This article was originally published by Niqash. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

Locals in Al Qaim, Anbar, worry that the current stable security situation can’t last. It’s being upheld by US troops and Iran-allied militias, whose antipathy toward one another is becoming more overt all the time.

The people of Al Qaim, a town in the far west of Anbar province, near the border with Syria, is a much happier place these days. During the past three years of the security crisis, sparked by the extremist group known as the Islamic State, it was considered an important base for the group. It was often referred to as the Islamic State group’s secret capital.

“Compared to a year ago the security situation is stable,” says Abdul-Rahman Karbouli, a community leader in Al Qaim, based in the Rumana area. “A year ago, this was a distant dream because of the presence of the extremists. Today we can stay up late without fear and my son works in one of the dairy factories in the city.”

It sounds good but Karbouli says it may not last; there is a big problem brewing. He fears that Al Qaim will fall victim to a conflict between the US military and members of the Shiite Muslim militias. The latter are former volunteers who fought against the Islamic State, or IS, group, but who are now an official part of the state security forces.

“The Iraqi army and the militias are protecting us,” Karbouli says, “but we are hearing an increasing number of threats against the US from the Shiite militias in Anbar.”

Iraqi officials say that the US efforts in Anbar have been indispensable when it comes to securing the country’s porous borders with Syria, borders that allowed the IS fighters to come back and forth at will and which made Al Qaim such a good base for them. The Iraqi military has welcomed US troops. However the Shiite militias, who are doing some of the same work as the Iraqi and US military, are not as keen on the idea.

After the IS group was officially driven out of Al Qaim in November 2017, US troops were deployed to barracks on the outskirts of town, in an area dominated by Sunni Muslim tribes with social and tribal connections to Syrian tribes over the border – in particular the Karableh and Mahalawi clans. But at the same time, Shiite Muslim militias, with strong affiliations to Iran, were also deployed in the area, in what appeared to be a clandestine race for influence in the border area.

Both military groups have a shared objective: To keep the area clear of the IS group and its fighters. In fact, last week, after IS group attacks in Kirkuk and Salahaddin, the Iraqi air force struck locations inside Syria in an attempt to knock out IS cells. And US-Iraqi joint units were able to arrest four senior IS leaders in early May inside Al Qaim.

But there are also other apparent aims of the two anti-IS forces here. Iran has long sought to carve out areas of influence that would allow it an unobstructed path to the sea: Such a path would go through Syria and Iraq. The Shiite Muslim militias associated with Iran, which supplies funding, weapons and advisory, want to open that road. The US forces want to keep it shut.

“The information provided by the friendlies [the way that the Iraqi military describe the international coalition, including the US, fighting the IS group] obtained with their drones and other intelligence information is essential in helping us secure these long borders,” says Saad al-Obeidi, a sergeant with the Iraqi army’s 12th division.

But his division doesn’t just work with the US forces, they also deal with a Shiite Muslim militia in Anbar, the Tafouf Brigade. “The irony is that we are working with bitter rivals,” al-Obeidi says. “The US forces fear the Tafouf brigade in the city and the brigade wants the US forces to withdraw. Every time we meet either group, we hear the bad way they talk about each other.”

When the Iraqi government declared the end of fighting in Anbar, all the Shiite militias withdrew from the Sunni-majority province except the Al Tafouf brigade, stationed in Al Qaim. Its leader is Qassim Musleh, who was actually imprisoned by the US during its invasion of Iraq. He was jailed in a UK base in Basra for three years.

The brigade he commands now is one that split from the Ali Akbar fighting units, which are closely associated with the holy southern city of Karbala and Shia Islam’s highest authority in Iraq, Ali al-Sistani. As such, the Ali Akbar units were more pro-Iraq than pro-Iran. However Musleh was removed from the job, allegedly for mistakes made in battle, and founded a new militia, this time one that was more closely affiliated with Iran.

Mostly the Al Tafouf brigade has been working on removing improvised explosive devices left by the IS group on the roads and trying to ferret out sleeper cells that may still be hiding in the Al Qaim area. Last week, it announced that it had found a secret base belonging to the extremists on the outskirts of the city, complete with tunnels and weapons stores.

“Our brigade has good relations with the people of Al Qaim,” one of the Al Tafouf members, Abdul Amir al-Masoudi, told NIQASH in a phone interview. “But the brigade is not happy with the presence of US troops here. We would like them to leave the city and we believe they are actually supporting the terrorists.”

This is an old rumour that has been repeated many times by the Shiite militias opposed to the US presence in Iraq. As recently as last week, Shiite militia Facebook pages were posting clips of what they said was an American plane over Anbar. They said the plane was being used to transport IS fighters. The Iraqi government and the Ministry of Defence have denied the stories and tried to put a stop to the rumours but some Iraqis still believe the tall tales.

“The US forces, the Iraqi army and the Syrian army are coordinating to control the borders north of the Euphrates river,” a member of Anbar’s provincial council told NIQASH off the record. “The Syrian army and Shiite militias are in control of border areas south of the Euphrates river. It is a complicated but useful equation in terms of defending Anbar. But there is a chance it could all collapse because of tensions between the two groups,” the council member admitted.

“Anbar is always under threat from the extremists and we need the US to help us secure our borders,” he noted. “But we also need the militias to fight the extremists.”

The General Commission for Border Crossings in coordination with the National Investment Commission (NIC) has announced the investment opportunities of establishing high-standards border crossings in the following points:

  • Al- Waleed crossing point
  • Rabeaa crossing point
  • AL- Muntheriyah crossing point
  • Mandeli crossing point
  • Traibeel crossing point
  • Al- Qaem crossing point

According to the following requirements:

  • A VIP building consists of (Lobby, Meetings Hall, Restaurant, Services, Medical care centers, Bedroom)
  • Testing labs service: establishing developed laboratories for all specialized departments operating in the crossing point providing that they must be subject to sectoral sides supervision>
  • Testing, Searching and Control labs
  • Radiological testing labs
  • Health lab
  • IT and Internet Services: establishing, equipping and managing an IT and Internet center under the supervision of the responsible sectoral side.
  • Balanced Scaling Service: establishing, equipping and managing the balanced scales in the crossing point under the supervision of the responsible sectoral side.
  • Testing machines Service: establishing, equipping, managing and maintaining the testing Sonar machines, persons and luggage testing machines and the radiological testing machines after obtaining the sectoral side approval and supervision.
  • Services offices: establishing, equipping and operating services office ready to undertake the responsibility of providing the services of charging, discharging, cleaning and rehabilitating the crossing point buildings (sanitary works, Décor, power supply, water supply maintenance, and telecommunications)

Motel and Hotel Services: establishing, equipping and managing a motel to provide its services to the visiting passengers.

  • Restaurants and Booths: establishing, equipping and managing restaurants and booths within the crossing point that can provide regular meals, snacks and soft drinks.
  • Testing Services: (K9) establishing, equipping and managing a testing service (K9) in the crossing points under the supervision of the sectoral side and includes testing explosives and drugs.
  • Storing Services: establishing, equipping and managing cooled and non- cooled stores for all specialized departments in the crossing point (Food and equipments, Agricultural quarantine, veterinary quarantine, and medical quarantine).
  • Shaded waiting areas: Establishing parking areas for vehicles, buses and trucks according to the international standards.
  • Fuel stations service: establishing, equipping and managing a fuel station within the crossing point
  • Rest houses Service: establishing, equipping and managing rest houses within the crossing point.
  • Water Desalination Station: establishing, equipping and maintaining water desalination stations within the crossing point.
  • Power and Water Supply Services: the investing side shall be in charge of establishing power generation stations and water supply stations.
  • Control System: establishing, equipping and maintaining a control system to be provided with the latest cameras and surveillance devices from the latest international sources.
  • The point entrances: establishing, equipping and maintaining 4 entrances, 2 in the Iraqi side and 2 in the other side.
  • Electrical Gates: establishing, equipping and maintaining developed electrical gates provided with Sonar machines, balanced scales and biometric reading machine.
  • The crossing point buildings: establishing, equipping and furnishing special buildings for the crossing point departments and other depts. operating in the point area in addition to establishing halls for sleep.
  • Mosque: establishing, equipping and furnishing a mosque with modern specifications.

Investors willing to invest in the aforementioned investment opportunities are required to submit a detailed offer with the feasablity study at the headquarter of the National investment Commission or the headquarter of the Crossing Points commission, knowing that the closing date is 31.01.2018.

For any further information please call Colonel Khaled Hasoon Jabur – Head of the Contracts Section:

07903307102

07705813552

(Source: National investment Commission)

Coalition airstrikes killed four senior Islamic State of Iraq and Syria leaders in the past three weeks, Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve officials announced today.

The removal of these key terrorists disrupts ISIS’ weapons engineering activities and their ability to recruit and train terrorists,” officials said in a statement. “It also reduces their ability to plan and conduct terrorist attacks, both within Syria and Iraq and abroad.

Dead are:

  • Yusuf Demir, an ISIS media official with links to ISIS networks throughout the Middle East and Europe, killed Oct. 26 near Qaim, Iraq;
  • Omer Demir, an ISIS external operations coordinator with links to ISIS networks in the Middle East and Europe, also killed Oct. 26 near Qaim;
  • Abu Yazin, an ISIS senior leader and weapons facilitator, killed Nov. 3 near Mayadin, Syria; and
  • Abdellah Hajjiaou, an ISIS external operations plotter, killed Nov. 5 near Abu Kamal, Syria.

The coalition will continue to exert pressure on ISIS senior leaders and associates across multiple networks in order to degrade, disrupt, and dismantle ISIS structures and remove the extremist terrorists throughout Iraq and Syria,” officials said in the statement announcing the deaths.

(Source: US Dept of Defense)

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. 

Key Iraqi border town retaken amid regional power plays

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi raised the Iraqi flag Nov. 5 after climbing a sandy berm from which Islamic State (IS) flags could be seen about 200 meters (656 feet) away on the Syrian side of the border.

Al-Monitor’s reporter was the only Western journalist reporting from the border area at Qaim with the Iraqi forces in the first few days after the town’s liberation, according to several officers on the front. No Western media were present during the actual operation, they said, during which access to even the surrounding area was severely restricted.

The city of Qaim, along Iraq’s westernmost edge, was proclaimed liberated Nov. 3, even though some of the nearby areas were not cleared until the following day.

The Iraqi army, counterterrorism forces and local tribal fighters trained by the international anti-IS coalition and non-local Popular Mobilization Units took part in the fighting.

Al-Monitor saw no civilians in the central areas or near the Syrian border while driving through the dusty, heavily damaged wasteland of Qaim’s streets Nov. 5. In the days following the liberation, Al-Monitor visited the only three families said to have remained in one area of the city.

A Nov. 6 sandstorm covered Qaim with a copper-colored layer of dust, severely limiting the visibility in the town and along the entire road toward it from the Jazeera operations headquarters in Haditha, roughly 150 kilometers (93 miles) away along a road torn up by improvised explosive devices (IEDs) that dips through wadis and passes by destroyed bridges.

A long string of knocked-down electricity transmission towers, still seemingly fully intact otherwise, can be seen from the road. There is no cellphone reception of any kind in the area. Frequent firing could be heard from the Iraqi side of the border at Qaim toward al-Bukamal in Syria on Nov. 6.