Iraq moves to capture last Daesh stronghold

Updated 27 October 2017

Iraq moves to capture last Daesh stronghold

BAGHDAD: Iraqi security forces backed by the US-led military coalition, the Shiite-dominated paramilitary troops and local Sunni tribal fighters, have launched a military operation on Thursday to retake the last Daesh-stronghold in the country and secure the international Iraqi-Syrian border.
Iraqi federal troops continued their push to regain control over a Syrian-Iraqi-Turkish triangle border area where an oil pipeline was used by the Kurdish region to export oil to the Turkish port of Ceyhan, federal military command sources told Arab News on Thursday.
Iraq has lost almost a third of its territories to Daesh when its militants swept the northern and western parts of the country in June 2014, after the dramatic collapse of the Iraqi army.
Baghdad, in cooperation with its international, regional and local backers, has fought back during the last three years to regain its territory and expel militants out of towns and cities and drive them to the desert.
Most cities and towns were taken back except for those near the Iraqi-Syrian border, in addition to some other areas spread in the vast western desert of Anbar province.
“Today, the operation to liberate the last Daesh-strongholds has started,” Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi said in a statement on Thursday.
“We have rejected the idea of accommodating Daesh and we decided to eliminate them because their survival (represents) a danger to everyone,” the statement read.
By the end of this operation, Baghdad will gain back control over all of its territories and Daesh military presence will come to an end. Small Daesh pockets and sleeper cells will continue to be a source of trouble and small-scale attacks may be needed across the country.
The military operation in western Anbar was due to be launched weeks ago. It was delayed because of the controversial referendum on independence held by the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in September, as most Iraqi troops have been involved in a military campaign launched by Baghdad to regain control over the northern city of Kirkuk, its lucrative oil fields and the disputed areas adjacent to the Kurdish region which were gradually seized by Kurdistan in recent years.
The advancing federal forces in the north have recaptured most of the disputed areas and have pushed toward the area of Habur to gain control over several towns and villages located in the joint triangle between the Syrian-Iraqi-Turkish border which includes a Kurdish oil pipeline used to export oil to Ceyhan port in Turkey.
Baghdad has imposed several punitive measures on Kurdistan in the last four weeks including banning international flight to and from the region, stopping financial transaction between Baghdad and the region, rehabilitating the oil pipeline network which extends between Kirkuk and Ceyhan port in Turkey to bypass Kurdistan to resume oil exports. Baghdad also filed a formal request to Iran and Turkey to shut down their formal crossings with the region.
Iran has shut down its three formal crossings with Kurdistan ahead of the launch of the military operation, while Turkey has been working with the Iraqi federal authorities to open a new crossing outside Kurdistan, near the town of Habur, in preparation to blocking its usual crossings with the region.
Federal forces on Thursday advanced toward Habur from three towns: Rabia, near the Iraqi-Syrian border, Zummar, 60 km north of Mosul, and Perde town on the main way linking Kirkuk to the Kurdish region. Armed clashes broke out between the advancing troops and Kurdish forces deployed in the region, for the second time this week, military sources said.
“Direct clashes stopped since the morning, and despite mortar and rockets launched by Peshmerga from the nearby town, our forces are advancing steadily,” a senior federal military officer involved in the operation who declined to be named told Arab News.
Federal and regional military sources told Arab News that there were casualties from both sides.
No specific numbers of casualties were given, but a senior Kurdish commander and his two bodyguards were killed in Zummar.
Al-Abadi started on Wednesday a regional tour which included Turkey and Iran to discuss the joint interests of the three countries. The September referendum which represents a national security threat for both Turkey and Iran, and measures taken by the Iraqi federal government to abort it, featured strongly in the talks with Turkish and Iranian officials during the past two days, sources close to Al-Abadi told Arab News.
Baghdad has formally rejected on Thursday a proposal presented by KRG to “freeze” the results of the referendum, “immediate” cease-fire between the two sides, and start an “open” dialogue based on the constitution between the federal government and Kurdistan Region.
“Our strategy is to return these (the disputed) areas to the authority of state and we are not accepting (anything) except the cancelation of the referendum and commitment to the constitution,” Al-Abadi said in a statement circulated by his office on Thursday.


Lebanon to ease virus curbs from Monday

Updated 36 min 53 sec ago

Lebanon to ease virus curbs from Monday

  • The health minister said Lebanon “will gradually reopen from Monday” to give citizens and businesses a respite ahead of Christmas

BEIRUT: Lebanon is from Monday to gradually ease restrictions imposed two weeks ago after a surge in coronavirus infections, in a bid to relieve its struggling economy in time for the festive season, officials said.
Acting health minister Hamad Hassan told reporters the country “will gradually reopen from Monday” to give citizens and businesses a respite ahead of Christmas and end of year holidays.
He said restaurants will reopen at 50 percent capacity, but bars and nightclubs will remain closed and weddings prohibited, while an overnight curfew will start from 11 p.m. instead of 5pm.
Schools would also reopen but with some classes still held online, Hassan said after a meeting of Lebanon’s coronavirus task force.
He warned that the “danger” of a rise in infections still exists and that the hoped-for results to stem the virus thanks to the curbs would not be known for several days.
Before the two-week restrictions went into force in mid-November, bed occupancy in hospital intensive care units was between 80 and 90 percent while “now it stands at 65-70 percent,” Hassan said.
Since February, the country has recorded more than 125,000 Covid-19 cases, including around 1,000 deaths.
Lebanon, with a population of around six million, had been recording some 11,000 coronavirus infections on average each week before mid-November, according to the health ministry.
A first country-wide lockdown imposed in March was effective in stemming the spread of the virus, before restrictions were gradually lifted as summer beckoned people outdoors.
But the number of cases surged following a monstrous blast at Beirut’s port on August 4 that killed more than 200 people, wounded at least 6,500 and overwhelmed hospitals.
The blast and the pandemic have exacerbated tensions in the Mediterranean country which has been grappling with its worst economic crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war.