either to capture the city from the Peshmerga or divert Kurdish troops from the fight in Mosul.
About 4,000 families are housed in four camps for internally displaced people in Laylan, said Ammar Sabah, director of the Displacement and Migration Department in Kirkuk.

Kurdish officials accuse local Arabs of helping ISIS

In the wake of the Kirkuk attack, Kurdish officials accused local Arabs and some displaced in camps around the city of helping ISIS.

Kirkuk’s police chief, Brig. Gen. Khatab Omar, said the militants had probably infiltrated the 600,000 internally displaced in and around the city.
Gen. Hallo Najat, another police official, told local media to expect further fighting because 30% of the Arabs there supported ISIS rather than the government or Kurdish authorities.
Najmaldin Karim, Kirkuk’s governor, said: “We have prior knowledge that an operation like this could happen; we were preparing for it, but the timing was not known exactly.”
He said a curfew would remain in force for another day and urged the internally displaced community in Kirkuk to help track down militants.

US defense chief briefed on Mosul operation

Carter, the US defense secretary, paid an unannounced visit Saturday to Baghdad, where he was briefed on the Mosul offensive and met with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.

U.S. Sailor killed by roadside bomb in Iraq identified

U.S. Sailor killed by roadside bomb in Iraq identified 03:02
Carter then addressed about 50 US service members at Baghdad International Airport, recalling the US naval officer killed this week in northern Iraq and the risk taken by all those serving.
The defense chief told the crowd he was encouraged by what he has seen so far in the fight to retake Mosul.
US forces in Iraq are providing air support for the Mosul operation as part of an international coalition. US special operations forces are also advising Iraqi and Kurdish units on the ground.
After meeting with Carter, Abadi repeated his view that Iraq does not need Turkey’s help in the battle for Mosul, while acknowledging the importance of maintaining good relations with its northern neighbor. The Turkish leadership has expressed a desire to join the coalition to oust ISIS.

UN ‘gravely worried’ over human shield use

The United Nations expressed concern Friday that ISIS has taken 550 families from villages around Mosul to use as human shields.

Pain still raw for Mosul's Christians in Jordan

Pain still raw for Mosul’s Christians in Jordan 02:52
Two hundred families from Samalia village and 350 families from Najafia were forced out Monday and taken to Mosul in “an apparent policy by ISIS to prevent civilians escaping,” Ravina Shamdasani, deputy spokeswoman for the UN Human Rights Office, told CNN.
Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said, “We are gravely worried by reports that (ISIS) is using civilians in and around Mosul as human shields as the Iraqi forces advance, keeping civilians close to their offices or places where fighters are located, which may result in civilian casualties.”

Iraqis flee violence

The first influx of Iraqis — 144 people — arrived at a new camp, Zelikan, set up to shelter what is expected to become a flood of families displaced by the Mosul offensive, the UN refugee agency said Saturday.
UN data indicate some 3,900 people — or 650 families — have so far been forced from Mosul and Hamdaniya districts, agency spokesman Adrian Edwards told a news briefing Friday in Geneva, Switzerland.
The UN refugee agency is working to establish 11 camps, five of which are already in place, to house those forced from their homes by the battle. The camps will have capacity for about 120,000 people, the agency said.
Up to 600,000 could be helped if the refugee agency obtained sufficient funding, it said. Mosul is believed currently to have a population of about 1.5 million people, it added.

Concerns over mass displacements in Iraq

Concerns over mass displacements in Iraq 04:15
Charity Oxfam warned Saturday that more must be done to provide safe routes for those fleeing the conflict.
People who escaped from Hawd, 50 kilometers (about 30 miles) south of Mosul, told Oxfam that many civilians had been injured.
A woman told Oxfam her children had respiratory issues after breathing in thick smoke from oil wells that ISIS militants set afire to provide cover from coalition air attacks.

Turkey’s President Erdogan Blasts U.S.-Led Campaign Against Islamic State

 

While Defense Secretary Ashton Carter prepared for his trip to Turkey, a senior Iraqi general on Wednesday called on Iraqis fighting for the Islamic State to surrender as a wide-scale operation to retake Mosul entered its third day. Story.
– The Washington Times – Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter will be walking into diplomatic buzz saw Thursday when he arrives in Turkey a day after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan launched a blistering critique of the U.S.-backed campaign to oust the Islamic State group from neighboring Iraq and demanded a bigger role for Turkish military forces.

Mr. Erdogan’s remarkable outburst was the latest sign of difficulties the Obama administration faces in keeping the various members of its regional coalition pushing in the same direction in the fight to oust the Islamic State from its strongholds in Iraq and Syria and find a way to end Syria’s bloody civil war.

The Obama administration has long sought to control Turkish involvement in the Iraq fight amid fears of a clash with American-aligned Kurdish forces near Mosul, but Mr. Erdogan threatened Wednesday to take unilateral action ifTurkey’s interests were threatened by chaos spilling from the battle to reclaim Iraq’s second-largest city.

“From now on, we will not wait for problems to come knocking on our door, we will not wait until the blade is against our bone and skin, we will not wait for terrorist organizations to come and attack us,” Mr. Erdogan said in a fiery speech from his presidential palace in Ankara.

His comments prompted concern among U.S. officials already wary about a series of provocative moves by Mr. Erdogan that analysts say have been driven — at least in part — by a desire to pressure Washington into giving Turkey its way against Syrian and Iraqi Kurds. Mr. Carter’s visit will also be his first to Ankara since a failed military coup nearly ousted Mr. Erdogan and his ruling AKP party from power this summer.

While Turkey remains a major NATO ally, Mr. Erdogan raised eyebrows in the West last week when he suddenly invited Russia to bid on providing his nation with its first-ever long-range air and anti-missile defense system.

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The Pentagon declined to comment Wednesday on whether Mr. Carter will raise the issue during his visit to Turkey. But it is likely to add to the thick tension over the Kurdish issue. Turkey has long battled the separatist Kurdish PKK movement in its south and fears an independent Kurdistan across the border in Iraq will only inflame the fight.

The Obama administration has relied on Kurdish militias to fight the Islamic State in both nations, but the Erdogan government views many of them as terrorists no less threatening than the group that has held Mosul and other territory in northern Iraq and Syria for the past 2 years.

Erdogan is trying to leverage political gain, and he wants Turkish troops in northern Iraq,” said Michael Rubin, a scholar with the American Enterprise Institute and a former Pentagon official.

“He clearly wants to be in Mosul,” Mr. Rubin said Wednesday. “He wants Turkish boots on the ground so he can help determine the future of what happens there.”

Muscling the Pentagon?

Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim made headlines Tuesday by claiming the country had reached an agreement with U.S. commanders to allow Turkish fighters to carry out airstrikes in Mosul against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS and ISIL.

Turkish F-16 fighters based out of Incirlik Air Base, near the country’s southern border with Iraq, would execute airstrikes in Mosul under the command of the country’s military command node in Kuwait, Mr. Yildrim told the Hurriyet Daily News. The Iraqi government of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has protested Turkish military actions inside its borders.

Mr. Erdogan reiterated the claim regarding Turkish air operations over Mosul, saying Baghdad “thought they could keep us out of Mosul by bothering us with the PKK and [the Islamic State].”

He said Iraqi leaders strove to “shape our future with the hands of terrorist organizations.”

U.S. defense officials told The Washington Times on Wednesday that no such agreement had been reached withAnkara on military air operations in Mosul.

“It’s not true,” one defense official said, noting there had been only one instance of Turkish aircraft entering Iraqi airspace — a surveillance drone — since the country’s forces deployed to northern Iraq.

Additionally, Russia has warned Turkish forces advancing through the Syrian border town of Jarablus to halt their advance south or risk being targeted by Russian aircraft operating in the country, the official added. Russia is allied with Syrian President Bashar Assad, a longtime adversary of Turkey.

Even if a military coordination deal included Turkey, it would require Iraq to sign off because any offer of foreign military support in the campaign against the Islamic State needs Baghdad’s approval, a second U.S. defense official told The Times.

Army Maj. Gen. Gary Volesky, commander of U.S. and coalition land forces in Iraq, said at the Pentagon on Wednesday that there were no orders directing Turkish fighters to take part in the fight for Mosul.

Roughly 300 to 400 Turkish soldiers are stationed at a small training camp outside Bashiqa, northeast of Mosul. Reports say smaller Turkish units are scattered across the city’s northern and eastern borders.

Turkish units have been training and equipping Sunni militias in the region, preparing them to defend against any threats posed by Kurdish members of the People’s Protection Unit, also known as the YPG, the armed faction of the Kurdish Workers’ Party in northern Iraq. Ankara considers the group to be on par with the Islamic State and other terrorist organizations.

U.S.-Turkish ties in the fight against the Islamic State began to fray in June, when Washington rebuffed an offer byTurkey to conduct joint operations to retake the strategically critical northern Syrian district of Manbij.

Since then, U.S. diplomats and defense officials have repeatedly tried to engage with their Turkish counterparts to quell any tensions among Washington, Baghdad and Ankara, the second defense official said.

But Pentagon officials say Mr. Erdogan’s recent tough talk is aimed less at the U.S. and Mr. Carter than at concerns over the fallout once the Islamic State is driven from Mosul. The caustic rhetoric coming out of Ankara over the past several weeks did not start “until [Mr. al-Abadi] announced the operation” to retake Mosul, one official added.

Footsie with Moscow

Turkey’s demand for a role in the Mosul fight has overshadowed its outreach toward Russia, which has generated growing concern among officials in Washington.

According to a Defense News report, Mr. Erdogan made the surprising move last week to invite Moscow to bid on a contract to provide a long-range air and anti-missile defense system for Turkey — three years after Ankara disqualified a Russian bidder.

Turkey’s pursuit of the system has been bumpy since 2013, when Ankara took bids from U.S., French and Chinese companies before selecting the China Precision Machinery Import-Export Corp. to provide the air defense architecture.

But the deal with the Chinese was suddenly canceled amid heated criticism from Washington and other NATO allies.

One American official who spoke on the condition of anonymity Wednesday said U.S. officials were warily monitoring Mr. Erdogan’s call for a Russian bid ahead of Mr. Carter’s visit.

However, the official suggested that the Obama administration thinks it is highly unlikely that the Turks will go through with deal with the Russians.

“Obviously, we were concerned three years ago when Turkey decided to try to buy an air defense system from China,” said the official. “So we walked them off of that, telling them that if they were interested in getting an air defense system that could be interoperable with NATO and linked to intelligence aspects of the NATO network, then they would have to buy a NATO system, not a Russian or Chinese system.”

While the official lamented that the Turks have “invited the Russians to bid again,” they added that “there’s a big difference between Turkey doing things for optics and actually signing contracts.”

But Turkey’s overtures toward Russia may be more than just posturing, Mr. Rubin said.

“On one hand, Erdogan is trying to leverage political gain,” he said, but Turkey appears poised to take “a turn away from NATO.”

Mr. Erdogan, he noted, went out of his way after this summer’s failed coup to fire scores of Turkish military officials “simply because they had experience working with NATO.”

In addition to Turkey, the Pentagon said, Mr. Carter will stop in the United Arab Emirates, France and Belgium to meet with “key partners in the campaign to deliver [Islamic State] a lasting defeat.” He plans a major speech on the future of NATO next week in Brussels.

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