Turkey ties cannot improve without troop pullout: Iraq

Updated 10 January 2017
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Turkey ties cannot improve without troop pullout: Iraq

BAGHDAD: Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi said on Tuesday relations with northern neighbor Turkey could “not move forward one step” without a withdrawal of Turkish forces from a camp in northern Iraq, state television reported.
Turkish forces have been stationed at Bashiqa camp near Mosul since before the start of an offensive against Daesh.
Meanwhile, Iraqi forces pushed Daesh back further in Mosul on Tuesday in a renewed effort to seize the northern city and deal a decisive blow to the militant group, though progress was slower in some districts, the army said.
Iraqi forces and their allies have captured villages and towns surrounding Mosul and seized at least two-thirds of its eastern districts, military officials say, pushing right up to the eastern bank of the Tigris river in recent days.
But the government had initially hoped to retake Mosul by the end of 2016 and three months into the US-backed campaign, the militants still control all the territory to the west of the Tigris that bisects the city from north to south.
Wounded civilians streamed into nearby hospitals and Iraqi forces blamed Daesh for shooting at fleeing residents and shelling populated areas after losing control of them.
UN humanitarian spokesman Jens Laerke said nearly 700 people had been taken to hospitals in Kurdish-controlled areas outside Mosul in the last week and more than 817 had required hospital treatment a week earlier.
“Trauma casualties remain extremely high, particularly near front lines,” he told reporters in Geneva.
Elite forces in the city’s east and northeast have advanced faster since the turn of the year thanks to new tactics and better coordination but there was stiff resistance in the southeast of Mosul, military officials said.
Lt. Col. Abbas Al-Azawi, a spokesman for the Iraqi army’s 16th division, said Iraqi forces entered Hadba on Tuesday, a large northeastern district, though it would likely take more than a day to capture and Daesh was deploying suicide bombers.
Elite Iraqi counter-terrorism service (CTS) units encircled the nearby Sukkar district on Monday and sought to recapture the strategic Mosul University area.
The United Nations has said Daesh seized nuclear material used for scientific research there when the terrorist group overran a third of Iraq in 2014.
The CTS and army units want to capture all the eastern bank of the Tigris so they can launch operations to retake western Mosul. An army statement and the US coalition said Daesh had blown up sections of two bridges linking east and west Mosul in a bid to hamper crossings by Iraqi forces.
Mosul’s five bridges across the Tigris had already been partially damaged by US-led airstrikes to slow the militants’ movement. Coalition spokesman US Air Force Col. John Dorrian told Reuters last week the new damage done by retreating Daesh fighters was “severe” but would not stop the advance.
“Every day the Iraqi Security Forces go forward and every day the enemy goes backward or underground,” he told reporters in Irbil in Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region.
Fighting in neighborhoods in the southeast of Mosul has been tougher, however, as Iraqi forces push toward the river.
“The challenge is that they are hiding among civilian families, that’s why our advances are slow and very cautious,” Lt. Col. Abdel Amir Al-Mohammedawi, a spokesman for the rapid response units of Iraq’s federal police, told Reuters.
He said police and army units had fought their way into the Palestine and Sumer districts over the last day but Daesh fighters were firing at civilians trying to flee.
“The families, when they see Iraqi forces coming, flee from the areas controlled by Daesh toward the Iraqi forces, holding up white flags, and Daesh bomb them with mortars and Molotov cocktails, and also shoot at them.
“Whenever they withdraw from a district, they shell it at random, and it’s heavy shelling,” he said.
Dorrian said militant fighters were hiding in mosques, schools and hospitals, using civilians as human shields.


Cybersecurity firm: More Iran hacks as US sanctions loom

Alister Shepherd, the director of a subsidiary of FireEye, during a presentation about the APT33 in Dubai Tuesday. (AP)
Updated 20 September 2018
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Cybersecurity firm: More Iran hacks as US sanctions loom

  • The firm warns that this raises the danger level ahead of America re-imposing crushing sanctions on Iran’s oil industry in early November.
  • Iran’s mission to the UN rejected FireEye’s report, calling it “categorically false.”

DUBAI: An Iranian government-aligned group of hackers launched a major campaign targeting Mideast energy firms and others ahead of US sanctions on Iran, a cybersecurity firm said Tuesday, warning further attacks remain possible as America reimposes others on Tehran.

While the firm FireEye says the so-called “spear-phishing” email campaign only involves hackers stealing information from infected computers, it involves a similar type of malware previously used to inject a program that destroyed tens of thousands of terminals in Saudi Arabia.

The firm warns that this raises the danger level ahead of America re-imposing crushing sanctions on Iran’s oil industry in early November.

“Whenever we see Iranian threat groups active in this region, particularly in line with geopolitical events, we have to be concerned they might either be engaged in or pre-positioning for a disruptive attack,” Alister Shepherd, a director for a FireEye subsidiary, told The Associated Press.

Iran’s mission to the UN rejected FireEye’s report, calling it “categorically false.”

“Iran’s cyber capabilities are purely defensive, and these claims made by private firms are a form of false advertising designed to attract clients,” the mission said in a statement. “They should not be taken at face value.”

FireEye, which often works with governments and large corporations, refers to the group of Iranian hackers as APT33, an acronym for “advanced persistent threat.” APT33 used phishing email attacks with fake job opportunities to gain access to the companies affected, faking domain names to make the messages look legitimate. Analysts described the emails as “spear-phishing” as they appear targeted in nature.

FireEye first discussed the group last year around the same time. This year, the company briefed journalists after offering presentations to potential government clients in Dubai at a luxury hotel and yacht club on the man-made, sea-horse-shaped Daria Island.

While acknowledging their sales pitch, FireEye warned of the danger such Iranian government-aligned hacking groups pose. Iran is believed to be behind the spread of Shamoon in 2012, which hit Saudi Arabian Oil Co. and Qatari natural gas producer RasGas. The virus deleted hard drives and then displayed a picture of a burning American flag on computer screens. Saudi Aramco ultimately shut down its network and destroyed over 30,000 computers.

A second version of Shamoon raced through Saudi government computers in late 2016, this time making the destroyed computers display a photograph of the body of 3-year-old Syrian boy Aylan Kurdi, who drowned fleeing his country’s civil war.

But Iran first found itself as a victim of a cyberattack. Iran developed its cyber capabilities in 2011 after the Stuxnet computer virus destroyed thousands of centrifuges involved in Iran’s contested nuclear program. Stuxnet is widely believed to be an American and Israeli creation.

APT33’s emails haven’t been destructive. However, from July 2 through July 29, FireEye saw “a by-factors-of-10 increase” in the number of emails the group sent targeting their clients, Shepherd said.