Tens of thousands of foreign fighters joined so-called Islamic State in Iraq and Syria - many of them from Russia. What has become of their families now the self-declared caliphate is crumbling?
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Major operations in populated areas of Iraq may have ended in a decisive win for Iraq’s armed forces but the decimation of Da’ish in the land of two rivers is not over yet. What was left of Da’ish’s military contingents fled to Iraq’s western desert looking for reprieve but did not find any there. Riding the wave of victory, Iraqi forces are now initiating a new phase in their war on terrorism as they look to root out the Da’ish elements aiming to revive an insurgency. With elections looming on the horizon, the security situation is steadily but cautiously improving.
Over the last fortnight, Iraqi forces have conducted one of the biggest clearing operations in western Iraq to date, with the aim of dislodging Da’ish remnants from the Jazirah desert region that connects the restive provinces of Ninawa, Salahuddin and Anbar. Within the first five days of this operation, Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi announced that 14,000km2 had been recaptured and secured as Da’ish elements in the desert melted away. This operation marks a historic achievement for the government as it is reasserting control over land that has been out of Baghdad’s reach since the collapse of the former regime in 2003.
The United States-led international coalition fighting Islamic State estimates that fewer than 3,000 fighters belonging to the hardline Sunni militant group remain in Iraq and Syria, its spokesman said on Tuesday.
Islamic State’s self-proclaimed caliphate has crumbled this year in Syria and Iraq, with the group losing the cities of Mosul, Raqqa and swathes of other territory.
“Current estimates are that there are less than 3,000 #Daesh fighters left - they still remain a threat, but we will continue to support our partner forces to defeat them,” U.S. Army Colonel Ryan Dillon tweeted, using an Arabic acronym for Islamic State.
In the latest sign of improving relations between Iraq and Saudi Arabia, the kingdom's oil minister attended an energy conference in the southern Iraqi port city of Basra on Tuesday.
Khalid al-Falih said Saudi Arabia wants to expand investment projects in Iraq to include energy, manufacturing and natural resources.
"These are all considered important steps in bringing Iraq back to the Arab fold as well as to open Iraqi markets for international goods," al-Falih said. "We see our cooperation and coordination as very strategic and crucial for both of our countries. It doubles our success, growth and prosperity, again and again."
Every day for more than three years, the U.S.-led coalition bombed Islamic State targets in Iraq and Syria, for a total of nearly 30,000 strikes. But on Nov. 26, not a single airstrike was launched.
Just a week earlier, Iraq’s military had won back the last sliver of territory controlled by the militants. The Pentagon has now announced that 400 Marines deployed to Syria to fight them will be returning home.
Those milestones appear to mark the Islamic State’s defeat, with the end of its self-declared caliphate. But the battle isn’t over.
The Iraqi government and Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) are conducting thousands of trials of Islamic State suspects without a strategy to prioritize the worst abuses under Iraqi and international law, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. The haphazard approach and rampant due process violations are likely to deny justice to the victims of the worst abuses during ISIS control of parts of Iraq.
The 76-page report, “Flawed Justice: Accountability for ISIS Crimes in Iraq,” examines the screening, detention, investigation, and prosecution of some of the thousands of Islamic State (also known as ISIS) suspects in Iraq. Human Rights Watch found serious legal shortcomings that undermine the efforts to bring ISIS suspects to justice. Most significantly, there is no national strategy to ensure the credible prosecution of those responsible for the most serious crimes. The broad prosecution under terrorism law of all those affiliated with ISIS in any way, no matter how minimal, could impede future community reconciliation and reintegration, and clog up Iraqi courts and prisons for decades.
It was an awkward coalition riven by political and sectarian differences, facing an elusive, fanatical enemy dug into an urban maze of narrow streets and alleyways. So, could Iraq’s government really deliver on its vow to vanquish Islamic State?
In the end, the army, Shi‘ite Muslim paramilitaries and Kurdish Peshmerga fighters mustered rare unity to end Islamic State’s reign of terror in Iraq’s second city Mosul, seat of the ultra-hardline Sunni insurgents’ “caliphate”.
But even with supportive U.S. air strikes, Baghdad’s triumph came at a devastating cost for the once-vibrant, multicultural city in northern Iraq and the surrounding region.
CIA Director Mike Pompeo said Saturday that he sent a letter to a top Iranian military official warning him that the United States would hold Tehran accountable for any attacks it conducted on American interests in Iraq.
Pompeo, who has voiced staunch opposition to Iran, said he sent the letter to Gen. Qassem Soleimani, a leader of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and elite Quds Force, but the general didn’t read it.
“I sent a note. I sent it because he had indicated that forces under his control might in fact threaten U.S. interests in Iraq,” Pompeo said at a defense forum at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute in Simi Valley, California. “He refused to open the letter — didn’t break my heart to be honest with you.”
Linda Adib Younis' house in the Iraqi town of Telskof has high ceilings, with shelves all the way to the top stacked with trinkets - cuddly toys, ornate porcelain figures, vases.
There were even more before she was displaced by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) in 2014.
Life changed for Younis, along with the other 800 or so families living in Telskof, in August 2014, when ISIL seized the town. The armed group subsequently swept through the surrounding province of Nineveh, viciously killing and abducting Christians, Yazidis and Shia Muslims. Younis and her family fled to the neighbouring Kurdish city of Dohuk.