Daesh extremists step up as Iraq, Syria, grapple with virus

Daesh extremists step up as Iraq, Syria, grapple with virus
Daesh militants in Iraq and Syria are stepping up attacks, taking advantage of governments preoccupied with the economic and health impact of the coronavirus. (File/AP)
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Updated 03 May 2020

Daesh extremists step up as Iraq, Syria, grapple with virus

Daesh extremists step up as Iraq, Syria, grapple with virus
  • The renewed mayhem is a sign that the militant group is taking advantage of governments absorbed in tackling the coronavirus pandemic
  • The virus is compounding longtime concerns among security and UN experts that the group would stage a comeback after its “caliphate”

BAGHDAD: The man wearing an explosive vest emerged from a car and calmly marched toward the gates of the intelligence building in Iraq’s northern city of Kirkuk. When he ignored their shouts to halt, guards opened fire, and he blew himself up, wounding three security personnel in the first week of Ramadan.
Days later, a three-pronged coordinated attack killed 10 Iraqi militia fighters in the northern province of Salahaddin — the deadliest and most complex operation in many months.
The assaults are the latest in a resurgence of attacks by the Daesh group in northern Iraq. The first was a brazen suicide mission not seen in months. The second was among the most complex attacks since the group’s defeat in 2017. In neighboring Syria, Daesh attacks on security forces, oil fields and civilian sites have also intensified.
The renewed mayhem is a sign that the militant group is taking advantage of governments absorbed in tackling the coronavirus pandemic and the ensuing slide into economic chaos. The virus is compounding longtime concerns among security and UN experts that the group would stage a comeback after its “caliphate,” which once encompassed a third of Iraq and Syria, was brought down last year.
In Iraq, militants also exploit security gaps at a time of an ongoing territorial dispute and a US troop drawdown.
“It’s a real threat,” said Qubad Talabani, deputy prime minister of the northern Kurdish region of Iraq. “They are mobilizing and killing us in the north and they will start hitting Baghdad soon.” He said Daesh was benefiting from a “gap” between Kurdish forces and federal armed forces caused by political infighting.
Intelligence reports say the number of Daesh fighters in Iraq is believed to be 2,500-3,000.
In northeast Syria, Kurdish-dominated police have become a more visible target for Daesh as they patrol the streets to implement anti-virus measures, said Mervan Qamishlo, a spokesman for US-allied Kurdish-led forces.
Daesh fighters in late March launched a campaign of attacks in government-held parts of Syria, from the central province of Homs all the way to Deir Ezzor to the east, bordering Iraq.
Some 500 fighters, including some who had escaped from prison, recently slipped from Syria into Iraq, helping fuel the surge in violence there, Iraqi intelligence officials said.
Daesh is shifting from local intimidation to more complex attacks, three Iraqi military officials and experts said. Operations previously focused on assassinations of local officials and less sophisticated attacks. Now the group is carrying out more IED attacks, shootings and ambushes of police and military. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.
Multiple factors help the militants. The number of Iraqi military personnel on duty has dropped 50% because of virus prevention measures, the military officials said.
Also, territorial disputes between Baghdad and authorities from the northern Kurdish autonomy zone have left parts of three provinces without law enforcement. The rugged landscape is difficult to police.
The uptick also coincides with a pullout of US-led coalition forces from bases in western Iraq, Nineveh and Kirkuk provinces in line with a drawdown conceived in December.
“Before the emergence of the virus and before the American withdrawal, the operations were negligible, numbering only one operation per week,” said a senior intelligence official. Now, he said, security forces are seeing an average of 20 operations a month. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief the media.
Coalition spokesman Col. Myles B. Caggins III said Daesh attacks were increasing in reaction to operations against its hideouts in the mountains and rural areas of north-central Iraq.
Iraqi military officials believe the improved, organized nature of the attacks serves to cement the influence of new Daesh leader Abu Ibrahim Al-Hashimi Al-Quraishi, who was named after his predecessor was killed in a US raid late last year. One military official said more operations are expected during Ramadan to demonstrate the new leader’s strength.
In Syria, one of the most significant attacks occurred April 9, when Daesh fighters attacked government positions in and near the town of Sukhna. The government brought in reinforcements for a counterattack backed by Russian airstrikes.
Two days of fighting left 32 troops and 26 Daesh gunmen dead, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which tracks the country’s nine-year war.
Days later, the government said that because of the security situation in the desert several gas wells in the fields of Shaer and Hayan were damaged, leading to a 30% drop in electricity production.
Back in Iraq, the green pastures of the northern village of Kujalo conceal a hidden enemy that keeps resident Nawzad up at night. His farming community lies in a disputed territory that has witnessed a sharp increase in attacks, including a nearby ambush earlier this month that killed two peshmerga officers.
He said the militants have local collaborators. “They know everything about each farm in Kulajo and they know to whom each house belongs,” he said, asking to be identified only by his first name, fearing reprisals.
The militants also receive shelter, supplies, food and transport from local sympathizers, said Kurdish Brig. Kamal Mahmoud. His peshmerga forces are based on part of the front lines there, but can’t operate in other parts run by government troops — and there, he said, the overstretched security forces control only main roads with no presence in villages and towns.
On April 1, a federal police officer was killed, and a battalion commander and brigadier general wounded in a security operation in the Makhoul mountain range in Diyala. Two days later, an IED attack targeted a patrol of a commando regiment of the Diyala Operations Command in the outskirts of Maadan village.
Sartip, a Kujalo resident, said he fears the militants’ improved capabilities.
“IS has been carrying out attacks in Kurdish areas for a long time, but now they are more organized and have more people,” he said.


UAE says US sanctions complicate Syria’s return to Arab fold

UAE says US sanctions complicate Syria’s return to Arab fold
Updated 09 March 2021

UAE says US sanctions complicate Syria’s return to Arab fold

UAE says US sanctions complicate Syria’s return to Arab fold

DUBAI: UAE Foreign Minster Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed said Tuesday the sanctions imposed by the US Caesar’s Act complicate Syria’s return to the Arab fold. 

The return of Syria to the Arab League is in the interest of Syria and other countries of the region, he said.

The minister made the remarks during a joint news conference with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov in Abu Dhabi. 

He also announced that the UAE is looking forward to developing relations with Russia in various fields, saying: "Russia is a reliable friend and partner."

Meanwhile, Lavrov said that Russia has been in contact with UAE officials on developments in the Gulf and the region’s the stability.


UAE to operate second Barakah nuclear power plant

UAE to operate second Barakah nuclear power plant
Updated 09 March 2021

UAE to operate second Barakah nuclear power plant

UAE to operate second Barakah nuclear power plant
  • The Nawah Energy Company became authorized to operate the second unit over the next 60 years

DUBAI: The UAE announced the issuance of a license to operate the second unit of the Barakah nuclear power plant in Abu Dhabi’s Al-Dhafra region, state news agency WAM reported on Tuesday.
The Nawah Energy Company – which is responsible of operating unit one to four of the power plant - became authorized to operate the second unit over the next 60 years, the report said.
The extensive evaluation process during the past five years included a review of the design of the nuclear plant, and a geographical and demographic analysis of its location.
The evaluation process also included the cooling and safety systems of the nuclear reactor, security measures, emergency preparedness procedures, radioactive waste management, and other technical aspects.
The authority also reviewed the readiness of the Nawah Energy Company in making available all the necessary procedures and measures to ensure the safety and security standards of the power plant.
“Today’s announcement represents a milestone in the UAE’s journey and realization of the vision of the wise leadership. It is considered a strategic achievement that culminates in the efforts exerted over the past 13 years,” Permanent Representative of the International Atomic Energy Agency to the UAE Hamad Al-Kaabi said.


Airstrike kills 10 Daesh militants in Nineveh, north of Iraq

Airstrike kills 10 Daesh militants in Nineveh, north of Iraq
Updated 09 March 2021

Airstrike kills 10 Daesh militants in Nineveh, north of Iraq

Airstrike kills 10 Daesh militants in Nineveh, north of Iraq

DUBAI: A US-led coalition airstrike has destroyed a site housing 10 militants from the Daesh group in Nineveh, north of Iraq, according to the country’s state news agency Tuesday. 

“The international coalition warplanes carried out an air strike in Mount Adaya, within the Nineveh sector of operations, which resulted in the destruction of a den containing about 10 members of the Daesh terror group,” the agency reported. 

A brigade from the Iraqi army searched the targeted area after the coalition strike and neutralized two other Daesh militants wearing explosive-laden belts, the report said.


With Internet shutdown, Iran seeks to limit protest outcry

With Internet shutdown, Iran seeks to limit protest outcry
Updated 09 March 2021

With Internet shutdown, Iran seeks to limit protest outcry

With Internet shutdown, Iran seeks to limit protest outcry
  • Rights groups say at least 10 people were killed when security forces opened fire on fuel porters in Sistan-Baluchistan
PARIS: After Iran last month imposed an Internet shutdown lasting several days in a southeastern region during a rare upsurge of unrest, activists say the government is now using the tactic repeatedly when protests erupt.
Rights groups say at least 10 people were killed when security forces opened fire on fuel porters around Saravan in the province of Sistan-Baluchistan on February 22, prompting protests where live ammunition was used on unarmed demonstrators.
But little information filtered out due to a near total shutdown of the Internet in the impoverished region bordering Pakistan, which has a large ethnic Baluch population and has been a flashpoint for cross-border attacks by separatists and Sunni extremists.
The Internet shutdown was a “measure authorities appear to be using as a tool to conceal gross human rights violations and possible international crimes such as extrajudicial killings,” freedom of expression groups Access Now, Article 19 and Miaan Group said in a joint statement with Amnesty International.
Campaigners say such shutdowns, which recall those seen in recent months during street protests in Belarus and Myanmar, have a dual purpose.
They seek to prevent people from using social media messaging services to mobilize protests but also hinder the documentation of rights violations that could be used to rally support at home and abroad.
Iran in November 2019 imposed nationwide Internet limits during rare protests against fuel hikes that the authorities suppressed in a deadly crackdown.
Rights groups fear the same tactic risks being used again during potentially tense presidential elections this summer.

The Sistan-Baluchistan shutdown saw mobile Internet services halted, effectively shutting down the net in an area where phones account for over 95 percent of Internet use.
“It is aimed at harming documentation and the ability of people to mobilize and coordinate,” Mahsa Alimardani, Iran researcher with the Article 19 freedom of expression group, told AFP. “It helps the authorities to be able to control the narrative.”
State media said there were attacks on government buildings in Saravan and that a policeman was killed when unrest spread to the provincial capital Zahedan.
The governor of the city’s region, Abouzarmahdi Nakahei, denounced “fake” reports of deaths in the protests, blaming “foreign media.”
Alimardani noted that targeting mobile Internet connections made the shutdown different from the one seen in November 2019.
Then, Iranians were cut off from international Internet traffic but were able to continue highly-filtered activities on Iran’s homegrown Internet platform the National Information Network (NIN).
She said the documentation of atrocities was the authorities’ biggest fear. “It is a big rallying call when these videos go viral,” she said.


Unlike some other minority groups in Iran like Arabs and Kurds, the Baluch do not have major representation in the West to promote their cause and draw attention to alleged violations on social media.
Most Baluch adhere to the Sunni branch of Islam rather than the Shiism dominant in Iran and rights groups also say Baluch convicts have been disproportionately targeted by executions.
According to information received by Amnesty from Baluchi activists, at least 10 people were killed on February 22 when Revolutionary Guards “unlawfully and deliberately used lethal force” against unarmed Baluchi fuel porters near Saravan.
The crackdown came after the security forces blocked a road to impede the work of the porters, who cross between Iran and Pakistan to sell fuel.
Amnesty added that security forces also used unlawful and excessive force against people who protested in response to the killings, as well as bystanders, leaving another two dead.


Amnesty’s Iran researcher Raha Bahreini told AFP that the toll was a “minimum figure” that Baluchi activists verified after confirming the victims’ names.
The New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran have an even higher toll of 23 dead, citing local sources.
The Internet shutdown “severely restricted the flow of information to rights defenders from contacts and eyewitnesses,” Bahreini told AFP.
“The authorities are fully aware they are preventing the outside world from learning about the extent and gravity of violations on the ground,” she added.
She said such unlawful shutdowns had turned into a “pattern” in Iran.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights spokesperson Rupert Colville said that the shutdown has impeded precise verification of the death toll and had “the apparent purpose of preventing access to information about what is happening there.”
The CHRI said Iran blocked Internet access “to kill protesters indiscriminately and out of the public eye and prevent protesters from communicating and organizing.”
“Security forces killed hundreds of protesters with impunity in November 2019, and they are doing it again now,” said its director Hadi Ghaemi.
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Egypt hopes to resume talks with Ethiopia on Grand Renaissance Dam

Egypt hopes to resume talks with Ethiopia on Grand Renaissance Dam
Updated 09 March 2021

Egypt hopes to resume talks with Ethiopia on Grand Renaissance Dam

Egypt hopes to resume talks with Ethiopia on Grand Renaissance Dam

CAIRO: Egypt hopes to resume talks soon with Ethiopia over the controversial mega-dam to reach an agreement that serves the interests of the three parties involved in the dispute, its foreign minister said.   

Egyptian foreign minister Sameh Shoukry said his country has been communicating with Ethiopia over the Grand Renaissance Dam, which Cairo fears it will significantly cut its crucial water supplies from the Nile River.

No talks on the matter were made outside the framework of the African Union (AU), Shoukry was cited by local daily Al-Masry El-Youm . The AU has been mediating the talks between Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia. 

Egypt and Sudan have voiced their concern about the possible threats posed by the dam and how it could negatively affect their water share if Ethiopia abstained from signing a binding and legal agreement on the dam operation and the process of filling its reservoir.