Posts Tagged ‘ Iraq ’

Al-Qaida’s Iraq head defies boss over Syria fight

June 15, 2013

BAGHDAD (AP) — The leader of al-Qaida’s Iraq arm defiantly rejected an order from the terror network’s central command to stop claiming control over the organization’s Syria affiliate, according to a message purportedly from him that was posted online Saturday.

The latest statement by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who heads the Islamic State of Iraq, reveals a growing rift within al-Qaida’s global network. It also highlights the Iraqi wing’s determination to link its own fight against the Shiite-led government in Baghdad with the cause of rebels trying to topple the Iran-backed Syrian regime.

His statement surfaced as rockets rained down on a Baghdad camp housing Iranian exiles, killing three people in the latest sign of growing unrest inside Iraq. The attack drew sharp condemnations from Washington and the United Nations.

In an audio message posted online, the speaker identified as al-Baghdadi insists that a merger he announced in April with Syria’s Jabhat al-Nusra rebel group to create a cross-border movement known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant will go on.

Al-Nusra is an al-Qaida affiliate that has emerged as one of the most effective rebel factions in Syria. Its head, Abu Mohammad al-Golani, has rejected the takeover attempt by al-Baghdadi. “The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant will continue,” al-Baghdadi said. “We will not compromise and we will not give up.”

Al-Qaida’s global leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, has tried to end the squabbling and bring the group’s local affiliates back in line. In a letter posted online by Qatar-based Al-Jazeera TV last Sunday, al-Zawahiri declared that the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant will be abolished and that the Iraqi and Syrian groups would remain independent with al-Baghdadi and al Golani as leaders of their respective branches.

Al-Baghdadi is now defying that command. In his statement, he referred to “the letter attributed to Sheik al-Zawahiri,” suggesting he was calling into question the authenticity of the letter. “I chose the command of God over the command that runs against it in the letter,” al-Baghdadi said.

He urged his followers to rise up against Shiites, Alawites, and the “Party of Satan” — a reference to the Iran-backed Lebanese militia Hezbollah, which has been sending fighters to Syria to fight alongside President Bashar Assad’s regime. Assad comes from the Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam.

It was not possible to independently confirm whether the speaker was al-Baghdadi, but the man’s voice was similar to that of earlier recordings. Charles Lister, an analyst at IHS Jane’s Terrorism and Insurgency Center, said there are indications that Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant are operating as distinct groups inside of Syria.

He described al-Baghdadi’s defiance as “a potentially very damaging split within al-Qaida’s senior leadership.” “Al-Baghdadi’s statement underlines an extent of division between himself and Zawahiri but also with another al-Qaida affiliate,” Lister said. “Fundamentally, al-Baghdadi appears to be acting according to his own interests, instead of those of his ultimate ’employer,’ al-Qaida.”

Violence has spiked sharply in Iraq in recent months, with the death toll rising to levels not seen since 2008. Al-Qaida in Iraq is thought responsible for many of the car bombings and other violent attacks targeting the country’s majority Shiites and symbols of the Shiite-led government’s authority.

Iraq risks growing more deeply involved in the Syrian civil war raging across its western border. Iraqi border posts along the Syrian frontier have come under attack by rebels, and Syrian truck drivers and soldiers have been killed inside Iraq.

Iraqi fighters are moving across the border, with Sunni extremists cooperating with the rebels and Shiite militants fighting alongside government forces. Also on Saturday, an Iranian exile group living in a camp near Baghdad airport reported multiple casualties when the compound, known as Camp Liberty, came under attack from rockets.

The group, the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq, is the militant wing of a Paris-based Iranian opposition group that opposes Iran’s clerical regime and has carried out assassinations and bombings in Iran. It fought alongside Saddam Hussein’s forces in the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war, and several thousand of its members were given sanctuary in Iraq. It renounced violence in 2001, and was removed from the U.S. terrorism list last year.

Camp residents Kolthom Serahati and Javad Naghashan were killed and several others were wounded, according to the NCRI. Several Katyusha rockets struck the area, according to Iraqi security officials. Police and hospital officials said an Iraqi was also killed, and that the wounded included at least nine Iranians and seven Iraqis. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information.

Iraq’s government wants the MEK out of the country, and the United Nations is working to relocate residents abroad. Several residents moved to Albania last month. U.N. envoy Martin Kobler condemned the attack, which he said happened despite “repeated requests to the government of Iraq to provide Camp Liberty and its residents with protective measures.” He urged U.N. member states to do more to help resettle the residents abroad.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry described the rocket strikes as “brutal, senseless, and utterly unacceptable.” He said in a statement that Washington has urged the Iraqi government to provide medical assistance, ensure residents’ safety and bring those responsible to justice.

“We must find a permanent and long-term solution that ensures their safety,” he said. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for Saturday’s attack. A similar deadly attack in February was blamed on Shiite militants. The head of one Shiite militia, the Mukhtar Army, later that month threatened further strikes on the compound.

In another attack, Sunni cleric Khalil al-Fahdawi was killed when a bomb stuck to his car exploded late the previous night near Ramadi, police said Saturday. The cleric has been a supporter of Sunni anti-government protests that have been raging for months and exacerbating sectarian tensions.

Associated Press writers Sameer N. Yacoub and Qassim Abdul-Zahra contributed reporting.

Iraqi PM al-Maliki expresses support for Assad

By MICHAEL S. SCHMIDT and YASIR GHAZI

Iraqi Leader Backs Syria, With a Nudge From Iran

August 12, 2011

BAGHDAD — As leaders in the Arab world and other countries condemn President Bashar al-Assad’s violent crackdown on demonstrators in Syria, Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki of Iraq has struck a far friendlier tone, urging the protesters not to “sabotage” the state and hosting an official Syrian delegation.

Mr. Maliki’s support for Mr. Assad has illustrated how much Iraq’s position in the Middle East has shifted toward an axis led by Iran. And it has also aggravated the fault line between Iraq’s Shiite majority, whose leaders have accepted Mr. Assad’s account that Al Qaeda is behind the uprising, and the Sunni minority, whose leaders have condemned the Syrian crackdown.

“The unrest in Syria has exacerbated the old sectarian divides in Iraq because the Shiite leaders have grown close to Assad and the Sunnis identify with the people,” said Joost Hiltermann, the International Crisis Group’s deputy program director for the Middle East.

He added: “Maliki is very reliant on Iran for his power and Iran is backing Syria all the way. The Iranians and the Syrians were all critical to bringing him to power a year ago and keeping him in power so he finds himself in a difficult position.”

Iraq and Syria have not had close relations for years, long before the American invasion. During the sectarian violence here that broke out after the invasion, Iraqi leaders blamed Syria for allowing suicide bombers and other militants to enter the country.

But Syria and Iran have had close ties, a factor in the recalibration of relations between Syria and Iraq. Last year, Iran pressured Mr. Assad into supporting Mr. Maliki for prime minister, which eventually helped him gain a second term. Since then, Mr. Maliki and Mr. Assad have strengthened relations, signing trade deals and increasing Syrian investment in Iraq.

But the speaker of Parliament, Osama al-Najafi, a Sunni, said this week that the Assad government was suppressing the freedoms of the Syrian people and that it was unacceptable for it to use violence to halt protests.

“For the sake of the Syrian people we demand the government, out of its responsibility to safeguard the lives of its people and their property, take the bold and courageous steps to stop the bleeding,” Mr. Najafi said.

For months, Mr. Assad has faced a protest movement that has spread through much of the country. His response has been to use the police and the military against the protesters, killing about 2,000 people so far, activists say. Thousands more have been arrested. At first, Arab leaders were largely silent, concerned that the collapse of the government would add another layer of chaos to a region reeling from uprisings. But recently some have begun to speak out, condemning the killings.

Syria’s allies in Turkey have also called for an end to the bloodshed, as have leaders in Western capitals.

But Mr. Maliki last month hosted a delegation of Syrian government officials and businessmen to discuss closer economic ties, including the construction of a gas pipeline that would run from Iran through Iraq to Syria. A month earlier, Syria’s foreign minister visited Baghdad.

In a television interview this week, Mr. Maliki said that the protesters should use the democratic process, not riots, to voice their displeasure, though Syria does not allow competitive, free elections.

He put most of the blame on the protesters and said little about the government’s ending the bloodshed. This contrasted with a position his alliance took against the Sunni monarchy in Bahrain when it stifled a pro-democracy movement among the Shiite majority there.

To protest the crackdown in Bahrain, members of Mr. Maliki’s alliance walked out of a session of Parliament, sent a ship with supplies to the protesters and called on the government to step down.

Before the Syrian uprising, Shiite and Sunni leaders in Iraq were beginning to work together again after months of paralysis that had undermined the functioning of the government. That cooperation has not yet been derailed, but the conflict over Syria threatens to strain relations.

Shaker Darraji, a member of Mr. Maliki’s State of Law bloc, said the Syrian protesters were members of Al Qaeda and that the Israelis and the Arab Persian Gulf states were behind the demonstrations. If the Assad government is overthrown, he said, it will be replaced by members of Al Qaeda, who will use Syria as a base to launch attacks in Iraq and the region.

The agenda of Israel and the Arab gulf states “is to use the sectarian differences between the Shiite ruling family in Syria and the Sunni majority” to their own advantage, Mr. Darraji said.

But Jaber al-Jabri, a member of the Sunni-dominated Iraqiya bloc, objected to that assessment.

“What is happening in Syria is not because of a terrorist group, as some say, that is not accurate,” he said. “There are whole towns rising up to demonstrate against the regime. We call on the Syrian government to listen to the people’s demands and to stop violence against their people.”

Source: Uruknet.
Link: http://www.uruknet.de/?s1=1&p=80436&s2=13.

Iraqis who sought refuge in Syria, now returning

2011-07-11

Deadly unrest in Syria force Iraqi refugees who fled 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq to return home.

By Sammy Ketz – BAGHDAD

When his six-year-old son was killed in a 2006 Baghdad gun battle, Seif Rashid decided to flee with his family to Syria, but the deadly unrest there forced him to return to Iraq last month.

“When I saw the lifeless body of my little Abdel Rahman I decided to leave with my wife and two girls. I could not stand my country, which was overwhelmed by hatred,” Rashid said.

The boy had been killed by a stray bullet in Baghdad’s Adhamiyah neighborhood.

Rashid moved to Kafar Batna, on the outskirts of Damascus, because he had no work and the rent and life was cheaper.

But the wave of protests against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad that began in March once again upset their lives.

“There were protests, they burned public buildings, posters of Bashar al-Assad — and there have been arrests — the situation was untenable,” Rashid said. “So, we took our bags and left again.”

Rashid, a 30-year-old shoe designer, mingled in Baghdad with a crowd of other returnees like him, all waiting to sign up at the National Registry office for refugees.

Registration entitles displaced Iraqis like him to a government installation allowance of four million dinars ($3,400/2,380 euros) per family, to help with the costs of resettling.

Many lost everything they had when they fled the violence that followed the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled leader Saddam Hussein and triggered an insurgency and Shiite-Sunni bloodletting.

Rashid, unemployed since he fled Iraq, has been living on his savings.

In Iraq, after the turmoil of the invasion and the extreme violence that began in 2004 and peaked in 2006 and 2007, neighboring Syria quickly became the preferred escape for many Iraqis.

It was next door, not very expensive, and it had open borders. Between 300,000 and one million Iraqis are estimated to have fled to Syria during the violence.

Security is better than in Syria

In 2004, 45-year-old Yaqub Khalaf Nussayef was shot in the abdomen and leg during a settling of scores between Sunni and Shiite groups.

Nussayef is a Sunni and former soldier who was living in the Shiite neighborhood of Abu Ghraib, which gained worldwide notoriety after publication of photographs showing American soldiers humiliating and torturing prisoners.

A father of five, he first fled to Jordan and then to Damascus, where he collected and sold empty soft drink cans for recycling in order to feed his family.

“The Syrian capital was quiet, but elsewhere there was chaos. I have tasted the bitter taste of sectarian war and bloodshed, and I did not wish to be part of a new wave of violence,” he said.

“I am convinced that what is going on over there is a sectarian war,” said Nussayef, who arrived only days ago in Baghdad, searching for a home before he brings his family.

Syria is majority Sunni, but the Alawites, who comprise only 12 percent of the population, have been in power since 1963.

Hayat Saad, legal officer at the Baghdad refugees center, said “every day we deal with between 60 to 70 cases of families who have returned to the country.”

“Daily, about 20 come from Syria — the largest contingent — followed by Egypt, Jordan, Yemen and Libya,” she added.

Since the beginning of May, 1,171 families — about 7,000 people — have returned from Syria, and three-quarters have taken up residence in Baghdad province, the International Organization for Migration said.

“We still do not have any evidence of a large ‘wave’ of return in the past few months due to unrest,” said the IOM’s Nuray Inal.

In addition to assisting in housing, the ministry of refugees also helps in settling utility bills such as for water, electricity and telephones that may have accumulated over the years that owners were absent from their homes. It also helps in recovering homes that may have been taken over by squatters.

Qahtan Sabri, a 61-year-old carpenter, went to Damascus in 2005. “The situation was getting worse day-by-day. The confessional killings were increasing, and I had to stop working.

“I decided to return to Iraq when I realized that security is better in my own country than in Syria. I have resumed my business and will never leave my country,” he said.

Source: Middle East Online.
Link: http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=47133.

Iraq, Jordan Sign Deal for Railway Line Linking Port of Aqaba to Baghdad

By Nayla Razzouk
May 29, 2011

Jordan and Iraq signed a Memorandum of Understanding for a rail line linking the Jordanian Red Sea port of Aqaba with the Iraqi capital of Baghdad, Petra said, citing Jordanian Transport Minister Muhannad Qudah.

The agreement for a line that would provide passenger and cargo services was signed by Qudah and visiting Iraqi Transport Minister Hadi al-Ameri in Amman today, the Jordanian official agency said. There were no further details on the project. Those will be decided later by a joint committee, Petra said.

Jordan has plans for a $3.1 billion rail network running 950 kilometers (590 miles) to connect the kingdom with Syria, Iraq and Saudi Arabia. The kingdom is due to start the first bids for the project by the end of June, Qudah said April 11.

Jordan’s government will provide 370 million dinars ($522 million) for the project and potential lenders include the World Bank, European Investment Bank, France’s state-run Agence Francaise de Development, the Islamic Development Bank, the Saudi Fund for Development, the Kuwaiti Fund for Arab Economic Development, the Kuwait-based Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development, the Japan Bank for International Cooperation and Germany’s state-owned development bank KfW, he said.

Source: Bloomberg.
Link: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-05-29/iraq-jordan-sign-deal-for-rail-line-from-aqaba-to-baghdad.html.

Iraqi Airways to Appeal Assets Freeze Court Order in Jordan

By Nayla Razzouk
May 29, 2011

Iraqi Airways will appeal a court order to freeze its bank accounts in Jordan following a lawsuit by Kuwait Airways Corp., Karim al-Nuri, a spokesman for the Iraqi Minister of Transport, said.

“We are preparing to appeal the Jordanian court order,” he said in a phone interview from Baghdad today. “Our appeal is based on the fact that Iraqi Airways is a state company and thus enjoys immunity and cannot have its offices seized.”

The Iraqi national carrier’s offices in Amman were seized three day ago and assets of $1.5 million were frozen after the May 10 order by a Jordanian court, he said.

State-run Kuwait Airways is seeking $1.2 billion in compensation for 10 aircraft taken when Iraq, under the rule of former President Saddam Hussein, invaded Kuwait in August 1990. Kuwait Airways won a U.K. court order to freeze the Baghdad- based airline’s global assets on April 25 last year, the same day as an Iraqi Airways flight landed in London for the first time in 20 years.

The Iraqi government decided in May 2010 to dissolve Iraqi Airways within three years because of the legal battle with Kuwait. The airline has cancelled flights to Europe since last year and continues to fly to destinations in the Middle East.

Iraqi Airways is planning to pursue negotiations with Kuwaiti officials in order to find a solution to the conflict that would benefit both parties, al-Nuri said.

New Company

The Iraqi airliner is also still considering government plans to operate under a new company to avoid the legal dispute and compensation claims raised by Kuwait, he said. “We are considering some contracts with local and foreign companies, although there is nothing final for now,” he said.

Kuwait Airways “seized multi-million dollar funds in various Iraqi Airways bank accounts in Amman,” following the May 10 Jordanian court order, Kuwait Airways lawyer Christopher Gooding of law firm Fasken Martineau said in an e-mailed statement on May 24.

The claim is in addition to $40 billion in debt amassed by Iraq under the regime of Saddam Hussein. The country, holder of the world’s fifth-largest crude reserves, is struggling to rebuild its damaged infrastructure and continues to allocate 5 percent of its annual oil revenue to repay the debt, roughly half of which it owes to Kuwait.

Source: Bloomberg.
Link: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-05-29/iraqi-airways-to-appeal-assets-freeze-in-jordan-on-court-order.html.