Iraq in mourning after deadly new Daesh attack north of Baghdad

In this file photo US soldiers participate in a memorial ceremony in remembrance of those who perished thirteen years ago during the 9/11 attacks in the US, at a military base in Bagram, 50 kms north of Kabul on September 11, 2014. (AFP)
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Updated 23 November 2020

Iraq in mourning after deadly new Daesh attack north of Baghdad

  • The attacks have coincided with a new campaign by Iraq’s security forces to arrest jihadists hiding out in rugged terrain in the country’s north and west

SAMARRA, Iraq: Iraq’s Salahaddin province declared three days of mourning from Sunday over a deadly attack blamed on Daesh, as some criticized authorities for failing to fight back militants.
Late Saturday, a roadside bomb hit a civilian car on an open road near Mt. Makhoul, about 200 km north of Baghdad, police and a local official said.
When security forces arrived at the scene, militants opened fire on them, police said.
The attack killed at least six Iraqi security personnel and four civilians, including one who died of his wounds overnight, according to local medics.
There was no claim by Daesh, but both the local mayor and police blamed the group, which Iraq’s government said in late 2017 it had defeated.
That victory came after three years of brutal fighting to wrench back the one-third of Iraqi territory that had been captured by Daesh.
Although the militants no longer hold territory, sleeper cells wage hit-and-run attacks on state infrastructure, particularly in desert areas north of the capital.
Two weeks ago, 11 people were killed in a Daesh attack on a lookout post at Al-Radwaniyah on Baghdad’s outskirts.
According to a study published this month by the International Center for Counter-Terrorism in the Hague, the extremist group has claimed more attacks in Iraq than in any other country where it is active over the period December 2018 to May this year.
The study said that Daesh activity in Iraq “accelerated precipitously from February 2020 onwards,” reaching levels that are “worryingly close” to those preceding its sweep across a third of Iraq in 2014. Still, death tolls remain low. Daesh in Iraq “generally appears to be moving from a (re) building phase into one that is characterised by brazen guerrilla-style attacks,” the study noted.
The attacks have coincided with a new campaign by Iraq’s security forces to arrest jihadists hiding out in rugged terrain in the country’s north and west.
In fact, just a day before the attack, the head of Iraq’s federal police Jaafar Al-Batat told state media that the area around Mt. Makhoul had been cleared.
“The incidents carried out by IS (Daesh) in some remote areas are isolated cases and now under control,” he said.
That outraged local figures. “Iraqi security forces just assured us this area had been cleaned,” wrote Mashaan Al-Jaboury, a lawmaker representing Salahaddin, on Twitter after the violence late on Saturday.

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The extremist group has claimed more attacks in Iraq than in any other country where it is active over the period December 2018 to May this year, according to a study published this month by the International Center for Counter-Terrorism in The Hague.

For Jamal Al-Dhari, another Sunni figure writing on Twitter, the latest ambush “sheds light on the repeated failures in the fight against terrorism.”
“The government of (Prime Minister) Mustafa Al-Kadhemi must seriously put in place a national strategy ... and stop being satisfied with ‘investigative committees,’” said Dhari.
Iraqis regularly mock their government for establishing investigative bodies that do not produce results.
The tensions come as the US-led coalition, which helped Iraq fight Daesh starting in 2014, is drawing down its troops.
This year, the US has already shrunk its contribution to the coalition from 5,200 to some 3,000 troops, as other countries have reduced their numbers as well.
The US announced last week it would withdraw another 500 troops by mid-January, which Iraqi officials say is the fourth and final phase of the coalition’s drawdown.
The top US commander for the Middle East, Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, said the progress made by Iraqi security forces in recent years had allowed the US to draw down.
Troops remaining in Iraq would focus on training local forces, carrying out air strikes in support of their operations and running drone surveillance over the country.
The US military presence remains a source of controversy.
Iraq’s parliament voted in January to oust all foreign troops, following a US drone strike on Baghdad that killed top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani and a leading Iraqi paramilitary commander.
Al-Kadhemi, whose government is seen as US-leaning, has slow-walked the implementation.
Pro-Iran factions have organized a series of rallies in recent months to demand Al-Kadhemi implement the decision.
“If you don’t leave on your own, our rockets will force you out!” one sign at a recent protest read.
It was in reference to dozens of rocket attacks on Western diplomatic and military installations since October 2019.
The US has threatened to close its embassy in Baghdad unless rocket attacks stop.


German defense minister rejects Turkey complaint over Libya weapons ship search

Updated 24 November 2020

German defense minister rejects Turkey complaint over Libya weapons ship search

  • Germany insists it acted correctly in boarding a Turkish ship to enforce arms embargo of Libya
  • Turkey summoned European diplomats to complain at the operation

BERLIN: Germany’s defense minister on Tuesday rejected Turkey’s complaints over the search of a Turkish freighter in the Mediterranean Sea by a German frigate participating in a European mission, insisting that German sailors acted correctly.
Sunday’s incident prompted Turkey to summon diplomats representing the European Union, Germany and Italy and assert that the Libya-bound freighter Rosaline-A was subjected to an “illegal” search by personnel from the German frigate Hamburg. The German ship is part of the European Union’s Irini naval mission, which is enforcing an arms embargo against Libya.
German officials say that the order to board the ship came from Irini’s headquarters in Rome and that Turkey protested while the team was on board. The search was then ended.
Turkey says the search was “unauthorized and conducted by force.”
German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer backed the German crew’s actions.
“It is important to me to make really clear that the Bundeswehr soldiers behaved completely correctly,” she said during an appearance in Berlin. “They did what is asked of them in the framework of the European Irini mandate.”
“That there is this debate with the Turkish side points to one of the fundamental problems of this European mission,” Kramp-Karrenbauer added, without elaborating. “But it is very important to me to say clearly here that there are no grounds for these accusations that are now being made against the soldiers.”
This was the second incident between Turkey and naval forces from a NATO ally enforcing an arms blockade against Libya.
In June, NATO launched an investigation over an incident between Turkish warships and a French naval vessel in the Mediterranean, after France said one of its frigates was “lit up” three times by Turkish naval targeting radar when it tried to approach a Turkish civilian ship suspected of involvement in arms trafficking.
Turkey supports a UN-backed government in Tripoli against rival forces based in the country’s east. It has complained that the EU naval operation focuses its efforts too much on the Tripoli administration and turns a blind eye to weapons sent to the eastern-based forces.
In Ankara, Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said that Irini was “flawed from the onset.”
“It is not based on firm international legal foundations,” Akar said. He renewed Turkey’s criticism of the German ship’s actions.
“The incident was against international laws and practices. It was wrong,” he said.
Kramp-Karrenbauer stressed that “Turkey is still an important partner for us in NATO.” Turkey being outside the military alliance would make the situation even more difficult, she argued, and Turkish soldiers are “absolutely reliable partners” in NATO missions.
But she conceded that Turkey poses “a big challenge” because of how its domestic politics have developed and because it has its “own agenda, which is difficult to reconcile with European questions in particular.”