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Saithan

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Iraqis suffer as US-Iran shadow war shifts gear​

By Quentin Sommerville
BBC News, Baghdad

Published
10 hours ago


Irbil airbase


Iran-backed militias in Iraq are suspected of carrying out a recent drone strike on Irbil airbase

The drone, packed with explosives, used the civilian flight path into Irbil airport to disguise its intent. It crashed into a CIA warehouse on the American airbase beside the civilian airport in April.

US forces described feeling the shockwave across the base, which now has the biggest concentration of US and British forces in Iraq. The warehouse was left in ruins, but no-one was hurt.

"They knew what they were hitting, but they didn't know what was inside," said one US commander.
US service member holds a machine gun on board a helicopter

US-led coalition forces are in Iraq and Syria to ensure the enduring defeat of IS
For the last year and a half there have been some 300 attacks on US interests in Iraq, mostly rockets, as well as improvised explosive devices targeting supply convoys.

"This is a game changer," the commander said. The drone was Iranian made, military grade, and a greater threat because of its precision. Drones are also fiendishly difficult to stop. Iran denies involvement in the attacks.

Militia threat​

Since the US assassinated the top Iranian general Qasem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the leader of the Iranian-backed Iraqi militia Kataib Hezbollah, in a drone strike in Baghdad in January 2020, the shadow war between the US and Iran on Iraqi soil has shifted gear.



US forces, currently a brigade from the Louisiana National Guard, are stationed at the base in Irbil, which is in the northern Kurdistan Region. They are part of the international coalition, which includes British troops too, supporting Iraqi and Syrian Kurdish forces in the last stages of the fight against the Islamic State group. But they do not engage IS in combat operations - the biggest threat they face is from Iranian-backed groups.

There are only 2,500 US service members on the ground in Iraq and north-eastern Syria now, a figure set by former President Donald Trump, and unchanged by his successor Joe Biden. In a non-binding resolution passed after Soleimani and Muhandis were killed, the Iraqi parliament called on foreign forces to leave.
Louisiana National Guard troops on the ground in north-eastern Syria

Louisiana National Guard troops have been deployed to north-eastern Syria
The figure does not account though for special operations forces. Ride a Chinook from Irbil airbase and it will be as crowded with bearded special forces personnel as with regular troops.

'Significant escalation'​

A month after the Irbil attack, a second Iranian-made drone was intercepted as it targeted the Al Asad airbase in Iraq's western Anbar province.
Brigadier Richard Bell gets off a helicopter in Iraq

Brigadier Richard Bell says the US-led coalition retains the right to self-defence

Brigadier Richard Bell, the British deputy commander of the US-led coalition's campaign against IS, known as Operation Inherent Resolve, described the drone attacks as a "significant escalation".

"We are taking them very seriously as a coalition. We have significant defensive capabilities, which I'm not going to go into," he said. "However, what I would say is that we retain the inherent right to self-defence, as any individual organisation does".

Iraqi workers stand next to a banner showing Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, an militia leader killed in a US drone strike in Iraqi in 2020

Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis was killed alongside Iranian general Qasem Soleimani in a US drone strike

While the US has not yet responded to the attacks - it is currently focused on nuclear negotiations with Iran and is also concerned that a response would empower hardliners standing in the Iranian presidential election next week - the British commander commented on Iranian-backed militias.

"It was Prime Minister Kadhimi, the Iraqi prime minister, who describes them as outlaw militia groups. And I think that's a very fair way to describe them," Brigadier Bell said. "They are a challenge for us, but what I would say is they're more of a distraction. The key mission is to help the people of Iraq and Syria maintain that enduring defeat of [IS]."
Map of Iraq

But to the people of Iraq, the militias are more than just a distraction; they are a deadly threat.

They were folded into the Iraqi security forces, as the Popular Mobilisation Forces, after they helped defeat IS in 2017. But they are blamed for extra judicial killings, criminal activities, and are accused of killing protesters who took to the streets in October 2019, demanding, among other things, a new government and an end to foreign interference in their country.
Demonstrators take part in an anti-government protest in Baghdad, Iraq (25 May 2021)
image copyrightEPA
Anti-government protesters want justice for the hundreds of people killed since 2019

More than 500 people have been killed while protesting, and at least 34 activists and journalists have been assassinated.
Last month, the young again once took to the streets, this time demanding to know, "Who killed me?". At least two more were killed in clashes with riot police in Baghdad.

'Weapons in every street'​

Ali Kadhim Mohammed is a quiet man. Dressed in black, he has a small golden broach on his shirt. It is a picture of his brother Amjed, an activist who was shot dead in Maysan, south of Baghdad. Ali has little faith in the government's official investigation into the killings of protesters.
A man rides his bicycle past a banner in Karbala reading in Arabic Who killed me? and depicting renowned Iraqi anti-government activist Ehab al-Wazni, who was shot dead (23 May 2021)
image copyrightAFP
A banner in Karbala shows assassinated activist Ehab al-Wazni with a sign saying: "Who killed me?"

"It's more of a theatrical investigation rather than a serious one, and I can say that judges are under pressure so not to investigate properly," he said.
"[My brother's] investigation stopped and the case was logged as "unknown perpetrator". Although the location where Amjad was assassinated is a government zone equipped with surveillance cameras, they still didn't get anywhere."

He blames the disintegration of the Iraqi state for his brother's death.
"[It's] the decay of the government which lead to the spread of weapons in every street in every square. Even in governmental departments you would find armed men".
Popular Mobilisation Forces inspect a vehicle at an entrance to Baghdad's Green Zone on 26 May 2021
image copyrightReuters
Iran-backed militias in the Popular Mobilisation Forces have been incorporated into Iraq's security forces

Parliamentary elections are scheduled for October this year, but the protesters are already calling for a boycott. They have lost faith in the government's ability to keep them safe or deliver change.

Musa Rahmatallah has twice escaped attempts on his life and had to flee Iraq for a while. He has been involved in the protest movement since its start.
"We hoped for a democratic, transparent and professional elections, but it won't happen this way and the political class will only reproduce itself through theatrically organising it and having the people take part in it," he said.
Musa Rahmatallah

Musa Rahmatallah says there is "a dictator around every corner" in Iraq

And he worries for Iraq's future.
"Saddam [Hussein] was one dictator, but now you have a dictator around every corner and all are totalitarian who want people to live according to their standards. One wants religious lifestyle, the other following an ideology, and a third one wants a conservative primitive lifestyle. So one has to either follow willingly or at gunpoint".

Iraq has gone from dictatorship to invasion, occupation, and then endured threats from al-Qaeda and IS. As before, the biggest casualties in today's shadow war remain the Iraqi people.

 

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Biden Orders Strikes On Iranian-Backed Militias' Growing Unmanned Aircraft Arsenal (Updated)

Facilities in Iraq that host American troops have been increasingly the target of attacks involving drones that are tied to Iranian-backed militias.


strike-top-iraq-syria.jpg


The U.S. military has released footage of airstrikes on three separate sites operated by Iranian-backed militias along the Iraqi-Syrian border. These strikes, which President Joe Biden ordered, primarily targeted these groups' growing unmanned aircraft capabilities and follow an increasing number of drone attacks on bases in Iraq that host American personnel in recent months.
U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) posted the trio of videos online on June 28, 2021, the day after the strikes occurred. All three of the sites struck by American warplanes were in the general vicinity of the town of Al Bukamal in Syria and Al-Qa'im, immediately opposite it on the Iraqi side of the border. The Pentagon had also named Kata'ib Hezbollah and Kata'ib Sayyid al-Shuhada, specifically, as being among "several Iran-backed militia groups" that utilized these facilities.

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CENTCOM
A screengrab from footage US Central Command released of a strike on a facility operated by Iranian-backed militias in Al Hury, Syria.

"We took necessary, appropriate, deliberate action that is designed to limit the risk of escalation, but also to send a clear and unambiguous deterrent message," U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters at a press conference in Rome, where he is conducting an official visit, today.




"The targets were selected because these facilities are utilized by Iran-backed militias that are engaged in unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) attacks against U.S. personnel and facilities in Iraq," Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby had said in an earlier statement. "As demonstrated by this evening's strikes, President Biden has been clear that he will act to protect U.S. personnel. Given the ongoing series of attacks by Iran-backed groups targeting U.S. interests in Iraq, the President directed further military action to disrupt and deter such attacks."

Al Bukamal and Al-Qa'im also together form an extremely strategic crossing point between the two countries. Biden had previously ordered strikes on other targets linked to Kait’ib Hezbollah and Kait’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada, among others, in this same general area in February, the first such strikes of his presidency. This was in retaliation for the death of a U.S. contractor in a rocket attack on Erbil International Airport in northern Iraq earlier that month. Kait’ib Hezbollah has been the target of other American airstrikes in recent years, as well.

All three of the videos are labeled as having occurred in Syria, but only two of the sites, one identified by CENTCOM as Al Hury and another as As Sisak, are in that country. A third, which CENTCOM identified as Qasabat, also written as Qasaabat, is in Iraq, south of Al-Qa'im. This appears to be a simple error since Pentagon Press Secretary Kirby's initial statement had said that the strikes were on "two locations in Syria and one location in Iraq."


https://twitter.com/obretix/status/1409417433107021825


"The targets were selected because these facilities are utilized by Iran-backed militias that are engaged in unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) attacks against U.S. personnel and facilities in Iraq," Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby had said in an earlier statement. "As demonstrated by this evening's strikes, President Biden has been clear that he will act to protect U.S. personnel. Given the ongoing series of attacks by Iran-backed groups targeting U.S. interests in Iraq, the President directed further military action to disrupt and deter such attacks."
Al Bukamal and Al-Qa'im also together form an extremely strategic crossing point between the two countries. Biden had previously ordered strikes on other targets linked to Kait’ib Hezbollah and Kait’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada, among others, in this same general area in February, the first such strikes of his presidency. This was in retaliation for the death of a U.S. contractor in a rocket attack on Erbil International Airport in northern Iraq earlier that month. Kait’ib Hezbollah has been the target of other American airstrikes in recent years, as well.





message-editor%2F1624899835706-map-1.jpg

GOOGLE MAPS
A map showing the general locations of the strikes that the U.S. military conducted along the Iraq-Syria border on June 27, 2021, based on geolocation done by Twitter user @obretix of the facilities seen in the footage that CENTCOM released.
message-editor%2F1624899924930-map-2.jpg

GOOGLE MAPS

A closer look at the three locations and their relationship to the Iraq-Syria border. Just how close the two facilities struck in Syria were to each other is plainly visible.

CENTCOM said that the site at Al Hury was "a facility used by Iran-backed militia groups for logistical support and transfer of advanced conventional weapons including unmanned aerial vehicles," while the one at As Sisak was "a facility used by Iran-backed militia groups as a coordination center for the shipment and transfer of advanced conventional weapons." The target in Qasabat was "a facility used by Iran-backed militia groups for operations, planning, and storage of unmanned aerial vehicles."

In the past, the term "advanced conventional weapons" has been used as a catchall for, among other things, shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles, also known as Man-Portable Air Defense Systems (MANPADS), as well as other kinds of missiles and precision-guided munitions, advanced sensors and lasers, and "heavy military equipment," such as tanks and aircraft, according to the U.S. State Department.

U.S. Air Force F-15E Strike Eagle combat jets conducted the strikes on the targets in Syria, while that service's F-16CM Viper fighters carried out the strikes on the facility in Iraq. The U.S. military does not currently have combat jets of any kind based in Iraq itself. The F-15Es almost certainly came from the contingent based in neighboring Jordan, which have been used to conduct these kinds of strikes in the region in the past. There are presently F-16s deployed to Al Dhafra Air Base in the United Arab Emirates, as well as at Prince Sultan Air Base in Saudi Arabia, either of which could have been involved in this operation.

message-editor%2F1624902457059-f-15e-jordan.jpg

USAF
A fully-loaded F-15E Strike Eagle takes off from Muwaffaq Salti Air Base in Jordan in 2020.
message-editor%2F1624902585477-f-16-uae.jpg

USAF
F-16 Vipers at Al Dhafra Air Base in the United Arab Emirates in 2020.


The Coordinating Committee of the Iraqi Resistance, an umbrella organization of Shiite Muslim militias in the country, many of which receive direct support from Iran, said in a statement that there had been casualties as a result of the strikes, but did not elaborate. The Pentagon said that it did not assess that there had been any civilian casualties, but did not offer any details about casualties or materiel losses inflicted on the targeted groups.

The Pentagon did not specify any particular drone attacks by Iranian-supported militias that these strikes were in response to, but there have been a number of such incidents in the past few months. These include two separate attacks in May that caused damage to buildings at Al Asad Air Base and Erbil International Airport. The target in the latter case reportedly was, and may still be, being used by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

Erbil is known to be a launchpad for U.S. operations tied to the CIA, as well as the U.S. military secretive Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC). Both of these locations were also targets of the infamous Iranian ballistic missile strikes in January 2020, which were in direct retaliation for a U.S. drone strike that killed General Qassem Soleimani, then the head of the Quds Force. The Quds Force is the part of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Corps tasked with operations outside of the country, including supporting foreign proxy forces, such as militia groups in Iraq.

Just this Saturday, June 26, there was another reported drone attack in Erbil. Pictures emerged afterward reportedly of components recovered afterward of at least one drone that had been employed in that incident, showing a relatively small, fixed-wing design.

 

Bogeyman 

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Chinese oil companies fill void in Iraq​


Western oil companies have started to pull out of central and southern Iraq and are being replaced by Chinese companies following terrorist attacks against facilities and reports of extortion from tribes, militias and bureaucratic officials in state institutions.

Meanwhile, Iraq has halted its plans to increase investments in developing oil fields due to a lack of demand in global markets. This comes as Iraq and 22 other member states of the OPEC+ group agreed Sunday to increase oil production by 400,000 barrels per day beginning next month.

Major oil companies BP and LUKOIL are considering halting operations in Iraq, Minister of Oil Ihsan Abdul Jabbar told Iraq’s parliament on July 4. Other oil giants have already left, among them Exxon Mobil, Occidental Petroleum and Shell, which retreated from Basra’s oil fields years ago.

Abdul Jabbar admitted on June 30 that the investment and security environment in the country has deteriorated, forcing global oil companies to reconsider their positions.

He claimed Chinese companies want to buy the shares of the companies seeking another market and that a Chinese subcontractor working in one of the Western oil fields makes more profit than Exxon Mobil did.

Since the Iraqi-Chinese agreement was signed under Adel Abdul Mahdi’s government in 2019, Western oil companies have faced repeated missile attacks, and in Nasiriyah, their headquarters have been besieged and shut down by nearby residents and new graduates seeking job opportunities. This opposition led to the halt of production in some oil fields.

Ihsan al-Attar, a Ministry of Oil official who is on the committee that regulates oil licensing, said the investment environment in southern and central Iraq is unsuitable and hostile to investors, and some local residents consider oil companies as 'colonialists,' touching a longtime nationalist nerve in Iraqi politics and society. He noted that foreign workers cannot safely walk the streets of cities without security, and their work and living locations must be protected by security companies.

As a result, he added, many foreign workers refuse to come to Iraq, and thus the Ministry of Oil must spend millions of dollars per month on additional costs such as high wages and transportation to attract workers, as well as contracts with security companies and life insurance, which Attar said amounts to $1 million per person spent by the ministry.

He said Western companies, such as Shell, Exxon Mobil and others, are currently leaving southern Iraq and being replaced by Chinese companies that have more relaxed standards than those of Western companies. He indicated that Iraq's environment has become hostile to American and European companies, which discourages companies from around the world from investing in the country and affects other economic sectors beyond oil.

Iraq exports more than 30% of its oil to China, and it is the third-largest exporter to China after Saudi Arabia and Russia.

Parliamentary Integrity Committee member Youssef al-Kalabi said during a session hosting the Minister of Oil that the Chinese ambassador in Baghdad is blatantly interfering in the work of the Ministry of Oil and in issues not related to diplomacy or the protection of his country’s citizens. He did not provide details on the alleged interference. Kalabi noted that the parliament asked the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to stop any interference by the Chinese ambassador in the work of the Ministry of Oil.

He claimed that a Chinese intelligence officer working in one of the oil fields who is suspected of corruption and is prohibited from entering Iraq was brought by the Chinese ambassador to Iraq.

Chinese companies are gaining ground in the energy sector, with Al-Faw refinery being awarded to a coalition of Chinese companies at a cost of $7 billion. The Chinese government will finance operations at the refinery. Chinese companies are also working as primary or subcontractors at 15 oil fields in southern Iraq. Iraq has 78 oil fields that China wants to develop.

Muhammad Rahim, a member of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, headed by the Iraqi Oil Minister, told Al-Monitor the companies’ withdrawal is due to several factors, including Iraq’s commitment to the parameters of the OPEC+ agreement, which include limiting production. The stipulations of OPEC+ make it difficult for the country to reach its target production goal of 8 million barrels a day in the coming years.

Rahim claimed that some Western companies have established companies in China and come to Iraq under the umbrella of these companies. Chinese workers were able to adapt easier to life in Iraq, Rahim said. He noted that bureaucracy and the weakness of the central government’s process to implement and award contracts for projects has greatly affected companies’ work, adding that the process of awarding a certain company a contract can take several years to be settled.

He noted that foreign companies face extortion from the state, militias and others, and that equipment imported and used in the oil fields remains held up in the ports for many months with militias that have influence in the ports requesting bribes to have it released.

The withdrawal of international oil companies and the purchase of their shares by the companies of the Ministry of Oil may lead to a decline in the country’s oil production, which amounts to 4.69 million barrels per day. The Ministry of Oil is unable to bring in new technology due to the financial crisis, and Chinese companies’ growing stakes in international companies could have repercussions amid their record of poor performance and objections to their work from the Ministry of Oil.
 

HTurk

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The US cannot sustain her troops in Syria without a military presence in neighboring Iraq. It's simply logistically not feasible. Thus, leaving Iraq also means abandoning NE Syria.

The US will never take this step IMO.
 

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The thing with the latest development in Iraq is that Muqtada Al-Sadr's party has come first in the elections.
The aforementioned is a Shiite leader and has a lot of followers.
The problem is though, the other Shiite parties and groups are totally against him and the reason being is that Al-Sadr, despite being Shiite, won't allow Iranian influence! Which other Iran fanboys are totally infuriated by.

09-325-sadr.jpg

Al-Sadr
 

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What Iraqis think of Colin Powell.

Basically this mans legacy will be remembered as a liar who sold the war to the world based on a lie which he admitted over time.
 

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Funny how us Turks dont need to resort to lies when it comes to wars we just have to take what we want while giving the middle finger to everybody while the Americans have to spin it. Then they make movies about how they are the good guys 🤣

I mean say we are here for the oil and your gold.
 

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