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  1. Bet they still get a full paycheck. Another fricken day off after 13 years this does not surprise me.
  2. EXCLUSIVE Saving Iraq’s Tomb of Nahum, a secret mission resurrects Kurdistan’s Jewish past With IS just miles away, a US army vet, 2 Israeli engineers and the head of a preservation group carried out an audacious plan to restore an ancient shrine of the biblical prophet By TAL SCHNEIDER15 Sep 2021, 1:59 pm Main image by Adam Tiffen (photo); Joshua Davidovich/ToI (illustration): The tomb of Nahum during restoration work in 2018 On a spring day in April 2017, two jeeps, their windows blacked out, sped down a sandy highway in Iraqi Kurdistan toward the small Christian village of Alqosh. In the cars sat two Israeli engineers, one in each, for security reasons. They had entered the country holding the only passports they had — Israeli — to take part in an extraordinary reconstruction mission. ADVERTISEMENT The two, Yaakov Schaffer and Meir Ronen, watched through sealed windows as they drove past scenes of ruinous destruction left by nearly two decades of war. Some 15 miles away, fighters from the Islamic State terror group were battling the Iraqi army. As they approached the village, the jeeps pulled over and Schaffer and Ronen got out, accompanied by their Kurdish security guards. On foot, they climbed into the town and made straight for the antiquities site at the northern part of the ancient city: the Tomb of Nahum, the Old Testament prophet. For decades, the people of Alqosh, members of the Chaldean Catholic Church, guarded a shrine once revered by local Jews as the final resting place of Nahum of Elkosh. But on that day, the structure that lay before them was crumbling around a caved-in roof. “The walls and pillars were cracked and crumbling. It looked like the rest of the building would collapse at any minute,” recalled Adam Tiffen, an American entrepreneur and project manager who had visited the site a year earlier and was there that day with the Israelis. The three of them entered. As they began to examine the structure, they unfurl the options that lay before them to save the ancient shrine. Yaacov Schaffer, left, and Meir Ronen in Alqosh, Iraq, in 2017. (Courtesy Yaacov Schaffer) Schaffer and Ronen are experts in the restoration of synagogues dating back to antiquity. Schaffer has held managerial positions at the Israel’s Antiquities Authority and now partners with Ronen in engineering solutions for ancient Jewish houses of worship. Tiffen was there as a volunteer for the Alliance for the Restoration of Cultural Heritage, known as ARCH. Tiffen and ARCH chair Cheryl Benard, his boss, had visited the site in 2016 and together decided to restore the Tomb of Nahum and an adjacent synagogue in the heart of war-torn Iraq. “For thousands of years, the history of the Jewish people has been intrinsically intertwined within the cultural fabric of the region. In recent decades, this fundamental connection was being erased, through deliberate destruction or benign neglect,” Tiffen told ToI. “So much so that despite the Jewish exodus being within living memory, almost no traces remain of the vibrant and enduring Jewish history of the region. If we did nothing to preserve what remained, that history, and knowledge of Jewish life in the region, would be completely lost.” To Iraq and back again Sixteen years earlier, Tiffen, then a 25-year-old lawyer and cadet in the Reserves Officer Training Corps (ROTC), watched as 19 terrorists thrust a dagger into America and decided to volunteer for combat duty in the Maryland National Guard. He was stationed as an officer, commanding 40 soldiers in Saba al-Bor, a small town near Baghdad. While stationed in Iraq, Tiffen decided to document his experiences in a blog, which at the time was nearly unheard of. The dispatches from the heart of the war in Iraq earned him attention and a profile in the Washington Post. In 2007, as a Jewish officer with dozens of soldiers under his command, he gave an interview to this reporter, then a Washington correspondent for the Israeli newspaper Maariv. He would return to Iraq on six-month tours a number of times after that. There, while dodging the roadside IEDs that made those years among the most treacherous, he was witness to Iraq’s vast ruination. Adam Tiffen outside the Tomb of Nahum in Alqosh Iraq, January 2018. (Courtesy: Ihsan Totency) In 2018 in Tel Aviv, Tiffen told this reporter, under strict secrecy, the story of how he was putting together the restoration of a tomb in Iraq said to belong to the ancient prophet Nahum. “You will not write a word about it until the project is complete,” he said. This is that story, told for the first time. It included sneaking Israelis into Iraq to assess the damage to the building’s roof and the best way to restore it. It also involved tapping into the deep knowledge of the Kurdish-Jewish community and its unofficial doyen Mordechai Zaken, a scholar who was instrumental in planning the restoration of the tomb and who passed away just a few months ago. It features the people of Alqosh, who safeguarded the tomb after the area’s Jews fled the pogroms that followed the creation of the State of Israel, along with the tomb’s modern benefactors: a small group of donors, including oil and energy companies from Norway, the local Kurdish government, the US embassy in Iraq and a few private donors who raised $2 million. Behind it all was ARCH, a nonprofit started by national security expert Cheryl Benard, an expert on national security and post-war rebuilding efforts. Benard, whose husband Zalmay Khalilzad has led US diplomatic efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq, was impressed in her travels around the world by the resilience and creativity of individuals and groups trying to safeguard their national treasures, even under the most trying circumstances. The shrine of Nahum, as seen before reconstruction in 2017. (Courtesy Adam Tiffen) Tiffen’s involvement with ARCH stemmed from his time in Iraq, and after the group decided to push ahead with the restoration, he became the point person on the project. His first encounter with the tomb, in 2016, was a tapestry of amazement and dolor. “I was astonished at its beauty and the dozens of Hebrew inscriptions on the walls,” he recalled to ToI later. “I was also shocked at its terrible condition, with several parts of the roof having fallen in, and mounds of rubble surrounding the tomb.” A photo montage showing the Tomb of Nahum before and after restoration. (Photos courtesy Adam Tiffen) One challenge of the project was finding funds, especially given its sensitivity and the fact that it could not be publicized. ARCH had never taken on a project of this magnitude. Tax filings for years before the tomb project show annual revenues and expenses of tens of thousands of dollars. “We unsuccessfully reached out to the Jewish community, including several Jews of Iraqi and Kurdish descent. We were unable to raise funds among this community,” Tiffen said. “For the most part, everyone we spoke to thought we were a little crazy.” “We were trying to restore an ancient Jewish synagogue, in a Christian town, under an Islamic government, in a disputed territory, 15 kilometers from the front lines with ISIS. Especially given that ISIS had only recently tried attacking the town. Most people wished us luck but didn’t have much enthusiasm for supporting the project,” he added. A plane arriving at Lod Airport carrying Jewish immigrants from Iraq and Kurdistan via Tehran, May 1951. (GPO) In the end, the US government pumped $1 million into the project, and others chipped in as well, including the Kurdish and Czech governments. Among those supporting the plan was Kurdish President Nechirvan Barzani. There was also the question of finding people who were expert not only in art restoration, such as the Czech company GEMA ART, which was eventually contracted to carry out the work, but also in Jewish heritage and antiquities, and who would be willing to visit. And of course the small matter of taking on a project to restore a Jewish shrine in a country almost totally bereft of Jews, torn asunder by decades of war and under threat from a bloodthirsty terror group that had already rampaged through the country, gleefully smashing Iraq’s, and humanity’s, cultural treasures. People pick through the rubble of the destroyed Mosque of The Prophet Younis, or Jonah, in Mosul, July 24, 2014. (AP) But according to Tiffen, the tomb was special. It had for generations resisted being turned into a church or mosque, and more recently had also been spared by Islamic State, which had not been so kind to the nearby Nabi Younus Tomb, believed to be where the prophet Jonah is buried, or a shrine in Mosul that some revere as the final resting place of the biblical Daniel. “The synagogue was a beautiful and tangible reminder of the connection of the Jewish people to the land and their coexistence in the region with the Christian, Yazidi and Muslim communities for over a millennium,” Tiffen said. “Given the recent sectarian violence and attacks by ISIS on religious minorities like the Christians and Yezidis, we also saw the restoration as a symbol of hope and a reminder of the common history and belief that we all share,” he went on. “Jews, Christians and Muslims coexisted in the region for hundreds or thousands of years. Perhaps not perfectly, but with a level of tolerance and acceptance that should not be forgotten.” From Israel, with blessings During a trip through Israel in 2017, Tiffen was introduced to Yaacov Schaffer, an expert in the restoration of ancient synagogues. Tiffen — who had decompressed from his first tour in Iraq with a stint at a Jerusalem yeshiva — thought it was important for the project to be guided by Jewish and rabbinical input. He would later seek a blessing from Rabbi Shlomo Amar, Israel’s former Sephardic chief rabbi, who would also give him and the engineers halachic advice on Jewish law regarding restoration of a sacred site. “It was important that we receive a blessing from a significant rabbinic authority on the restoration effort we were planning,” Tiffen said. “After presenting the project to Rabbi Amar, he gave us his blessing and the guidance that we were not permitted to touch or move the tomb itself.” Rabbi Shlomo Amar, right, giving a blessing to Adam Tiffen in Israel in May 2018. (Courtesy: Yehuda Ben-Yosef) Schaffer, who at the time had been the head of the Conservation Department at the Israel Antiquities Authority, was gung-ho about joining the project, with a caveat: “I told them straight away that I was ready to go to Iraq on one condition — that my partner, Meir Ronen, join us.” “Some people asked whether my wife tried to veto the whole trip, but she actually wanted to join us,” Schaffer told The Times of Israel recently. “It was clear to us that we had to do it and we were complete volunteers, without getting paid for the trip or our work there.” The will was there, but there was still a matter of finding a way to get into Iraq. While it’s not unheard of for Israelis to visit Kurdistan, entering Iraq usually requires presenting a passport from another country. Kurdish officials signed off on bringing in the Israelis, and they received enthusiastic backing and a special permit from then-interior minister Aryeh Deri (Israel technically forbids its citizens from visiting Iraq since it is an enemy country). While Schaffer described the trip into Iraq in great detail, Tiffen asked that no specifics be published about how they got into the country and to Alqosh, for fear of jeopardizing future operations. Once in Alqosh, the two engineers toured the half-ruined shrine and got to work drawing up a restoration plan, which took them several days. During that time, they were hosted by a Chaldean priest in a guesthouse attached to the Rabban Hermizd monastery, since the nearest hotel was over an hour away. On the second day there, the group took a tour of the city and the surrounding area, traveling close to Mosul, where a massive battle to retake the city from Islamic State had just concluded. Cheryl Benard, bottom row, center, with ARCH volunteers, Iraqi locals and Kurdish Peshmerga forces it Batnaya, Iraq, shortly after it was retaken from the Islamic State in April 2017. In back, from left, are Yaakov Schaffer, Meir Ronen and Adam Tiffen. (Courtesy Cheryl Benard) “I won’t tell you that I wasn’t completely afraid, but I overcame my fears. It was scary to see all the ruined towns around. Either IS destroyed them or American bombs did,” Schaffer recalled. “This is an area that was important to the Yazidis and Chaldean Catholics.” It was also important to the Jews. Laid waste “The burden of Nineveh,” reads the first sentence of the Book of Nahum. “The book of the vision of Nahum the Elkoshite.” The Book of Nahum, the seventh of the 12 minor prophets found in the Bible, tells of the destruction of the great Assyrian capital Nineveh, located on the outskirts of modern-day Mosul, an event that probably occurred circa 612 BCE. “And it shall come to pass, that all they that look upon thee shall flee from thee, and say: ‘Nineveh is laid waste; who will bemoan her? whence shall I seek comforters for thee?'” Little is known about Nahum, who is thought to have lived in the 7th century BCE, and whose family may have come to Assyria together with the exiled Israelite tribes. Russian Orthodox icon of the Prophet Nahum, 18th century (Iconostasis of Transfiguration Church, Kizhi Monastery, Karelia, Russia) While some scholars place Nahum’s Elkosh in the Galilee, many others identify it with the Assyrian city of Alqosh. Jews in the area have identified the Alqosh shrine as Nahum’s tomb for centuries, if not millennia, and built a synagogue around it to host the many pilgrims who came there. “The point is that there is a longstanding belief for more than 2,000 years that this is the Tomb of Nahum. If for 2,000 years people have thought and believed that this is where the prophet is buried, then this structure is quite important,” Schaffer said. Nobody knows when the synagogue dates from, but Schaffer noted that the building is constructed in a style reminiscent of King Herod, comparing it to a miniature version of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. But the architecture also noted other telltale clues. “All my life I have been involved in antiquities, history and the Bible,” Schaffer said. “This is a synagogue that has stood there at least since the Middle Ages. I can identify it by the nature of the structure with the vaults and by the shape of the dome.” “On the surrounding pillars we saw inscriptions in Hebrew,” he added. “Some are in Hebrew, others in block letters in something between Arabic and Hebrew.” Meir Ronen inspecting Hebrew writing on a pillar in Iraq’s Tomb of Nahum, 2017. (Courtesy: Yaacov Schaffer) In the 1950s, as Jewish families fled Iraq, the Jews of Alqosh asked the Shajah family to safeguard the tomb .The Shajahs have done so since, cleaning and maintaining the building as well as controlling access to it. When Islamic State began spreading its campaign of terror and destruction across the area, many feared it would be only a matter of time before the terror organization swept into Alqosh, destroying both the tomb and the Rabban Hormizd monastery, which is some 1,400 years old. But the group never reached the city, which is nestled in the foothills of the Zagros Mountains some 25 miles (40 kilometers north) of Mosul, and it was spared the irreversible destruction that befell other tombs in Iraq revered by Jews. Iraqi forces, supported by members of the Hashed al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilization units), advance in the western desert in the northern Iraqi region of al-Hadar, 105 kilometers south of Mosul, on November 23, 2017, as they attempt to flush out remaining Islamic State group fighters (AFP/Stringer) But what Islamic State terrorists could not do, time and neglect had already done. By the time the group got there in 2017, many of the synagogue’s rooms were completely destroyed, and a roof that had been built in the 1970s to protect the structure had collapsed, causing even worse damage. The Tomb of Nahum, as seen before reconstruction in 2017. (Courtesy Adam Tiffen) “It may not have been damage from Islamic State, but it was in total neglect and disrepair and the place was in dire shape,” remembered Ronen, the other Israeli engineer. “The first step was just believing the place could be restored.” The report prepared by Schaffer and Ronen warned that if immediate work were not done to stabilize the structure, wind and rain could cause it to collapse completely within months. “We recommended constructing a square structure above the tomb, topped by a dome,” Schaffer said. For the next six months, crews worked to stabilize the structure and keep the roof from caving in, before starting on the larger project of restoring the entire synagogue building, which was contracted out to the Czech firm GEMA ART International. The firm, which specializes in reconstruction of religious sites and antiquities, had already been involved in a number of projects in Kurdistan, including restoration of the Erbil Citadel in 2017. Reconstruction work underway on the Tomb of Nahum in 2018. (Courtesy Adam Tiffen) Ronen noted that the reconstruction work needed to be planned without relying on concrete and steel. “The structure had to be stabilized, first of all, and rebuilt in the language of the existing structure,” he said. “The restoration itself was planned according to where the arches were located, which followed the structure of the foundations,” he added. “This was actually not complicated, because it is a type of construction that you see often; it is familiar from other places, like domes and vaults. It was easy to decipher what the original structure was, as it is a site that has not undergone restorations for centuries.” Tiffen noted that he gave the US ambassador to Iraq a tour of the restoration work in January 2020, with the project set to finish by late spring, in time for the Jewish holiday traditionally associated with large pilgrimages to the tomb. “We were on schedule to complete the restoration work in time for Shavuot in 2020, but everything came to a stop because of the pandemic,” he said. “It’s quite incredible that this entire effort, despite all the challenges, would have been completed on time and on budget if it wasn’t for COVID.” In the end it took until spring 2021 to finish the restoration of the ancient building. Benard called the project “the most satisfying” she has ever done, because it was able to benefit the community at large as well as preserve Jewish heritage. She noted that ARCH was pushing ahead with other projects in Iraq and even Afghanistan. Cheryl Benard, left, speaking with members of the Kurdish Jewish community in Israel in 2018. (Courtesy) “They were depressed to go by these ruins of an ancient building every day, something that has been part of the town’s identity for hundreds of years right in the middle of the town,” she said. “When we started, they thought we will be just another passerby and that they will never see us again. But it was completed.” ‘A tangible reminder’ While studying the tomb, Schaffer spotted an opportunity to possibly put one ancient mystery to rest. In 1891, the French geographer Vital Quint claimed that eight years earlier, the bones of the Prophet Nahum had been spirited away to a Christian church without the Jews noticing. Quint claimed that Jews had been praying to an empty box, and though his account is highly disputed, the myth has persisted in some places. “The Christians say that at one time there was a fear that Jews who left the place would take Nahum’s bones, so they took the remains and buried him in the church,” Schaffer said. While Schaffer was not about to open the ancient tomb and check for bones, he considered whether he might be able to scrape off a sliver of wood from the grave to be taken for DNA testing. Tomb of the Jewish Prophet Nahum in Alqosh, Iraq (CC BY-SA, Chaldean/Wikipedia) “My goal was to analyze the piece of wood to give an approximate date,” he said, noting similarities to other tombs in Iraq said to belong to biblical prophets and that had been destroyed by IS. In the end though, Schaffer could not bring himself to scrape off a piece, and had GEMA construct a special wooden cage to place over the tomb to protect it during the restoration works. “I obey the law,” he said. “While it would not have done any harm if I had taken a piece, I feared it would be seen as antiquities theft, which is strictly forbidden. Ronen agreed with me.” “The importance of the place here is cultural, not only for Jews but also for Christians,” Ronen said. “We were amazed to see how the local Christians guarded it for generations.” Benard, the head of ARCH, recalled that during the restoration work, locals who remembered the town’s Jews asked if they were coming back to rebuild the shrine — not apprehensively, but in anticipation. “It was said in friendliness and positivity and welcome,” she said. “It’s important to understand that in some communities they miss them and remember them fondly, hoping for their return one day.” US Chargé d’Affaires in Iraq Joey Hood (c) tours the Tomb of Nahum in northern Iraq on April 26, 2019, where he pledged $500,000 to restore and preserve the site (Courtesy/US Consulate General in Erbil) Even if Israel’s Kurdish Jewish community is not moving back to Alqosh anytime soon, many of its members still maintain a strong connection with it. While planning the reconstruction, Tiffen and Benard made several trips to Israel to meet with members of the community, including leaders like Yehuda Ben Yosef and Zaken, the scholar. “We wanted to capture the intangible cultural heritage – the stories and legends that members of the community might have, and ideally meet with people who remember visiting the synagogue in their youth,” he said. Hebrew writing at the grave of the prophet Nahum, Kurdistan Region, Iraq (photo credit: Times of Israel/Lazar Berman) “For Jews, [the restored tomb] is a tangible reminder of their connection to the land and the restored synagogue can help educate future generations about the historical, cultural and religious diversity of the region.” Today, the tomb is ostensibly open to visitors, though it’s not clear if Israelis are welcome. “I cannot tell you if it will happen right away. For Israelis, this is a dangerous area,” Tiffen says when asked if Israelis will be able to make the pilgrimage. “Our hope is that the restored synagogue serves as a beacon of hope for the region, and a reminder of not only what was, but what can still be.”
  3. Will pro-Iranian militias in Iraq work more with Palestinians? By SETH J. FRANTZMAN SEPTEMBER 14, 2021 15:37 Iraqi Shi'ite Muslim men from the Iranian-backed group Kataib Hezbollah wave the party's flags as they walk along a street painted in the colours of the Israeli flag during a parade marking the annual Quds Day, or Jerusalem Day, on the last Friday of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, in Baghdad (photo credit: THAIER AL-SUDANI/REUTERS) Pro-Iranian militias in Iraq may want to transfer weapons and threats closer to the border with Israel. Pro-Iranian militias have increasingly used drones to target US forces. In the last week they allegedly flew a drone toward Erbil International Airport to target US forces in the Kurdistan region of Iraq. Could those militias in Iraq now be working more closely with Palestinians? In an article at the pro-Iranian site Al-Mayadeen, hints of closer cooperation emerged this week. Why does this matter? In May, an Iranian drone was flown from Iraq or Syria into Israeli airspace and shot down. Israel’s Defense Minister Benny Gantz warned about Iran training proxy forces with drones in Iran this week. Hamas also used new Iranian-style kamikaze drones in May. Gantz warned on September 12 at the annual International Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT) Conference at Reichman University that “Iran has developed ‘proxy terror’ which is perpetrated by organized ‘terror armies’ which are assisting Iran in achieving its economic, political and military goals. One of the most significant tools employed by Iran and its proxies is UAVs with a range of thousands of kilometers. Hundreds of these UAVs are spread across Yemen, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. Iran is also attempting to transfer the know-how needed for UAV production to Gaza.” He said that the Kashan base in Iran is used to train terrorists from Yemen, Iraq, Syria snd Lebanon. These terrorists are trained to employ UAVs produced by Iran. This base is a key point from which Iranian aerial terrorism is exported to the region.” The article postulates that the “growing strength of the resistance factions in Iraq after the defeat of ‘ISIS’, and their role in supporting and strengthening the issues of the region, foremost of which is the Palestinian cause , made the American feel ‘a state of anxiety’, demonstrated by the American statements ‘supporting Israel's strength in the region’ and the American and Israeli strikes on the sites of these factions.” An IAF fighter jet is seen taking off amid the Vered Hagalil drill in Israel's North. (credit: IDF SPOKESPERSON'S UNIT) This sentence hints at a larger context. Back in 2019, the pro-Iranian militias accused Israel of airstrikes in Iraq. In the fall of 2017, Qais Khazali of the Asaib Ahl al-Haq militia in Iraq visited Lebanon to say he would support Hezbollah in a war with Israel. In the summer of 2018, an airstrike targeted a Kataib Hezbollah headquarters in Albukamal in Syria near the Iraqi border. This was allegedly part of Iran’s path to the sea, a corridor of pro-Iranian groups stretching from Baghdad via Albukamal to Damascus and Lebanon. Now Al-Mayadeen says that pro-Iranian groups in Iraq have been increasing their rhetorical support for Palestinians, especially for Hamas. Iran backs Hamas and also Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Iran also backs the Iraqi militias via the IRGC Quds Force. The US killed Qasem Soleimani, head fo the Quds Force, in January 2020. The Al-Nujaba movement is quoted in the article as say "the hands of the Iraqi resistance reach deep into the occupied Palestinian territories.” The article says other factions also support the Palestinians, the Fatah Alliance in parliament, of which Badr Organization is a key part, and also Kataib Hezbollah. Kataib Hezbollah leader Abu Mahdi al-MUhandis was killed by the US in the same airstrike that killed Soleimani in 2020. What matters here is more the messaging than the facts on the ground. The militias may want to transfer weapons and threats closer to the Golan border, as Hezbollah did with a drone team in the fall of 2019. In February 2018 Iran also flew a drone from T-4 base into Israeli airspace. It was shot down near Beit Shean. The goal of Iran is to slowly lay the groundwork for more cooperation and use these groups as a conduit for weapons. In August 2018 and November 2019, reports emerged that Iran had moved ballistic missiles to Iraq to be housed in warehouses used by these groups. The new drone attacks on US forces in places like Erbil, and threats by pro-Iran militias near Deir Ezzor to US forces at Omar oil field and other locations in eastern Syria, is part of this web of threats. Iran has also bragged about its support for Houthis in Yemen who have achieved long range ballistic missile and drone capabilities. They have used drones and missiles to target Aramco and other energy facilities in Saudi Arabia. Iran also used a drone to target the Mercer Street in late July. The Houthis may be basing Iranian drones capable of threatening Israel as well.
  4. Iraqi PM becomes first foreign leader to meet Iran's Raisi By REUTERS SEPTEMBER 12, 2021 16:45 IRAQI PRIME MINISTER Mustafa al-Kadhimi speaks in Tarmiyah, last year. (photo credit: REUTERS) Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhemi became the first foreign leader on Sunday to visit and meet with Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi since the hardliner took office in August. Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhemi became the first foreign leader on Sunday to visit and meet with Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi since the hardliner took office in August. Iraq has been trying to mediate between Tehran and its Gulf Arab foes, including Saudi Arabia, in the hope of stopping its neighbors settling scores on its territory. Iraq has become the playground of rivalries between Iran on one side and the United States, Israel and Gulf Arab states on the other, with attacks against U.S. forces and assassinations of Iranian and Iraqi paramilitary leaders. "I hope despite the aims of the enemies of the two countries, we will witness expansion of good relations between Iran and Iraq," Raisi said in a joint news conference in Tehran. Raisi said Iraq had agreed to waive visas for Iranian pilgrims to Shi'ite holy sites in Iraq later this month on the occasion of Arbaeen marking the end of the 40-day mourning period for Imam Hussein, Prophet Mohammed's grandson. "Decisions were also made about the two countries' financial issues that should be adopted," Raisi said, without elaborating. Iran's President-elect Ebrahim Raisi gestures at a news conference in Tehran, Iran June 21, 2021. (credit: MAJID ASGARIPOUR/WANA (WEST ASIA NEWS AGENCY) VIA REUTERS) Iraq relies on Iranian gas and electricity, but imports have been irregular recently due to outstanding payments. Iran's state gas company said late last year that it had slashed supplies to Iraq over more than $6 billion arrears, placing Baghdad and other cities at risk of power shortages. Iraq's electricity ministry said last month that Iranian gas supplied to the central region was reduced from 3 million to 2 million cubic meters per day, while to the southern region it was reduced from 17 million to 5 million cubic meters per day.
  5. Iraqi PM meets new Iranian president in Tehran By AFPToday, 4:18 pm In this photo released by the official website of the office of the Iranian Presidency, President Ebrahim Raisi, right, and Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi sit during their meeting in Tehran, Iran, Sunday, Sept. 12, 2021. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP) Iraq’s Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhemi meets Iran’s recently elected President Ebrahim Raisi to discuss the neighbors’ economic relations. Kadhemi is the first foreign leader to visit the ultra-conservative Raisi, and brings a “high level political and economic delegation,” says Iran’s official IRNA news agency. Kadhemi tells a joint news conference that the pair “discussed certain joint economic questions and strategic projects” as well as “increasing trade in the interests of both nations.” Raisi, who took office last month, says that “financial and monetary relations” were also discussed. As Iran’s neighbor to the west, Iraq has sought a mediating role between Tehran and Arab nations. It has tried to broker Iran-Saudi talks to soothe tensions between the regional rivals.
  6. Drone attack targeting US forces reported in Kurdish region, Iraq By SETH J. FRANTZMAN SEPTEMBER 12, 2021 00:44 Smoke rises over the Erbil, after reports of mortar shells landing near Erbil airport, Iraq February 15, 2021 (Illustrative). (photo credit: THAIER AL-SUDANI/REUTERS) The drones were shot down by air defenses. *Erbil Airport is known to host US forces. Reports on Saturday evening indicated explosions were heard in Erbil, the capital of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. The area has been targeted by drones frequently over the last eight months and also by rockets in the past. Pro-Iranian groups in Iraq are alleged to use drones and rockets to target US forces at Erbil airport or threaten the US consulate in Erbil. According to the local media station Rudaw, explosions were heard and it was unclear if drones or rockets at targeted the area. Reports said air defense systems, likely operated by the United States, were active. These may include a C-RAM and other systems that are in place and have been tested in the past. Local reporters such as Wladimir Van Wilgenburg tweeted that they heard several loud sounds from the area of the airport around midnight local time. According to Kurdistan24, the US-led coalition confirmed the incident. Kurdistan24 said the attack involved drones and the US used C-RAM against the attacking projectiles. It said authorities were investigating the incident. However other reports said that rockets or other projectiles also targeted the airport area. Kurdish counter-terrorism units were quoted as saying that drones were involved in the attack. Footage posted online appeared to show an explosion. Kurdistan Regional Government foreign media spokesperson Lawk Ghafuri wrote that the “international Airport has been attacked with a drone tonight, no casualties reported and no further information is available until now, and finally, the security forces are investigating the incident and more info will come in coming hours.” The incident comes on 9/11, the anniversary of the terror attack on New York City. Pro-Iran groups have frequently targeted the US-led coalition in Iraq over the last several years. Iran also used drones on September 9 to allegedly target Kurdish opposition groups. There was a drone attack on Erbil on June 27.
  7. ISIS cannot recover in Iraq unless government loses stability, experts say Terror group has carried out its deadliest attacks across the country in recent days An ISIS fighter holds the group's flag and a weapon on a street in Mosul, Iraq in 2014. Reuters Mina Aldroubi Sep 9, 2021 ISIS cannot recover in Iraq unless the government loses its political, military and economic stability, experts told The National as the country announced operations against the remaining sleeper cells. In recent days questions about the ability of Iraqi security forces to maintain stability have risen, after a brutal ISIS attack on police officers in the north. About 16 officers were killed in two separate attacks by the militants. At least 13 were killed at a police checkpoint outside the city of Kirkuk and three others in Makhmour, south-east of Mosul. Although Iraq claimed victory over the terror group in late 2017, ISIS has continued to carry out sporadic attacks across the country. An Iraqi soldier looks at the site of an air strike that struck an ISIS sniper position in Al Shifa, west Mosul. Photo: Getty Images But experts say that any terror group can still conduct deadly attacks for several years after it is defeated and can no longer hold territory, without posing a danger of taking over. “ISIS has never been weaker in Iraq than it is today because Sunni communities have proof, from the 2014-2017 period, that living under ISIS is worse than living under the Iraqi government,” said Michael Knights, an analyst at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “As long as Iraq has good political and military leadership and strong international support, ISIS cannot recover,” Mr Knights told The National. ISIS is down to its last 5 per cent of strength but arresting or killing this last small number of fighters is far more difficult than killing militants in open battles for cities, he said. “Surgical counter-terrorism raids will need to be undertaken for 5-10 years at least,” he said. The only way for Iraq to retain its success over ISIS is by removing “Shiite militias from Sunni areas and by securing its borders with Syria, Turkey and Iran”, he said. ISIS controlled about one third of Iraq and Syria from mid-2014 until late 2017. An international coalition led by the US was formed to assist Iraqi forces in their battle against the terrorists in 2014. Washington is planning a withdrawal of US troops from Iraq by the end of this year. The US has 2,500 troops among the 3,500 members of the international anti-ISIS coalition in Iraq. During the last year it has decreased its forces from nearly 5,000 that were stationed to help combat ISIS to 2,500. In addition to the US withdrawal, Iraq faces an economic crisis and increased poverty levels. The coronavirus pandemic and decline in oil prices has added an urgency to stabilise the security environment. If not addressed correctly, the country’s security could deteriorate if it is hit by another economic crisis, Aymenn Al Timimi, research fellow at George Washington University’s Programme on Extremism told The National. “I don’t see a comeback like 2014 but I think the security situation could get worse if a major economic crisis hits the country,” Mr Al Timimi told The National. The analyst said in recent times, ISIS claims of operations have been largely Iraq based rather than in both Iraq and Syria. "There could be issues of communication with cells inside Syria, but it is as though the group has reverted to its natural home base in Iraq,” he said, adding that it was possible the group's roots are more firmly established in Iraq than Syria.
  8. Iran Attacks Kurdish Militants in Iraq SAFIN HAMED/AFP/Getty Images JOHN HAYWARD 10 Sep 202131 5:06 Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), the theocracy-controlled wing of the Iranian military and a designated terrorist organization, launched rocket and drone attacks across the border into Iraq on Thursday, targeting Kurdish militant groups Iran claims are a threat to its security. “In this operation, the headquarters of those conspiring against Iran’s national security was destroyed,” the IRGC declared through Iranian state media on Thursday. One of the Kurdish groups in question, the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran (KDPI), countered by claiming there were no casualties from the strikes and said it was able to capture one of the six Iranian drones employed in the attack. The mayor of Choman, one of the towns that came under attack, also said there were no casualties. Kurdish news service Rudaw reported the Iranian attack began around 6:00 a.m. and targeted multiple locations in the Chiman, Haji Omran, and Sidakan regions of Erbil province, using a combination of drones, artillery, and warplanes. The attack came three years to the day after an Iranian missile strike hit KDPI headquarters and killed at least 16 people. The KDPI has ties to the Kurdistan Democracy Party (KDP), the governing party in Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), and also to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a violent separatist group considered a severe security threat by Turkey. Turkey launchessporadic attacks over the Iraqi border to hit PKK positions. The KRG and its armed forces, known as the peshmerga, were vital U.S. allies in the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq. ISIS remains a threat in Iraq and is attacking the KRG with increasing frequency. Peshmerga fighters inspect the remains of a car, bearing an image of the trademark jihadist flag, which belonged to Islamic State (IS) militants after it was targeted by an American air strike in the village of Baqufa, north of Mosul, on August 18,2014. Kurdish peshmerga fighters backed by federal forces and US warplanes pressed a counter-offensive Monday against jihadists after retaking Iraq’s largest dam, as the United States and Britain stepped up their military involvement. AFP PHOTO/AHMAD AL-RUBAYE IRGC ground forces commander Gen. Mohammad Pakpour on Tuesday threatened the KRG with a “decisive and harsh response” if “terrorists” continue to operate out of Iraqi Kurdistan. “The current situation is no longer tolerable,” Pakpour said, referring to clashes between Kurdish militants and IRGC forces along the mountainous Iran-Iraq border. Pakpour suggested KRG leadership should not risk their “friendly ties” with Iran by allowing “terrorists who have built dens” in their territory to remain a threat. “Terrorist and counterrevolutionary groups affiliated with the global arrogance and foreign espionage services have been using the territory of northern Iraq for many years to undermine security and peace in border areas of the Islamic Republic of Iran and harass the inhabitants of these regions,” Pakpour thundered. “In this regard, the Iraqi government and the officials of the northern region of Iraq have been given the necessary warnings,” he said ominously. Al-Monitor described Pakpour’s “amped-up rhetoric” as a significant escalation of Iranian tensions with the Kurds. Iranian military officials and lawmakers have been increasingly strident in threatening the KRG since Supreme National Security Council Secretary Adm. Ali Shamkhani demanded last month the Kurdistan government must expel all separatist and militant groups or face “pre-emptive” action. The PDKI shot back that Iran’s airstrikes and artillery barrage constituted a “terrorist” assault on the peshmerga: A KRG military spokesman responded to Iran’s threats by declaring “Iraq is one” and promising not to “allow anyone to threaten its security and safety.” The KDPI is one of many Kurdish organizations across the region that longs for greater autonomy from host governments for the stateless Kurdish people, or for outright separation from those governments so a greater Kurdish state can be formed. None of the countries that currently own the territory that would be absorbed into a prospective Greater Kurdistan is terribly enthusiastic about the idea. KDPI fighters have been scrapping with the Iranian regime since 1989 when KDPI leader Abdol Rahman Ghassemlu was assassinated in Vienna by suspected Iranian agents. Ghassemlu had been targeted as an “enemy of Allah” by the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, founder of the current Iranian regime, who declared “holy war” against the KDPI. Several other KDPI leaders have been assassinated over the years, most recently Mousa Babakhani, a senior official in a splinter party called KDP-I who was abducted, tortured, and killed from a hotel in Erbil in July. The KDP-I accused Iranian agents of murdering Babakhani. July marked the 32nd anniversary of Ghassemlu’s assassination. Several Iraqi Kurdish party leaders commemorated the occasion by warning the international community to be cautious when dealing with Iran and its new President Ebrahim Raisi, who is notorious for “crimes and massacres” according to an inter-party Kurdish statement. The Kurdish leaders also criticized Austria for failing to bring Ghassemlu’s killers to justice.
  9. They probably used the drones received from Afghanistan. SEPTEMBER 9, 2021 5:06 PM 0 Iran’s Guards Target Kurdish Rebels in Iraqi Kurdistan: Report Iranian-backed Hashd al Shaabi fighters in Kurdistan’s Sinjar region. Photo: File. Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards on Thursday used artillery and drones to strike Kurdish militants based in neighboring Iraq’s northern Kurdistan region, the Iranian state broadcaster IRIBreported. “In this operation, the headquarters of those conspiring against Iran’s national security was destroyed,” IRIB quoted the Revolutionary Guards as saying about the latest attack on the rebels based in neighboring Iraq. There are frequent clashes in the remote and mountainous border region between Iranian security forces and Iranian Kurdish militant groups opposed to the Tehran government, such as the Party of Free Life of Kurdistan (PJAK), linked to Kurdish PKK insurgents in Turkey, and the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan (PDKI). On Monday, Brigadier General Mohammad Pakpour, the head of the Guards’ ground forces, said Iran was preparing to retaliate against the militants based across the border and urged civilians there to “stay away from the terrorists’ headquarters in order to avoid harm,” Iranian news agencies reported.
  10. Why We Should Be Worried About Nineveh This Year: US in Iraq - Opinion By ABRAHAM COOPER/ THE MEDIA LINE SEPTEMBER 6, 2021 13:19 Mourners stand next to the coffins with the remains of people from the Yazidi minority, who were killed by Islamic State militants, after they were exhumed from a mass grave, to bury them in Kojo, Iraq February 6, 2021. (photo credit: REUTERS/THAIER AL-SUDANI) Hint - It's not about Jonah and the whale. If President Biden chooses to evacuate Iraq, two historic peoples – the Assyrian Christians and Yazidis – will be no more. Against the backdrop of the 9.0-magnitude man-made earthquake that was the disastrous US pullout from Afghanistan, two Christian leaders, Pastor Johnnie Moore and Juliana Taimoorazy, convened a news conference last week under the auspices of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. With the participation of Jameel Chomer, country director of the Yazda organization, via Zoom from Iraq, we released an open letter to the president of the United States urging him not to repeat the Afghanistan humanitarian debacle in Iraq. For more stories from The Media Line go to Signed by Chomer and Taimoorazy, founder and president of the Iraqi Christian Relief Council, it read in part: “Mr. President, we urge you to resist pressure to withdraw all troops from Iraq. Recent blood-soaked history has shown that without such a presence, the history of Assyrians and Yazidis on their ancient lands would end.” Today, there are only a reported 2,500 US soldiers left in Iraq. But for the battered and depleted Assyrian Christians and the Yazidis, two minorities who live side-by-side peacefully, a total pullout by the US could mean the demise of two ancient peoples in the Nineveh plains. In 2003, about the time of the invasion of Iraq, there were 1.5 million Assyrian Christians, who are among the world’s oldest Christian communities, in the world. Today, there remain 150,000 Assyrian Christians in their homeland. The numbers of Yazidis shrank from 600,000 to 400,000. The greatest disaster for both was the ascendancy of ISIS, the world’s most brutal terrorist groups. ISIS was able to fill a void left by the US; a void with beheadings, murders, pillaging and rapes. That void was created when, in 2011, then-President Obama decided to remove all 45,000 remaining US forces from Iraq. On November 29 of that year, then-Vice President Joe Biden declared during an official visit to Iraq: “We are embarking on a new... and a comprehensive relationship between the United States and Iraq as sovereign partners.” Biden made the remarks after meeting with then-Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and other Iraqi officials. Apparently, ISIS never got the memo. The bottom line is that the US created a vacuum that enabled the terrorist group to plunder, pillage, murder and rape its way through Iraq. Beyond the havoc and suffering it unleashed in Syria, in 2014, ISIS took the key Iraqi city of Mosul and seized towns and villages in the Nineveh plains. The Associated Press reported: “Thousands of Christians found themselves fleeing once again the militants’ advance, taking refuge in Iraq’s northern Kurdish region or leaving the country. Over the next few years, the extremists killed thousands of Iraqi civilians from a variety of religions. They also destroyed … monasteries, mosques, tombs, shrines and churches in Syria and Iraq.” “The IS juggernaut and the long war to drive the militants out left ransacked homes and charred or pulverized buildings across the north. Christians in the Nineveh plains fled the IS onslaught and many of those who returned dream of resettling abroad,” according to the AP. A Kurdish peshmerga fighter takes up position with a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) launcher at the front line against the Islamic State, in Khazir September 7, 2014. Islamic State launched a lightning advance through northern and central Iraq in June, declaring an Islamic caliphate. With the help o (credit: REUTERS/AHMED JADALLAH) Meanwhile, ISIS fighters attacked the Iraqi town of Sinjar in August 2014 – home to the Yazidis. More than 30,000 Yazidi families are stranded in the Sinjar Mountains. A Yazidi lawmaker reported that 500 men have been killed, 70 children have died of thirst and women are being sold into slavery. The horrific suffering of that people was just beginning. Throughout that period, the world also watched in horror as ISIS would broadcast the beheadings of American, British and Japanese journalists. ISIS would unleash deadly far-flung terrorist attacks from Paris and Nigeria. Eventually, the US would rush back troops to Iraq to quell ISIS. And a semblance of stability eventually returned to the decimated areas. Yet on July 27, Joe Biden, now president, announced the remaining symbolic US forces will be leaving Iraq again “for good.” If, G-d forbid, that happens, it will take more than a prophet and a whale to save our friend Jameel Chomer from the clutches of a rejuvenated ISIS. Why should we care? Jameel served as an interpreter and cultural advisor for the US army for almost six years in Iraq and has been desperately trying to get his family to the US for years. Sound familiar? We can only pray that President Biden and his military and foreign policy brain trust will reconsider such a move in the wake of the disaster now facing Afghanis of all faiths and sects not aligned with the Taliban’s medieval brand of Islam. If President Biden doesn’t cancel that move, two historic peoples – the Assyrian Christians and Yazidis – will be no more. And the keys to Nineveh plains will surely be scooped up by Iran with a long coveted strategic prize – an unfettered route to the Mediterranean Sea and a new powerful front to threaten the very existence of another people, the nation of Israel.
  11. ISIS attack kills ten policemen in Iraq By REUTERS SEPTEMBER 5, 2021 12:16 A Kurdistan Region Peshmerga looks out at ISIS positions from his frontline near Kirkuk in 2015 (photo credit: SETH J. FRANTZMAN) Ten policemen were killed and four injured in an ISIS attack on a guard post near Kirkuk, Iraq. Islamic State militants killed 10 Iraqi policemen and wounded four during an overnight attack on a guard post near the city of Kirkuk, police sources said on Sunday. Police sources said the attackers clashed for two hours with police stationed at a village in the town of Rashad, 30 km (18 miles) southwest of northern city of Kirkuk. Militants used roadside bombs to prevent police reinforcements from reaching the post, destroying three police vehicles, police sources said. There was no immediate claim of responsibility but Islamic State militants are active in the area and a security source said they were involved. Separately, at least three Iraqi soldiers were killed and one was wounded on Sunday when gunmen attacked an army checkpoint southeast of the Iraqi city of Mosul, security sources said. Kurdish Peshmerga (center) leader Hussein Yazdanpanah with his men on the frontline with ISIS west of Kirkuk (credit: SETH J. FRANTZMAN) Despite the defeat of the Islamic State militant group in 2017, remnants of the group switched to hit-and-run attacks against government forces in different parts of Iraq.
  12. It’s Iraq we understand the days are all the same.😂
  13. Emboldened by Afghanistan, Iran-Backed Militias Demand U.S. Troops Out of Iraq AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP via Getty Images GABRIELLE REYES 1 Sep 2021190 0:32 Iraqi Shiite militia leader Hadi al-Amiri on Tuesday urged all foreign troops to leave Iraq by the end of the year, the Kurdish news agency Rudaw reported. By December 31, 2021, “no foreign forces” should remain in Iraq, Al-Amiri told reporters at the Rafidain Center for Dialogue (RCD) forum in Baghdad. “Not Turkish forces or French forces. This is a decision of the Iraqi people and not President Macron’s decision,” he added. Al-Amiri, who leads both a “political Fatih alliance and the armed Badr Organization” in Iraq, according to Rudaw, referred to comments made by French President Emmanuel Macron during a visit to Iraq over the weekend. The Badr Organization is part of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), a coalition of Iran-backed militias formally integrated into the Iraqi armed forces. Macron arrived in Baghdad on August 28, where he participated in a conference “aimed at easing Mideast tensions,” according to the Associated Press. The summit was attended by Iraqi government officials, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Kuwaiti Prime Minister Sabah Al Khalid Al Sabah, and Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani. In a speech at the conference, Macron vowed to maintain a French troop presence in Iraq “regardless of the Americans’ choices” and “for as long as the Iraqi government is asking for our support.” “There are currently 3,500 foreign soldiers in Iraq, 2,500 of them Americans, as part of the global coalition against the Islamic State group (ISIS),” Rudaw reported on September 1. France currently contributes 800 military personnel to Iraq’s international troop coalition. Washington held diplomatic talks with Baghdad from June 11-July 26 to discuss America’s role in Iraq moving forward. The two sides agreed that “there will be no U.S. forces with a combat role in Iraq by December 31, 2021,” according to a joint statement released at the conclusion of the strategic dialogue. “The United States intends to continue its support for the ISF [Iraqi Security Forces], including the Peshmerga, to build their capacity to deal with future threats,” according to the statement. The Peshmerga are the military forces of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan Region. A member of the French government delegation that accompanied Macron on his trip to Iraq from August 28-29 told Rudaw on Saturday Paris “will continue to play a leading role in fighting terror” in Iraq in the coming months. “France is working with the Iraqis and Kurds beyond the coalition. Even if the Americans leave, even if France can’t take over all the responsibilities of the Americans, France will continue to be beside Iraq and the Kurds to lead the fight against terrorism,” Jean-Jacques Bridey, the head of the French parliament’s France-Iraq Friendship Committee, told Rudaw on August 28. An international coalition of troops in 2017 helped Iraq defeat Islamic State terrorists who took over about 40 percent of the country through a military campaign launched in 2014.
  14. Macron vows French troops will remain in Iraq even if US withdraws Summit in Baghdad brings together Arab leaders, including regional foes Iran and Saudi Arabia; is overshadowed by chaos in Afghanistan By LAURENCE BENHAMOU and GUILLAUME DECAMMEToday, 5:18 am Iraqi Parliament Speaker Muhammad al-Halbousi (R) receives France's President Emmanuel Macron ahead of a meeting at the parliament in the capital Baghdad, on August 28, 2021. (Ludovic MARIN / AFP) BAGHDAD (AFP) — The Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan overshadowed a summit in Baghdad on Saturday grouping key regional leaders as well as French President Emmanuel Macron who vowed his country would stand firm in Iraq. The meeting comes as Iraq, long a casualty of jihadist militancy, tries to establish itself as a mediator between Arab countries and Iran. “Given the geopolitical events, this conference has taken a special turn,” Macron said at the summit. He said his country would continue to deploy troops in Iraq to battle terrorism even if the US were to withdraw. “No matter what choices the Americans make, we will maintain our presence in Iraq to fight against terrorism,” Macron told a news conference “We all know that we must not lower our guard, because Daesh (the Islamic State group) remains a threat, and I know that the fight against these terrorist groups is a priority of your government,” Macron said earlier after a meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhemi. Iraq and France are “key partners in the war against terrorism,” Kadhemi replied. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi and Jordan’s King Abdullah II flew in for the summit, also attended by the foreign ministers of regional foes Iran and Saudi Arabia. ADVERTISEMENT French President Emmanuel Macron meets with Qatars Emir Sheikh Tamim al-Thani (R) during the Baghdad conference in the Iraqi capital on August 28, 2021. (Ludovic MARIN / various sources / AFP) Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, Dubai’s ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, Kuwait’s Prime Minister Sheikh Sabah Al-Khalid Al-Sabah and Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu also took part. Iraq is seeking to play a “unifying role” to tackle crises shaking the region, sources close to Iraq’s Kadhemi said. The oil-rich country has been caught for years in a delicate balancing act between its two main allies, Iran and the United States. The Islamic Republic exerts major clout in Iraq through allied armed groups within the Hashed al-Shaabi, a powerful state-sponsored paramilitary network. Baghdad has been brokering talks since April between US ally Riyadh and Tehran on mending ties severed in 2016. France’s President Emmanuel Macron (C L) meets with the Iraqi Parliament Speaker Muhammad al-Halbousi (C R) and Members at the parliament in the capital Baghdad, on August 28, 2021. (Ludovic MARIN / AFP) “It was really not easy to put the Saudis and Iranians in the same room,” a French diplomatic source said. An adviser to Kadhemi said that just the presence of the two foreign ministers together was itself a “success.” The Baghdad conference “will make it possible to lay the framework for cooperation in the fight against terrorism,” Macron said. An IS affiliate claimed Thursday’s suicide bombing in Kabul that killed scores of people, including 13 US service members. The attack revived global concerns that the extremist group, which seized swathes of Syria and Iraq before being routed from both countries, is emerging anew, analysts said. The blast came during the final days of US-led evacuations from Afghanistan after the Taliban’s lightning takeover. People walk on the tarmac as they disembark from a Airbus A400M military transport aircraft at the French military air base 104 of Al Dhafra, near Abu Dhabi, on August 23, 2021, after being evacuated from Kabul (BERTRAND GUAY / AFP) Macron also met separately with Qatar’s emir on a possible role for Doha — which has good contacts with Taliban having hosted peace talks — in organizing further evacuations beyond an August 31 deadline set by Washington. The French leader told reporters that Paris was in talks with the Taliban through Qatar to “protect and repatriate” Afghans at risk. France, which ended its evacuations from Afghanistan on Friday, had evacuated 2,834 people from there since August 17, he said. It is now counting on Qatar to help organize further “focused” flights to evacuate “men and women whom we have identified and to whom we have given temporary (residency) permits,” Macron added. France was part of a US-led coalition established to battle IS after it announced a “caliphate” in territory seized in Iraq and Syria in 2014. It has around 800 troops deployed in Iraq. Baghdad declared IS territorially defeated in December 2017, but the group still retains sleeper cells and continues to claim bloody attacks. One of the deadliest was a bombing last month that ripped through a crowded market in the capital, killing over 30 people on the eve of a key Muslim holiday. According to Colin Clarke, senior research fellow at the Soufan Center, IS “still has access to tens of millions of dollars and will likely continue to rebuild its network throughout Iraq and Syria.” In July, President Joe Biden said US combat operations in Iraq would end this year, but that soldiers would continue to train, advise and support Iraq’s military in the fight against IS. Washington currently has 2,500 troops deployed in Iraq. On the sidelines of the summit, the Egyptian president met Qatar’s emir — their first encounter since a January summit that healed a rift that pitted Doha against Cairo and Gulf Arab countries.
  15. Jerusalem Post Middle East Macron to visit Kurdistan region, Iraq to show commitment to region By SETH J. FRANTZMAN AUGUST 28, 2021 16:25 FRENCH PRESIDENT Emmanuel Macron speaks during a video conference with international partners to discuss humanitarian aid for financially-strapped Lebanon, in Paris on December 2. (photo credit: IAN LANGSDON/POOL VIA REUTERS) The Macron visit to Iraq, which is in political turmoil and needs support, is key. Erbil Citadel, the historic heart of the capital of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, was lit up with the colors of the French flag for a historic visit by French President Emmanuel Macron to Kurdistan this weekend. It is an important visit. France has been a key supporter of the Kurds and in general supports minorities in the Middle East. Macron arrived in Baghdad on Friday night and will stay through Saturday. Kurdistan Region President Nechirvan Barzani will welcome Macron to Erbil on Sunday, according to Kurdish media outlet Rudaw. “The French leader will come to Erbil after attending the Baghdad summit on Saturday. President Barzani will be accompanied by Prime Minister Masrour Barzani, Deputy Prime Minister Qubad Talabani, and a number of ministers.” The Macron visit to Iraq is key. Iraq is in political turmoil and needs support. Iraqi politician Muqtada al-Sadr has been waffling about continuing his role in politics. The prime minister has appeared to be struggling to keep pro-Iranian militias in line and balance the pro-Iran segments with a desire to keep some US role in the country. Many think that America is withdrawing from the region. With a weakened US image, the image of France may be seen as more determined and forthcoming. Iraq has traditionally had US and UK partners, but Paris has also played a key role. France worked with Saddam Hussein’s regime in the 1980s and has continued to play a key role in the country. Macron is in Iraq to attend a Baghdad Conference that is supposed to also include Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. If such a high-profile meeting happens with senior officials of these governments, it will be unprecedented. “After years of conflict and foreign influence within its borders, Iraq is hoping to bolster its standing as a regional mediator [and] a bridge between nations, as well as creating economic and social ties,” Rudaw noted. Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi wants Iraq to be a center of peace. IRAQI PRIME MINISTER Mustafa al-Kadhimi speaks in Tarmiyah, last year. (credit: REUTERS) The visit comes after ISIS killed a dozen US soldiers and murdered more than 100 civilians in Afghanistan, resulting in a US drone strike on a key ISIS leader in Afghanistan. The US is still helping Iraq and the Syrian SDF fight ISIS. France’s Deputy Ambassador Nathalie Broadhurst says Paris becoming more involved and “will be an opportunity for Iraq to assert itself as a pole of stability in the region. France is absolutely convinced that a prosperous and peaceful Middle East depends on a sovereign and stable Iraq.” Macron is expected to meet with Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) leader Masoud Barzani during his visit to the Kurdistan region. France has helped train Kurdish Peshmerga fighters in the past. Kurdistan Region president Nechirvan Barzani met Macron in Paris in March.
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