Iraq mounts offensive against Al-Qaeda

Updated 20 January 2014

Iraq mounts offensive against Al-Qaeda

BAGHDAD: Iraqi government forces and allied tribal militias launched an all-out offensive Sunday to push Al-Qaeda-linked militants from a city west of Baghdad, a military official said.
Since late December, members of an Al-Qaeda offshoot — known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant — have taken over parts of Ramadi, the provincial capital of the largely Sunni western province of Anbar. They also control the center of the nearby city of Fallujah, along with other non-Al-Qaeda groups that also oppose the Shiite-led government.
The officer said fierce clashes were taking place, but gave no details.
Hours after the offensive was announced, Iraq’s Prime Minister vowed to continue fighting “terrorism,” but left the door open for any political solution.
“Our battle is firstly to beat and eliminate terrorism,” Nouri Al-Maliki said in a speech in the southern city of Nasiriyah. “Though we welcome any solution, any proposal and any political meeting that should realize the priority of destroying terrorism, Al-Qaeda, its formations and its allies,” Al-Maliki added.
To the east of Baghdad, gunmen opened fire Sunday on a checkpoint run by an anti-Al-Qaeda, pro-government Sunni tribal militia outside the city of Baqouba, killing the local leader and four assistants, a police and medical officials said. The former Al-Qaeda stronghold Baqouba is located about 60 kilometers (35 miles) northeast of the capital.
The Sunni militia, known as the Awakening Council, was formed by US forces during the height of the insurgency. They are seen as traitors by Al-Qaeda’s local branch and other militant groups.
All officials spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to release information.
Violence has escalated in Iraq over the past year, particularly since late last month after authorities dismantled an anti-government Sunni protest camp and arrested a Sunni lawmaker on terrorism charges. To alleviate the tension, the army pulled back from the two cities, but that allowed Al-Qaeda militants to seize control.
Last year, the country saw its highest annual death toll since the worst of the country’s sectarian bloodletting began to subside in 2007, according to United Nations figures. The UN said violence killed 8,868 in 2013. Sunday’s attack on the Awakening Council members brought the death toll so far this month to 364, according to an Associated Press tally.


Hezbollah says 2 Israeli drones downed in south Beirut

Updated 50 min 23 sec ago

Hezbollah says 2 Israeli drones downed in south Beirut

  • Israelii jets earlier attacked targets near Syria’s capital of Damascus to pre-empt an alleged Iranian drone attack plot

BEIRUT: A Hezbollah official said Sunday that an Israeli drone went down over the Lebanese capital of Beirut and another exploded in the air, amid regional tensions between Israel and Iran.
Residents of the Iranian-backed group’s stronghold in southern Beirut reported one large explosion that shook the area early Sunday, triggering a fire. They said the nature of the blast in the Moawwad neighborhood was not immediately clear, but said it might have been caused by an Israeli drone that went down in the area amid Israeli air activity in neighboring Syria.
They said they heard an aircraft flying just before the blast and reported later that the Iranian-backed Hezbollah group sealed off the area. The blast occurred near the militant group’s media office in the Moawwad district.
The Hezbollah official spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity as the person was not authorized to speak on the record to journalists. No details were immediately available.
Israeli warplanes fly over Lebanon regularly and have struck inside neighboring Syria from Lebanese airspace on numerous occasions.
A few hours earlier, late Saturday, the Israeli military attacked targets near Syria’s capital of Damascus in what it said was a successful effort to thwart an imminent Iranian drone strike on Israel, stepping up an already heightened campaign against Iranian military activity in the region.
The late-night airstrike, which triggered Syrian anti-aircraft fire, appeared to be one of the most intense attacks by Israeli forces in several years of hits on Iranian targets in Syria.
Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, a military spokesman, said Iran’s Revolutionary Guards’ Al Quds force, working with allied Shiite militias, had been planning to send a number of explosives-laden attack drones into Israel.
On Twitter, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the attack by Israeli warplanes a “major operational effort.”
Syrian state TV said the country’s air defenses had responded to “hostile” targets over Damascus and shot down incoming missiles before they reached their targets.
In recent days, US officials have said that Israeli strikes have also hit Iranian targets in Iraq.