Baghdad begins final sweep to flush out Daesh

In this Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2017 photo, Iraqi Army armored vehicle patrol while US Marines build a military site in western Anbar, Iraq. The US-led coalition’s newest outpost in the fight against the Daesh group is in a dusty corner of western Iraq just some 20 kilometers from the border with Syria. From here, a couple hundred US marines supported the most recent Iraqi victory against the extremists in the border town of Qaim some 320 kilometers (200 miles) west of Baghdad. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed)
Updated 23 November 2017
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Baghdad begins final sweep to flush out Daesh

BAGHDAD: Iraqi forces launched a sweep through the western desert to flush out remaining Daesh fighters on Thursday, an operation the prime minister has said will spell the militants’ “final defeat” in the country.
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.


UN Security Council meets on Gaza violence

A photo taken on November 12, 2018 shows a ball of fire above the building housing the Hamas-run television station al-Aqsa TV in Gaza City during an Israeli air strike. (AFP)
Updated 14 November 2018
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UN Security Council meets on Gaza violence

  • Seven Palestinians were killed in Gaza as Israeli strikes targeted militants and flattened buildings
  • Palestinian militant groups including Hamas, which rules Gaza, issued a joint statement earlier announcing an Egyptian-brokered cease-fire with Israel

UNITED NATIONS, United States: The UN Security Council met behind closed doors Tuesday to discuss the escalation of violence in the Gaza Strip but there was no agreement on how to address the crisis, diplomats said.
Kuwait, which represents Arab countries at the council, and Bolivia requested the meeting following the worst flareup in Gaza since the 2014 war between Hamas and Israel.
Addressing reporters after the 50-minute meeting, Palestinian Ambassador Riyad Mansour said the council was “paralyzed” and had “failed to shoulder its responsibility” to take action to end the violence.
“There is one country that is not allowing discussion at the council,” Mansour told reporters, in a reference to the United States, which has taken a pro-Israeli stance under President Donald Trump.
There was no statement from the council on the crisis. Such statements are agreed by consensus by all 15 council members.
Kuwait’s Ambassador Mansour Al-Otaibi said the majority of council members were of the view that the top UN body “should do something” and some suggested a visit to the region, but no decision was taken.
Palestinian militant groups including Hamas, which rules Gaza, issued a joint statement earlier announcing an Egyptian-brokered cease-fire with Israel.
The groups said they would abide by the truce as long as Israel did the same, but there was no immediate comment from the Israeli side.
Israel’s UN Ambassador Danny Danon earlier said “we will not accept a call for both sides to exercise restraint” and laid the blame for the violence squarely on the Palestinians.
Seven Palestinians were killed in Gaza as Israeli strikes targeted militants and flattened buildings in the worst escalation of violence since the 2014 war between Israel and Hamas.
The latest round of violence began on Sunday with a botched Israeli special forces operation inside the Gaza Strip that turned deadly and prompted Hamas to vow revenge.
Palestinian militants responded with rocket and mortar fire. An anti-tank missile hit a bus that Hamas says was being used by Israeli soldiers. A soldier was severely wounded in the attack.
Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza have fought three wars since 2008, and protests and clashes along the Gaza border since March 30 have repeatedly raised fears of a fourth.