Mosul pilgrims stuck in Kirkuk; Daesh out to seize their homes

Updated 16 October 2015
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Mosul pilgrims stuck in Kirkuk; Daesh out to seize their homes

KIRKUK: Like hundreds of elderly men and women from the Iraqi city of Mosul, Haji Ahmed left in August to perform Haj.
Leaving the militant-held city comes at a high price. Many residents are now forced to give up the deed to their homes as collateral to ensure they return — a tactic the militant group uses to keep civilians from fleeing the city.
For four weeks, the septuagenarian and some 580 pilgrims from Mosul did their religious duty — each of them obtaining an official Daesh-stamped exit document and a discrete stamp in their Iraqi passports that reads “Nineveh,” the province where Mosul is located, and the year according to the Islamic calendar: 1436.
The Iraqi government permitted only those above age 60 to exit militant territory, escorting them by bus to Baghdad, where they then flew to Saudi Arabia.
But nearly two months later, the Mosuli Hajaj, as they are known in Arabic, are desperately trying to get home — blocked by Iraqi and Kurdish authorities near the northern city of Kirkuk who refuse to open a corridor back into militant-held territory.
“They didn’t really give us an explanation,” said Haji Ahmed, who provided only his nickname and said he doesn’t know his actual age. “They just told us to wait here. That was six days ago. I just want to go back to my home.”
The group has been squatting at a dusty, fly-infested mosque ever since, with little food or medicine, and mounting fears for the fate of their families in Mosul and for their homes if they don’t return.
“My daughter ... is worried about me and I am worried about her,” said a woman who identified herself only as Oum Zamaa, or Zamaa’s mother.
“We are so afraid that an operation to liberate Mosul will begin and we will be here,” said Oum Hijray. “What if we are separated from our children? That would be a disaster.”
Most of those declined to provide their full names or offer details about their lives under the Daesh group, visibly afraid for their safety and that of their families back home.
Whatever the reason, most of the stranded pilgrims said they have accepted the new norm in Mosul, while sharing almost no opinions on the Daesh group itself.
When asked his name, one pilgrim replied: “Haven’t I suffered enough?”


Daesh ‘caliphate’ on brink of defeat in Syria as Trump urges Europe to do more

Updated 22 min 10 sec ago
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Daesh ‘caliphate’ on brink of defeat in Syria as Trump urges Europe to do more

  • “The Caliphate is ready to fall,” he said in a Tweet
  • US-backed fighters in Syria are poised to capture Daesh’s last, tiny enclave on the Euphrates

NEAR BAGHOUZ, Syria: US-backed fighters in Syria are poised to capture Daesh’s last, tiny enclave on the Euphrates, the battle commander said on Saturday, bringing its self-declared caliphate to the brink of total defeat as US President Donald Trump spoke of “100 percent victory”.
Jiya Furat said the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) had cornered the remaining militants in a neighborhood of Baghouz village near the Iraqi border, under fire from all sides.
“In the coming few days, in a very short time, we will spread the good tidings to the world of the military end of Daesh,” he said, using the Arabic acronym for Daesh.
He was speaking after said on Friday there would be “great announcements” about Syria over the next 24 hours.
Trump on Saturday said the caliphate was “ready to fall and that the United States was asking European allies to take back more than 800 Daesh fighters captured in Syria and put them on trial.
“The United States is asking Britain, France, Germany and other European allies to take back over 800 ISIS fighters that we captured in Syria and put them on trial,” he said in a Tweet. “The Caliphate is ready to fall. The alternative is not a good one in that we will be forced to release them...
“....The US does not want to watch as these ISIS fighters permeate Europe, which is where they are expected to go. We do so much, and spend so much - Time for others to step up and do the job that they are so capable of doing. We are pulling back after 100% Caliphate victory!”
Trump has sworn to pull US forces from Syria after Daesh’s territorial defeat, raising questions over the fate of Washington’s Kurdish allies and Turkish involvement in northeast Syria.
As the SDF advanced under heavy US airstrikes in recent days, a stream of civilians fled the few square miles of hamlets and farmland that remain within Daesh’s ‘caliphate’, along with defeated jihadists trying to escape unnoticed.
Though Daesh fighters still hold out in a pocket of central Syria’s remote desert, and have gone underground as sleeper cells in Iraqi cities, able to launch new attacks, their territorial rule is, for now, almost over.
It ends a project launched from the great mediaeval mosque of Mosul in northern Iraq in 2014, when Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi seized advantage of regional chaos to proclaim himself caliph, suzerain over all Muslim people and land.
He set up a governing system with courts, a currency and flag that at its height stretched from northwest Syria almost to Baghdad, encompassing some two million inhabitants.
Human shields
But its reign of terror over minorities and other perceived enemies, marked by massacres, sexual slavery and the beheading of hostages, drew a forceful international military response that pushed it steadily back from 2015.
Most of the fighters left in Baghouz are foreigners, the SDF has said, among the thousands drawn by Baghdadi’s promise of a new jihadist utopia straddling the Iraqi-Syrian border and expunging national borders.
All that remains, said Furat, is an encircled pocket some 700 meters square. “Thousands of civilians are still trapped there as human shields,” he said.
The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the SDF had taken control of all of Baghouz after the jihadists there surrendered. SDF officials denied this.
Spokesman Mustafa Bali said the SDF had caught several militants trying to flee among the civilians. Others had handed themselves over.
Their fate, and that of their families, has befuddled foreign governments, with few ready to repatriate citizens who pledged allegiance to a group sworn to their destruction, but who might be hard to legally prosecute. The SDF does not want to hold them indefinitely.
The fate of Baghdadi is also a mystery. He has led the group since 2010, when it was still an underground al-Qaeda offshoot in Iraq.
Still a threat
Its capacity then for strategic retreats in hard times, followed by rebounds when circumstances changed, has prompted numerous warnings that Daesh’s defeat has not ended the threat it poses to the region.
Daesh suffered crippling defeats in 2017, when Iraq recaptured Mosul, the SDF seized its Syrian capital of Raqqa, and the Damascus government pushed it east to the Euphrates.
But in Iraq it has switched to guerrilla hit-and-run tactics, aimed at undermining the Baghdad government. It has also claimed responsibility for a series of bombings in swathes of northeast Syria held by the SDF, including one last month that killed four Americans.
That attack came soon after Trump pledged to pull out, saying Daesh was already defeated, rattling allies and prompting defense secretary Jim Mattis to resign.
Turkey, which regards the SDF’s strongest component, the Kurdish YPG, as terrorists, has threatened to march deeper into northern Syria to drive it back.
On Friday US Army General Joseph Votel, who oversees US forces in the Middle East as head of Central Command, said the end of the territorial caliphate would lead to a more dispersed, harder-to-detect network of fighters waging guerrilla warfare.
That should require continued help from Washington, he said.