In exclusive interviews, photos and research, The Associated Press has documented and mapped 72 of the mass graves, the most comprehensive survey so far, with many more expected to be uncovered as the Islamic State group’s territory shrinks. In Syria, AP has obtained locations for 17 mass graves, including one with the bodies of hundreds of members of a single tribe all but exterminated when IS extremists took over their region. For at least 16 of the Iraqi graves, most in territory too dangerous to excavate, officials do not even guess the number of dead. In others, the estimates are based on memories of traumatized survivors, Islamic State propaganda and what can be gleaned from a cursory look at the earth.
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Iraq is on track to meet its objective of retaking the city of Mosul from Islamic State later this year, should Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi choose to go forward as planned, the head of the U.S. military's Central Command said on Tuesday.
"It's the prime minister's objective to have that done by the end of the year," General Joseph Votel, who oversees U.S. forces in the Middle East, told a news conference. "My assessment is that we can meet the ... prime minister's objectives, if that's what he chooses to do."
Iraqi government-backed militias have recruited children from at least one displaced persons camp in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq to fight against Islamic State forces. All security forces and armed groups should abide by international law and demobilize any fighters under age 18.
Witnesses and relatives told Human Rights Watch that two tribal militias (Hashad al-Asha`ri) recruited as fighters at least seven children from the Debaga camp on August 14, 2016, and drove them to a town closer to Mosul, where Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) are preparing for an offensive to drive the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, from the city. The Hashad al-Asha`ri, made up of local Sunni fighters, are expected to play a key role in Mosul military operations, while the government may order the mainly Shia militias of the Popular Mobilization Forces to stay out of the Mosul fighting.
“The recruitment of children as fighters for the Mosul operation should be a warning sign for the Iraqi government,” said Bill Van Esveld, senior children’s rights researcher. “The government and its foreign allies need to take action now, or children are going to be fighting on both sides in Mosul.”
Iraqi state oil firm SOMO has blacklisted three tankers involved in shipping crude from Kurdistan, stepping up pressure on the semi-autonomous region amid tense talks on sharing oil revenue.
Kurdistan has been exporting crude independently via Turkey since mid-2015 after saying Baghdad had failed to respect an oil revenue-sharing deal and transfer enough money to Erbil.
Baghdad, which exports most of its oil from the Gulf, has said Erbil was not exporting enough crude under the deal.
Kurdish peshmerga forces in Northern Iraq raise their rifles during another day of training; Italian soldiers carefully instruct them on how to accurately hit their target, which is a dummy board 25 meters away.
For many peshmerga, it is the first time they have fired an M16 assault rifle. They are learning new methods of fighting and experimenting with new firearms.
They are exchanging Russian weapons for American ones.
The skies above this small northern Iraqi town are black with smoke and ash rains down from around a half dozen oil wells that Islamic State group fighters set ablaze as Iraqi troops moved in to retake Qayara last week.
Unlike previous ground assaults against IS in Iraq that left entire cities and villages emptied of civilians, thousands of civilians remained in Qayara as militants inside quickly folded up and fled, a sign of their weakening morale and damaged supply lines, commanders say. That means residents did not join the ranks of hundreds of thousands of people displaced by recent fighting with IS and now languishing in camps around the country.
But the situation for the some 9,000 civilians still in Qaraya is precarious. The battle left the town without electricity and little running water, and the large international aid groups who normally help the displaced say they cannot deliver aid to people so close to frontline fighting.
Iraq's State Oil Marketing Organisation (SOMO) plans to hold talks with the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG), possibly next week, about Iraqi oil exported through Turkey, Deputy Oil Minister Fayadh al-Nema said in an interview on Friday evening.
"If the negotiations come to a close" without an agreement "we will start to find a way in order to sell our oil because we need money, either to Iran or other countries", he said by telephone.
Attackers armed with suicide vests, rifles and grenades killed 18 people in the Iraqi oasis town of Ain al-Tamer, many of them guests at a wedding party, officials said Monday.
The attack, a rare occurrence in this region southwest of Baghdad, was claimed by the Islamic State (IS) jihadist group.
"They were carrying Kalashnikovs, hand grenades. One of them blew himself up and the others were killed by the security forces," said the head of central Euphrates operations command, Qais Khalaf.
More than 70 tents were destroyed by fire on Monday in the refugee camp of Yahayawa, near the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk, but no one was injured, the United Nations' refugee agency UNHCR said.
The ministry of displacement and migration "has requested us to provide tents and core relief items CRIs to affected families", UNHCR spokeswoman in Baghdad, Caroline Gluck, said.
"We will respond with tents and CRIs without delay; the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian affairs is coordinating with other clusters to provide any other assistance needed," she said in an email.
Iraq's Foreign Ministry said the government on Sunday formally requested that the Saudi ambassador in Baghdad be replaced after he claimed that Iranian-backed Shiite militias are plotting to assassinate him.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Ahmed Jamal told The Associated Press that the government sent a formal request to Saudi Arabia to replace the kingdom's ambassador in Baghdad, Thamer al-Sabhan. Jamal said al-Sabhan's reported comments are untrue and harm relations between the two countries. He said the allegations are considered interference in Iraq's internal affairs and that al-Sabhan has not provided the ministry with any proof or evidence of these claims.