Report: Foreign Fighters Abandon Islamic State, Flee to Turkey

Sipa via AP Images

Breitbart, by John Hayward, April 27, 2017:

Islamic State militants are reportedly abandoning ISIS as it loses territory and fleeing to Turkey, with foreign recruits leading the retreat.

According to the UK Guardianat least two British nationals and an American citizen have joined the “exodus” from the Islamic State. The American is 46-year-old Kary Paul Kleman of Florida, who surrendered to Turkish border police last week, bringing a Syrian wife and two widows of slain ISIS fighters with him.

The British defectors claimed they were not fighters but settled in Syria to become citizens of the “caliphate.” Kleman moved first to Egypt and Dubai after converting to Islam, then claims to have brought his family to Syria to assist with a “humanitarian effort” that turned out to be a “scam.” He was reportedly trying to reach the U.S. embassy in Turkey when he was arrested by border police.

CNN spoke with a smuggler who said Kleman contacted family members, the CIA, and possibly the FBI to arrange his exit from the Islamic State but apparently didn’t get the help he wanted, so he made a run for the Turkish border on his own.

Turkish prosecutors could seek up to 15-year sentences for these refugees from the Islamic State, while the U.K. could press terrorism charges that carry a maximum penalty of life in prison. It is also possible the authorities will decide the returnees are not a threat.

The Guardian sounds an alarming note about foreign recruits fleeing the collapsing Islamic State and seeking to carry out terrorist attacks in their home countries, to take revenge for the defeat of ISIS. There may already be up to 250 such trained terrorist operatives in Europe. Foreign recruits for other extremist organizations active in the Syrian civil war, such as al-Qaeda’s Nusra Front, are also a concern.

Shiraz Maher of the International Center for the Study of Radicalization at King’s College pointed out to the Guardian that ISIS “projected a narrative of momentum and success” to recruits, and it’s impossible to maintain that narrative when so much of the caliphate’s territory has been recaptured.

The Daily Star quotes Operation Inherent Resolve spokesman Col. John Dorrian of the U.S. Air Force warning that the threat of foreign recruits making it back to their home countries, with the motivation and training to conduct terrorist attacks, cannot be dismissed.

“This is why there has been such a significant effort to isolate places like Raqqa to limit the ability of the enemy to depart Syria and move up into Europe,” Dorrian said.

A knockout punch has not yet been landed against the Islamic State’s Iraqi capital of Mosul. The Independent relates the horrifying story of ISIS militants who disguised themselves as Iraqi officials, drew a crowd of men, women, and children in central Mosul to greet them, and then shot them to “make it clear the area was still under enemy control,” as a Joint Operations Command official put it.

Various estimates suggest there are up to 5,000 foreign recruits still alive in the Islamic State, potentially preparing to return to Europe and the United States.

Also see:

Analysis: ‘Signs of Recovery for the Islamic State’

Henry Jackson Society, by Kyle Orton, April 22, 2017:

The operation to clear the Islamic State (IS) from its Iraqi capital, Mosul, began on 17 October and is now 188 days old. IS was announced cleared from east Mosul on 25 January, and the offensive that began on 19 February to clear the more densely-populated and difficult west Mosul has ostensibly swept IS from sixty percent of that area. Official sources claim IS now controls less than seven percent of Iraqi territory, down from forty percent in 2014. But yesterday, a car bomb struck Zuhur, the first attack of this kind in east Mosul since February, murdering at least four people. This is part of a pattern of attacks that suggests the Mosul operation itself was rushed and more importantly that IS is already recovering in liberated areas.

OUT BUT NOT DOWN

When the Mosul offensive began, there was reason to worry that the timing was more political than it was determined by facts on the ground. Towns like Qayyara and Shirqat, which had been formally cleared of jihadists and were being used as launchpads for the assault on Mosul, were under constant harassment from the rural surroundings. More important is Hawija, which IS continues to hold.

Hawija, a town of about 200,000 people, fell to IS on 16 June 2014, after Mosul collapsed on 10 June and IS swept across northern and central Iraq. Located one-hundred miles south-east of Mosul, and roughly equidistant—forty miles or so—east of Shirqat and west of Kirkuk, with Bayji and Tikrit within sixty miles to the south, Hawija sits in a prime location to cause mayhem behind the lines, and has done so. IS is able to organize attacks from Hawija, and then fall back to safe-haven in the city. Days into the Mosul operation, IS executed a major raid in Kirkuk that killed dozens of people; the jihadists that did not blow themselves up slipped back into Hawija. This has happened despite the Kurdish Peshmerga having imposed a siege last August and blocked the four city gates.

In simple military terms, Hawija should have been cleared before Mosul, and now there are new worries. The recent announcement, which might well prove untrue, that IS’s occupation of Hawija, an overwhelmingly Sunni Arab town, will soon be brought to an end by al-Hashd al-Shabi, the conglomeration of Shi’i militias where Iranian proxies are the backbone, and the Kurdish Peshmerga, would continue one of the worst aspects of the campaign against IS, namely the use of demographically inappropriate forces to cleanse local areas that has meant IS’s military losses are not political losses.

Further to the east in Iraq, on the provincial boundary line between Saladin and Diyala, there is even more trouble as documented in an important recent report by Niqash. IS’s strategic depth is in the rural areas where it rode out defeat after 2008, a lesson it has taken into its foreign wilayats like Libya. The Jalam desert to the east Samarra—abutted by the Hamrin mountains to the north that stretch east into Diyala and west to the Tigris in Ninawa—with ad-Dawr to the south-east of Tikrit is a near-perfect location for IS. It was from the Jalam desert that IS invaded into Samarra in June 2014.

“The difficult terrain and long stretches of unpopulated land that straddle several provinces make this territory excellent for hiding, or for the establishment of secret bases,” Niqash notes. “[T]he IS fighters who are locals know the caves and valleys well and they know it would be very difficult to hunt them down here, if not impossible.” From these bases, IS have already managed to cut the road between Tikrit, the administrative centre of Saladin Province, and Kirkuk City. The area between Hawija and Kirkuk is known as the “death strip”. There have been many small raids, as well as some more significant ones, such as IS demolishing the police station in Albu Khado, which killed a number of people, or the attack on a police station in the village of Nayeb. To the west, there is the mountainous Makhul area, north of Bayji, where IS attacks at will, and the Iraqis are well aware that IS cells are spread all throughout Saladin and Diyala.

One special problem the Iraqis are having is Mutaibij, a remote village about twenty miles east of Duluiyah near the Udhaim River in the Euphrates River Valley. Mutaibij was occupied by Albu Issa tribesmen, who were opposed to IS, and now the village is abandoned. Despite four sweeps, however, the Iraqi Security Forces can never capture or kill any IS members when they move in. It has “become a mysterious place,” says local policeman Ziyad Khalaf. “Every time we raid that village, we don’t find anybody there. Then a few hours later, we are attacked again and we lose men.”

In the west of Iraq, along the Euphrates River Valley, where Anbar Province borders Syria’s Deir Ezzor Province, an IS-held zone the group calls Wilayat al-Furat (Euphrates Province), the terror group now has its centre of gravity. As Raqqa comes under pressure, IS has moved the bulk of its administration to Mayadeen in eastern Syria, seventy miles up-river from al-Qaim, long a main gateway for IS jihadists flowing into Iraq from Syria. “We are always under threat from the Islamic State group,” says an Iraqi border guard. “The danger doesn’t end when we arrive at our barracks. … [W]e are continuously losing men to the IS attacks. There are not enough soldiers or weapons to confront an enemy like this. They know that we are weak and they know the government is negligent.” Unlike the areas mentioned above, this desert wilderness has not yet even been nominally cleared and it remains to be seen if it can be. Until then, IS is able to use this base to strike at areas that have been cleared, like Rutba and Heet and devastated cities like Fallujah and Ramadi, with bombings and assassinations.

HISTORY AS A GUIDE TO THE FUTURE

In 2007-08, IS had been politically isolated and militarily driven from its cities by the Surge and Sahwa. Throughout 2010, the organization’s leadership structure was nearly destroyed. Yet in 2011, the IS movement was into a recovery—so much so it dispatched operatives into Syria to form a secret branch. By 2013, even as it underwent a schism with its Syrian wing, IS had nearly eliminated the Sahwa and launched a campaign of terrorism, particularly against the prisons, that freed important operatives, and seriously destabilized the Iraqi government. The heavy-handed reaction of the government, and its increased reliance on Iran, only fed IS. How had IS recovered in just five years?

Western inattentiveness was certainly part of it: the belief the Surge was a done deal rather than a process to be maintained. The political disengagement after 2009 allowed the worst, most sectarian and authoritarian instincts of the Iraqi Prime Minister free rein, polarizing the Sunni community, and IS reaped the benefits of that. IS did also realize it had made mistakes; it reassessed some tactics, especially in dealing with the tribes, though maintained remarkable continuity in ideology.

Still, the major part of the answer to IS’s resilience lies, as Craig Whiteside has written, in its deeply bureaucratic structure and strategic outlook that gives it the ability to wage a Mao-style revolutionary warfare. IS has proven capable of moving through the three stages: an infiltration and building stage by terror and inducement; expansion with terrorist and insurgent tactics; and then into the decisive phase of governance and state administration. Just as importantly, IS can move back through the stages when necessary. [emphasis added]

This means IS’s loss of territory should not be seen as the sole measure of how this war is going. What is needed in a revolutionary war is legitimacy over the long-term; if military defeats contain political victories, they can be absorbed, which is why IS has chosen simply to retreat in most areas before the attacks on its capitals. Fallujah was a classic case: IS held about two-thirds of the city; after evidence of atrocities by the Shi’a militias appeared, giving IS a political win, it pulled out within five days. The U.S.’s narrow focus on defeating IS, with the mistaken emphasis on when IS is defeated rather than how, has meant supporting Iranian-run Shi’a militias in Iraq and the PKK in Syria, playing into IS’s hands, legitimizing the group even as it loses territory, and assisting IS becoming a global movement that can mobilize its supporters abroad for external attacks.

The holding of a specific territory has never been the basis of IS’s legitimacy. Over the last year, IS has crystallized this view that the caliphate is more a cause than a destination, presenting the impending loss of its twin capitals, Mosul and Raqqa, as merely one stage in a cycle, part of the travails of the believers—a gift from god, indeed—to purify the herd before final victory. After inflicting terrible losses on the infidels, the jihadists will “retreat into the desert” temporarily, as they did last time only with hideouts stretching into Syria this time as well, and come back stronger, IS says. Given the conditions—no major U.S. troop presence on the ground; massive destruction, displacement, and persecution in the Sunni areas; heightened sectarianism; dysfunctional political systems all across the Fertile Crescent—IS’s belief that trends are on its side even more than in 2008 cannot be dismissed as self-serving delusion. In some areas those trends toward IS’s recovery are already becoming a reality.

Kurdistan Independence Referendum and Why It Matters so Much in the Fight Against Radical Islam

Iraqi Kurdish students attend the first day of the new school year in Erbil, the capital of the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq. (Photo: SAFIN HAMED / AFP / Getty Images)

Clarion Project, by Jennifer Breedon, April 19, 2017:

The recent rejuvenated referendum on Kurdistan Independence will likely draw a few questions from people. Namely (1) What does “Statehood” mean and what is required to gain it? (2) Why does an independent Kurdistan really matter? And (3) Is it really helpful to have another independent government in the Middle East in an already volatile area?

What does “Statehood” mean and what is required to gain it?

Becoming a state provides autonomy and self-determination that allow a government to aid their people, provide security to their region, build infrastructure, among many other things. Even autonomous regions within a state are subject to the official national government decisions and therefore cannot enter into alliances with potential allies. In this situation, it matters for the United States because the modern Kurds and the Kurdish government in Northern Iraq are extremely pro-America and pro-democratic freedoms.  In an age where the Middle East is constantly laced with sectarian violence, the Kurds are a secular governing force that rejects extremism. However, since it is merely an “autonomous” region of Iraq, they are subject to alliances of the Iraqi government and cannot be a strength of secular democratic governance that is so desperately needed throughout the Middle East.

The Montevideo Convention of 1933 outlined the four main requirement of statehood. Those are: a permanent population, a defined territory, a government, the capacity to enter into foreign relations with other states. However, meeting the Montevideo requirements doesn’t automatically gain independent statehood today. That requires recognition by the international community (and recently done via the United Nations).

The Kurdish region was officially recognized as semiautonomous in the 2005 Iraqi constitution following the U.S. invasion of Iraq and fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime. Today, that region and the territories closest to it have become the only safe zone for refugees and IDPs fleeing from the wrath of ISIL in Iraq.

Why does an independent Kurdistan state really matter?

When I was meeting with Kurdish government officials in January this year, I asked this very question to Dr. Dindar Zebari, a top official in the Kurdish Democratic Party.

Dr Zebari: “…you cannot have a success story within a failure story [Iraq]. Sectarian violence in the Middle East-and especially Iraq-will continue. There is a problem and that’s religious engagement in government and it holds all of humanity back: the case of Shia vs. Sunni. Yazidi, Christian and other minority communities will be under religious extremist governments because the ethnic cleansing under these governments will never stop. Kurdistan has been successful as an accepting autonomous region and our government has never and will never turn away minorities. Our constitution is based on individual human rights and not religious identity.

JB: What makes Kurdistan as a state unique in this region?

Dr. Zebari: We are unique in that we already have self-determination and friendly relations with many other governments. The only forces that have EQUALLY protected all the religious minorities since ISIS began their violence, are the Peshmerga forces. We have already delivered more for the rights of minorities and protecting from ISIS than many other independent states in this region even though we aren’t yet a recognized nation-state.

According to the CIA World Factbookthere has been voluntary relocation of many Christian families to northern Iraq” since the rise of ISIS. An article in the Council for Foreign Relations noted in 2015 that, “even while asserting their autonomy, Iraqi Kurds are still considered by policymakers as the ‘glue’ that holds [Iraq] together amid sectarian tensions between Sunni and Shia Arabs.

Today, almost all the U.N. refugee areas for ISIS victims are in or near the Kurdish region because it has been secured by the Kurdish Peshmerga forces. However, since the Kurds are not an independent nation-state, they are not privy to U.N. practices in refugee camps, nor are they invited to talks on the humanitarian situation in the region. Additionally, when money is sent to the “refugees” and IDPs living in camps in the Kurdish region, none of that money goes to the Kurdish Regional Government because they are not a recognized state. The money is either given directly to the United Nations OR the “recognized” government of Iraq in Baghdad.  Considering that Iraqis have fled Baghdad for safety in Erbil and the Kurdish region, this seems to make very little sense in helping those that need it most and supporting the forces protecting the victims.

Jennifer Salcido, a humanitarian filmmaker in Iraqi Kurdistan, recently met with a small group of Assyrian Christians. When she asked them why they didn’t go to Baghdad for safety from ISIS, they responded, “Because they will murder us in Baghdad. We are much safer in Erbil [Kurdistan region capital].

Is it really helpful to have another independent government in an already volatile Middle East region?

The answer is 100% yes if that independent government is friendly to the United States, Israel, and secular governance including human rights and not Islamist sharia implementation. The Kurds have no sharia laws or desire to impose Islamist laws. They’ve been persecuted by Islamist governments for far too long and the modern Kurdish parties, such as the KDP, have adopted a secular democratic constitution.

Most Kurds are Muslim, but reject religious rule in favor of secular governance so that all religious people and ethnic minorities can have fair and equal representation. The Kurds have adopted secular lifestyles seen just by visiting the capitol city of Erbil where you’ll hear American music, see a booming economy, or have conversations about new business enterprises.  If you’re lucky, you may run into the Erbil Men’s Club. Kurds don’t identify as “Sunni” or “Shia” at the outset. While they will openly say what religion they practice, they refuse to allow their identity to be encompassed in the sectarian strife they’ve witnessed throughout the Middle East. They want no form of oppressive sharia law in their governance to promote the rights of women and minorities. In fact, Kurdish government mandates that 30% of Parliament members be women. I witnessed that firsthand and it looks a lot like the United States: churches, mosques, and synagogues side-by-side with equal numbers and mutual respect between all religious leaders.

The issues in the Middle East come down to proxy wars and one important differentiation: Does the country have a theocracy or a secular government that governs the people with basic freedoms of life and liberty to freely worship? The Kurdish government maintains the latter and thus makes their application for statehood a necessary element in upholding human rights and providing for a more stable and violence-free Middle East.

Jennifer Breedon is an attorney and the legal analyst for Clarion Project. Jennifer’s specializations are in international criminal law, Middle East policy and U.S. Constitutional Law. To invite Jennifer to speak please contact us.

Islamic State Leader Baghdadi ‘Flees Mosul’ as Iraqi Forces Advance

AP Photo/Militant video, File

Breitbart Jerusalem, March 9, 2017:

(AFP) — Islamic State group chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is reported to have abandoned Mosul, leaving local commanders behind to lead the battle against Iraqi forces advancing in the city.

With Iraqi troops making steady progress in their assault to retake Mosul from the jihadists, a US defence official said Baghdadi had fled to avoid being trapped inside.

It was the latest sign that IS is feeling the pressure from twin US-backed offensives that have seen it lose much of the territory it once controlled in Iraq and Syria.

Speaking to reporters in Washington, the defence official said Baghdadi had left Mosul before Iraqi forces seized control of a key road at the beginning of this month, isolating the jihadists in the city.

“He was in Mosul at some point before the offensive…. He left before we isolated Mosul and Tal Afar,” a town to the west, the official said.

“He probably gave broad strategic guidance and has left it to battlefield commanders.”

Baghdadi, who declared IS’s cross-border “caliphate” at a Mosul mosque in 2014, in an audio message in November urged supporters to make a stand in the city rather than “retreating in shame”.

Iraq launched the offensive to retake Mosul — which involves tens of thousands of soldiers, police and allied militia fighters — in October.

After recapturing its eastern side, the forces set their sights on the city’s smaller but more densely populated west.

– ‘Ran away like chickens’ –

In recent days Iraqi forces have retaken a series of neighbourhoods in west Mosul as well as the provincial government headquarters and a museum where IS militants filmed themselves destroying priceless artefacts.

The military said Wednesday they had also taken the infamous Badush prison northwest of Mosul where IS reportedly executed hundreds of people and held captured Yazidi women.

On Thursday Iraqi forces were “combing the city centre area to defuse (bombs in) homes and shops and buildings,” Lieutenant Colonel Abdulamir al-Mohammedawi of Iraq’s elite Rapid Response Division told AFP.

Forces were also “searching for snipers in the city centre,” Mohammedawi said.

The area is located on the edge of Mosul’s Old City, a warren of narrow streets and closely spaced houses that could see some of the toughest fighting of the battle.

“Currently there is no order from the operations command to advance toward the Old City. We will advance when this order is issued,” Mohammedawi said.

Hundreds of thousands of civilians are believed to still be trapped under IS rule in Mosul.

Those who did manage to escape the city said the jihadists were growing increasingly desperate.

Abdulrazzaq Ahmed, a 25-year-old civil servant, was seized by jihadist fighters as they retreated from the neighbourhood of Al-Mansur.

“We were used as human shields” said Ahmed, who managed to escape along with hundreds of other civilians to Iraqi police waiting outside the city.

Rayan Mohammed, a frail 18-year-old who was once given 60 lashes for missing prayers, said the jihadists were scrambling in the face of the Iraqi offensive.

“They ran away like chickens,” he said.

– Marines deployed to Syria –

West Mosul is the most heavily populated area under IS control and along with Raqa in Syria the last major urban centres it holds.

In Syria, a US-backed alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters known as the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) has been advancing on Raqa. Earlier this week its forces reached the Euphrates River, cutting the main road to the partly IS-held city of Deir Ezzor downstream.

A US official said Wednesday that a Marine Corps artillery battery had been sent into Syria to support the battle for Raqa — joining some 500 American special operations fighters who have been training and assisting the SDF.

The United States has been leading a coalition since mid-2014 carrying out air strikes against the jihadists in both Syria and Iraq.

Elsewhere in Syria, Turkish troops and their rebel allies have pushed south from the Turkish border and driven IS out of the northern town of Al-Bab.

Russian-backed government troops have meanwhile swept eastwards from Syria’s second city Aleppo and seized a swathe of countryside from the jihadists.

The US defence official said IS was now looking beyond the seemingly inevitable losses of Mosul and Raqa.

“I don’t think they have given up on their vision of their caliphate yet,” the official said.

“They… are still making plans to continue to function as a pseudo-state centred in the Euphrates River valley.”

About 15,000 IS fighters remain in Iraq and Syria, including some 2,500 in Mosul and Tal Afar and as many as 4,000 still in Raqa, the official said.

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Exclusive video: Iraqi forces near Mosul mosque where IS group leader declared ‘caliphate’

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Also see:

Iraqi army controls main roads out of Mosul, trapping Islamic State

An Iraqi special forces soldier fires a rifle as other soldiers runs across a street during a battle in Mosul, Iraq March 1, 2017 REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic

An Iraqi special forces soldier fires a rifle as other soldiers runs across a street during a battle in Mosul, Iraq March 1, 2017 REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic

Reuters, by Stephen Kalin, March 1, 2017:

U.S.-backed Iraqi army units on Wednesday took control of the last major road out of western Mosul that had been in Islamic State’s hands, trapping the militants in a shrinking area within the city, a general and residents said.

The army’s 9th Armored Division was within a kilometer of Mosul’s Syria Gate, the city’s northwestern entrance, a general from the unit told Reuters by telephone.

“We effectively control the road, it is in our sight,” he said.

Mosul residents said they had not been able to travel on the highway that starts at the Syria Gate since Tuesday. The road links Mosul to Tal Afar, another Islamic State stronghold 60 km (40 miles) to the west, and then to Syria.

Iraqi forces captured the eastern side of Mosul in January after 100 days of fighting and launched their attack on the districts that lie west of the Tigris river on Feb. 19.

If they defeat Islamic State in Mosul, that would crush the Iraq wing of the caliphate declared by the group’s leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in 2014 from the city’s grand old Nuri Mosque.

The U.S.-led coalition effort against Islamic State is killing the group’s fighters more quickly than it can replace them, British Major General Rupert Jones, deputy commander for the Combined Joint Task Force said.

With more than 45,000 killed by coalition air strikes up to August last year, “their destruction just becomes really a matter of time,” he said on Tuesday in London.

The U.S. commander in Iraq, Lieutenant General Stephen Townsend, has said he believes U.S.-backed forces will recapture both Mosul and Raqqa, Islamic State’s Syria stronghold in neighboring Syria, within six months.

The closing of the westward highway meant that Islamic State are besieged in the city center, said Lt General Abdul Wahab al-Saidi, the deputy commander of the Counter Terrorism Service (CTS), deployed in the southwestern side.

Units from the elite U.S.-trained division battled incoming sniper and anti-tank fire as they moved eastwards, through Wadi al-Hajar district, and northward, through al-Mansour and al-Shuhada districts where gunfire and explosions could be heard.

These moves would allow the CTS to link up with Rapid Response and Federal Police units deployed by the riverside, and to link up with the 9th Armored Division coming from the west, tightening the noose around the militants.

“Many of them were killed, and for those who are still positioned in the residential neighborhoods, they either pull back or get killed are our forces move forward,” Saidi said.

Two militants lay dead near the field command of the CTS, in the al-Mamoun district which looked like a ghost town. A few hundred meters away, a car bomb was hit by an air strike.

STRAFING FROM ABOVE

The few families who remained in al-Mamoun said they were too scared to leave as the militants had booby-trapped cars.

Women cooked bread over outdoor ovens while men gathered on street corners as helicopters flew overhead strafing suspected militant positions further north

One of two buses parked nearby had its roof shorn off. Residents buried a 60-year-old woman who was killed on Tuesday when she stepped on an explosive device while trying to flee.

Several thousand militants, including many who traveled from Western countries to join up, are believed to be in Mosul among a remaining civilian population estimated at the start of the offensive at 750,000.

They are using mortars, sniper fire, booby traps and suicide car bombs to fight the offensive carried out by a 100,000-strong force made up of Iraqi armed forces, regional Kurdish peshmerga fighters and Iranian-trained Shi’ite Muslim paramilitary groups.

About 26,000 have been displaced from western Mosul, often under militant fire, according to government figures. The United Nations puts at more than 176,000 the total number of people displaced from Mosul since the offensive started in October.

Thousands more streamed out, walking through the desert toward government lines during the day, crossing over a deep trench which appears to have served as an Islamic State defense, some waving white flags.

Among them a boy shot in the leg was limping alongside a cart carrying an older woman, while another was pushed in a wheelchair. Old people asked why there was no cars or buses to pick them up and take them to the displaced people centers.

A man said he spent 11 days hiding in his house with no food, no water and no idea of what was happening outside.

“The archangel of death would have come for us if we stayed any longer,” he said.

Aid agencies put the number of killed and wounded at several thousands, both military and civilians.

Army, police, CTS and Rapid Response units forces attacking Islamic State in western Mosul are backed by air and ground support from a U.S.-led coalition, including artillery. U.S. personnel are operating close to the frontlines to direct air strikes.

Federal police and Rapid Response units are several hundred meters only from the city’s’ government buildings.

Taking those buildings would be of symbolic significance in terms of restoring state authority over the city and help Iraqi forces attack militants in the nearby old city center where the al-Nuri Mosque is located.

Military engineers started preparing a pontoon that they plan to put in place by the side of the city’s southernmost bridge, captured on Monday. Air strikes have damaged all of its five bridges.

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Also see:

Meet Iraq’s hipsters: Incredibly well-groomed Kurdish men launch clothing brand to prove Iraq is not just a country of war and terrorism

Dressed in snappy suits and designer sunglasses, the men from Iraq are using fashion to change the country's reputation

Dressed in snappy suits and designer sunglasses, the men from Iraq are using fashion to change the country’s reputation

  • Synonymous with constant, bloody battles with Islamic State terrorists, the men’s region has been plagued
  • Mr Erbil is a gathering of stylish Kurdish men who are widely regarded as Iraq’s first ever gentlemen’s club 
  • With snappy suits, manicured beards and sharp hairstyles – they are trying to change the way Iraq is perceived
  • The group are also fighting for women’s rights and have recruited an Iraqi popstar to help spread the word 

Daily Mail, by Gareth Davies, Feb. 23, 2017:

A group of well-groomed hipsters are attempting to change the way people perceive Iraq by giving it an injection of style with a new clothing brand.

Usually synonymous with constant and bloody battles with terrorists from Islamic State, their region of Northern Iraq has been plagued by civil war, but the pin-ups want to change that.

Mr Erbil is a gathering of Kurdish men who are widely regarded as Iraq’s first gentleman’s club and have done away with the traditional tatty outfits of the area and replaced them with snappy suits, perfectly-manicured beards and sharp hairstyles.

With around 30 core members and more than 30,000 followers on Instagram, the group is not only trying to make a statement with their clothes, but want to make a political stand too.

Dressed in Western-style suits, the men are attempting to promote cultural diversity, and are fighting for women’s rights.

Three days ago, they invited Dashni Morad – an Iraqi popstar – to fron up their Girls Inspiration campaign.

Along with a picture of the glamorous singer, they said: ‘A very young soul and a Kurdish girl who has dedicated all her time helping refugees, especially the children with the Green Kids campaign, opening two new Libraries for the Syrian and Mosoul displaced children in northern Kurdistan.

‘A brave enough soul to give leadership workshops to the Yazidi women survivors from ISIS.

‘Also known as the female voices of the World, the effort she puts for the humanity love and peace is so impressive

‘Keep up the good work Dashni Khan, you are making us proud.’

Not only is Mr Erbil a political movement, it is also a clothing brand.

The website is currently being built, but on its Facebook page, the company states: ‘We organise local and international – in the near future – trade shows and cultural events to promote the fashion system as the aesthetic expression and evolution of taste.’

The group have garnered a worldwide following with fans from the Middle East, Europe and the US.

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More on Kurdistan region :

The Kurdistan Region in Brief

With a population of 5.2 million and increasing, the four governorates of Erbil, Slemani, Duhok and Halabja cover approximately 40,000 square kilometres – larger than the Netherlands and four times the area of Lebanon. This includes the governorates administered by the Kurdistan Regional Government but does not include areas of Kurdistan outside of KRG administration, such as Kirkuk.

• The Region is geographically diverse, from hot and dry plains to cooler mountainous areas with natural springs and snowfall in the winter.

• Foreign visitors are warmly welcomed. Among the growing number of visitors are international media and business people as well as those returning from the Kurdish Diaspora.

• Not a single coalition soldier died in Kurdistan during the Iraq war, nor has a single foreigner been kidnapped in the areas administered by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). With the cooperation of citizens, the Kurdistan Region’s security forces have kept the area safe and stable. Security responsibility was formally transferred from the Multinational Forces to the KRG in May 2007.

• The capital and the seat of the Kurdistan Regional Government is Erbil, a city known in Kurdish as Hawler. The Citadel in Erbil is considered the world’s oldest continuously inhabited settlement. The next largest cities are Slemani and Dohuk. Please note that Slemani is the KRG’s official English spelling, but it can also be found with other spellings such as Sulaimani, Suleimani, Sulaimaniyah, and Suleimaniah.

• The Kurdistan Regional Government exercises executive power according to the Kurdistan Region’s laws as enacted by the democratically elected Kurdistan Parliament. The current government, led by Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani, assumed office in the spring of 2014.

• Iraq’s Constitution recognises the Kurdistan Regional Government and the Kurdistan Parliament as the region’s formal institutions and the Peshmerga forces as the Region’s legitimate security guard.

• The current coalition government consists of several political parties that reflect the diversity of the Region’s population, which includes Chaldeans, Assyrians, Syriacs, Turkmen, Yazidis, Arabs and Kurds living together in harmony.

• More than 65% of destroyed villages have been rebuilt since being razed during the Anfal campaign perpetrated by Saddam Hussein’s regime in the 1980s.

• The Kurdish language is of Indo-European origin and is among the family of Iranian languages, such as Persian and Pashto, and is distinct from Arabic. The two main dialects are Sorani and Kurmanji.

• The Kurdistan Region has 11 public universities and several licensed private universities. Some of them use English as the main language of teaching and examination, most notably the University of Kurdistan Hawler (UKH) and the American University of Iraq – Sulaimani (AUI-S).

• A new, liberal foreign investment law was ratified in June 2006, providing incentives for foreign investors such as the possibility of owning land, up to ten-year tax holidays, and easy repatriation of profits.

• To rapidly benefit from its oil and gas resources, the KRG has signed dozens of production sharing contracts with companies from 17 countries.

• The Kurdistan Region has international airports in Erbil and Slemani, with direct flights to and from Europe and the Middle East. A new international airport is under construction in Duhok.

Mosul Update: Islamic State Fielding a Serious Defense of the Caliphate

A mix of conventional military and insurgent tactics is making the going tougher than anticipated. The Sunni / Shia split promises to bedevil the hard work that is still to come.

CounterJihad, November 17, 2016:

The Islamic State (ISIS) came out of a union of traditional Islamist radicals from al Qaeda in Iraq with members of Saddam’s military professionals.  In its defense of the city of Mosul, ISIS is showing that its leaders have managed to bring a professional understanding of how to leverage both conventional and insurgent tactics to maximum advantage.  The weight of numbers is against them, but they are fielding effective and vicious tactics to make their enemies pay dearly for their victories.

On the conventional side, CounterJihad has learned that ISIS successfully rendered the Mosul air field unusable for the forces pressing in on the city.  Much of the strategy of the coalition of Iraqi, Iranian, and American forces has been built around capturing outlying areas that can then be used as effective staging grounds for the push into the city proper.  ISIS anticipated this strategy.  Having no use for an airfield itself, it suffers neither long- nor short-term costs for destroying the airport.  We are also hearing that a second nearby airport near Tal Afar has been captured by Iranian-backed Shia militias, but has proven to be heavily mined with IEDs.

ISIS has also deployed snipers to slow the advance of their enemies into these neighborhoods.  Traditionally, snipers can be contested with the use of air strikes or artillery.  ISIS has been raising the cost of that by forcing Mosul civilians to remain in their  homes.  Snipers deployed on top of those homes are then protected, to some degree, by the human shields within.  American air power is less likely to strike a house that is thought to be full of civilians, although doing so is justifiable under the Doctrine of Double Effect.*  Iraqi and Iranian-led forces are less careful about such things, but the tactic does show some limited effectiveness given the reliance on American warplanes for much of the air strike capability.

Another tactic that shows a blend of insurgent and conventional military understanding has been the use of suicide vest attackers to slow military advances.  The Long War Journal reports 79 such attacks in Mosul’s province.  Our sources tell us that there have been such attacks in a “majority” of the sectors of the operation.  The suicide vest is an insurgent tactic, but it is functionally very much like a Hellfire drone strike:  it delivers a similar payload in a similarly accurate way, as if the human wearing the vest were a guided missile.  It is unclear whether the suicide attackers are motivated by a desire for Paradise, or threats to their families.  Either way, it is clear that ISIS has managed to develop a capacity to deliver these attacks on an industrial scale.  It is a tactic that they are using in the place of an air force or similar surgical strike capability.

The campaign is thus proving costly.  The hard part has not started yet, either.  These are fights for staging grounds and outlying areas.  The push into the heavily defended central city is yet to come.

There remains a serious concern with regard to the composition of the forces attacking Mosul, too.  As mentioned, the Iranian-backed Shia militias have been tasked with taking Tal Afar.  It is a city well-known to American veterans of the Iraq war, because it was one of the prototypical models for the new counterinsurgency campaign that would come to be known as the Surge, or the Awakening.  Colonel H. R. McMaster led the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment to a stunning victory over al Qaeda in Iraq, one that proved lasting because of his commitment to treating the Sunni population with justice.  The Mayor of Tal Afar visited Fort Carson, later, to personally thank American forces for freeing his city of Islamist terror.

”Are you truly my friends?” he asked through a translator. “Yes. I walk a happier man because you are my friends. You are the world to me. I smell the sweet perfume that emanates from your flower of your strength, honor and greatness in every corner of Tal Afar. The nightmares of terror fled when the lion of your bravery entered our city.”

Deploying these Shia militias to take Tal Afar instead suggests that no similar success will follow.  The Institute for the Study of War reports that both the militias and the formal Iraqi Security Forceshave already been committing war crimes against the Sunni population.  The Shia militias who were turned loose on Saddam’s home town of Tikrit disappeared hundreds while razing the homes of those they decided were personal enemies of Iran.

If this conduct continues, only chaos looms in the future of Ninevah province.  Iran and Iraq will not create a peace in that desert unless they resist a temptation that they seem committed, instead, to sating in full.

* The Doctrine of Double Effect is an important element in Just War Theory, which is the traditional Western philosophical approach to war.  The doctrine itself arose during the Middle Ages as Christian thinkers such as Thomas Aquinas applied Aristotelian reasoning to questions of war, but the roots of Just War Theory are older still.  They lie in the efforts of the Church to try to stem the horrors of the constant warfare that came during the weakening of the Roman Empire, and the chaos that came after the fall of that empire.  The Doctrine of Double Effect speaks to cases, like the bombing of a house hosting a sniper but also an innocent family, in which an act of war can cause significant harm as well as attaining some good.  Thus, there is a double effect:  a good effect, but also a bad effect.

The doctrine proposes a two part test for whether or not the action is justifiable.  The first is that the good to be attained must be proportionate to the harm being done.  While killing one sniper may not seem proportionate to killing a whole family of innocents, the killing of the sniper is part of a campaign to eliminate a regime that licenses Islamist sex-slavery and engages in terrible abuses of innocents.  Thus, the good to be accomplished is arguably proportionate: indeed, eliminating ISIS is arguably a very great good indeed.

The second part is that the act must be discriminate, a technical term that means that the harm being done is neither your end, nor the means to your end.  There is a thought experiment that helps clarify this question:  If, by miracle, the harmful effect was avoided, would you be satisfied with the outcome?  In the current case, assume that an American aircraft bombed the sniper’s location and — by miracle — none of the innocents inside were hurt.  Would we be satisfied with the outcome?  Obviously, we would be delighted if that happened.

Since the thought experiment is satisfied, the act is discriminate.  If it is also proportionate, as it very arguably is, the bombing of the building is a justified act of war.  The death of the family is a tragedy, but the moral fault for it lies on those who elected to use them as human shields, not on the pilot who bombs the building.

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