Iraqi forces complete takeover of Kirkuk after clashing with Kurds

Iraq’s federal armed forces have benefited from the huge Western investment in training, according to analysts. (AFP)
Updated 21 October 2017
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Iraqi forces complete takeover of Kirkuk after clashing with Kurds

BAGHDAD/KIRKUK: Iraqi forces took control on Friday of the last district in the oil-rich province of Kirkuk still in the hands of Kurdish Peshmerga fighters following a three-hour battle, security sources said.
The district of Altun Kupri, or Perde in Kurdish, lies on the road between the city of Kirkuk — which fell to Iraqi forces on Monday — and Irbil, capital of the semi-autonomous region of Kurdistan in northern Iraq that voted in a referendum last month to secede from Iraq against Baghdad’s wishes.
A force made up of US-trained Iraqi Counter-Terrorism Service units, Federal Police and Iranian-backed fighters known as the Popular Mobilization began their advance on Altun Kupri at 7:30 a.m. (0430 GMT), said an Iraqi military spokesman.
Kurdish Peshmerga forces withdrew from the town, located on the Zab River, after battling the advancing Iraqi troops with machine guns, mortars and rocket-propelled grenades, Iraqi security sources said. Neither side gave immediate information about casualties in the fighting.
The Iraqi central government forces have advanced into Kirkuk province largely unopposed as most Peshmerga forces withdrew without a fight.
The government advance has transformed the balance of power in northern Iraq and is likely to scuttle the independence aspirations of the Kurds, who voted overwhelmingly on Sept. 25 to secede from Iraq and take the oil fields of Kirkuk with them.
The fighting at Altun Kupri marked only the second instance of significant violent resistance by the Kurds in Kirkuk province. Dozens were killed or wounded in the previous clash on Monday, the first night of the government advance.
Altun Kupri is the last town in Kirkuk province on the road to Irbil, lying just outside the border of the autonomous region established after the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003.
Iraqi forces are seeking to re-establish Baghdad’s authority over territory which the Kurdish forces occupied outside the official boundaries of their autonomous region, mostly seized since 2014 in the course of the war on Daesh militants.
Iraq’s top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani, called on Friday for the state to protect Kurds in northern Iraq, a rare political intervention by a figure whose words have the force of law for most of Iraq’s Shiite majority. Al-Sistani’s call, issued at the Friday prayer in Kerbala by one of his representatives, came amid reports of abuses against Kurds in areas evacuated by the Kurdish Peshmerga including Kirkuk, Tuz Khormato and Khanaqin.
Tens of thousands of Kurds fled Kirkuk and Tuz to the two main cities of the Kurdish autonomous region, Irbil and Sulaimaniya, according to Kurdish officials.
The UN expressed concern on Thursday at reports of forced displacement and destruction of Kurdish homes and businesses, mainly in Tuz.
In Khanaqin, near the Iraq-Iran border, a Kurdish demonstrator was killed and six others wounded by Iraqi security forces on Thursday as the Kurds were protesting against the takeover of their city, the local mayor said.
Iraq’s post-Saddam constitution allows the Kurds self rule in three mountainous northern provinces and guarantees them a fixed percentage of Iraq’s total oil income, an arrangement that saw them prosper while the rest of the country was at war.
Although Kirkuk is outside the autonomous region, many Kurds consider it the heart of their historic homeland and its oil to be their birthright. Its loss makes their quest for independence appear remote, since it would leave them with only about half the oil revenue they had sought to claim for themselves.
Kurdish Peshmerga moved into Kirkuk without a fight in 2014, taking over positions left by Iraqi army as it fled in the face of Daesh militants.


Dozens of bodies found in Raqqa mass grave

Updated 22 April 2018
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Dozens of bodies found in Raqqa mass grave

  • Raqqa was the de facto “capital” of the Daesh group in northern Syria until the terror group was ousted by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces in October 2017
  • Daesh has been held responsible for multiple atrocities during its reign of terror, including mass executions and decapitations

QAMISHLI, Syria: Dozens of bodies, including those of jihadists and civilians, have been found in a mass grave in the former Daesh group stronghold of Raqqa in Syria, a local official said on Saturday.
The former de facto “capital” of the group in northern Syria, Raqqa saw the jihadists ousted by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces in October 2017.
Nearly 50 bodies had already been recovered from the mass grave, which could contain up to 200 bodies, Abdallah Al-Eriane, a senior official with Raqqa Civil Council now running the city, said,
The mass grave was located under a football pitch, close to a hospital where the jihadists had dug in before being chased out of the city.
“It was apparently the only place available for burials, which were done in haste. The jihadists were holed up in the hospital,” the official said, adding that some bodies were marked with the nom de guerre of the jihadist while civilians just had first names.
In recent months, both Syria and Iraq have discovered mass graves in areas previously occupied by the jihadists.
Syrian troops uncovered a mass grave containing the remains of more than 30 people killed by Daesh in Raqqa province in February.
It followed two other similar finds by the Syrian army.
The Daesh group, which proclaimed a “caliphate” over swathes of Syria and Iraq in 2014, has now lost almost all the land it once controlled.
It has been held responsible for multiple atrocities during its reign of terror, including mass executions and decapitations.