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Iraq Blog

Sunni fighters led by group known as the Islamic State have overrun large areas of western and northern Iraq. Follow Al Jazeera's live blog for the latest updates and information.


    Iraq's Barzani says Kurdish self-rule in Kirkuk to stay

    The President of the Kurdish region of northern Iraq has issued a defiant statement to Baghdad that there was no going back on autonomous Kurdish rule in the oil city Kirkuk.

    Speaking at a joint news conference with visiting British Foreign Secretary  William Hague, the President of the Kurdistan Regional Government, Massoud Barzani said: "We have been patient for 10 years with the federal government to solve the problems of these (disputed) areas.

    "Now, this (issue)... is achieved," he said, referring to a constitutional article meant to address the Kurds' decades-old ambition to incorporate the territory in their autonomous region in the north over the objections of successive governments in Baghdad.

    Kurdish forces stepped in when federal government forces withdrew in the face of a Sunni rebel offensive earlier this month.

    "There were Iraqi forces in these areas, and then there was a security vacuum, and (Kurdish) peshmerga forces went to fill this vacuum."
    [AFP]

    Mattresses laid out on the basketball court at The Ainkawa School for Girls in Erbil where some 450 Iraqis from the Christian village of Qarakosh have sought shelter after fighting between ISIL militants and Peshmerga forces saw them flee. Andrew Quilty | Oculi | NOT ON ASSIGNMENT. 27.6.2014 #iraq #kurdistan #school #idp #refugees #basketball #bed #home #isil #isis #peshmerga
    by andrewquilty via Instagram

    China's state media say more than 1,200 of its workers who had been trapped in the embattled northern Iraqi city of Samarra have been evacuated to Baghdad.

    The official Xinhua news agency says the Chinese arrived safely at a Baghdad hotel, with the Iraqi military providing security.

    Saturday's report said that China Machinery Engineering Corporation employed the workers at a power plant construction site in Samarra, near where security forces are battling militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

    The report didn't specify who evacuated the workers but said 45 were transported by helicopter on Wednesday, with the rest arriving in two separate groups by bus over the next two days.

    More than 10,000 Chinese are in Iraq, many of them employees with Chinese firms. [AP]

    Iraqi forces have launched a large operation to retake Tikrit from ISIL. Read more here.


    Jessica Lewis of the Institute for the Study of War analyses ISIL's future strategies after its rapid gains in Iraq this month.

    The presence of the last indicates that the ISIS likely possesses a cadre of former Saddam-era military officers who know the military terrain in Iraq as their own. The military campaign design exhibited by ISIS over the last two years bears the signature of multiple commanders, though successive campaigns in Iraq have consistently demonstrated scope, distribution, deception, and timing as overarching strategic characteristics

    Read the rest of the article here.

    Al Jazeera's Imran Khan with the latest on the Iraqi army's offensive against Sunni rebels in Tikrit.

    This video posted on YouTube on Saturday appears to show government building in Tikrit in control of Sunni rebels, contrary to claims made by Iraqi state TV.

    A voice of a man is heard saying that local tribesmen were in control in the area.

    Al Jazeera cannot independently verify the veracity of the images.

    Al Jazeera's Imran Khan briefly summarises the human cost of the current crisis in Iraq:
    • 1.2 million people have fled. 
    • The UN says it needs $312m to cope. 
    • They have about 15 percent of that with a further 5 percent pledged. 
    • The registration of the displaced that have fled since Mosul fell is still ongoing.
    You can get the latest updates from Imran on Twitter @ajimran and watch the latest on Iraq and all our other stories on our live stream here.

    A hundred years after it started, the consequences of the First World War continue to be felt in the Middle East, as ISIL sets about realising its vision of removing the borders that were defined in its aftermath.

    The boundaries of the modern Middle East were drawn up after the war ended by French diplomat Francois Georges-Picot and British officer Sir Mark Sykes, out of territory lost by the Ottoman Empire.

    Al Jazeera's Dominic Kane explains.

    Iraqis flee to Jordan for medical treatment.

    Al Jazeera's Imran Khan, reporting from Baghdad, says both the Iraqi army and Sunni rebels in Tikrit are preparing for a big government push to retake the city.

    Government forces have currently taken positions in villages and suburbs on the outskirts of Tikrit, and Sunni fighters led by ISIL are fortifying their positions in anticipation of an assault.

    Iraqi forces are backed by helicopter gunships and tanks, but the rebels, some of whom were former officer under the Baathist regime, are expected to benefit from their knowledge of local terrain and military experience.

    [Al Jazeera] 



    Our correspondent Imran Khan has provided us with some context on the Iraqi Air Force's ability to fly the Russian-made Sukhoi-25 jets;


    Who is going to fly the Russian planes? Well the Iraqis know how. The new planes add to 100 Iraqi jets, that include Sukhoi bombers, MiGs that the IAF already have. Now some of these have come back from Iran, when fleeing fighter pilots landed there jets there after the 1991 gulf war. It's not a modern airforce by any stretch, but the Iraqis are hoping it'll be effective one.



    Shafik Mandhai, a web producer at Al Jazeera and graduate in Islamic studies, has provided me with a bit of analysis and background on what kind of caliphate the Islamic State group thinks it is creating, and whether it will be accepted: 

    The caliphate is an emotive issue for many Sunni Muslims. Abolished with the Ottoman Empire in 1924, its return has been a key aim for armed groups like al-Qaeda and ISIL.

    But it’s not the Ottomans the Islamic State wants back. Fighters under the command of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, or "Caliph Ibrahim", want to re-establish the Rashidun caliphate, which succeeded the Prophet Muhammad in the 7th century.

    The caliph served a dual role as religious and political head of the Islamic nation, or "Ummah", a position that does not currently exist except for those who have heeded Baghdadi’s call for "Bayah" or allegiance from all Muslims.

    The Rashidun caliphate, unlike all those that followed it, had near-universal allegiance from the Muslim community, something the Islamic State cannot claim to enjoy. However, its supporters can still find parallels.

    Supporters of Baghdadi will point to his organisation’s fierce literal interpretation of Islam, which they say accurately reflects the rule of the early caliphs. 

    Baghdadi, they say, also meets the theological requirements for leading the Ummah, including descent from the Prophet's Quraish tribe.

    It’s likely the Islamic State and its supporters will also find precedent in the historical conquests of the Rashidun caliphate - rapid military conquests against a better equipped enemy.

    The rapid spread of Islam in the 7th century is something the Islamic State clearly intends to emulate, and their fighters will no doubt have been buoyed by their recent gains in Iraq.

    Where the Islamic State’s bid to establish a caliphate begins to falter is acceptance from other Muslims. 

    Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda's leader  

    It has even earned the rebuke of al-Qaeda's core leadership, including Ayman al-Zawahiri, over its brutality against prisoners and its repressive implementation and interpretation of Islamic teachings.

    The Nusra Front, al-Qaeda’s primary affiliate in Syria, has been battling the Islamic State since an unsuccessful attempt by Baghdadi to forcibly merge the groups in 2012.

    Whether Baghdadi’s caliphate will gain legitimacy among others who wish to establish it will depend on whether al-Qaeda’s affiliates in North Africa, Somalia and Yemen break ranks with its central
    command.

    There also remains the important matter of withstanding offensives by the Syrian and Iraqi regimes, rival Syrian rebels, and possible Western intervention.



    The Islamic State announcement named Baghdadi Ibrahim ibn Awwad ibn Ibrahim ibn Ali ibn Muhammad al-Badri al-Hashimi al-Husayni al-Quraishi.

    That's roughly translated as: Ibrahim, the son of Awwad, the son of Ibrahim, the son of Ali, the son of Muhammad, of the family of Badr, of the family of Hashim, of the family of Husayn (the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad), of the tribe of Quraish [the Prophet's tribe].




    Jaysh al-Islam, a member of the Islamic Front organisation of Syrian rebels which is opposed to the Islamic State, said its declaration was nothing more than "psychological warfare".

    "The gangs of al-Baghdadi are living in a fantasy world. They're 
    delusional. They want to establish a state but they don't have the elements for it,'' Abdel-Rahman al-Shami, a spokesman, told the AP news agency. "You cannot establish a state through looting, sabotage and bombing."
    Here's our latest video report on the situation on Iraq.



    And to draw my time on the blog to a close, let's summarise the latest developments in Iraq:

    * The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant has rebranded as the Islamic State, and declared the restoration of the Islamic caliphate, with Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as the caliph, or "Caliph Ibrahim".

    * Iraq's army says the declaration is a threat to all nations.

    * The Islamic State says that all leaders of Islamic and Arab states are not illegitimate and all Muslims must rally to its caliph.

    * Iraq's army says it has retaken Turaibil, a border post with Jordan.

    * There has been no word from al-Qaeda about the caliphate statement.

    Kurd security fears over sunni-led rebel push
    by Al Jazeera English via YouTube

    Iraq's Kurds fear that the Sunni rebels' plan to push into their region in the north of the country.

    Over recent days, Kurdish forces have been tightening their defences. 

    Watch this report by Al Jazeera's Zeina Khodr.

    ISIL uses social media to establish their organisation.

    Last week, Al Jazeera's Listening Post, looked into how they are dispersing information and how the Iraqi media, as well as global media are reporting on the story. 

    Listening Post - ISIS in Iraq: The image of an insurgency
    by Al Jazeera English via YouTube
    AFP has quoted the French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius as saying that ISIL rebels have sold oil from captured areas in Iraq to the Bashar al-Assad's government in Syria. 

    Fabius said the sale was evidence of the "confusing nature" of the escalating conflict, adding that France has proof of the sale.

     He said that the situation in Iraq is "very, very, very worrying". 

    "Why? Because it is probably the first time that a terrorist group -- and a ferocious terrorist group -- is in a position, if there is no reaction, to take over the whole country, and a rich country, with enormous consequences for the region and the world," he said.
    My colleague, Shafik Mandhai, is a graduate in Islamic Studies. He wrote some background and analysis on what kind of caliphate the Islamic State group thinks it is creating, and whether it will be accepted, which I am reposting below: 

    The caliphate is an emotive issue for many Sunni Muslims. Abolished with the Ottoman Empire in 1924, its return has been a key aim for armed groups like al-Qaeda and ISIL.

    But it’s not the Ottomans the Islamic State wants back.

    Fighters under the command of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, or "Caliph Ibrahim", want to re-establish the Rashidun caliphate, which succeeded the Prophet Muhammad in the 7th century.

    The caliph served a dual role as religious and political head of the Islamic nation, or "Ummah", a position that does not currently exist except for those who have heeded Baghdadi’s call for "Bayah" or allegiance from all Muslims.

    The Rashidun caliphate, unlike all those that followed it, had near-universal allegiance from the Muslim community, something the Islamic State cannot claim to enjoy. However, its supporters can still find parallels.

    Supporters of Baghdadi will point to his organisation’s fierce literal interpretation of Islam, which they say accurately reflects the rule of the early caliphs. 

    Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda's leader 
    Baghdadi, they say, also meets the theological requirements for leading the Ummah, including descent from the Prophet's Quraish tribe.

    It’s likely the Islamic State and its supporters will also find precedent in the historical conquests of the Rashidun caliphate - rapid military conquests against a better equipped enemy.

    The rapid spread of Islam in the 7th century is something the Islamic State clearly intends to emulate, and their fighters will no doubt have been buoyed by their recent gains in Iraq.

    Where the Islamic State’s bid to establish a caliphate begins to falter is acceptance from other Muslims. 

    It has even earned the rebuke of al-Qaeda's core leadership, including Ayman al-Zawahiri, over its brutality against prisoners and its repressive implementation and interpretation of Islamic teachings.

    The Nusra Front, al-Qaeda’s primary affiliate in Syria, has been battling the Islamic State since an unsuccessful attempt by Baghdadi to forcibly merge the groups in 2012.

    Whether Baghdadi’s caliphate will gain legitimacy among others who wish to establish it will depend on whether al-Qaeda’s affiliates in North Africa, Somalia and Yemen break ranks with its central command.

    There also remains the important matter of withstanding offensives by the Syrian and Iraqi regimes, rival Syrian rebels, and possible Western intervention.

    Newly elected Iraqi politicians convene on Tuesday, Reuters reports, under pressure to name a unity government to keep the country from splitting apart after an onslaught by ISIL who have declared a "caliphate" to rule over all the world's Muslims.

    The meeting of the new legislature in Baghdad's fortified "green zone" could spell the end of the eight-year rule of Shia prime minister Nouri al-Maliki, with critics determined to unseat him and even some allies saying he may need to be replaced by a less polarising figure.


    How much of a challenge is the Islamic State to Iraq, Gulf Arab states, the West and al-Qaeda itself?

    Watch the discussion on Al Jazeera's Inside Story.

    Iraq is increasingly turning to other governments like Iran, Russia and Syria to help beat back a rampant insurgency because it cannot wait for additional American military aid, Baghdad's top envoy to the US said on Tuesday.

    Such an alliance could test the Obama administration's influence overseas and raise risks for the US as some of its main global opponents consider joining forces. 

    Moreover, such a partnership could also solidify a Shia-led crescent across much of the Mideast at a time when the Sunni-led insurgency in Iraq is trying to create an Islamic state through the region.

    Iraqi Ambassador Lukman Faily stopped short of describing enduring military relationships with any of the other nations that are offering to help Iraq fight ISIL. 

    And he said Baghdad would prefer to work with the US.

    But Faily said delays in US aid have forced Iraq to seek help elsewhere. 

    [AP]
    Jordanian Salafist denounces 'Caliphate'

    A leading Jordanian religious leader has denounced the declaration of a Caliphate by fighters from the 'Islamic State' in Iraq and Syria, warning against more bloodshed.

    "Can every Muslim and weak person find refuge in this caliphate? Or would it be like a sharp sword against all opponents?" Issam Barqawi, known as Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi, wrote on Facebook.

    "What would the fate be of other Islamist fighters in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere?" asked Maqdisi, who was freed on June 16 after serving a jail sentence for recruiting fighters for the Taliban.

    A former mentor to al-Qaeda leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the two fell out over ideological differences, with Maqdisi warning against "Muslims who kill other Muslims".

    Jordan's jihadist movement is generally dominated by anti-IS groups that  support Al-Qaeda and its Syrian ally, Al-Nusra Front.

    On Monday, King Abdullah II appealed for international support to help Jordan deal with regional turmoil after the Caliphate was declared.
    [AFP]

    More than 2,000 people were killed in Iraq in June [Reuters] 

    Clashes in the holy city of Karbala kill dozens

    Dozens of people have been killed in clashes between Iraqi security forces and followers of a Shia religious leader in the holy city of Karbala, signalling divisions among Shia factions as a Sunni insurgency rages. 

    The Reuters news agency said up to 45 people were killed after police and army personnel tried to arrest Shia leader, Ayatollah Sayyid Mahmud al-Hasani al-Sarakhi around midnight on Tuesday. 

    Security forces said they went to arrest Sarakhi after his supporters started blocking roads and manning checkpoints around his neighbourhood in the Shia shrine city, home to the tomb of Imam Hussein, which millions of Shia pilgrims flock to annually.

    Police and troops reinforced by five helicopter gunships surrounded the house but were prevented from entering by Sarakhi's armed followers, the sources said, adding five police officers and about 40 of Sarakhi's supporters were killed.

    Sarakhi and his armed followers have clashed in the past with US forces, Iraqi security forces and supporters of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the most revered Shia cleric in Iraq. 

    Sarkhi had published a letter on his website earlier this week criticising Sistani's decree for Iraqis to fight alongside the security forces against Sunni rebels.
    [Reuters]

    The Iraqi prime minister's military spokesman denied  that the country's border guards had withdrawn from the frontier with Saudi Arabia, after a Saudi-owned television channel reported Iraqi forces had quit their posts. 

    "This is false news aimed at affecting the morale of our people and the morale of our heroic fighters," the spokesman, Lieutenant General Qassim Atta, told reporters in Baghdad. He added that the frontier was "fully in the grip" of Iraqi border troops. 

    [Reuters]
    Stranded Indian nurses in Iraq "are safe"

    An Indian official has said dozens of Indian nurses who have been stranded at an Iraqi hospital in the flashpoint city of Tikrit are safe, but are being moved to a new area controlled by rebel fighters.

    Indian External Affairs Ministry spokesman Syed Akbaruddin said the nurses were unharmed but are being moved to a new area.

    He described the situation as one of "grave difficulty" because the area is not under the control of the Iraqi army and is not accessible to humanitarian organisations.

    He would not say who as moving the medical workers.

    More than 40 nurses have been holed up for more than a week in Tikrit, where fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant have taken over.
    [Associated Press]
    Oil-rich city of Kirkuk struggles with fuel shortage

    The major oil hub of Kirkuk is struggling to deal with a fuel shortage, since Kurdish forces assumed control over the area. 

    Long queues formed at petrol stations in the northern oil-rich city on Thursday. 

    "We have been queuing here for two days. About 2,200 cars are queuing, but it's in vain. We don't know whether to get fuel or not," a driver told the Associated Press news agency. 

    Kurdish forces assumed control of the territory to prevent it from being taken over by Sunni insurgents as Iraqi troops melted away. 

    They say the defence of the 1,000km frontier is necessary to prevent the rebels, who have declared an Islamic Caliphate, from advancing further.
    [Associated Press]
    Bangladeshi migrant workers accuse Iraqi troops of torture

    Hundreds of Bangladeshi construction workers have been beaten and humiliated by soldiers in Iraq after becoming dragged into the country's sectarian conflict.

    Some of the Sunni Bangladeshi workers had their beards shaved off by the mainly Shia Iraqi army after being accused of sympathising with Sunni rebels, while one of them was stripped naked, according to the men after they returned home.

    "They abducted the Bangladeshi cleric from our camp mosque last Thursday, and when he was released on Saturday, you could see torture marks all over his body," Raqibul Islam told the AFP news agency.

    "They burnt his beard with cigarettes and then cut it off with knife. His body was also beaten with stones... He was tortured because he is a Sunni," he added.

    Mofidul Islam, another of the group of 21 workers who managed to return to Bangladesh on Tuesday, said abuses had been widespread. 

    "The Iraqis beat hundreds of our colleagues. They think that a beard is a sign that you are a Sunni militant so whoever has a big beard was targeted and beaten mercilessly," said Islam. 

    "One of the workers was made to strip naked and then beaten. They entered our camps and locked the doors and then beat the workers with rifles," he added.

    The Bangladeshis were all working on construction projects in the Bismayah region, south of Baghdad, when Sunni rebels began seizing large parts of the country from the Iraqi army last month.

    While their Korean employer released the workers from their contracts, Raqibul said many had been stranded as they were unable to afford to buy plane tickets home.

    Officials say around 20,000 Bangladeshis are living in Iraq, although the actual number is thought to be much higher.
    [AFP]

    Lawrence Korb, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and former US assistant secretary of defence, said the present security situation in Iraq makes it easier for the Kurdish autonomous government to declare independence.

    "There is nothing [Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri] al-Maliki can do to stop them," Korb told Al Jazeera.



    Al Jazeera's Jamal Elshayyal reports from Erbil, the capital of Iraq's Kurdistan Regional Government, on the push for an independent Kurdistan state.

    Kurdish diplomat cool to independence advocacy by Israel

    A Kurdish diplomat has played down the significance of Israeli advocacy of independence for her people, saying it was not coordinated with the autonomous Kurdish government in Iraq and may be intended to served Israel's interests. 

    While acknowledging that Israel had sway in Washington, which wants to prevent a break-up of sectarian war-torn Iraq, Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) envoy Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman suggested on Friday this was potentially counter-balanced by the hostility that perceived Israeli allies risked drawing in the Middle East.

    "Israel has its friends and its enemies, so it can work both ways," she told Reuters in a telephone interview from London, where she is based. "We are not coordinating with Israel. We are not responsible for statements made by other governments." [Reuters]

    Iraq is Turkey's second largest export market and despite the dangers, it remains an important source of trade. Turkish truck drivers continue to make the voyage to Iraq despite the country's volatile state, and recent kidnappings.

    The two states share a 331-km border.




    Iraqi airstrikes target Sunni armed group

    A spokesman for Iraqi counterterrorism forces has said government airstrikes have targeted a group of Sunni armed rebels trying to overrun the country's largest oil refinery, and claims as many as 30 insurgents were killed.

    Sabah al-Nuaman said on Friday that a government plane targeted around eight vehicles attacking military forces defending the Baiji oil refinery north of Baghdad.

    Fighters from the Islamic State group have been trying to capture the Baiji facility from some two weeks.

    Al-Nuaman also said a helicopter gunship hit a house in the town of Qaim near the Syrian border where a gathering of the group's local leaders was taking place. He said there were several casualties, but did not have a concrete figure.

    An official in the Anbar province operational command confirmed the Qaim airstrike, but Al Jazeera cannot independently verify the report. [AP]


    Local Iraqi TV channel, Al Sumaria, is reporting the Islamic State's 'Caliph' Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has been injured in an airstrike in al-Qaim, however no officials from the central government have commented on the allegation.

    Follow our correspondent Imran Khan for the latest developments from Iraq.

    Kurdish ambitions worry Kirkuk's Arabs
    by Al Jazeera English via YouTube

    Trapped Indian nurses on way home from Iraq

    A group of 46 Indian nurses who were trapped in an area of Iraq seized by Islamic militants were set to be welcomed home by anxious relatives after being freed from the rebel-held city of Mosul.

    The nurses boarded a specially chartered plane for India from the city of Erbil, the Kurdish regional capital, early Saturday, and were expected to land in their southern Indian home state of Kerala at noon (0630 GMT) after a stopover at Mumbai for refuelling.

    The nurses found themselves trapped while working in a state-run hospital in the northern city of Tikrit when armed rebels launched their lightning offensive last month. [AFP]



    A Twitter account associated with Islamic State fighters has published a series of pictures it says shows the destruction of Shia shrines in Mosul and Tal Afar. Al Jazeera cannot independently verify the information.























     
     

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    Iran's official news agency is reporting that one of its pilots was killed while defending a Shia Muslim shrine in the Iraqi city of Samarra. Read latest HERE




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