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IRAQ WARS
Fierce clashes with IS near Mosul; Return of 5,600 jihadists poses major threat: Soufan
by Staff Writers
Baghdad (AFP) Oct 24, 2017


'Fierce clashes with IS near Mosul': paramilitary unit
Baghdad (AFP) Oct 24, 2017 - Jihadists from the Islamic State group and fighters from Iraq's Hashed al-Shaabi paramilitary coalition were locked in fierce clashes near Mosul Tuesday, with nearly 30 reported dead, the coalition said.

Mosul, Iraq's second city, was retaken from IS in July after a massive months-long offensive.

"Waad Allah forces are repelling an IS attack southwest of Mosul in the Hatra desert" some 100 kilometres (60 miles) southwest of Mosul, said a spokesman for the Hashed unit.

The Hashed is an umbrella group of paramilitary auxiliaries formed in 2014 to support Iraqi regular forces after IS swept across swathes of northern Iraq.

In a series of online posts, Waad Allah said IS sent "numerous suicide bombers" to attack its forces, and gave a death toll of 24 jihadists and four of its own men.

Iraqi forces have retaken more than 90 percent of the territory IS seized in the country in 2014, with the jihadists now confined to the desert areas in Anbar province bordering Syria.

But despite a series of stinging defeats, IS in Iraq retains the ability to launch attacks in areas declared "liberated" months previously.

After losing Mosul in July, IS has also just lost Raqa, its "capital" in Syria.

The Hashed took over the Hatra area in April this year after IS forces were ousted.

The ancient walled city of Hatra in northern Nineveh province is on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Thousands of foreign jihadists who have fled Islamic State group-held territories in Iraq and Syria could pose major security problems as they return home, a think-tank said Tuesday.

At least 5,600 citizens or residents of 33 countries had returned home as IS faced devastating assaults on territories it held in Iraq and Syria, said the Soufan Center, a non-profit security analysis group.

"Added to the unknown numbers from other countries, this represents a huge challenge for security and law enforcement entities," it said.

IS proclaimed a caliphate in 2014 on territories the size of Italy which it had seized in a sweeping assault across swathes of Iraq and Syria.

It has since lost some 85 percent of the territories it controlled to US and Russian-backed offensives.

But despite its collapse, Soufan warned that IS or something similar would likely survive as long as the "so long as the conditions that promoted its growth remain".

Some of the survivors among 40,000 foreign IS fighters from more than 110 countries would inevitably "remain committed to the form of violent 'jihad' that al-Qaeda and IS have popularised", it said.

"It is clear that anyone who wishes to continue the fight will find a way to do so."

IS has claimed a string of attacks across the Middle East, Europe and beyond since declaring its "caliphate".

The Soufan report cited Radicalisation Awareness Network figures saying around 30 percent of some 5,000 European Union residents thought to have gone to fight in Syria and Iraq had since returned home.

Soufan estimated that Russia was the source of the greatest number of jihadists (3,417), with more than 3,000 each from Saudi Arabia and Jordan, 2,962 from Tunisia and 1,910 from France.

The Soufan report said re-integrating women and children who had joined IS posed particular problems.

It said governments usually either incarcerate returning jihadists, which "only postpones the problem", or place them in reintegration programmes, which it says are "notoriously hard to design and run".

"The questions of identity, and the widespread mistrust of government institutions and mainstream politics that IS has managed to exploit are unlikely to go away," the report said.

"Nor therefore is the phenomenon of foreign fighters and returnees, whether they join the remnants of IS or other new groups that emerge in its image".

US-led coalition denies deadly Syria strikes
Beirut (AFP) Oct 24, 2017 - The US-led coalition battling the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq denied on Tuesday that it had carried out deadly air strikes around the Syrian city of Deir Ezzor.

The strikes on Deir Ezzor, where Syrian regime forces backed by Russia have seized most of the city from IS, were reported late on Monday by a monitoring group, a local official and Syrian state television.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 22 civilians were killed in strikes by unidentified aircraft in the Al-Qusur neighbourhood, in the west of the city.

A local official said 14 people were killed and blamed coalition strikes.

"The allegation that a coalition strike may have killed 14 civilians and wounded 32 others in Deir Ezzor is false," coalition spokesman Ryan Dillon told AFP.

"Russian-backed pro-regime forces are conducting operations in Deir Ezzor and the coalition does not support pro-regime operations," he said.

Dillon said the coalition had carried out only one strike in the area in the last two months, on September 16 in support of US-backed forces fighting IS east of the city.

Syrian regime forces backed by ally Russia have seized most of Deir Ezzor city after breaking an IS siege of nearly three years on government-held districts in September.

The regime offensive against IS, backed by Russian airpower, is being waged largely on the western side of the Euphrates river that cuts diagonally across Deir Ezzor province.

A second, separate offensive against the jihadists is being fought on the eastern side by the Kurdish-Arab Syrian Democratic Forces, backed by the coalition.

A "deconfliction" mechanism is meant to keep the two campaigns separate.

IS controls less than half of Deir Ezzor province, its last remaining stronghold in the country after the SDF ousted it from its bastion Raqa last week.

More than 330,000 people have been killed in Syria since the war began in March 2011 with anti-government protests.

IRAQ WARS
Iraq's Abadi: 'hero' who tackled mission impossible
Baghdad (AFP) Oct 22, 2017
When Haider al-Abadi was tasked with forming a new Iraqi government in August 2014, just weeks after a lightning offensive by the Islamic State group, many believed he would fail. Three years later, the stocky prime minister with a close-cut white beard has transformed what many in Iraq considered "mission impossible" into a success story. He has rebuilt the crumbling armed forces, chase ... read more

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