Security forces end attack on Irbil governorate by suspected Daesh militants

A member of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) carries an automatic rifle on a road in the Qandil Mountains, the PKK headquarters in northern Iraq. (File Photo: AFP)
Updated 23 July 2018
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Security forces end attack on Irbil governorate by suspected Daesh militants

  • Security forces have cleared the streets around the building, which is located in the busy city centre, said the security officials
  • These types of attacks are rare in Erbil, one of the most stable cities in Iraq

IRBIL, Iraq: Kurdish security forces killed gunmen who had stormed a government building in the Kurdish city of Irbil on Monday and took hostages in an attack suspected of being carried out by Daesh, security officials said.
Armed with pistols, AK-47 rifles and hand grenades, the assailants shot their way into the building housing the governorate from the main gate and a side entrance.
According to preliminary investigations, one government employee was killed in four hours of clashes. Two policemen were wounded.
The gunmen approached the building shortly before 8 a.m. and opened fire, Irbil deputy governor Tahir Abdullah told Reuters.
Seizing the third floor and taking an unspecified number of hostages, the men screamed “Allahu Akbar” (God is Greatest).
There were conflicting accounts on the details of the attack. Security officials said two of the men carried out suicide bombings.
But Irbil Governor Nawzad Hadi said none of the men blew themselves up. There were three assailants, he added.
Snipers took up positions on a nearby building in Irbil’s busy commercial district and opened fire at the militants. Hand grenades were hurled at security forces.
DAESH SUSPECTED
“We believe that the attackers are from Daesh because of the tactics they used in breaking into the building from the main gate. Two gunmen used pistols to shoot at the guards,” said a security official.
Hisham Al-Hashimi, an expert on Daesh who advises the Iraqi government, said the attack was more likely carried out by Ansar Al-Islam, a predominantly Kurdish, Salafist organization which had links to Al Qaeda.
The attack lacked the sophistication of Daesh operations, he said.
“Daesh should not be ruled out,” he said, using a Arabic acronym used to describe the group.
“They were wearing the local Kurdish outfits used by Ansar Al-Islam. There were no suicide belts.”
Iraq announced in December that it had defeated Daesh. The militants came close to Irbil during a lightning offensive in 2014 before being pushed back, but were only driven from the city of Mosul, about 85 km west of Irbil, a year ago after a long, Western-backed campaign.
The group still carries out attacks in parts of Iraq, an OPEC oil producer and close ally of the United States.
Such high-profile assaults are rare in Irbil, seat of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).
The semi-autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq was already facing difficulties before Monday’s violence.
Last year a Kurdish bid for independence from the central government was quashed by the Iraqi army and militias allied with Iran.
Tensions are high between the two main Kurdish parties because of difference over the independence issue.
Kurdish security forces said the gunmen, who were speaking Kurdish, asked the women to leave and kept the men inside.
Daesh has in the past established units composed solely of Kurdish militants who fought in both Iraq and Syria.


Lebanese wary as Israel destroys Hezbollah border tunnels

Updated 5 min 46 sec ago
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Lebanese wary as Israel destroys Hezbollah border tunnels

  • Israel said its troops have discovered at least three tunnels along the frontier, calling on the international community to impose new sanctions on Hezbollah
  • In Lebanon, Israeli PM's warnings have raised suspicions that he is also using the tunnel operation as a diplomatic pressure card

MAYS AL-JABAL, Lebanon: As Israeli excavators dug into the rocky hills along the frontier with a Lebanese village, a crowd of young Lebanese men gathered to watch.
The mood was light as the crowd observed in real time what Israel says is a military operation — dubbed “Northern Shield” — aimed at destroying attack tunnels built by the Lebanese Hezbollah militia. The young men posed for selfies, with the Israeli crew in the background, as they burned fires and brewed tea to keep warm.
But Lebanese soldiers were visibly on high alert, deploying to new camouflaged posts behind sandbags and inside abandoned homes. About two dozen UN peacekeepers stood in a long line, just ahead of the blue line demarcating the frontier between the two countries technically still at war.
The scene highlights the palpable anxiety that any misstep could lead to a conflagration between Israel and Lebanon that no one seems to want.
Underscoring such jitters, shadowy figures appearing across the misty hills of the border village of Mays Al-Jabal last weekend sparked panic, and Israeli soldiers fired in the air to warn a Lebanese military intelligence patrol, according to Lebanese reports. Israel said it fired at Hezbollah members who came to the site to dismantle sensors installed to detect tunnels.
Israel’s tunnel search comes at a time when the civil war in neighboring Syria seems to be winding down. Hezbollah had sent hundreds of troops to Syria in 2013 to fight alongside the forces of Syrian President Bashar Assad. With Assad’s forces emerging victorious, attention now seems to be returning to the tense Israel-Lebanon border.
Israel said its troops have discovered at least three tunnels along the frontier — a tactic used by Hezbollah in previous wars — and called on the international community to impose new sanctions on Hezbollah.
The militant group, which fought a bruising but inconclusive war with Israel in 2006, has not commented on the Israeli operation or statements.
Lebanese Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri said Thursday that neither Israel nor Lebanon wanted to go to war, but noted that Israel violates Lebanese airspace and international waters on a regular basis.
He said the Lebanese army “will deal with this issue” after receiving a full report from the UN peacekeeping force, but did not elaborate.
The peacekeeping force, known as UNIFIL, has confirmed the presence of tunnels and said it is working with both sides to address the situation in line with UN Security Council resolutions.
In southern Lebanon on Thursday, Lebanese army soldiers observed the frontier in Mays Al-Jabal, taking photos of their Israeli counterparts operating only a few meters (yards) away. At times, the Lebanese soldiers asked the young men to move back, away from the frontier.
Ali Jaber, a 21-year-old resident of Mays Al-Jabal, said he believes that Hezbollah is more popular after the Syria war, and that this is the reason Israel is now turning to it. “But whoever puts up a shield and is hiding and making fortifications must be scared,” he said.
Hussein Melhem, a 19-year old electrician from the village, came to watch. His cheeks ruddy on a cold but clear day, he covered his head with a tight hood. He alleged that Israel is trying to change the border.
“If they could occupy all of this, they would,” he said, in an apparent reference to Israel’s 18-year military occupation of southern Lebanon which ended in 2000. “But the resistance will prevent them.”
As a seven-year-old in 2006, Melhem and his family left Mays Al-Jabal when Israel invaded. His village was badly damaged but has since largely recovered and he said he found their home intact.
It is hard to forget about war in the villages and towns along the frontier. Pictures of Hezbollah fighters who died in the 2006 war, as well as the one raging in neighboring Syria, known locally as the “Sacred Defense,” are everywhere. Posts on town squares boast of defeating Israel or urge the locals to “know their enemy.”
During the Syrian civil war, Israel has frequently carried out airstrikes in Syria against Iranian-allied forces, particularly Hezbollah. Israel says it aims to prevent sophisticated weaponry from reaching Hezbollah, which it considers its most pressing security concern.
In Lebanon, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s warnings have raised suspicions that he is also using the tunnel operation as a diplomatic pressure card.
Netanyahu has called for more sanctions against Hezbollah. In a visit to the frontier earlier this week, he warned that if Hezbollah tries to disrupt the search for tunnels, “it will be hit in a way it cannot even imagine.”
In Israel, some newspaper commentators have been critical of the UN peacekeeping force, whose mandate Israel and the United States have unsuccessfully attempted to expand to include “intervention and deterrence.”
About 20 kilometers (12 miles) to the north from Mays Al-Jabal, Israeli soldiers are also operating along another frontier to uncover what they suspect is a tunnel location.
There, a high concrete wall separates them from the Lebanese village of Kfar Kela.
UN peacekeepers and Lebanese army separately patrol the area. Israel began building the wall in 2012, and this section was completed weeks ago. While graffiti covers the older slabs of concrete, water has collected under the newer segment of the wall.
A UN peacekeeping force was working to clear the water after Lebanese residents complained it comes from irrigation drainage from the other side.