U.S. will deploy 560 more troops to Iraq to help retake Mosul from ISIS

The New York Times reports: President Obama will send 560 more troops to Iraq to help retake Mosul, the largest city still controlled by the Islamic State, a deployment intended to capitalize on recent battlefield gains that also illustrates the obstacles that Mr. Obama has faced in trying to wind down America’s wars.

The additional troops, announced here on Monday by Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter, are the latest escalation of the American military role in Iraq by Mr. Obama, who withdrew the last American soldiers from Iraq at the end of 2011.

He began sending them back three years later after Islamic State fighters swept into the country from Syria.

Many of the newly deployed troops will be based at an airfield 40 miles south of Mosul that was reclaimed by Iraqi soldiers on Saturday. Administration officials said the airfield would be critical to a successful military operation because the United States could use it as a staging area to provide logistical support to Iraqi forces as they try to retake Mosul. [Continue reading…]

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With a hint of regret, Obama describes new kind of endless quasi-war

The Washington Post reports: President Obama, who had pledged to end America’s wars, described the landscape he was leaving to his successor as a state of quasi-war that could extend for years to come.

Obama, who was speaking Saturday to reporters at the NATO summit here, noted with pride that he has cut the size of the U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan from 180,000 troops to fewer than 15,000.

But U.S. drones and fighter jets are striking targets in seven countries on a regular basis, a span of geography that is virtually unprecedented in American history outside of major wars. U.S. Special Operations forces are still conducting dangerous raids in countries such as Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria. [Continue reading…]

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Is the ISIS unstoppable?

ISIS-catwalk-bw

Hassan Hassan writes: Before Fayad Tayih abandoned the Islamic State earlier this month, he detected a striking trend: More people inside the self-declared caliphate were signing up to become suicide bombers. Mr. Tayih had been working in an administrative job for the jihadist group in Deir al-Zour, in eastern Syria, at the time. “Those who were working with me noticed the same thing,” he told me over Wickr, an encrypted messaging app.

Statistics released by the Islamic State confirm his observations. According to monthly updates from Amaq, the group’s official news outlet, the Islamic State was carrying out 50 to 60 suicide attacks per month in Iraq and Syria last November. Today the number of such attacks is 80 to 100 per month, an average of two to three operations a day. The trend peaked in March, with 112 members blowing themselves up in Syria and Iraq.

The Islamic State is shifting tactics, and not just on the battlefields of Syria and Iraq. The group is reverting to insurgency tactics it relied on before June 2014, when it took over Iraq’s second-largest city, Mosul, and declared the formation of a caliphate. This operational change has been on plain display in recent weeks: Hundreds of civilians were killed in a spate of suicide attacks attributed to the Islamic State in Turkey, Iraq, Bangladesh and Saudi Arabia. In Baghdad last week, more than 280 civilians were killed when a car bomb exploded outside a shopping mall.

Some people have suggested that this is a sign of the group’s desperation and weakness. In fact, it demonstrates its strength and long-term survival skills. The Islamic State has known for years that it would suffer setbacks and have to find ways to adapt. In “The Management of Savagery,” a foundational text for the Islamic State’s ideology and strategy published in 2004, the author pointed out that in the 12th century, Muslims defeated the Crusaders with “small bands” and “separate, disparate organizations.” The group has not forgotten that message. [Continue reading…]

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Trump is wrong about Saddam Hussein

Hayder Al-Shakeri writes: As an Iraqi, I learned about the values on which the United States of America was built during an exchange semester in the US. I admired those values and respected Americans for believing in them. But Donald Trump contradicts some of those very principles. In a speech on Tuesday, I heard him praise the way Saddam killed “terrorists” without reading them rights or even letting them talk. This is not the American system that I was taught – nor these the values I respected.

“Saddam Hussein was a bad guy. Right? He was a bad guy, really bad guy. But you know what he did well? He killed terrorists. He did that so good. They didn’t read them the rights, they didn’t talk, they were a terrorist, it was over,” Donald Trump said in his speech.

It is true that Saddam killed many people. Saddam killed men and women, kids and minorities and many others who stood up to him. Most of them were not terrorists, though. Hundreds of thousands of lives have been wasted under his leadership/dictatorship. Iraq, in his opinion, might have looked better during his time, but Iraqis back then suffered greatly.

Saddam led Iraq into long wars lasting several years, during which Iraqis had to fight for what he believed in. He committed genocides against his people and eventually Iraq had up to 250 mass graves spread around in the country. Saddam went after anyone who opposed him – he didn’t care about violating basic human rights or democracy.

Through such acts, Saddam was able to instill terror in his people, making them afraid to whisper a word. That is how Saddam dealt with terrorism, by terrorizing everyone so no one would be able to speak or stand up to him. In that way, the state looked orderly and people seemed in a better place than right now. [Continue reading…]

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Death toll from Sunday Baghdad bombing nears 300

The Wall Street Journal reports: The death toll from the deadliest single car bombing in Baghdad since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 has reached at least 292 people, Iraq’s health ministry said Thursday.

The attack by Islamic State, which also wounded more than 200 others, struck the Iraqi capital’s busiest commercial areas early Sunday as shoppers and diners crowded the streets following the daily dawn-to-dusk fasting that marks the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. On Monday, authorities said 151 people had been killed in the blast.

Islamic State said its attack in the Karrada district targeted Shiite Muslims, whom it regards as apostates. It was the Sunni Muslim extremist group’s first major attack on the city since Iraqi forces ousted it from Fallujah in late June. [Continue reading…]

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How fake bomb detectors made their way from South Carolina to Baghdad

The Washington Post reports: After more than 200 people were killed in a devastating Islamic State bomb attack in the Iraqi capital, Iraqis turned their anger toward a symbol of government corruption and the state’s failure to protect them: fake bomb detectors.

The wand-like devices, little more than an aerial attached to a plastic handle, are still widely in use at security checkpoints around the country even years after the British con man who sold them was arrested for fraud and the U.K. banned their export.

They are used at the entrances to embassies, compounds and government ministries. They are used by security forces at checkpoints such as those on the shopping street at Karrada that was hit in the suicide bombing in the early hours of Sunday morning, and has been targeted numerous times in the past.

As infernos set off by the blast engulfed shopping centers, suffocating and burning to death those inside, Iraqis took to social media to vent about the fake detectors.

An Arabic hashtag began trending for “soup detectors,” mocking the absurdity that these handheld devices can detect explosives. The Ministry of Interior’s website was hacked and a picture of a bloodied baby was posted along with a bomb detector bearing the Islamic State’s markings — making the point that the fake wands aid only those intent on killing civilians. “I don’t know how you sleep at night,” the hacked site read. “Your conscience is dead.”

As anger grew, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced Sunday night that all the country’s security forces should remove the handheld devices from checkpoints and that the Ministry of Interior should reopen its investigation into the corrupt deals for the devices.

But they were still in use in Baghdad the following morning, and it’s unclear when the move will be implemented.

“We haven’t received an order yet,” said Muqdad al-Timimi, a police officer at a checkpoint in northern Baghdad who was still using one of the devices. “We know it doesn’t work, everybody knows it doesn’t work and the man who made it is in prison now. But I don’t have any other choice.”

The device, known as the ADE 651, was sold to Iraq by James McCormick, a British man who was sentenced to 10 years in prison by a U.K. court in 2014 for fraud. He had been arrested in 2010 when export of the device was banned by the British government. [Continue reading…]

In 2013, Bloomberg Businessweek reported: The ADE 651, and similar devices sold by McCormick over the decade or so he spent in the explosives-detection business, owe their existence to Wade Quattlebaum, president of Quadro in Harleyville, S.C. At the beginning of the 1990s, Quattlebaum — a sometime car dealer, commercial diver, and treasure hunter whose formal education ended in high school — began promoting a new detection technology he called the Quadro Tracker Positive Molecular Locator, which he claimed could help law enforcement agencies find everything from contraband to missing persons. Quattlebaum said he originally invented the device to find lost balls on the golf course but had since refined it to locate marijuana, cocaine, heroin, gunpowder, and dynamite by detecting the individual “molecular frequency” of each substance.

The Tracker consisted of a handheld unit, with an antenna mounted on a plastic handgrip, and a belt-mounted box slightly smaller than a VHS cassette, built to contain “carbo-crystallized” software cards programmed, Quattlebaum said, with the specific frequency of whatever the user wished to find. No batteries were necessary. The Tracker was powered by the static electricity created by the operator’s own body; when it found what it was looking for, the antenna automatically turned to point at its quarry. Prices for the device varied from $395 for a basic model to $8,000 for one capable of locating individual human beings, which required a Polaroid photograph of the person to be loaded into the programming box. Quadro’s golf ball-finding variant, the Gopher, was available by mail order for just $69.

That Quattlebaum’s gizmo operated independently of any known scientific principles didn’t hurt sales. By the end of 1995, distributors across the U.S. had sold about 1,000 Quadro Trackers to customers including police departments in Georgia and Illinois and school districts in Kansas and Florida. When Ronald Kelly, the agent in charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s office in Beaumont, Tex., learned that a local narcotics task force had bought one, he attended a demonstration in which a Tracker was used to find a brick of cocaine. He wasn’t impressed. “I paid reasonable attention in eighth grade science,” Kelly says now. “I pronounced this bullshit.”

Kelly instructed his agents to bring in an example of the device, ran it through the X-ray machine at the Beaumont courthouse to see what was inside it, and sent it to the FBI labs in Washington. “They said, ‘This is a car antenna and a plastic handle. It doesn’t do anything.’ ”

Further analysis by the FBI and Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico established that Quadro’s programming cards were small squares of photocopy paper sandwiched between pieces of plastic. Dale Murray, who examined the device at Sandia, discovered that the Quadro programming method was to take a Polaroid photograph of the desired target — gunpowder, cocaine, or on one occasion, an elephantblow — up the image on a Xerox machine, cut up the copy into fragments, and use these to provide the card with its “molecular signature.” “They had a very naive explanation of how it worked,” Murray says. “They were fascinated by Polaroid photographs.”

Although Kelly is unequivocal about the Quadro principals’ fraudulent intent — “They were con artists,” he says — Murray feels that Quattlebaum, at least, genuinely had faith in it. “I think he did believe in it — it was his invention,” he says. Quattlebaum could have fallen victim to the ideomotor effect, the same psychological phenomenon that convinces users of dowsing rods and Ouija boards that they are witnessing the results of a powerful yet inexplicable force. In response to suggestion or expectation, the body can produce unconscious movements, causing a sensitive, free-swinging mechanism to respond in sympathy. “It’s very compelling, if you’re not aware of what’s causing it,” Murray says. [Continue reading…]

In 1996, a Federal Court imposed a permanent injunction banning the marketing, sale, and distribution of the tracker “and devices of a similar design marketed under a different name.”

The court order noted:

Use of the Quadro Tracker in locating guns or explosives poses a danger to anyone relying on the device for safety. Dangerous weapons or explosives could go undetected and enter schools, airports, office buildings, or any other location where safety is a concern.

Nevertheless, the following year the makers of the tracker were acquitted of fraud. The Associated Press reported:

A jury found Wade Quattlebaum, 63, former president of Quadro Corp., Raymond Fisk, 53, former vice president of the company, and William Long, 57, a distributor of the device, not guilty after deliberating about 11 1/2 hours over three days. The three men — each charged with three counts of mail fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud — were accused of deceiving customers into buying the Quadro Tracker between March 1993 and January 1996.
[…]
U.S. Attorney Michael Bradford said he did not know why the jury rejected prosecutors’ claims that the three men committed fraud.

“We felt that we proved that this was a worthless device,” he said. “In fraud you have to prove intent, and perhaps they did not see clear intent to defraud.”

Defense attorneys said even though scientists who testified could not explain how the tracker works, prosecutors did not prove that it was not functional.

In addition, it’s possible that jurors — like potential buyers of the device — were swayed in their judgment by the fact that its use had been endorsed by individuals such as these: William Koopman, Val-Comm Inc., Albuquerque, NM; Steve Lassiter, Drug Task Force, Albuquerque, NM; Larry DeWees, Principal, Farmington High School, NM; Clifford Weber, School Supt., Bloomfield, NM; Nancy Radford, Vice-Principal, Bloomfield H.S., NM; Troy Daniels, Resource Officer, Bloomfield H.S., NM; Ralph Navarre, Principal, Mesa Alta H.S., Bloomfield, NM; Capt. Ben Boozer, Dept. of Corrections, Crozier, VA; Raymond Gomes, Inspector General, Richmond, VA; Sgt. Marilyn Chambers, National Guard, Richmond, VA; Jim Morrison, National Guard, Richmond, VA; Brian Clements, Dir.of Security, Galena Park, Houston TX; Lt. Bill Munk, Police Department, Austin, TX; Don Plybon, US Customs, Charleston, SC; Cpl. Billie Johnson, North Charleston PD, SC; Bruce Parent, FL Dept. of Trans., West Palm Beach, FL; Pip Reaver, Adlerhorst Training School, Riverside, CA; Pete Blauvelt, Nat. Alliance for Safe Schools, Lanham, MD; Michael Ferdinand, Interquest Group, Inc., Houston, TX.

As one observer wrote, the device “turns out to be good only at detecting suckers.”

In 2011, the year after McCormick’s arrest, BBC Newsnight broadcast the following report:

 

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ISIS bombing in Baghdad casts doubt on Iraqi leader’s ability to unite

The New York Times reports: As grief-stricken Iraqis held a candlelight vigil Sunday night at the site of a car bombing that killed more than 150 people, workers often using the flashlights from their cellphones were still pulling bodies from the rubble.

As Sunday gave way to Monday morning, with bodies still buried, some began expressing their grief through politics, waving banners listing the dead and demanding that officials, including Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, resign.

The attack in a shopping area in the Karada neighborhood was the deadliest in Baghdad in many years, and after the final death toll is known it could become the deadliest ever.

As bloody as it was, the bombing in Baghdad was but the worst of a wave of global terrorism in recent days attributed to militants aligned with the Islamic State. Seemingly unconnected to any political purpose and intended to kill indiscriminately, be it by gunfire, explosions or, in the case of a restaurant in Bangladesh, an arsenal including swords, the violence has cut across religions, national identities, ages and professions.

The violence touched people from all parts of the globe. More than 40 were killed at Istanbul’s main airport last week — Saudis, Iraqis and citizens of Iran, China, Tunisia and Ukraine, though most were Turkish. Among the dead were taxi drivers, an interpreter helping tourists, a customs officer and an airport worker who was looking forward to his wedding, which would have been at the end of this week.

In Bangladesh, young men, many of them from privileged backgrounds, used guns, bombs, knives and swords in an assault on foreigners at a popular restaurant on a Friday night. They killed 22 people, many in gruesome fashion. The dead included nine Italians, one of whom was pregnant; seven urban planners from Japan; a Bangladeshi woman who worked for art galleries; a 19-year-old Indian woman attending the University of California, Berkeley; two other college students; and two police officers.

In Iraq, the victims were all Iraqis. Desperate to respond to the public’s grief and anger, Mr. Abadi tried to assuage Iraqis’ desire for revenge by promising to speed the executions of Islamic State militants on death row. Later in the day, the Justice Ministry announced that five convicted terrorists had been executed, and images of their hangings were shown on state television. [Continue reading…]

 

 

 

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ISIS extends reach as it suffers defeats

The Wall Street Journal reports: During a rare spate of attacks in Jordan recently, Western officials in the capital Amman intercepted messages from Islamic State leaders urging supporters to spread terror at home rather than join militants across the border in Syria.

That call, which was sent to all the group’s affiliates, and a similar appeal in a public speech by an Islamic State spokesman were followed by attacks outside the boundaries of its self-declared caliphate in Syria and Iraq. In the past week, supporters with suspected or confirmed ties to Islamic State have launched deadly strikes in Turkey, Iraq and Bangladesh.

Islamic State is increasingly reverting to less expensive but spectacular guerrilla maneuvers, calling on supporters to launch assaults while its costly makeshift army faces retention problems and casualties, Western officials said. It is expanding its global scope, inspiring groups and individuals spread across several continents, even though they may have different agendas and operational methods.

The frequency of attacks outside Syria and Iraq has increased in tandem with battlefield and territorial setbacks that have deprived the militants of key sources of income such as oil. The group’s shift in tactics has been prompted by those territorial losses, U.S. officials and security advisers say. [Continue reading…]

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As PM orders removal of British-made fake bomb detectors, Iraqis say ‘corruption is the greatest threat we face’

The Guardian reports: For the past nine years, Iraq’s security forces have tried to stop car bombs with a British-made bomb detector wand that was long ago proven to be fake. A day after a car bomb killed at least 149 people in central Baghdad, the country’s prime minister, Haidar al-Abadi, has demanded their withdrawal.

After the single deadliest attack in Iraq this year, Abadi also ordered a renewed corruption investigation into the sale of the devices from 2007-10, which cost Iraq more than £53m and netted the Somerset businessman James McCormick enormous profits, as well as a 10-year jail sentence for fraud.

The cost to the Iraqi public will remain incalculable: the vast majority of the bombs that have killed and maimed at least 4,000 people since 2007 have been driven straight past police or soldiers using the devices at checkpoints.

Their withdrawal follows years of insistence by interior ministry officials, who bought the wands at vastly inflated fees, that they were effective in sensing odours from explosive components.

Near the scene of Sunday’s bomb attack in the suburb of Karrada, which was claimed by Islamic State, Iraqis reacted with derision at the ban, which follows years of complaints from citizens and warnings by both the British government and US military that the wands have no scientific value.

“This should have happened a long time ago,” said Sheikh Qadhim al-Sayyed, standing near the scorched remains of a shopping district in Karrada, just south of the Tigris River. “There isn’t a person in the country who thinks they work. No one here is responsible for what they do. It should be an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. Corruption is the greatest threat we face.” [Continue reading…]

On JANUARY 23, 2010, the New York Times reported: The director of a British company that supplies bomb detectors to Iraq has been arrested on fraud charges, and the export of the devices has been banned, British government officials confirmed Saturday.

Iraqi officials reacted with fury to the news, noting a series of horrific bombings in the past six months despite the widespread use of the bomb detectors at hundreds of checkpoints in the capital.

“This company not only caused grave and massive losses of funds, but it has caused grave and massive losses of the lives of innocent Iraqi civilians, by the hundreds and thousands, from attacks that we thought we were immune to because we have this device,” said Ammar Tuma, a member of the Iraqi Parliament’s Security and Defense Committee.

But the Ministry of the Interior has not withdrawn the device from duty, and police officers continue to use them. [Continue reading…]

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At least 82 killed as ISIS bombing targets Ramadan shoppers in Baghdad

Reuters reports: At least 82 people were killed and 200 injured in two bombings that hit Baghdad around midnight Saturday, nearly all of them in a blast targeting a busy shopping area as they celebrated Ramadan, police and medical sources said Sunday.

A refrigerator truck packed with explosives blew up in Karrada in central Baghdad, killing 80 people and injuring at least 200. Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack, in a statement circulated online by supporters of the ultra-hard line Sunni group. It said the blast was a suicide bombing.

Karrada was busy at the time as Iraqis eat out late during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, which ends next week. Police said the toll could rise as more bodies could be lying under the rubble of devastated buildings.

The bombing is the deadliest in the country since Iraqi forces last month dislodged Islamic State militants from Falluja, their stronghold just west of the capital that had served as a launch pad for such attacks. [Continue reading…]

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Millions of Iraqi children repeatedly and relentlessly targeted, says UN

The Guardian reports: One in every five children in Iraq is at serious risk of death, injury, sexual violence and recruitment into armed groups, while nearly 1,500 have been snatched from the streets or their homes since 2014, says a new report (pdf).

The UN children’s agency, Unicef, says 3.6 million children face this litany of risks – an increase of 1.3 million in 18 months. A third of all Iraqi children – 4.7 million – need humanitarian aid, with conditions only getting worse following fierce battles around the city of Falluja.

“Children in Iraq are in the firing line and are being repeatedly and relentlessly targeted,” says Peter Hawkins, the agency’s representative in Iraq.

“We appeal to all parties for restraint and to respect and protect children. We must help give children the support they need to recover from the horrors of war and contribute to a more peaceful and prosperous Iraq.”

The report says almost 10% of Iraq’s children – more than 1.5 million – have been forced to flee their homes since the intensification of fighting in 2014. [Continue reading…]

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Fallujah’s importance to ISIS helped Iraqi forces retake it

The Wall Street Journal reports: For Islamic State, this city was unlike any other: the birthplace of its movement and the first urban center it seized in a blitz that began the occupation of a third of Iraq.

But it took Iraqi forces less than five weeks to defeat the extremist group here, much faster than Iraqi and American officials had expected. One reason, these officials and Iraqi commanders say, was how invested Islamic State militants were in Fallujah, which made them loath to blow it up.

“Fallujah was a command-and-control center,” said a senior Iraqi counterterrorism officer. “They were comfortable there. Their leadership lived there and so did their families. They could not destroy the city in the process of defending it.”

Commanders said the militants had bet on repelling Iraqi forces on the outskirts of Fallujah, but struggled to adapt to the overwhelming force. The center of the city was still inhabited—one reason it wasn’t booby-trapped, as Islamic State had done in other, largely deserted urban areas they lost.

Iraqi officials said the Fallujah campaign exposed weaknesses that raised hopes for retaking the much-larger city of Mosul, Islamic State’s last significant base in Iraq. Both have become administrative centers for the group, heavily populated with its own fighters and civilians. [Continue reading…]

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Inside a prison in Fallujah where the ISIS tortured and killed

The Washington Post reports: From the outside, there’s not a lot that stands out about the three neighboring houses on this residential street in the Iraqi city of Fallujah.

One is grander than most, with two tall columns straddling its entrance. The others are unassuming and beige, like much of this city, which had been under the control of the Islamic State for the past ­2 1/2 years.

But behind their front doors is a makeshift prison used by the militants to mete out their archaic punishments. It provides a harrowing window into the brutal rule of law that governed here before the city was retaken, a glimpse of its regime of executions, floggings and torture.

Home to many of the Islamic State’s leaders, Fallujah was the first city to fall into the hands of the organization and was a hub for its operations in Iraq. The prison is just one of the remnants of their self-proclaimed caliphate that were left behind by the militants as they died or fled the city and that are now slowly being discovered, allowing Iraqi forces firsthand insight into the group’s inner workings. [Continue reading…]

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They survived ISIS, then disappeared

The Daily Beast reports: The way Rasool Abdullah remembers it, he was in a hall with dozens of other men in an abandoned house outside Fallujah.

He was thirsty, as he had barely any water to drink for the past two days. The heat from the summer sun made the cramped quarters unlivable. His hands were tied tightly with zip ties, and from the rooms off the hallway, where he says people were being tortured, all he could hear was screaming.

“Ahmed is dead!” someone cried.

Rasool added Ahmed to his mental count. By the time he left 11 hours later, he says he’d lost the exact number of those who had fallen around him.

“Twelve or 13 people in the hall I was in died. I’m not including the people in the rooms,” he told The Daily Beast. “I don’t know their [full] names, only the number of people who are dead.”

While the recent liberation of Fallujah is being celebrated by governments from Washington to Baghdad, hundreds of civilians like those who were arrested with Rasool remain missing. The problem is that, unlike those taken by the so-called Islamic State widely known as ISIS, these civilians were arrested by Shiite pro-government militant groups operating as representatives of the Iraqi government. [Continue reading…]

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Fallujah: The Iraq victory that could lose the war

The Daily Beast reports: The Iraqi government, which has been shaken by weekly protests that charge its senior leadership with corruption, needed to win a military victory to try to salvage its political reputation. Thus was begun the Third Battle of Fallujah.

The city that had been the symbolic capital of Sunni resistance to American occupation and Shia domination has collapsed into a network of bombed-out homes, criss-crossing sand berms, and half-finished cement structures. Thousands of bullet casings, water bottles, and other discarded items litter the landscape. The Iraqi Security Forces have turned what remains of Fallujah, the City of Mosques, into an ash heap.

Last week, although scattered resistance by fighters from the so-called Islamic State continues in parts of the city, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi felt confident enough to declare Fallujah liberated on June 17 after the elite U.S.-trained soldiers of the Iraqi Counterterrorism Service (ICTS) recaptured a former government headquarters in the city center. [Continue reading…]

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