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U.S. Airstrikes in Iraq and Syria Have Cost $1 Billion

By , December 19, 2014 10:42 pm

U.S. Airstrikes in Iraq and Syria Have Cost $ 1 Billion

A-18E Super Hornet, prepares to launch from the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush to conduct strike missions against Islamic State group targets, in the Arabian Gulf, Sept. 23, 2014 (Robert Burck/U.S. Navy/AP Photo).The cost of U.S. military airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq and Syria has topped $ 1 billion.

“As of Dec. 11, 2014, the total cost of operations related to ISIL since kinetic operations started on August 8, 2014 is $ 1.02 billion and the average daily cost is $ 8.1 million,” said Commander Bill Urban, a Pentagon spokesman.

The Pentagon’s latest statistics show that as of Friday the U.S and its coalition partners had flown 1,371 airstrikes in both countries — 799 in Iraq and 572 in Syria.

American military aircraft have conducted 82 percent of the total number of airstrikes.

Lt. Gen. James Terry, the commander of the Combined Joint Task Force, Operation Inherent Resolve, told reporters Thursday at a Pentagon briefing that the airstrikes are having a significant effect on Daesh’s ability “to command and control, to resupply, and to conduct maneuvering.” Daesh is the Arabic name for the ISIS acronym.

Pentagon officials have said that the airstrikes in Iraq target ISIS positions with the intent of supporting Iraqi and Kurdish military ground operations.

An example of that support took place earlier this week as U.S. aircraft conducted 53 airstrikes over two days to help a major offensive by Kurdish Peshmerga troops to retake territory from ISIS in northwestern Iraq.

But the U.S. has also begun carrying out targeted airstrikes against senior ISIS leaders in Iraq. On Thursday U.S. officials confirmed that three senior ISIS leaders had been killed in recent weeks, including ISIS’s top military commander in Iraq.

In Syria, the airstrikes have a strategic goal of degrading ISIS’s ability to sustain itself in both Syria and Iraq. Accordingly, early airstrikes in Syria targeted ISIS’s illicit oil operations and training areas.

But the majority of airstrikes inside Syria have taken place in the northern city of Kobani where U.S. airstrikes have checked a major ISIS effort to take the city.

“As of today, that assault has failed and has resulted in nearly 1,000 ISIL fighters killed, including many leaders,” Brett McGurk told a congressional panel last week. McGurk is one of the Obama administration’s envoys helping to build the international coalition against ISIS.

Assyrian International News Agency

U.S. Airstrikes in Iraq and Syria Have Cost $1 Billion

By , December 19, 2014 10:42 pm

U.S. Airstrikes in Iraq and Syria Have Cost $ 1 Billion

A-18E Super Hornet, prepares to launch from the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush to conduct strike missions against Islamic State group targets, in the Arabian Gulf, Sept. 23, 2014 (Robert Burck/U.S. Navy/AP Photo).The cost of U.S. military airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq and Syria has topped $ 1 billion.

“As of Dec. 11, 2014, the total cost of operations related to ISIL since kinetic operations started on August 8, 2014 is $ 1.02 billion and the average daily cost is $ 8.1 million,” said Commander Bill Urban, a Pentagon spokesman.

The Pentagon’s latest statistics show that as of Friday the U.S and its coalition partners had flown 1,371 airstrikes in both countries — 799 in Iraq and 572 in Syria.

American military aircraft have conducted 82 percent of the total number of airstrikes.

Lt. Gen. James Terry, the commander of the Combined Joint Task Force, Operation Inherent Resolve, told reporters Thursday at a Pentagon briefing that the airstrikes are having a significant effect on Daesh’s ability “to command and control, to resupply, and to conduct maneuvering.” Daesh is the Arabic name for the ISIS acronym.

Pentagon officials have said that the airstrikes in Iraq target ISIS positions with the intent of supporting Iraqi and Kurdish military ground operations.

An example of that support took place earlier this week as U.S. aircraft conducted 53 airstrikes over two days to help a major offensive by Kurdish Peshmerga troops to retake territory from ISIS in northwestern Iraq.

But the U.S. has also begun carrying out targeted airstrikes against senior ISIS leaders in Iraq. On Thursday U.S. officials confirmed that three senior ISIS leaders had been killed in recent weeks, including ISIS’s top military commander in Iraq.

In Syria, the airstrikes have a strategic goal of degrading ISIS’s ability to sustain itself in both Syria and Iraq. Accordingly, early airstrikes in Syria targeted ISIS’s illicit oil operations and training areas.

But the majority of airstrikes inside Syria have taken place in the northern city of Kobani where U.S. airstrikes have checked a major ISIS effort to take the city.

“As of today, that assault has failed and has resulted in nearly 1,000 ISIL fighters killed, including many leaders,” Brett McGurk told a congressional panel last week. McGurk is one of the Obama administration’s envoys helping to build the international coalition against ISIS.

Assyrian International News Agency

Will Christmas Come to Iraq?

By , December 18, 2014 11:55 pm

By Geoffrey P. Johnston

Makeshift nativity scene in Assyrian refugee camp in Ankawa, Iraq.The holiday season is in full swing, with many Canadians enjoying the carefree pleasures of Christmas office parties and concerts. Others are looking forward to attending Christmas Eve church services, or getting together with family and friends over a turkey dinner.

But halfway around the world, Christmas will be anything but carefree for Iraq’s persecuted Christian communities.

Forced to flee their homes to escape the onslaught of well-armed jihadists, displaced Christians live in a perpetual “crisis mode,” according to Carl Hétu, national director of the Canadian branch of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA), a papal agency that provides humanitarian assistance and pastoral care.

Last summer, the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, launched a military offensive, capturing large swaths of Iraq, using mass murder, public beheadings and the enslavement of women and girls to subjugate captured territories. Large parts of northern Iraq were cleansed of Christians, Yazidis and other religious minorities.

“In August, it was total chaos,” Hétu said when contacted in New York City, where he was attending meetings at CNEWA’s international headquarters. Terrified Christians had no time to pack or gather the necessities of life, fleeing with only the clothes on their backs.

Last month, Hétu told the House of Commons foreign affairs committee that approximately 120,000 Christians have fled to the semi-autonomous Iraqi province of Kurdistan. The Kurds have welcomed the desperate Christians with open arms, despite struggling to defend Kurdistan against the jihadist threat.

The current living conditions for the displaced Christian population in Kurdistan are uncomfortable but not life-threatening, said Mark Huckstep, who visited northern Iraq in November. He’s a representative of the United Kingdom-based Barnabas Fund, a Christian non-governmental organization (NGO) that provides humanitarian assistance to Christians in need.

However, the internally displaced persons (IDPs) that Huckstep saw were “crammed” into churches, tents and portable cabins. And in a telephone interview from the NGO’s London office, he said that the Christian IDPs are “food-dependent on other people to survive.”

Relief efforts

Various Christian denominations in Iraq have come together to care for the displaced Christian population. “Every section of the church is taking care of different things,” Hétu said of the co-ordinated relief efforts. Huckstep agrees with that assessment. “One of the most heartening things about what I saw in Iraq was that the churches are working together,” he said.

For the last three months, CNEWA has been raising funds for relief efforts. The papal agency works with partners on the ground, including the Dominican Sisters, who have tremendous experience in delivering humanitarian aid and services.

“It’s much better than it was in August,” Hétu said of the current humanitarian situation in northern Iraq. However, IDPs with chronic medical conditions are in need of medicine and medical care. That’s why the Dominican Sisters have organized medical stations, partly staffed by displaced Christian physicians, to care for the sick.

Similarly, the Barnabas Fund, working with partner organizations, is supplying food, blankets, warm clothes and other necessities of life to the IDPs in Kurdistan. And the NGO has purchased a portable army camp, once used by British forces in Afghanistan, and it will shelter up to 800 displaced Christians.

Disappearing Christians

Iraq is home to the ancient Assyrian ethnic group that dates back thousands of years. And the vast majority of Iraqi Christians are of Assyrian ethnicity.

“The Assyrian Christians are members of various denominations such as the Assyrian Church of the East, Chaldean (Roman Catholic), Syriac (Catholic and Orthodox), Presbyterian, and Evangelical,” Assyrian-American activist and author Rosie Malek-Yonan explained, via email. “It is important to note that some Assyrians choose to identify themselves solely by their ethnic name and others by their Christian denomination.”

For instance, many ethnic Assyrians prefer to identify themselves by their religious denomination, Chaldean Catholic. According to CNEWA, approximately 66% of Assyrian Christians belong to the Chaldean Catholic Church.

“Since the onset of the 2003 Iraq War, the Assyrian identity, coupled with an indestructible Christian faith, made them targets of hatred and destruction,” Malek-Yonan said.

According to Hétu, there were approximately one million Christians in Iraq in 2003. Since that time, Christian communities have been targeted by various Islamic extremists and criminal gangs. Many Christians have been killed, and many more have fled to neighbouring Lebanon, Jordan and Syria. “We calculated that there are about 200,000 Christians left in Iraq,” he said.

Were it not for the generosity and tolerance of the Kurds, the majority of whom are Muslims, Iraq’s ancient communities might not have survived the recent rise of the genocidal Islamic State.

“The Kurdish government respects other religions, and the Christians are not being discriminated against,” Huckstep said. “Very different from what happens down in Mosul where ISIS is reigning.”

Despite facing great financial difficulties, Iraqi Kurdistan is doing what it can to assist Christian IDPs. For example, “they donated land for the Christian refugees to live on,” Huckstep said.

Danger at Christmas

Even in relatively secure Baghdad, Christians are feeling uneasy. “They already have a plan of escape” in the event that the Islamic State overruns the city, Hétu said.

Despite being afraid, Hétu believes that Iraqi Christians will celebrate Christmas. And others share that opinion.

“Despite the ongoing attacks, the Assyrians of Iraq have openly celebrated Christmas and attended mass and I believe they will continue to do so because their Christian faith is stronger than the fear Islamic groups attempt to instil in them,” Malek-Yonan declared. “This tenacity and defiance is the reason Assyrians have survived for thousands of years without a country.”

Similarly, Huckstep said that all the Christian denominations will celebrate Christmas in northern Iraq, “but with very little resources. I don’t think there will be feasting, or any presents.”

Writer and lecturer K.A. Ellis isn’t surprised that Iraq’s persecuted Christian communities will be celebrating Christmas. She believes that persecuted Iraqis identify with the trials and tribulations of Jesus Christ, while embracing the Christian theme of redemption, which offers hope in a time of despair. Ellis is currently enrolled in the DPhil program at Oxford Graduate School, where she is adjunct faculty, teaching professional ethics.

“It is difficult for those who have not suffered this way to understand, even more confounding for those who cause the suffering as it is a contrary reaction than the one they desire or expect,” Ellis said, via email, of the Christians’ resilience.

“Historically, the Christian church has been assumed to grow under persecution,” she said. “However, too much persecution, as is the case in Iraq, can lead to entire populations being erased from a region.”

Despite having lost loved ones, their homes and livelihoods, Hétu believes that Iraq’s battered Christians still hold out hope for a better future. “The hope is because they know that they are not alone,” he said. “They know that a lot of aid is coming their way.”

Assyrian International News Agency

Several Top ISIS Leaders Have Been Killed in Iraq, U.S. Says

By , December 18, 2014 12:30 pm

Several Top ISIS Leaders Have Been Killed in Iraq, U.S. Says

By Julian E. Barnes

WASHINGTON — U.S. airstrikes have killed several very senior military leaders of Islamic State forces in Iraq, the Pentagon’s top uniformed officer disclosed Thursday.

Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal that three key Islamic State military leaders in Iraq were killed there in recent weeks during operations that are part of an expanding coalition effort ahead of a planned offensive next year.

The strikes in which the Islamic State leaders were killed were designed to hamper the group’s ability to conduct its own attacks, supply its fighters and finance its operations, Gen. Dempsey said.

“It is disruptive to their planning and command and control,” Gen. Dempsey said. “These are high-value targets, senior leadership.”

Islamic State is also known as ISIS or ISIL and by its in Arabic label, Daesh.

Between Dec. 3 and Dec. 9, American military airstrikes killed Abd al Basit, the head of Islamic State’s military operations in Iraq, and Haji Mutazz, a key deputy to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the group, officials said.

In late November, another strike killed a midlevel commander, Radwin Talib, Islamic State’s wali, or governor, in Mosul, Iraq, officials said.

Other defense officials said that in addition to the most recent strikes, the U.S. has killed a number of senior and midlevel Islamic State commanders, and believe those operations are beginning to significantly weaken the group’s leadership structure in Iraq.

Ahmed Ali, an analyst at the Institute of the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank that closely monitors the developments, said the recent strikes were significant.

“These are big hits and eliminating these figures always temporarily disrupts the organization,” Mr. Ali said.

Mr. Ali described Mr. Mutazz, also known as Abu Muslim al-Turkmani, as one of Mr. Baghdadi’s “closest and most senior aides.”

Mr. Basit, also known as Abd al-Basit Inad Allah Mulla Gaidh, was considered the group’s top military expert, Mr. Ali said.

He said Mr. Talib was also sometimes identified as Radwin Talib Hamdun.

Despite those losses, Mr. Ali said the Islamic State organization has shown an ability to replace fallen commanders and said that killing senior leaders “will not end the organization.”

“Hitting Baghdadi will represent a make-or-break moment for ISIS,” Mr. Ali said. “But for now, ISIS leadership bench and command structure are deep.”

Defense officials said they understand Islamic State will quickly move to replace the leaders, but believe nevertheless that killing top military commanders is a critical part of weakening Islamic State ahead of a planned Iraqi counteroffensive next year.

In the interview, Gen. Dempsey shed light on the U.S. view of Islamic State, which has seized large tracts of land across Iraq and Syria. U.S. and Iraqi forces are fighting Islamic State not as a nation-state, but as a network of militants, much as the U.S. faced during its last war in Iraq, he said.

“It is in the context of how to fight a network,” Gen. Dempsey said. “It is not a country. They have claimed it, but they are not. They are a network, so they have finances, they have logistics and they have leaders.”

The operations against top leaders come as the U.S. is increasing strikes around Sinjar, Iraq, in support of Kurdish forces, and is working to open a corridor between Dahuk, in Kurdish-controlled Iraq, and Mosul, the largest city controlled by Islamic State forces.

U.S. officials wouldn’t say precisely when the Iraqis intend to begin operations being planned for retaking Mosul. But the strikes by the U.S. are intended to help Iraqi forces isolate the city, cut off Islamic State’s supply lines and establish supply lines for Iraqi and Kurdish forces.

“All these operations are with an intent to isolate Mosul,” said a senior military official. “We are trying to set the conditions for the eventual operation in Mosul.”

At a news conference at the Pentagon on Thursday, Lt. Gen. James Terry, the commander of the U.S. mission in Iraq and Syria, said that while significant progress has been made in halting Islamic State’s offensive, it still will take a minimum of three years for Iraqi security forces to fully establish their capabilities.

Gen. Terry said the U.S. had conducted 1,361 airstrikes as of Thursday, many in support of Iraqi operations

“Combined efforts like these are having a significant effect on Daesh’s ability to command and control, to resupply and to conduct maneuvering,” he said. “We will continue to be persistent in this regard and we will strike Daesh at every possible opportunity.”

Assyrian International News Agency

The Militias Defending Iraq From Islamic State

By , December 17, 2014 2:18 am

Down a dusty backstreet in the Baghdad neighbourhood of Karada this month, I met Sheikh Raad Al Kafaji, a former Iraqi army officer specialising in artillery, and a veteran fighter from the days of the Iran-Iraq war.

He is head of the al Kafaji tribe and a commander in the Kata’ib Hezbollah militia, one of the Shia militias at the forefront of the fight against Isis in Iraq.

After the fall of Mosul in July, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani issued a religious edict (fatwa) calling on Iraqi “citizens to defend the country, its people, the honour of its citizens, and its sacred places”.

That is, to come defend their religion in a holy war against Isis, also known as Islamic State.

Sheikh Raad says in the initial days after Sistani’s fatwa, men as old as 60 came to his small offices begging to fight to hold back Isis and Sunni-led insurgents.

According to Iraqi deputy national security adviser, Safa Hussein al-Sheikh, the Kata’ib Hezbollah militia, founded in the months leading up to the 2003 US invasion, is known for being smaller and more organised than the other Shia militias — and is considered highly secretive and adept, even by Iraqi intelligence standards.

“In the past, they had focused more on American targets — sophisticated, lethal, organised attacks that were not penetrated by the American or Iraqi intelligence,” says al-Sheikh.

When I visit, the 58-year-old Sheikh Raad sits wearily in his office wearing battle fatigues and several jewelled garnet and turquoise rings.

With him is his young fourth wife, who surprisingly has her dark hair uncovered, and is heavily made up, dressed in tight trousers and high heels.

She wants to film his conversation on her mobile phone.

The sheikh sees no irony in the fact that his current financial backer, Iran, was his former mortal enemy.

“Saddam imposed that war [the Iran-Iraq war] on the Shia people in Iraq and Iran,” he says. “It was Saddam’s fault. Not the fault of Iran.”

He says Kata’ib Hezbollah has about 4,000 fighters (Iraqi intelligence puts the figure closer to 1,000) that are “experienced from fighting in Amerli, Samara, but also have past experience fighting with Hezbollah in Syria”.

He himself goes back and forth to Syria, largely to protect Shia shrines near Damascus.

Much of it is done around the town of Sayyidah Zaynab — “Lady Zaynab” — a southern Damascus suburb that has a Shia shrine of the same name.

Some of his men, he says, were paid up to €560 a day by Iran to fight in Syria, but in Iraq they are getting far less, although he says Iran is arming his men with weapons — AK-47s; 12.7mm heavy machine-gun; and PKCs, a lighter, 7.62mm, machine-gun used in many of the former-Soviet Bloc and Middle Eastern countries.

“Here, we are fighting for justice — for our faith — not for money. And don’t forget there is a big difference between Hezbollah in Iran and Hezbollah in Iraq. Philosophically, we have the same enemy — Daish [Isis] and Israel — but we are fighting here for justice.”

To understand the presence of Shia militias in Iraq today, and the increasing sway of Iran, you have to go back to the legacy of the mass graves.

Shortly after Saddam Hussein, a Sunni who had systematically Shi’itesrepressed the majority Shi’ites for decades by cracking down on their political parties and crushing Shia movements, fell from power in April, 2003, human rights workers and US investigators began exhuming graves where thousands of Shi’ites and ethnic Kurds had suddenly disappeared.

It is unclear how many Shias died during the Saddam years, but the figures range from 400,000-700,000 people.

One grave near Baghdad alone held nearly 15,000 bodies.

It is believed that up to 60,000 Shias disappeared from Baghdad during those years of terror, and ended up in pits.

Years later, when Saddam was finally gone, relatives would stand at the open graves, desperately trying to find something that could link them to their lost.

The day after Saddam fell, with the city of Bagdad in chaos, it was finally possible to put together pieces of the puzzle.

In al-Haakimiya, a notorious Mukhabarat (secret police) prison used during his reign, I and an Iraqi colleague found evidence of brutal torture: Restraints; blindfolds; torture instruments with hardened blood still on them; cells the size of bathtubs where desperate men had scrawled messages to the families they would never see again.

In post-war Iraq, the political tables flipped.

After the US invasion, it was the Shias in power, the Sunnis who were being hunted.

When Haider al Abadi, a moderate Shia, was designated prime minister last August, it was with the promise that his government would be more inclusive, and break the cycle of revenge and vengeance between Iraqi Shias and Sunnis.

But it is still hard to find any Shia family that has not, in some way, been touched by Saddam’s brutality and that does not still bear, in some way, a grudge or at least a quest for justice.

Last January, Nouri al Maliki, the former prime minister, and a Shia dissident under Saddam who held strong nationalistic ideals, launched a bombing campaign in Anbar Province, which is largely Sunni, apparently with the intention of driving out jihadists, aka, Isis.

But human rights groups were concerned that the bombs were not just landing on the insurgents — but on civilian targets and neighbourhoods, in particular hospitals and residential areas.

They saw the Anbar campaign as another widening of the endless sectarian conflict.

As the bombing went on, it also became apparent that the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) were simply not up to handling the job of pushing back Isis. This opened the door to the Shia militias.

“What happened then is that some smaller Shia groups proposed they would join the fight,” says al-Sheikh, the deputy national security adviser, at his office in Baghdad.

“That was their first operation. There were initially probably only a couple of hundred Shia militiamen fighting then, until the fall of Mosul. Then it went in a different direction.”

When Mosul fell on June 10, a wave of terror rippled through Baghdad’s population.

Rumours and truths flew through the crowded markets and streets: Isis fighters were a mere 20km from the city; Isis were killing Shia and raping Shia women; Isis had come to destroy all Shia Muslims.

Then came what the Baghdad morgue director called a “spike” in the number of Sunni disappearances and murders in the capital: clear reprisals for the Isis killings.

One June morning, he showed me and other reporters photographs of the work of the Shia militias: Sunni men tortured, beaten, murdered, their bodies thrown into fields, bloated and purple.

“It’s starting again,” he said, referring to the bloodiest period of the civil war, in 2006.

He also meant that the Shia militias were back in control, filling in the military vacuum the ISF had left. Now the Shias were back — but this time as protectors of the people, with the government heavily relying on them.

“They call themselves jihadists, not militias,” says al-Sheikh.

“They learned their skills from fighting American occupiers before they left.” (The Shia militias are believed to be responsible for a large proportion of the US combat deaths during the occupation.)

It also brings another element to Iraq — the increasing reliance and influence of Iran, the Shia regional giant.

Ever since the Iranian revolution in 1979, governments inside and outside the Arab world have feared Shia fundamentalism.

Today in Baghdad, the men who rose up to fight against Isis in the wake of them overrunning Mosul are overwhelmingly Shia. And they clearly have a religious as well as a military agenda.

Their money comes largely from Tehran, as do their weapons and best trainers.

The memory of a bitter war fought between Iraq and Iran from 1980-1988 in which nearly 1m men died seems very far off in their memory.

Part of this resurgence of the Shia militias is the Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani’s potent call to arms in July, following Mosul’s defeat.

The rush of Shia men of all ages — some even in their 60s who had fought in the Iran-Iraq — willing to take on Isis was staggering.

Five months on, with the US-led campaign to “degrade and ultimately destroy” Isis under way, the Shia militias are the backbone of the Iraqi military operation.

As well as their US experience, their training also comes from the recent battlefields of Syria.

Many were sent to help protect the Shia shrines from the Syrian Sunni rebels.

Iraqis insist there is nothing to fear from Iran’s heady presence in Iraq.

They also say, in many ways, their allegiance lies with Iran.

“Who arrived here to save us three days after Mosul fell?” asks Dr Mowaffak al-Rubaie, a member of parliament and a former national security adviser (and best known as the man who led Saddam to the gallows and requested the guards loosen his handcuffs).

“Not the Americans. They only sent abysmal air strikes three months later when their citizens [the journalists James Foley, and later Steven Sotloff and Peter "Abdul-Rahman" Kassig] were beheaded. The speed of the Iranian response to Baghdad and Erbil was the next day.”

The Iranians sent 88 Russian-made Sukkhoi ground attack jets within weeks.

They also sent their best fighters to train and advise — members of the elite Republican Guard. They sent pilots, weapons, and uniforms.

They also sent their military mastermind, Qasem Soleimani, leader of the Quds Force, whom many military leaders regard as an excellent, and highly strategic commander.

As to why Iraq would trust Iran with their bitter legacy and so many dead, al-Rubaie shrugs: “We are faced with an existential threat — Isis. You use any means in this case. You use any means.”

The question is, what will happen to Iran when Isis is eventually destroyed? (which al-Rubaie reckons might be three to five years militarily, but seven to 10 years ideologically).

Will the Iranians be willing, after this kind of investment, to pack it all in and go home?

Probably not, says al-Rubaie, but he says it’s time the West softened its “allergic” stance on Iran.

Whatever their role in the future, for the moment, the militias are not going anywhere. They are crucial to ending the war against Isis.

One Western security adviser in Baghdad says that the Shias are “essential” to bolstering the flagging Iraqi Army.

“The truth is,” says Safa Hussein al-Sheikh, the deputy national security adviser, “They prove to be more effective fighters than the security forces in many situations. They have experience from fighting the Americans, and from recently fighting in Syria.

He pauses. “Fighting the Americans made them really experienced, really strong fighters.”

Assyrian International News Agency

Five Official Languages Endorsed for Kurdish Region in Iraq

By , December 15, 2014 9:48 pm

Five Official Languages Endorsed for Kurdish Region in Iraq

Posted 2014-12-16 04:26 GMT

BEIRUT — Iraqi Kurdistan President Massoud Barzani endorsed Monday new legislation that establishes five official languages for the largely autonomous region.

Tarek Jawhar, media adviser to the Kurdistan parliament, made the announcement in a news conference.

According to the official website of Irbil governorate, the first article of the law designates Kurdish and Arabic as Kurdistan’s official languages, while the second article allows three others — for the Turkmen, Assyrian and Armenian communities — to become official languages in administrative units where these communities form the majority of the population. Kurdistan’s Parliament ratified the law in late October.

Assyrian International News Agency

Iraq Police Crack Down on Kidnappings in East

By , December 14, 2014 11:00 pm

Iraq Police Crack Down on Kidnappings in East

Posted 2014-12-15 03:57 GMT

Baquba, Iraq (AFP) — Police operations in Iraq’s eastern region of Diyala have led to three hostages being freed and the dismantling of several extortion gangs, the local police chief said on Sunday.

Kidnapping for ransom in Baghdad and elsewhere in the country is a phenomenon that has grown to such an extent that the government has publicly declared tackling it would be one of its priorities.

“Kidnappings are a crime — we deal with them as we deal with terrorism,” Diyala province police chief Lieutenant General Jamil al-Shammari told reporters.

“We managed over the past 24 hours to free three people who had been kidnapped thanks to good tip-offs that led us to their captors,” he said.

Shammari said a series of operations had reduced the number of kidnappings in Diyala, an ethnically mixed province where the security forces, backed by Iran and Shiite militias, recently notched up significant victories against the Islamic State group.

While some abductions are a direct result of the sectarian tension that has grown since jihadists took over part of Iraq this year, others are the work of extortion gangs that have prospered in the confusion.

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi recently announced the creation of special crisis cell to tackle kidnappings, which Baghdad’s top security official said were a greater threat to the capital’s security than the jihadists.

Thousands of people fearful of kidnappings have been forced to leave their homes or because they lost everything they had in paying a ransom.

The militias that have helped government troops defend the country against IS fighters have been blamed for abductions and other abuses in areas they control.

However, many kidnappings are also carried out by criminals posing as members of the security forces or militias.

Assyrian International News Agency

Hundreds Of British Troops To Be Sent To Iraq

By , December 12, 2014 7:41 pm

Small groups of British soldiers have been in Iraq training Kurds.Hundreds of British soldiers are to be sent to Iraq to help the fight against Islamic State, Sky News understands.

The soldiers – expected to number a few hundred – will go to the region “within weeks” senior military sources have said.

The National Security Council is expected to rubber-stamp the mission when it meets on Tuesday.

Although small groups of British troops have conducted similar missions over the past few months, this will be much greater in size and on a more permanent basis.

A team of military advisors recently went to the country to scope out options.

It’s believed the mission will be largely split between the capital Baghdad and Irbil in the Kurdish controlled north.

It hasn’t been confirmed which regiments the troops will be drawn from.

The UK government has repeatedly insisted that any such training mission would not constitute ‘boots-on-the-ground’ although British Special Forces are operating in the region.

In October a dozen soldiers from The Yorkshire Regiment were dispatched to Irbil to train the Kurds to use heavy machine guns.

An advisory team has also been embedded in the Iraqi military HQ, working alongside the Americans.

A Ministry of Defence spokesman wouldn’t confirm the specifics of the latest mission but did say: “The Defence Secretary announced the intention to provide further training to the Iraqi military in early November.

“No decisions on troop numbers, units or locations have been made, so this is purely speculation at this stage.”

The British contribution will fit into a wider mission involving a number of nations.

Earlier this week, the most senior US Commander Lt Gen James Terry revealed that the coalition training mission would involve around 1,500 soldiers.

US special operations troops have already set up a training base at the Ain al-Asad air base in Anbar Province.

Germany recently pledged around 100 soldiers to help train the Peshmerga in northern Iraq. That mission, if approved, will begin early next year.

NATO has also said it would explore options if the Iraqi government came forward with an official request.

The Alliance said that any training mission wouldn’t necessarily be based in Iraq. Neighbouring Jordan has been used for similar projects.

Assyrian International News Agency

Military Airstrikes Continue Against ISIL in Syria, Iraq

By , December 9, 2014 11:53 am

U.S. and partner-nation military forces have continued to attack Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant terrorists over the last four days, Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve officials reported.

Fighter and bomber aircraft have conducted 15 airstrikes in Syria since Dec. 5, officials said. Separately, they added, U.S. and partner-nation military forces conducted 31 airstrikes over the same period in Iraq, using fighter, bomber, attack, and remotely piloted aircraft.

Strikes in Syria

In Syria, 14 airstrikes near Kobani destroyed four ISIL fighting positions, three ISIL-occupied buildings, two ISIL staging areas, two ISIL tanks, a motorcycle and a mortar, and struck eight tactical ISIL units and two ISIL fighting positions. Near Raqqah, an airstrike struck an electronic warfare garrison.

Strikes in Iraq

In Iraq, six airstrikes near Kirkuk destroyed two excavators, a bulldozer, an ISIL bunker and an ISIL ammunition dump and struck another excavator and an overpass servicing the ammunition dump. These airstrikes also suppressed an ISIL fighting position and struck a tactical ISIL unit near Kirkuk, officials said.

Near Biaj, four airstrikes destroyed four armored vehicles, an ISIL checkpoint and two ISIL storage containers. Near Sinjar, four airstrikes destroyed six ISIL-occupied buildings, seven ISIL storage containers, two ISIL fighting positions and an excavator and struck an ISIL bunker. Near Mosul, four airstrikes destroyed an excavator, an ISIL vehicle and an ISIL heavy weapon and struck two ISIL tactical units.

Also in Iraq, three airstrikes near Qaim destroyed two ISIL armored vehicles and struck an ISIL observation point. Near Tal Afar, three airstrikes destroyed seven ISIL armored vehicles, a bulldozer and an excavator. Near Ramadi, three airstrikes destroyed an ISIL-occupied building and a front-loader and struck two ISIL units.

Near Bayji, two airstrikes destroyed an ISIL-occupied building and struck two tactical ISIL units. Near Rawah, an airstrike destroyed an ISIL tank. Near Hit, an airstrike was conducted, but there was no damage.

All aircraft returned to base safely, officials said, noting that airstrike assessments are based on initial reports.

Part of Operation Inherent Resolve

The strikes were conducted as part of Operation Inherent Resolve, the operation to eliminate the ISIL terrorist group and the threat they pose to Iraq, the region and the wider international community.

The destruction of ISIL targets in Syria and Iraq further limits the terrorist group’s ability to project terror and conduct operations, officials said.

Coalition nations conducting airstrikes in Iraq include the United States, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Netherlands and the United Kingdom. Coalition nations conducting airstrikes in Syria include the United States, Bahrain, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Assyrian International News Agency

ISIS Behead Four Children in Iraq After They Refuse to Convert to Islam

By , December 8, 2014 1:05 pm

Barbaric Islamic State militants have beheaded four Christian children in Iraq for refusing to convert to Islam, according to a British vicar based in Baghdad.

Cannon Andrew White claims the beheadings took place in a Christian enclave close to Baghdad which has been recently overrun by Islamic State.

Cannon White, who has been ordered by the Archbishop of Canterbury to leave Iraq for his own safety, is one of only a handful of Christian leaders in the country.

He said: “Things were bad in Baghdad, there were bombs and shootings and our people were being killed, so many of our people fled back to Nineveh, their traditional home.

“It was safer, but then one day, ISIS — Islamic State. They came in and they hounded all of them out. They killed huge numbers, they chopped their children in half, they chopped their heads off, and they moved north and it was so terrible what happened.”

Islamic State forced Christians to convert to Islam on pain of death, he said. “They came to one of our people the other day, one of the Christians.

“They said to one man, an adult, ‘Either you say the words of conversion to Islam or we kill all your children’.

“He was desperate, he said the words. And then he phoned, me and said, ‘Abouna [Father], I said the words, does that mean that Yesua [Jesus] doesn’t love me any more?’ I said, ‘Yesua still loves you, he will always loves you.’”

He also told of the fate of a group of Christian young people.

Speaking to the Orthodox Christian Network, he said: “Islamic State turned up and said to the children, you say the words that you will follow Mohammed.

“The children, all under 15, four of them, said no, we love Yesua, we have always loved Yesua, we have always followed Yesua, Yesua has always been with us.

“They said, ‘Say the words.’ They said, ‘No, we can’t.’ They chopped all their heads off. How do you respond to that? You just cry.”

Assyrian International News Agency