Iraqi forces launch assault for last Daesh bastions in Anbar

Iraqi forces, backed by paramilitary units, advance against one of Daesh’s last bastions in the western province of Anbar. (AFP)
Updated 19 September 2017
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Iraqi forces launch assault for last Daesh bastions in Anbar

AL-SAGARA, Iraq: Iraqi security forces and paramilitary units have launched a dawn assault against one of Daesh’s last bastions in the vast western province of Anbar bordering Syria.
The Joint Operations Command, which is coordinating Iraqi security forces battling Daesh, said an offensive had begun to retake the town of Anna and the nearby village of Al-Rayhanna.
“Infantry units and armor backed by the Hashed Al-Shaabi began an offensive to liberate Anna and Al-Rayhanna from Daesh terrorists,” Gen. Abdelamir Yarallah, JOC head, said in a statement.
A general in the area said the operation was “developing along three axes” involving the army, police and the Hashed Al-Shaabi, a paramilitary force composed largely of Iran-trained Shiite militias.
The operation was supported by Iraqi army helicopters and warplanes from the US-led coalition battling Daesh in Iraq and Syria, the general said.
The head of Anna’s municipal council, Abdel Karim Al-Ani, confirmed the start of the offensive and said security forces had opened a road out of the town to allow civilians to flee.
Anna, about 100 km west of the border with Syria, is one of three towns in Anbar province under Daesh control.
After retaking the town, Iraqi forces are expected to next target Rawa to the northwest and finally Al-Qaim, which is close to the border with the Syrian province of Deir Ezzor.
Three years after Daesh took control of large parts of Syria and Iraq, Iraqi forces are pushing to retake all areas seized by the terrorists, scoring their biggest victory in July with the recapture of second city Mosul.
Iraq is preparing to launch an assault against another of the terrorists’ final strongholds, the town of Hawija about 300 km north of Baghdad.
Security sources said two suicide bombers killed at least three people and wounded 34 on Tuesday in a northern Iraq restaurant frequented by militiamen battling Daesh.
The bombers struck in the town of Hajjaj, in Salaheddin province between the cities of Tikrit and Baiji.
“Two attackers detonated their explosive belts in a restaurant in Hajjaj, killing three people and wounding 34,” interior ministry spokesman Saad Maan said in a statement.
“A third assailant was shot dead by the security forces.”
A police lieutenant colonel said the restaurant was frequented by members of the Hashed Al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilization), a paramilitary force mainly composed of Iran-trained militias.
There was no immediate claim for Tuesday’s bombings.
The bombings came just five days after a gun and bomb attack on a restaurant and nearby checkpoint in southern Iraq killed 84 people, the deadliest assault claimed by the terrorists since their defeat in second city Mosul in July.
Last Thursday’s attack in the southern city of Nasiriyah was swiftly claimed by Daesh.


Iraq online shutdown cost ‘$40m a day'

Updated 17 July 2018
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Iraq online shutdown cost ‘$40m a day'

  • The banking sector, airlines, businesses and mobile phone companies faced severe disruptions
  • Internet partially restored but social media sites remain blocked

BAGHDAD: An Iraqi government ban on online access to curb growing protests is costing the country tens of millions of dollars a day and ramping up anger toward the authorities.

Internet access was blocked in much of Iraq from Friday as protests in southern provinces spread from the main oil hub of Basra. 

The government hopes to limit communication between thousands of demonstrators protesting at a lack of basic services and official corruption. The tactic is similar to that used by regimes during Arab Spring protests in 2011.

On Monday, the government partially reactivated Internet services, but kept restrictions on prominent social media platforms, including WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter.

The banking sector, airlines, businesses and mobile phone companies faced severe disruptions because of the shutdown, online experts said. 

The restrictions left hundreds of international and local media outlets paralyzed, banking transactions all but halted, and airlines facing flight cancelations and passenger chaos for at least three days.

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READ MORE: How political forces fueled the spread of Iraq protests

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Government departments relying on the Internet, including security services, and those dealing with residency, passports and intelligence were disrupted, security officials told Arab News.

A study by NetBlocks, an independent group monitoring online shutdowns, suggested that the restrictions could cost Iraq’s struggling economy $40 million per day in “lost business, sales and opportunities.”

“The Iraqi government has made a big mistake. A lot of business transactions are conducted via the Internet,” Bassim Antwan, an Iraqi economic expert, said.

“The blocking of sites… has caused great losses (for Iraq). While the government believes that it has succeeded in something, it has lost much of its revenues and the revenues of the private sector.”

Massive demonstrations engulfed Iraq’s southern provinces in protest at electricity cuts, a shortage of drinking water, and the high rates of unemployment and poverty. Protests began in Basra on July 8 with the blocking of roads to the oil fields.

Iraqi security forces were placed on high alert after public facilities, including local government buildings, Najaf airport and oil sites were stormed by demonstrators.

The block on social media sites has prompted Iraqis to sign up to applications and programs that use VPNs to break the ban.

Iraq’s government has previously used Internet restrictions as part of security measures to prevent protests. It has also resorted to the tactic to prevent students from circulating exam questions and to reduce the circulation of security information.

But the latest block is the longest and most comprehensive of the past decade. 

Most Iraqis view the shutdown as an attempt to suppress the protests and avoid scrutiny of the security services’ response.

Ahmed Saadawi, an internationally renowned Iraqi novelist, said he was using a proxy Internet server to avoid the ban and communicate with those outside Iraq.

“We are imprisoned because of government measures that have blocked social media sites, disrupted people’s interests, deprived protesters of the right to express opinions, and denied others the right to get information,” Saadawi wrote on hisFacebook page.

“I condemned the arbitrary measures being taken by the corrupt parties that want to continue to share power and profits without any objection to their work.”

Eight people have been killed and hundreds wounded in demonstrations which entered their 10th day on Tuesday.

Major campaigns were launched by security services in the past three days to arrest the organizers, advocates and journalists in Baghdad and the south “on charges of inciting people to sabotage the public institutions,” lawyers and security officials said. 

Dozens of Iraqis who live abroad and in unaffected provinces have shared instructions on how to break the social media block and use applications to publish news, pictures and videos of the demonstrations.

Iraqis have also resorted to their well-tested humor in times of crisis by poking fun at the authorities.

“Thanks to the government Internet ban, I found out that my kid’s age is 6 not 4,” Hisham Ali wrote on Facebook. “Not just this, I found out that my family members are nice people and can be tolerated. I am happy.”