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Iraqis' 'cruel dilemma': Pay Qaeda tax or pay the price
by Staff Writers
Baghdad (AFP) Sept 14, 2011

Iran's Guards to Kurdish rebels: lay down arms or leave
Tehran (AFP) Sept 14, 2011 - Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards have warned members of an Iraq-based Kurdish separatist group they will be fought "to the end" unless they lay down their arms or leave, local media reported Wednesday.

"Our message is that Islamic Republic of Iran will not tolerate any armed terrorist group which is the product of Americans. They will be confronted decisively till the end," the deputy commander of the force, Brigadier General Hossein Salami said, referring to the Party of Free Life of Kurdistan (PJAK).

"The groups in the area should lay down their weapons and seek Islamic Republic of Iran compassion or get far enough from our borders, if not then we warn them that they should await our continuation of decisive attacks," he added.

In July, Iran launched a major offensive against PJAK rebels, shelling districts near Iraq's border for weeks, but halted it during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan to give the rebels a chance to withdraw from border areas.

The Guards resumed the offensive on September 2, pledging to "continue until all counter-revolutionaries, rebels and terrorists have been cleared away."

Iranian media also quoted the commander of the Guards, General Mohammad Ali Jafari, as saying that the presence of PJAK "prompted our ground forces to go ahead with precise and pre-emptive plans against this threat and it is continuing."

The two Guards' commanders in their comments made no reference to a call for a truce on September 5 by PJAK. The separatists urged Iran to reciprocate in order to prevent further bloodshed.

Tehran responded a day later, saying Iraq's Kurdish autonomous government, which is acting as a mediator, must clarify the details of the proposed truce.

According to the Guards, more than 30 PJAK rebels have been killed and 40 wounded in the second wave of attacks, while the Guards have suffered at least 20 casualties according to different reports published in the local media.

On September 7, Tehran said that it killed the deputy military leader of PJAK.

Iraq does not tax its citizens, but Abu Jassem al-Juburi, who runs a gas station in Mosul, still hands over a chunk of his income every month to the group that holds sway there: Al-Qaeda.

Dramatically weakened nationwide since it wrought vicious attacks at the height of Iraq's sectarian war from 2006 to 2008, the terror network's front group here still retains influence in the northern city.

The Islamic State of Iraq is widely described by businesspeople, officials and security leaders as a mafia-like organisation that extorts cash from Mosul residents in a bid to fund attacks.

"If I keep the gas station open, Al-Qaeda gunmen demand I give them free fuel and make financial contributions, claiming to fight the occupation," Juburi said, referring to US forces in Iraq as many locals here still do, eight years after the invasion that ousted now-executed dictator Saddam Hussein.

"If I close it, the security forces accuse me of cowering to terrorists, of creating supply problems, and they threaten to throw me in prison for a week or two. So, I pay."

"It is a cruel dilemma," concluded the 50-something, whose gas station lies in the west of the city, 350 kilometres (200 miles) north of Baghdad.

Mosul, home to 1.6 million Iraqis, is capital of Nineveh province. The south and west of the city is largely made up of Sunni Muslims, while the rest of Mosul is home to Sunnis, Kurds and Christians.

The city, for centuries a trading hub in the Middle East, translates loosely as "the junction" in Arabic. During Saddam's rule, it was home to a large pool of officers in his army and security services.

Now, many of the city's traders and businessmen profess to paying around $150 a month in "tax" to the ISI.

"Strangers come to me and extort money," said the 40-year-old operator of a private neighbourhood electricity generator who asked to be named only as Abu Mohammed, or "father of Mohammed", for fear of retribution.

"They tell me, 'If you do not want to see your family, or if you want your generator to catch fire, then don't pay'. Of course, I give in," he says, blaming authorities for failing to improve security.

Mosul officials openly acknowledge how much power the ISI has in the city.

"Al-Qaeda forces entrepreneurs, industrialists, traders, pharmacists, all of them to put their hands in their pockets to finance their activities," noted Abdul Rahman al-Shammari, head of the security committee on the Nineveh provincial council.

"The activities of Al-Qaeda in the province, and particularly in Mosul, is due to the long border with Syria and the fear of the city's residents in denouncing the terrorists."

Much of that is due to distrust of the security forces, Shammari said, and their perceived infiltration by ISI fighters. In addition, while the province's policemen are largely made up of locals, many of the soldiers posted to the area are from Iraq's Shiite Muslim south.

Mosul is one of the most violent cities in the country. In 2009, 557 attacks resulted in 757 deaths, according to the independent NGO Iraq Body Count, with a per-capita level of violence much higher than the capital, which has four times as many residents.

The IBC did not immediately respond to an AFP request for up-to-date figures.

Despite its reduced profile nationwide, ISI is still able to recruit in Mosul's mosques, arguing that it is the only group "resisting the occupiers," said a police commander who declined to be identified.

"But threats remain their strongest means of persuasion," the officer said.

"If a businessman refuses to pay, they kill his son in front of his home. If he still stands firm, they will blow up his house to make an example of him for others."

He added that ISI leaders in Nineveh were able to organise attacks from jail and had sufficient power to have non-compliant prison guards killed.

"The family of each detainee receives payment from Al-Qaeda, and the group promises to build him a house for when he is released," the officer added.

But while they raise funds in Mosul, the focus of their attacks remain Baghdad, according to defence ministry spokesman Major General Mohammed al-Askari.

"Al-Qaeda's leadership is in Mosul, the bombs are made in Diyala (a province in central Iraq), the funds are provided by Sunnis in the north and west of the capital, and operations today are concentrated on Baghdad," he said.

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17 killed in attacks against Iraq security forces
Hilla, Iraq (AFP) Sept 14, 2011 - A spate of attacks appearing to target security forces in central and west Iraq on Wednesday killed at least 17 people, including five policemen and two soldiers, officials said.

The violence, which also left around 50 wounded, comes with just months to go before US forces are set to withdraw from the country completely, with questions over the capabilities of their domestic counterparts.

In the deadliest attack, a car bomb exploded in front of a restaurant frequented by security force members in the town of Medhatiyah, just east of the central city of Hilla, in Babil province.

Provincial deputy governor Sadiq Rasul al-Mohannah put the toll at 13 dead and 42 wounded. He said three policemen were among the dead, and added that the casualties also included women and children.

Meanwhile, a "sticky bomb" attached to a vehicle inside an Iraqi air force base in the town of Habbaniyah, about 80 kilometres (50 miles) west of Baghdad in mostly Sunni Anbar province, killed two soldiers and wounded 10 others, according to defence ministry spokesman Major General Mohammed al-Askari.

"There was a sticky bomb against a bus carrying soldiers from the main entrance of the base to their positions inside the base," Askari told AFP.

An official at the morgue in Anbar capital Ramadi and the provincial security command centre confirmed the toll in the 8:00 am (0500 GMT) attack.

And in Baghdad, insurgents opened fire on a police checkpoint in the Qahira neighbourhood, in the capital's north, killing two policemen and wounding another, an interior ministry official said.

The unrest comes with US and Iraqi officials deliberating over whether to keep any American forces in the country beyond a year-end deadline for their withdrawal. Currently, around 47,000 troops are stationed here.

Security officials say Iraq's security forces are largely capable of maintaining internal security, but cannot yet security the country's borders, its maritime territory or its airspace.

Violence is down across Iraq from its peak in 2006 and 2007, but attacks remain common. A total of 239 people were killed in violence in the country in August, according to official figures.

A total of 1,860 Iraqis have been killed since the beginning of the year, according to an AFP tally based on government figures.

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Karbala, Iraq (AFP) Sept 13, 2011
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