High-ranking officials from Iran, Syria, and Iraq have agreed to create “a multimodal transport corridor” a part of efforts to boost trade relations between the three Muslim nations.

“The three friendly and brotherly countries of Iran, Iraq, and Syria have good and growing business relations,” Iranian Deputy Minister of Roads and Urban Development Shahram Adamnejad told the Tasnim News Agency.

“Given the actual and potential capacities created by the bilateral agreements between the three countries as well as the prospect of increasing these exchanges in the near future, we will witness a new chapter of trade prosperity in the territories of the three countries,” he added.

“Accordingly, the three countries have agreed to establish a multimodal transport corridor on the route from Iran to Iraq and Syria, and vice versa,” the deputy minister went on to say.

Speaking at a trilateral meeting between the state-owned Iraqi Republic Railways (IRR) and its Iranian and Syrian counterparts, the IRR Managing Director Talib Jawad Kazim praised Iran’s achievements in the railroad industry and said the sanctions have made Iran archive great successes.

He further pointed to the railroad project connecting Iran’s Shalamcheh to Iraq’s Basra and said his country is willing to speed up the project so that the two countries’ rail networks are connected to each other and then connected to Syria.

During Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s visit to Iraq in March, the two countries signed five deals to promote cooperation in various fields.

The documents entail cooperation between Iran and Iraq concerning the Basra-Shalamcheh railroad project, visa facilitation for investors, cooperation in the health sector, and agreements between the Ministry of Industry, Mines and Trade of Iran and Ministry of Trade of Iraq, and another one in the field of oil between the petroleum ministries of the two countries.

Iran’s Minister of Industry, Mine and Trade Reza Rahmani has said that Tehran and Baghdad have agreed to reach the target of raising the value of annual trade exchange to $20 billion within two years.

(Source: Tasnim, under Creative Commons licence)

By John Lee.

Amnesty International has challenged a statement from the US-led Coalition in which it acknowledges at least 1,302 unintended civilian deaths during Operation Inherent Resolve.

The organisation’s Senior Crisis Response Adviser, Donatella Rovera, said:

While all admissions of responsibility by the US-led Coalition for civilian casualties are welcome, the Coalition remains deeply in denial about the devastating scale of the civilian casualties caused by their operations in both Iraq and Syria.

“A comprehensive investigation by Amnesty International in partnership with Airwars, launched last month, revealed that more than 1,600 civilians were killed in the Raqqa offensive alone in 2017 – meaning the acknowledged deaths are just a fraction of the total numbers killed.

“Today’s acknowledgement of further civilian deaths underscores the urgent need for thorough, independent investigations that can uncover the true scale of civilian casualties caused by Coalition strikes, examine whether each attack complied with international humanitarian law and provide full reparation to victims.

“Even in cases where the Coalition has admitted responsibility this has only happened after civilian deaths were investigated and brought to its attention by organizations such as Amnesty International and Airwars. The Coalition has so far failed to carry out investigations on the ground or provide reasons for the civilian casualties. Without a clear examination of what went wrong in each case lessons can never be learned.

The full statement from Operation Inherent Resolve is shown below:

Since the beginning of operations in 2014, the Coalition and partner forces have liberated nearly 110,000 square kilometers (42,471 square miles) from Daesh, eliminating their self-proclaimed territorial caliphate and freeing 7.7 million people from Daesh oppression. The Coalition will continue to work with partner forces to deny Daesh any physical space and influence in the region as well as deny Daesh the resources they need to resurge.

The Coalition continues to employ thorough and deliberate targeting and strike processes to minimize the impact of operations on civilian populations and infrastructure. This process includes thorough review and vetting of each target package prior to a strike and another review after that strike. Regular strike reports make Coalition activities publicly accessible, and monthly publication of civilian casualty reports makes civilian casualty assessments similarly accessible to the public.

As demonstrated, the Coalition is willing to consider new civilian casualty allegations as well as new or  compelling evidence on past allegations to establish accountability based on the best available evidence.

The Coalition conducted 34,502 strikes between August 2014 and the end of April 2019. During this period, based on information available, CJTF-OIR assesses at least 1,302* civilians have been unintentionally killed by Coalition strikes since the beginning of Operation Inherent Resolve. This report includes three credible reports that had not been previously reported in monthly CIVCAS releases.

In the month of April, CJTF-OIR carried over 122 open reports from previous months and received seven new reports. CJTF-OIR completed 18 civilian-casualty allegation assessment reports. Out of the 18 completed casualty allegation reports, three reports were determined to be credible and resulted in five unintentional civilian deaths. The remaining 15 reports were assessed to be non-credible. One hundred and eleven reports are still open, including three that had been previously closed but were reopened due to the availability of new information.

Credible Reports–In the three incidents assessed in April and the three previously unreported incidents, the investigations assessed that the Coalition took all feasible precautions, and the decision to strike complied with the law of armed conflict. Coalition forces work diligently to be precise during the planning and execution of strikes to reduce the risk of harm to civilians.

Apr. 9, 2016, near Mosul, Iraq, via Airwars report. Coalition aircraft conducted an airstrike on a Daesh communication center in Mosul, Iraq. Regrettably, five civilians were unintentionally killed and nine others unintentionally wounded due to their proximity to the strike. (Not previously reported)
Jan. 17, 2017, near Idlib, Syria, via self-report. Coalition aircraft conducted a strike against a Daesh vehicle. Regrettably, three civilians were unintentionally wounded due to their proximity to the strike. (Not previously reported)
Mar. 27, 2017, near Idlib, Syria, via self-report. Coalition aircraft conducted a strike against a Daesh vehicle. Regrettably, three civilians were unintentionally killed and one civilian was injured due to their proximity to the strike. (Not previously reported)
Dec. 24, 2017, near Kharayij, Syria, via self-report. Coalition aircraft conducted strikes on a Daesh weapons storage facility and Daesh terrorists. Regrettably, three civilians were unintentionally killed due to the proximity of the strikes.
Aug. 1, 2018, near Ash Shajlah, Syria, via self-report. Coalition aircraft conducted a strike against a Daesh staging area. Regrettably, two civilians were unintentionally killed due to the proximity of the strike.
Mar. 10, 2019, near Qayyarah-West Airfield, Iraq, via media-report. Regrettably, one civilian was unintentionally injured by Coalition small arms fire.    Non Credible Reports– After a thorough review of the facts and circumstances of each civilian casualty report, CJTF-OIR assessed the following 15 reports as non-credible. At this time there is insufficient information to assess that, more likely than not, a Coalition strike resulted in civilian casualties.
Aug. 20, 2017, near al-Bado neighborhood, Raqqah, Syria, via Airwars report. After a review of all available strike records it was determined that, more likely than not, civilian casualties did not occur as a result of a Coalition strike.
Aug. 20, 2017, near al-Sakhani neighborhood, Raqqah, Syria, via Airwars report. After a review of all available strike records it was determined that, more likely than not, civilian casualties did not occur as a result of a Coalition strike.
Sept. 18, 2017, near al-Kahraba neighborhood, Raqqah, Syria, via Airwars report. After a review of all available strike records it was determined that, more likely than not, civilian casualties did not occur as a result of a Coalition strike.
Feb. 2, 2018, near al-Bahra, Syria, via Airwars report. After a review of all available strike records it was determined that, more likely than not, civilian casualties did not occur as a result of a Coalition strike.
May 31, 2018, near al-Susah, Syria, via Airwars report. After a review of all available strike records it was determined that, more likely than not, civilian casualties did not occur as a result of a Coalition strike.
July 22, 2018, near al-Susah, Syria, via social media report. After a review of all available strike records it was determined that, more likely than not, civilian casualties did not occur as a result of a Coalition strike.
Aug. 23, 2018, near Abu Kamal, Syria, via self-report. After a review of available information it was assessed that no Coalition strikes were conducted in the geographical area that corresponds to the report of civilian casualties.
Oct. 20, 2018, near al-Susah, Syria, via social media report. After a review of all available strike records it was determined that, more likely than not, civilian casualties did not occur as a result of a Coalition strike.
Mar. 11, 2019, near al-Baghouz, Syria, via social media report. The report contains insufficient information of the time, location and details to assess its credibility.
Mar. 13, 2019, near al-Baghouz, Syria, via Airwars report. The report contains insufficient information of the time, location and details to assess its credibility.
Mar. 14, 2019, near al-Baghouz, Syria, via social media report. The report contains insufficient information of the time, location and details to assess its credibility.
Mar. 16, 2019, near al-Baghouz, Syria, via Airwars report. The report contains insufficient information of the time, location and details to assess its credibility.
Mar. 17, 2019, near al-Baghouz, Syria, via social media report. The report contains insufficient information of the time, location and details to assess its credibility.
Mar. 18, 2019, near al-Baghouz, Syria, via Airwars report. The report contains insufficient information of the time, location and details to assess its credibility.
Mar. 24, 2019, near al-Rutba, Syria, via Airwars report. The report contains insufficient information of the time, location and details to assess its credibility.
Open Reports– CJTF-OIR is still assessing 111 reports of civilian casualties:

Nov. 7, 2014, near Al-Tanak Oilfield, Syria, via Syrian Human Rights Network report.
Dec. 28, 2014, near Jarabulus, Syria, via Airwars report.
Aug. 24, 2015, near Mosul, Iraq, via Airwars report.
Oct. 30, 2015, near Qayyarah, Iraq, via media report.
Nov. 7, 2015, near Qayyarah, Iraq, via media report.
Dec. 24, 2015, near Manbij, Syria, via self-report.
June 1, 2016, near Mosul, Iraq, via Airwars report.
Sept. 22, 2016, near Qayyarah, Iraq, via media report.
Oct. 13, 2016, near Qayyarah, Iraq, via media report.
Jan. 3, 2017, near Sarmada, Syria, via social media report (previously closed, but reopened due to new information).
Jan. 6, 2017, near Taftanaz, Idlib, Syria, via Airwars report.
Jan. 11, 2017, near Saraqib, Idlib, Syria, via Airwars report.
Jan. 14, 2017, near Al Mayadin, Syria, via Airwars report.
Jan. 17, 2017, near Baysan neighborhood, Mosul, Iraq, via social media report (previously closed, but reopened due to new information).
Jan. 26, 2017, near Mosul, Iraq, via Airwars report.
Feb. 3, 2017, near Sarmin, Idlib, Syria, via Airwars report.
Feb. 10, 2017, near Hatra, Iraq, via Airwars report.
Mar. 8, 2017, near Al Karamah, Syria via Airwars report.
Mar. 11, 2017, near Al Karamah, Syria, via Airwars report.
Mar. 23, 2017, near al-Yarmouk neighborhood, Mosul, Iraq, via self-report.
Mar. 25, 2017, near Al Mayadin, Syria, via Airwars report.
Mar. 27, 2017, near Sarmada, Idlib, via Airwars report.
Apr. 5, 2017, near al-Shafa neighborhood, Mosul, Iraq, via Airwars report.
Apr. 7, 2017, near Hamra Ghanim, Syria, via Airwars report.
Apr. 11, 2017, near al-Yarmouk neighborhood, Mosul, Iraq, via Airwars report.
Apr. 11, 2017, near al-Sahab neighborhood, Mosul, Iraq, via Airwars report.
Apr. 19, 2017, near al-Thawra neighborhood, Mosul, Iraq, via Airwars report.
Apr. 28, 2017, near al-Tabaqah, Syria, via Airwars report.
May 6, 2017, near Mayadin, Syria, via Airwars report.
May 9, 2017, near Abu Kamal, Syria, via Airwars report.
May 13, 2017, near Between two Bridges, Raqqah, Syria, via Airwars report.
May 28, 2017, near Al Mansoura, Syria, via Airwars report.
June 3, 2017, near Hawi al Hawa, Syria, via Airwars report.
June 3, 2017, near al Jisr al Qadim, Raqqah, Syria, via Airwars report.
June 4, 2017, near Abu al Naital, Syria, via Airwars report.
June 10, 2017 near Euphrates River, Syria via Amnesty International report.
June 12, 2017, near al-Tib al-Hadeeth area, Raqqah, Syria via Airwars report.
June 13, 2017 near Kasrat Sheikh Jum’ah Syria, via Airwars report.
June 17, 2017, near Hawijah al-Swafi, Raqqah, Syria via Airwars report.
June 18, 2017, near al-Firdous neighborhood, Raqqah, Syria, via Airwars report.
June 18, 2017, near al-Meshahda neighborhood, Mosul, Iraq, via Airwars report.
June 21, 2017, near Amn al-Dawlah neighborhood, Raqqah, Syria, via Airwars report.
June 23, 2017, near al-Saa’a neighborhood, Mosul, Iraq via Airwars report.
June 23, 2017, near Abu Kamal, Syria via Airwars report (previously closed, but reopened due to new information).
June 24, 2017, near Adnan al-Maliki school, Raqqah, Syria via Airwars report.
June 26, 2017, near Al Mayadin, Syria via Airwars report.
June 26, 2017, near Euphrates River, Raqqah, Syria, via Airwars report.
June 27, 2017, near Euphrates River, Raqqah, Syria, via Airwars report.
June 30, 2017, near Al Dashaisha, Syria via Airwars report.
July 2, 2017, near Al Soor, Syria via Airwars report.
July 13, 2017, near Raqqah, Syria via Airwars report.
July 23, 2017, near Nazlet Shahata, Syria via Airwars report.
Aug. 5, 2017, near Raqqah, Syria via Airwars report.
Aug. 11, 2017, near Raqqah, Syria, via Airwars report.
Aug. 23, 2017, near Karabla, al Qaiem, Iraq via Airwars report.
Aug. 23, 2017, near Raqqah, Syria via Airwars report.
Sept. 4, 2017, near Raqqah, Syria via Airwars report.
Sept. 5, 2017, near Raqqah, Syria, via media report.
Sept. 17, 2017, near Abu Kamal, Syria, via Airwars report.
Sept. 18, 2017, near al Mrashdah village, Albu Kamal, Syria, via Airwars report.
Sept. 19, 2017, near Raqqah, Syria, via Airwars report.
Oct. 10, 2017, near Deir Ez Zor, Syria via self-report.
Oct. 13, 2017, near Husaybah, al Qaiem, Iraq via Airwars report.
Oct. 17, 2017, near Abu Kamal, Syria via self-report.
Nov. 14, 2017, near al-Hawaij village, Syria, via Airwars report.
Nov. 26, 2017, near Daranj, Syria, via Airwars report.
Nov. 28, 2017, near El Qata, Syria, via self-report.
Dec. 1, 2017, near Granij, Syria, via Airwars report.
Dec. 5, 2017, near al-Jarthi, Syria, via Airwars report.
Dec. 10, 2017, near Abu Hamam, Syria, via Airwars report.
Dec. 22, 2017, near Hajin, Syria, via Airwars report.
Dec. 29, 2017, near al-Bahra, Syria, via Airwars report.
Feb. 6, 2018, near al-Shafaa, Syria, via self-report.
Feb. 28, 2018, near al-Sha’fah village, Syria, via Airwars report.
Mar. 2, 2018, near al-Bajari, Syria, via Airwars report.
May 10, 2018, near al Khatuniyah, Syria, via self-report.
May 27, 2018, near al-Soussa, Syria, via Airwars report.
June 12, 2018, near Hassoun al-Basha village, Syria, via Airwars report.
June 13, 2018, near al-Sousa, Syria, via Airwars report.
June 21, 2018, near al-Sha’fah, Syria, via Airwars report.
July 16, 2018, near Deir Ezzor, Syria, via self-report.
Nov. 12, 2018, near Hajin, via social media report
Nov. 14, 2018, near Abu Kamal and Al Baghouz, via social media report.
Nov. 17, 2018, near Abu al-Hasan, Syria, via Syrian Observatory for Human Rights report.
Nov. 25, 2018, near Al- Sha’fa, Syria, via social media report.
Nov.29, 2018, near Al-Sha’fa, Syria, via social media report.
Nov. 29, 2018, near Al-Kashma, Syria, via social media report.
Dec. 10, 2018, near al-Kashmah, Syria, via social media report.
Dec. 12, 2018, near Hajin, Syria, via self-report.
Dec. 12, 2018, near Abu Kamal, Syria, via self-report.
Dec. 20, 2018, near al-Shafaa, Syria, via social media report.
Jan. 04, 2019, near al-Shafaa, Syria, via self-report.
Jan. 05, 2019, near al-Mrashdah, Syria, via self-report.
Jan. 10, 2019, near al-Shajlah, Syria, via self-report.
Jan. 10, 2019, near al-Susah, Syria, via self-report.
Jan. 18, 2019, near al-Baghouz, Abu Kamal, Syria, via social media report.
Jan. 20, 2019, near al-Shajlah, Syria, via self-report.
Jan. 22, 2019, near al-Shajlah, Syria, via social media report.
Jan. 23, 2019, near al-Baghouz, Syria, via social media report.
Jan. 25, 2019, near al-Baghouz Fawqani, Syria, via self-report.
Jan. 25, 2019, near al-Mrashdah, Syria, via self-report.
Feb. 6, 2019, near al-Busayrah, Syria, via self-report.
Feb. 10, 2019, near Omer Oil fields, Syria, via media report and Airwars report.
Feb. 11, 2019, near al-Baghouz, Syria, via social media report.
Feb. 12, 2019, near al-Baghouz, Syria, via social media report.
Mar. 2, 2019, near al-Baghouz Fawqani, Syria, via self-report.
Mar. 7, 2019, near al-Baghouz camp, Syria, via Airwars report.
Mar. 13, 2019, near al-Baghouz, Syria, via Airwars report.
Mar. 18, 2019, near al-Baghouz Fawqani, Syria, via self-report.
Mar. 20, 2019, near Anbar province, Iraq, via self-report.
Apr. 15, 2019, near al-Sha’afa, Syria, via social media report.

*During a recent internal database audit, the CJTF-OIR CIVCAS Cell discovered an administrative error involving a 2017 allegation – Feb. 22, 2017, near Mosul, Iraq, via self-report: During a strike on ISIS fighters in a moving vehicle, it was assessed that one civilian was unintentionally killed when he entered the target area after the munition was released (Reported Apr. 30, 2017). The Public Affairs release was correct; however, the affected civilian was not recorded in the database correctly.

(Sources: US Dept of Defense, Amnesty International)

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

Will the Trump administration abort Iran’s land bridge to the Mediterranean?

As the showdown between Washington and Tehran escalates elsewhere in the Gulf, Iran is giving high priority to an effort to secure, control and reopen the al-Bukamal border crossing at Qaim, the only Syrian-Iraqi border crossing under Iranian control, to solidify its influence in the Levant and mitigate the impact of US sanctions.

It remains to be seen, however, whether Iran will pull off this move and how the Donald Trump administration might react.

Click here to read the full story.

By John Lee.

Plans by Iraqi Airways to resume flights between Baghdad (pictured) and Damascus have reportedly been postponed.

Syria’s Ministry of Transportation said it had been informed of the “decision to postpone the trip of two Iraqi Airways planes today… until further notice,” according to Rudaw.

The Iraqi Embassy is said to have notified the Syrian foreign ministry that “the completion of some administrative and organizational steps between the company and the Syrian civil aviation” authority is needed before flights can resume.

(Sources: Rudaw, Facebook)

By John Lee.

Iraq, Iran and Syria are reportedly planning to build a railway connecting the three countries.

According to media reports, Salib al-Hussaini, the head of the Iraqi Railway Company, has announced a tripartite summit to discuss the project.

(Source: Prensa Latina)

(Picture credit: Christian Lindgren)

The World Health Organization (WHO) extends its gratitude to the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (BPRM) for the generous contribution of US$ 2.5 million to increase the health security and resilience of Syrian refugees living in Iraq.

In 2018, Iraq continued to host Syrian refugees. It is estimated that about 250,000 Syrian refugees are currently residing in the three governorates of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) namely Erbil, Dahuk, and Sulaymaniyah, the majority of which (64%) lives with the hosting communities.

“There is an urgent need to support the local health authorities in KRI to ensure that Syrian refugees here have access to proper health services,” said Dr. Adham R. Ismail, Acting WHO Representative in Iraq. “Providing comprehensive primary, secondary, referral, and outbreak prevention and response services in the three refugee governorates is a WHO priority for the coming phase; it will indirectly improve the resilience of the refugees and host communities against potential public health emergencies,” he added.

Syrian refugees in Iraq have been given free access to primary health care services whether through camp-based primary health care centers ((PHCC) for refugees living in camps or public health facilities specified for those living with the host communities.

These services have been provided by the directorates of health of Erbil, Dohuk, and Suleimaniya in collaboration with WHO and health partners. However, the mass internal displacement of over 3.3 million Iraqis in 2014 had stretched the capacity of the national health authorities and humanitarian partners to continue meeting the needs of refugees and respond to the inflated demand for health care intervention.

As of 2018, WHO has been active in filling the gaps in essential medicines and medical supplies and equipment, improving referral services, and supporting surveillance and water quality monitoring activities in the refugee camp and non-camp settings. According to the 2017 national health reports, the said DOHs have provided a total of 264,611 consultations to Syrian refugees residing in KRG of Iraq.

The contribution of US$ 2.5 million from the U.S. BPRM will support the provision of comprehensive primary health care and referral services for around 300,000 Syrian refugees and host communities in KRI. It will also support the healthcare services for the disabled and mentally ill patients in the three mentioned governorates through a comprehensive training program for the national professionals working in the mental health area.

The contribution will also cover the procurement and distribution of essential medicines, and medical supplies and equipment to selected health facilities serving the refugees in target governorates.

(Source: UN)

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

As the United States enacts sanctions on Iran, Iran is increasing its influence in Iraq with plans for a railway that could work around US restrictions.

The state-owned Islamic Republic of Iran Railways (RAI) revealed details Nov. 12 about its project to build a railway connecting Iran’s Shalamcheh border crossing to the port of Basra in southeast Iraq.

Maziar Yazdani, RAI’s deputy head of infrastructure and technical affairs, said the Shalamcheh-Basra leg of the project will require only 20 miles of new track at a cost of about $52,000. With the new addition, the rail system will span Iraq to reach Syria’s Mediterranean port city of Latakia.

Click here to read the full story.

(Picture Credit: Tasnim, under Creative Commons licence)

The European Union has adopted today a €56.5 million package to promote sustainable job creation and strengthen support to refugees, internally displaced populations and their host communities in Iraq.

This brings the total EU development assistance mobilised in favour of Iraq in 2018 to €129 million and it is part of the €400 million pledged by the EU at the Iraq Reconstruction Conference held in Kuwait in February 2018.

Iraq is facing enormous challenges to rebuild the areas affected by the conflict and assist people in need. The purpose of the programme adopted today is to contribute to the development of the urban areas of Mosul and Basra, and of the rural areas of Nineveh governorate.

This will help returning displaced populations, vulnerable youth and women find income opportunities and obtain services to respond to their essential needs. The assistance will also be used to promote youth entrepreneurship notably via start-up services. By supporting sustainable and inclusive economic growth in Iraq, the help is delivering also on the Sustainable Development Goals and the priorities of the Government of Iraq.

Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development Neven Mimica said:

“The EU is delivering on its commitments made last February at the Iraq Reconstruction Conference in Kuwait. This new support will create opportunities and jobs, helping some of the most vulnerable communities to get back on their feet and rebuild their lives.”

The measure adopted today also includes a €15 million contribution to the EU Regional Trust Fund in Response to the Syrian Crisis, the central aim of which is to provide a coherent and swift response to the needs arising from the massive displacement and returns caused by both the Syrian and the internal Iraqi crises.

This action aims to enhance public service delivery in sectors like education and health. It will enhance access to livelihood opportunities for refugees, internally displaced persons, returnees and their communities. It will also uphold the long-standing Iraqi policy of protection and support of people residing and seeking protection in the country.

Today’s measure complements the €72.5 million package adopted last October to foster stabilisation and socio-economic development through support to basic service delivery and improved living conditions in conflict areas. This package included measures to reactivate economic activity and entrepreneurship, assistance to facilitate the clearance of lands previously contaminated by explosives, and support to reforms in the energy sector.

These measures are in line with the 2018 EU strategy for Iraq and the Council Conclusions of 19 May 2017 on Iraq as a pilot country for implementing the Humanitarian-Development Nexus, and reaffirm the EU commitments as stated during the Kuwait Conference for the Reconstruction of Iraq. The total EU development assistance to Iraq amounts to €309.8 million since the beginning of the crisis.

(Source: EU)

(Picture: Realistic wavy flag of European Union, from NiglayNik/Shutterstock)

NATO Leads New Mission to Develop Iraq’s Defense Institutions

A new NATO-led mission in Iraq will work to further develop Iraq’s security institutions and structures, British Army Maj. Gen. Christopher Ghika told Pentagon reporters here today.

American and Turkish troops conduct a convoy during a joint patrol in Manbij, Syria, Nov. 8, 2018. Army photo by Spc. Zoe Garbarino

The mission is expected to be established by early next year, said Ghika, who declined to specify which NATO nations and the number of personnel would be involved.

Ghika, deputy commander of strategy and information for Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve, spoke during a video teleconference from Baghdad today.

The nature of the mission will be noncombat, he said. It will consist of advisors working closely with officials of the Iraqi Ministry of Defense and the Office of the National Security Advisor “to help Iraq build a more effective, sustainable, inclusive and transparent defense sector.”

The focus of those efforts will be on institutional education in the National Defense University, the Joint Forces Staff College, and some of the schools which are building military capability in areas such as engineering and infantry, he said. The advisors will focus on training the Iraqi instructors.

Ghika also provided an update on coalition efforts to counter the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria and provide aid to civilians impacted by the fighting.

Coalition Efforts in Syria

Last week provided for the safe delivery of critical humanitarian aid to the Rukban internally displaced person’s camp near At-Tanf Garrison, Syria, on the border with Jordan in the deconfliction zone, Ghika said.

Leading that effort were the Maghaweir al Thowra, a fighting force native to southern Syria and a partner of CJTF – OIR, the United Nations and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, a humanitarian nonprofit organization. Maghaweir al Thowra was previously called the New Syrian Army.

Supplies delivered included 10,475 food parcels, clothes for 18,000 children, 10,000 hygiene kits, as well as newborn baby kits for about 1,200 children, he said.

Also, the U.N. conducted an emergency vaccination campaign to protect around 10,000 children against measles, polio and other potentially deadly diseases.

Currently, the coalition and Syrian Democratic Forces partners are fighting ISIS in the last physically held terrain in the Middle Euphrates River valley around the town of Hajin in eastern Syria, Ghika said.

“This is a hard fight. Indeed, we have witnessed some of the most intense fighting since ISIS was defeated in Raqqa, [Syria,] and Mosul, [Iraq]. The ultimate outcome is not in doubt. ISIS will be defeated in the Middle Euphrates River valley,” he said.

On Nov. 8, U.S. and Turkish forces conducted their second combined joint patrol in the vicinity of the town of Manbij, Syria, on the west bank of the Euphrates, about 19 miles from Turkey. “This is a critical part of the coalition’s efforts to prevent the resurgence of ISIS there and enable the voluntary return of refugees and internally displaced people,” Ghika said.

Coalition Efforts in Iraq

Iraqi security forces continue to target ISIS fighters who are attempting to regroup and regain a foothold in the small pockets of the Anbar Desert area of Iraq. Those efforts, called Operation Last Warning, are broadening to the entire country, he said.

Additionally, Iraqi forces are shoring up the border with Syria to prevent ISIS fighters from fleeing to Syria, reinforcing efforts of the SDF, he said.

In Saladin province in northern Iraq, the ISF and the Iraqi counterterrorism service, supported by the coalition, conducted multiple strikes on an ISIS senior leader meeting, killing a significant number of ISIS militants and key leaders, Ghika said.

Progress in Battling ISIS

“I’m struck by the immense progress that’s been made by Iraqi security forces and Syrian democratic forces partnering against the evil of ISIS,” said Ghika, noting that this is his second CJTF – OIR tour, the first as deputy commander of the coalition’s land component command in 2014 to 2015.

A recently published U.N. report on atrocities and mass graves in territories formerly controlled by ISIS documents 202 mass grave sites and the U.N. estimates these sites contain 6,000 to 12,000 bodies, he said.

“This is a stark reminder of why the coalition to counter ISIS was established and why nations across the globe have been willing to send their fighting men and women here,” Ghika said.

(Source: US Dept of Defense)