Baghdad begins final sweep to flush out Daesh
Baghdad begins final sweep to flush out Daesh
The arid, sparsely populated wastelands between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers are the last refuge of the militants in Iraq after troops and paramilitaries ousted them from both valleys and all urban areas.
“The Iraqi Army, the federal police and the Hashed Al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilization paramilitary units) this morning began clearing the Al-Jazeera region straddling Salaheddin, Nineveh and Anbar provinces,” the head of Joint Operations Command, Gen. Abdelamir Yarallah, said in a statement.
The Hashed Al-Shaabi released live footage from Siniyah in Saleheddin province of bulldozers clearing an earthen barrier to allow heavy armor to advance into the desert.
The tanks bore both the Iraq national flag and that of the paramilitary force, which is made up largely of Shiite militias.
Long lines of pick-up trucks waited to follow.
The Hashed said its forces had already taken control of a dozen villages, destroying a car bomb and defusing dozens of booby-traps planted by the militants.
The Al-Jazeera region is where Daesh fighters took refuge when Iraqi forces recaptured the last towns they still held in a successful drive up the Euphrates Valley to the Syrian border earlier this month.
That offensive culminated in the lightning recapture of the town of Rawa last Friday and saw Iraqi forces meet up with Syrian forces at the border.
“This operation is aimed at clearing the desert of the pockets where the jihadists took refuge when the towns that they had held were recently liberated,” a senior officer in Anbar province told AFP.
The region’s dry valleys, oases and steppes make up around 4 percent of national territory, Hisham Al-Hashemi, an Iraqi expert on Daesh, told AFP last week.
It has been known as a hotbed of militant insurgency and smuggling since the US-led invasion of Iraq ousted Saddam Hussein in 2003, long before the arrival of Daesh in 2014.
“There are some desert areas, which Iraqi government forces have not entered since 2003 and the operation is aimed at securing these areas 100 percent,” security analyst Said Al-Jayyashi told AFP.
“Once the clearance operations have been completed right up to the Iraq-Syria border, forces will redeploy and fortify the frontier,” he said.
Iraq’s close ally Iran has already declared victory over Daesh but Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi said on Tuesday that he would not follow suit until the desert had been cleared of remaining militants.
“After the operation has ended, we will announce the final defeat of Daesh in Iraq,” he said.
It is a massive turnaround for an organization that in 2014 ruled over 7 million people in a territory as large as Italy encompassing large parts of Syria and nearly a third of Iraq.
On the Syrian side of the border, Daesh is under massive pressure too.
In the border region, pro-government forces and US-backed Kurdish-led forces are conducting similar operations to clear Daesh fighters from the countryside north of the Euphrates valley after ousting them from all Syrian towns.
Elsewhere, Daesh retains a presence in the Yarmuk refugee camp and the Hajjar Aswad district just south of the capital Damascus, where the group is battling other militants and pro-government forces.
In the central province of Homs, it is being squeezed by troops loyal to President Bashar Assad and their Russian backers as it struggles to maintain a grip on a few small areas.
To the south, in Daraa province on the border with Jordan, an affiliated group called Jaish Khaled bin Walid is mainly battling other rebel groups.
Powerful Cyclone Mekunu leaves at least 1 dead, 40 missing in Oman and Yemen
- At least one person, a 12-year-old girl, died in Oman and 40 others are missing from the Yemeni island of Socotra
- Yemenis, Indians and Sudanese were among those missing on the Arabian Sea isle and officials feared some may be dead
SALALAH, Oman: Cyclone Mekunu blew into the Arabian Peninsula early Saturday, drenching arid Oman and Yemen with rain, cutting off power lines and leaving at least one dead and 40 missing, officials said.
Portions of Salalah, Oman’s third-largest city, lost electricity as the cyclone made landfall. The Arabian Sea angrily churned Saturday morning, sending mounds of sea foam into the air. The waves ate into one tourist beach, pulling hunks of it away and toppling thatch umbrellas cemented into the sand.
As Mekunu barreled overhead, the eye of the storm provided a moment’s respite. At one luxury hotel, which already had evacuated its guests, workers sat down early for a traditional “suhoor,” a meal Muslims eat before sunrise during the holy fasting month of Ramadan. They laughed and shared plates by flashlight in a darkened ballroom, the cyclone’s wind a dull roar behind their clatter.
At least one person, a 12-year-old girl, died in Oman and 40 others are missing from the Yemeni island of Socotra, which earlier took the storm’s brunt, police said. Yemenis, Indians and Sudanese were among those missing on the Arabian Sea isle and officials feared some may be dead.
Director of Meteology at the UAE weather center, Mohamad Al-Ebri, told Arab News on Friday that the cyclone is expected to reach the southern coast of Oman within the next 12 hours, however it is possible that by then the cyclone catagory would have gone down to level one again.
India’s Meteorological Department said the storm packed maximum sustained winds of 170-180 kilometers (105-111 miles) per hour with gusts of up to 200 kph (124 mph). It called the cyclone “extremely severe.”
Many holidaymakers fled the storm Thursday night before Salalah International Airport closed. The Port of Salalah — a key gateway for the country — also closed, its cranes secured against the pounding rain.
James Hewitson, general manager of the five-star hotel Al-Baleed Resort Salalah by Anantara, told Arab News they were expecting the situation to worsen over the coming days.
“The wind has picked up since this morning.”
He said the hotel staff were preparing for the worst outcome, ensuring there was enough fuel to power the generators, should the main electricity supply be cut.
“We have taken all precautions in terms of securing all areas of the building to keep our guests safe,” Hewitson explained.
He said the hotel was well stocked for food and water and that at least one of the restaurants would remain open.
“We have about 50 guests staying with us at the moment,” Hewitson told Arab News. “Some are leaving tonight, some have chosen to leave and we are offering to compensate them with our sister hotels across Oman”
“At the end of today I expect I will have something between 40 to 50 guests staying… We have 250 staff members.”
He explained that representatives from the Ministry of Tourism had visited in the morning.
“We have already taken down our outdoors furniture, and anything that is not bolted down has been put away so that the winds don’t blow them into anyone and hurt people like glass tables or umbrellas.”
And he added that Muscat civil defense had sent a team to support in Salalah.
“We have taken all precautions in terms of securing all areas of the building to keep our guests safe.”
UAE not to be affected
“According to the Medium Ranged Forecast from Numerical Weather Predictions, the tropical cyclone will not reach the UAE,” the UAE’s National Center of Meteorology said in a statement.
It added that however medium and high clouds and moist air mass may lead to convective cloud formations at times in the eastern and the southern parts of the country associated with fresh winds.
following up #CyclonicStormMekunu path updates in the #ArabianSea Saturday 26/5/2018 #mekunu— المركز الوطني للأرصاد (@NCMS_media) May 25, 2018
As predicted by the NCM the tropical Storm is descending from the second category to a tropical cyclone of the first category and no opportunities for direct impact on the UAE pic.twitter.com/2K0bDqScSv