Deadly quake hits Iran & Iraq: 200+ killed, over 2,500 injuredLive updates

Deadly quake hits Iran & Iraq: 200+ killed, over 2,500 injured
Dozens of people have been killed and hundreds injured in Iran and Iraq, according to early estimates by local officials, after a powerful 7.3 magnitude earthquake struck the region Sunday.
Courtesy: RT

Earthquake hits Iraq-Iran border, leaves scores dead, hundreds injured

A 7.3-magnitude earthquake struck the mountainous border region between the two countries late on Sunday. More than 200 people have been killed, mostly in Iran.

Rescue personnel conduct a search in Iran's Kermanshah province, after it was struck by a 7.3 magnitude earthquake (Getty Images/AFP/P. Pakizeh)

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At least 207 people have died and more than 1,700 were injured in Iran after an earthquake shook the border region between Iraq and Iran on Sunday, according to authorities in both countries. In neighboring Iraq, official figures have not been released, but there are reports of six people dead.

Rescue services have said that they expect the death toll to rise.

The hardest-hit region was western Iran’s Kermanshah province, which lies in the Zagros mountains dividing Iraq and Iran. Reuters reports more than 142 of the victims were in the town of Sarpol-e Zahab, 15 kilometers (10 miles) from the Iraqi border.

Iran’s emergency services chief Pir Hossein Koolivand said it was “difficult to send rescue teams to the villages because the roads have been cut off… there have been landslides.”

Later, the Interior Ministry added that the “night has made it difficult for helicopters to fly to the affected areas” adding to the grave concern about remote villages in the area.

Tehran has sent 30 Red Crescent teams to the quake zone, parts of which were without power. Three emergency relief camps were being set up by Iranian officials.

Residents huddle by an open fire after a 7.3 magnitude earthquake struck the Iran-Iraq border. (Getty Images/AFP/P. Pakizeh)Residents huddle by an open fire after a 7.3 magnitude earthquake struck the Iran-Iraq border.

Quake felt in Turkey

Officials in Iraq’s Sulaimaniyah province in the semi-autonomous region of Kurdistan said six people had died and 150 were injured. Four people reportedly died in the town of Darbandikhan and two in the town of Kalar, about 70 kilometers (45 miles) south of Darbandikhan.

In nearby Halabja, residents fled their homes and many slept outside out of fear of the earthquake and potential aftershocks, local teacher Warzer Ali told DW reporter Chase Winter via social media.

“Many people slept out in the street, others left the town and slept in fields,” Ali said, adding there were nearly a dozen aftershocks.

According to the US Geological Survey (USGS), the earthquake had a 7.3 magnitude and hit at 9:18 p.m. local time (1818 UTC) around 30 kilometers (19 miles) southwest of Halabjah. The quake was felt as far away as southeastern Turkey.

The area along the border of Iraq and Iran sees frequent seismic activity due to the 1,500 kilometer faultline between the Arabian and Eurasian tectonic plates. In 2003, some 31,000 people were killed by a catastrophic tremor that struck the Iranian city of Bam.

Also late on Sunday, a strong quake struck near Costa Rica, though there were no immediate reports of damage or injuries. The USGS also reported a 5.8 magnitude earthquake a few hours earlier near Japan, though that tremor was too far out into the Pacific Ocean to cause damage.

Courtesy: DW

Kurdish independence referendum: Iraq court rejects result

Iraq’s Supreme Court has ruled that the constitution does not allow any region to secede. The declaration comes a month after the northern Kurdish region overwhelmingly voted for independence in a disputed referendum.

Flags of Kurdistan and Iraq

Iraq’s top court said on Monday there were no articles in the country’s constitution that allowed a region or province to break away.

The ruling was a response to a request from the central government in Baghdad to put an end to any “wrong misinterpretation” of the constitution and assert the unity of Iraq, a court spokesman said.

The court also rejected the September 25 Kurdish referendum that saw the Kurds overwhelmingly vote for independence, defying the government in Baghdad.

Read moreKirkuk: What you need to know about the Kurdish-Iraqi dispute

Tensions between the government in Baghdad and the Kurds escalated following the non-binding referendum.

Last month, Iraq-led forces launched an operation in the Kurdish-held areas and recaptured the oil-rich province of Kirkuk and other disputed territories from the Kurdish peshmerga forces.

Major blow for Kurdistan

Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi on Friday called on the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region to abide by the court’s ruling.

“We call on the region to clearly state its commitment to non-separation or independence from Iraq,” he said in a statement. There was no immediate reaction from Kurdish authorities.

Read moreKurds pursuit of an independent sovereign nation

Abadi said the government was now “taking the necessary measures to impose federal authorities.” He did not provide any further details.

The ruling is a major boost for Abadi as he seeks to prevent a repeat of the September vote, said Ahmed Younis, a Baghdad-based constitutional expert.

“The court ruling has put an end to the Kurdish attempt to breakaway from Iraq,” he added.

Watch video04:09

Dreaming of an independent Kurdistan

ap/rt (Reuters, dpa)

Courtesy: DW

Iraqi forces press last IS stronghold, attack Kurds

Government troops have turned to the terrorists’ last bastion on the Syrian border, having already recaptured 90 percent of Iraqi land from IS. At the same time, Baghdad was rekindling conflict with the country’s Kurds.

Irak - Kurden - Konflikt - Militäreinsatz (Getty Images/AFP/A. Al-Rubaye)

Iraqi troops launched an offensive on Thursday to retake the last “Islamic State” (IS) stronghold in their country, the western towns of al-Qaim and Rawa in Anbar province.

“Daeshis have no option but to die or surrender,” said Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said, using Arabic shorthand for IS militants.

According to Iraqi media, the US-led air alliance was assisting in the assault up the Euphrates valley toward the two Sunni Arab towns. For years, al-Qaim has been a bastion of Sunni Arab insurgency.

Military sources said a key regional army base and an airbase had been found abandoned by the IS. Iraqi forces had also retaken half a dozen villages.

Last IS bastion

That left the jihadists confined to a small stretch of the valley linked to remnant territory in Syria where they also face Russian-backed Syrian government forces.

Ahead of the onslaught, thousands of Iraqis had fled the region to displacement camps near Ramadi, the capital of Anbar, said the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), which provides aid in the region.

Bitter fighting in recent months has already handed Baghdad several victories against IS, most importantly driving them from Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, in July.

Last month, Iraqi troops liberated the town of Hawija, the group’s last foothold in the country’s north. In total, government fighters have retaken 90 percent of the vast swaths of its land, which IS seized in their 2014 sweep through Iraq and Syria.

Armed conflict with Kurds

However, the new offensive on al-Qaim and Rawa came as Baghdad seemed to be reigniting armed conflict with the country’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region. On Thursday, Kurdish authorities said government soldiers had begun assaulting their forces in the disputed and oil-rich Nineveh province.

Watch video01:48

Kurds in Kirkuk feel abandoned by their leaders

“They are advancing towards peshmerga positions,” the regional government said.

That assault was close to the route of a strategic oil export pipeline sought to reestablish direct central Iraqi government oil exports via Turkey.

US urges focus on defeating IS

Since 2014, when IS swept through northern and western Iraq, Kurdish peshmerga fighters played an integral role in the fight against jihadists, with the US-led alliance often relying on their regional expertise.

As the Iraqi government has made strides against IS, it has also tried to tighten federal control over pro-independent Kurdish areas, forcing the Kurdish authorities to abandon its key source of funds, the rich oil fields of Kirkuk, in a massive blow to the region’s self-sufficiency.

The top US general in Iraq, Lt. Gen. Paul Funk called on Thursday for an end to “Iraqis killing Iraqis, when we’ve got Daesh to kill out in the west.”

Another US army spokesman, Ryan Dillon, said that fighting had “negatively impacted Coalition efforts to defeat ISIS [another acronym for IS], specifically the inability to move military equipment and supplies to our partners both in Iraq and Syria.”

es, ipj/ng (AFP, AP, dpa)

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‘Interference’: Iraq PM’s office rejects Tillerson’s call for Iran-backed militias to ‘go home’

‘Interference’: Iraq PM’s office rejects Tillerson’s call for Iran-backed militias to ‘go home’
In a tight-lipped statement, Baghdad rejected a call by US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson for Iran-backed Shia militias to “go home” after the demise of Islamic State in Iraq.

Earlier on Sunday, Rex Tillerson said at a rare meeting with top Iraqi and Saudi Arabian officials that Iraq’s Shiite militias – also known as Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) – and their Iranian advisers need to leave Iraq as the struggle against Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) is nearing an end.

But Baghdad seems reluctant to go along with Washington’s request, judging by a polite but robust remark made on Monday by Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s office.

“No party has the right to interfere in Iraqi matters,” the statement posted on Facebook reads. It added that many PMU members were native Iraqis who made “enormous sacrifices to defend their country and the Iraqi people.”

The Iraqi government was surprised by Tillerson’s suggestion, according to the release.

During the Sunday meeting, Tillerson said “Iranian militias that are in Iraq, now that the fight against… ISIS is coming to a close, those militias need to go home.”

Foreign fighters in Iraq “need to go home and allow the Iraqi people to regain control,” the secretary of state said, amid US efforts to contain Tehran’s growing presence in the region.

Meanwhile, Tillerson also called on other countries to sever business ties with the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), which the US itself recently designated as a terrorist organization.

Tens of thousands of Iraqis joined militia units in 2014 after Iraqi Shia cleric Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani called for a national uprising against Islamic State terrorists by issuing a non-sectarian fatwa. Shiite PMU units were often referred to as part of the Iraqi security apparatus.

Though there are no official statistics, at some point PMU units numbered up to 100,000 fighters, according to US military estimates dated last year. The forces’ estimates ranged from 80,000 to 100,000, according to military spokesman Colonel Chris Garver.

READ MORE: Iran-backed Shiite forces in Iraq now estimated at 100,000 – US military spokesman

Iran has secured major strategic gains in the war against IS in Iraq over recent years, as it funded and trained the PMU which fought alongside the Iraqi Army in the battle of Mosul and other northern Iraqi cities. In contrast, US ally Saudi Arabia, a Sunni kingdom, has been on bad terms with Shiite-majority Iraq for more than two decades, after Saddam Hussein’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait, despite attempts to mend ties in recent years.

Courtesy: RT

Iraqi forces clash with Kurds moving closer to regional capital Erbil (VIDEO)

Iraqi forces clash with Kurds moving closer to regional capital Erbil (VIDEO)
Iraqi and Kurdish forces have clashed in the town of Altun Kupri on the border of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan region, security official said, as Baghdad continues its offensive in the wake of a controversial referendum on Kurdish independence.

Iraqi security and pro-government militias descended on Altun Kupri, which lies some 50 km (30 miles) to the south of the Kurdish capital, Erbil, early on Friday.

Iraqi security and pro-government militias descended on Altun Kupri, which lies some 50 km (30 miles) to the south of the Kurdish capital, Erbil, early on Friday.

Video footage from the Kurdish front lines showed columns of smoke rising and what sounds like gunshots being heard in the distance.

In a statement, the Peshmerga General Command said it had repelled the Iraqi advance and destroyed a number of vehicles, including an American-made Abrams tank.

“In the morning of Friday October 20, 2017 at 8am, the Hashd al-Shaabi [Popular Mobilization Forces] militias using American weapons which were given to the Iraqi army launched a widespread attack on the Peshmerga forces in [Altun Kupri] Pirde with the Iranian artillery units also involving,” read the statement published by the Kurdish news outlet Rudaw.

READ MORE: Iraqi forces taking over Kirkuk ‘a declaration of war’ – Kurdish Peshmerga

“Until now, all of the attacks have been repelled and forces defeated and more than 10 Humvees and an Abrams tank were destroyed. In the confrontation, the Kurdistan Peshmerga forces have bravely put up a defense, achieving a great dignity for them.”

However, the Iraqi Defense Ministry said that the military have secured the town and the area around it.

“Altun Kupri is now under the total control of federal forces,” the ministry said in a statement quoted by Al-Jazeera.

Pictures on social media appear to show Iraqi soldiers in the town, displaying captured Kurdish flags.

A security source told AFP that Iraqi forces managed to “hoist the flag on the municipality building” in Altun Kupri as the sides exchanged mortar and automatic gunfire.

The sources also said that Kurdish general Ghazi Dolemri was killed in the fighting on Friday.

It’s unclear how many have been killed or wounded in Altun Kupri, but hospitals have confirmed they are dealing with a number of casualties.

An Al-Jazeera correspondent reported that two bridges had been destroyed and local people were fleeing the scene, while the Kurds were sending in reinforcements.

According to Iraq’s Joint Operations Command, the governmet forces have extended its territory to within 50 kilometers (30 miles) of Kurdish capital, Erbil.

AFP reported further shelling as Iraqi troops and militias advanced on Sirawa, located five kilometers north of Altun Kupri.

The district of Alton Kupri lies on the border between Iraqi Kurdistan and disputed territories formerly under its control, including the oil-rich province of Kirkuk, which had been seized by the Kurdish peshmerga forces during the Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) advance of 2014.

The fighting in Alton Kupri comes days after the Iraqi military captured the regional capital of Kirkuk on Monday, where fighting also broke out with Kurdish militias.

Though Kurdish peshmerga fought alongside Iraqi soldiers and Shiite militias in the campaign against Islamic State, relations with the central government in Baghdad have taken a downward turn since then.

In September, the Kurdish government went ahead with a controversial referendum on independence, with 93 percent of voters opting for sovereignty. This drew the ire of not only Baghdad but also Turkey and Iran, which have their own large Kurdish minorities.

READ MORE: Barrels, ballots & ISIS: Why Iraq is taking back Kirkuk, and what the US will do about it

As a result, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi ordered his military to take control of the contested areas including Kirkuk Governorate, and government forces began advancing on the region on Monday

Courtesy: RT

Dramatic moment Iraqi forces enter Kurdish Kirkuk, captured by RT (VIDEO)

An RT Arabic crew has been on the frontline in Kirkuk and managed to film dramatic scenes showing the very moments the Iraqi military forced its way into the Kurdish-controlled city Monday.

The exclusive footage brought by RT Arabic correspondent Bzurk Muhammad shows tanks and armored personnel carriers roaming the empty Kirkuk roads while brandishing red, black and green Iraqi flags. As they stream deeper into the city, thick white smoke starts filling the air. Men armed with rifles can be seen firing shots in the direction of the procession from a sidewalk, sparking panic among the onlookers.

As the Iraqi forces were preparing to take over, many of the locals opted to flee Kirkuk as it turned into a battle zone.

“Half the Kirkuk residents have left the city, worried because of the confrontation between the Iraqi Army and the Kurdish forces. The residents are fleeing into Kurdistan’s other provinces and demanding the war and hostilities in Kirkuk be stopped,” Peshtivan Ahmad, a local resident, told RT.

With Kirkuk split between a Kurdish, Arab and Turkmen population, there were those who rejoiced at the sight of the Iraqi Army taking control over the city.

“Where are Asayish [Kurdish intelligence agency] and Peshmerga?! They have abandoned the city. We are calling on the Iraqi government to hold corrupt officials and crooks who squandered Kirkuk’s budget accountable,” Sheikh Emad Fili, a local resident, told RT.

The lack of concerted response to the Iraqi forces’ invasion from the Kurdish militias highlighted the discord between different Kurdish factions, as some of the militias were reported to leave Kirkuk and others stayed to face off with the Iraqi forces.

Iraqi Army soldier Ahmad Hussaine told Muhammad that the troops have been on a hunt for Peshmerga fighters who might be still holing up in the city.

“Thank God, our combat spirit is very high,” Hussaine said, adding that the Iraqi forces have been combing the terrain in search for Kurdish fighters since Sunday.

“Some eight Peshmerga fighters were killed at the beginning. And since then we haven’t found anyone,” he said, noting that although there have been other instances of clashes with Peshmerga, they have not resulted in casualties.

“They tried to resist. They opened fire at us, but no one was hurt.”

Residents of Kirkuk, which borders Iraq’s Kurdistan Region, took part in a recent Kurdish independence referendum. The vote was denounced by Iraq and neighboring countries with large Kurdish populations, as well as by the international community.

While the ballot could have been the last straw, that prompted the Iraqi government to “enforce security” on the city, its timing shows that the retreat of Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS, ISIL) rekindled smoldering conflicts and kick-started the carve-up of the freshly liberated territory.

Iraqi journalist Mahmood Ibrahim told RT that following the Iraqi push on Sunday night that saw the troops attacking the city from three sides with some Peshmerga units pulling out, the government succeeded in overrunning the city.

“Right now the city is almost completely under the control of the Iraqi forces, the federal police and the Popular Mobilization Units [Iraqi state-sponsored militia],” Ibrahim said, adding that both sides were reported to suffer minor losses.

“We are talking about 12 casualties from Al-Hashd Al-Sha’ab Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) and we’re talking about 10 of [the] Peshmerga [fighters].”

Meanwhile, there are concerns that sporadic clashes could spill over into a full-blown military confrontation, endangering Iraq’s integrity. Iraqi Parliamentary Speaker Salim Al-Jabouri told RT that although the lawmakers “support the presence of the army and their control of certain facilities in Kirkuk,” the situation is highly volatile.

“The situation on the ground is constantly developing. We are calling on both the Iraqi government and the Kurdish Autonomous Region to show reserve in solving their problems,” he said.

That the Iraqi Army is going after the Kurdish militias after a long time being preoccupied with a battle against IS, shows that the looming defeat of the terrorist group will exacerbate internal tensions, Joshua Landis, director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma, argued.

“The battle against ISIS is, if not finished, it’s largely finished and they have been able to come up with a plan. The war of words got hotter and hotter and they have moved special forces” to Kirkuk, he said, adding that he believes that the oil resources in Kirkuk’s ground is the number one reason for the offensive.

READ MORE: Oil prices rising as Iraqi forces advance on Kurdish-held territory

“It’s all about oil. This is very important for Iraq to take a city which they believe is theirs, the government’s, and to establish very quickly, now that their military is stronger, has proven itself against ISIS… they wanted to strike while the iron is hot.”

As the situation began to unfold in Kirkuk, the US-led anti-IS coalition claimed that the Iraqi army maneuvers in the vicinity of the city “so far have been coordinated movements, not attacks” calling the clashes between Iraqi and Peshmerga forces “misunderstanding.”

US President Donald Trump said on Monday that the US is “not taking sides” in the ongoing standoff.

The State Department later issued a statement, saying that it is “very concerned by reports of violence around Kirkuk” urging all parties to avoid provocations, arguing that the clashes distract them from the battle against IS which is yet to be defeated in Iraq.

Courtesy: RT