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UN and US officials focus on militant group’s bastion in Mosul

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi plans to install a military governor for Mosul after Islamic State is expelled

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Battle for Mosul. Image Source: www.itv.com
  • Defence ministers of the anti-Islamic State coalition will meet at Joint Base Andrews outside Washington on Wednesday, followed by a joint session of foreign and defence chiefs on Thursday
  • Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi plans to install a military governor for Mosul after Islamic State is expelled, said several sources 
  • An Iraq donor meeting of 24 countries in Washington on Wednesday is expected to raise more than $2 billion, a senior State Department official told reporters on July 18

Dozens of defence and foreign ministers will meet in Washington on Wednesday, July 20, and Thursday to take stock of the fight against Islamic State, their focus increasingly on a major prize: the militant group’s bastion in Mosul, Iraq.

The battle for Mosul is expected to be difficult, but the aftermath could be tougher, Iraqi, United Nations and U.S. officials say. Plans are still being finalised to provide urgent humanitarian aid and restore basic services and security for residents and as many as 2.4 million displaced people.

Battle for Mosul. Image Source: aljazeera
Battle for Mosul. Image Source: aljazeera

Defense ministers of the anti-Islamic State coalition will meet at Joint Base Andrews outside Washington on Wednesday, followed by a joint session of foreign and defense chiefs on Thursday.

The United Nations is preparing for what it says will be the largest humanitarian relief operation so far this year as terrified people stream out of the path of the advancing Iraqi military and flee from the city itself. They will need shelter, food and water, and sanitation for three to 12 months, depending on the extent of the city’s destruction.

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“There is a logic in moving as quickly as possible, but there is a danger that if the humanitarian response is not as prepared … then we could have a humanitarian catastrophe and possible problems with political management of Mosul after its liberation,” said a senior diplomat based in Baghdad, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The vast majority of the expected refugees will be Sunni Muslims, many of whom feel disenfranchised by Iraq’s Shi’ite-led government in Baghdad, and that presents what could be an even bigger problem.

“Unless underpinning an offensive on Mosul are real political settlements between the Sunnis and the Shia, we think it’s only a matter of time before it unravels again,” said a source in the Kurdish regional security council.

Iraq's Prime Minister, Haider al-Abadi. Image Source: Reuters
Iraq’s Prime Minister, Haider al-Abadi. Image Source: Reuters

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi plans to install a military governor for Mosul after Islamic State is expelled, several sources said.

A U.S. defence official, speaking on condition of anonymity, questioned whether Iraq’s military can retake the city without “prolonged and substantial help” from Kurdish security forces and Shiite militias. That sectarian mix could further complicate attempts at post-conflict reconciliation.

“ISIL will lose regardless of who goes in,” the Kurdish security source said, using a common acronym for Islamic State. “What’s important isn’t a military defeat; what’s important is the Iraqi government’s ability to embrace post-ISIL management issues, one of which is the Sunni grievances in and around Mosul. They’ve got to address that before the offensive.”

COMBUSTIBLE MIXTURE

Mosul, which Islamic State seized from a collapsing Iraqi army in June 2014, is Iraq’s second biggest city and home to a combustible mixture of Sunni Arabs, Kurds, Turkmen and others.

Although Iraqi and U.S. officials have not announced a timetable for moving on the city, a senior Baghdad-based diplomat said Abadi wants to advance the start of the Mosul campaign to October after the seizure of the city of Falluja from Islamic State last month.

This month, Iraqi forces backed by U.S. air power retook Qayara air base south of Mosul, which will be turned into a logistics hub for the main assault on the city.

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“We’re looking ahead to Mosul, which will be the most significant challenge yet,” Brett McGurk, U.S. President Barack Obama’s special envoy in the fight against Islamic State, said on Tuesday.

Brett McGurk. Image Source: Reuters
Brett McGurk. Image Source: Reuters

McGurk said he met recently with Iraqi officials in Erbil to discuss the “disposition of forces” for the battle. Troops will include Kurdish peshmerga fighters, the Iraqi military and 15,000 local fighters from Nineveh province, he said.

McGurk described three other challenges this week’s meetings will address in detail: plans for immediate humanitarian relief; short-term stabilisation of Mosul; and local governance.

When asked whether he thought Islamic State would put up a strong fight in Mosul, Iraqi foreign minister Ibrahim al-Jaafar said he expected them to behave as they did in Falluja

“In Falluja, they threatened and vowed to fight until the last breath … issues ended differently; some were killed, some were defeated early and some disguised as women to flee,” Jaafari told journalists in Washington.

The U.S. defence official said there are differences within the American military over the timetable.

“It makes sense, as (commanding U.S. Lieutenant General Sean) MacFarland is arguing, to capitalise on ISIS’s recent setbacks by moving on Mosul and Raqqa this fall,” said the official. Raqqa is the group’s Syrian capital.

“The trouble is, ‘Then what?’, and it’s complicated by the fact that if you envelop the city, that leaves ISIS no way to retreat as they did from Falluja, and it could make for an even longer, nastier and more destructive fight if a lot of them decide to martyr themselves there,” he said.

Lise Grande. Image Source: www.gurtong.net
Lise Grande. Image Source: www.gurtong.net

Lise Grande, the deputy U.N. representative in Iraq, said in a telephone interview: “We understand that there could be accelerated plans for Mosul, and we don’t know what those plans are, but we have to be ready for them.”

The United Nations says it needs an immediate $280 million to begin pre-positioning supplies – tens of thousands of tents and hundreds of mobile health clinics, for example – for the expected flood of refugees.

An Iraq donor meeting of 24 countries in Washington on Wednesday is expected to raise more than $2 billion, a senior State Department official told reporters on Monday.

“We hope it’s more than this, but $2 billion now and maybe in the future other things can be added to this, that’s what we seek,” Jaafari said.

The U.N. estimates that under a worst-case scenario, more than 1 million people could be displaced from Mosul and another 830,000 from a populated corridor south of the city, adding to the burden of caring for the 3.5 million Iraqis displaced by Islamic State’s 2014 onslaught and U.S.-backed Iraqi counter-offensives. (Reuters)

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Kurdish Red Crescent: IS Attacks Kill at Least 50 in East Syria

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Syrian Democratic Forces
A female fighter from the Syrian Democratic Forces stands near a military tank in the village of Abu Fas, Hasaka province, Syria. voa

Islamic State suicide attackers killed at least 50 people in a triple car bomb attack on Thursday among a group of refugees in northeast Syria, a medical source in the Kurdish Red Crescent said.

A large number of people were also injured by the three car bombs, the source said.

The attack took place at Abu Fas, near the border of Deir el-Zour and Hasaka provinces, said a war monitor, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which said earlier that at least 18 people had been killed.

The dead included refugees fleeing the fighting in Deir el-Zour as well as members of the Kurdish Asayish security force, the observatory reported. Syrian state television said dozens had been killed in the attack.

The jihadist group has lost swaths of its territory in both Syria and Iraq this year and is falling back on the towns and villages of the Euphrates valley southeast of Deir el-Zour.

The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces alliance of Kurdish and Arab militias is pressing it from the north, and a rival offensive by the Syrian army, supported by allies including Iran and Russia, is attacking it from the west.

On Wednesday, Islamic State said it had carried out an attack in the capital, Damascus, where three suicide bombers detonated their devices near a police headquarters, killing two people and wounding six.

Aid agencies have warned that the fighting in eastern Syria is the worst in the country this year and that airstrikes have caused hundreds of civilian casualties.(VOA)

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India Demands Data on UN Staff Misconduct, Use of Immunity

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United nations
India has demanded the secretariat disclose information about misconduct by UN staff. Flickr

United Nations, Oct 7: In an attempt to break the wall of silence around the crimes and UN staff misconduct and those on its assignments, India has demanded the secretariat disclose information about such cases and the immunity invoked against prosecutions.

Yedla Umasankar, the legal advisor in India’s UN Mission, touched a raw nerve here by criticising the UN on Friday for not vigorously following up allegations of serious wrongdoing by its employees who enjoy the equivalent of diplomatic immunity, a prized possession of its staff.

“It appears that the UN system itself may be reluctant to waive immunity even for serious misconduct carried out by its personnel while serving on its missions, so that such cases can be prosecuted by the host governments,” he told the General Assembly’s committee on legal affairs.

“Even a few of such instances or allegations of crimes committed by UN personnel is highly damaging for the image and credibility of the United Nations system and its work around the world,” he added.

His statement also touched on the practice of some countries that protect their wrongdoers at the UN.

Umasankar demanded that secretariat disclose how many cases of serious misconduct by UN personnel were registered and the number of cases where the UN refused to waive immunity to allow their prosecution.

He also wanted to know in how many cases the host country wanted the immunity waived so it can prosecute those accused; the number of times the UN asked the host country or the country that sent them to prosecute them; how many times it consulted countries before waiver of the immunity of their personnel and how many of them refused UN’s request to waive their citizens’ immunity.

The information he wanted does not cover the diplomats sent by member countries to represent them at UN bodies and enjoy diplomatic immunity with the nations hosting the UN facilities.

After scores of serious allegations of sexual misconduct by peacekeepers, especially exploitation of children, the UN vowed to uphold a policy of zero tolerance and began publishing data on such cases in peacekeeping operations including how they were dealt with.

Starting with the year 2015, it began identifying the nationalities of those accused.

However, it has not made public a roster detailing all the allegations and proven cases of serious misconduct across the entire UN.

While the focus has been on sexual exploitation and abuse reported on peacekeeping operations, Umasankar said that “at a broader level, the issue of accountability has remained elusive in some cases”.

He attributed it to “the complexities of legal aspects relating to sovereignty and jurisdiction”, the immunity or privileges that may be necessary for UN operations, and the capability or willingness of countries to investigate and prosecute the accused.

He noted that the UN itself cannot make criminal prosecutions.

While Indian laws has provisions for dealing with crimes committed abroad by its citizens, not all countries have them, he said.

Those countries should be encouraged and helped to implement such measures, he added. (IANS)

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Will the Latest Message From Islamic State Leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi Provoke New Attacks in the West?

IS remains a potent organization, despite its continued losses in United States and Europe

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Islamic State
This image taken from a militant website July 5, 2014, purports to show the leader of the Islamic State group, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. (VOA)

Washington, September 30, 2017 : U.S. intelligence officials examining the latest audio statement claiming to be from Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi say, so far, they have no reason to doubt its authenticity.

However, there are questions as to whether the message from the leader of the collapsing, self-declared caliphate will cause IS operatives to spring into action. Some analysts see Baghdadi’s continued call to arms as almost a shot in the dark, aimed at rekindling interest despite the terror group’s fading fortunes in Syria and Iraq.

The still-early U.S. intelligence assessment comes just a day after the Islamic State’s al-Furqan media wing issued the 46-minute audio recording featuring Baghdadi, in which he calls on followers to “fan the flames of war on your enemies, take it to them and besiege them in every corner.”

“Continue your jihad and your blessed operations and do not let the crusaders rest in their homes and enjoy life and stability while your brethren are being shelled and killed,” he says.

islamic state
A U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces fighter takes cover behind a wall on a street where they fight against Islamic State militants, on the front line on the western side of Raqqa, Syria (VOA)

Despite such threats, U.S. officials say the release of the latest audio message is not changing Washington’s approach.

“We are aware of the tape,” a National Security Council spokesman said Friday. “But whether it’s al-Baghdadi or any member of ISIS, the Trump administration’s policy is destroying ISIS in Iraq, Syria and around the globe.” ISIS is an acronym for Islamic State.

Still, intelligence and counterterror officials, both in the United States and in Europe, warn that IS remains a potent organization, despite its continued losses on the ground.

“We do not think battlefield losses alone will be sufficient to degrade its terrorism capabilities,” the head of the U.S. National Counterterrorism Center, Nick Rasmussen, warned in written testimony to U.S. lawmakers earlier this week, calling IS’s reach on social media “unprecedented.”

And while Western counterterror officials say the expected wave of returning IS foreign fighters has yet to materialize, the experience and skill sets of the operatives who have made it back home are ample reasons to worry.

But some caution the new Baghdadi audio message may have more to do with the terror group’s long-term strategy than its desire to carry out attacks in the near term.

“The broadcast boosts morale by contextualizing the hardships facing the group as their losses accumulate by reminding Islamic State militants and their supporters that day-to-day actions are part of a broader struggle, and metrics of progress shouldn’t be assessed in a vacuum,” according to Jade Parker, a senior research associate at the Terror Asymmetrics Project (TAPSTRI).

ALSO READ  intelligence officials , Islamic State, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, al-Furqan, war, enemies, threats, US officials, raqqa, National Security Council, isis, Iraq, Syria, U.S. National Counterterrorism Center, Nick Rasmussen, terrorism, Terror Asymmetrics Project ,

Parker also believes that while it is “extremely unlikely” the latest Baghdadi audio will spark or accelerate any IS plots, it might prevent fraying within the organization’s ranks.

“Baghdadi’s silence during the final days of IS’s battle for Mosul was a sore point for many IS fighters and supporters who felt confused and abandoned by their leader,” she added. “This statement was likely released in part to avoid that sentiment with respect to the fight to retain ground in Raqqa.” (VOA)