Tributes to James Foley

James’ mother, Diane Foley, posted this message on Facebook:

We have never been prouder of our son Jim. He gave his life trying to expose the world to the suffering of the Syrian people.

We implore the kidnappers to spare the lives of the remaining hostages. Like Jim, they are innocents. They have no control over American government policy in Iraq, Syria or anywhere in the world.

We thank Jim for all the joy he gave us. He was an extraordinary son, brother, journalist and person. Please respect our privacy in the days ahead as we mourn and cherish Jim.

Habiba Hamid writes: This journalist, Foley who was beheaded, I watched the video. Something shifted in me. This wasn’t Lee Rigby‘s mentally unwell killer. This was someone from us – who killed this innocent journo. This killer wasn’t part of a resistance against oppression. This wasn’t an aggrieved Chechen, a tortured Bosnian or persecuted Uyghur. He wasn’t a brainwashed convert sucked into one of the MI5 Hizby cults. This wasn’t someone demanding his rights or fighting back against drone strikes or territorial grabs or Israeli ethnic cleansing. Foley’s killer had slaughtered an honourable man in cold, calculated, lucid terms. Foley’s journalism, his timeline was for Muslim uprisings, and he shined a light – against Assad, against Gaddafi. And then I went to his twitter account and saw Foley followed me on twitter. And I see again that this Foley was an innocent man who sought to expose wars of aggression against Muslims – there is nothing that separates us. ‘Only Connect’ – and with it comes the realisation that we are all closer to Foley than IS. I mourn his loss and think of his family. Nothing is sacred and no quarter can be given, now.


James Foley: U.S. and U.K. try to identify ISIS militant with British accent

The Guardian reports: Prof Peter Neumann, director of the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation at King’s College London, said the militant was chosen to front the video to cause maximum impact in the west. “This is significant because it signifies a turn towards threatening the west. They are saying we’re going to come after you if you bomb us,” he said.

Neumann said British fighters had been carrying out “horrific acts” like beheadings, torture and executions for a year and a half, but this appeared to be the first with a western victim. He added: “They clearly wanted someone who spoke fluent English because they wanted it to create maximum impact, especially in the US, and because there are not that many Americans it was probably the best second option. They want this to have maximum impact on the west and for parts of it to be streamed on American television networks they needed an English speaker, so it was more about the English language than the nationality.

“It’s not significant that British fighters have been beheading and torturing because that’s been happening for a year and a half. That sort of horrific stuff is something British jihadis have been doing for some time. You will find a number of instances of British jihadis executing, torturing and beheading other people – and we know it’s not just Brits but other Europeans doing it – and occasionally this has come to the surface. Most people beheaded before were not westerners so that’s why this is different. The significant thing is that this was an American and was connected to a direct message that ‘we are targeting you’.”

Leading figures in the counter-terrorism field said it would be possible for intelligence services to identify the militant, despite it being filmed in an unknown location with the fighter dressed head to toe in black. Dr Claire Hardaker, a linguistics experts at Lancaster University, studied the clip and said the man’s vowels marked him out as likely from the south-east of England, but most likely from London. “We’re definitely looking at a British accent, from the south and probably from London, Kent or Essex. He does something interesting when he says ‘Muslims’. You typically get ‘Muzlims’ but he says something closer to ‘Musslims’.”

Dr Afzal Ashraf, of the Royal United Services Institute, said many of the estimated 500 British fighters in Syria and Iraq had left criminal pasts in the UK so were likely to be known to police. Intelligence agencies would also be using linguistics technology to track down the man, he said. [Continue reading...]


Palestinians decry Gaza journalist killings

Al Jazeera reports: Hala Hamad first received the news of her husband Khaled’s death in a television report. “My family were telling me, ‘No, it’s not him,’ but I knew [from] his camera and his vest written Press on it,” she told Al Jazeera, breaking down in tears.

Twenty-four-year-old Khaled Hamad worked for a local media company in Gaza City called ‘Continue’ Production Films. He was killed alongside 28-year-old ambulance driver Fouad Jaber when an Israeli tank shell struck the ambulance in which they were travelling.

The two were in the hard-hit neighbourhood of Shujayea, as Jaber’s ambulance was one of the first to arrive to evacuate the wounded, and collect the dead bodies.

“I had an unusual feeling, something etched deep in my heart,” said Abu Fouad, about the day his son was killed. [Continue reading...]


Fighters in Al Qassam Brigade, the armed wing of Hamas

Among the reader comments that appear here, a fairly common one is a rebuke on my choice of sources and my willingness to regurgitate “the lies of the mainstream media” — or something along those lines.

I don’t find “mainstream media” a particularly useful concept because all too often it’s employed as the bluntest possible tool for media analysis.

To view a particular piece of reporting as credible or lacking in credibility simply on the basis of the commercial niche occupied by its publisher, is plain dumb. The following report illustrates my point.

An article focusing on two fighters in Hamas appears in today’s Wall Street Journal.

How can a right-wing newspaper owned by Rupert Murdoch with editorial writers like Bret Stephens, former editor-in-chief of the Jerusalem Post, provide solid reporting on Hamas? Surprisingly it can.

The report notes that Hamas is a “guerrilla army” thereby drawing a distinction between its objective nature and the politically charged designation — “terrorist” — which is applied by the U.S. and Israeli governments.

The report notes Hamas’ military accomplishments (and alludes to its recent use of drones for battlefield surveillance) and that its fighters are uniformed.

It notes that the choice to engage in armed resistance has been made by and supported by those have witnessed the futility of a peace process pursued through negotiations.

All in all, it’s a report that could profitably be read by many an Israeli who still accepts the propaganda that Israel faces a fanatical foe who values death more than life.

When the shrapnel-torn body of Ahmed Abu Thoraya returned to this city in the Gaza Strip, only one member of his family knew for sure he had been a fighter in Al Qassam Brigade, the armed wing of Hamas.

Mr. Abu Thoraya had given his brother, Mohammed, a short will before he left town on July 19. “He said ‘I’m going somewhere,’” his brother recalled recently. “I knew that he may not come back.”

The conflict in the Gaza Strip has brought the secretive guerrilla army of Hamas out of the shadows and into battle against Israel’s military for only the second time. When the brigade’s fighters are killed, Hamas street organizers eulogize them as heroes, posting images of them in fatigues and toting rockets. And families in the Gaza Strip are coming to terms with never-before-discussed identities of sons and neighbors.

The fighting has given Israel its first good look at Hamas’s street-fighting abilities since 2009—the only other time the Israeli Defense Forces have taken on large numbers of the Qassam fighters at close quarters. The Hamas militia has inflicted the heaviest death toll on Israel’s military in a decade, some 64 soldiers so far. Israel and the U.S. regard Hamas, which also has a political wing and delivers social services, as a terrorist enterprise.

On Tuesday, the latest cease-fire broke down when a salvo of rockets from the Gaza Strip landed in southern Israel, and Israel retaliated against militant targets in Gaza. Truce talks in Cairo were suspended.

“Hamas has advanced on all fronts,” said a senior official in the Israel Defense Forces. “This time when we meet them on the battlefield, they are better trained, better organized, better disciplined.”

That wasn’t the Hamas that Israel encountered in its 2009 ground invasion of Gaza. When Israel’s military entered the strip back then, Hamas fighters, for the most part, quickly melted away.

This time, Hamas surprised Israeli soldiers by using a network of tunnels under the walls and fences enclosing the Gaza Strip to emerge inside Israel. Hamas commando units that Israel believes took shape mostly in the last year carried out complex ambushes inside and outside Gaza.

Hamas’s internal communications proved more difficult for Israel to track, and Hamas exhibited a new capacity for aerial observation of Israeli troop movements. Hamas rockets, though mostly intercepted above Israel, managed to shut down Israel’s main airport for a time. [Continue reading...]


Netanyahu’s zero-sum war in Gaza

Samer Badawi writes: Just over 24 hours after reports emerged that Israel and the Palestinians – with American urging – had reached a deal to gradually end the Gaza blockade, Israel began targeting the very people with whom it had been indirectly negotiating. Following a reported assassination attempt on Hamas military wing leader Mohammed Deif, which instead killed his wife and young child, Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni said she would “always support the targeted killings of terror leaders,” adding unequivocally: “I do not negotiate with Hamas.”

But Israel’s about-face doesn’t add up. Ultimately, the indirect talks in Cairo have always been with Hamas, and though they have been tense from the get-go, preceding periods of calm – the most recent lasting six days, and interrupted first by last Friday’s Israeli fire at residential areas in Khan Younis – have yielded hope for a long-term truce. When that hope dimmed, the ensuing violence fell within predictable, if no less horrifying, parameters – Gaza’s resistance fired rockets, and Israel’s military bombed what it termed “terror targets.” But this time those “targets” are not the facilities – hospitals, schools, factories – Israel has struck over the past six weeks; they are individual Hamas leaders.

The move suggests a zero-sum Israeli strategy aimed at “eliminating” any of the people capable of forging a way out of the current confrontation. This strategy was tried in 2012 when Israel assassinated top Hamas negotiator Ahmad Jabari, prompting Hamas retaliation and a nine-day Israeli assault that cost the lives of more than 400 Palestinians. Given that operation’s failure to achieve Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s stated aim of crushing Hamas’ military capability, one wonders what the rationale behind Israel’s current round of assassinations could be.

If 2012 is any gauge, one answer might be that Israel hopes to dismantle Hamas entirely, re-installing the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority in Gaza. But there are no signs that any of the Palestinian factions negotiating in Cairo have broken rank, and PA chief Mahmoud Abbas has yet to withdraw his support for Hamas’s demands. [Continue reading...]


The Israeli colonel waging a religious war on Gaza

Ahron Bregman writes: The Israeli forces didn’t give the Palestinians of Rafah any warning [before using the Hannibal Protocol in an attempt to thwart the capture of Lt Goldin], but embarked on the most aggressive bombing campaign of Operation Protective Edge. Airplanes struck Rafah 40 times, dropping massive bombs on its civilian neighbourhoods, and heavy artillery pumped more than 1,000 shells into the area. Tanks also invaded, firing in all directions, and heavy bulldozers moved in to flatten scores of houses on the heads of people who were still inside.

Palestinians who did manage to jump into cars to escape the inferno were shot at, and cars carrying injured civilians trying to approach the Rafah hospital were also attacked. The blitz lasted three hours and killed more than 150 Palestinians. It also injured hundreds of others, having buried them under the rubble.

The colonel who orchestrated the assault on Rafah was Ofer Winter, the commander of the Givati Brigade. A religious settler, on the eve of the Gaza war he dispatched a letter to his troops, laden with biblical references, which perhaps explains the ferocity with which they attacked Rafah.

What Colonel Winter called on his troops to do was, effectively, to conduct a religious war on Gaza.


What I did after police killed my son

Michael Bell writes: After police in Kenosha, Wis., shot my 21-year-old son to death outside his house ten years ago — and then immediately cleared themselves of all wrongdoing — an African-American man approached me and said: “If they can shoot a white boy like a dog, imagine what we’ve been going through.”

I could imagine it all too easily, just as the rest of the country has been seeing it all too clearly in the terrible images coming from Ferguson, Mo., in the aftermath of the killing of Michael Brown. On Friday, after a week of angry protests, the police in Ferguson finally identified the officer implicated in Brown’s shooting, although the circumstances still remain unclear.

I have known the name of the policeman who killed my son, Michael, for ten years. And he is still working on the force in Kenosha.

Yes, there is good reason to think that many of these unjustifiable homicides by police across the country are racially motivated. But there is a lot more than that going on here. Our country is simply not paying enough attention to the terrible lack of accountability of police departments and the way it affects all of us—regardless of race or ethnicity. Because if a blond-haired, blue-eyed boy — that was my son, Michael — can be shot in the head under a street light with his hands cuffed behind his back, in front of five eyewitnesses (including his mother and sister), and his father was a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who flew in three wars for his country — that’s me — and I still couldn’t get anything done about it, then Joe the plumber and Javier the roofer aren’t going to be able to do anything about it either. [Continue reading...]


Why did #ISIS kill James Foley?

Intimidation or provocation?

Since the U.S. has already launched at least 68 air strikes against ISIS, we’re already well past the point at which the U.S. needs drawing into the conflict — the enemy has already been engaged.

It thus seems more likely that the message from ISIS is not “bring it on” — it’s “back off.” More air strikes risk precipitating more executions.

The journalist Steven Joel Soltoff appeared in the same video showing Foley’s execution with the executioner making this threat: “The life of this American citizen, Obama, depends on your next decision.”

Foley was kidnapped in November 2012 yet ISIS wasn’t formed until April 2013.

GlobalPost, the publication Foley was working for at that time, spared no effort in trying to locate him. In May 2013, AFP reported:

The co-founder and CEO of the online news network, Phil Balboni, said his company had hired the international security firm Kroll to investigate.

“With a high degree of confidence, we now believe that Jim was most likely abducted by a pro-regime militia group, commonly referred to as the Shabiha, and subsequently turned over to Syrian government forces,” Balboni said.

“We have obtained multiple independent reports from very credible confidential sources who have both indirect and direct access that confirm our assessment that Jim is now being held by the Syrian government.”

Balboni said the detention facility where Foley is reportedly being held is near the Syrian capital Damascus in an area still controlled by forces loyal to Assad’s regime, which is battling an armed revolt.

“We further believe that this facility is under the control of the Syrian Air Force Intelligence service,” he said, promising that GlobalPost would continue to press through private and diplomatic channels for Foley’s release.

Balboni said that GlobalPost knows the name and location of the detention center, and believes that other international journalists are also being held there, but said he could not go into details for security reasons.

This strongly suggests that the Assad regime handed Foley and the other hostages over to ISIS. Both the Syrian government and ISIS view journalists as a threat.

Although the majority of Americans currently support the air strikes the U.S. has launched in Iraq, that support is fairly weak:

Even as they approve of the airstrikes, Americans are more concerned about going too far in Iraq than they are about not going far enough to interdict Islamist militants who have swept through the country in recent months. Fifty-one percent say they are more worried about U.S. military action going too far; 32 percent say they are more concerned about not going far enough to stop the militants.

ISIS may now have as many as 80,000 fighters and it controls a third of Syria and a third of Iraq. At what point will its growth start to seriously worry most Americans?

Last week, while arguing against Western intervention against ISIS in Iraq, Seumas Milne wrote: “The likelihood is that [ISIS] can only be overcome by a functioning state in both Iraq and Syria.”

Let’s be clear: “overcome” doesn’t mean being thwarted in vigorous debate; it means military action. What was an antiwar movement is nowadays simply a not-our-war movement.

If Milne is correct in saying that functioning states in both Iraq and Syria are a precondition for overcoming ISIS, then before that happens it looks like it will grow from strength to strength.


#Gaza war resumes with deadly strikes, rocket fire

Reuters reports: Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip fired rockets at Israel for a second day on Wednesday after fighting resumed with the collapse of truce talks and an Israeli air strike that killed three people in Gaza.

Charging Israel had “opened a gateway to hell,” Hamas’s armed wing vowed to target Israel’s Ben-Gurion International Airport with rocket fire, possibly to retaliate for what Hamas was quoted by Israeli media as saying was an Israeli attempt to assassinate its top militant leader, Mohammed Deif, in a Gaza City strike.

It was not clear whether Deif, who has survived previous Israeli attacks, had survived the strike that killed a woman and a two-year-old girl who media reports said may have been his wife and daughter.

Deif has topped Israel’s wanted lists for years, as mastermind of deadly suicide bombings more than a decade ago. He is currently believed to be a behind-the-scenes leader of Hamas’s campaign against Israel.

Ynet adds: Hamas leader Mousa Abu Marzouk charged on Wednesday after Gaza truce talks collapsed in a spasm of violence that Israel had targeted the group’s armed wing leader Mohammed Deif in one of its air strikes on Tuesday in the coastal territory.

The IDF would not specify any of the targets of some 30 attacks across Gaza in response to rocket fire aimed at Israel. Marzouk said Israel had ruptured the truce alleging it was in order “to assassinate Mohammed Deif,” but that civilians were killed at the site of the attack.


James Foley, missing American journalist, reportedly executed by ISIS in Syria

Huffington Post reports: James Foley, an American journalist who went missing in Syria more than a year ago, has reportedly been executed by the Islamic State, a militant group formerly known as ISIS. The group reportedly threatened to behead Steven Sotloff, another American journalist, next.

Video and photos purportedly of Foley emerged on Tuesday. A YouTube video — entitled “A Message to #America (from the #IslamicState)” — identified a man on his knees as “James Wright Foley,” and showed his execution. It also showed another man on his knees it claimed is Sotloff, whose future the executioner said “depends” on President Obama’s “next decision.” Sotloff, a freelance journalist, went missing in Syria in August 2013.

Foley was in Syria covering the country’s civil war when he went missing in November of 2012. In an earlier report on efforts to find him, the Columbia Journalism Review said that he was believed to have been held in Damascus.

Before he was abducted, Foley gave a short interview describing some of the things he had witnessed during a visit to Idlib province. The date of this video is unknown. It was uploaded onto YouTube in June, 2012.


With new recruits ISIS said to have 80,000 fighters in Syria and Iraq

Al Jazeera reports: The Islamic State group has an army of more than 50,000 fighters in Syria, and recruited 6,000 people in the last month, a monitoring group has said.

Ramu Abdel Rahman, the director of the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said on Tuesday that the group’s recruitment push was gathering pace every month.

“July saw the largest recruitment since the group appeared in Syria in 2013, with more than 6,000 new fighters,” he said.

“The number of IS fighters has passed 50,000 in Syria, including 20,000 non-Syrians,” he said.

Al Jazeera cannot verify the observatory’s figures. However, an Islamic State source backed the statement and told Al Jazeera that the group also had 30,000 fighters in Iraq.

Abdel Rahman said the new recruits in Syria included more than 1,000 foreign fighters from Chechnya, China, Europe and Arab countries. He said most had entered Syria from Turkey. [Continue reading...]


Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) announces support for ISIS

Yemen Times reports: Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) published a statement on its Al-Manbar website on August 14 announcing support for the operations of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), which now calls itself the Islamic State, in Iraq.

“We announce solidarity with our Muslim brothers in Iraq against the crusade. Their blood and injuries are ours and we will surely support them,” the statement read. “We assert to the Islamic Nation [all Muslims worldwide] that we stand by the side of our Muslim brothers in Iraq against the American and Iranian conspiracy and their agents of the apostate Gulf rulers.”

Many observers note that AQAP and ISIL are using similar tactics and are exchanging strategy and advice.

“Based on our experience with drones, we advise our brothers in Iraq to be cautious about spies among them because they are a key factor in setting goals; be cautious about dealing with cell phones and internet networks; do not gather in large numbers or move in large convoys; spread in farms or hide under trees in the case of loud humming of warplanes; and dig sophisticated trenches because they reduce the impact of shelling,” read the AQAP statement. [Continue reading...]


Saudi top cleric blasts Qaeda, ISIS as ‘enemy No 1′ of Islam

AFP reports: Saudi Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Aziz al-Sheikh on Tuesday blasted Al-Qaeda and Islamic State jihadists as “enemy number one” of Islam, in a statement issued in Riyadh.

“The ideas of extremism, radicalism and terrorism… have nothing to do with Islam and (their proponents) are the enemy number one of Islam,” the kingdom’s top cleric said.

He cited jihadists from the Islamic State, which has declared a “caliphate” straddling large parts of Iraq and Syria, and the global Al-Qaeda terror network.

“Muslims are the main victims of this extremism, as shown by crimes committed by the so-called Islamic State, Al-Qaeda and groups linked to them,” the mufti said, quoting a verse in the Koran urging the “killing” of people who do deeds harmful to Islam.

His stance reflects the Saudi clerical community’s hostility towards IS jihadists, known for their brutality. [Continue reading...]


Israel strikes Gaza targets after rocket fire

Al Jazeera reports: Israel has launched air raids on “terrorism targets” in Gaza and recalled negotiators from Cairo after three rockets were fired from Gaza into Israel, as efforts to agree a permanent ceasefire appeared to unravel.

The Israeli military said that rockets landed in open areas near the town of Beersheeva. Sources told Al Jazeera that they were fired from Shujayea in the Gaza Strip.

Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, ordered his army to attack targets in Gaza, and recalled from Cairo negotiators who were involved in indirect talks with Palestinians on a permanent ceasefire. [Continue reading...]


Egypt trolls U.S. about Ferguson protests, forgets its own human rights record

Huffington Post: Egypt is no stranger to criticism from the U.S. and other countries for its violent crackdowns on protests. But as attention turns to protests raging in Ferguson, Missouri, over the police killing of an unarmed black teen, Egypt’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued some criticism of its own, sending out a statement to the press Tuesday urging “restraint and respect for the right of assembly and peaceful expression of opinion.”

It’s a bold statement, considering Egypt’s own bleak human rights record, as well as its now-shaky relationship with the U.S., a longtime financier of the Egyptian military.

With the 2011 revolution a thing of the past, it is now illegal for Egyptians to protest without prior permission from authorities. Thousands of people — suspected supporters of the now-banned Muslim Brotherhood, revolutionary activists, Egyptian and foreign journalists and academics alike — have been locked up, often without fair trials. Protesters have been targeted and killed en masse (Aug.14 marked the one-year anniversary of the Rabaa massacre, in which security forces killed at least 800 demonstrators). Human Rights Watch, whose staff were deported from Egypt last week, said the killings likely amounted to crimes against humanity. [Continue reading...]


Egypt: The anatomy of an unfair trial

Amal Alamuddin writes: Sentencing a political opponent to death after a show trial is no different to taking him out on the street and shooting him. In fact, it is worse because using the court system as a tool of state repression makes a mockery of the rule of law. Egypt’s constitution guarantees the right to be presumed innocent. And yet in a recent case, an Egyptian judge — after a “trial” lasting 100 minutes — sentenced 529 Muslim Brotherhood supporters to death. Egypt’s constitution also guarantees freedom of speech, yet many journalists languish behind bars.

Three journalists working for the Al Jazeera English news network — Canadian Mohamed Fahmy, Australian Peter Greste and Egyptian Baher Mohamed — are among them. Mr. Fahmy used to work for CNN and the New York Times. Mr. Greste worked for the BBC and had only been in Egypt for a few days before his arrest. I am Mr. Fahmy’s lawyer and have had contact with him in Egypt. I have studied the case file, read the reports of trial observers who were at each court session, and read the judgment that sentences the journalists to lengthy prison terms of seven years or more. It is clear beyond doubt that their trial was unfair, and their conviction a travesty of justice.

What does the Egyptian state, through its prosecutors and judges, charge? That these three men promoted and gave material support to the Muslim Brotherhood group that they are members of; and that they produced false news that harms Egypt’s reputation and its national security. The judgment convicts them on all counts and finds that “through their actions, [they] had compiled audiovisual film material and falsified untrue events to be broadcast by a satellite channel in order to stir conflict within the Egyptian State.” More specifically, the judges condemn them for betraying “the noble profession of journalism” by “portraying the Country — untruthfully — to be in a state of chaos … internal strife and disarray.” This sinister plot was apparently orchestrated “upon the instructions of the … terrorist Muslim Brotherhood Group” headquartered at a Marriott hotel suite off Tahrir Square.

The story is completely fabricated. [Continue reading...]


ISIS recruits at record pace in Syria

Reuters reports: Thousands of new fighters joined Islamic State in Syria last month in its fastest expansion to date, a body monitoring the war said on Tuesday.

Now in control of roughly a third of Syria and large areas of Iraq, Islamic State has been seizing territory from rival Islamist groups in a belt of territory north of Aleppo, threatening rebel supply lines into the city where President Bashar al-Assad’s forces are seeking to encircle the insurgents.

Islamic State recruited at least 6,300 men in July, Rami Abdelrahman, founder of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, told Reuters – a big expansion from early estimates suggesting the group numbered around 15,000. Around a thousand of the new fighters were foreign, and the rest Syrian, he said. [Continue reading...]


ISIS fighters show strength as they repel Iraqi army’s attempt to retake Tikrit

The Guardian reports: Islamic State (Isis) fighters have repelled an Iraqi army attempt to retake Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit in a battle that underlines the group’s continuing strength despite losing control of the strategically important Mosul dam.

Boosted by Monday’s recapture of the dam, Iraqi forces launched an assault on Tikrit, 80 miles (130km) north of Baghdad, with helicopter gunships and mortar and artillery fire. When troops entered the town from near its main hospital they faced heavy machine gun and mortar fire from the militants, forcing the military to pull back. It was the third failed attempt to retake Tikrit since it fell to Isis fighters more than two months ago, when Isis made sweeping gains in five provinces. Since then Tikrit has been controlled by Sunni militants and former members of Saddam’s Ba’ath party.

A local official and a resident told Associated Press that the clashes began early on Tuesday on the south-western outskirts of the city. Isis landmines and snipers prevented Iraqi forces reaching the town from the west, officials told Reuters. By early afternoon residents in central Tikrit told the agency Isis fighters were firmly in control. [Continue reading...]