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German, Dutch military suspend training operations in Iraq amid U.S.-Iran tensions
May 15, 2019 / Updated 22 minutes ago

BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany and the Netherlands said on Wednesday they were suspending military training operations in Iraq as the United States warned of increased threats from Iran-backed forces amid an escalation of tensions between Washington and Tehran.

A German defence ministry spokesman said Berlin had no indications of its own of any impending attacks on Western interests by Iran and said the training programmes could resume in the coming days.

A Dutch government source also announced a suspension of military training operations, citing an unspecified security threat.

Germany has 160 soldiers involved in training Iraqi forces trying to contain Islamic State militants. The Netherlands has 169 military and civilian personnel in Iraq, including about 50 in Erbil, where they are helping to train Kurdish troops.

Dutch news agency ANP said Dutch forces had been ordered to remain indoors since Sunday.

Earlier on Wednesday the U.S. State Department ordered the pullout of some employees from both its embassy in Baghdad and its consulate in Erbil.

The order came as tensions build up between the United States and Iran. Washington has applied new sanctions pressure on Tehran and sent additional forces to the Middle East, saying there is an increased threat from Iran to U.S. interests there.

Reporting by Tassilo Hummel and Sabine Siebold; Additional reporting by Anthony Deutsch and Toby Sterling in Amsterdam; Editing by Madeline Chambers and Gareth Jones


 

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Iraq to buy S-400 missile systems from Russia
May 16, 2019




Iraq intends to buy S-400 anti-air missile systems from Russia, announced Iraqi Ambassador to Russia Mansour Hadi on 15 May at a press conference, DW reports.

The decision was made during a session of the Russian-Iraqi Commission for Trade, Economic and Scientific Cooperation held in Baghdad on 23-25 April.

Hadi noted that, although the Iraqi government has stated its intention to purchase S-400s, no concrete agreements have yet been reached with Russia.

This step by the Iraqi government could lead to complications in Baghdad’s relations with Washington. When asked whether the US could force Iraq to back down from the deal, Hadi merely pointed out that “diplomatic channels exist for dealing with these problems with the Americans”.

The US has opposed Turkey’s decision to buy Russian aerial defense systems. The US and NATO have repeatedly warned Turkey that the S-400 cannot be integrated into the alliance’s anti-air and anti-missile defense system. At the start of April, Washington announced that it would stop providing Turkey with equipment for F-35 fighters until Turkey pulls out of the S-400 deal.

In November 2018, CNBC reported with reference to sources in US intelligence that several countries had expressed interested in buying S-400s: Algeria, Vietnam, Egypt, Iraq, Qatar, Marocco and Saudi Arabia. In February, US State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert said that a response from the US could be expected if Iraq or other countries decided to buy Russian weaponry.



 

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UN Calls for Preventing ISIS from Regaining Foothold in Iraq
Friday, 24 May, 2019


Iraqi Federal Police celebrate in the Old City of Mosul. REUTERS/Ahmed Saad

Baghdad - Hamza Mustafa

The UN chief’s Special Representative for Iraq has stressed the importance of adopting a long-term approach to prevent ISIS terrorist group from regaining a “foothold” in Iraq.

Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, who heads the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI), told the UN Security Council that if the issue of returning ISIS militants from Syria to Iraq, along with their families, is not resolved, then “we risk creating a new breeding ground for the next generation of terrorists.”

“All this, is not just an Iraqi problem. We know that certain states prefer to maintain a “strategic distance” with regard to their own nationals,” she said.

“On an entirely separate and encouraging note: Baghdad is opening up. Very soon the Green Zone will no longer exist,” Hennis-Plasschaert said.

However, she warned that the security situation will continue to require close monitoring. “Not only in Baghdad, but throughout the country.”

Hennis-Plasschaert told Council members that a Coalition representative has recently said that ISIS is re-surging. “They rested, moved and are active.”

“Another dominant security concern is the issue of armed actors operating outside state control, engaged in illegal or criminal activities and exerting economic and social influence throughout the country. Clearly, the activities of these actors undermine state authority, they affect vulnerable communities, they weaken the national economy and sadly, they also prevent the peaceful return of displaced persons,” she said.

Baghdad declared final victory over ISIS end of 2017 after Iraqi forces drove the group’s last remnants from the country, three years after the extremist organization captured about a third of Iraq’s territory. Yet ISIS militants continued to carry out a scatter-gun campaign of kidnap and killing across the country.

Security expert Fadel Abou Raghif denied that ISIS is making a comeback.

“ISIS is already here through cells … It is also present among the displaced,” he told Asharq Al-Awsat.

“Most of the sleeper cells are not wanted by the authorities. That’s why they are not put under surveillance,” he said.

 

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Car Bomb in Northwestern Iraq Leaves 13 Casualties
Sunday, 26 May, 2019


Photo of the blast published by local media

Asharq Al-Awsat

Iraq's military said Sunday that a car bomb has killed five people and wounded eight in a northwestern village near the Syrian border.

A military statement said the car was parked near a market in the village of Oweinat in Nineveh province.

The area was once held by ISIS that controlled large parts of Iraq and Syria.

Despite its defeat in Iraq in 2017, ISIS sleeper cells have been blamed for attacks across the country that have killed and wounded scores of people over the past two years.

 

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Iraqi Court Sentences 3 French ISIS Members to Death
Monday, 27 May, 2019


Iraqi Special Operations Forces arrest a person suspected of belonging to Islamic State militants in western Mosul, Iraq February 26, 2017. Reuters

Baghdad - Asharq Al-Awsat

An Iraqi court on Sunday sentenced three French citizens to death for joining ISIS, several news agencies reported.

Captured in Syria by a US-backed force fighting the militants, Kevin Gonot, Leonard Lopez and Salim Machou were transferred to Iraq for trial.

They have 30 days to appeal, an Iraqi official said.

Iraqi legal expert Ahmed al-Abadi told Asharq Al-Awsat that those accused of ISIS membership from any nationality could be taken to trial in Iraq because their charges include threats to Iraq’s national security.

Meanwhile, the Iraqi interior ministry said it has found militant hideouts in Diyala province.

A ministry spokesman said that police intelligence received a tip off and raided two hideouts where they found arms and ammunition.

Iraq has recently expressed willingness to put on trial foreigners caught in Iraq or Syria.


 

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May 27, 2019
France opposed in principle to execution in Iraq of three French Islamic State members

PARIS (Reuters) - The French foreign ministry said on Monday it was opposed in principle to the death penalty, but also said it accepted Iraqi sovereignty as Iraq’s justice ministry sentenced three French citizens to death for their membership of Islamic State.

“The French embassy in Iraq, in its role as provider of consular protection, is taking the necessary steps to convey its position (against the death penalty) to the Iraq authorities,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.

The ministry added that it respected the sovereignty of the Iraq authorities and that Islamic State members “had to answer for their crimes”, which carry the death penalty in Iraq.

Reporting by Sudip Kar-Gupta; Editing by Luke Baker

 

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Saudi Arabia Condemns Terrorist Attack in Mosul
Monday, 27 May, 2019


Security forces in Iraq. (Reuters)

Asharq Al-Awsat

Saudi Arabia condemned on Monday the terrorist bombing that targeted a market in the Iraqi city of Mosul, reported the Saudi Press Agency.

An official source at the Foreign Ministry offered the Kingdom’s condolences to the victims and Iraqi government and people.

He reiterated Saudi Arabia’s solidarity with Iraq against all forms of violence, terrorism and extremism.

Five people were killed and eight wounded in the bombing in Mosul on Sunday.


 

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Baghdad Court Condemns Fourth French ISIS Member to Death
Monday, 27 May, 2019


in this May 23, 2018 file photo, suspected ISIS militants wait their turn for sentencing at the counterterrorism court in Baghdad, Iraq. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo, File)

Baghdad- Asharq Al-Awsat

A Baghdad court on Monday sentenced another former French fighter with the ISIS group to death - the fourth Frenchman to get the capital punishment so far in Iraq - and postponed the verdict for a fifth man after he testified to being tortured in detention.

France, meanwhile, said the Iraqi court has jurisdiction to rule in the cases, though a spokeswoman reiterated the French government's opposition to the death penalty.

The trials come as questions swirl about the legal treatment of thousands of foreign nationals formerly with the extremist group.

The Frenchmen on trial are among 12 French ISIS fighters whom the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces handed over to Iraq in January. The Kurdish-led group spearheaded the fight against ISIS in Syria and has handed over to Iraq hundreds of suspected ISIS members in recent months.

ISIS "terrorists must answer for their crimes in court," said France's foreign affair's ministry spokeswoman, Agnès von der Mühll.

As Monday's proceedings opened, the first to appear was Mustafa Mohammed Ibrahim, 37, from the Mediterranean city of Nice. Ibrahim, of Tunisian origin, with short hair and a light beard, walked in the courtroom wearing a yellow prison uniform with "Reforms Department" printed on the back in Arabic.

"I ask for forgiveness from the people of Iraq and Syria and the victims," Ibrahim said before Judge Ahmed Mohammed ordered he remove his top in order to see if there were any signs of torture on his body. None were visible.

"No matter what the sentence will be against me I want to go back to my country," said Ibrahim. He added that he used to work as a driver back in France before joining ISIS.

The judge sentenced Ibrahim to death.

The second man brought into the courtroom was identified as Fadil Hamad Abdallah, 33, of Moroccan origin. Abdallah said he was subjected to torture while in detention and the judge referred to him to a medical committee for investigation and postponed his next session until Sunday. The judge also postponed the sentencing of three other Frenchmen until next Monday.

The first three French ISIS fighters were sentenced to death on Sunday. Those convicted can appeal their sentences within a month.

Iraqi prosecutors say the 12 French nationals were parties or accomplices to ISIS crimes, and threatened the national security of Iraq. Simply belonging to the extremist group is punishable by life in prison or execution under Iraq's counter-terrorism laws.

In Paris, von der Mühll said France's position is that adults detained in Iraq must be tried by the Iraqi justice system, as soon as it declares itself competent.

"France respects the sovereignty of Iraqi authorities" she added, though she expressed her country's opposition to the death penalty, "in principle, at all times and in all places."


 

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France seeks to save Daesh members from execution in Iraq
Updated 14 sec ago
AP
May 28, 2019
  • France has made no effort to bring back captured French Daesh fighters
  • Controversy surrounds the legal treatment of thousands of foreign fighters who joined Daesh
PARIS: France’s foreign minister says his government is working to spare four French former members of Daesh from execution after Iraq sentenced them to death.

However, France has made no effort to bring back captured French Daesh fighters, including the four sentenced this week.

Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian reiterated France’s position on Tuesday, saying the four terrorists should be tried where they committed their crimes.

But he said on France-Inter radio that “we are multiplying efforts to avoid the death penalty for these four French people.”

He didn’t elaborate, but said he spoke to Iraq’s president about the case. France is outspoken against the death penalty globally.

There’s been controversy about the legal treatment of thousands of foreign fighters who joined Daesh in Syria and Iraq.

 

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France Ups Efforts to Avoid Execution of French ISIS Convicts in Iraq
Tuesday, 28 May, 2019


French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian. (AFP)

Asharq Al-Awsat

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian announced Tuesday that Paris was intensifying its efforts to stop the execution of four French citizens in Iraq after they were convicted and sentenced to death for fighting for the ISIS terrorist group.

"We are increasing the steps to avoid the death penalty for these four French citizens," he told France Inter radio.

"We are opposed to the death penalty," he added.

An Iraqi court on Sunday sentenced three French nationals to death for joining the terror group, the first ISIS members from France to be sentenced to capital punishment.

On Monday, a fourth French citizen was also condemned to death in Baghdad.

The four have 30 days to appeal.

Two more French members of ISIS were sentenced to death by Iraq on Tuesday.

The men were identified as Karam El-Harchaoui and Brahim Nejara. They are among a group of 12 French citizens who were detained by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces in neighboring Syria and handed over to Iraq in January.

In recent months, Iraq has taken custody of thousands of extremists, including foreigners, captured by the SDF.

France has long insisted that its adult citizens captured in Iraq or Syria must face trial locally, refusing to repatriate them despite the risk they face capital punishment for waging their extremist war in the region.

Le Drian reaffirmed France's refusal to accept any repatriations of its nationals affiliated with ISIS.

"These terrorists -- because they are terrorists -- who attacked us, who also caused death in Iraq, must be judged where they committed their crimes," he said.

The Iraqi judiciary said earlier in May that it has tried and sentenced more than 500 suspected foreign members of ISIS since the start of 2018.

Its courts have condemned many to life in prison and others to death, although no foreign ISIS members have yet been executed.

 

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Mortar attack on Iraqi base home to US troops, no casualties
AP
June 15, 2019
View attachment 8086
  • The military statement says the attack on Balad air base occurred early Saturday
  • The attack comes amid rising tension in the Middle East between the US and Iran

BAGHDAD: The Iraqi military says three mortar shells have hit an air base just north of Baghdad where American trainers are present, causing a small fire but no casualties.

The military statement says the attack on Balad air base occurred early Saturday.

The attack comes amid rising tension in the Middle East between the United States and Iran, which ratcheted up on Thursday after suspected attacks on two oil tankers near the Strait of Hormuz. Iran has denied involvement.

Last month, a rocket exploded less than a mile away from the US Embassy in Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone.

The current crisis is rooted in the US withdrawal last year from the 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers. Washington subsequently re-imposed sanctions
on Iran, sending its economy into freefall.

 

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Rocket hits site of foreign oil firms in Iraq’s Basra
Reuters
June 19, 2019

View attachment 8218

  • The rocket hit Burjeisa residential and operations headquarters west of Basra
  • Police said the rocket was a short-range Katyusha missile

BASRA, Iraq: A rocket struck the site of the residential and operations headquarters of several global major oil companies, including US giant ExxonMobil, near Iraq’s southern city of Basra early on Wednesday, wounding three people, Iraq’s military said.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility. It came after two separate attacks in as many days on bases housing US military personnel in Iraq, as tension rose between the United States and Iran.

The rocket hit the Burjesia site west of the city, according to police and a statement released by the military. Police earlier said two Iraqi workers were wounded.

The United States evacuated hundreds of diplomatic staff from its Baghdad embassy last month, citing unspecified threats from Iran against US interests in neighboring Iraq, where Tehran supports some Shiite militias.

Wednesday’s incident came just as Exxon staff who were also evacuated after the diplomats’ departure had begun to return to Basra.

A security source said Exxon was evacuating 21 foreign staff immediately by plane to Dubai.

Oil officials said operations including exports from southern Iraq were not affected by the incident.

Other companies operating at the site include Royal Dutch Shell PLC and Italy’s Eni SpA, the oil officials said.

The rocket was a short-range Katyusha missile, the military said. Police said it landed 100 meters from the part of the site used as a residence and operations center by Exxon.

Burjesia is near the Zubair oilfield operated by Eni.

Washington has ramped up sanctions pressure on Iran in recent months and says it has sent additional forces to the region over tension with the Islamic Republic.

It blames Tehran for attacks on tankers in the Gulf of Oman last week. Tehran denies it was involved.

Both sides say they do not want war, but analysts warn such incidents could escalate violence in the region.



 

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Rocket attack on Iraqi oil facility injures 3
By Clyde Hughes
JUNE 19, 2019

View attachment 8286
ExxonMobil facilities in Basra were attacked by a short-range rocket Wednesday morning, Iraqi officials said. Photo by Katherine Welles/Shutterstock.


June 19 (UPI) -- A rocket attack on oil facilities in Basra, Iraq, early Wednesday injured three workers, marking a continued escalation of incidents connected with the Middle East oil industry as tensions between the United States and Iran remain high.

The short-range missile attack focused on a complex used by several major oil companies, including U.S.-based ExxonMobil. Last Thursday, oil tankers were attacked in the Gulf of Oman in an attempt to disable the ships. The U.S. blamed that incident on Iran and responded Monday by sending 1,000 additional troops to the region.

Last month, the U.S. State Department ordered all non-emergency personnel from its embassy in Iraq as a result of rising tensions in the region.

ExxonMobil likewise had moved its foreign staff out of Basra's West Qurna 1 oilfield in May. One official told Kurdish media outlet Rudaw that Wednesday's missile attack targeted ExxonMobil administrative offices.

Mosul Mayor Zuhair Araji said the Nineveh Operations Command on the eastern bank of the city came under attack by short-range rockets hours before the Kurdish oilfield attack.

"A Katyusha rocket at that was fired at 10:35 p.m.on the west bank of Mosul nearby Tal Afar terminal landed just outside the Nineveh Operations Command compound," he said.

So far, no one has claimed responsibility for the attack


 

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Protesters storm Bahraini embassy compound in Baghdad
View attachment 8608
Updated 4 sec ago
June 27, 2019

BAGHDAD: Protesters stormed the Bahraini embassy compound in Baghdad Thursday in protest against a conference held there, a security official said.

The official said the protesters stayed in the garden and did not storm the offices inside the compound.

He said security forces opened fire in the air to disperse the protesters and reinforcements are on the way to Baghdad's western neighborhood of Mansour.

The two-day workshop in Bahrain that ended Wendesday was to promote the Trump administration's $50 billion economic support plan for the Palestinians ahead of a Middle East peace plan to be announced later.

Iraq is home to Iran-backed armed groups and the embassy attack comes amid tensions between the United States and Iran

 

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U.S. says Saudi pipeline attacks originated in Iraq: Wall Street Journal
June 28, 2019

View attachment 8633

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Drone attacks on Saudi Arabia’s oil industry in May originated in Iraq, not Yemen, U.S. officials have concluded, drawing questions from Iraqi officials who have asked Washington for more information supporting the claim, the Wall Street Journal reported on Friday.

U.S. officials familiar with the intelligence on the May drone attacks say they originated in southern Iraq, the Journal reported, saying that most likely pointed a finger at Iran-backed militias in that region.

Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthis, who have been battling a Saudi-led military coalition for four years, said they carried out the drone strikes against the East-West pipeline.

The drone attack happened two days after four vessels, including two Saudi oil tankers, were damaged by sabotage off the coast of the United Arab Emirates.

The attacks took place against a backdrop of U.S.-Iranian tension following Washington’s move last month to try to cut Tehran’s oil exports to zero and beef up its military presence in the Gulf in response to what it called Iranian threats.

The State Department declined to comment on the report.

At a weekly news conference on Tuesday, Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi denied the attacks could have come from Iraqi territory.

“All of our intelligence services and our air force denied these reports because the air space is known,” Mahdi said. “As far as we are concerned, we have no proof and we have no evidence in this matter.”

He said none of the Iraqi intelligence or military services that monitor its air space detected any launch. “There was no movement on that day on this subject,” he said.

Reporting by Doina Chiacu and David Brunnstrom in Washington, Ahmed Rasheed in Baghdad; editing by Tim Ahmann and Jonathan Oatis

 

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