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Kurds advance on jihadist militants

KIRKUK, Iraq, Aug 25, (Agencies): Iraqi Kurdish forces backed by air power retook three villages from jihadist militants northeast of Baghdad on Monday and also held off two assaults elsewhere, officials said. Militants led by the Islamic State (IS) group overran large chunks of Iraq in a lightning June offensive that swept security forces aside. But Iraqi federal forces and the autonomous Kurdish region’s peshmerga fighters are now fighting to regain ground from the militants on multiple fronts. On Monday, Kurdish forces backed by Iraqi air support retook three villages in the Jalawla area in Diyala province, as well as a main road used by jihadists to transport fighters and supplies, peshmerga members said.

Gateway
“Jalawla is strategic because it is a gateway to Baghdad,” Shirko Merwais, a senior Kurdish political party official in nearby Khanaqin, told AFP. In the area, Iraqi aircraft are “carrying out air strikes and the peshmerga... are fighting on the ground,” he said, adding that “in the beginning, coordination between the peshmerga and the Iraqi government was poor, but now, after the danger posed by (IS) grew, it has become much better”. Further north, militants launched two assaults on the Shiite Turkmen-majority town of Tuz Khurmatu, late on Sunday and early Monday. Both attacks were beaten back by Kurdish forces supported by Iraqi aircraft, officials said. On Aug 8, the United States launched a campaign of air strikes against militants who were pushing back Kurdish troops and threatening Arbil, the capital of their northern region. Dozens of strikes have helped the Kurds regain ground, including an area called Qaraj, which they retook on Sunday. Despite calls from the government in Baghdad and other forces battling militants in the country, Washington has yet to expand the campaign outside northern Iraq. However, the United States has said that air operations against the jihadists in Syria may also be necessary.

Attacks
Iraqi officials say a wave of attacks targeting commercial areas in and outside Baghdad has killed a total of 43 people. They say the deadliest of Monday’s bombings was carried out by a suicide bomber who blew up himself among Shiite worshippers who were leaving a mosque after noon prayers in the capital’s eastern New Baghdad area, killing at least 15 people and wounding 32 others. That was followed by backto- back car bombings in cities south of Baghdad. In Karbala, the explosion killed 12 civilians and wounded 31 others. In Hillah, two car bombs went off in separate areas, killing 11 people and wounding 26 others. Five others were also killed in two separate attacks in Baghdad. Medical officials confirmed the causality figures, speaking on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to release information. Iraq’s prime minister-designate called on the country’s numerous Shiite militias and tribes to come under government control and stop acting independently on Monday, as violence across the country killed at least 43 people in areas where the Muslim sect dominates. The comments by Haider al-Abadi came at his first press conference since accepting the nomination to be Iraq’s next prime minister, underlining how he is attempting to address the worries of the country’s Sunnis, who say that Shiite militias are targeting them in religiouslymixed areas. He added that discussions between political rivals to form a new government were “constructive and positive.” “We will never allow any armed group to operate outside of the framework of the state,” al-Abadi told reporters at the presidential palace in Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone. “They all should be within the state framework and under the control of the security forces,” said al-Abadi. A number of Shiite militias have answered a call by influential Iraq-based Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al- Sistani, and outgoing Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, to support the Iraqi military, after large divisions fled from Islamic State militants in the northern cities of Mosul and Tikrit. A number of Sunni tribes also oppose the militant group. Al-Abadi also expressed optimism that he will meet the Sept. 10 deadline to form a new government. “Several meetings and dialogues were held with the political blocs to form a unified vision for our governmental program, he said. “The negotiations were generally positive and constructive. I hope we will agree to form a unified vision for the governmental program in the next two days.”

Rights
United Nations human rights chief Navi Pillay on Monday condemned “appalling, widespread” crimes being committed by Islamic State forces in Iraq, including mass executions of prisoners and “ethnic and religious cleansing”. The persecution of entire communities and systematic violations by the al-Qaeda offshoot, documented by UN human rights investigators, would amount to crimes against humanity and war crimes under international law, she said in a statement. “Grave, horrific human rights violations are being committed daily by ISIL and associated armed groups,” Pillay said, citing targeted killings, forced conversions, abductions, slavery, sex crimes, forced recruitment and destruction of places of worship. “They are systematically targeting men, women and children based on their ethnic, religious or sectarian affiliation and are ruthlessly carrying out widespread ethnic and religious cleansing in the areas under their control.” Christians, Yazidis and Turkmen were among the minorities targeted by the Sunni militant group, which has forced people to convert to their strict form of Sharia law, she said. Islamic State insurgents have captured a third of Iraq with little resistance and declared a caliphate in the areas of Iraq and Syria it controls. It has drawn the first American air strikes in Iraq since the end of the occupation in 2011. Last week Islamic State released a video showing one of its fighters beheading the US journalist James Foley, kidnapped in Syria in 2012. Their wealth and military might represent a major threat to the United States that may surpass that once posed by al-Qaeda, the US military says. Some 1.2 million people have fled fighting and ISIL’s advance in Iraq this year, the UN refugee agency says. The al-Qaeda splinter group seized control of the city of Mosul on June 10, in a spectacular show of strength against the Shi’ite-led Baghdad government. ISIL loaded 1,000 to 1,500 prisoners from Badush prison in Mosul onto trucks and took them to a vacant area for screening, Pillay said. Sunni inmates were taken away again on the trucks. “ISIL gunmen then yelled insults at the remaining prisoners, lined them up in four rows, ordered them to kneel and opened fire,” she said.

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