Iraq sees end to terror group as iconic Mosul mosque is recaptured

Iraq declares end of caliphate after capture historic Mosul mosque
Updated 30 June 2017
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Iraq sees end to terror group as iconic Mosul mosque is recaptured

JEDDAH/MOSUL: Iraq said Daesh’s “caliphate” was coming to an end three years to the day after it was proclaimed, following the recapture of Mosul’s iconic Al-Nuri Mosque on Thursday.
The terror group announced its “caliphate” on June 29, 2014, across swathes of territory its fighters overran in Iraq and neighboring Syria.
Staff Lt. Gen. Abdulghani Assadi, a senior Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS) officer, confirmed the mosque’s recapture.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi hailed it as a sign of Daesh’s impending defeat. “We are seeing the end of the fake Daesh state,” he tweeted.
But Oubai Shahbandar, a Syrian-American analyst and fellow at the New America Foundation’s International Security Program, advised caution before declaring Daesh finished.
“It’s important that we remain cautious and vigilant of efforts by Daesh to transform itself into an underground movement,” he told Arab News. “Daesh maintains long-term ambitions despite its loss of Mosul and significant amounts of territory in the past two years. If the international coalition drops the ball and doesn’t invest in rebuilding, political reconciliation and ensuring that the rule of law — not sectarian militias — maintain order, Daesh will find the opportunity it needs to re-emerge.”
Shahbandar said the Iraqi government should avoid committing the mistakes of Al-Abadi’s predecessor Nuri Al-Maliki.
“The previous administration … demonstrated exactly what not to do when it comes to ensuring that a defeated terrorist insurgency doesn’t re-emerge,” he said. 
“The lessons learned from 2010-2013 in Iraq and Syria are telling. The regime in Baghdad at the time maintained narrow sectarian political ambitions that prioritized a paranoid regime-centric mindset rather than actual security. Daesh was able to expand as a result, even though its predecessor, the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), was largely defeated militarily.”
Shahbandar said the seeds of Daesh’s emergence were planted and allowed to grow in fertile soil by the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad, which before 2011 gave small units of the ISI leadership safe haven in eastern Syria.
“The consequences of poor governance and the brutality of the Assad and Al-Maliki regimes hopefully will serve as a wake-up call to the international community and show that the defeat of groups such as Daesh shouldn’t pave the way to the chaotic brutality and incompetence of regimes such as Assad’s and Al-Maliki’s,” he said.
On fears about Al-Hashd Al-Shaabi taking over liberated areas, Shahbandar said the Shiite militia “isn’t going to lay down its arms after Daesh is defeated in Iraq. It has become a state within a state, much along the lines of how Hezbollah now controls the Lebanese government. Al-Hashd leaders retain the ability to act with little or no checks on their power by the central government in Baghdad. This is a recipe for disaster that may bring forth a Daesh 2.0 in the near future.”
He added: “Daesh’s leadership is now confined to a small part of Syrian rural desert terrain and the lower Euphrates River valley in small pockets in western Iraq. The leadership structure has more or less been eliminated by international coalition strikes and local forces. But Daesh has a way to rebuild if it’s offered the opportunity to do so. Al-Qaeda’s original leadership was almost totally wiped out, yet a new generation took over and allowed the terrorist group to continue global operations. That should serve as a reminder that the fight against Daesh doesn’t end simply with the liberation of Mosul and Raqqa.”
Columb Strack, senior Middle East analyst at IHS Markit, said Daesh’s “rise and fall has been characterized by rapid inflation followed by steady decline. Three years after the ‘caliphate’ was declared, it’s evident that the group’s governance project has failed.”
IHS senior Middle East analyst Ludovico Carlino said: “Losing control of the heavily populated Iraqi city of Mosul, and oil-rich areas in the Syrian provinces of Raqqa and Homs, has had a particularly significant impact on the group’s ability to generate revenue.”
— With input from AP, AFP


Syria’s key border crossings with 2 neighbors reopen

Updated 15 October 2018
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Syria’s key border crossings with 2 neighbors reopen

  • The reopening of the crossings is a major boost to the Syrian, restoring commercial lifeline to the outside world
  • Arab countries have boycotted the Syrian government since the early days of the war
QUNEITRA, Syria: A vital border crossing between Jordan and Syria reopened on Monday for the first time in three years, promising to restore trade and movement between the two countries that had halted because of the war. Another crossing, between Syria and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, also reopened for UN observers who had left the area four years ago because of fighting there.
The reopening of the crossings is a major boost to the Syrian government of President Bashar Assad, restoring a commercial lifeline to the outside world. It also reinforces the Syrian government’s message that it is slowly emerging victorious from the seven-year conflict.
“The general mutual interest that these crossings create between the people is what lasts and therefore we look at this broadly,” Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Al-Muallem said of the reopenings Monday.
Al-Muallem’s Iraqi counterpart, Ibrahim Al-Jaafari, underscored the need to boost relations between the two neighbors and said Syria must find its way back to the Arab fold. The two spoke at a joint press conference in Damascus.
“No one can marginalize Syria, and I raised the necessity of (Syria’s) return to the Arab League,” Al-Jaafari said.
The 22-member Arab League froze Syria’s membership after the civil war erupted in 2011, followed by sanctions and the severing of diplomatic ties between the League and Damascus.
Nearly 450,000 Syrians have been killed in the war, and the country has been devastated by the violence that drew the involvement of foreign militaries of regional and international powers, as well as foreign militias and militants.
With crucial military assistance from Russia and Iran, the Syrian military has clawed its way back and recaptured key territory, including major cities, from the Syrian opposition in the past two years.
On Monday, the Syrian flag was raised at the Quneitra crossing between Syria and the Israeli-held Golan at a ceremony Monday.
UN observers and local notables from the Druze community, the predominant population in the area, gathered near the crossing. The UN observers had left the Quneitra crossing in 2014 for the first time since deploying there in 1974 to monitor a cease-fire and a demilitarized zone. Israel occupied the Golan Heights in 1967.
“It is a day of victory,” Youssef Jarbou, a Druze leader, told the Syrian Al-Ikhbariya TV from Quneitra.
Syrian forces recaptured the Quneitra area in July. Russian military police deployed in the area, including on the edge of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, setting up checkpoints in the area. Moscow said it planned to work closely with the UN force.
Meanwhile, at the Naseeb crossing between Syria and Jordan, dozens of private cars lined up to cross from Jordan. Security personnel and dogs searched the vehicles.
“Today is a feast, a feast for the whole Arab and Islamic nations and for the whole World, this crossing is vital for the whole Arab countries,” said Mohammed Khalil, the first Syrian in line waiting to cross back into his country.
Naseeb’s reopening would bring major financial relief to Assad’s government by restoring a much-needed gateway for Syrian exports to Arab countries. The resumption of commercial trade through the crossing will also be a diplomatic victory for Assad, whose government has been isolated from its Arab neighbors since the war began in 2011.
Arab countries have boycotted the Syrian government since the early days of the war, freezing its membership in the 22-member state Arab League.
“The Naseeb crossing is a vital lifeline for trade between the two brotherly countries Jordan and Syria through them to other Arab countries,” Jordan government spokeswoman Jumana Ghunaimat said.
Syrian rebels seized the crossing in 2015, disrupting a major trade route between Syria and Jordan, Lebanon and oil-rich Gulf countries.
Syrian government troops recaptured it in July, after rebels reached an agreement with Russian mediators to end the violence in the southern province of Daraa and surrender the crossing.
The crossing is also vital for Syria’s neighbor Lebanon, providing its agricultural products a route to foreign markets.
The recapture of Naseeb marked a major victory for Assad’s forces, which have been on a winning streak since 2015 when Russia threw its military weight behind Damascus. The victory in southern Syria signaled the return of his forces to Daraa province where the uprising against him began seven years ago.