TIME

ISIS Claims Australian Involved in Suicide Attack

ISIS claims that the Melbourne teenager blew himself up in coordinated attacks in Iraq.

The Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria claimed on social media that an Australian teenager who joined its ranks blew himself up in an attack in Anbar province, west of Baghdad.

The extremist group circulated on Twitter on Wednesday an image that claims to show 18-year-old James Bilardi of Melbourne preparing for an attack and appears to show him driving a battered SUV, Australia’s ABC reports. The images and claims—which use Bilardi’s pseudonym Abu Abdullah al-Australi—have not been independently confirmed.

“There are unconfirmed reports to this effect. This is a horrific situation, an absolutely horrific situation,” Prime Minister Tony Abbott said, according to ABC. “It shows the lure of this death cult to impressionable youngsters.”

An estimated 90 Australian citizens have joined ISIS, according to Australian security forces, and twenty have died.

On Wednesday, at least a dozen car bombs exploded in a coordinated attack in Anbar province targeting Iraqi forces.

[ABC]

TIME Military

Iran Looms Over ISIS Fight as Baghdad-Tehran Alliance Moves Into Tikrit

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Army Gen. Martin Dempsey (L), U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter (C) and Secretary of State John Kerry testify at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on "The President's Request for Authorization to Use Force Against ISIS: Military and Diplomatic Efforts" on Capitol Hill in Washington on March 11, 2015.
Kevin Lamargue—Reuters Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Army Gen. Martin Dempsey (L), U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter (C) and Secretary of State John Kerry testify at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on "The President's Request for Authorization to Use Force Against ISIS: Military and Diplomatic Efforts" on Capitol Hill in Washington on March 11, 2015.

Lawmakers press U.S. high command over Iran's growing influence

The future of Iraq and Syria was supposed to be the focus of Wednesday’s hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. No surprise there, given the fact that the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria occupies about a third of each nation.

But the subplot — like a shark’s fin endlessly circling Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, Joint Chiefs chairman General Martin Dempsey and Secretary of State John Kerry — was Iran.

Iran came up at the hearing 67 times, nearly as much as Iraq (79) and more than Syria (44).

The hearing carried echoes of similar ones more than a decade ago that portrayed Iraq as a threat worth going to war to stop. “I think they have the same suspicion about us that we have of them,” Dempsey said of his Iranian counterparts.

Republican lawmakers pointedly asked the trio if the Obama Administration was averting its eyes from Iran’s growing presence in Iraq in hopes of greasing the skids for a nuclear deal with Tehran. “I believe that much of our strategy with regards to ISIS is being driven by a desire not to upset Iran so that they don’t walk away from the negotiating table on the deal that you’re working on,” Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida said.

“Absolutely not in the least,” Kerry countered.

But as the hearing droned on, Iraq was succeeding in pushing ISIS fighters out of Tikrit after a 10-day battle. While Baghdad did it with no American help, it had substantial aid from neighboring Iran.

Dempsey detailed just how extensive Iran’s help was in the battle for Tikrit: 20,000 of the 24,000 troops fighting ISIS in and around the city, or more than 80%, were “Iranian trained and somewhat Iranian equipped” Shi‘ite militia.

Tikrit carries a key lesson: Iraq can beat ISIS without U.S. assistance, so long as it has Iran by its side. “If it’s Iran that is at the tip of the spear here, if they’re the ones sponsoring the victories … they’re going to have influence in Iraq,” Republican Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin said. “That’s going to be very, very difficult, very tenuous, very dangerous for the regional peace.”

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs listed six things that concern him about Iran’s growing role in Iraq and the region:

Four of them are regional, two of them are global. The four regional concerns are: surrogates and proxies, some of which are present in Iraq and Syria and Lebanon and other places, and Yemen; weapons trafficking; ballistic missile technologies; and mines that they’ve developed with the intent to be able to close the Straits of Hormuz if certain circumstances would cause them to do that. And then the two global threats, of course, are their nuclear aspirations. Not their nuclear aspirations for a peaceful nuclear program, but for a weapon, which is being dealt with through the negotiations on a diplomatic track. And then cyber is the other global threat they pose.

Dempsey said Iran’s role in the fight for Tikrit is “positive,” but warned of what might happen next. “We are all concerned about what happens after the drums stop beating and [ISIS] is defeated,” he said. “We’re very concerned about that.”

Later Wednesday, Carter noted that “there are actually several important battles going on, in some of which the Iranians play no role at all.”

Back at the hearing, Republican Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, the committee chairman, wondered aloud if the Iranian-backed militia might attack the 3,000 American troops currently in Iraq.

“We have no indications that they intend to turn on us,” Dempsey said.

That’s hardly reassuring, given Iran’s track record in Iraq. After the 2003 U.S. invasion, Pentagon officials say Tehran provided Shi‘ite militias inside Iraq with a sophisticated form of IEDs. These so-called explosively formed penetrators killed hundreds of U.S. troops.

Read next: Why Iran Believes ISIS is a U.S. Creation

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME Iraq

Iraqi Troops and Shi‘ite Militias Have Retaken Large Areas of Tikrit From ISIS

IRAQ-CONFLICT
Ahmad al-Rubaye—AFP/Getty Images Iraqi soldiers raise their weapons as they cheer on the outskirts of the city of Tikrit as they prepare to launch a military operation to take control of the city from ISIS on March 10, 2015.

The operation was the Iraqi government's largest to date in the fight against ISIS

After a week of intense fighting, Iraqi and Shi‘ite forces have retaken major parts of Tikrit — a strategically vital city in Iraq’s Sunni Triangle — from ISIS. Iranian military officials were also reportedly involved in the city’s recapture.

The battle, involving over 30,000 Iraqi soldiers and allied Shi‘ite militia, was the largest government operation to date and may be a prelude to recapturing Mosul, the largest city under ISIS control, the New York Times reports.

The U.S. was notably absent in direct military offensives in Tikrit, with some officials articulating unease about the central role of Shi‘ite militias and the Iranians in the recapture of Tikrit.

The Iraqi Prime Minister’s spokesperson Rafid Jaboori told the New York Times that the U.S., along with Kurdish forces, would play “a significant role” in retaking Mosul, adding that the U.S. and Iran shared an overarching objective of crushing ISIS.

Meanwhile, in northern Syria, U.S. air strikes have enabled Kurdish forces to reclaim dozens of ISIS-controlled villages, the U.S. Central Command reported.

[NY Times]

Read next: Why the Fight Against ISIS Has to Go Through the Cities

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME Military

Why the Fight Against ISIS Has to Go Through the Cities

Operation against Daesh militants in Iraq's Tikrit
Ali Mohammed / Anadolu Agency / Getty Images Clashes between Iraqi forces and ISIS sent smoke billowing into the skies over Tikrit on Monday.

Iraqi forces reportedly move into Tikrit after more than a week of fighting

Urban warfare is the only way the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria will be defeated. That’s because while it occupies a wide desert swath of those two nations, it’s holed up in its cities. In part, that’s to shield the Islamic militants from attack, but it’s also because the rest of the land they occupy is barren and desolate.

The 10-day battle now underway for Tikrit, Saddam Hussein’s hometown 80 miles north of Baghad, is simply the first domino in a row of cities that must fall if ISIS is to be beaten. Iraqi forces and their Iranian-led Shi’ite militia allies moved a step closer Tuesday as they reportedly drove ISIS fighters from large parts of the city amid indications that many militants were in retreat.

If the Iraqi government succeeds in retaking Tikrit, it will push on toward other critical towns like ISIS-occupied Fallujah. The most important domino is Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, and the base from which ISIS controls northern Iraq.

“If you look at the area that is claimed right now by ISIS as a sort of block of territory that it controls, actually it’s not a continuous area; it’s a network of cities and the links, the roads, the rivers and trails between those cities that connect them,” guerrilla warfare guru David Kilcullen told Australian television Tuesday. “Inevitably, as we get into a ground war against ISIS, it’s going to play out in these urban centers which really are the basis for ISIS’s power in Iraq and also in Syria.”

The Pentagon is debating whether or not to ask President Obama to send reinforcements to bolster the 3,000 U.S. troops already on Iraqi soil to accompany front-line Iraqi units in the fight for Mosul. While U.S. troops have been training Iraqi forces and conducting air strikes, Obama has barred them from the front lines, where they could act as spotters for those air strikes and garner intelligence.

Some 14,000 U.S. troops fought to drive Sunni militants out of Fallujah in late 2004. “I am sorry that some of you may have to go back,” Senator Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., told General Joseph Dunford, the Marine commandant, at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing Tuesday. “The only commitment I will make, as a senator from South Carolina, is that if you go back, you go back to win and that we get this right this time.”

Urban warfare requires the attacker to clear his enemy room by room, building by building, block by block, neighborhood by neighborhood—and then secure the cleared areas to ensure the enemy doesn’t return. City combat blunts the attackers’ advantages. “Urban canyons” offers hideouts for foes and civilians, as well as sniper nests and underground lairs from which combatants can strike. Buildings create vast “dead spaces” for an enemy to exploit. They hinder communication and mobility. Overhead wires can bring down choppers and drones.

ISIS is well aware of those advantages. “This is not an enemy that is sitting around in the open desert waiting for me to come find it and either use U.S. or French aircraft to attack it,” Army General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, said Sunday while aboard a French aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf. “They did some of that in the beginning and paid the price. So the enemy has adapted and they have developed tactics and techniques that make them a little more difficult to find.”

In other words, they’re hiding in the cities. Attackers in urban environments, for example, can’t survey the entire battlefield and instead see only bits and pieces; it’s like playing chess while viewing only four squares on the board. This battlefield compression means that low-ranking fighters must often make life-and-death decisions.

These choices come fast and furious when you’re fighting downtown: historically, 90% of the targets are less than 50 yards away and seen for only seconds. Killing innocent civilians—or your own men—is a risk that goes with the terrain. A quarter of all explosive rounds turn into duds when they glance off walls and roofs. About one of every three street-fighting combatants ends up as a casualty. It takes a minimum of three attackers to root out a single foe dug into a city; the Pentagon prefers a ratio of 10-to-1.

The Baghdad military’s lack of city-fighting skills could lead to drawn-out bloodbaths, where ISIS fighters booby-trap buildings and set up kill zones for advancing Iraqi troops. “Iraqi security forces are not terribly proficient in urban warfare,” James Clapper, the U.S. director of national intelligence, told Charlie Rose Mar. 3.

Ancient Muslim sectarian strife also makes the fight for Tikrit and other ISIS-held Iraqi cities challenging. The fact that Iranian-backed Shi’ite militias are leading some of the units attacking the city could make retaking it and others more difficult. The militias are allied with the Shi’ite-led Iraqi government. But both ISIS and most residents of the Iraqi territory it occupies are Sunnis. That could make the residents reluctant to join forces with their Shi’ite liberators, as well as keep them from abandoning their co-religionists.

The kind of urban warfare facing the Iraqi forces “is very, very different, very complex, requires a great deal of skill, great deal of precision to be successful,” Marine Lieutenant General Vincent Stewart, chief of the Defense Intelligence Agency, warned Congress recently.

Ultimately, Iraqi forces could opt for patience. They could cordon off a city with a porous ring of tanks and armored vehicles. That would let civilians flee while keeping ISIS reinforcements and supplies out. Pressure could be ratcheted up by shutting off water and power.

One way or another, with enough fighters, weapons, time and will, the attackers generally prevail. The real challenge is making sure time and will are on your side before advancing into the city.

TIME Iraq

Turkey PM Warns That Assault on ISIS in Tikrit Could Ignite Sectarian Tensions

Shi’ite fighters launch a rocket towards ISIS militants during heavy fighting in Salahuddin province, Iraq, March 4, 2015.
Mahmoud Raouf—Reuters Shi’ite fighters launch a rocket towards ISIS militants during heavy fighting in Salahuddin province, Iraq, March 4, 2015.

Warnings that a defeat for ISIS could lead to bloody Sunni-Shi'ite warfare in Iraq

By sending Shi’ite militias and Iranian forces to battle ISIS in Tikrit, Iraq risks stoking the sectarian divide that nourishes the extremist group. So warns Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.

“If Daesh is a big threat in Iraq, another threat is Shi’ite militias,” Davutoglu told TIME in a Wednesday interview, referring to the Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria by its Arabic initials. “This is very important. If Daesh evacuates Tikrit or Mosul and if Shi’ite militias come in, then there will be sectarian war. Therefore all these cities, Sunni populated areas, should be liberated by the inhabitants of those cities.”

Davutoglu’s warning raises the question of whether Iraq’s leadership has changed as much as U.S. officials hope. ISIS swept up the city of Fallujah last spring, and Mosul, Tikrit and other Sunni regions in June, in part by offering itself as protector of a minority Sunni population that had been excluded and even persecuted by the central government in Baghdad, which is dominated by autocrats who have overtly favored the country’s Shi’ite majority. Iraq’s corrupt and poorly led military, also dominated by Shi’ites, fled the battlefield en masse as ISIS advanced last summer, while many Sunni tribes essentially welcomed ISIS. The first major stand government troops made was at Samarra, home of a major religious shrine revered by Shi’ites.

The offensive on Tikrit, which began just days ago, is the first major counterattack aimed at ISIS, and observers are concerned that two-thirds of the force of 30,000 attackers are Shi’ite militia. They are backed by Iranian warplanes, artillery, rockets and advisors, including Revolutionary Guards Quds Force commander Qassem Suleimani, who was photographed near the front line on Wednesday, drinking tea with beaming members of the Badr Brigades—a militia trained and equipped by Iran. “This is the most overt conduct of Iranian support, in the form of artillery and other things,” Joint Chiefs of Staff chair General Dempsey, told a Senate committee on Tuesday, noting that U.S. warplanes are playing no role in the Tikrit assault. “Frankly, it will only be a problem if it results in sectarianism.”

It’s a big if. Turkey’s Davutoglu notes there is scant evidence of the local Sunnis who are supposedly being trained for a later assault on Mosul, the Iraqi government having promoted legislation that allows Sunnis to form “national guard” units that amount to militias of their own. “[The Sunni guards] should have a role,” the Turkish premier said. “In Iraq the government passed a new law forming national guards. But unfortunately now Shiite militias form national guards, while Sunnis in Anbar or in Tikrit and in Mosul, they were not allowed to. For us, Sunnis and Shiites are our brothers, we don’t make any difference. But we don’t want to see another wave of sectarian war.”

Davutoglu said he voiced the warning to Iraqi prime minister Haider al-Abadi in a conversation 10 days earlier. Al-Abadi has cast himself as a more moderate and inclusive Shi’ite leader than the highly sectarian premier he replaced, Nour al-Maliki. But the country remains sharply divided on ethnic and sectarian lines: Kurds in the north, Sunnis in the west, and Shi’ites everywhere else. The danger is of a wholesale sectarian blood-letting like the civil war that left tens of thousands dead in 2006 and 2007, when U.S. troops were still in the country. ISIS, with its extremist Sunni orientation, is both a product and an agent of the strife, having slaughtered thousands of Shi’ites during its summer blitzkrieg, including more than 1,000 recruits at a military base outside Tikrit in June. The men were lined up, made to lie in freshly dug trenches, and executed on camera.

Human rights group warn that Shi’ite militias are already exacting revenge, burning down buildings and carrying out extrajudicial killings in Sunni areas taken back from ISIS. “The day of judgment is coming,” Badr Brigades commander Hadi al-Ameri (who was transport minister under al-Maliki) warned residents of the Diyala Province town of Muqdadiyaa on Dec. 29. “We will attack the area until nothing is left. Is my message clear?” Clear enough. The question is whether anyone beyond Iraq was listening.

 

TIME Iraq

ISIS Set Fire to Oil Fields Near Tikrit

Shi'ite fighters fire a rocket during clashes with Islamic State militants in Salahuddin province, March 1, 2015.
Ahmed Al-Hussaini—Reuters Shi'ite fighters fire a rocket during clashes with ISIS militants in Salahuddin province, March 1, 2015.

Iraqi soldiers and Shia militia have surrounded the ISIS-held city

Fighters from the Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) set fire to the Ajil oil wells in east of the city of Tikrit in hopes of stopping aerial attacks that would drive them out of the oilfield, witnesses tell Reuters.

The oil field used to produce about 25,000 barrels per day of crude oil before ISIS took it over in June.

Shi’ite militia and Iraqi soldiers began moving through Ajil Monday in an assault on ISIS-held Tikrit. Security sources told BBC that the forces surrounding the city from the east, south and north have captured villages and oil fields east of the city, but that ISIS was fighting back with suicide bombers and snipers.

[Reuters]

TIME Military

Concern Over Iran’s Nukes Drowns Out Its Growing Role in Iraq

Tehran helps Baghdad try to retake Tikrit as U.S. watches

Consternation over Iran boiled Tuesday on Capitol Hill as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared Tehran’s push for nuclear weapons “could well threaten the survival of my country.” But over at the Pentagon, the Iran focus wasn’t on Netanyahu but Iraq. That’s because Iran is playing a key role in Baghdad’s fight to retake Tikrit from the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria, while the U.S. is confined to the sidelines.

After the U.S. invested $26 billion rebuilding the Iraqi army over the past decade, some Pentagon officials found it disconcerting to see Iranian-backed Shi’ite militias leading the charge into Saddam Hussein’s hometown. The Iranians, of course, are relishing the opportunity: Hussein was running Iraq when it launched the eight-year Iran-Iraq war that ended in a stalemate in 1988 with roughly 200,000 killed on each side.

American concern is justified: having Iranian-backed Shi’ite forces storm largely-Sunni Tikrit risks turning the conflict against the Sunni ISIS forces into a sectarian conflict that could balloon into a civil war. “It’s absolutely key that [the Iraqi government] make sure that they have provisions in place to accommodate the Sunnis,” Army General Lloyd Austin, chief of the U.S. Central Command, told the House Armed Services Committee Tuesday. “That lack of inclusion is what got us to this point, and I think the only way that we can ensure that we don’t go back there is if we have the right steps taken by the government.” Fewer than 1,000 of the 30,000 fighters battling ISIS for Tikrit are Sunni tribal fighters, according to Iraqi estimates.

The populations of both Iran and Iraq are primarily Shi’ite. Since Saddam’s hanging in 2006, the Sunnis of western Iraq have been treated poorly by the Shi’ite-dominated government in Baghdad. Many Sunnis welcomed ISIS’s move into the region last year, when it killed more than 1,000 Iraqi Shi’ite troops who had been stationed at a base known, when the Americans were there, as Camp Speicher. Some of the Shi’ites attacking Tikrit are bent on revenge for the slaughter, which could exacerbate intra-Muslim tensions.

Iran, according to reports from the front and Pentagon officials, is backing Iraqi forces with air power, artillery fire and advisers guiding Shi’ite militiamen, who account for perhaps 10,000 of the fighters trying to retake Tikrit. “This is the most overt conduct of Iranian support, in the form of artillery and other things,” Army General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, told the Senate Armed Services Committee later Tuesday. “Frankly, it will only be a problem if it results in sectarianism.”

Meanwhile, the U.S. — which has conducted thousands of air strikes against ISIS targets since August — has been grounded in the battle to retake Tikrit. The daily U.S. tally of air strikes launched Wednesday ticked off targets around al Asad, Bayji, Mosul, Ramadi and Sinjar. But there were no strikes in or around Tikrit, although U.S. drones are keeping a nervous eye on the fighting (“We have good overhead imagery,” is how Austin put it).

Iran has reportedly dispatched commanders notorious for their killings of Sunnis to the fight. That may lead Tikritis to view those seeking to free their city from ISIS’s grip not as rescuers but as bloody vengeance-seekers.

As the U.S. and Israel work to keep Iran’s nuclear genie bottled up, both Washington and Tehran have said they are not operating together inside Iraq. “We don’t coordinate with them,” Austin, whose command oversees U.S. military forces inside the country, repeated Tuesday.

In other words, they’re allied, but not allies. “The battle between Iran and ISIS doesn’t turn Iran into a friend of America,” Netanyahu told Congress on Tuesday. “Iran and ISIS are competing for the crown of militant Islam … They just disagree among themselves who will be the ruler of that empire.”

TIME Military

A Mosul Preview: Iraq Government Launches Attack on Tikrit

IRAQ-UNREST-JIHADIST-MOSUL
Ahmad Al-Rubaye—AFP/Getty Images A member of the Iraqi antiterrorism forces waves the national flag in celebration after securing a checkpoint from Sunni militants in the village of Badriyah, west of the Iraqi city of Mosul, on Aug. 19, 2014

A force of 30,000 Sunni and Shi‘ite fighters, both soldiers and militia, launched a large-scale offensive Monday to push the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria out of Tikrit, Saddam Hussein’s hometown.

Eighty miles northwest of Baghdad, Tikrit could serve as a model for the coming — and much bigger — battle to retake Mosul. ISIS seized Iraq’s second largest city, as well as Tikrit, last summer in a humiliating defeat for the U.S.-trained Iraqi forces.

General Abdul-Wahab al-Saadi, the local Iraqi military commander, told Iraqi state television that the assault was “going on as planned,” primarily from the east. Iraqi warplanes were attacking targets in and around Tikrit, Iraqi TV added. A Pentagon spokesman said that while the U.S. government had received prior notice of the attack, no U.S. warplanes are involved. He also declined to comment on reports that Iranian forces are playing a role.

Pentagon officials said the Iraqi army’s success in retaking Tikrit is vital if the planned assault on Mosul is to remain on track. In recent months, the timetable for launching that counteroffensive has ranged from next month to next year, according to U.S. military officials.

Mosul is ISIS’s key Iraqi redoubt, and so long as it controls the city it will hold sway over much of northern Iraq. Tikrit, three hours south of Mosul on Iraq’s Route 1, is an important transit hub between Baghdad and Mosul. It would give the central government an important logistical hub from which to fuel its Mosul offensive.

Iraqi forces have failed in previous efforts to retake Tikrit. But Monday’s offensive comes after Iraq’s new Prime Minister, Haider al-Abadi, visited Iraqi forces on the eve of the operation and said “zero hour” for taking back Tikrit had arrived.

He addressed the Iraqi people in a televised address Monday. “Today, God willing, we start an important military campaign to liberate the citizens of Salahuddin province which includes Samarra, Dhuluiya, Balad, Dujail, al-Alam, al-Door, and Tikrit and other areas in the province from ISIS,” al-Abadi said. “Our goal is to liberate people from the oppression and terrorism of Daesh,” he added, using the Arabic acronym for ISIS.

Western Iraq’s population largely belongs to the Sunni Muslim sect, as does ISIS. The prior, Shi‘ite-dominated Iraqi government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, angered Sunnis with its oppressive governance that sidelined Sunnis. It is not clear whether or not the more inclusive approach of al-Abadi, also a Shi‘ite, since taking office in September has succeeded in easing those wounds.

On Feb. 19, a senior official at U.S. Central Command in Tampa, which oversees U.S. military operations in Iraq, told reporters that U.S. officials hoped an Iraqi-led attack on Mosul could begin as soon as April. “But by the same token, if they’re not ready, if the conditions are not set, if all the equipment that they need is not physically there and they are [not] trained to a degree in which they will be successful, we have not closed the door on continuing to slide that to the right” further into the future, the Central Command official said.

Despite that caveat, some U.S. military officials have derided any suggestion that the Iraqi military would be sufficiently trained and outfitted to storm Mosul as soon as April.

Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon spokesman, said last Friday that it still might happen. “This is going to be and must be an Iraqi-led operation, and that more critically, we’re not going to be able to go, nor do we want to go any faster than the Iraqis are ready to go,” he said. “I just can’t put a date certain on there and say it’s going to happen at a certain time, nor am I prepared to, you know, rule something out and tell you definitively, ‘Well, April’s out.’”

TIME Iraq

Iraqi Museum Looted During War Reopens in Baghdad

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi visits the Iraqi National Museum in Baghdad
Reuters Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, right, visits the Iraqi National Museum in Baghdad Feb. 28, 2015.

The re-opening was brought forward as a response to the destruction of art by ISIS in Mosul

Iraq’s national museum has reopened, some twelve years after being looted during the U.S. military operations in Baghdad.

The museum, which places back on display priceless artifacts from ancient Mesopotamia, was intentionally re-opened ahead of schedule, the BBC reports, as a response to the recent destruction by the militant group Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria of sculptures at a museum in Mosul, Iraq.

“Those barbaric, criminal terrorists are trying to destroy the heritage of mankind and Iraq’s civilization,” said Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.

One-third of the 15,000 items stolen from the National Museum of Iraq during the Iraq War have reportedly been recovered.

[BBC]

TIME Iraq

ISIS May Have Committed Genocide Against Iraq Minorities, Report Says

IRAQ-CONFLICT-IS-YAZIDIS
SAFIN HAMED—AFP/Getty Images Members of the Yazidi minority search for clues on February 3, 2015, that might lead them to missing relatives in the remains of people killed by the Islamic State (IS) jihadist group, a day after Kurdish forces discovered a mass grave near the Iraqi village of Sinuni, in the northwestern Sinjar area.

"Many minority communities continue to live under the threat of mass killing in Iraq," an advocate said

The Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) has systematically targeted minorities in Iraq and may be guilty of committing genocide, a new report from human rights groups says.

The report aims to shed light on the atrocities committed against minority religious groups, including Christians, Yazidis and Turkmen. Based largely on eyewitness accounts and field visits across Iraq, the report says ISIS has committed summary executions, sexual violence and torture that amount to crimes against humanity and possibly genocide.

“Information exists which would support a prima facie case that ISIS forces have committed the crime of genocide against religious minorities in northern Iraq, in particular against the Yezidi minority,” the report says.

The report, released in Brussels on Friday, comes days after ISIS kidnapped at least 90 Assyrian Christian men, women and children in Syria.

MORE: Inside ISIS, a TIME Special Report

ISIS overran large swathes of Iraq last summer and seized the Iraqi city of Mosul in June. Reports of the group’s persecution of the Yazidi population in the country’s north in August helped pushed the White House to launch airstrikes against the extremist group, but the report says the minority groups continue to be at risk even as the U.S.-led coalition air-strikes have halted ISIS’s advance in Iraq. It calls on the international community to provide more support to Iraq’s displaced and persecuted minorities and to bring the ISIS perpetrators to justice.

‘While military action against ISIS dominates the headlines, to date there has been no serious effort to bring the perpetrators of crimes against minorities to justice,” William Spencer, director of the Institute of International Law and Human Rights, said in a statement. The report was co-authored by IILHR, Minority Rights Group International, No Peace Without Justice and The Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization.

Thousands of minority women and girls have been raped and forced into marriage, and the minority groups represent a disproportionate number of the more than 2 million people who have been displaced since January 2014, the report found. About 8,000 civilians were killed in the last six months of 2014, according to the United Nations.

“Many minority communities continue to live under the threat of mass killing in Iraq,” Mays Al-Juboori, civilian rights officer at MRG, said in a statement.

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