US-backed Syrian force resumes ground assault on Daesh

Fighters from the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), visit a cemetary during the funeral of a fellow fighter, killed in an offensive by the Islamic State (IS) group against an SDF position, in the Kurdish-controlled city of Qamishly in northeastern Syria, on November 11, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 11 November 2018

US-backed Syrian force resumes ground assault on Daesh

  • The Kurdish-led SDF said its operations in the Deir Ezzor area had restarted
  • Turkey views Kurdish influence in northern Syria as a national security threat

AMMAN: The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces said on Sunday it had resumed a ground assault against Daesh in its last foothold near the Iraqi border, following the suspension of the offensive last month after Turkish shelling of northern Syria.
The Kurdish-led SDF said its operations in the Deir Ezzor area had restarted as the result of “intensive contacts between our forces’ leadership and the international coalition and active diplomatic efforts aimed at defusing the crisis on the (Turkish-Syrian) border.”
In a statement, the SDF said it was committed to continuing operations “to eliminate (Daesh).”
The US-led coalition kept up air strikes in the Deir Ezzor area despite the pause in SDF operations.
Turkey views Kurdish influence in northern Syria as a national security threat. The SDF is spearheaded by the Kurdish YPG militia, which Ankara views as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has waged a three-decade insurgency in Turkey.


Iraqi blogger returns day after kidnapping

Updated 18 October 2019

Iraqi blogger returns day after kidnapping

  • “Around 15 men wearing masks and black uniforms” took Al-Khafaji from his home, the blogger’s father said
  • Twenty-four hours later, hei was “abandoned in a street with $20 to pay for a taxi home”

BAGHDAD: A prominent Iraqi blogger resurfaced Friday a day after he was seized by masked gunmen, his father said, as Amnesty International denounced a “climate of fear” in the country after protests and deadly violence.
Shujaa Al-Khafaji’s family said armed men had snatched him from his home on Thursday without identifying themselves or showing an arrest warrant.
Khafaji’s Facebook page, Al-Khowa Al-Nadifa (Arabic for “Those Who Have Clean Hands“), carries posts on political and social issues and has some 2.5 million followers.
“Around 15 men wearing masks and black uniforms” took Khafaji from his home, the blogger’s father, Fares Al-Khafaji, told AFP.
He said they seized his son’s phones and computers, but were not violent.
Twenty-four hours later, Khafaji was “abandoned in a street with $20 to pay for a taxi home,” his father added.
The report of Khafaji’s seizure sparked an outcry from activists and influential political leaders.
Rights watchdog Amnesty International denounced a “relentless campaign of intimidation and assault against activists in Iraq” by authorities.
“The Iraqi authorities must immediately rein in the security forces and dismantle the climate of fear they have deliberately created to stop Iraqis from peacefully exercising their rights to freedoms of expression and assembly,” said Lynn Maalouf, the group’s Middle East research director.
The group said other activists, including a doctor and a lawyer, were “forcibly disappeared more than 10 days ago,” and called on Iraqi authorities to reveal their whereabouts.
Firebrand Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr wrote on Twitter that “any act of aggression (against journalists or activists)... by the state constitutes an attack on freedom of speech.”
Former prime minister Haider Al-Abadi’s parliamentary bloc called on the government “to stop abuses of free media.”
Iraq was gripped by anti-government protests between October 1 and 6, during which 110 people, mainly demonstrators, were killed in clashes with security forces.
During the protests, unidentified armed men in uniforms raided several local television stations in Baghdad, destroying their equipment and intimidating their staff.
Journalists and activists also reported receiving threats, mostly by phone, from unidentified callers accusing them of having sided with the protesters.
Khafaji faced online harassment last month after a string of attacks on bases of the Hashed Al-Shaabi, a paramilitary force dominated by pro-Iran groups.
The group on Thursday denied any involvement in the disappearance of activists, threatening legal action against anyone making such accusations.
But according to Amnesty, the Hashed was involved in at least one abduction — that of lawyer Ali Hattab, who represented protesters and was seized on October 8 in the southern city of Amara.
He was snatched by “suspected members of a faction of the Popular Mobilization Units (Hashed),” Amnesty said quoting Hattab’s relatives.
It happened two days after “two armed men from the PMU came to (his) home to warn him to stop being vocal about the killing of protesters on Facebook, otherwise they would kill him,” Amnesty added.