23 October 2019


Islamic State claims responsibility for Iraq bus bombing that killed 12

KONFRONTASI- Islamic State militants have claimed responsibility for a bus bombing that killed 12 people near the Iraqi city of Kerbala, the Amaq news agency reported on Saturday.

Iraqi security services said on Friday that 12 people were killed and several others wounded when a bus bombing occurred near the holy city south of Baghdad.

Two police spokesmen in the area said an explosive device planted on the bus detonated at a northern entrance to the city, setting fire to the vehicle.[mr/reuters]

Dozens dead as ferry sinks in Tigris River near Iraq's Mosul

KONFRONTASI-Dozens of people have died after a ferry carrying families celebrating the Nowruz holiday capsized in Tigris river near the Iraqi city of Mosul, according to officials.

Husam Khalil, the head of Mosul's Civil Defence Authority, said, according to news agencies, that at least 45 people were killed in Thursday's accident.

"We have pulled out 45 bodies and the number could rise," Khalil said. He added that most of the casualties were women and children who could not swim.

Daesh militants kill over dozen civilians, Hashd al-Sha’abi fighters in Iraq

KONFRONTASI -  Remnants of the Daesh Takfiri terrorist group have shot and killed more than a dozen civilians and pro-government fighters in two separate attacks amid ongoing counter-terrorism operations to purge the extremists from all parts of the war-battered Arab country.

Captain Habib al-Shamri said Daesh terrorists set up a fake security checkpoint on a main road near al-Azim district in the eastern Iraqi province of Diyala, and stopped a number of civilian vehicles.

Iraqi forces comb over 170 villages for Daesh terrorists

KONFRONTASI-Iraqi forces have successfully combed some 175 villages located in the desert regions between the Anbar and Nineveh provinces on the lookout for lingering Daesh terrorists.

“Army, Federal Police and al-Hashd al-Shaabi, backed by military jets, concluded the first part of the second phase of the operations,” said the country’s War Media cell on Sunday.

It added that the focus of the combing operations was on the villages and regions between south of Hatra and north of Rawah.

Islamic State guerrilla attacks point to its future strategy

KONRONTASI-Syrian and Iraqi forces closing in on the last scraps of Islamic State's caliphate straddling the remote border area between the two countries have already witnessed the jihadists' likely response.

While their comrades mounted last stands in their Syrian capital of Raqqa and the city of Hawija in Iraq, IS militants seized the Syrian town of al-Qaryatayn and launched its biggest attack for months in Ramadi late last month. That is the kind of guerrilla insurgency both countries foresee IS turning to.

"It is expected that after the Daesh terrorist organisation's capacity to fight in the field is finished, its remnants will resort to this type of (guerrilla) operation. But for a certain period of time, not forever," said a Syrian military source, using an Arabic acronym for Islamic State.

The continued ability for IS to mount attacks in areas where it was thought to have been eliminated will hinder efforts to stabilise regions when the fighting wanes.

In Iraq, where Islamic State originated, it has a proven record of falling back upon local networks from which it can rise anew when conditions allow. So far, it has not shown it has the same capacity in Syria, and it might find doing so more challenging there than in Iraq.

The sectarian divisions on which it thrives are less pronounced in Syria, and it faces competition there for jihadist loyalty from other powerful militant groups.

"Daesh is in essence an Iraqi organisation, it will survive to some extent in Iraq. Syrian members will dissolve in other Syrian Salafi jihadist groups," said Hisham Hashami, an adviser on Islamic State to the Iraqi government.

But in both countries it has shown it can exploit holes left by overstretched enemies to carry out spectacular attacks - the one in Syria's al-Qaryatayn most clearly - that spread panic and tie down opposing forces.

It has also proved able to carry out bombings and assassinations in areas controlled by the Iraqi and Syrian governments, U.S.-backed Kurdish militias and rival jihadist rebel groups, signalling an ability to survive underground.

A jihadist from a Syrian rebel faction opposed to Islamic State said the group had won enough support among young men to give it a latent capacity to revive.

"I believe that it is possible, given that its ideology has spread widely among the youths, that something new will emerge," the jihadist said, pointing to the highly effective propaganda machine deployed by Islamic State over the last three years.


Kurds offer to suspend independence drive, seek talks with Baghdad

KONFRONTASI-Kurdish authorities in Iraq offered on Wednesday to put an independence drive on hold, stepping up efforts to resolve a crisis in relations with Baghdad via dialogue.

But an Iraqi military spokesman suggested an offensive - launched to wrest back territory after Kurds voted overwhelmingly for independence in a referendum in September - would continue regardless.

The Iraqi government has transformed the balance of power in the north of the country since launching its campaign last week against the Kurds, who govern an autonomous region of three northern provinces and had held a swathe of other territory.

“The fighting between the two sides will not produce a victory for any, it will take the country to total destruction,” the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) said in a statement.

The KRG proposed an immediate ceasefire, a suspension of the referendum result and “starting an open dialogue with the federal government based on the Iraqi Constitution”.

Baghdad has always considered the Kurdish secession referendum illegal. It responded last week by seizing back the city of Kirkuk, the oil-producing areas around it and other territory that the Kurds had captured from militant group Islamic State.

In a brief social media comment hinting that the campaign would continue, an Iraqi military spokesman said: “Military operations are not connected to politics.”

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has said the KRG should cancel the vote’s outcome as a pre-condition for talks. Several Shi‘ite members of parliament on Wednesday asked him to stick to his position and not to accept just a freeze of the referendum.

On Wednesday, Abadi began an official visit to neighboring Turkey and Iran. Turkey and Iran both have Kurdish populations of their own and have supported Baghdad taking a hard line on the referendum.

Now that the Kurds have swiftly yielded most of their territory outside of their autonomous region to the advancing Iraqi forces, there are signs of pressure easing. Iran announced the reopening of one of the border crossings with the Kurdistan region, which it had closed earlier this month in support of the Iraqi government.

In Ankara, President Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey was ready to give all support to Baghdad as it seeks to reopen a crude oil pipeline from the Kirkuk oilfields to Turkey. The pipeline goes through the Kurdish autonomous region. Iraq had stopped shipping oil through it when the Kurds took Kirkuk in 2014.

In a statement to media after meeting Abadi, Erdogan said they discussed what political, military and economic steps they could take after what he called the “illegitimate” Iraqi Kurdish referendum last month.

Iraq forces seize Kirkuk outskirts in advance on Kurdish-held territory

KONFRONTASI-Iraq’s central government forces launched an advance early on Monday into territory held by Kurds, seizing a swathe of countryside surrounding the oil city of Kirkuk in bold military response to a Kurdish vote last month on independence.

The government said its troops had seized Kirkuk airport and had taken control of Northern Iraq’s oil company from the security forces of the autonomous Kurdish region, known as Peshmerga.

The military action was the most decisive step Baghdad has taken yet to rein in the independence aspirations of the Kurds, who have governed themselves as an autonomous part of Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003 and voted on Sept. 25 to secede.

“We call on the Peshmerga forces to serve under the federal authority as part of the Iraqi armed forces,” Prime Minister Haidar Abadi said in a statement which was read out on television. He ordered security forces “to impose security in Kirkuk in cooperation with the population of the city and the Peshmerga”, the statement said.

State television said Iraqi forces had also entered Tuz Khurmato, a flashpoint town where there had been clashes between Kurds and mainly Shi‘ite Muslims of Turkmen ethnicity.

The Kurdish regional government did not initially confirm the Iraqi advances, but Rudaw, a major Kurdish TV station, reported that Peshmerga had left positions south of Kirkuk.

U.S. forces which have worked closely with both the federal forces and the Kurdish Peshmerga to fight against Islamic State called on both sides to avoid escalation.

The U.S.-led task international force in Iraq was “closely monitoring (the situation) near Kirkuk; urge all sides to avoid escalatory actions. Finish the fight vs. #ISIS, biggest threat to all,” a spokesman said on Twitter.

Bayan Sami Rahman, the Kurdish regional government’s representative in the United States, tweeted a plea for Washington to “use (its) leadership role to prevent war”.

The action in Iraq helped spur a jump in world oil prices on Monday.[O/R]

Saudi-Iraqi border crossing reopens after 27 years

KONFRONTASI-Saudi Arabia and Iraq have announced they would soon reopen a major border crossing for trade after some 27 years of closure.

The governor of Iraq's southwestern province of Anbar, Sohaib al-Rawi, along with Saudi officials, toured the Arar border crossing on Monday, saying its reopening would be a “significant move” to boost ties between Iraq and Saudi Arabia, two neighbors that have had strained ties since the invasion of Kuwait in 1990 by former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

Embassy attack fuels fears ISIS bringing Iraq war to Afghanistan

KONFRONTASI-An attack on the Iraqi embassy in Kabul has reinforced fears that Islamic State militants are seeking to bring the group's Middle East conflict to Afghanistan, though evidence of fighters relocating from Iraq and Syria remains elusive.

Islamic State said it carried out Monday's attack, which began with a suicide bomber blowing himself up at the embassy's main gate, allowing gunmen to enter the building and battle security forces.

The choice of target, three weeks after the fall of Mosul to Iraqi troops, appeared to back up repeated warnings from Afghan security officials that, as Islamic State fighters were pushed out of Syria and Iraq, they risked showing up in Afghanistan.

"This year we're seeing more new weapons in the hands of the insurgents and an increase in numbers of foreign fighters," said Afghan Defence Ministry spokesman Gen. Dawlat Waziri. "They are used in front lines because they are war veterans."

One senior security official put the number of foreigners fighting for both Islamic State and the Taliban in Afghanistan at roughly 7,000, most operating across the border from their home countries of Pakistan, Uzbekistan or Tajikistan, but also including others from countries such as India.

While such foreign fighters have long been present in Afghanistan, there has been growing concern that militants from Arab countries, who have left the fighting in Syria as pressure on Islamic State there has grown, have also been arriving in Afghanistan through Iran.

"We are not talking about a simple militant fighter, we are talking about battle-hardened, educated and professional fighters in the thousands," another security official said.

"They are more dangerous because they can and will easily recruit fighters and foot soldiers here."

The United States, which first came to Afghanistan in 2001 after Al Qaeda's attacks on New York and Washington, is considering sending more troops to Afghanistan, in part to ensure the country does not become a haven for foreign militant groups.

But while Afghan and U.S. officials have long warned of the risk that foreign fighters from Syria could move over to Afghanistan, there has been considerable scepticism over how many have actually done so.

In April, during a visit to Kabul by U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis, the commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, Gen. John Nicholson, said that, while ISIS had an "aspiration" to bring in fighters from Syria, "we haven't seen it happen".

Afghan Air forces helicopter flies over the site of a suicide attack followed by a clash between Afghan forces and insurgents during an attack on the Iraqi embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan July 31, 2017.Mohammad Ismail

Iraq strikes Islamic State in Mosul days after declaring victory

KONFRONTASI-Iraqi forces clashed with Islamic State militants holding out in Mosul's Old City on Wednesday, more than 36 hours after Baghdad declared victory over the jihadists in what they had declared the de facto Iraqi capital of their "caliphate".

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi's victory announcement signaled the biggest defeat for the hardline Sunni group since its lightning sweep through northern Iraq three years ago. But pockets of Mosul remain insecure and the city has been heavily damaged by nearly nine months of grueling urban combat.

About 900,000 people fled the fighting, with more than a third sheltered in camps outside Iraq's second largest city and the rest living with family and friends in other neighborhoods.

Civilian activity has quickly returned to much of Mosul and work is underway to repair damaged homes and infrastructure, something the United Nations estimates will initially cost more than $1 billion.

Newly trained local police are deployed in Mosul alongside the military, but authorities have not prepared a post-battle plan for governance and security in the city, officials say.

Iraqi forces exchanged gunfire with the militants in their final Mosul redoubt just before midnight and through the day on Wednesday, three residents living just across the Tigris River from the area told Reuters.

Army helicopters strafed the Old City and columns of smoke rose into the air, though it was unclear if these came from controlled explosions or bombs set off by Islamic State, the residents said by phone.

"We still live in an atmosphere of war despite the victory announcement two days ago," said Fahd Ghanim, 45. Another resident said the blasts shook the ground around half a kilometer away.

An Iraqi military official attributed the activity to "clearing operations".

"Daesh is hiding in different places," he said, using an acronym for Islamic State. "They disappear here and pop up there, then we target them."

Media access to the area has been heavily restricted since Abadi claimed victory on Monday, hailing "the collapse of the terrorist state".

Footage released by Islamic State news agency Amaq entitled "Fighting till the last gasp" and allegedly filmed in Mosul's Maydan district showed militants mixed in with civilians and unidentified corpses lying amid the rubble of an urban battlefield. Reuters could not authenticate the video.