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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
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  • 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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UNAIDS : World Is At A “Defining Moment” In A Battle Against HIV/AIDS

36.7 million people globally are living with HIV

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Michel Sidibe, Executive Director of Joint UN Program on HIV/AIDS, speaks during a news conference, Sept. 25, 2014.
Michel Sidibe, Executive Director of Joint UN Program on HIV/AIDS, speaks during a news conference, Sept. 25, 2014., VOA

The head of UNAIDS says the global community is at a “defining moment” in the effort to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic by 2030.

“This midpoint is important for us to reflect on what was not working,” Michel Sidibe told VOA, noting this year marks the halfway point to agreed global targets. “It’s about how to deal with vulnerable communities, fragile society.”

According to 2016 data, 36.7 million people globally are living with HIV. There were nearly 2 million new infections and 1 million AIDS-related deaths.

But the good news is there has been success in expanding access to critical anti-retroviral drugs (ARVs), which reached nearly 21 million people in 2016, leading to a reduction by one-third in global AIDS-related deaths.

Eliminating mother-to-child HIV transmission through childbirth and breast-feeding also has become a real possibility by 2030. This was considered a dream just a few years ago, Sidibe said.

“Today, we are seeing after six years that we reduced by almost 61 percent the infection among children — the transmission from mother to child,” Sidibe said. “But we still have 39 percent of babies born with HIV. We want to stop that and we are working very closely with countries who are lagging behind to make sure we have a catch-up plan.”

Scientist Professor Salim Abdool Karim, a South African epidemiologist and infectious diseases specialist, and one of the conveners of the march leads people during the 'March for Science' in Durban on April 14, 2018.
Scientist Professor Salim Abdool Karim, a South African epidemiologist and infectious diseases specialist, and one of the conveners of the march leads people during the ‘March for Science’ in Durban on April 14, 2018. VOA

Know your HIV status

The UNAIDS executive director says one of the most critical factors in ending the epidemic is making sure people are tested and know their HIV status. This requires lifting taboos and making testing more widely available.

“We need to reduce the price of self-testing; we need to go to community levels, family levels, to reach people where they are,” he said. “The family-centered approach and also community-based approach will become central to what we will do in the future, if we want to reach those millions of people who don’t know their status.”

A recent United Nations report on the AIDS response found that at the end of 2016, some 70 percent of people living with HIV knew their status, and 77 percent of them were accessing ARV therapy. Once on those treatments, 82 percent had suppressed the virus to undetectable levels in their systems. That is not a cure. HIV still remains in their body, but it greatly reduces the likelihood of transmission to a partner.

45-year-old Oscar Tyumre uses an HIV self-testing kit, administered by students from the University of the Witwatersrand in Hillbrow, Johannesburg, on March 19, 2018.
45-year-old Oscar Tyumre uses an HIV self-testing kit, administered by students from the University of the Witwatersrand in Hillbrow, Johannesburg, on March 19, 2018.
VOA

Uneven progress

While there have been significant successes, progress is uneven, especially for women and adolescent girls. This is the case in sub-Saharan Africa, where females aged 15-24 accounted for 23 percent of new infections in 2016, compared to 11 percent for their male counterparts.

Sidibe says women and young girls face unique challenges, including cultural norms, child marriage and early pregnancies.

“It’s something which we need to address at not just a peripheral level, we need to deal with poverty, to deal with violence against women, to change the laws, to make sure we give them services,” he said.

In order to stop new HIV infections, other vulnerable populations also need a scaled-up response, including intravenous drug users, sex workers and men who have sex with men.

Working with at-risk groups and spreading awareness of the importance of condoms and single-needle use for drug addicts are all crucial to the fight against HIV.

Also read:HIV Infected Smokers More likely to die of lung cancer than AIDS, Reveals Indian-origin Researcher

Next month, thousands of experts, activists and people living with HIV/AIDS will meet in Amsterdam for the International AIDS conference. Special attention will be focused on the need to reach key populations, including in Eastern Europe, Central Asia, North Africa and the Middle East, where epidemics have grown. (IANS)