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IRAQ WARS
Iraq forces seize IS outpost ahead of Euphrates push; Kirkuk car bomb kills 3
by Staff Writers
Baghdad (AFP) Sept 16, 2017


Russia and Iraq restore air travel after 13-year freeze
Moscow (AFP) Sept 17, 2017 - Russia and Iraq restored scheduled commercial airline services on Sunday for the first time since 2004, in what officials hailed as a sign of stability returning to the war-torn country.

An Iraqi Airways plane left Baghdad at 10.31 am (0731 GMT) and was expected to arrive at Moscow's Vnukovo airport at 2.19 pm (1119 GMT), according to the Russian airport's online departure and arrival timetables.

"The first commercial flight arrives today," Sergei Izvolsky, spokesman for Russia's civil aviation authority, told AFP.

"It is a signal on the part of the Iraqi authorities that Russian nationals can safely visit Iraq."

The two countries may also later agree on air travel to the Iraqi city of Basra, Izvolsky said.

Russia suspended regular flights to Iraq in 2004 after the US-led invasion in 2003 plunged the Arab country into war.

Iraqi forces on Saturday captured a desert outpost of the Islamic State group near the Syrian border in preparation for a drive up the Euphrates Valley towards the frontier, commanders said.

The capture of Akashat, a former mining town in mainly Sunni Arab Anbar province, some 100 kilometres (60 miles) south of the jihadists' border bastion of Al-Qaim, came just hours after the forces assaulted it.

Al-Qaim and the Euphrates towns of Rawa and Anna downstream form just one of two enclaves still held by IS in Iraq after a string of battlefield defeats this year.

"The army, the Hashed al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilisation force), tribal units and the police captured Akashat," the Joint Operations Command leading the fight against IS said in a statement.

Earlier, JOC head General Abdelamir Yarallah said the operation "to liberate Akashat" was aimed at securing the border to its north.

The Hashed al-Shaabi are a paramilitary force largely composed of Iran-trained Shiite militias but also including some fighters recruited from Sunni tribes.

Iraqi commanders estimate there are no more than 300 civilian families left in Akashat, a former railhead that was once a major source of phosphate production.

Imad Meshaal, mayor of Rutba, a desert town further south recaptured from IS last year, told AFP the jihadists had turned the area into a major hub for arms caches, training camps and command centres.

Iraqi commanders say they estimate IS still has more than 1,500 fighters in its Al-Qaim enclave.

The jihadists also control a second enclave west of the ethnically divided Kurdish-held city of Kirkuk centred on the mainly Sunni Arab town of Hawija.

A promised offensive against IS there has been delayed by a row over a controversial referendum on Kurdish independence planned for later this month.

Car bomb kills three in Iraq's Kirkuk
Kirkuk, Iraq (AFP) Sept 16, 2017 - A car bomb explosion targeting shops selling alcohol in Iraq's northern city of Kirkuk on Saturday killed three civilians and wounded nine, a security official said.

He said the blast damaged the shops and sparked a fire in three vehicles.

Kirkuk is the capital of the oil-rich province of the same name which is disputed by the federal government in Baghdad and the autonomous region of Kurdistan.

The blast comes as Kurdish leaders prepare to hold an independence referendum on September 25 in the face of fierce opposition from Baghdad and the Kurds' international backers.

The Kurdish Regional Government is embroiled in long-standing disputes with the federal government over oil exports, budget payments and control of ethnically divided areas.

On Thursday, the Baghdad parliament fired the governor of Kirkuk province, Najm Eddine Karim, over his provincial council's decision to take part in the non-binding referendum.

Kirkuk, which is home to diverse communities including Arabs and Turkmen who oppose the vote, is under the authority of the Baghdad federal government.

IRAQ WARS
Dozens dead in Iraq attack claimed by IS
Nasiriyah, Iraq (AFP) Sept 14, 2017
Gunmen and suicide car bombers killed at least 74 people Thursday near the Iraqi city of Nasiriyah, in the deadliest attack claimed by the Islamic State group since it lost second city Mosul. The assailants struck at midday, opening fire on a restaurant before getting into a car and blowing themselves up at a nearby security checkpoint, officials said. They left a trail of destruction, w ... read more

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