The Road to Jordan & Syria– Heavy Casualties in West Anbar


 

According to sources, up to 60 Shia militiamen were killed in fighting Anbar yesterday (July 2). There are competing theories as to who ambushed the members of the Badr Brigades.

Towns in the Sunni majority province of Anbar were the first to fall to ISIL in early 2014, and pockets of the extremists remain in areas north of the Rutba highway or Highway 11. Historically the road is the main land trading route with Syria to the north, and branches south to Jordan (Highway 10). Both border crossings, at al Waleed and Trebil respectively, remain closed as a result of the conflict with ISIL.

 

Whilst the route to the north is controlled by Iran-backed Shia militias, the Jordan crossing and areas to the south up to the Saudi Arabia border, making up the Qatheff Wadi (valley), are allegedly patrolled by a small unit of US special forces, deployed from the Ain al-Assad airbase and supported by local tribal forces. According to officials, those tribal forces are also supporting private American interests nearby.

 

Highway 11, heavily damaged during more than 3 years’ fighting, is to be reinstated in the coming months, PM Haider al-Abadi confirmed to parliament in March, revealing that an American company was contracted to undertake the work.

 

That company is Olive Group, which merged with Constellis Holdings in 2015. Constellis was formed by the merger of private security company Triple Canopy and Academi, formerly known as Blackwater, in 2014. Blackwater rebranded after the 2007 Nisour Square massacre in which 17 civilians died after being fired upon by Blackwater employees, four of whom are now serving long sentences in the US.

 

In an April interview with Al-Monitor, spokesperson for the Anbar provincial council Bassem Eid Ammash said: ““Olive will secure the road between Baghdad and Anbar, reaching the Trebil border crossing that leads to Jordan. The company has already signed a contract with the Iraqi federal government in this regard.” Some 5,000 men from local tribes are to help secure the highway alongside Olive Group, according to Fahed Rashed, the head of the Border Crossings Committee in Anbar.

 

The presence of Americans in any part of Iraq is unacceptable to Iran, though Iranian-backed militias in Iraq grudgingly accepted Abadi’s announcement of the Olive Group deal, initially at least. On March 31 Rayan al-Kaldani of the Babylon Brigades and Karim al-Nouri of the Badr Brigades released a joint statement appearing to guarantee that the Americans would not represent a legitimate target.

 

“These companies signed contracts with Abadi’s government. Hashd al-Shaabi [Popular Mobilisation Forces, PMF] is affiliated with him since he is the general chief of staff of armed forces, and we cannot but agree with him.

 

“The PMF cannot have a different stance than that of the Iraqi government vis-a-vis the security companies, although they are affiliated with a state that occupied Iraq and so their presence in Iraq is not justifiable.”

 

Other voices from militias under the PMF umbrella, and therefore the leadership of the prime minister, expressed greater dissatisfaction.

 

“The road connecting Iraq and Jordan is a strategic gateway allowing the US and forces seeking to control it to tighten their grip on Anbar and the potential Sunni region as per a US-Gulf plan,” the Hezbollah Brigades said in a March 31 statement. Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq accused the companies of spying, and called for contracts to be handed to Russian or European firms.

 

In the weeks and months following the assurances, it seems the PMF position towards the strategically vital road has hardened, with leaders pressuring Abadi to allow them to deploy to the Wadi on the pretext of protecting the Shia shrine city of Karbala from ISIL and the Americans.

 

Abadi, the perennial pragmatist, sought a third way, and deployed the Abbas Brigades to act as a bulwark against Iran-backed militias and any Americans in the area. The Abbas Brigades are loyal to Iraq’s Grand Ayatollah Sistani, who currently maintains a close relationship with the PM.

 

At the same time units of the Badr Brigades were dispatched to al Waleed border crossing by leader Hadi al-Amiri. However 60 of their men were killed while crossing Highway 11 – by US special forces according to Amiri. The militia had travelled south from Baghdad to Karbala, and then south of Highway 11 through the Qatheff Wadi, skirt American positions before swinging north for the Syrian border.

 

A source close to the Abbas Brigades has told Yalla that they were in fact ambushed by ISIL extremists. Another source, from Iraqi Joint Operations Command, confirmed to Yalla that between 55 and 60 men were killed by ISIL, and that they expect the extremist group to publish a video talking responsibility shortly.

 

Other military sources have put the figure at 35 Iraqi soldiers and PMF fighters were killed in the attack, and a further 25 injured.

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In progress: The Ilisu Dam, And Its Likely Impact On Iraq


 

Footage released this weekend shows the impressive engineering feat of lifting and moving an entire 15th century building. The tomb of Zeynel Bey is being relocated as the construction of the Ilisu dam is slated to flood its historic home of Hasankeyf by 2019. Turkish officials say that many more historic sites will be moved in this way, in an effort to protect the town’s rich heritage.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qYQxI5gdaRM

The loss of Hasankeyf (said to have been populated for over 10,000 years), and the relocation of its residents are just two of a multitude of controversies surrounding the project. Human rights and environmental groups have been actively opposed to the dam since the announcement of its construction in 1998, and European partners in the project suspended funding of $610 million in late 2008, after Turkey failed to meet over 150 international standards.

Construction has been halted and slowed several times since the recommencement of hostilities between the central government and Kurdish militants, with the armed wing of the Kurdistan Workers’ party (PKK) carrying out attacks on armed forces at the dam since 2014.

Environmentalists point out that untreated waste water from Batman and Diyarbakir to the north will pollute the resulting reservoir, and warn that waterborne diseases such as malaria and leishmaniosis could flourish.

All these problems are behind the dam. Ilisu is some 100 km upstream from where the Tigris crosses into Iraq at Faysh Khabur, and it’s the massive reduction in flow that concerns Iraq.

Activists in the country want an immediate halt to the construction of the dam, stating that Turkey is violating international law by dramatically altering the water flow to a downstream country without negotiation.

A recent visit to Ankara by Iraqi Water Resources Minister Dr Hassan al-Janabi was met with dismay by advocacy group The Iraq Civil Society Solidarity Initiative (ICSSI). Al-Janabi claimed to have received assurances from the Turkish government that Iraq will suffer no ‘significant damage’ when the reservoir at Ilisu begins to fill. This, says the ICSSI, is a recognition and approval of the impending completion of the dam, when Iraq should be vigorously opposing it, should it pose the risk of any damage whatsoever.

Moreover, the ICSSI outlines the options to challenge construction available to the Baghdad government, which has incorrectly maintained for years that there is no legal recourse open to it. This inaction legitimises further dam construction in Turkey and Iran, the ICSSI claims.

Furat al-Tamimi, head of the parliamentary Water and Agriculture Committee, said recently in an interview with Al-Monitor: “Turkey will escalate its systematic water ban into Iraqi territories, which would take a heavy toll on agriculture, following the completion of the dam’s final stages. Iraq has been objecting to the dam project, but to no avail. Upon completion, Iraq will lose about 50% of the Tigris River.”

Some of this could be mitigated with improved water storage and irrigation along the course of the Tigris in Iraq, as masses of one of the country’s historic water resources (along with the Euphrates) empties into the Shatt al-Arab and onward to the Gulf.

The impact of the dam loss, estimated at about 8 billion cubic metres per year, will be increased desertification, hitting an already fragile agriculture sector. The great land between two rivers, cradle of civilisation, is number 21 in countries most threatened by water insecurity globally.

Besides agriculture, such a reduction of water threatens not just the rehabilitation of the Mesopotamian marshes, named a UNESCO world heritage site last year, but the marshes themselves. The lack of water will lead to drying, but more worryingly the marshes have been experiencing increased salinization for years. The vicious circle comes in three parts, according to a joint report from the Universities of Basra, and Waterloo, Canada:

1) The overtime increasing in the salinity level of their direct water inputs, due to dams’ constructions.

2) the increase of the Arab Gulf tide via Shatt Al-Arab river due to the reduction of the water level in the outlets of the Central and Al-Hammar marshlands.

3) the huge accumulation of salts due to desiccation.

The World Health Organisation states that salinity of 1,000 parts per million (ppm) makes water unsafe for human consumption (the current level in Baghdad), and twice that renders it useless for agriculture. Where the Tigris crosses into Iraq, salinity is currently at 275 ppm, but officials expect it to rise to 550 ppm. What this will do to levels around the marshes is impossible to call – however in Ali al-Sharki, north of the marshes, salinity is currently at 2,250 ppm.

The Ilisu dam won’t just further desiccate Iraq, it will also affect its extremely limited portfolio of renewable energy, reducing generation at the Mosul dam and Samarra barrage.

The hold that Iraq has allowed Turkey to have over its shared rivers is absurd. Some politicians are belatedly talking of an economic fight back. MP Ali al-Badri told Al-Monitor that economic sanctions are a card Iraq holds: “Oil is being transported through Turkish territory … Turkey is in dire need of it.”

IN FIRST WORDS ON IRAQ AS PRESIDENT, TRUMP REITERATES US SHOULD’VE KEPT IRAQ’S OIL


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It’s one of his more hysterical stream-of-consciousness ramblings, from a man for whom bloviation is his signature. President Donald J. Trump, arguably the most powerful person on earth, doubled down on his assertion that the US should have stolen Iraq’s oil, this time in a meeting with CIA officials.

His primary argument is that by taking the oil, ISIL would have been starved of the revenue which enabled the group to flourish. During an election speech on August 15 last year he stated: “I was saying this constantly and consistently to whoever would listen. I said, ‘Keep the oil, keep the oil, keep the oil. Don’t let someone else get it.’”

Less than a month later, in a Presidential debate, he repeated the claim. “I’ve always said, shouldn’t be there, but if we’re going to get out, take the oil. If we would have taken the oil, you wouldn’t have ISIS [ISIL], because ISIS formed with the power and the wealth of that oil.”

And so on Saturday, as he introduced Rep. Mike Pompeo as his pick for head of the CIA, Trump returned to his familiar refrain: “Now I said it for economic reasons. But if you think about it, Mike, if we kept the oil, you probably wouldn’t have ISIS because that’s where they made their money in the first place, so we should have kept the oil.”

He then added: “But, OK, maybe we’ll have another chance.”

That final remark echoes how he signed off his previous thoughts on the matter. “In the old days, when we won a war, to the victor belonged the spoils,” Trump said in August. “Instead, all we got from Iraq – and our adventures in the Middle East – was death, destruction and tremendous financial loss.”

Taking “another chance” would lead to nothing but more death and a resurgence of extremism.

Draping his ambitions of sovereign robbery in an ISIL flag does nothing to conceal the truth. The new President is so swollen with avarice that he maintains Iraq’s oil is, in fact, owed to the US as spoils of war. Such international banditry is outlawed under the Annex to the Hague Convention of 1907 on the Laws and Customs of War, and the 1949 Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Times of War.

Once the evidence of weapons of mass destruction was revealed to be fabricated, many believe that the 2003 invasion was in truth launched to quench the unslakable US thirst for fossil fuels. Trump’s disdain for renewable energy, claims that climate change is a conspiracy cooked up by the Chinese, and the low price of oil rendering fracking economically unviable suggest that he will continue to cast envious glances at Iraq.

However, even this serial bankrupt is unlikely to see illegally occupying and robbing the country as desirable.

Andrew Bacevich, a retired colonel and professor of history and international relations at Boston University, explained the idea to the Washington Post as “beyond goofy.”

“To ‘take the oil’ would require the United States to occupy Iraq. We tried that after 2003 with something approaching 200,000 troops and it did not work. What would effective occupation actually require? A minimum of a half-million troops, perhaps more.

“Presumably, Trump would have them stay until the oil runs out, which would entail an occupation running into decades. The total cost? Probably more than the value of the oil itself.”

Barnett Rubin, associate director of New York University’s Centre on International Cooperation, was even more scathing in a September 2016 interview with Politifact.

“Insofar as Mr. Trump’s proposals are coherent enough to be subject to analysis and judgment, they appear to be practically impossible, legally prohibited, and politically imbecilic.”

Building a safe Iraq is dependent on the country’s mineral wealth. For all his posturing and immediate executive orders, Trump’s insensitive, naïve remarks yesterday (and all the way back to 2007) are unlikely to signal fresh conflict – one which would be not only prohibitively expensive and domestically unpopular, but also illegal.

People Leaving Mosul Are Screwed. In Many Ways.


MSF: Residents Escape Fighting In Mosul, But Not Trauma Of Life Under ISIL

Over the last three years the ISIL propaganda machine has relentlessly published images and videos of the obscene punishments it mets out to those that have transgressed the organisation’s rules.

The mainstream press has arguably, at the beginning of ISIL’s rampage through Iraq and Syria at least, aided their cause by republishing all but the most graphic content from sources such as the online magazine Nabiq. The images are hard to avoid.

The punishments are handed down to instil fear in the local populations. The dissemination of the evidence designed to frighten ISIL’s enemies and inspire and recruit its sympathisers. Men accused of homosexuality are thrown from tall buildings. Apostates are crucified and their bodies left in public squares. Suspected spies are beheaded. Adulterers stoned. Thieves endure amputations, smokers lashings.

In the ISIL propaganda, these crimes are witnessed by large crowds, seemingly supportive of this ‘justice’. In reality, as has been reported by resistance social media presences such as Mosul Eye and Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently, these citizens have been forced to attend.

Since operations to liberate Mosul began in October, it has been possible to hear testimony from many of those citizens. And as Médecins Sans Frontières reports today, there is a mental health crisis, which will stretch MSF and other NGOs to the limit.

Bilal Budair, MSF mental health manager in Erbil, points out that the mere necessity to flee home is a trauma in itself: “They have endured two years of the so-called Islamic State (ISIL) occupation of their town or villages, airstrikes, Iraqi forces fighting ISIL, fleeing for their lives and arriving in a displaced persons camp.

“These people had to leave very quickly, taking nothing with them. And now they find themselves confined in a camp.”

A man in his fifties told a psychiatrist at Khazer camp: “I couldn’t make myself get into the tent. I cried. I’d like them to come and kill me, and everyone in my family. This is like being in a prison. It took me 20 years to build my home. It’s all gone. I’ve got nothing left. Not a single dinar in my pocket.”

The MSF team in Khazer and nearby Hassan Sham camp, home to 30,000 or more displaced Moslawis, have been horrified by the stories they have heard. Stories that appear to confirm testimonies given to Yalla at Debaga camp in June of last year.

The MSF report reveals:

As they listen to what some of their patients have to say, MSF’s psychiatrists are shocked by what they hear and find their accounts hard to believe. Like the parent forced to kill his own child because he used a swearword. But the facts are inescapable when different people recount the same story. The psychiatrists are also seeing patients who would never have considered consulting a psychiatrist before now seeking help.

There is yet another cause of suffering for those displaced in recent months, as they have been first-hand witnesses to fighting in their villages or neighbourhoods. They’ve watched friends or relatives die, like a woman who came to us with her 10-year old son. Her friend’s little girl was killed when a mortar shell fell on their house. She saw the child’s body, and so did her son, who was her friend.

Bilal Budair concludes: “We treat all cases, moderate as well as severe. In fact, MSF is the only aid organisation treating severe cases and providing psychiatric care. We are on-hand to assist people and identify the most vulnerable. We’re here to help them and anyone close to them experiencing difficulties in adapting to the situation.”

How Will Sinjar Be Rebuilt?


Travelling east from the small Nineveh province town of Snuny, parallel to the northern ridge of Mount Sinjar, our car passed hundreds of empty houses, entire villages abandoned in the wake of ISIL’s losses in the area.

In November 2015, after fifteen months of occupation, Sinjar and surrounding areas were retaken by Kurdish Peshmerga forces, and in the six months since very little in the way of rehabilitation and reconstruction has taken place.

As we round the eastern end of the mountain the imposing, damaged buildings of Sinjar Cement Plant give the first indication of the devastation lying ahead in the Yazidi majority town. Situated on Road 47, the strategically vital link between Mosul and Syria that was also retaken by the Peshmerga in November, the factory had received significant foreign and local investment in recent years and was a major employer in the area.

 

Sinjar Cement Plant.JPG

 

Yazidi Peshmerga guarding the buildings told Yalla that workers employed by the federal Northern Cement State Company were almost exclusively Sunni Arabs. “Even before ISIL came to this area, ISIL people were working in the factory. There were no Yazidis or non-Sunni,” Mam Kawa, a Yazidi guard told me.

 

Mamqawa

Mam Kawa

Trust has been broken in this community, not only along religious lines, but also with the government in Baghdad. “We want the factory to be administered by the Kurdistan Regional Government,” says Mam Kawa, “because when the federal government ran it the people that worked here were the people that joined ISIL. We [Yazidis] want to operate it under KRG administration.”

The factory will be integral to rebuilding Sinjar and surrounding villages, not just physically, but also for the local economy. As I would see elsewhere in Sinjar, the challenges that will be needed to be overcome to make this happen are daunting. Not only has all the skilled labour left, but also a great deal of equipment with it. “The director of the factory told me that ISIL looted equipment worth 9 billion dinars ($8.1 million). They took it to Badosh and established a new factory there,” claims Mam Kawa.

But reconstruction is some way away yet. The frontline with ISIL is extremely close, and the local security forces (Asayish) chief, Major Shingali, told Yalla that regular shelling is preventing civilians from returning to the town. “Until the old borders and countryside of Sinjar are liberated, the rebuilding process cannot start. The shelling is sporadic, sometimes the city is under attack for two or three days, and sometimes it’s quiet for up to ten days.” In these circumstances, repopulating the town is a distant consideration.

“Just two rockets could result in heavy casualties. I would prefer civilians not to return as the situation is not yet safe,” he says.

Shingali claims that specialist Peshmerga units have so far extracted around 40 tonnes of explosives, and that about 90% of IEDs and booby traps have been identified. It is not only conventional ordinance that is being uncovered, or deployed by ISIL in the shelling attacks. “There are definitely chemical weapons among the attacks – there was one last week.”

Mahama Khalil Qassem, Sinjar’s Mayor, agrees. “There have been chemicals and depleted uranium in this town which make it unsafe for civilians to live in the area.” The extent of the destruction is clear to see throughout the town and Qassem is quiet and considered as his outlines the task ahead.

 

Street

 

I met with him in his office, a medium-sized repurposed residential property in the centre of town. “85% of the houses in the city have been destroyed, 100% of the governmental offices and institutions and 80% of the collectives around Sinjar as well.” The fundamental utilities are completely compromised, with electricity generated house by house, and water delivered by tanker. The sewage system does not exist.

There are, however, signs of life and reconstruction in Sinjar. Small stores selling essentials have opened to serve the few that are living in the town – mostly government officials and fighters from the myriad forces’ bases. Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) Peshmerga make up the largest contingent, along with the local Sinjar Resistance Units (YBS). The Turkish Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) retain a limited presence, as do the Syrian People’s Defence Forces (YPG). Civilians are harder to find, although ambitious sprouts of development are visible.

A small team of Mennonite Christians from the USA are busy replacing windows and doors in the few habitable buildings that remain. But with Sinjar still vulnerable to ISIL mortars and rockets, the task could be described as Sisyphean at best, and not all locals are in support.

Kalash, a Sinjari health worker now living in Snuny thinks that his adopted town would be better served by the efforts of the group. He told Yalla that ‘old’ Sinjar should be abandoned and left as a memorial to recent events, and a ‘new’ Sinjar built nearby. It’s a controversial notion shared by Mayor Qassem.

“As the administration of the town, we also believe that its a good idea to build a new Sinjar for a variety of reasons. First for the historic memory of what our people went through in this war. Second, economically it makes better sense to create a new Sinjar because the fundamental utilities of the town, including the sewage and electricity systems, are very old.

“In terms of security it is better too.”

 

Qassem

Mayor Qassem

But he stressed that nothing would happen without consultation. “It’s not only the administration’s decision to build a new Sinjar, it’s the decision of the people. If people accept creating a new town, it will be easy.

“In my mind creating a new Sinjar is better economically, in terms of security and also in terms of people’s psychology – I say this an engineer, a fighter and a former MP and current mayor.”

Like the guards at the cement factory, Qassem hopes Sinjar will be governed the KRG in the future. He says Baghdad neglected the town even before the brutal occupation by ISIL. “Before ISIL came there was no economic crisis, but we haven’t received budget from the government since 2013. The Iraqi constitution recognises Sinjar as part of Iraq, but the people here want to be under KRG administration.”

Kalash agrees. Lying as it does in the ‘Article 140’ territories, the town has a right to a referendum to decide its future. He expresses cautious support for Erbil rule, because of the betrayal of his neighbours almost two years ago. “The Arabs here in Sinjar – when ISIL came they all started fighting us.”

 

Physically and psychologically destroyed, it appears trust will be as hard to rebuild as Sinjar.

A Tragically Common Story From Sinjar


There is no getting away from the overwhelming grief which continues to envelop the Yazidi community in northern Iraq. This is Kalash’s story. It is sadly not unusual.

Kalash

Kalash with YPG fighters at an entry checkpoint to Sinjar. He credits the YPG with saving lives and preventing kidnappings.

I remember when the Peshmerga leader says to us, ‘Don’t escape, the force will come to save you. Don’t go anywhere.’ I was here [Sinjar]. What happened? Hmmm. Genocide. So, when ISIS coming, the Peshmerga raised the white flag and escaped, all of them escaped. All Shingal [Sinjar] area was under the control of KDP Peshmerga. For Sinjar, I see it’s very difficult because it’s not safe. The Arabs here in Shingal, when ISIS coming all of them fighting us.

Will you allow Sunni Arabs to come back? I don’t think so because all of them was with ISIS. Even if the government come and refuse to kill them, the Yazidi people will kill them.

Who will govern Sinjar in the future? I think Kurdistan Regional Government.

Will you be happy with that, after what happened? Actually no. Because the same leader now are in Sinjar and they say ‘we will protect Sinjar’ and we saw when they escaped without any resistance against ISIS, so we think….

Did you mark Yazidi New Year? No. Now my cousin, she is old 7 years, she’s in captivity with ISIS. Other my cousin, he was 17 years old, ISIS killed him. Other my cousin, she was 1 year old, she died from thirst in mountain in August when we escaped, because there was no milk and there was no clear water and she’s died in the way of going to Syria.

Did you go to Syria? Yes. August 15 2014, YPG opened border of Syria and thousands of Yazidis escaped through that border. If not YPG fighters I think there would be many more killed and more captivity and more crimes against Yazidis, but YPG opened border between Iraq and Syria and many Yazidis escaped through that point.

How long did you spend there? Three days. I went to Zhakho, then to Lalish and then in September 3 I come back to mountain so I help Yazidi fighters by my information on medicine or like that. In that time, I was not graduated, but I was a student, I have information about medicine and first aid, so I came. [Now] I have graduated from Duhok University, Community Health Department.

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