Saturday, June 14, 2014

Iraq Civil War Updates - June 14 , 2014 --Rudaw Exclusive: Iraq’s Largest Refinery Falls to Insurgents......Al-Qaeda, Ex-Saddam Loyalists Claim Iraq Advance............ Iran and US to work together to fight islamists in Iraq ? Does Iran actually have soldiers in Iraq or just advsiers ? How long does Obama plan to dither and will he replicate his prior inaction against Syria ? Meanwhile turkey's is feeling bitten not smiiten by the developments in Iraq ! Iraq Prime Minister Maliki remains arrogantly defiant - how defiant can one be when your Army cuts and runs and you have to depend on the kindness of strangers ( US and Iran in the case ? )

Iraq Reported Blocking Internet Access

on June 14 2014 7:59 PM
Mosul, Iraq violence
Burnt vehicles belonging to Iraqi security forces are pictured at a checkpoint in east Mosul, one day after radical Sunni Muslim insurgents seized control of the city, on June 11, 2014. Reuter

Reports are surfacing of an Internet blackout in Iraq as the situation deteriorates. Islamic State of Iraq and Syria militants have been steadily expanding their positions in a push toward Baghdad.
Tech blogs such as Mashable and the news organization Al Arabiya report the Iraqi Ministry of Communications imposed a blackout of social media sites and mobile-messaging services, and news reporters say e-mail also appears to be down, CBS reported.
A Facebook spokesman told CBS the social media platform is investigating reports of limited Internet access in Iraq, calling it "a matter of concern for the global community."
Twitter also reported access issues.
"We're investigating their reports and we hope service will be restored quickly," Twitter said in a statement.
The disruption appears similar to those instituted in 2011 during Arab Spring uprisings in Egypt and last March when Turkey blocked Twitter because of recordings that implicated officials in corruption.
The Washington Post reported the majority of the disruptions were in the Baghdad area while access appeared little affected in the semi-autonomous Kurdish region and elsewhere, where satellite links and fiber-optic lines from Turkey, Iran and Jordan are more common.

Map from Friday.... the potential for a three prong attack being set up for Baghdad  !

Map of Iraq. Graphic: Paddy Allen for the Guardian
Samarra is the fourth northern city to have all but fallen out of government control. The embattled prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, appears to have drawn battle lines further south in Taiji, hoping to defend Baghdad against insurgents who have occupied the north virtually unopposed.

Maliki Threatens to Execute Army Deserters Amid Mounting Losses

PM Declares Move a 'Chance to Get Rid of Those Cowards'

by Jason Ditz, June 14, 2014
Speaking today in a televised address with what remains of the Iraqi Army forces in Samarra, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki threatened to punish deserters “to the utmost, with punishments that rise to execution.”
A pandemic of desertion seems to be hitting the Iraqi Army as al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) advances on their positions, with major cities falling with little opposition as most of the defenders take off their uniforms, drop their weapons and run away.
Maliki tried to paint this as a positive situation, saying “frankly this was our chance to get rid of those cowards and weaklings,” and that it will result in an improved army in the long run.
Assuming there is a “long run.” The US-trained Iraqi military has folded like a house of cards in every confrontation, and Maliki is forced to rely on an Iranian general to command the defense of the capital city, while Grand Ayatollah Sistani’s volunteers are trying to form militias to do the fighting the army isn’t.

Some tweets to ponder from Rami .....FWIW....

Sources: Tribe fighters give a final chance to surrender and be subject to a fair trial or face disastrous end in .

few minutes ago.. forces flee and left army vehicles behind..

Extremely fierce clashes in north to .

31 miles north of Baghdad....

is fully in tribe fighters hands.. Several Humvees and a tanks have been captured..

: Supercarrier USS George H.W. Bush been ordered to sail to the Persian Gulf near |i coasts..

A drone reportedly spotted over . Unconfirmed reports it has been shot down.

suicide attack few hours ago..

: Those who abandoned their units and left their weapons behind may be sentenced to death..

fully controlled by rebels..

IED attack reportedly targeted a bus carrying army volunteers in east .

A border post reportedly fell in hands.

Reports family of head of |i parliament has flee to last night..

I am getting reliable information and tribe fighters have announced the begining of battle..

UNCONFIRMED : The helicopter bombarded meeting in al-Majazarah base in via

allegedly show the liberation battle plan for |i rebels and

 Retweeted by Rami
Iraqi official confirms rumour that militants flew captured Blackhawk chopper over .

( Rumor would of course be cleared up if Maliki publicly denies same .. not his Office !  Fog of War ! Rumors and innuendo ) )

Iraqi PM Maliki’s Office Denies That He’s Dead [UPDATE]

A rumor suggests that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has been killed in a military attack on a base in Samrara
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We’ve been hearing reports that claim Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was in Samarra, where the rumors claim he was killed. One report is from Iraqi News, and another is from Al – Manar News. However, a representative from Maliki’s office is now denying that he was killed. One tweet that’s now making the rounds states that he returned to Baghdad.
office denies rumor of attack, says he's returned to Baghdad

Moon of Alabama...

Iraq's "World Of Hurt"

The Jihadists of ISIS in cooperation with former Baathists continue their march onto Baghdad. Their recent surprise seizure of Mosul and further operations seem to have been well prepared for quite a long time:

“These groups were unified by the same goal, which is getting rid of this sectarian government, ending this corrupt army and negotiating to form the Sunni Region,” said Abu Karam, a senior Baathist leader and a former high-ranking army officer, who said planning for the offensive had begun two years ago. “The decisive battle will be in northern Baghdad. These groups will not stop in Tikrit and will keep moving toward Baghdad.”

The alliance between former Baathist and followers of the naqshbandiya Sufi order with the radical takfirirs of ISIS is a dangerous one. The former are professional militaries and as Pat Lang assesses:

The speed and effective direction of this offensive seems to me to show the participation of such officers as Sabr- Abd al-Aziz al-Douri.

If that is the case, then Maliki's army is in a real "world of hurt."

It is not clear what "Maliki's army" actually is. The Iraqi army officers of the divisions near Mosul seem to have been bought off and changed sides. Some 90,000 security forces deserted.

But its is unlikely that the Sunni forces, the Baathist and ISIS, can take Baghdad or even hold the ground they have taken so far. "Maliki's army" will be unlike the "Iraqi army". There are loyal divisions in the Iraqi military and there are many Shia now joining voluntary forces. The Shia authority in Iraq, Ayatollah Sistani, has issued a fatwa and called for war against the Sunni takfiris. Hundreds of thousand will follow that call.

Maliki's forces may be in a "world of hurt" for now but my guess it that they, in the end, will also win. They have more and better resources, access to the sea and support from Iran and likely also the United States. The Sunni positions have no defensible geographic features. The fight will be about cities on flat land and those can be starved and bombed into submission. Disunity within the Sunni forces will also evolve. In Syria ISIS did not do well with other anti-government forces, often fighting against them. The Sunni Sufi/Baathist followers of Izzat Ibrahim, a vice president under Saddam Hussein, will soon revolt against the radical life style ISIS will try to impose on the areas both groups hold. The more nasty force of those two will win internally only to be then stomped into ground by superior Shia forces.

As those two main groups struggle against each others the Kurds up north will be, for now, the laughing third. They already took Kirkuk, the oil-rich mixed Arab-Kurd city up north, and will not let it go without violence. They will be the next target when the Sunni Shia fight has been decided for either side.

All sides will bleed and, thanks to the U.S. war of terror, all Iraqis will contine to be in a "world of hurt" for years to come.


Kurdish Oil Sold to Buyers in Austria, India

By Alexander Whitcomb 3 hours ago
File photo of a tanker waiting at the Turkish port of Ceyhan: AFP
File photo of a tanker waiting at the Turkish port of Ceyhan: AFP
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Kurdish oil, whose sale was impeded by Baghdad and Washington, has been sold to buyers in Austria and India, an official Kurdish source told Rudaw. 
He gave no other details of the sale.
The demonstrated weakness of the Iraqi state, as it trembles against  an advance by insurgents who have taken major Iraqi cities and are advancing toward Baghdad, may have diminished concerns about Baghdad’s famous blacklist for any firms that buy Kurdish oil exports.
Erbil’s bargaining power has risen tremendously, as Baghdad and Washington both look to the Kurdish Peshmerga military as the best hope to stop the dangerous sweep by the mix of Islamic militants and insurgents.
The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and the Iraqi federal government have been embroiled in disputes over the region’s oil exports for years now, with the Kurds insisting on going ahead with independent sales, and Baghdad calling them illegal.
The stand-off reached a head when the United Leadership tanker loaded the first million barrels of piped Kurdish oil at Ceyhan on May 22 and set sail for an unannounced destination.
The Iraqi government reacted furiously, bringing an international lawsuit  against Turkey and its pipeline operator.
A second tanker, the United Emblem, sailed on June 9, just before an Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) meeting in Vienna, where Iraqi Oil Minister Abdul Kareem Luaibi threatened “severe measures."
Baghdad’s response -- and apparent behind-the-scenes opposition by the United States – had been enough to scare off potential buyers.
Many industry insiders in Kurdistan, weary from years of inconclusive talks with Baghdad, struggle to suppress their delight at recent developments that have upped the KRG’s bargaining power. 
An oil executive close to the KRG told The Independent newspaper that, "If al-Maliki wants to get the Kurdish army on his side, he knows he has to relent on allowing them oil exports. So people out here are seeing this could draw al-Maliki into the deal they wanted."

Rudaw Exclusive: Iraq’s Largest Refinery Falls to Insurgents

By Alexander Whitcomb 6 minutes ago
The Baiji refinery, Iraq’s largest and seen in this AFP file photo, has been seized by insurgents.
The Baiji refinery, Iraq’s largest and seen in this AFP file photo, has been seized by insurgents.
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Insurgents who have been sweeping across Iraq and are moving toward Baghdad, seized Iraq’s largest oil refinery on Friday, multiple sources told Rudaw.
The Baiji facility, which is in Salahaddin province and processes 320,000 barrels per day (bpd), is fully intact and continues to operate under orders from militants,” the sources said.
They said the insurgents also were in control of the nearby Ajeel oil field.
Local workers, Iraq’s state-owned North Oil Company, and Ministry of Interior officials confirmed the refinery had been seized by insurgent Sunni tribes fighting in concert with Islamist militants and other government opponents who have captured several Iraqi cities.
The insurgents, who captured Iraq’s second-largest city of Mosul this week, moved into the refinery town of Baiji on Wednesday, setting fire to the courthouse and police station.
The Iraqi government had said it had sent addition forces to secure the refinery.
But the Iraqi Army has largely collapsed before the onslaught by insurgents, deserting en masse and leaving weapons depots and arms which have strengthened the insurgents. 

ERBIL, Kurdistan Region - It took Kurdish Peshmarga fighters less than two days to take full control of not only the oil rich city of Kirkuk, but also most of the long-disputed territories that Kurds claim as their own. 

Following the surrender and departure of Iraq’s army from these territories -- after the swift takeover of Mosul by insurgents -- Kurdish Peshmerga forces were deployed along the disputed areas to “fill the power vacuum,” Kurdish military officials have said.
Late on Friday, the Kurdish ministry of Peshmerga (defense) stated that, except for some areas, “The entire Kurdish territories outside Kurdistan Region were now in the hands of the Kurdish forces.” 
The statement confidently reassured that “the Kurdish troops have no intention of leaving the area.”
“We are here to stay,” it declared. “Basically, all Kurdish villages and localities are now protected by the Peshmerga forces.”
Even the remote border gate of Rabia on the Syrian border is now fully managed by the Peshmerga. The ministry also said that all Kurdish areas in Nineveh province are now under the control of Peshmerga forces.
The township of Saadiya, which was captured by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) earlier this week, is now the focal point of the Peshmerga advancement. A special Kurdish infantry division entered the locality of Kubatshi, which lies only two kilometers  from Saadiya, for a possible march on the township. 
In the locality of Qaratapa, an entire Iraqi army division surrendered its weaponry to the Peshmerga forces. Kurdish officials said the weapons would be later returned to the Iraqi army in Baghdad.
Also, the town of Jalawla is now in the hands of Kurdish forces, after a brief confrontation between Peshmarga troops and ISIS militants. Officials said more than half the city’s population had already fled to more secure regions.
Kurdish military officials have stated their ultimate goal is to move into Saadiya.
A statement by the Peshmerga ministry said that Kurdish forces have been stationed across the Hamrain Mountains, which is considered to be the frontier region between Kurdistan and the rest of Iraq. The statement said that “calm” had been restored, after the chaotic takeover of the areas three days earlier.
Following the removal of Saddam Hussein, Peshmarga forces took over most of the disputed territories in 2003, but left the areas after a deal was brokered between Erbil and Baghdad as to how to settle the fate of these territories. 
In some of these areas, Kurds and the Iraqi army have been running joint checkpoints. Kurdish forces were deployed to the areas once again in 2008, after a brief stand-off between the Iraqi military and Peshmerga troops near the city of Khanaqin.
Iraqi forces pulled out of Kirkuk late Wednesday. Peshmarga forces have been in charge of the city, including its military airbase, since Thursday.

Al-Qaeda, Ex-Saddam Loyalists Claim Iraq Advance

By Judit Neurink 2 hours ago
Iraqi refugees fleeing from Mosul, after it was seized by insurgents, and heading to the northern Kurdistan Region. Photo: AP
Iraqi refugees fleeing from Mosul, after it was seized by insurgents, and heading to the northern Kurdistan Region. Photo: AP
 ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Mosul is in the hands of al-Qaeda groups and former members of Saddam Hussein’s defunct ruling party and military, confirmed the spokesman of the Civil Committees that are now in charge of Iraq’s second-largest city.
Ghanim al-Aabed named the head of the new caretaker government in Mosul as Hashem Jamas, a former top general in Saddam’s army. 
He added that the aim of the ongoing fighting, as the Sunni insurgents advance toward Baghdad, is to topple Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s Shiite-led government. 
Aabed refuted wide media reports that al-Qaeda breakaway. the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIL), was behind the swift military advances that began in Mosul and continue toward Baghdad.
He named Ansar al-Sunnah and Ansar al-Islam, both known for ties to al-Qaeda, as two of the jihadi groups involved in the fighting. The unlikely coalition includes fighters of the Sunni Naqshbandi sect, which had many officers in Saddam’s army.
“But not with ISIS,” he added. “The reports in the media about that are not correct.” 
Islamists are also in control of other major cities like Tikrit – Saddam’s birthplace -- as well as Hawija, Fallujah and Ramadi, plus parts of Diyala province. 
Aabed stressed that the aim of the new rulers in Mosul was not the formation of a separate autonomous Sunni region, modelled after the Kurdistan Region in the north. 
“We are all Iraqis, we are part of Iraq, Iraq is ours,” he said. The aim, he said, was the removal of “the hated enemy,” -- Maliki’s Shiite-led government.
“We have problems with the regime, not with Shias. That’s why we push on for Baghdad. If Maliki leaves, there is no need for any more bloodshed. If he goes, the fighting will stop.” 
The spokesman, based in the Kurdistan capital of Erbil at the request of bosses in Mosul to brief the press, praised the Kurds.
“We are all Sunni, and we both do not like Maliki,” he said.
Aabed added that the Kurds are doing a great job keeping the so called disputed areas – claimed both by Baghdad and the Kurds – secure. 
Most of those areas, which have been the subject of conflict with the Baghdad government for years, are now under Kurdish control.
Since the fighting began, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has moved its Peshmerga forces into strategic places of interest outside its official borders, such as large tracts of Kurdish-populated territories that have been under uneasy joint control with Baghdad.
Most importantly, the Kurds have taken Kirkuk, the disputed city they see as the future of a future capital. But this also remains Baghdad’s juicy bone, because of vast oil reserves estimated at a whopping 4 percent of global reserves. The Sunnis also lay claim.
Kurdistan Region President Massoud Barzani said in a statement Friday that the Peshmergas were in Kirkuk and other areas to fill the security vacuum created by Iraqi forces deserting posts en masse.
Aabed said he did not expect the Kurds to keep those lands after the fighting is over.
“I am sure that the Kurds will then give the lands back,” he said.

Peshmerga: The Winning Hand for Iraqis and Kurds?

By Alexandra Di Stefano Pironti 9 hours ago
With Kirkuk already in their hands, the Kurds could ask for the city as the big payoff for riding to Baghdad’s aid. Photo: Rudaw
With Kirkuk already in their hands, the Kurds could ask for the city as the big payoff for riding to Baghdad’s aid. Photo: Rudaw
BARCELONA, Spain – The Kurdistan Region’s Peshmerga military, which may have to confront Islamic militants seizing large parts of Iraq’s Sunni areas and advancing toward Baghdad, is a disciplined force that is already filling the vacuum left by the collapsed Iraqi Army.
The Peshmerga, controlled by the autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in northern Iraq, moved into Kirkuk on Thursday, saying they could not risk the city’s Kurdish population – and vast energy resources that include some of Iraq’s largest oilfields – falling to the jihadi Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). 
Although the White House said Thursday that “air strikes are among the options on the table,” military experts stress that the militants cannot be flushed out without ground fighting. The US, which pulled its troops out of Iraq in 2011 and is disengaging in wars both in Iraq and Afghanistan, is highly unlikely to return boots on the ground in Iraq.
That is why all eyes are on the Peshmerga.
“Kurds don’t have planes like the Iraqi army but they have modern weapons,” said Jordi Tejel, professor of international history at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva.
He also noted their “experience in fighting, internal discipline and – most importantly -- the support of the Kurdish population before the jihadist threats.” 
Tejel, the author of several books and articles on the Kurds, added that the “ISIS does not have support in Sunni areas and depends only on foreign militiamen of different origins. They don’t know the region like the Kurds do.” 
Since last Tuesday, the ISIS has captured several cities and towns, including Mosul, Tikrit  and Diyala. Mosul is Iraq’s second-largest city and Tikrit is the birthplace of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. 
Since last year the group, which appears to have allied with former loyalists of Saddam’s Baath party in the Iraq fighting, has been trying to control the Sunni cities of Fallujah and Ramadi.
For now, experts say, the Kurdistan Region itself is safe from the jihadis. The militants have declared their quarrel is only with Maliki’s Shiite-led government, which they accuse of abusing the country’s fellow Sunni population since Saddam’s downfall.
The exact numbers of the Peshmerga are not officially known. In 2005, their strength was estimated at 180,000, and a recent report by CBS News in the United States said they number some 375,000. Kurdish sources say 200,000 men and women are enrolled in the force.
Kurdistan Region President Massoud Barzani and Iraq’s ethnically Kurdish President Jalal Talabani have been former Peshmargas; on the walls of Kurdish homes, it is not uncommon to find portraits of martyred Peshmerga soldiers killed in the various wars with Saddam’s forces.
At present, the Peshmerga also appear to be the best bargaining chip for the KRG to sue for long-standing demands against Baghdad and the United States.
“Undoubtedly, this situation is a historical occasion for the Kurdish people of Iraq,” said Manuel Martorell, a journalist and author of several books about Kurdistan.  
He noted the Kurdish list of demands from Baghdad: The right to independently export Kurdish oil and gas; that Baghdad pay the full 17 percent of the national budget that the KRG is constitutionally entitled to; a resolution to Kirkuk and other “disputed territories”; salary payments and running costs for the Peshmerga; dues owed to foreign oil companies working in Kurdistan. 
Also, with Kirkuk already in their hands, the Kurds could ask for the city as the big payoff for riding to Baghdad’s aid.
On Wednesday, the Iraqi foreign minister Hoshyar Zebari said Baghdad will cooperate with the Kurdish forces to combat the ISIS militants.
Fighting for Baghdad “probably will take a big toll in Peshmerga ranks,” said Mortorell, and “should include rewards by Western governments also, in the form of modern weapons for the Kurdish government, particularly air power.”
Vera Eccarius-Kelly, an expert on the Kurds at New York’s Siena College, agreed that the Kurds are unlikely to want to act without the promise off their own problems with Baghdad getting solved. 
“It is too late for Baghdad to ask for Kurdish help unless further and significant regional concessions are made. Otherwise, The Kurds will look for a deal for themselves.” 


Iran offers help to US, as Iraq forces ready offensive

BAGHDAD - Agence France Presse

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani attends a news conference in Tehran June 14, 2014. Iran could contemplate cooperating with its old adversary the United States on restoring security to Iraq if it saw Washington confronting "terrorist groups in Iraq and elsewhere", Rouhani said on Saturday. REUTERS/
Iran's President Hassan Rouhani attends a news conference in Tehran June 14, 2014. Iran could contemplate cooperating with its old adversary the United States on restoring security to Iraq if it saw Washington confronting "terrorist groups in Iraq and elsewhere", Rouhani said on Saturday. REUTERS/
Shiite Iran offered Saturday to consider working with longtime foe the United States if it takes the lead in helping push back Sunni Arab militants who have seized a swathe of northern Iraq, as al-Maliki gov't readies offensive.

The offer came as Iraqi commanders said the army was preparing a fightback north of Baghdad, bolstered by thousands of Shiite volunteers who have signed up in response to a call to arms by top cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki visited the besieged shrine city of Samarra north of the capital Friday to rally troops and pray at the Al-Askari mausoleum, a revered Shiite shrine whose 2006 bombing by Al-Qaeda sparked sectarian conflict that killed tens of thousands.

President Barack Obama said he was "looking at all the options" to halt the offensive that has brought jihadist-led militants within 50 miles (80 kilometres) of Baghdad city limits but ruled out any return of US combat troops.

"We will not be sending US troops back into combat in Iraq, but I have asked my national security team to prepare a range of other options that could help support Iraqi security forces," he said.

Obama has been under mounting fire from his Republican opponents over the swift collapse of the Iraqi security forces, which Washington spent billions of dollars training and equipping before pulling out its own troops in 2011.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who since his election last June has overseen a rapprochement with a superpower it long derided as the "Great Satan," said his government was prepared to consider offering help.

"If we see that the United States takes action against terrorist groups in Iraq, then one can think about it," Rouhani told a press conference.

The Iraqi cabinet has granted the Shiite premier "unlimited powers" to reverse the lightning offensive, which has seen the militants sweep down towards Baghdad after overrunning second city Mosul on Tuesday.

A colonel from the military command responsible for Samarra, a city 110 kilometres (70 miles) north of the capital, said reinforcements from the federal police and army arrived on Friday.

The officer said the reinforcements were for a drive against areas north of the city, including Dur and Tikrit, that militants seized in their drive south earlier this week.

Security forces were awaiting orders to begin, the colonel said.

Security forces have generally performed poorly, with some abandoning their vehicles and positions and discarding their uniforms.

But they have been bolstered by a flood of volunteers since Sistani urged Iraqis Friday to join up to defend the country.

A representative of Sistani, who is adored by Shiites but rarely appears in public, made the call from the shrine city of Karbala, south of Baghdad.

"Citizens who are able to bear arms and fight terrorists, defending their country and their people and their holy places, should volunteer and join the security forces to achieve this holy purpose," the representative said.

Obama said that while the United States was willing to help out, Iraq needed to take steps to heal the deep divide between the Shiite-led government and the Sunni Arab minority, whose resentment has been exploited by the jihadists.

"The United States will not involve itself in military action in the absence of a political plan by the Iraqis that gives us some assurance that they're prepared to work together," Obama said.

"We won't allow ourselves to be dragged back into a situation in which, while we're there. we're keeping a lid on things and, after enormous sacrifices by us, as soon as we're not there, suddenly people end up acting in ways that are not conducive to the long-term stability of the country."     

"Any action that we may take to provide assistance to Iraqi security forces has to be joined by a serious and sincere effort by Iraq's leaders to set aside sectarian differences."

Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby declined to say what kind of response was being prepared.

He confirmed that the US aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush and its strike group were in the region and ready to act. The US navy said the carrier group was in the Arabian Sea.

State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf dismissed criticism from Republican lawmakers that a residual US force would have stopped the Iraqi army from collapsing.

"When we left Iraq, after years of sacrifice and American taxpayer money, and certainly our troops felt that sacrifice more than anyone, the Iraqis had an opportunity," Harf told reporters.

Instead, Iraqi leaders "created a climate where there were vulnerabilities when it came to the cohesion of the Iraqi army," Harf said.

Iraq forces ready offensive, PM claims 'unlimited powers'
Meanwhile, Iraqi security forces readied a counter-offensive against militants north of Baghdad on June 14, an army colonel said, after the prime minister announced the cabinet granted him "unlimited powers."

The colonel from the military command responsible for Samarra, a city 110 kilometres (70 miles) north of the capital, said reinforcements from the federal police and army arrived on Friday.

The officer said the reinforcements were for a drive against areas north of the city, including Dur and Tikrit, that militants seized in a spectacular assault this week.

Security forces were awaiting orders to begin, the colonel said.

The offensive, spearheaded by jihadists of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant but also involving supporters of now-executed dictator Saddam Hussein, has overrun a large chunk of northern and north-central Iraq since Monday.

Security forces have generally performed poorly, with some abandoning their vehicles and positions and discarding their uniforms.

On Friday, police and residents expelled militants from the Dhuluiyah area, just 90 kilometres (60 miles) north of Baghdad, where they had set up checkpoints, witnesses said.

"Residents are now firing into the air" in celebration, witness Abu Abdullah told AFP.

Further north in Salaheddin province, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki travelled to Samarra for a security meeting on Friday, also visiting a revered Shiite shrine in the city, which was bombed by militants in 2006, sparking a sectarian war between Shiites and Sunnis that killed tens of thousands.

Maliki, a Shiite, said that "the cabinet granted the prime minister, the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, unlimited powers" to combat the militants, in a statement posted late Friday on his website.

His announcement seemed to indicate he is claiming similar authority to that granted if parliament declares a state of emergency, in which case the constitution says the prime minister is to have the "necessary powers," the specifics of which are to be regulated by law.

Parliament had been due to consider a motion granting Maliki emergency powers on Thursday but failed to muster a quorum, with one official saying only 128 out of 325 MPs showed up.

ISIL Iraq onslaught aids Syria regime, rebels: analysts


An image made available by the jihadist Twitter account Al-Baraka news on June 9, 2014 allegedly shows ISIL militants waving the trademark jihadist flag as vehicles drive on a newly cut road through the Syrian-Iraqi border between the Iraqi Nineveh province and the Syrian town of Al-Hasakah. AFP PHOTO / HO / ALBARAKA NEWS
An image made available by the jihadist Twitter account Al-Baraka news on June 9, 2014 allegedly shows ISIL militants waving the trademark jihadist flag as vehicles drive on a newly cut road through the Syrian-Iraqi border between the Iraqi Nineveh province and the Syrian town of Al-Hasakah. AFP PHOTO / HO / ALBARAKA NEWS

Both Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and jihadist groups battling to oust him stand to benefit from a lightning offensive by militants across the border in Iraq, analysts believe.

Fighters from the powerful jihadist Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group began an offensive in Iraq on Monday, taking a swathe of mostly Sunni Arab territory in the north.

The attack led by ISIL, which operates in both countries, has brought the Iraqi army to the brink of collapse.

Analysts say their advance could deliver not just a military boost to jihadists in Syria, but also political gains for Assad.

ISIL’s brutal tactics and reputation for abuses against civilians and rival rebels may force Western governments to reconsider their support for Syrian insurgents.

"Washington and London are going to find themselves on the same side as Damascus, facing what appears to be a threat to the region, the West and Europe," said Frederic Pichon, author of "Syria: Why the West was Wrong".

Since the beginning of the Syrian conflict in March 2011, Assad has become the "bete noire" of the Western governments who opposed him.

With more than 162,000 people killed in the more than three-year-long conflict and fighting still raging, Assad won a third, seven-year term in office earlier this month in an election dubbed a "parody of democracy" by opponents.

But for Bassam Abu Abdullah of the Damascus Centre for Strategic Studies, which is close to the regime, ISIL’s advances could alter Western policy.

He said the change may come "because there is an imminent threat to the security and stability of the whole region".

Events in Iraq have bolstered the Syrian government’s claims that the threat posed by "terrorists" in the region requires a regional and international response, he said.

"Particularly when you consider that there are Europeans and Americans among the jihadists’ ranks," he said.

The Damascus government labels all rebels as "terrorists" and has repeatedly accused the West, Turkey and Gulf Arab states of backing insurgents financially and militarily.

But the jihadist push on Baghdad could also increase the pressure on Assad’s troops, other analysts said.

Firas Abi Ali, of London-based risk analysts IHS, said the Iraqi army’s withdrawal from the border is a major "problem for the Syrian government because they need that border to be open to get supplies from Iraq".

If not enough volunteers can be found to tackle the militant advance in Iraq, it is possible that Iraqi Shiite militiamen fighting alongside Assad’s troops could be recalled.

This, Abi Ali says, could dent the Syrian government’s battlefield strength.

For ISIL, which is currently fighting other rebels in Syria, including their fellow jihadists in the Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Nusra front, their advances in Iraq are a huge military and financial step forward.

"The seizure of Mosul is going to increase ISIL’s prestige around the world, but especially in Syria," said Romain Caillet, an expert in radical Islamism in the region.

ISIL’s successes in Fallujah, Ramadi and Mosul could persuade people that "it could also take cities in Syria, which the revolution, for all its outside support, is unable to do," he added.

The jihadist group and its tribal allies brought Iraq’s armed forces close to collapse with their offensive, with many troops shedding their uniforms and abandoning positions and equipment.

"It may not necessarily be a game changer altogether for Syria, but ISIS will come out of all of this significantly strengthened and emboldened with confidence," said Charles Lister of the Brookings Doha Centre.

ISIL "has already transferred captured weaponry and new recruits into parts of northern and eastern Syria, and it seems likely this will serve to bolster their counter offensives in Deir Ezzor and farther west towards Aleppo," he added.

The Syrian Observatory for Human rights, a Britain-based monitoring group, also said weapons seized in Iraq are being taken into Syria.

Some in Syria’s armed opposition welcomed ISIL to the battle when it first emerged there in 2013.

But its abuses prompted a backlash that escalated into open hostilities between ISIL and a coalition of moderate and Islamist rebels backed by Al-Nusra Front.

The inter-rebel fighting inside Syria is estimated to have killed 6,000 people since January.


Iran sends troops into Iraq to aid fight against Isis militants

Tehran and Washington form fragile alliance to aid Nouri al-Maliki as jihadist group threatens to take Baghdad

Iraqi security forces and volunteers on the outskirts of Diyala province.
Iraqi security forces and volunteers on the outskirts of Diyala province. Photograph: Reuters
Iran has sent 2,000 advance troops to Iraq in the past 48 hours to help tackle a jihadist insurgency, a senior Iraqi official has told the Guardian.
The confirmation comes as the Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, said Iran was ready to support Iraq from the mortal threat fast spreading through the country, while the prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, called on ordinary Iraqis to take up arms in their country's defence.
Addressing the nation on Saturday, Maliki said rebels from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis) have given "an incentive to the army and to Iraqis to act bravely". His call to arms came after reports surfaced that hundreds of young men were flocking to volunteer centres across Baghdad to join the fight against Isis.
Rouhani also made reference to the fact Tehran was cooperating with its old enemy Washington to defeat the Sunni insurgent group – which is attempting to ignite a sectarian war beyond Iraq's borders.
The Iraqi official said 1,500 basiji forces had crossed the border into the town of Khanaqin, in Diyala province, in central Iraq on Friday, while another 500 had entered the Badra Jassan area in Wasat province overnight. The Guardian confirmed on Friday that Major General Qassem Suleimani, the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards elite Quds Force, had arrived in Baghdad to oversee the defence of the capital.
There is growing evidence in Baghdad of Shia militias continuing to reorganise, with some heading to the central city of Samarra, 70 miles (110km) north of the capital, to defend two Shia shrines from Sunni jihadist groups surrounding them.
The volunteers signing up were responding to a call by Iraq's most revered Shia cleric, the Iranian-born grand ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, to defend their country after Isis seized Mosul and Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit in a lightning advance. Samarra is now the next town in the Islamists' path to Baghdad.
"Citizens who can carry weapons and fight the terrorists in defence of their country, its people and its holy sites should volunteer and join the security forces," Sheik Abdul-Mahdi al-Karbalaie, Sistani's representative, said on Friday in a sermon at the holy Shia city of Kerbala.
He warned that Iraq faced great danger and that fighting the militants "is everybody's responsibility, and is not limited to one specific sect or group," Associated Press reported. Karbalaie's comments have consistently been thought to reflect Sistani's views.
A colonel from the military command responsible for Samarra said Iraqi security forces were preparing a counter-offensive on Saturday. The army colonel, whom Maliki announced had been granted "unlimited powers" by the Iraqi cabinet, said reinforcements from the federal police and army arrived on Friday, according to AFP.
The officer said the reinforcements were for a drive against areas north of the city, including Dur and Tikrit, that militants seized in a spectacular assault this week. Security forces were awaiting orders to begin, the colonel said.
Sunni residents of west Baghdad said on Saturday that they had been menaced by Shia militias who taunted them with anti-Sunni chants. Baghdad has remained in virtual lockdown for the past three days as jihadists from the Isis threatened to storm the capital. However, Saturday morning saw relative normality return to deserted streets, with many residents returning to shops to gather stockpiles.
Residents of the capital offered little reaction to Barack Obama's statement late on Friday on which he appeared to condition renewed US military support on Iraqi leaders first making efforts to pull the country back from the brink.
The US and Iran, foes throughout the US occupation of Iraq, share a common interest in defeating Isis, and Iran has so far expressed no opposition to US threats to send military support to the beleaguered Maliki.
Meanwhile, Willaim Hague has held talks with the Turkish foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, "urgently to co-ordinate approaches to the instability in Iraq and links to Syria conflict", he said on Twitter. Britain is also to give £3m ($5.1m) of aid to Iraq as the first step in dealing with the humanitarian consequences of the insurgency by Isis.
The international development secretary, Justine Greening, said the initial tranche of emergency funding would allow agencies to supply water, sanitation, medicine, hygiene kits and basic household items.

Hurriyet ....

Was Turkish gov’t betrayed in Iraq and Syria?

When asked about accusations by opposition parties that the Turkish government has given military support to Sunni Islamist militants in Iraq and Syria, who now hold Turks hostage in Iraq’s occupied city of Mosul, Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç gave a very interesting answer on June 13.

Arınç first rephrased the question and then answered it like this: “Was there any help knowingly from Turkey in the form of people, arms or money? No. We can absolutely say ‘No’ to that.” 

The key thing here is that Arınç added the word “knowingly.”

If we rewind the events to almost two years back, when Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu told NTV in August 2012 that Bashar al-Assad in Syria could be brought down “within weeks,” it would be possible to see a totally different picture than today.

At that time Turkey was working very closely with U.S. and French intelligence on how to help the Syrian opposition. In response to Turkey’s demands for more equipment to help the newly established Free Syrian Army (FSA), the West was hesitant. It was telling the Turkish National Intelligence Organization (MİT) that not all the boys in the FSA, with its main body from the supporters of Muslim Brotherhood, were good boys and it was possible that some of the weapons could go to the bad boys without knowing.

But then the Muslim Brotherhood was on rise in the whole Muslim region in the Middle East. The Arab Spring had carried it to power in Tunisia and Egypt. Gaza was under its influence. Some in Ankara started to fantasize about a rise of moderate Sunni Islam, led by Turks, assuming that Arabs were missing being ruled by Turks again, missing Ottoman rule.

At the same time, some other developments were taking place. Militants of the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), the Iraq branch of al-Qaeda, which had been established in 2004 against the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq, went to Syria to set up a twin organization called al-Nusra. But when al-Qaeda asked them to concentrate all forces on Syria, some of ISI decided to split from al-Qaeda to form their own Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and started fighting against Shiite Nouri al-Maliki in Iraq and Alawite Bashar al-Assad, as well as against al-Nusra and Kurds in Syria.

Again, simultaneously, al-Maliki had accused his Sunni deputy Tariq al-Hashimi of trying to topple him and sentenced him to life. Al-Hashimi found refuge in Turkey and, according to the Turkish opposition, started to get organized against al-Maliki while being under the protection of Turkish intelligence.

So there appeared the possibility of another Sunni state (if the Shiite al-Maliki could be toppled) for those seeking the rise of another golden age in the region.

However, the toppling of Mohamed Morsi in Egypt in July 2013 with a Saudi Arabia-supported coup ruined those fantasies. The Muslim Brotherhood in Syria disintegrated within weeks, leaving the FSA merely an empty shell, especially in the northern sectors. Most of the FSA fighters joined more radical Islamist groups like al-Nusra or ISIL.

So in a way, Turkey’s fears, telling the West, “If we do not help those people, radicals will gain ground” have been proved right.

Today, guess who is praising the capture of Mosul (as the “Iraqi Spring”) where Turks are being held hostage by ISIL? It is no one but Tariq al-Hashimi.

If Arınç, as the government spokesman, says Turkey has not given any help to Islamist groups “knowingly,” we have to take it as one account. But we also have to ask whether Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan and his government were badly betrayed by these same groups.

Defiant Maliki vows to defeat Iraq rebels

Iraqi PM addresses military officers in Samarra and says fight to defeat resurgent Sunni rebels will not be sectarian.

Last updated: 14 Jun 2014 12:04
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ISIL and other groups have swept through Sunni territory and are vowing to march on Baghdad [AP]
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has called on his countrymen to take up arms and defend the nation regardless of which sect they belong to in a tough address to army officers broadcast on state television.

Maliki spoke to the officers in the city of Samarra on Friday and told them that volunteers were arriving to help defeat Sunni rebels who have this week swept through mainly Sunni territory towards Baghdad.

"We are not sectarian, we will fight as a nation," Maliki said in the speech, which was shown on state television on Saturday.

"We will talk the language of justice, we will talk the language of freedom, we will talk the language of all Iraqis regardless of their sect."

Maliki said the cabinet had granted him unlimited powers to confront the fighters from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and associated Sunni rebel groups.

"Samarra will not be the last line of defence, but a gathering point and launchpad," Maliki told officers in the city, which lies about 125km north of the capital on the road to rebel-controlled Mosul.

"Within the coming hours, all the volunteers will arrive to support the security forces in their war against the gangs of ISIL, Maliki, who leads the Shia-dominated government, said. "This is the beginning of the end of them."

Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq's most influential Shia cleric, had also urged people on Friday to take up arms and defend the country.

During his trip to Samarra, Maliki visited a revered Shia shrine that was bombed by Sunni fighters in 2006, an attack which touched off sectarian bloodletting that killed tens of thousands of people.
Iran and US
In a separate development, Iran could contemplate cooperating with the United States on restoring security to Iraq if it saw Washington confronting "terrorist groups in Iraq and elsewhere," Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Saturday.

Rouhani, a relative moderate who has presided over a thaw in Iran's relations with the West, added that Tehran stood ready to provide help to Iraq within the framework of international law, but so far Baghdad had not requested such assistance.

Shia Muslim Iran has been alarmed by the seizure of towns not far from the Iranian border.

"We all should practically and verbally confront terrorist groups," Rouhani told a news conference broadcast live on state television.

US officials said there were no contacts going on with Iran over the crisis in Iraq.