Iraqi Shiite militia warns of sectarian fighting

Updated 30 May 2013
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Iraqi Shiite militia warns of sectarian fighting

BAGHDAD: A senior member of an Iraqi Shiite militia that once fought the US military warned yesterday that Iraq is heading toward widespread sectarian bloodletting similar to the kind that once pushed the country to the brink of civil war.
The head of the political bureau of the Asaib Ahl Al-Haq group, Adnan Faihan, also said the militia is preparing to defend itself, but denied the group’s involvement in a spate of attacks targeting Iraq’s Sunni Arab minority.
Meanwhile, violence in Iraq on Tuesday killed 45 people, after evening attacks raised an earlier toll, the latest in a spate of unrest sparking concerns the country could be sliding back to all-out sectarian war.
The wave of shootings and bombings, which also wounded nearly 100 people, came the same day ministers discussed ways to curb the violence, while the UN has urged Iraq’s feuding political leaders to resolve long-running disputes that have paralyzed the government and been blamed for its inability to halt the bloodshed.
Tuesday’s deadliest violence struck Baghdad, with 18 people dying in bombings across the capital, while a suicide truck bomb just north of the city killed four others, security and medical officials said.
And in the main northern city of Mosul, explosions and gunfire killed 11 people, including a senior police intelligence officer and a tribal leader. Attacks in the central cities of Baquba, Beiji and Tikrit, meanwhile, left a dozen others dead.
The latest unrest pushed the death toll in May to 548, the highest such figure in at least a year, according to AFP.
May is the second consecutive month in which more than 400 people have been killed, culminating in a total of more than 1,000 dead in less than two months.
As the violence raged, Iraq’s Cabinet discussed its “security challenges” and ways to address them, later announcing measures aimed at stemming the bloodletting.
These included “pursuing all kinds of militias,” calling for a meeting of political powers, providing unspecified support to security agencies, and warning the media against inciting sectarian strife, said the Cabinet.
United Nations envoy Martin Kobler, meanwhile, on Tuesday called for Iraq’s politicians to talk to each other and address their differences and the violence.
“It is their responsibility to stop the bloodshed now... to act immediately and to engage in dialogue to resolve the political impasse and not let terrorists benefit from their political differences,” he said.
And US State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said Washington was in contact with senior Iraqi leaders “to urge calm and help resolve ongoing political and sectarian tensions.”
Iraq is faced with various long-running political crises over issues ranging from power sharing to territorial boundaries, paralyzing the government.
There has been a heightened level of violence since the beginning of the year, coinciding with rising discontent among Iraqi Sunnis, which erupted into protests in late December.


Civilians flee fighting in Syrian southwest

A Syrian family rides with belongings on a tractor-drawn trailer as they flee from fighting in the southern Syrian province of Daraa on June 21, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 22 June 2018
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Civilians flee fighting in Syrian southwest

  • Opposition fighters have vowed not surrender “an inch” of the territory to Assad, one of their commanders said earlier this week
  • Fighting in the southwest has been contained since last year by a “de-escalation” deal agreed by the US and Russia, Bashar Assad’s most powerful ally

MOSCOW, BEIRUT: Thousands of people have fled opposition-held areas of southwestern Syria being targeted by regime bombardment, a war monitor said on Thursday, as Damascus steps up attacks on an area near the border with Jordan and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said some 12,500 people had fled opposition-held areas of northeastern Daraa province in the past 48 hours.
The war has pivoted toward the southwest since the Syrian regime and its allies crushed the last remaining pockets of opposition-held territory near Damascus and the city of Homs.
Fighting in the southwest has been contained since last year by a “de-escalation” deal agreed by the US and Russia, Bashar Assad’s most powerful ally.
A major Syrian regime offensive in the area would risk an escalation of the seven-year-old war. The area is of strategic importance to Israel, which is deeply alarmed by Iranian influence in Syria.
Washington has warned it will take “firm and appropriate measures” in response to violations of the “de-escalation” deal.
Assad said earlier this month the regime, at Russia’s suggestion, was seeking to strike a deal in the southwest similar to agreements that have restored its control of other areas through withdrawals of opposition forces.
But he also said there had been no results yet and blamed “Israeli and American interference.” He said the territory would be recovered by force if necessary. Opposition fighters have vowed not surrender “an inch” of the territory to Assad, one of their commanders said earlier this week.

Russia ‘skeptical’ over UN report
Meanwhile, the Russian foreign minister on Thursday said he was “skeptical” about a UN report accusing the Syrian regime of committing crimes against humanity during the siege of Eastern Ghouta. The report published on Wednesday said forces loyal to the Syrian regime had deliberately starved civilians during the siege between February and April, among other crimes.
“We are in principle very skeptical toward the methods of this sort of work, whether it comes to war crimes or the use of chemical weapons,” Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said at a press conference in Moscow with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. When
questioned by journalists, Lavrov confirmed he had not seen the
report.

He said it was “based on data obtained through social networks, video that was filmed by witnesses,” rather than being put together on the ground.
The five-year siege, on the outskirts of the capital, ended in April when Damascus regained control of the rebel enclave.
As pro-government forces dramatically escalated their campaign to recapture the besieged enclave, they used tactics that were “largely unlawful in nature,” the UN-commissioned report said.
The tactics, it said, “aimed at punishing the inhabitants of eastern Ghouta and forcing the population, collectively, to surrender or starve.”
Russia has been involved in Syria’s civil war since September 2015. Its military support of the regime changed the course of the war, allowing government troops to retake more than half the country from rebels and the Daesh group.
More than 350,000 people have been killed in Syria’s war since it started in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests.