By Hamdi Malik for Al Monitor. Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News

The Iraqi security forces have expanded their operations to track down members of the Islamic State (IS) in the vast Western Desert.

The security forces, however, have yet to reach an integrated strategy to confront IS in these lands, which stretch along Iraq’s borders with three countries and are located near key Sunni and Shiite cities.

The sub-governor of the city of al-Ratba in west Anbar, Emad al-Dulaimi, confirmed March 13 that an IS member killed a resident who was kidnapped while picking truffles more than two weeks ago in the desert.

Click here to read the full story.

By Mustafa Saadoun for Al Monitor. Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

Iraqi security forces killed five suicide attackers northwest of the northern Iraqi city of Mosul Feb. 20. A car bomb in central Mosul killed one civilian and wounded 13 others Feb. 28, just the latest in many recent incidents that have also hit the southern and western parts of the country.

A group of Islamic State fighters entered Haditha province in Anbar governorate on the evening of Feb. 23 and crossed Lake Tharthar in private boats. In Najaf governorate, they came upon six fishermen sleeping in a tent and opened fire, killing them all.

On the same day, an IS group armed with explosive belts and machine guns attacked the village of Anamel in al-Shirqat, Saladin governorate. The residents along with the Federal Police and the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) fought back.

Click here to read the full story.

During December 2018 a total of 32 Iraqi civilians were killed and another 32 injured in acts of terrorism and conflict-related violence.

Ninewa was the worst affected Governorate with 26 civilian casualties (07 killed, 19 injured) followed by Baghdad with (17 killed and 03 injured) and Salahadin (03 killed and 03 injured). The figures include ordinary citizens and others considered civilian at the time of death or injury, such as police on non-combat functions, civil defence, personal security teams, facilities protection police and fire department personnel.

UNAMI views these figures as more than mere statistics. Every civilian death documented by UNAMI over the years represents a family grieving and struggling to come to terms with its loss. Each injury or maiming of a civilian represents immense individual and societal suffering,” Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General (SRSG) for Iraq, Ms. Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, said.

NOTE FOR INFORMATION:

UNAMI used to publish these casualty figures on a monthly basis as part of its broader efforts to highlight civilian protection needs, reduce civilian harm, and to encourage all parties to the conflict to abide by their obligations under international human rights and humanitarian law. However, UNAMI’s monitoring in recent months has shown a steady reduction in civilian casualties. UNAMI has therefore decided that it will no longer publish these civilian casualty updates on a monthly basis but only if circumstances dictate. Whilst this decision is made in the context of a stabilizing security situation, and a consequent reduction in conflict-related harm to civilians, the conditions necessary for a sustained reduction in violence remain very fragile. UNAMI will, therefore, continue to monitor the situation.

*CAVEATS: UNAMI has been hindered in effectively verifying casualties in certain areas; in some cases, UNAMI could only partially verify certain incidents. For these reasons, the figures reported have to be considered as the absolute minimum. UNAMI was not able to verify casualty figures from Anbar Governorate and as a result they are not included.

(Source: United Nations)

From AFP. Any opinions expressed are those of the authors, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

Iraqis forces parade and celebrate in the streets of Mosul as they mark a year since Iraq declared victory against the Islamic State group, the conclusion of a three-year battle to oust the jihadists.

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A total of 41 Iraqi civilians were killed and another 73 injured in acts of terrorism, violence and armed conflict in Iraq in November 2018*, according to casualty figures recorded by the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI).

The figures include ordinary citizens and others considered civilians at the time of death or injury, such as police in non-combat functions, civil defence, personal security teams, facilities protection police and fire department personnel.

The Special Representative for Iraq of the United Nations Secretary-General, Mr. Ján Kubiš, said the continuing loss of life is regrettable but the latest figures are the lowest since UNAMI began publishing them in November 2012.

“These are not just figures. They are human beings with families. But these figures, sad as they are, also reflect the continuing downward trend in the level of violence as the country recovers from its fight with terrorism and presses ahead towards a stable, prosperous future,” the Special Representative said.

Baghdad was the most affected Governorate, with 55 civilian casualties (23 killed, 32 injured), followed by Ninewa (08 killed and 19 injured) and Anbar (04 killed and 15 injured).

*CAVEATS: UNAMI has been hindered in effectively verifying casualties in certain areas; in some cases, UNAMI could only partially verify certain incidents. Figures for casualties from Anbar Governorate are provided by the Health Directorate and are noted above. Casualty figures obtained from the Anbar Health Directorate might not fully reflect the real number of casualties in those areas due to the increased volatility of the situation on the ground and the disruption of services. For these reasons, the figures reported have to be considered as the absolute minimum.

(Source: United Nations)

By Ranj Alaaldin.

The June 2014 takeover of Mosul by the Islamic State group (ISIS) was described as an existential threat to the Iraqi state and the post-2003 political order.

Yet, its emergence was only a symptom of a broader series of crises that had engulfed Iraq over the past decade. While militant groups dominate headlines, it is Iraq’s structural problems that have enabled their emergence.

This includes weakened or partly collapsed institutions; the absence of the rule of law; dysfunctional and corrupt governance; the ascendancy of sectarian divisions; and the disastrous post-conflict reconstruction process that followed the aftermath of the 2003 U.S. invasion.

State fragility in the Levant and the regional proxy war in Syria have exacerbated these challenges and have stifled Iraq’s efforts to stabilize and rehabilitate its institutions.

The full report can be read here.

(Source: Brookings Institution)

Over seven million square meters in areas liberated from ISIS cleared of explosives

The Iraqi Kurdistan Mine Action Agency (IKMAA) has cleared 7,414,199 square meters in areas liberated from ISIS of explosive devices and difused 43,057 IEDs and UXO pieces, said Siraj Barzani, Head of IKMAA, in an interview with the Kurdistan Regional Government website.

From the 2014 ISIS onslaught until October 2017, three IKMAA units in Duhok, Erbil, and Germiyan, in cooperation with Peshmerga forces, started their plan to clear contaminated areas and raise public awareness of explosive devices.

Mr. Barzani said that poisonous chlorine gas bottles stockpiled by ISIS were also deactivated by an IKMMA team with the assistance and supervision of a special chemical weapons team from the Ministry of Peshmerga Affairs and Ministry of Interior.

According to Mr. Barzani:

“IKMMA teams in liberated areas faced a variety of impediments, including fragile security, logistical issues, unsatisfactory information about areas and risks, pressure to hastily clear contaminated areas.”

With financial assistance from foreign governments, international NGOs – MAG, FSD, Handicap International, NPA, DDG, Sterling – participated in these clearing operations.

According to IKMMA, in 1991, 776 square kilometers of the Kurdistan Region were contaminated with landmines and unexploded ordnance, UXO, laid by former Iraqi regime forces, which has since decreased to 270 square kilometers, a reduction of 65 percent.

According to Mr. Barzani:

“From 1991 until October 2018, there have been 13,233 victims of landmines and other explosive devices. Today, there are fewer victims due to clearance operations and increased public awareness.’’

(Source: KRG)

ISIL’s legacy of terror: at least 200 mass graves in Iraq

More than 200 mass graves containing the remains of thousands of victims have been discovered in areas formerly controlled by ISIL in Iraq, according to a UN report released Tuesday. The report highlights the legacy of ISIL’s relentless campaign of terror and violence and victims’ calls for truth and justice.

The UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) and the UN Human Rights Office have documented the existence of 202 mass grave sites in the governorates of Ninewa, Kirkuk, Salah al-Din and Anbar in the northern and western parts of the country – but there may be many more.

While it is difficult to determine the total number of people in these graves, the smallest site, in west Mosul, contained eight bodies while the biggest is believed to be the Khasfa sinkhole south of Mosul which may contain thousands.

The report stresses that these sites could potentially contain critical forensic material to assist in the identification of victims and to build an understanding of the scale of crimes that occurred.

“Evidence gathered from these sites will be central to ensuring credible investigations, prosecutions and convictions in accordance with international due process standards,” the report states. “Meaningful truth and justice requires the appropriate preservation, excavation and exhumation of mass grave sites and the identification of the remains of the many victims and their return to the families.”

Between June 2014 and December 2017, ISIL seized large areas of Iraq and led “a campaign of widespread violence and systematic violations of international human rights and humanitarian law – acts that may amount to war crimes, crimes against humanity, and possible genocide,” the report states.

“The mass grave sites documented in our report are a testament to harrowing human loss, profound suffering and shocking cruelty,” said Special Representative for Iraq of the Secretary-General of the United Nations Ján Kubiš. “Determining the circumstances surrounding the significant loss of life will be an important step in the mourning process for families and their journey to secure their rights to truth and justice.”

The report also documents how families of the missing face significant challenges in establishing the fate of their loved ones. At present, they must report to more than five separate State entities, a process that is both time-consuming and frustrating for families who remain traumatised by their loss, the report states, calling for the establishment of a public, centralised registry of missing persons as well as a federal Office of Missing Persons.

“ISIL’s horrific crimes in Iraq have left the headlines but the trauma of the victims’ families endures, with thousands of women, men and children still unaccounted for,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said.

“These graves contain the remains of those mercilessly killed for not conforming to ISIL’s twisted ideology and rule, including ethnic and religious minorities. Their families have the right to know what happened to their loved ones. Truth, justice and reparations are critical to ensuring a full reckoning for the atrocities committed by ISIL.”

Kubiš said the report was aimed at supporting the Government of Iraq in protecting and excavating these mass graves, through the work of Iraq’s Mass Graves Directorate and its international partners. Bachelet and Kubiš reiterated their support to the Government of Iraq in carrying out this significant task.

Among its recommendations, the report calls for a multidisciplinary approach to the recovery operations with the participation of experienced specialists, such as weapons contamination and explosives experts and crime scene investigators. It calls for a victim-centred approach and a transitional justice process that is established in consultation with, and accepted by, Iraqis, particularly those from affected communities.

The report also calls on the international community to provide resources and technical support to efforts related to the exhumation, collection, transportation, storage and return of human remains to families, as well as their identification, particularly by helping strengthen the Mass Graves Directorate.

More here, here and here.

By Shelly Kittleson for Al Monitor. Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News. 

Severe dust storms have facilitated advances by the Islamic State (IS) in eastern Syria near the Iraqi border in recent days, putting the largest Iraqi city alongside it at risk.

Otherworldly shades of red, orange and sandy yellow were an intermittent backdrop for days across most of western Anbar, with very low visibility rendering airstrikes and other coalition activities against the terrorist group still in control of Hejin across the border in Syria’s Deir ez-Zor province difficult.

IS has retaken the entire Syrian side of the Baghouz area and the town of Soussa in recent days, Al-Monitor was told by security sources working near the border on Oct. 29.

Click here to read the full story.

The U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) imposed sanctions today on Afaq Dubai, an Iraq-based money services business (MSB) that has been moving money for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Today’s designation follows action taken by the Department of Defense—announced on October 11—against a key ISIS financial facilitation group.  This MSB is a part of ISIS’s financial network that includes an array of other MSBs, hawalas, and financial facilitators in the Middle East.

OFAC named Afaq Dubai as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist pursuant to Executive Order 13224, for assisting in, sponsoring, or providing financial, material, or technological support for, or financial or other services to or in support of, ISIS.  Contrary to what the name may imply, this MSB is located in Iraq and does not have any branches in the United Arab Emirates.

“This Iraq-based MSB is a part of ISIS’s complex network of money services businesses, hawalas, and financial facilitators funding terrorism across the Middle East.  We are targeting this network in concert with the Department of Defense as part of this Administration’s ongoing campaign to cut off ISIS’s ability to launder money and move illicit funds,” said Sigal Mandelker, Treasury Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence.  “Even as ISIS’s hold on territory is eliminated, we will continue to search for and shut down the illicit financial networks ISIS utilizes to fund terror attacks and sustain operations.”

Today’s action is a continuation of Treasury’s ongoing efforts to shut down financial facilitators and MSBs worldwide that move money on behalf of ISIS.  It follows the designation of two ISIS financial facilitators in September with ties to the Caribbean and the Middle East.  In December 2016, OFAC designated Selselat al Thahab Money Exchange in Iraq, ISIS financier Fawaz Muhammad Jubayr al-Rawi, and his company, the Hanifa Currency Exchange in Albu Kamal, Syria.  Prior to his death, al-Rawi used the Hanifa Currency Exchange in Albu Kamal, Syria and a global network of financiers to move millions of dollars on behalf of the terrorist group.

OFAC closely coordinated today’s designation with the Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTF-OIR), which released details on October 11 regarding its joint action against members of a key ISIS financial facilitation group, who leveraged this MSB as part of its operation.   Coordinated actions such as those conducted by DoD and Treasury this week disrupt and curtail ISIS’s logistical infrastructure, recruiting, and revenue generation.

As a result of today’s action, all property and interests in property of Afaq Dubai subject to U.S. jurisdiction are blocked and U.S. persons are generally prohibited from engaging in transactions with them.

DESIGNATED TARGET

Afaq Dubai

Afaq Dubai was designated for assisting in, sponsoring, or providing financial, material, or technological support for, or financial or other services to or in support of ISIS.

Afaq Dubai — which is located in Iraq — is part of a network of ISIS-associated money services businesses and financial facilitators in the Middle East.  It is run by two ISIS financiers, and, as of early 2018, laundered money for ISIS and provided money to ISIS families.

In May 2018, a Jordan-based ISIS financial facilitator deposited $3 million from Iraqi dinar into three exchanges, including Afaq Dubai.

Identifying information on the entity designated today.

(Source: OFAC)