TIME Iraq

Iraqi Forces Drive ISIS From Refinery Town of Beiji

(BAGHDAD) — Iraqi government forces on Friday drove Islamic State militants out from their remaining strongholds inside the oil refinery town of Beiji, two security official said, in a key victory over the terror group that has captured much of northern and western Iraq in a stunning summer offensive.

The Iraqi troops, backed by allied Sunni militiamen, also lifted the Islamic State group’s siege of the oil refinery, Iraq’s largest, and hoisted Iraq’s red, white and black flags atop the sprawling complex hosting the facility.

Reached by telephone in Beiji, the officials said the army used loudspeakers to warn the small number of residents still holed up in the town to stay indoors while bomb squads detonated booby-trapped houses and remaining bombs planted on the roads. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

State Iraqi television also reported the “liberation of Beiji,” quoting the top army commander there, Gen. Abdul-Wahab al-Saadi.

Islamic State extremists captured Beiji during their summer offensive. The Iraqi forces had collapsed in the face of that onslaught but have since partially regrouped and went on the offensive, with Beiji the biggest locality they have recaptured to date.

Since August, the Iraqi military is being aided by airstrikes by a U.S.-led coalition targeting Islamic State positions in Iraq and in neighboring Syria.

The two officials said fierce battles were fought early on Friday around the refinery and that government warplanes strafed Islamic State positions around the facility on the northern edge of the town. The refinery’s capacity of some 320,000 barrels a day accounts for a quarter of Iraq’s refining capacity.

Beiji will now likely be a base for staging a push to take back from the Islamic State Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit to the south.

Government forces tried to retake Tikrit earlier this year, but their campaign stalled and the city remains in Islamic State hands.

The Beiji developments came just two days after Shiite Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi ordered a major shakeup in the military in what an official government statement described as an effort to eradicate corruption and improve its capabilities.

On Wednesday, 26 officers were relieved of duty, 10 were retired and 18 new commanders were appointed.

TIME United Kingdom

U.K. Looks to Stop Suspected Terror Fighters from Coming Home

They could be barred from U.K. for two years

The British government outlined new antiterrorism measures Thursday to bar suspected jihadists from entering the U.K. and to prevent would-be fighters from leaving.

British citizens who travel abroad to fight alongside the militant group Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) will be prevented from returning to the U.K. for two years and only allowed to re-enter if they consent to face trial, home detention, police surveillance or attend a de-radicalization course, the Guardian reports.

The plans, revealed by Prime Minister David Cameron in a speech to the Australian parliament in Canberra, follow a pledge Cameron made in September to increase counterterrorism efforts after the U.K. raised its terror threat level to “severe.”

Security services believe up to 500 Britons have travelled to Syria, many of whom are aged between 16 and 21.

[The Guardian]

TIME Terrorism

ISIS Is Minting Its Own Money

A member loyal to the ISIL waves an ISIL flag in Raqqa
A fighter from the Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) waves a flag in Raqqa, Syria on June 29, 2014. Reuters

It will be circulated in areas of Syria and Iraq

The militant group Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) said Thursday that it plans to introduce its own currency in the areas under its control because it wishes to “emancipate itself from the satanic global economic system.”

ISIS said it will be minting new gold, silver and copper coins as part of a new currency called Dinar, according to a message translated by SITE Intelligence Group, an organization that monitors terrorist activity.

MORE: ISIS leader’s new orders: ‘Erupt volcanoes of jihad”

It is not yet clear how ISIS will produce the currency, which will be “based on the inherent value of the metals,” but the group says its “Treasury Department” will organize minting and circulation.

ISIS did not say when the currency would be launched or specify in which areas it would begin circulating the currency.

MORE: How to financially starve ISIS

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: November 12

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. “Seven years after returning from Iraq, I’m finally home.” One veteran reflects on how service after his time at war changed his life.

By Chris Miller in Medium

2. Humanity’s gift for imitation and iteration is the secret to our innovation and survival.

By Kat McGowan in Aeon

3. Amid news of a groundbreaking climate agreement, it’s clear the China-U.S. relationship will shape the global future.

By Natalie Nougayrède in the Guardian

4. Lessons a year after Typhoon Haiyan: The pilot social safety net in place before Haiyan struck the Philippines helped the country better protect families after the disaster.

By Mohamad Al-Arief at the World Bank Group Social Protection and Labor Global Practice

5. A handful of simple policy reforms — not requiring new funding — can set the table for breaking the cycle of multigenerational poverty.

By Anne Mosle in the Huffington Post

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Syria

13.6 Million Displaced Syrians and Iraqis Face Supplies Shortage, UN Says

TURKEY-SYRIA-CONFLICT-KURDS
A Syrian Kurdish boy looks on as he stands in a refugee camp in the town of Suruc, Turkey, on November 5, 2014. Aris Messinis—AFP/Getty Images

Funding shortages have forced relief workers to triage shipments to children and refugees in wintry climates

More than 13 million people have fled from conflict zones in Iraq and Syria in an ongoing humanitarian crisis that the United Nations’ refugee agency says could push relief efforts to a breaking point.

The updated tallies include 7.2 million displaced persons within Syria, nearly half of whom have fled to neighboring countries, as well as 1.9 million displaced persons in Iraq.

While the agency has spent $154 million on winter supplies, representatives report that inventories are running dangerously low. Without an additional $58.5 million in donations, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees would be forced to ration basic supplies, including blankets and warm clothing, according to a press release.

“UNHCR is having to make some very tough choices over who to prioritize,” said the agency’s chief spokesperson Melissa Fleming. Shipments would be targeted to young children and refugees in cold, high altitude climates. “For those we’re unable to prioritize, the conditions could nonetheless be very tough,” she said.

TIME Iraq

ISIS Leader Injured in Air Strike, Iraqi Officials Say

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was hit Saturday during a meeting with militants, though not much is known

Iraqi authorities announced on Sunday that an air strike wounded Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, leader of the militant group the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS).

He was hit Saturday in the town of Qaim in Iraq’s Anbar province during a meeting with militant forces, anonymous Iraqi officials told the Associated Press.

The Defense and Interior Ministries of Iraq said in statements that al-Baghdadi was injured, but they did not elaborate on the injury or the air strike. The Pentagon offered no additional information.

Since al-Baghdadi, thought to be in his early 40s, took over the militants in 2010, he has grown it from a local al-Qaeda branch into a powerful, independent Islamist extremist group.

The U.S. and allied forces began launching air strikes against ISIS targets in September.

[AP]

TIME Iraq

Iraqi Officials Say ISIS Leader Wounded in Airstrike

This image made from video posted on a militant website on July 5, 2014 purports to show the leader of the Islamic State group Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi delivering a sermon at a mosque in Iraq.
The leader of the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, delivers a sermon at a mosque in Iraq in this image made from a video posted on a militant website on July 5, 2014 AP

BAGHDAD — Iraqi officials said Sunday that an airstrike wounded the leader of the Islamic State group, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Pentagon officials said they had no immediate information on such a strike or al-Baghdadi being wounded.

Iraq’s Defense and Interior Ministries issued statements saying al-Baghdadi had been wounded, without elaborating.

An Interior Ministry intelligence official told The Associated Press that al-Baghdadi was hit during a meeting Saturday with militants in the town of Qaim in Iraq’s western Anbar province. The official, citing informants within the militant group, said the strikes wounded al-Baghdadi. A senior Iraqi military official also said he learned in operational meetings that al-Baghdadi had been wounded.

Neither knew the extent of al-Baghdadi’s apparent injuries. Both spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss confidential material. State television later also reported that al-Baghdadi had been wounded.

Al-Baghdadi, an ambitious Iraqi militant believed to be in his early 40s, has a $10 million U.S. bounty on his head. Since taking the reins of the group in 2010, he has transformed it from a local branch of al-Qaida into an independent transnational military force, positioning himself as perhaps the pre-eminent figure in the global jihadi community.

A U.S.-led coalition has been launching airstrikes on Islamic State militants and facilities in Iraq and Syria for months as part of an effort to give Iraqi forces the time and space to mount a more effective offensive. The Islamic State had gained ground across northern and western Iraq in a lightning advance in June and July, causing several of Iraq’s army and police divisions to fall into disarray.

On Friday, U.S. President Barack Obama authorized the deployment of up to 1,500 more American troops to bolster Iraqi forces, including into Anbar province, where fighting with Islamic State militants has been fierce. The plan could boost the total number of American troops in Iraq to 3,100. There now are about 1,400 U.S. troops in Iraq, out of the 1,600 previously authorized.

TIME national secrurity

Obama Authorizes Deployment of 1,500 Troops to Iraq

The move will nearly double the number of U.S. troops on the ground in Iraq. The administration is also requesting an additional $5.6 billion to fight ISIS

President Barack Obama authorized the deployment of as many as 1,500 additional troops to Iraq as a part of his effort to combat the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), the White House announced Friday afternoon.

The Obama administration is also requesting $5.6 billion in funding for the current fiscal year to fund operations against ISIS, the White House announced, of which $3.4 billion will go directly into the U.S. air campaign against the militant group in Iraq and Syria. The balance of the funding would be used to equip Iraqi and Kurdish forces, as fund State Department efforts against ISIS.

The new U.S. troop deployment reflects a doubling of the American troop commitment to the country. Roughly 1,400 American troops are currently in Iraq training and advising Iraqi and Kurdish forces as well as protecting American diplomatic facilities in the country.

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said the U.S. forces would expand the American military’s training and advisory mission in Iraq outside of Baghdad and Erbil. The U.S. troops, while armed for self-defense, would not be involved in direct combat, the White House said.

The additional troop request follows an official request from the government of Iraq, the administration said.

“The United States and its coalition partners will continue to confront the threat of ISIL with strength and resolve as we seek to degrade and ultimately defeat [ISIS] through a comprehensive and sustained counterterrorism campaign,” said Earnest in a statement.

A senior administration official told reporters that the additional troop deployment follows a U.S. review of its efforts to assist Iraqi forces, which determined that there should be more flexibility in training Iraqi forces. “Now we are matching resources against that analysis,” the official said. “We think this gives us a very solid foundation within the country to provide support to the Iraqis as they take the fight to [ISIS].”

The official rejected the notion that the additional troops reflected “mission creep,” saying the mission remains the same. “We are keeping the limiting factor on the mission,” the official said, referencing the no-combat provisions. “We are adding personnel to better carry out the mission.”

Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby said in a statement that U.S. Central Command would stand up two “expeditionary advise and assist operations centers” outside of Baghdad and Erbil. “These centers will be supported by an appropriate array of force protection capabilities,” he said.

“U.S. Central Command will establish several sites across Iraq that will accommodate the training of 12 Iraqi brigades, specifically nine Iraqi army and three Peshmerga brigades,” he added. “These sites will be located in northern, western, and southern Iraq. Coalition partners will join U.S. personnel at these locations to help build Iraqi capacity and capability. The training will be funded through the request for an Iraq Train and Equip Fund that the administration will submit to Congress as well as from the Government of Iraq.”

TIME Turkey

Islamist Militants Are Setting Off to Wage Jihad by Boarding Cruise Ships

Cruising jihadists aren't ponying up for some wholesome, organized fun — they're en route to Syria and Iraq to fight for groups like ISIS

Interpol says foreigners seeking to join Islamist militant groups are beginning to take cruise ships to their war-torn destinations rather than go through airports, where the security is comparatively much tighter.

“There is evidence that the individuals, especially in Europe, are traveling mostly to Izmit and other places to engage in this type of activity,” said Pierre St. Hilaire, director of counterterrorism at Interpol, reports the Associated Press.

Izmit is a coastal town in Turkey, which is a popular gateway into Syria and Iraq for foreigners bent on joining militant forces like ISIS.

Seeking to close the loophole, international police speaking in Monaco also announced plans to expand I-Checkit, a program that lets airlines, banks and hotels screen customer passport information against Interpol’s database of Stolen and Lost Travel Documents.

I-Checkit has been tested at AirAsia, a low-cost airline based in Southeast Asia, and has since June led to 18 people not being allowed to board their flights because of security concerns raised.

Read more at the Associated Press.

TIME White House

Report: Obama Sent Secret Letter to Ayatullah Khamenei

From Left: Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Barack Obama
From left: Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatullah Ali Khamenei and U.S. President Barack Obama Reuters; Getty Images

The White House has not confirmed the letter

President Barack Obama wrote a secret letter to Iran’s Ayatullah Ali Khamenei last month, laying out a shared interest in fighting the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), according to a media report based on anonymous sources.

Obama used the letter to try to win support for the U.S.-led strikes against the Sunni Islamist group and to push for a deal over Iran’s nuclear program ahead of a Nov. 24 deadline, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Khamenei, Iran’s Supreme Leader, has been critical of U.S.-led strikes, claiming the West is using ISIS as an excuse to intervene in the Middle East, and has been highly skeptical of the nuclear talks being conducted under the purview of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.

At a White House news conference on Thursday, spokesperson Josh Earnest said he could not confirm the letter.

Read more at the Wall Street Journal

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