Suicide attacks kill scores in Iraq

The “Islamic State” has claimed responsibility for a pair of suicide attacks that killed at least 70 and injured many more. Several Iranian pilgrims were among the dead.

Irak Doppelanschlag in der Nähe von Nassirijah (Reuters/E. Al-Sudani)

Suicide bombers attacked a restaurant and a police checkpoint near the southern Iraqi city of Nasiriyah on Thursday, leaving scores dead and many more injured.

Local officials said the death toll was likely to climb with many of the wounded in a serious condition.

The attack started when unidentified gunmen opened fire at people in a highway restaurant. One attacker detonated his explosive vest inside the restaurant.

Read more:‘Islamic State’: Will it survive a post-caliphate future?

The remaining attackers then got into a car and drove to a nearby security checkpoint, where they blew themselves up.

The militants were disguised as members of the Hashed al-Shaabi, a mainly Shiite paramilitary force that has fought alongside the army against the so-called Islamic State militants in northern Iraq, AFP news agency reported, citing security sources.

Bullet marks in a restaurant after attackThe attackers opened fire at people in this highway restaurant

Iranian pilgrims among dead

IS claimed responsibility for the attacks in a statement on its Amaq news agency, where the Sunni Muslim militant group said it had killed “dozens of Shiites.”

Hospital sources told Reuters news agency that at least 10 Iranian pilgrims, who were visiting holy Shi’ite shrines, were among the dead.

IS-backed attacks in southern Iraq, where the bulk of the country’s oil is produced, are relatively rare thanks to a tighter grip maintained by the Iraqi security forces.

The area targeted on Thursday is on a highway used by Shia pilgrims and visitors from neighboring Iran to travel to the holy cities of Najaf and Karbala further north.

ap/sms (Reuters, AFP, dpa)

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Germany: A Syrian on the trail of IS

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‘Islamic State’: Will it survive a post-caliphate future?

Losing ground in its power base in the Middle East, the “Islamic State” militant group’s future appears as open as ever. DW spoke to counter-terrorism experts and scholars to discuss the likelihood of its survival.

Islamic State militants celebrate after commandeering an Iraqi military vehicle in Fallujah in 2014

“I announce from here the end, the failure and the collapse of the state of falsehood and terrorism, which the ‘Islamic State’ declared from Mosul,” said Iraqi premier Haider al-Abadi after a months-long campaign to drive the militant group from the strategic city.

While the devastating military campaign to liberate Mosul from the so-called “Islamic State” (IS) militant group proved successful, it has yet to spell the end for a band of militants that rallied together in 2006 and, a decade later, transformed into a global phenomenon.

In the wake of the victory in Mosul, international efforts have shifted to uprooting the militant group from its Syrian bastion in Raqqa. The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, a Kurdish-led alliance of homegrown combatants, have made gains in the battle for Raqqa, but hundreds if not thousands of fighters have managed to flee towards the Syrian-Iraqi border and elsewhere outside the region.

The militant group rose to notoriety in June 2014, when it launched a vicious military campaign and captured large swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria, culminating in the occupation of Mosul. By the end of the month, the group’s leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi announced the establishment of a worldwide caliphate from the historic Great Mosque of Mosul.

“In my view, IS is at heart an Iraqi organization, so its defeat in Iraq will break its back, even if remnants continue here and there, or if violent individuals or groups in non-Arab countries use its name,” Yezid Sayigh, senior fellow at the Carnegie Middle East Center told DW, referring to the group by an alternative acronym.

Map showing IS-controlled areas

‘Decentralized jihad’

Despite its losses, the militant group continues to hold ground in parts of Iraq and Syria, especially near the border region. Tomas Olivier, counterterrorism and intelligence manager at the Netherlands-based Twickelerveld Intelligence and Investigations, told DW that even in the face of open conflict in Iraq and Syria, IS has managed to export its operational branches outside of the region to places in North Africa, Europe, Southeast Asia and Eastern and Western Africa.

“The most disturbing fact about the current IS organization is their flexibility in response, even after defeat, in which they apparently managed to establish a series of operational hubs throughout the Western hemisphere with the proven capability to – in military terms – strike ‘on demand’ or based on ideological motivation,” Olivier said.

The former senior officer at the Dutch defense ministry added that while monitoring the group’s latest online activity, he witnessed an increase in disconcerting messaging to commit attacks against the “crusaders” by any means necessary.

“IS is promoting a decentralized jihad with specific attention to lone wolf attacks in the West and against coalition targets throughout the world, from the streets of Manchester to Marawi in the Philippines,” Olivier said.

The prospect of criminality

In the wake of the militant group’s rise in 2014, more than 5,000 European nationals traveled to the Middle East to fight alongside IS. With the loss of territory in the region, international authorities have warned of the potential fallout of foreign fighters returning to their home countries in Europe and elsewhere.

A study published last year by the International Center for the Study of Radicalization and Political Violence at King’s College in London showed that roughly half of all European foreign fighters had a criminal record prior to radicalization.

In its May issue, the IS magazine “Rumiyah” showcased terror tactics for supporters, calling on them to acquire weapons to commit attacks “by means of gun dealers and underground criminal networks – for those capable of attaining those connections.” The article showed the group’s willingness to use networks beyond its conventional or religious ones.

In fact, many of the militant group’s members who committed attacks in Europe had a history of petty crime, including Berlin attack suspect Anis Amri and Salah Abdeslam, who handled logistics for the deadly 2015 Paris attacks.

Ian Oxnevad, a Middle East scholar at the University of California, Riverside, told DW that one counter-terrorism strategy to tackle the problem of returning foreign fighters is pushing them towards criminal activity by clamping down on their financial networks.

“For example, if you have former fighters with ISIS in a cell in northern Italy, but all the money they’re using to sponsor terrorism isn’t integrated into the financial system, they have to be able to maintain that funding. So they may turn to crime,” Oxnevad said.

“If they’re committing burglaries, bank robberies or black market auto parts trading, it increases their likelihood of being arrested as opposed to accepting donations.”

Watch video25:59

Europol’s Rob Wainwright | Conflict Zone

Ideology without end

While the prospect of IS’ military defeat in Iraq and Syria has raised hopes for the militant group’s end, the ideas that propelled it to notoriety continue to be accessible via social networks, digital repositories and online archives.

Oxnevad noted that even if the group is “gone off a map,” that doesn’t mean the ideology that propagates such extremism will cease to exist, especially given the statehood declaration made by al-Baghdadi in Mosul.

“You see it with neo-Nazi groups and the Third Reich, certain people in the American South and the Confederacy. Presumably you see the same thing in Russia with the Soviet Union,” Oxnevad said.

“You have the idea of recapturing something that was lost, or at least recreating it. That is something that the world will just have to safeguard against in anyway possible.”

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What attracts Japanese women to ‘Islamic State’?

Reports from Iraq suggest that as many as five Japanese are among those detained after the fall of an “Islamic State” stronghold near Mosul. Why did they leave safe and peaceful Japan to live in a war zone?

Irak Islamischer Staat Propagandafoto (picture-alliance/Zuma Press)

Japan has been shocked by reports that a handful of Japanese women have been detained in Iraq, apparently after travelling to the region to marry fighters for the so-called “Islamic State” (IS) – although there seems to be little sympathy for their plight.

Media reports from Iraq specify that more than 1,330 foreign women and children are currently being held at a camp for displaced people in northern Iraq. The foreign nationals, who according to the Associated Press were families of “IS” fighters, surrendered to Kurdish forces in late August after the “IS” stronghold in Tal Afar near Mosul was captured. The foreign nationals are believed to be from 14 countries, with Japan’s Shukan Bunshun news magazine reporting that five are Japanese citizens.

No additional information has been provided by the Japanese authorities, such as the names, genders or ages of the five people. There is speculation, however, that at least one of the women travelled to Iraq to marry an Islamic State fighter. It is also possible that children may be among the five detainees.

The reports have stunned Japan, where the only previous suggestion that anyone was attempting to join IS came when a student from a university in Hokkaido was detained after claiming he was planning to join the revolution.

Japanese just as susceptible to ‘IS’ 

Irak | Frau mit Kind in einem Lager in der Nähe von Mossul (picture-alliance/AP Photo/B. Szlanko)A woman and child in a tent camp for ‘IS’ families captured in Mosul, Iraq in August 2017

The reports of Japanese women travelling to live with IS fighters is a similar story told many times in Europe, where cases of young women travelling to Iraq to marry IS insurgents have drawn a lot of attention.

The narrative centers on how impressionable young women were groomed through social media and convinced to leave a peaceful and stable life to live in a war zone.

Makoto Watanabe, an associate professor of communications and media at Hokkaido Bunkyo University, told DW that a similar approach would have been used on Japanese women, and that they would have been just as susceptible.

Read more: German teenage runaway suspected of joining IS found in Iraq

“Young people in Japan have become deeply disconnected from society as a result of the Internet and social media,” he said, adding that youth have a network of friends on social media, yet remain absent from a large part of society and are isolated and disconnected.

“These people are lonely and often trying to find an identity for themselves,” said Watanabe. “This is why they often believe everything they are told when they come into direct contact with, for example, someone from Islamic State on a chat site or some other internet page.”

“They have become distant from society and have questions,” Watanabe added. “Those questions can include religion and god and the answers they get online can be quite appealing.”

There has also been a minor boom in interest among some young Japanese in Middle Eastern culture, arts, history, cuisine and religion, with a number of young people – primarily women – being sufficiently interested to take part in events at the mosque in Tokyo’s Shibuya district.

A spokesman for The Japan Muslim Association said he was unaware of reports of Japanese women heading to Iraq to join IS and declined to comment on their possible reasons.

Watch video01:04

Why do women join “IS”? – DW talks to Matenia Sirseloudi, University of Bremen

Parallels with Aum cult

Watanabe believes there may be parallels between people joining IS and those who joined Aum Shinrikyo, the apocalyptic Japanese cult that planned to overthrow the government and set up its own state. Its aims were thwarted after some of its followers released sarin nerve gas on Tokyo’s subway system in 1995, killing 12 people and injuring a further 4,000.

“The people who joined that cult were trying to find a place and meaning to their lives and were attracted by an organization with a strong creed that eventually grew into Aum, so there are definite similarities with young Japanese who feel an affiliation with Islamic State,” he said.

Whatever their motivations, the women who have married Islamic State fighters they have only met online cannot expect a warm welcome when they return to Japan, even though the authorities are unlikely to prosecute them.

Read more: Japan PM vows justice after IS beheading of Goto

Read more: ‘Islamic State’ claims killing of Japanese national in Bangladesh

Ignored in Japanese media

“This has not been talked about in society or the media at all until now, as far as I can tell,” said Watanabe, who believes that domestic media have ignored previous reports that Japanese women were heading to the Middle East to marry Islamic State fighters. He added that this may be because they self-censored their reporting on the grounds that it reflected badly on Japan.

This approach contrasts dramatically with media coverage in Europe, where cases of young women going to the Middle East to join IS insurgents they met online have been widely reported.

An alternative explanation, Watanabe suggested, would be that the Japanese media is far more interested in local scandals involving a Japanese politician or TV star, adding that there is also a strong possibility that the government intervened and ordered media companies not to broadcast the news.

Watch video03:13

Why young girls become radicalized

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‘Saudis shoot themselves in the foot bringing Qatar, Yemen, Syria & Iraq closer to Iran’

'Saudis shoot themselves in the foot bringing Qatar, Yemen, Syria & Iraq closer to Iran'
The Saudi regime has become so erratic that it turned against Qatar, one of the few regimes that have an identical ideology, and therefore brought Qatar closer to Iran, says professor of politics at Tehran University Seyed Mohammad Marandi.

Saudi Arabia has decided to suspend all dialogue with Qatar after Qatari media was accused of misreporting on phone conversations between the Emir of Qatar and Saudi Arabia’s defense minister.

Previously, US President Donald Trump urged the Gulf States to unite against Iran and expressed his willingness to act as a mediator between Doha and Riyadh.

However, in June, Trump alleged that Qatar was a sponsor of terrorism when Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain, and the UAE first cut diplomatic and transport links with the Gulf nation.

RT: President Trump claims that the Qatar crisis is easy to solve. Why is it so hard to get the sides – Qatar and Saudi Arabia – to the negotiating table?

Seyed Mohammad Marandi: I think the most important problem is the Saud family itself and Mohammad bin Salman in particular. He is very young, he was born a billionaire. He has yes men surrounding him. He has created a mess, not just in his relationship with Qatar that we see this problem. He invaded Yemen. He has been killing the Yemeni people. His air force has been bombing hospitals, funerals, weddings, schools, and innocent civilians for almost three years now with Western support, with the US support both under Obama and Trump. And to no avail; he has lost the war effectively. He has been spreading Wahhabi extremism – he, his father, and the regime before his father have been spreading extremism n Syria, in Iraq, and across the world. Wahhabism is something the Saudis export.

What is extraordinary is that the Saudi regime has become so erratic and unpredictable that now it has turned against one of the few regimes that has an identical ideology… Qatar and Saudi Arabia are the two countries that explicitly declare themselves to be Wahhabi… It is not just an issue of sectarianism, the Saudis are even turning against Wahhabis like themselves. I don’t think the US will have an easy task in bringing these countries together. And even if they do, I don’t think the Qataris are going to trust the Saudis in the future. And Trump himself is not considered to be a very reliable partner, as the Republican Party has just discovered themselves.

The present dispute between Qatar and Saudi Arabia and the UAE is difficult to understand because it seems to be totally artificial, it doesn’t seem to have any reality behind it at all. As for President Trump’s offer to mediate, don’t forget he was asked at a press conference after the formal statements have been made, by journalists, whether he supported Kuwaiti mediation. And he said, “Yes, we do support Kuwaiti mediation.” And then he couldn’t resist adding, “I would be very ready to mediate myself if that would be useful.” I am not surprised that he said that. Maybe it is helpful. Any world leader might have said the same thing.– Oliver Miles, former UK ambassador to Libya

RT: The crisis boils down to Qatar’s alleged terrorist links with Iran. Are there any new developments on that front?

SMM: The Iranian-Qatari relationship has never been severed despite the Saudi pressure. And in fact, the Saudis have failed to disrupt the relationship between Iran and other countries, such as Oman. The Saudis, on the other hand, are putting enormous pressure on Kuwait to distance itself from Iran. But in the case of Qatar, I think it backfired. They went way too far by trying to humiliate the country and take away its sovereignty. The Qataris, which were blockaded not only by Saudi Arabia but its allies like the UAE and Bahrain from the land and the sea and air… they were preventing food from getting in. And the only way forward for Qatar was to turn to Iran. And of course, the Iranians felt that they had an obligation to support the Qataris. And this is something that the Saudis have been doing for a long time: the Iranian relationship with the people of Yemen has evolved, improved, and they have grown closer to each other because of the Saudi invasion of the country. The same is true with what the Saudis and their allies did in Syria and Iraq: they basically brought these countries closer to Iran because these countries saw the Saudis’ Wahhabi extremist ideology, which Al-Qaeda and ISIS and Boko Haram are linked to, as a threat to their existence, and they moved to Iran which they saw as a very reliable partner. That is, basically, the Saudis who have been shooting themselves in the foot time after time.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

Courtesy, RT

‘Islamic State’ convoy stranded with families in Syria desert

Lebanon’s Hezbollah said US-warplanes were preventing both the advance of a convoy of ‘IS’ fighters and their families, and humanitarian aid. The US-coalition refused to accept the terms of the deal made with Syria.

A convoy of buses prepare to evacuate Islamic State militants and their families from QaraA convoy of buses prepare to evacuate “Islamic State” militants and their families from Qara

Lebanon’s Shiite militant group Hezbollah said in a statement on Saturday that it and the Syrian army had fulfilled their obligations by safely transporting the convoy of IS fighters and their families out of Syrian government territory. But it said that US warplanes were preventing the convoy from reaching its destination in IS-held territory.

The 17-bus convoy had been stranded in the Syrian desert, the US-led coalition against the militant group said in a statement circulated on Saturday.

“The coalition has not struck the convoy. In accordance with the law of armed conflict, the coalition has struck ISIS fighters and vehicles, including a tank, armed technical vehicles and transport vehicles seeking to facilitate the movement of ISIS fighters to the border area of our Iraqi partners,” the coalition said in a statement.

Read more: Hezbollah’s new ‘power’ threatens Israel

As part of an agreement between the Syrian government and Hezbollah, IS fighters were transferred from areas near the Lebanese-Syrian border to the group’s stronghold near the Iraqi border.

Later on Saturday, Hezbollah claimed the warplanes prevented humanitarian aid reaching the buses and called on the interantional community to intervene to prevent what it called a massacre. Six of the buses had remained in Syrian government areas, the group reported.

Shuttling a ‘global threat’

The US-led coalition and Iraqi authorities said they would not accept the terms of the deal for the IS fighters and their families to move. They have asked Russian authorities to communicate to the Syrian government that the coalition will not accept such maneuvers.

“The coalition and our Iraqi partners were not a party to the agreement … to allow these experienced fighters to transit territory under the Syrian regime control to the Iraqi border,” the statement said.

“ISIS is a global threat; relocating terrorists from one place to another for someone else to deal with is not a lasting solution.”

Map showing active armed groups in Iraq and Syria

Making gains

Backed by the US-led coalition, Iraq has made significant gains against the militant group over the past two months. It has dislodged the “Islamic State” militant group from Mosul and Tal Afar, a former transit hub along the group’s strategic supply line between Syria and Iraq.

Read more: Who is the ‘Islamic State’ leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi?

The “Islamic State” rose to notoriety in 2014, when it launched a blitzkrieg campaign across Syria and Iraq, culminating in the occupation of Mosul and nearly one-third of Iraqi territory.

Iraq-led forces have managed to reclaim more than 90 percent of the territory captured by the militant group.

ls/jm (Reuters, AP)

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Why the battle against ISIS in Iraq’s Tal Afar is ‘many times worse’ than Mosul

Why the battle against ISIS in Iraq's Tal Afar is ‘many times worse’ than Mosul
The Iraqi military is engaged in fierce fighting against Islamic State militants in the Tal Afar district, where terrorists have fled from the city itself and remain holed up in the town of al-Ayadiya. As the operation enters its final stage, RT looks at what is making it so difficult.

“The gates of hell” is what Iraqi Colonel Kareem al-Lami calls the battle now facing Iraqi troops near Tal Afar, according to Reuters.

US-backed Iraqi troops lauded the almost complete liberation of the strategic town of Tal Afar, held for three years by Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL), on August 27 after a week-long operation. However, the forces are currently struggling to defeat the terrorists in the small town of al-Ayadiya a few miles north of Tal Afar, where the remaining militants continue to resist.

This last step towards the liberation of the district is even tougher than the battle for Mosul, located some 60km to the east, Colonel al-Lami says. That operation took eight months and was finished in June.

“We thought the battle for Mosul’s Old City was tough, but this one proved to be multiple times worst,” al-Lami told Reuters on Wednesday.

Diehard militants with nothing to lose

Hundreds of militants are reportedly holding the ground in al-Ayadiya. Their exact numbers remain unclear, and they are apparently some of the toughest fighters that IS has.

“Our intelligence shows that the most diehard Daesh [IS] fighters fled Tal Afar to al-Ayadiya,” Lieutenant Colonel Salah Kareem said, as cited by Reuters. “We are facing tough fighters who have nothing to lose and are ready to die.”

Those terrorists who don’t stand and fight attempt to flee the battle zone by hiding among displaced civilians on the run. At least 200 militants were found during security checks of 2,000 refugees, Iraqi news reports, citing the Kurdish Peshmerga, which is also fighting against IS in the area.  Kurdish forces also killed 130 more militants on the way to Syria, Iraqi news reported on Tuesday.

Ruins filled with explosives

During their retreat from the city, IS terrorists left behind deadly traps that have turned Tal Afar “into a sappers’ nightmare” as explosives could be hidden anywhere, RT correspondent Murad Gazdiev reported from the ground.

The Iraqi military told RT it had found such ‘surprises’ in the most unexpected places. Troops continue to find wires everywhere and dare not touch anything.

“One of our officers went into a house and sat on a sofa. It exploded, along with half of the house,” an Iraqi commander said. “They booby-trapped the sofa.”

“Another example: there were explosives in the light switches. If you turn the light on, it explodes. There were bombs in refrigerators and even in door handles.”

Some houses packed with explosives will have to be destroyed while the military does its best to clear the area. Meanwhile, many houses have already been reduced to rubble and there are no civilians in the suburbs of the city, where an RT crew was allowed to enter.

Civilians caught in the crossfire, used as human shields

At the beginning of the battle for Tal Afar around 40,000 civilians remained trapped in the city and its neighboring areas, according to the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), which is providing aid there. The US-led coalition estimated that between 10,000 and 50,000 civilians remained in and around Tal Afar as of August 20.

Thousands of people, trapped in a warzone, faced a grim choice.

“Being used as human shields by ISIS, risk being killed in a coalition airstrike or make a run for it, brave the crossfire, the desert and the merciless heat in the hope that you get out,” RT correspondent Gazdiev reported from the area.

Their plight was highlighted by the UN.

“Iraqi civilians are likely to be held as human shields again and that attempts to flee could result in executions or shootings,”said Andrej Mahecic, spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

To have a hope of escaping Tal Afar, civilians had to move at night not to be caught by IS terrorists. The terrorists took men from the families trying to flee, according to Oxfam, which spoke to the civilians at a screening site in Badush, around 60km east of the city.
The journey, in scorching heat and in constant fear of airstrikes, was a horror in itself.

“The road was steep and rocky, and old people were dying. It was so hard to walk and the road smelled of dead bodies. I lost my voice because I was shouting at my children to stay with me. They were so scared,” Ahlam Ibrahim, who fled the village of Mzra’a near Tal Afar, said, as cited by Oxfam.

“We saw a lot of people killed; that’s why we were so afraid. We are worried they will kill my husband. My son won’t stop crying because ISIS took his father and we don’t know where he is,” a woman from Mzra’a said.

Under-supplied camps & refugees with nowhere to go

Over 30,000 people have fled the Tal Afar area since April, 14,000 of them since the start of the military operation there, according to the NRC. Those who have managed to flee are waiting for it to be safe to return home, but some fear that there is nothing to return to.

“We can’t go back unless the government allows us to – a lot of homes are booby-trapped and there are IED [improvised explosive devices] and mines everywhere,” the NRC cited Mehmoud Mustafa, a refugee from Tal Afar, as saying.

“There are almost no services where we come from, and no food and water and things that we need to get by,” Sami from Tal Afar told the organization.

“We also need to be allowed to return to our homes by the government and military forces. So we will go back when I have enough money and something to go back to. Now we have nothing left of our properties,” he added.

Meanwhile, displaced people trapped in refugee camps suffer from a lack of water, food, electricity, medicine and medical assistance. People in the Umm al-Jarabeeh camp told RT’s video agency Ruptly they are desperate to escape the dire conditions and return to their homes.

“There is no electricity, the floor is soil and the roof is nylon, as if we are pickles in a bag,” one resident, Ahmed Ali, told Ruptly last week.

“There are [water] tanks which come here but they distribute only four tanks of 20 liters for 11 people. What can we do with this amount of water? Shall we drink it or use it for washing? Or shall we use it for cooking? It is not enough for the family,” he said, adding that the water the refugees get is contaminated.

People at another camp, the ‘Western Axis Camp,’ located west of Tal Afar, which accommodates more than 1,500 families, also said that the facility lacks the necessary supplies while the authorities care little about them.

“We are hungry. We need bread, aid. We need clothes, water. Yesterday we got contaminated water, even animals won’t drink it. We are living in tough times. No authorities are checking how we are doing. No mercy. We need a solution. We are in such a bad state. Everything is scarce. Even bread,” said Tal Afar refugee Ghaz Ghashman Hassan.

Another refugee, Abu Abdallah, called on the authorities to deal with the shortage of medicines.

“The nearest access would be 100km away, and doctors there may or may not come,” he added.

Some said that they would prefer to go back to their ruined homes than sit with no aid in the heat.

“We urge the Iraqi government to liberate Tal Afar so that we can return to our villages and homes. Our children are disabled, it is hot, we sit here with no aid,” Azeez Omar Mohamed told Ruptly.

The rebuilding cannot even start yet, and when it does, it will take years.

“It will take a long time and a lot of resources to rebuild the cities, towns and villages that have been damaged and destroyed by this conflict. People cannot even begin this process unless they are safe. Once they are, people must be free to move when and where they choose so they can start the journey of rebuilding,”NRC country director Heidi Diedrich said.

Courtesy, RT

Iraqi forces recapture large portion of Tal Afar center from ‘Islamic State’

Iraqi forces have seized most parts of the northern city of Tal Afar from “Islamic State” (IS). The city is strategically important as it lies on the supply route between Syria and the former IS stronghold of Mosul.

Irak Bodenoffensive auf die Stadt Tal Afar (Reuters)

The Iraqi army said in a statement on Saturday its troops have “liberated” Tal Afar’s city center and its Ottoman-era citadel.

“Units of the Counter-Terrorism Service liberated the citadel and Basatin districts and raised the Iraqi flag on top of the citadel,” General Abdulamir Yarallah, the military offensive’s commander, said.

The aerial and ground offensives to recapture Tal Afar, located 70 kilometers (43 miles) west of Mosul, from the militant IS group started earlier this month.

Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari said Saturday IS had been driven out from 70 percent of the city.

“God willing, the remaining part will be liberated soon,” Jaafari said at a news conference with his French counterpart, Jean-Yves Le Drian, and French Defense Minister Florence Parly, who are currently visiting the Iraqi capital, Baghdad.

Karte Irak Syrien Tel Afar englisch

Strategic stronghold

Tal Afar has long been a stronghold for hard-line Sunni insurgents. It was cut off from other IS-held territories in June during the Iraqi-led operation to recapture Mosul.

Read more: Iraq PM Haider al-Abadi declares Mosul victory over ‘Islamic State’Iraqi PM declares Mosul victory over IS

According to US and Iraqi military sources, there are roughly 2,000 IS militants in and around the city.

Over the past weeks, the US-led coalition against IS has carried out dozens of airstrikes in Tal Afar and the surrounding areas, targeting command centers and ammunition caches.

Humanitarian organizations are not expecting a mass exodus similar to that seen during the Mosul offensive and its eventual recapture. Between 10,000 and 40,000 civilians are believed to be in Tal Afar and surrounding areas, according to the International Organization for Migration.

Watch video01:42

Iraqi army pushes to retake Tal Afar

shs/jlw (AFP, Reuters)

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