Rebels launch fierce assaults on Syria troops: activists

Updated 10 February 2013
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Rebels launch fierce assaults on Syria troops: activists

BEIRUT: Syrian rebels launched fierce assaults on regime troops in several parts of the country Sunday, including near Deir Ezzor where they used tanks to shell an army brigade, a watchdog and activists said.
The rebels used tanks to shell Brigade 113 just north of the eastern city of Deir Ezzor, which they have surrounded for weeks, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
Brigade 113 and the besieged military airport of Deir Ezzor are some of the last regime holdouts in the city, whose province is largely held by the rebel fighters.
One rebel died in the attack on the garrison, as clashes raged in the city, the Britain-based watchdog said.
The opposition Deir Ezzor press network, a grassroots group of activists said that the humanitarian conditions in the province were dire.
“The western countryside is out of water and electricity supplies for the eleventh day in a row due to the indiscriminate shelling by the regime forces,” it said.
Two weeks ago, the rebels captured the vital Siyasiyeh suspension bridge that straddles the Euphrates river in Deir Ezzor, cutting off the main regime supply route to the adjoining province of Hasakeh.
Regime troops have already been forced from the vast territory stretching from Deir Ezzor city to the Iraqi border, including the border town of Albu Kamal and its small military airbase.
In the northeast province of Raqa on Sunday, fighters from the jihadist Al-Nusra Front and other rebel battalions took over an army company in Tabqa along the Euphrates river, securing a major cache of artillery and ammunition and taking control of a key checkpoint in the town, the Observatory said.
Rebels also continued their assault on Wadi Deif military base, a major regime holdout in the largely rebel-held northwest province of Idlib, while the army retaliated shelling the nearby town of Maaret Al-Numan.
In the northern province of Aleppo four soldiers were killed and more than 20 wounded in a bombing by Al-Nusra Front targeting a military building, the Observatory said without offering other details.
Clashes also erupted south of Aleppo city, when rebels attacked an army convoy headed to Safireh, where a cluster of defense factories are the last regime bastion in a city held by Al-Nusra Front and other rebel battalions.
In the central province of Hama, five civilian guards of a cement plant were killed in an insurgent attack, only four days after 60 civilians, including 11 women, died in a bombing of a bus transporting employees from a military factory elsewhere in the province, the Observatory said.
The Observatory, which collects reports from a network of activists and medics in civilian and military hospitals on the ground, said that 125 people — 52 civilians, 29 troops and 44 rebels — were killed on Saturday.


Trio of favorites to vie for Iraq’s premiership

Updated 22 April 2018
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Trio of favorites to vie for Iraq’s premiership

  • Haddad said: “Abadi remains the single strongest contender but not strong enough to win anything close to a majority.”
  • The paramilitary chief ditched his civilian clothes in favor of military fatigues in 2014, to rally efforts against an ascendant Daesh.
BAGHDAD: An incumbent prime minister, his ousted predecessor and a paramilitary chief instrumental in defeating the Daesh group are the three favorites vying for Iraq’s premiership.
Since Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein was toppled in the US-led invasion of 2003, the constitution has vested key powers in the prime minister, a post reserved for the majority Shiite population.
Under a system of checks and balances designed to avoid a return to dictatorship, the winner of the May 12 parliamentary elections will have to form alliances with other Shiite, Sunni Arab and Kurdish lists to secure a majority. Two of the favorites topping the lists were among the architects of victory against Daesh, which in 2014 seized a third of Iraq’s territory in a lightning offensive.
Security crisis
The incumbent prime minister, 66 year-old Haider Abadi, took over the reins from Nuri Al-Maliki in September 2014 at the high watermark of the security crisis.
The fightback which allowed Abadi to declare Iraq’s victory over the jihadists in December, has silenced critics of his lack of military experience.
An engineering graduate and holder of a doctorate from the University of Manchester in Britain, Abadi is from the same Dawa party as his predecessor Maliki.
He owes his position to the support of the Marjaiya, the supreme council of Iraq’s Shiite clerics, and to an international consensus.
“He is acceptable to all foreign stakeholders, from the Iranians, to the Americans (and) the Saudis,” said Fanar Haddad, a senior research fellow at the National University of Singapore’s Middle East Institute.
As the official head of Iraq’s military, Abadi has bolstered morale by drafting in foreign trainers, who have helped professionalize tens of thousands of soldiers.
Under his watch and backed by a US-led international coalition, the army has banished Daesh from all its urban strongholds in Iraq, leaving jihadists largely confined to areas close to the Syrian border.
The Iraqi military has also pushed back the Kurds in the north’s oil-rich Kirkuk province, bolstering Abadi’s status as frontrunner going into the election.
“He has a popular base which transcends confessional and ethnic lines. He offers a narrative as a statesman and he is not tarnished by corruption,” said Iraqi political scientist Essam Al-Fili.
Haddad said: “Abadi remains the single strongest contender but not strong enough to win anything close to a majority.”
His main contender is Hadi Al-Ameri — a leader of Hashed Al-Shaabi, a paramilitary network that played a pivotal role in defeating IS.
Ameri comes from Diyala province and is a statistics graduate from Baghdad University. He fled to Iran in 1980 after Saddam executed top Shiite cleric Ayatollah Mohammed Baqr Al-Sadr.
The 64-year old is widely viewed as Tehran’s favored candidate.
He fought alongside Iranian forces in the Iran-Iraq war of 1980 to 1988 as part of the Badr organization, and he only returned from exile after Saddam’s ouster. During Maliki’s 2010-2014 term as premier, Ameri was a lawmaker and then transport minister, but he was blocked in a bid to head the Interior Ministry by an American veto.
The paramilitary chief ditched his civilian clothes in favor of military fatigues in 2014, to rally efforts against an ascendant Daesh. At the battlefront, he operated alongside his old friend Qassem Soleimani, who runs the foreign operations wing of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards.
“I think Ameri will have a strong hand in the post-ballot negotiations but that government formation is likely to remain with Dawa and in all likelihood with Abadi,” said Haddad.
Rebuilding Basra
Beyond Ameri’s military credentials, his appeal has been bolstered by Hashed putting its bulldozers to work in rebuilding Basra and the capital’s Sadr City district, exposing the state’s deficiencies.
“With Dawa divided, I think Ameri sees himself as the joker in the pack, as a prime minister who can rebuild the civil state with the same success that he led the military,” said Fili.
The third candidate, 68-year-old Maliki, has been chomping at the bit since he was forced out in 2014, after serving eight years as prime minister.
While still a prominent Dawa leader, he was accused of marginalizing Sunnis and promoting corruption during his tenure.
“He is trying to focus his efforts on areas where the Dawa party is strong and is attempting to get closer to Shiite armed groups to stay in the spotlight,” said Fili.
For Haddad, the former premier’s chances are modest.
“Maliki’s fortunes have taken an irreversible hit. His second term is not remembered well by Iraqis in general.”
“The upper limit of his prospects might be to play second fiddle to Ameri,” Haddad said.