Al-Qaeda-linked fighters launch new attack in central Syria

Smoke rises from buildings following an airstrike on an opposition-held area of the Jobar district, east of Damascus on Friday. (AFP)
Updated 07 October 2017
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Al-Qaeda-linked fighters launch new attack in central Syria

BEIRUT: Al-Qaeda-linked fighters on Friday attacked a key central Syrian village at the crossroads between areas under regime control and those controlled by insurgents, activists said. In eastern Syria, meanwhile, regime forces reportedly entered a town that is one of Daesh’s biggest strongholds.
According to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Syrian regime forces and allied militiamen entered western parts of Mayadeen, including the town’s wheat silos compound and the sheep market.
The regime-controlled Syrian Central Military Media earlier said that troops were marching south from Deir Ezzor toward Mayadeen, under the cover of airstrikes.
If the report proves true and Syrian troops indeed entered Mayadeen, it would mark another blow for the extremist group, which has lost wide areas of Iraq and Syria in its self-declared caliphate over the past year.
Omar Abou Leila, from the monitoring group DeirEzzor 24, said he could not confirm or deny the report, though he added that it was possible, given the regime forces’ days-long advance.
Airstrikes on Mayadeen and nearby areas over the past days have killed and wounded scores of people, including 15 civilians — women and children among them — who were killed when a missile slammed into a regime-held neighborhood in the city of Deir Ezzor on Thursday evening.
The attack on the village of Abu Dali in central Hama province was led by Al-Qaeda-linked Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham — Arabic for Levant Liberation Committee and also known as HTS. It came two weeks after insurgents attacked a nearby area where three Russian soldiers were wounded.
Earlier this week, Russia’s military claimed the leader of the group was wounded in a Russian airstrike and had fallen into a coma. The military offered no evidence on the purported condition of Abu Mohammed Al-Golani.
The group subsequently denied Al-Golani was hurt, insisting he is in excellent health and going about his duties as usual. The group’s fighters have been gaining more influence in the northwestern province of Idlib and northern parts of Hama, where they have launched attacks on rival militant groups, as well as areas controlled by the government.
Abu Dali had been spared much of the violence and had functioned as a local business hub between opposition-run areas and those under President Bashar Assad’s forces.
The observatory said Al-Qaeda fighters captured several areas in the village on Friday. The HTS-linked Ibaa news agency did not mention the attack but said Russian warplanes were bombing areas the group controls in northern Syria.
Violence in eastern Syria has escalated significantly in recent weeks as Syrian troops with the help of Russian air cover have been closing in on Mayadeen.
The DeirEzzor24 monitoring group said the missile in the Thursday evening airstrike that killed 15 hit near a school in the Qusour neighborhood. Three children and three women were among those killed, the group said Friday, blaming Daesh for the attack. The school and a nearby residential building were destroyed.
The Russian military has accused the US of turning a blind eye and effectively providing cover to Daesh operations in an area in Syria that is under US control.
The Russian Defense Ministry spokesman, Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov, said that Daesh militants have used the area around the town of Tanf near Syria’s border with Jordan — where US military instructors are also stationed — to launch attacks against the Syrian Army.
He said the area has become a “black hole,” posing a threat to the Syrian regime army’s offensive against Daesh in eastern Deir Ezzor province.
Separately, the Russian military said one of its helicopters had made an emergency landing in Syria but that its crew was unhurt.
According to the Defense Ministry, the Mi-28 helicopter gunship landed in Hama province on Friday due to a technical malfunction. The two crewmen were not injured and were flown back to base. The ministry said the helicopter was not fired upon.
The ministry’s statement followed a claim by Daesh-linked Aamaq news agency, which said the group had downed a Russian helicopter south of Shiekh Hilal village in Hama.


Kurdish party nominates Iraqi veteran Barham Salih for next president

Updated 20 September 2018
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Kurdish party nominates Iraqi veteran Barham Salih for next president

  • Iraq’s Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), one of the ruling Kurdish parties, selected Salih to take over from Fuad Masum
  • The nomination and election of the president is the second step in the process of forming a government

BAGHDAD: Veteran Kurdish leader Barham Salih has been nominated to be the president of Iraq.

Iraq’s Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), one of the ruling Kurdish parties, selected Salih to take over from Fuad Masum, Kurdish leaders told Arab News on Wednesday.

The nomination and election of the president is the second step in the process of forming a government.

The elected president will then assign the candidate of the largest bloc to the post of prime minister, to form a government.

The rival Shiite-led blocs on Tuesday agreed to nominate Adel Abdul Mahdi, the former vice president, for the post of prime minister.

An initial deal was made by the two heads of the factions to dedicate the parliament session on Sept. 25 to elect the president and assign the nominated prime minister to form a government, negotiators told Arab News.

Salih, who was born in Sulaymaniyah in 1960, is a graduate of American universities and holds a PhD in statistics and data. He headed the Kurdistan Regional Government in 2001, and was one of the deputies of the federal government in 2006. He occupied many ministerial posts in Baghdad and Erbil in the last 15 years. 

“Barham is the sole nominee for the post of president,” Sa’adi Berah, the  PUK spokesman said on Wednesday. “PUK leaders have voted today on this decision after he (Barham) accepted all the conditions of the PUK.”

The relationship between Baghdad and Erbil, the capital of the autonomous Kurdish region dominated by the Democratic Party of Kurdistan (DPK), the second ruling Kurdish party, has faltered since September last year when the Kurdistan regional government held an independence referendum.

Baghdad responded by launching a military campaign to push Kurdish forces out of disputed areas they had taken control of in the preceding years. This included the city of Kirkuk - one of Iraq’s main oil producing regions.

Salih, a secular politician, is a moderate and acceptable figure to all political parties and can play an active role in dismantling both the crisis between the Kurdish region and Baghdad, and disputes between the Shiite, Sunni, and Kurdish political parties inside the Iraqi capital, Shiite negotiators said.

The backing of the Shiite and Sunni parliamentary blocs in Baghdad for Salih’s nomination is crucial to him winning the post as the president needs two thirds of the votes of the 329 members of parliament to be approved.

“Initially we are happy to back Barham for the post as he is calm, pragmatic and has no problems with Arabs,” a key Shiite negotiator told Arab News.

“We are waiting for them (PUK and DPK) to conclude their decision and officially present his name for us, then we can discuss the other details.”

The US envoy to Iraq and Syria, Brett McGurk, played a key role in restoring Salih to the PUK, which he had split  from in 2017 to form his own coalition. 

McGurk met with Hero Khan, secretary-general of the PUK and wife of the late Iraqi president Jalal Talabani, several times last week at her residence in Sulaymaniyah. 

Khan and her two sons have dominated the leadership council of the PUK since 2013 after Talabani fell ill. McGurk’s efforts were rewarded on Wednesday as Salih won 26 votes of the 40-member PUK leadership council, sources told Arab News.

The post of Iraq’s president falls to the Kurds as part of a power-sharing agreement adopted by Iraqi political forces after 2003. 

Salih's candidacy must first be approved by the DPK.

“We have no objection to Barham's nomination for this post. The DPK does not look for this position,” Reibein Salam, a DPK leader told reporters.

“But we have made many concessions in favor of the Kurdish interest and we have to get something in return.

“We want the position of governor of Kirkuk in return. It is not reasonable that PUK gets both posts.”