Syrian President Bashar Assad says his government is being informed about the U.S.-led coalition's attacks on the extremist group ISIS — but that there's no dialogue between Syria and the Americans. Assad said word comes through Iraq and other nations. "There is no direct cooperation or link," he said, adding that information comes "through third parties ... Iraq and other countries. Sometimes they convey [a] message." The Syrian leader's remarks came in a rare interview granted to the BBC's Middle East editor, Jeremy Bowen.
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In an announcement that could complicate the cornerstone of America’s mission in Iraq—training Iraq’s military to fight ISIS—an Iranian general said Monday that he also is prepared to begin training Iraqi military officers. The message comes after Baghdad and Tehran reached a security agreement in December, which has not been made public but will reportedly increase military cooperation between the two countries.
Washington and Tehran have quietly cooperated in the fight against ISIS largely by avoiding direct contact and keeping to separate spheres of influence. If Iran begins training Iraqi officers at the same time the U.S. carries out its own multi-year training mission, those spheres could collide. Iran hasn’t actually begun any training yet, only signaled its readiness, but if it does start, there are some obvious logistical questions to sort out that carry broader implications. It’s not clear whether the U.S. and Iran would split up the Iraqi army in some sort of shared custody training different units, or if a single Iraqi officer could end up receiving direction from both American and Iranian advisers.
Iraqi troops will begin a ground offensive “in the weeks ahead” to take back swathes of the country seized by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group, the U.S. coordinator for the international coalition against the militants said on Sunday. “There will be a major counter offensive on the ground in Iraq,” top U.S. envoy John Allen said in an interview with Jordan’s official Petra news agency.
“In the weeks ahead, when the Iraqi forces begin the ground campaign to take back Iraq, the coalition will provide major firepower associated with that,” he added, stressing that the Iraqis would lead the offensive. Allen dismissed accusations that there has been a delay in the supply of U.S. weapons and training to Iraqi troops on the frontline of the conflict, telling Petra: “The United States is doing all it can to deliver its support as quickly as possible.”
In a Mosul, Iraq, market, along with citrus, clothing and fish, locals can now purchase timepieces bearing the ISIS brand. The watches, which range in size from a dainty wristwatch to an oversized men’s sporting watch, are encased in glass at the market and sold right below traditional timepieces.
The black-and-white image seen on the terrorist group’s flag appears on the watch face. Its top line reads, “There is no God but God,” and inside the bottom white circle are the words “Muhammad is the messenger of God.” This phrase is a shahada, an Islamic declaration of faith that is sacred to Muslims.
The Iraqi Kurds' offensive against Islamic militants in mainly Arab areas outside their autonomous region in northern Iraq is being applauded by Western powers relieved at jihadist setbacks. But analysts worry that the advances hold serious risks of undermining U.S. strategy to coax Sunni Arab tribes to join the battle against the Islamic State.
They say the seeds of future cycles of sub-national conflicts are being sown by current hostilities and roiling of sectarian and ethnic fault lines. Few analysts and locals believe the sectarian map across the region can be returned to how it was before the uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad triggered wider fighting among religious communities. That provided the opening for al-Qaida and rival Islamic State, also known as ISIS, to exploit the violence for their own purposes.
Rashid Fouad Abdullah is a Kurdish peshmerga fighter in his late 50s, but he's younger than his gun. It's a British artillery piece manufactured in 1941, kept in immaculate condition and in daily service as Kurdish forces tighten their grip around Iraq's second city, Mosul. Abdullah is one of a few dozen peshmerga stationed on Mount Zartak, overlooking Mosul from the east. The city is still firmly under the control of the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, but the peshmerga are in buoyant mood, having first stemmed and then partially reversed territorial gains made by ISIS last summer.
What do the ancient Christian communities of the Middle East, many of them threatened with extinction in lands where they have survived since the dawn of their faith's existence, most need from their co-religionists in the West? Some want more military support, others take a different view. That difference emerged during a visit to London by Archbishop Bashar Warda, the top Catholic cleric in Erbil, the only Iraqi city where Christians live in significant numbers.
At a meeting yesterday in the House of Lords, co-organised by the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, the archbishop reminded people of the hard realities facing his flock. As of a result of last year's onslaught by Islamic State, perhaps 400,000 people fled their homes in Mosul and the neighbouring Nineveh Plain and many sought refuge in the adjacent area controlled by the Kurdish regional government. The displaced include Christians, Yazidis and other religious minorities. Of the 300,000 or so Christians who remain in Iraq (down from 1.4m a couple of decades ago), the great majority now live in Kurdistan, of which Erbil is the capital.
Jordan has deployed "thousands" of ground troops to the Iraqi border, a source close to the Jordanian government told ABC News today, in its latest move to counter the advance of the Islamic State group. The Jordanian source says the troops will likely stay on their side of the border in a defensive posture, for now, and will not enter Iraq without approval from the Iraqi government.
However, on the other side of the border, the head of the U.S.-led coalition against ISIS, retired Marine Gen. John Allen told Jordan's official Petra news agency, “there will be a major counteroffensive on the ground in Iraq” shortly. Coalition firepower would support the Iraq-led offensive, he added. Since ISIS released the barbaric video showing Jordanian pilot Moaz al-Kasasbeh burning alive last week, King Abdullah's revenge has been swift and Jordan’s military has ramped up its involvement in the fight against ISIS.
Ahead of Baghdad ending a decade-old nightly curfew, bombs exploded across the Iraqi capital Saturday, killing at least 37 people in a stark warning of the dangers still ahead in this country torn by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group. The deadliest bombing happened in the capital’s New Baghdad neighborhood, where a suicide bomber detonated his explosives in a street filled with hardware stores and a restaurant, killing 22 people and wounding at least 45, police said.
“The restaurant was full of young people, children and women when the suicide bomber blew himself up,” witness Mohamed Saeed said. “Many got killed.” After the blast, bloody water mixed with olives and other debris from the restaurant as authorities tried to clean.
The young Yazidi woman in a blue headscarf says her name is Hana. She is 18. She is standing in the muddy courtyard of her new temporary home – an abandoned, unfinished building outside the Iraqi-Kurdish town of Zakho. Beside her is Vian Dakhil, a politician from the same religious minority. Hana is speaking rapidly and clutching Dakhil’s hand as though she’s terrified this local heroine has something far more important to do than listen to her story.
Hana was abducted by Islamic State (Isis) last August. Heavily armed, black-clad militants stormed her village and shot dead her father, four brothers, two uncles and six cousins. They then separated her from her older female relatives. “They drove me away in a truck with other unmarried girls. Two fighters took me and held me prisoner in their house. They beat me and gave me scraps to eat.” After 36 days, Hana escaped when one of her captors left a window unlocked. “It was like a suicide mission, but I didn’t care. I ran for three days and nights to get away.”