Up to 30,000 Daesh members in Iraq, Syria, says UN report

30,000 members of the group in Iraq and Syria pose a rising threat. (AFP)
Updated 15 August 2018
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Up to 30,000 Daesh members in Iraq, Syria, says UN report

  • The experts said Al-Qaeda’s global network also “continues to show resilience”
  • The report to the Security Council by experts monitoring sanctions against Daesh and Al-Qaeda said the estimate of the current total Daesh membership in Iraq and Syria came from governments it did not identify

NEW YORK: Daesh has up to 30,000 members roughly equally distributed between Syria and Iraq and its global network poses a rising threat — as does Al-Qaeda, which is much stronger in places, a UN report says.

The report by UN experts circulated on Monday said that despite the defeat of Daesh in Iraq and most of Syria, it is likely that a reduced “covert version” of the terrorist group’s “core” will survive in both countries, with significant affiliated supporters in Afghanistan, Libya, Southeast Asia and West Africa.

The experts said Al-Qaeda’s global network also “continues to show resilience,” with its affiliates and allies much stronger than Daesh in some spots, including Somalia, Yemen, South Asia and Africa’s Sahel region.

Al-Qaeda’s leaders in Iran “have grown more prominent” and have been working with the extremist group’s top leader, Ayman Al-Zawahri, “projecting his authority more effectively than he could previously” including on events in Syria, the experts said.

The report to the Security Council by experts monitoring sanctions against Daesh and Al-Qaeda said the estimate of the current total Daesh membership in Iraq and Syria came from governments it did not identify. The estimate of between 20,000 and 30,000 members includes “a significant component of the many thousands of active foreign terrorist fighters,” it said.

While many Daesh men have been killed in fighting, and many other fighters and supporters have left the immediate conflict zone, the experts said many still remain in the two countries — some engaged militarily “and others hiding out in sympathetic communities and urban areas.”

With its physical caliphate largely destroyed, Daesh is transforming from a “proto-state” to a covert “terrorist” network, “a process that is most advanced in Iraq” because it still controls pockets in Syria, the report said.

The experts said the discipline imposed by Daesh remains intact and its leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi “remains in authority” despite reports that he was injured. 

“It is just more delegated than before, by necessity, to the wider network outside the conflict zone,” the experts said.

The flow of foreign fighters to Daesh in Syria and Iraq has come to a halt, they said, but “the reverse flow, although slower than expected, remains a serious challenge.”


Kurds split on next Iraqi president and throw government formation into further turmoil

Updated 26 September 2018
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Kurds split on next Iraqi president and throw government formation into further turmoil

  • The failure of the Kurds to agree on a single candidate will threaten the stability of the Kurdish region
  • A close ally of KDP leader Massoud Barzani has been backed as a presidential nomination

BAGHDAD: Iraq’s main Kurdish political forces have failed to agree on a candidate for the post of president, highlighting the depth of the rift  between them and redrawing their map of influence in Baghdad, negotiators told Arab News.

Electing the president is the second step in the process of forming a government. According to the political power sharing agreement adopted by Iraqi political parties since the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein, the post is allocated to the Kurds.

By the end of Monday, the last day for nominations, more than 30 candidates, including a woman, had declared their nominations for the post but the absence of consensus between the Kurdish parties on a single candidate, meant the vote was delayed until Thursday.

The president in the Iraqi constitution does not have wide executive powers, but could play a pivotal role in resolving disputes between Baghdad and Erbil, the capital of the autonomous Kurdish region, and between the Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish powers in Baghdad. 

The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), the largest Kurdish parties in Iraq control more than 50 seats in parliament. The two parties have shared the federal posts allocated to the Kurds for the last 15 years. Voting for the PUK’s presidential candidate had become a tradition, but the insistence of the KDP to compete for the post this time has confused Iraq’s parties and forced them to renegotiate.

“It is time to get this position back to the larger Kurdish bloc,” Irdlan Noor Al-Deen, a KDP leader and MP said. “We are insisting to compete for the post ... and we will not discuss the option of stepping down.”

The failure of the Kurds to agree on a single candidate will threaten the stability of the Kurdish region and deepen the disagreement between the two Kurdish parties that arose in October last year when Kurdish forces associated with the PUK refused to fight Iraqi security forces after they launched a campaign to regain central government control over the disputed areas between Baghdad and Erbil. The offensive was in response to the independence  referendum held a month earlier.

The two parties are squaring up in elections scheduled for next week for the Kurdistan Regional Government.

Azad Warti, a PUK leader, said that if the political “fire” from the KDP continued after the elections “we will review our relationship with them.”

“There are a lot of joints areas between us ... and continuing with this approach means that we may not continue with them in the same front,” he said.

Last week, the PUK’s leadership nominated the Kurdish veteran politician Barham Salih, while the KDP nominated Fuad Hussein, the head of the Kurdistan Regional Presidency Office and personal secretary of Massoud Barzani, the most prominent Kurdish leader and former president of the Kurdish region.

It is not clear why Barzani, who headed the KDP, suddenly insisted on the presidential candidacy. Some observers see this step as an attempt to seek revenge against the Kurdish and Shiite forces that rejected the independence referendum and supported Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi when he imposed a series of financial and administrative sanctions on Kurdistan.

“Barzani is looking to get revenge from the leaders of the PUK because he believes that they let him down in his battle with Baghdad when he held the referendum,” Abdulwahid Tuama, a political analyst told Arab News.

“Also, getting the post for the KDP candidate will reinforce the divisions between the PUK and its Kurdish allies in Baghdad, and this will provide the KDP with a great opportunity to be the touchstone in the ongoing negotiations to form a government in Baghdad.”

The major Shiite blocs, which initially declared their support for Barham Salih, have now said they do not mind if the KDP takes over the president, but stipulated the replacement of the party's official candidate.

“Fouad Hussein was rejected by all Shiite political forces. We told Barzani that we have no objection to voting for his candidate, but he has to nominate someone else,” A key Shiite negotiator told Arab News.

“Hussein is the private secretary of Barzani and if he is elected as president of Iraq, it means that the president will be Barzani’s secretary.

“This is an insult to the country and to all, and we will never accept it.”

Iran and the United States have been the most prominent international players in Iraq since 2003. Both are deeply involved in the ongoing negotiations between Kurdish, Shiite and Sunni parties. 

Brett McGurk, the US envoy to Iraq and Syria, has played a key role in naming Barham Salih as a candidate for the PUK, while Gen. Qassim Sulaimani, the commander of Iran’s Quds Force, flew to Erbil on Sunday evening to meet Barzani and “persuade him to abandon his stubbornness and accept a compromise that excludes both candidates (Salih and Hussein),” two Shiite negotiators told Arab News. 

“Sulaimani went last night to Erbil to smooth the tension and try to find a solution that would be accepted by all the related parties,” a key Shiite negotiator told Arab News.

“He will suggest to provide a new candidate who should be accepted by all Kurdish, Shiite and Sunni parties. 

The negotiator said parliament may vote to reelect Fuad Massum, the outgoing Iraqi president, as he is accepted by all.