Iraq in new push against Daesh holdouts as Abadi eyes victory

Iraqi security forces members hold a position as they advance toward the Salaheddine province in the western desert bordering Syria, in this November 26, 2017 photo, in a bid to flush out remaining Daesh group fighters in the Al-Jazeera region. (AFP)
Updated 09 December 2017
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Iraq in new push against Daesh holdouts as Abadi eyes victory

BAGHDAD: Iraqi forces announced a new drive against holdout Daesh fighters in the western desert on Friday as Prime Minister Haider Abadi looks to proclaim victory over the terrorists.
Abadi has said he will not declare the insurgents have been defeated until they have been cleared from the dry valleys and other natural hideouts that have provided them with a desert refuge since they lost their last urban centers last month.
Troops and paramilitary Al-Hashd Al-Shaabi forces “launched a major drive to clear areas of Al-Jazeera region between Nineveh and Anbar (provinces) in the second phase of operations,” Joint Operations Command (JOC) said in a statement.
In a first phase of operations launched on Nov. 23, government forces moving south from Nineveh and north from Anbar already linked up, clearing large parts of the desert between the Tigris and Euphrates valleys.
JOC spokesman Gen. Yahya Rassoul said on Nov. 27 that they had already cleared 50 percent of the total area of the desert of around 29,000 square km.
At the peak of its power in 2014, Daesh ruled some 7 million people in a territory as large as Italy, encompassing large parts of Syria and nearly a third of Iraq.
It is now confined to just a few small pockets, most of them in the desert.
During a visit to the Middle East on Thursday, French President Emmanuel Macron said he expected Iraq to declare victory over Daesh by the end of this month.


Iran govt faces angry online backlash over activists’ abuse claims

Since protests began in December, Iranians have had their internet access disrupted and have lost access to the messaging app Telegram. (Reuters)
Updated 18 February 2019
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Iran govt faces angry online backlash over activists’ abuse claims

  • The Arab minority in southwest Iran has long claimed that it faces discrimination from the central government

GENEVA, LONDON: In early January, labor activist Esmail Bakhshi posted a letter on Instagram saying he had been tortured in jail, attracting support from tens of thousands of Iranians online.
Bakhshi, who said he was still in pain, also challenged the intelligence minister to a public debate about the religious justification for torture. Late last month, Bakhshi was rearrested.
Sepideh Qoliyan, a journalist covering labor issues in the Ahvaz region, was also rearrested on the same day after saying on social media that she had been abused in jail.
Bakhshi’s allegations of torture and the social media furor that followed led Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to call for an investigation, and the intelligence minister subsequently met with a parliamentary committee to discuss the case, a rare example of top officials being prompted to act by a public backlash online.
“Each sentence and description of torture from the mouths of #Sepideh_Qoliyan and #Esmail_Bakhshi should be remembered and not forgotten because they are now alone with the torturers and under pressure and defenseless. Let us not forget,” a user named Atish posted on Twitter in Farsi on Feb. 11.
“When thousands of people share it on social media, the pressure for accountability goes up,” said Hadi Ghaemi, executive director at the New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran. “Sham investigations won’t put it to rest. Social media is definitely becoming a major, major public square in Iran.”
Tehran prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi said last month, without naming Bakhshi, that allegations of torture online constitute a crime.
His comments follow growing pressure from officials to close Instagram, which has about 24 million users in Iran. Iran last year shut down the Telegram messaging app, which had about 40 million users in the country, citing security concerns.
“Today you see in cyberspace that with the posting of a film or lie or rumor the situation in the country can fall apart,” Dolatabadi said, according to the Iranian Students’ News Agency. “You saw in recent days that they spread a rumor and announced the rape of an individual or claimed suicide and recently you even saw claims of torture and all the powers in the country get drawn in. Today cyberspace has been transformed into a very broad platform for committing crimes.”
The arrests of Bakhshi and Qoliyan are part of a crackdown in Ahvaz, center of Iran’s Arab population. Hundreds of activists there pushing for workers’ and minority rights, two of the most contentious issues in Iran, have been detained in recent weeks.
The Arab minority in southwest Iran has long claimed that it faces discrimination from the central government.