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Iraqi Kurds Propose Setting Aside Referendum, Starting Dialogue

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Iraqi Kurds
A group of Kurds dance in a show of solidarity with Iraqi Kurds who on Sept. 25 will be voting in an independence referendum in Iraqi Kurdistan, in Washington. VOA

Iraq, October 25: The government in Iraq’s Kurdistan region offered Wednesday to freeze the results of an independence referendum and start a dialogue with the central government in Baghdad in order to prevent any further violence between the two sides.

Last week, Iraqi forces seized the city of Kirkuk and other disputed areas held by the Kurds in response to the referendum, which Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s government declared illegal.

The Kurdistan Regional Government’s statement said the confrontations have hurt both sides and could lead to ongoing bloodshed and social unrest in Iraq.

“Certainly, continued fighting does not lead any side to victory, but it will drive the country towards disarray and chaos, affecting all aspects of life,” the KRG said.

In addition to setting aside the referendum and proposing talks, the Kurds also called for an immediate halt to all military operations in their northern region of Iraq.(VOA)

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Iraqi Forces Seize Key Sites in Kirkuk, Kurdish Stronghold

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Kurdish security forces
Iraqi security forces and Popular Mobilization Forces patrol in Tuz Khormato, that was evacuated by Kurdish security forces, 210 kilometers north of Baghdad, Iraq. voa

Baghdad, October 2017: Iraqi forces took over more oil fields near the city of Kirkuk on Tuesday, along with the town of Sinjar, as they expanded a pushback against Kurdish control of areas outside of their semi-autonomous region.

The military said Kurd fighters withdrew from the Bai Hasan and Avana oil fields, leaving federal security forces to take over.

A similar dynamic played out in Sinjar where pro-government forces moved into the town Tuesday after the Kurdish Peshmerga moved out.

Tuesday’s developments followed a swift move by government forces Monday to capture the Kirkuk governor’s office, key military sites and an oil field. The U.S.-trained troops, acting on orders from Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, raised Iraqi flags.

Kurds had held the city since 2014 when they secured it against Islamic State fighters. But the central government had demanded they relinquish control, and moved to act following a Kurd independence referendum last month.(VOA)

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20 people Killed, Vice Patrols Show Islamic State Terrorist Group Maintains Mosul Grip in Iraq

The gruesome public display of the bodies appeared to be a warning against other potential informers

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Peshmerga forces ride on military vehicles in the town of Bashiqa, after it was recaptured from the Islamic State, east of Mosul, Iraq, Nov. 9, 2016. VOA

Baghdad (Iraq), November 10, 2016: Islamic State militants fighting to hold on to their Mosul stronghold have killed at least 20 people in the last two days for passing information to “the enemy” and are back on the city streets policing the length of men’s beards, residents say.

Five crucified bodies were put on display at a road junction on Tuesday, a clear message to the city’s remaining 1.5 million residents that the ultra-hardline Islamists are still in charge, despite losing territory to the east of the city.

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Others were seen hanging from electricity poles and traffic signals around the city, residents said on Wednesday.

Thousands of Islamic State fighters have run Mosul, the largest city under their control in Iraq and neighboring Syria, since they conquered large parts of northern Iraq in 2014.

They are now battling a 100,000-strong coalition including Iraqi troops, security forces, Kurdish peshmerga and mainly Shi’ite paramilitary groups, which has almost surrounded the city and has broken into eastern neighborhoods.

Residents contacted by telephone said many parts of the city were calmer than they had been for days, allowing people to venture out to seek food, even in areas which have seen heavy fighting over the last week.

“I went out in my car for the first time since the start of the clashes in the eastern districts,” said one Mosul resident.

“I saw some of the Hisba elements of Daesh (Islamic State) checking people’s beards and clothes and looking for smokers”.

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Islamic State’s Hisba force is a morality police unit which imposes the Sunni jihadists’ interpretation of Islamic behavior. It forbids smoking, says women should be veiled and wear gloves, and bans men from Western-style dress including jeans and logos.

Hisba units patrol the city in specially marked vehicles.

“It looks like they want to prove their presence after they disappeared for the last 10 days, especially on the eastern bank,” the resident said.

Mosul is divided into two halves by the Tigris river running through its center. The eastern half, where elite Iraqi troops have broken through Islamic State defenses, has a more mixed population than the western, overwhelmingly Sunni Arab side, where Islamic State fighters are believed to be strongest.

Crucified corpses

The militants are putting up a fierce defense after their leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, told them in a speech last week to remain loyal to their commanders and not to retreat in the “total war” with their enemies.

Iraqi military officials say they have sources inside the city, helping them identify Islamic State positions for targeting by the U.S.-led air coalition supporting the campaign, which is also backed by U.S. troops on the ground.

The gruesome public display of the bodies appeared to be a warning against other potential informers.

“I saw five corpses of young men which had been crucified at a road junction in east Mosul,” not far from districts which had seen heavy fighting, said another resident.

“The Daesh people hung the bodies out and said that these were agents passing news to the infidel forces and apostates,” he said, referring to the Western allies backing the campaign and the Shi’ite-led government of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi in Baghdad.

In another sign of a clampdown on contact with the outside world, one retired policeman said Islamic State officials were trying to inspect SIM cards to check on all communications.

“I went to get my pension as usual, but the man at the office refused to give it to me unless I handed over my SIM card,” said the 65-year-old man, who gave his name as Abu Ali.

“These are the instructions from Daesh,” Abu Ali quoted the man at the office as telling him.

Many residents close to the fighting have said the scale of the clashes has been terrifying, with the sound of gunfire, mortar bombardments and air strikes echoing through the streets.

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In the Zuhour district, still controlled by Islamic State on Mosul’s eastern bank, witnesses said that cars carrying mortars roamed the streets on Tuesday, but were not seen being fired – unlike in the previous two days.

The relative quiet may reflect a reduction in fighting since Iraq’s special forces first broke into eastern Mosul a week ago.

They faced fierce resistance and have not sought to make any major advance since then.

One witness said traffic had almost returned to normal in most parts of eastern Mosul and markets were operating, albeit not as busily as before the start of military operations. (VOA)

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Civil War: Disabled Syrian Refugees Flee across Mountains ‘Strapped to Horses’

With the new controversial deal between Turkey and Europen Union in place, Any refugee caught by the coast guard or the Navy will return back to Turkish soil

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A Syrian refugee family walks towards the new Syrian camp of Azraq, . Image source: VOA
  • Disabled refugees fleeing from Syria because of the civil war, face many problems from moving so frequently
  • Alan and his sister, Gyan, are one of many disabled refugees, and they say it is difficult to move from one place to another but they proved, they are not insurmountable.
  • The brother and sister duo along with the family first began their journey when IS attacked their hometown, Al-Hasakah

For anyone fleeing Syria’s civil war, the journey to safety is hazardous, sometimes deadly. For disabled refugees, the challenges are immense – but as siblings Alan and Gyan Mohammed proved, they are not insurmountable.

Alan, 30, and his sister, Gyan, 28, both have muscular dystrophy and are confined to wheelchairs.

Their extraordinary journey began in 2014 as the terror group Islamic State advanced toward their hometown, Al-Hasakah in northeast Syria.

The entire family tried several times to escape across the border to Turkey, but each time they say they were fired on by Turkish border guards and forced to turn back.

So they fled instead to the Kurdistan region of Iraq. A year and four months later, Islamic State fighters swept across the region, forcing Alan, Gyan and their family to escape once more across the hostile, mountainous border with Turkey.

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“When we arrived at the top of the mountains, we took two horses, one for me and my disabled sister and one for our wheelchairs,” Alan said.

With Alan and Gyan strapped to either side of a horse, they eventually reached Turkey, where they paid people smugglers $750 each to take them on a boat to Greece. Alan says their small inflatable dinghy carried 60 refugees.

“Every time I looked around I saw babies, children, crying inside the boat. It was a very difficult moment.”

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The engine cut out soon after they left the Turkish shore. After 4 hours, they were spotted by EU patrol boats and taken to the Greek island of Chios.

Monica Costa Riba of Amnesty International found the disabled siblings and their family living in a makeshift refugee camp an hour outside of Athens. She says their story is inspiring, but it also highlights policy failures.

“This is a remarkable story that shows strength and resilience,” said Costa Riba. “But also it shows the failure of the European states to offer safety to these people that are fleeing persecution and the war in their countries.”

The Mohammed family’s arrival in Greece came just days before the European Union struck a deal with Ankara to return all refugees back to Turkish soil. But the route to Western Europe was now closed, and like 60,000 other migrants and refugees, the Mohammed family is now stranded in Greece.

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“What needs to happen is for the Greek authorities, with the assistance of the EU, to improve the living conditions of these people stranded in Greece. But ultimately, what really needs to happen is for the European governments to accept more refugees in their countries,” said Riba.

The EU’s proposed refugee relocation scheme is delayed amid growing opposition in Europe.

Alan Mohammed passes the time teaching English to refugee children. His family’s escape from terror marks a victory over adversity, but he says his journey is not yet finished. (VOA)