A car bomb explosion at a bus terminal south of Baghdad has killed at least five people and injured seven others, police sources told Al Jazeera. The attack took place on Sunday morning in the town of Yusufiyah, 20km south of the capital, police officials said. All officials spoke on condition of anonymity, because they were not authorised to speak to journalists. No one immediately claimed responsibility for the blast. Iraq is facing its worst crisis since the 2011 withdrawal of US troops as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group is in control of about a third of the country.
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Congress plans to re-evaluate Iraq's request for several big-ticket items -- including Abrams tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles -- after withholding approval for several months because lawmakers worried that former Iraqi leader Nouri al-Maliki could use the weapons against his political opponents or that the arms could fall into the hands of the self-proclaimed Islamic State, which captured equipment this summer after defeating Iraqi forces. With the new Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi -- a Shiite -- promising to run a more inclusive government offering roles for minority Sunnis and Kurds, the time is now right to reexamine Iraq's needs, a congressional aide told Foreign Policy.
The weapons' list includes as many as 175 M1A1 Abrams tanks; 146 Stryker anti-tank guided missile vehicles; 50 Stryker nuclear, biological, and chemical reconnaissance vehicles; and a number of Bradley fighting vehicles. The Pentagon and the State Department vetted Iraq's request before sending it to Congress early this year.
When the Turkish prime minister’s motorcade made its way along the airport road on Thursday morning to Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone, once a terrifying journey with the constant threat of snipers and car bombs, the vehicles instead passed by palm trees, manicured lawns and a fountain — the landscaping work of a Turkish company. Elsewhere in the Iraqi capital, from shopping malls to fancy hotels to the shelves of grocery stores, the influence of Turkish business is ample, underscoring an economic relationship between Turkey and Iraq that has flourished even as the diplomatic relationship has soured in recent years.
Now, with the new Iraqi government struggling to keep the country together while under attack from Islamic State militants, and with Turkey dialing back its ambitions of leading a Sunni political axis that would reshape the region, the two countries are trying to come together amid mutual suspicion.
A total of eight civilians, including at least two women and four children, have been killed in an air strike that hit residential homes in Anbar province during an offensive against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), medical sources say. Five others were injured in Saturday's raids, which hit a house in the city of Heet, the sources told Al Jazeera. Anbar is a predominantly Sunni Muslim province that has been largely controlled by ISIL for nearly a year now. A number of claims have been made regarding responsibility for the deaths, with a Sunni rebel group saying on Twitter that the Iraqi army had carried out the attack.
Iraq’s Prime Minister Haidar Al-Abadi ordered the military to arm citizens fighting Islamic State in a province northwest of Baghdad, where tribal leaders and politicians complain of inadequate government support. Abadi ordered to provide air support for fighters in Anbar and instructed the military to boost its presence in the province, his office announced yesterday.
Islamic State fighters have mounted a fresh offensive to capture the city of Ramadi, Anbar’s capital, according to local officials. The fall of the province would leave most of Iraq’s main Sunni Arab cities in the hands of the al-Qaeda breakaway group, which declared a so-called Muslim caliphate in areas under its control in Syria and Iraq. The Sunni militants are trying to capture Anbar’s provincial council building in Ramadi, according to Faleh al-Issawi, deputy head of the council. “Unfortunately the central government support so far is very weak,” he said by phone from inside the building yesterday.
The United States plans to buy arms for Sunni tribesmen in Iraq including AK-47s, rocket-propelled grenades and mortar rounds to help bolster the battle against Islamic State militants in Anbar province, according to a Pentagon document prepared for Congress.
The plan to spend $24.1 million represents a small fraction of the larger, $1.6 billion spending request to Congress focusing on training and arming Iraqi and Kurdish forces. But the document underscored the importance the Pentagon places on the Sunni tribesmen to its overall strategy to diminish Islamic State, and cautioned Congress about the consequences of failing to assist them.
It isn’t all shock and gore. Sometimes, it’s mock and bore. Consider the video that ISIS released a few weeks ago of the British hostage John Cantlie “reporting” from the besieged town of Kobani on the Syrian-Turkish border. The video’s theme is the unreliability of Western media coverage of the conflict in Syria and Iraq, expressed in a tone of mocking contempt. The larger theme is the invincibility of ISIS and the duplicity and weakness of the West. The video opens with some striking aerial footage of war-ravaged Kobani, filmed from a drone. But it’s a big yawn thereafter.
On Sunday, however, ISIS released what is arguably its most horrifying beheading video to date, reverting to the shock-and-gore doctrine that has come to define it. The viewer doesn’t see the actual beheading of American aid worker Peter Kassig, but is shown his severed head, lying at the feet of the suspected British terrorist known as “Jihadi John.” The scene is preceded by the mass beheadings of 18 men whom ISIS claims are members of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s armed forces. The victims are paraded about by knife-wielding jihadists and the camera lingers on the hostages’ faces as they kneel, stricken with terror. The pounding of heartbeats commences, just one of the video’s many special effects. Then the cutting starts, all at once. Unlike in ISIS’s previous beheading videos, there is no merciful cutaway. The viewer sees everything.
It’s now widely recognized that the so-called Islamic State is not only very brutal, it is very rich, with a larger and more sophisticated financial infrastructure than any terrorist organization before it. The self-proclaimed “caliphate” rakes in millions of dollars a month from a range of income streams, including money from donors, money from extortion and kidnapping, and, most importantly, the smuggling of cut-price oil and gas. The daily revenues are estimated at more than $3 million, which makes it easy to buy a certain level of control in the territories where the group, widely known by the English acronym ISIS, holds sway.
As Quilliam’s recent report on “Islamic State: The Changing Face of Modern Jihadism” argues, because of its financial independence ISIS is able to function (almost) like a state—a totalitarian one— coercing political loyalty with the most basic of carrot-and-stick models. Its ability to provide services and subsidize everyday goods gives it a political foundation that many of its subjects see as preferable to the governments of Damascus or Baghdad. Without that financial clout, the ties ISIS has with the population it rules would be sorely tested and its authority could become more precarious.
ISIS has announced monthly taxes on students attending schools and colleges in Iraq's second-largest city, parents and a security official said Wednesday. Iraqi government schools have been state-funded since 1974. But parents in Mosul — which ISIS militants now control — have been told they must pay 25,000 Iraqi dinars (about $21) for every child attending kindergarten, 50,000 dinars ($42) for high-school students and 75,000 dinars ($62.50) for college undergraduates, a mother of three and another father-of-three told NBC News. A senior Iraqi security official, speaking on condition of anonymity, also confirmed the taxes had been introduced. "ISIS elements are trying to get funds from different sources in order to run the territories they took over," the official said.
"This is too much for me," the mother of three told NBC News by phone. "We are living under very bad financial conditions here in Mosul." The woman, whose name has been withheld for her own safety, added: "ISIS elements are using different kinds of pressure against us...My husband will have to work more hours to earn this money."
America’s top military officer is pushing back against criticism of President Obama for not having a clear strategy against the Islamic State (IS). Broadly, the stated US goal has been to “degrade and ultimately destroy” IS, the militant group that now controls large swaths of Iraq and Syria. “We have a strategy,” Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Wednesday. “But here’s what I can tell you about that strategy: It’s going to change. It’s going to change often.” For now, he said, “The military strategy is Iraq first – but not Iraq only.”
General Dempsey, who made his remarks at the Defense One summit, an annual gathering of senior military and national-security figures in Washington, spoke both about the training of Iraqi national fighters and about the lack of adequate forces in Syria. Indeed, there are not enough troops on the ground in Syria to fight IS, Dempsey said. The additional needed troops will not come from the US military, but rather from the pool of “moderate” fighters that US military forces have committed to training.