Daesh’s reappearance puts fragility of Iraq and Syria in focus

Daesh’s reappearance puts fragility of Iraq and Syria in focus
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Daesh’s reappearance puts fragility of Iraq and Syria in focus
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Updated 02 July 2020

Daesh’s reappearance puts fragility of Iraq and Syria in focus

Daesh’s reappearance puts fragility of Iraq and Syria in focus
  • Terror group has been involved in kidnappings and ambushes in rural areas along the Iraq-Syria border
  • Availability of fighters and cash makes Daesh well positioned to threaten Iraq and Syria for years to come

IRBIL, Iraqi Kurdistan: An uptick in attacks in Iraq by suspected Daesh militants since the beginning of this year is stoking fears that the militant outfit is regrouping and could again threaten the country’s stability.

On May 28, Daesh spokesperson Abu Hamza Al-Qurayshi released a recording on the messaging app Telegram, saying that the terror group’s fighters will “start to increase their attacks against the Crusaders since the US has withdrawn from Iraq.”

“Greater punishment against Crusaders is coming once the caliphate achieves the victory and is established once again,” Al-Qurayshi said, according to the Iraqi Kurdish news agency Rudaw.

Earlier in May, hundreds of acres of wheat and barley cropland in Iraq’s disputed Kirkuk province went up in flames.

Daesh claimed responsibility for some of the fires. Around the same time, it released a propaganda video vowing to free fellow members from Iraqi jails.

Since 2017, Daesh has taken advantage of security gaps in disputed regions between Iraq and the autonomous Kurdistan region, terrorizing and extorting locals, and mounting hit-and-run attacks against Iraqi and Kurdish forces.

Citing the US Central Command, the most recent Pentagon Inspector General report, which covers the period from Jan. 1 to March 31, warned that Daesh is “regrouping and reforming” in the mountains of Makhmur in northern Iraq, which is inside the disputed territories between Iraq and the Kurdistan region.

According to the report, the US also expects Daesh “to seek to re-establish governance in northern and western areas of Iraq.”

On May 17 the Iraqi military launched an operation to force Daesh out of its sanctuaries. However, if past efforts of this kind are any indication, it is unlikely to inflict long-lasting damage on the group.

Since 2017, Daesh has reverted to the role of lethal non-state actor — as it was before it conquered one-third of northern Iraq in June 2014 and declared the establishment of a “caliphate.”

“Daesh has posed a threat to Iraq, in its various forms, since 2003 and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future,” Michael Knights, a military and security affairs specialist at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told Arab News.

“It is now part of the Iraqi landscape, like a resilient weed or virus.”

Knights and Alex Almeida, who monitor Daesh’s activities, have detected a 13 percent increase in the militants’ attacks in Iraq this year over the previous year —  at least 566 in the first three months of 2020, compared with 1,669 during the entire 2019.

According to Knights, Daesh is again using strategies that worked in the past, including jailbreaks and extorting farmers by threatening to burn their crops.

“In terms of attack metrics, Daesh is back to 2012 levels, but is still only a third of 2013 levels, and it will take more than a year of growth at the current rate to reach 2013 levels of attacks,” he said.

“Also, the insurgency is different at a qualitative level. Today’s Daesh is not really present in the cities, and so far they have turned away from mass-casualty attacks on civilians.”

Nevertheless, the group still poses a threat after transferring its strength from Syria back into Iraq over the past 12-18 months.

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“The movement is still very weak compared with its old self in 2017 or 2013, but it is recovering slowly,” Knights said.

He said that if Iraqi and Kurdish forces fail to cooperate quickly, then Daesh “will soon be able to control small villages and rural areas in daylight, and parts of towns at night.”

However, Thomas Abi-Hanna, a global security analyst with US-based geopolitical intelligence platform Stratfor, believes Daesh is a long way from being able to capture and control large swathes of territory as it did in 2014.

The group’s activities today more closely resemble those of the 2011-12 period.

“Iraq’s latest offensive against Daesh is unlikely to have a long-term impact on the group’s trajectory,” Abi-Hanna told Arab News.

“Iraqi security forces are riddled with weaknesses and are unable to firmly hold and control the rural areas where Daesh operates,” he said.

As a result, Daesh is “well positioned” to threaten Iraq and Syria for years to come since it still has thousands of fighters and hundreds of millions of dollars at its disposal.

“While Daesh is not on the verge of being able to seize territory, attacks and other operations the group has launched will threaten civilians and security forces, damage crops and infrastructure, hurt Iraq’s already ailing economy and undermine stability in the country,” Abi-Hanna said.

He believes the surge in attacks is a sign of Daesh’s renewed strength, especially in light of partial coalition military drawdowns from areas where the group is active, Iraq’s internal political crises and the coronavirus pandemic that is consuming most of Baghdad’s attention.

“The attacks are becoming increasingly sophisticated. The group has recently been conducting night-time raids, multi-pronged coordinated assaults and suicide bombings, marking a notable uptick from the typical drive-by shootings, mortar attacks and roadside improvised explosive devices (IEDs) it had done in previous months,” Abi-Hanna said.

Joel Wing, author of the “Musings on Iraq” blog, said that Daesh released a video in May announcing that it was launching a new campaign in Iraq. This followed statements in March by the group vowing to exploit the pandemic.

“The uptick in attacks actually began in April and continued into May, marking the first time Daesh has had two months of increased operations since January-February, 2019,” Wing told Arab News.

“The second week of May had the most incidents since the third week of October 2018, showing renewed strength,” he said.

Since Haider Al-Abadi, the-then prime minister, declared victory over Daesh in Iraq in December 2017, five months after government forces ejected its fighters from Mosul, the group has “focused on preserving its leadership and rebuilding its cadres.”

As a result, Iraq suffered the lowest number of attacks since the Iraq War that began in 2003.




Since 2017, Daesh has taken advantage of security gaps in disputed regions between Iraq and the autonomous Kurdistan region, terrorizing and extorting locals, and mounting hit-and-run attacks against Iraqi and Kurdish forces. (Alamy)

Now, however, Daesh “appears to be flexing some of its new muscle,” Wing said.

He said that the present Daesh campaign differs from previous manifestations since the group is now “a completely rural phenomenon.”

“It has virtually no cells operating in cities carrying out attacks,” he said. “There is not a continuous wave of car bombs that it once carried out or even suicide bombers.”

Wing said that Daesh’s present campaign appears to be aimed at “establishing military control over the countryside, driving people out of rural villages via threats, attacks, burning crops and so forth, so that they might be converted into bases and training camps, and threatening others to pay taxes.”

It is yet to be seen if Daesh can sustain this campaign or whether attacks will decline in a few weeks.

“Either way it will be a sign of how much the group has been able to rebuild so far,” Wing said.

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@pauliddon


Iran reports 258 coronavirus deaths, highest daily toll since December

Iran reports 258 coronavirus deaths, highest daily toll since December
Updated 18 min 34 sec ago

Iran reports 258 coronavirus deaths, highest daily toll since December

Iran reports 258 coronavirus deaths, highest daily toll since December
  • That brings the total number of fatalities from the coronavirus to 64,490
  • 21,063 new cases were identified in the past 24 hours, taking the total number of identified cases since the pandemic began to 2,070,141

DUBAI: Iran reported 258 deaths from COVID-19 in the past 24 hours, the health ministry said on Sunday, the highest daily toll since early December.
That brings the total number of fatalities from the coronavirus to 64,490 in Iran, the worst-hit country in the Middle East.
Health ministry spokeswoman Sima Sadat Lari told state TV that 21,063 new cases were identified in the past 24 hours, taking the total number of identified cases since the pandemic began to 2,070,141.
“Unfortunately, in the past 24 hours 258 people have died from the virus,” Lari said. State TV said it was the country’s highest daily death toll since Dec. 10.
Iran’s Health Minister Saeed Namaki, in a televised news conference, warned about more fatalities in the coming week if Iranians fail to adhere to health protocols. On Saturday, Tehran imposed a 10-day lockdown across most of the country to curb the spread of a fourth wave of the coronavirus. The lockdown affects 23 of the country’s 31 provinces.
Businesses, schools, theaters and sports facilities have been forced to shut and gatherings are banned during the holy fasting month of Ramadan that begins on Wednesday in Iran.


‘Accident’ strikes Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility

‘Accident’ strikes Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility
Updated 11 April 2021

‘Accident’ strikes Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility

‘Accident’ strikes Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility
  • Behrouz Kamalvandi said there were no injuries nor pollution caused by the incident
  • Iran later called the incident sabotage

TEHRAN: Iran's Natanz nuclear site suffered a problem Sunday involving its electrical distribution grid just hours after starting up new advanced centrifuges that more quickly enrich uranium, state TV reported. It was the latest incident to strike one of Tehran's most-secured sites amid negotiations over the tattered atomic accord with world powers.
State TV quoted Behrouz Kamalvandi, a spokesman for Iran's civilian nuclear program, announcing the incident.
Kamalvandi said there were no injuries or pollution cause by the incident.
The word state television used in its report attributed to Kamalvandi in Farsi can be used for both “accident” and “incident.” It didn't immediately clarify the report, which ran at the bottom of its screen on its live broadcast. The Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, the civilian arm of its nuclear program, did not immediately issue a formal statement about the incident on its website.
Natanz suffered a mysterious explosion in July that authorities later described as sabotage. Israel, Iran's regional archenemy, has been suspected of carrying out an attack there, as well as launching other assaults, as world powers now negotiate with Tehran in Vienna over its nuclear deal.
On Saturday, Iran announced it had launched a chain of 164 IR-6 centrifuges at the plant, injecting them with the uranium gas and beginning their rapid spinning. Officials also began testing the IR-9 centrifuge, which they say will enrich uranium 50 times faster than Iran's first-generation centrifuges, the IR-1. The nuclear deal limited Iran to using only IR-1s for enrichment.
Since then-President Donald Trump's withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal in 2018, Tehran has abandoned all the limits of its uranium stockpile. It now enriches up to 20% purity, a technical step away from weapons-grade levels of 90%. Iran maintains its atomic program is for peaceful purposes, but fears about Tehran having the ability to make a bomb saw world powers reach the deal with the Islamic Republic in 2015.
The deal lifted economic sanctions on Iran in exchange for it limiting its program and allowing inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency to keep a close watch on its work.


Libya launches COVID-19 vaccination drive after delays

Libya launches COVID-19 vaccination drive after delays
Updated 11 April 2021

Libya launches COVID-19 vaccination drive after delays

Libya launches COVID-19 vaccination drive after delays
  • The country's healthcare system has been strained by years of political turmoil and violence
  • Prime Minister Abdulhamid Dbeibeh called it a "blessed day" in the fight against COVID-19 after receiving his shot

TRIPOLI: Libya's new unity government launched a long-delayed COVID-19 vaccination programme on Saturday after receiving some 160,000 vaccine doses over the past week, with the prime minister receiving his jab on live television.
While Libya is richer than its neighbours due to oil exports, the country's healthcare system has been strained by years of political turmoil and violence, and it has struggled to cope during the pandemic.
Prime Minister Abdulhamid Dbeibeh called it a "blessed day" in the fight against COVID-19 after receiving his shot, without saying which vaccine he had been given. At least 100,000 of the doses that arrived this week were Russia's Sputnik V vaccine.
Dbeibeh's interim Government of National Unity was sworn in last month after emerging through a UN-facilitated process with a mandate to unify the country, improve state services and oversee the run-up to a national election in December.
Dbeibeh's government has framed the delivery of vaccines and the national roll-out as evidence that it is improving the lives of ordinary Libyans after replacing two warring administrations that ruled in the east and west of the country.
"Through the political consultations and the efforts of the prime minister, the vaccine is available," said Health Minister Ali Al-Zanati, who has said previously the government had so far ordered enough doses to inoculate 1.4 million of the country's more than six million people.
Libya's National Centre for Disease Control has said more than 400,000 people have registered for vaccination in more than 400 centres around the country.
Libya has recorded more than 166,000 coronavirus cases and nearly 3,000 deaths, though UN envoys have said the true figures are likely far higher.
"I feel sorry that the vaccine arrived late in Libya after thousands were infected. But better late than never," said Ali al-Hadi, a shop owner, adding that his wife had been sick with COVID-19 and recovered.
Many Libyans fear the vaccination campaign could be marred by political infighting or favouritism after years of unrest.
"We hope the Health Ministry will steer away from political conflicts so that services can reach patients," said housewife Khawla Muhammad, 33. 


Suez Canal receives Middle East’s largest dredger

Suez Canal receives Middle East’s largest dredger
A file photo shows a dredger trying to free the Panama-flagged MV Ever Given long vessel across the waterway of Egypt's Suez Canal. (AFP)
Updated 10 April 2021

Suez Canal receives Middle East’s largest dredger

Suez Canal receives Middle East’s largest dredger
  • Its maximum drilling depth is 35 m and the dredger has control, safety and security systems matching the latest standards of international supervisory bodies

CAIRO: Egypt has welcomed the largest dredger of its kind in the Middle East, the “Mohab Mamish,” on board the heavy transport vessel Xiang Rui Kou.

Dredgers are advanced drilling equipment used by the Suez Canal to cleanse the waterway of sand and mud deposits, contributing to its expansion and deepening.

The Suez Canal showed its reliance on dredgers in the rescue and re-float operation of the giant container ship “Ever Given,” which ran aground in the shipping course on March 23. The incident caused the canal’s closure for six days.

Sources said that the dredger, inaugurated by the Dutch IHC Shipyard, would begin its new duties within the Suez Canal fleet soon.

The “Mohab Mamish” has a length of 147.4 meters, a width of 23 m, a depth of 7.7 m, and a draft of 5.5 m. It has a productivity of 3,600 cubic meters of sand per hour over a length of 4 km.

Its maximum drilling depth is 35 m and the dredger has control, safety and security systems matching the latest standards of international supervisory bodies.

The head of the Suez Canal Authority, Osama Rabie, said the “Mohab Mamish” was one of the vessels used to boost the canal’s development and that the dredging fleet was the main pillar in the strategy for developing the canal’s shipping course.

It provided the best guarantee to maintain the canal’s 24-meter depth, allowing the crossing of giant ships with large submersibles.

Rabie added that the canal’s dredging fleet had recently expanded its work, joining in with the development of Egypt’s ports and the disinfection of lakes.

IHC is working on launching another dredger for the Suez Canal called “Hussein Tantawi.” The two dredgers have a combined value of €300 million ($357.06 million).

Rabie also said the authority’s machines would be developed and the tensile strength would be adjusted to carry 250,000 tons, in comparison to the current 160,000 tons to match the tonnage and size of ships crossing the shipping course.


Iran boosts nuclear program in snub to US

Iran boosts nuclear program in snub to US
Updated 11 April 2021

Iran boosts nuclear program in snub to US

Iran boosts nuclear program in snub to US
  • President Hassan Rouhani inaugurates cascades of 164 IR-6 centrifuges and 30 IR-5 devices at Iran’s Natanz uranium enrichment plant
  • The new move is a direct challenge to the US, after talks began last week aimed at reviving the 2015 nuclear deal

TEHRAN/JEDDAH: Iran on Saturday started up advanced uranium enrichment centrifuges in breach of its commitments under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) to curb its nuclear program.

The new move is a direct challenge to the US, after talks began last week aimed at reviving the 2015 nuclear deal. Washington said it had offered “very serious” ideas on rescuing the agreement, which collapsed in 2018 when the US withdrew, but was waiting for Tehran to reciprocate.

Tehran’s response came on Saturday, when President Hassan Rouhani inaugurated a cascade of 164 IR-6 centrifuges for producing enriched uranium, as well as two test cascades of 30 IR-5 and 30 IR-6S devices at the Natanz uranium enrichment plant, in a ceremony broadcast by state television.

Rouhani also launched tests on the “mechanical stability” of its latest-generation IR-9 centrifuges, and remotely opened a centrifuge assembly factory to replace a plant that was badly damaged in a July 2020 explosion widely attributed to Israel.

Rouhani again underlined at the ceremony, which coincided with Iran’s National Nuclear Technology Day, that Tehran’s nuclear program is solely for “peaceful” purposes.

Under the 2015 deal between Tehran and world powers, Iran is permitted to use only “first-generation” IR-1 centrifuges for production, and to test a limited number of IR-4 and IR-5 devices.

When the US withdrew from the nuclear deal in 2018, Donald Trump reimposed crippling sanctions on Tehran, which responded by stepping up its nuclear enrichment to levels prohibited under the JCPOA.

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Iran’s latest move follows an opening round of talks in Vienna Tuesday with representatives of the remaining parties to the deal on bringing the US back into it.

All sides said the talks, in which Washington is not participating directly but is relying on the EU as an intermediary, got off to a good start.

However, US allies in the Gulf, including Saudi Arabia, believe any revived deal should also cover Iran’s ballistic missile program and its regional meddling through proxy militias in Yemen, Iraq and elsewhere.

Iran has demanded that the US lift all sanctions imposed by Trump before it resumes compliance with the JCPOA. The US insists that Iran must act first.

“The United States team put forward a very serious idea and demonstrated a seriousness of purpose on coming back into compliance if Iran comes back into compliance,” a US official said.

But the official said the US was waiting for its efforts to be reciprocated by Iran.

Iran is also demanding an end to all US restrictions, but the JCPOA covers only nuclear sanctions and not US measures taken in response to human rights and terrorism issues.

(With AFP)