Iraqi forces close in on Daesh-held Tal Afar

Iraqi forces, backed by Shiite fighters from the Popular Mobilization Forces, advance towards the towards the city of Tal Afar, the main remaining stronghold of the Islamic State group, after the government announced the beginning of an operation to retake it from the jihadists, on Monday. (AFP)
Updated 22 August 2017
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Iraqi forces close in on Daesh-held Tal Afar

TAL AL-HESSAN, Iraq: Iraqi forces closed in Monday on Tal Afar on the second day of an offensive against the last major bastion of Daesh in the country’s north, seizing several villages around the city.
In the desert plains around Tal Afar, convoys of tanks and armored vehicles could be seen heading for the terrorist-held city, raising huge clouds of dust.
The offensive launched at dawn Sunday comes only weeks after Iraqi forces retook second city Mosul from Daesh and as the extremists also face assaults on their positions in neighboring Syria.
Tal Afar was once a major supply hub between Mosul and the Syrian border and capturing it would be another major blow to Daesh’s self-declared “caliphate” that once controlled large areas straddling Syria and Iraq.
The Iraqi Army, federal police and counter-terrorism forces backed by 20,000 fighters from the Hashed Al-Shaabi paramilitary group launched the offensive on Tal Afar.
They are battling Daesh on three fronts — the west, south and southeast — and commanders have told AFP they expect to tighten the noose on the militants by edging closer to the gates of the city.
The federal police said its forces had retaken five villages on the western front, with its chief Raed Shakir Jawdat saying they were only “a few hundred meters from Al-Kifah,” the nearest western neighborhood of the city.


Syria rejects US demand for Iranian withdrawal

US this week issued a list of demands to Iran including the pullout of its forces from Syria. (AFP)
Updated 24 May 2018
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Syria rejects US demand for Iranian withdrawal

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin has noted that a political settlement in Syria should encourage foreign countries to withdraw their troops, a rare instance in which Moscow suggested Iran should not maintain a permanent military presence in the country.
  • srael has warned it will not accept a permanent Iranian military presence in Syria, and Israel struck a number of Iranian targets there earlier this month after what it said was a cross-border Iranian missile attack.

MOSCOW: Syria on Wednesday dismissed American calls for the withdrawal of Iranian troops and Lebanese Hezbollah militants from the war-torn country.

Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mikdad told Russia’s Sputnik news agency that “this topic is not even on the agenda of discussion, since it concerns the sovereignty of Syria.”

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued a list of demands this week for a new nuclear deal with Iran, including the pullout of its forces from Syria, where they have provided crucial support to President Bashar Assad’s government. Russia is also a key ally of Assad, and has been waging an air campaign in Syria since 2015.

Mikdad said in Wednesday’s remarks that Syria “highly appreciates” Russia’s military support as well as “advisers” from Iran and Hezbollah. He added that “we cannot let anyone even raise this issue” of the Iranian withdrawal. “Those who ask for something like that — and this is definitely not our Russian friends — are considering the possibility of intervention in all parts of Syria, including the support of terrorists in Syria and elsewhere in the region,” Mikdad said.

At a meeting with Assad, who visited Sochi last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin noted that a political settlement in Syria should encourage foreign countries to withdraw their troops.

Putin’s envoy for Syria, Alexander Lavrentyev, later commented that the Russian leader’s statement was aimed at the US and Turkey, along with Iran and Hezbollah. It marked a rare instance in which Moscow suggested Iran should not maintain a permanent military presence in the country. Russia has argued that its troops have deployed at the Syrian government’s invitation, while the military presence of the US and others has been illegal.

Lavrentyev’s statement appeared to reflect a difficult balancing act for the Kremlin, which hopes to maintain good ties with both Iran and Israel. 

Israel has warned it will not accept a permanent Iranian military presence in Syria, and Israel struck a number of Iranian targets there earlier this month after what it said was a cross-border Iranian missile attack.

During the talks with Assad, Putin also encouraged him to send representatives to a commission in Geneva that would work out proposals for Syria’s new constitution as part of a peace process.

Mikdad said, however, that Damascus is not ready yet to nominate its candidates to the body.

“It is too early to speak about (candidates), but there are many people who are able to represent Syria and the Syrian government in these talks,” he said.

In Moscow, Col. Gen. Sergei Rudskoy of the Russian military’s General Staff, pointed at the Syrian troops’ recent gains, saying Wednesday that “all the necessary conditions have been created for the revival of Syria as a single, unified state.”

He noted the government’s capture of the last remaining opposition enclave in southern Damascus from Daesh militants, which brought the entire capital and its far-flung suburbs under full government control for the first time since the civil war began in 2011.

The general also said Russia, Iran and Turkey set up nearly 30 checkpoints to monitor the de-escalation zone in the northern province of Idlib as part of a deal the three countries brokered.