PICTURE OF THE DAY / FOREIGN FIGHTERS JOIN CHRISTIANS IN IRAQ

Brett, a Westerner who has joined the Iraqi Christian militia Dwekh Nawsha to fight against Islamic State militants, poses at the office of the Assyrian political party in Dohuk, northern Iraq

Brett, a Westerner who has joined the Iraqi Christian militia Dwekh Nawsha to fight against Islamic State militants, poses at the office of the Assyrian political party in Dohuk, northern Iraq February 13, 2015. Thousands of foreigners have flocked to Iraq and Syria in the past two years, mostly to join Islamic State, but a handful of idealistic Westerners are enlisting as well, citing frustration their governments are not doing more to combat the ultra-radical Islamists or prevent the suffering of innocents. The militia they joined is called Dwekh Nawsha – meaning self-sacrifice in the ancient Aramaic language spoken by Christ and still used by Assyrian Christians, who consider themselves the indigenous people of Iraq. Picture taken February 13, 2015. REUTERS/Ari Jalal

DEFYING THE GOVERNMENT ATTEMPTS TO KILL THE TALENTS

MOHAMMED ALDARRAJI ADDS NEW INTERNATIONAL AWARDS TO HIS COLLECTION

BY MOHANNAD ALZUBAIDI

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

GIFT OF MY FATHER POSTER

GIFT OF MY FATHER POSTER

Baghdad, for 4 years, Iraqi ministry of culture was running under the supervision of a military officer. Sa’adon AlDulaimi, the culture minister and acting defense minister, didn’t meet any of the Iraqi intellectuals during the 4 years of his ministerial period as he was busy with defense ministry, leaving everything to a politicized group with no real cultural background. On top of them was the Manager of Cinema and Theater Directory, Nawfal Abu Rugaif.

ABU RUGAIF (LEFT) AND ALDULAIMI (RIGHT)

ABU RUGAIF (LEFT) AND ALDULAIMI (RIGHT)

4 years of corruption and no real culture in country that was thirsty for cultural activities. Lacking of experience and corruption were not the only symptoms that marked Abu Rugaif and AlDulaimi era, but most devastating is fighting intellectuals in this country.

Abu Rugaif who marked his era with suing artists received new slam this month. One of his intellectual victims won another international award this month.

Mohammad AlDarraji, most famous Iraqi film maker after 2003 and the maker of the only long films after 2003, “Son of Babylon” and “Under the Sands of Babylon”, and the founder of Iraqi Center for Independent Film. His center won another international award today.

Salam Salman, the director of the short film “Gift of My Father”, won the Crystal Bear award for short film in Berlin International Film Festival 2015.

SALIM SALMAN WITH THE CRYSTAL BEAR IN BERLIN FILM FESTIVAL

SALIM SALMAN WITH THE CRYSTAL BEAR IN BERLIN FILM FESTIVAL

“I would like to hint here to the corrupted policy that fought “Under the Sands of Babylon” film and wasted the state money”, Independent Film Center said in a statement released after the winning referring to Abu Rugaif’s policy.

In 2014 AlDarraji criticized the policy of the culture ministry in terms of cinema and theater that pushed Abu Rugaif to sue him in the court. Abu Rugaif won the case first and court fined AlDarraji for 20 million ID (about $16,000) but AlDarraji appealed and won the case.

“The center has proved that it is able to reach prominent festivals in order to deliver the Iraqi voice with independent cinema marked with international specification”, the center said in the statement.

MOHAMMED ALDARRAJI

MOHAMMED ALDARRAJI

Kurds dream of independence as they defend perilous border

By Samia Nakhoul and Isabel Coles VALLEY OF THE CROWS, northern Iraq, Feb 4 (Reuters) – The black banner of the Islamic State, fixed to a shack within sight of this frontline, is evidence of the existential threat menacing the Kurds from across the 1,000-km long frontier.

Kurdish Peshmerga fighters are digging trenches and building defense berms in Wadi al-Ghorab (Valley Of The Crows), less than 2 km away from the IS-held Sultan Abdullah village, which demarcates the new border of their autonomous region.

The Kurds have enjoyed de facto self rule since the first Gulf War in 1991. They are now closer than ever to achieving their dream of full independence. Yet they are menaced by the deadly ambitions of the Islamic caliphate across the frontline.Pro-Kurdish demonstrators celebrate in central Istanbul, after Kurdish forces took full control of the Syrian town of Kobani

Not far from Wadi al-Ghorab, mostly Sunni Arab Iraqi fighters were undergoing military training to help fight to regain Mosul, one of Iraq’s largest cities, and other Sunni towns that were overrun by Islamic State last June before it surged menacingly towards Erbil, the heart of Kurdish power.

The jihadi movement declared its cross-border caliphate last year after seizing territory in eastern Syria and west and northern Iraq. It now directly threatens the Iraqi Kurdish entity across lines that lie 45 km (30 miles) from Erbil, the bustling capital of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).

To the southeast, Kurdish forces battled IS insurgents and last week recaptured an oil field near the city of Kirkuk, which Kurds seized last summer and proclaimed as their own.

“To have ISIS  we can’t sleep well,” said Fuad Hussein, Chief of Staff to Massoud Barzani, President of Kurdistan. “It means every night having a nightmare.”

TWO WORLDS

Najat Ali Saleh, a Peshmerga commander, said not a week passes when IS doesn’t try to wage a new offensive or attack to regain lost villages.

“They are stronger than us,” said Saleh near the Wadi al-Ghorab frontline. “We need heavy weapons to fight them. They have heavier weapons. We need artillery, mortars, armoured cars and Humvees. Right now we have Kalashnikovs and machine guns.”Kurdish fighters stand with their weapons between the towns of Rabia and Snuny

Across this new frontier, Sunni residents interviewed in Mosul, just 80 km from Erbil, tell of another world under Islamic State’s rule.

They recount tales of beheadings, executions, flogging and stoning to death in public squares. Punishments are meted out to Sunni Muslims seen by IS as not adhering to their nihilistic brand of Islam. Smoking cigarettes, watching movies or even world cup football games are all deemed un-Islamic. Music and all forms of arts are forbidden.

IS insurgents have taken over the schools, segregating girls from boys, even in nurseries, and changed the curriculum to implant their vision of Islam in young minds. They have set up military camps to train and recruit boys to replace fighters they have lost on the battlefield, residents say.

On the KRG-run side of the frontier, Kurdistan has witnessed not just political independence but hitherto unknown economic prosperity over the past decade, as hotels and construction projects mushroomed. The boom froze last year when Baghdad stopped paying the Kurds’ share of the national budget as punishment for the region’s move to export oil on its own terms.

BROKEN COUNTRY

For Kurds, the rise of IS has reinforced their belief that Iraq is a broken state, that they are better off in their own entity and that all other sects should emulate them.

From ordinary Kurds to top officials it is impossible to find anyone who believes in Iraq as one united country. All those interviewed want partition or at least federation.

The ties that bind Kurds with Arab Iraq are few and fraying.

Most Kurds born in the autonomous region, created after the Kurdish uprising that followed the 1991 Gulf War, don’t speak Arabic. Signposts along roads, on shops, military bases and government buildings are all in Kurdish, the official language of Kurdistan.

Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani said Iraq, which has been ravaged by sectarian warfare since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein, does not exist as a unified country.30453

“There is no loyalty to a country called Iraq,” he told Reuters in an interview.

“It really is important to find a formula for how to live together within the boundaries of what is called Iraq. Unless a formula is found, there will be more bloodshed and the country will remain a destabilising factor in the region.”

Pointing to Shi’ite-Sunni sectarian strife across Iraq, all Kurdish factions agree that a unified country ruled from Baghdad is a dream of the past and that power must be devolved to give each of the main sects, Sunnis, Shi’ites and Kurds their autonomous regions.

PARTITION ONLY SOLUTION?

But any such vision is unlikely to materialise unless they get rid of the Islamic State first, they say.

“The only solution (to stop the bloodshed) is to partition Iraq, everybody will be relieved. What are the benefits of keeping Iraq united with people killing each other every day?” said Sirwan Barzani, a prominent businessman but now a Peshmerga commander, and also a nephew of President Barzani.

Speaking at the Black Tiger Camp, Barzani, dressed in combat uniform, added: “At least if we can’t have independence, let’s have three federal entities – Kurdish, Shi’ite and Sunni.”

The sense of Iraqi national identity has evaporated since the 2003 invasion which handed power to the Shi’ites, ending decades-old Sunni rule with the toppling of Saddam, triggering sectarian wars and leading to the rise of radical Sunni groups, including al Qaeda, which spawned Islamic State.

Qubad Talabani, Deputy Prime Minister of KRG, said the reality is that a whole generation of Iraqis has grown up in a highly sectarian environment in the last decade. “We have Shi’ites promoting and defending Shi’ite policies; Sunnis rallying around Sunni identity and Kurds doing the same.”

“Iraqi unity as we knew it is over, so what political system could be devised to salvage the country? We have a model here in Kurdistan – maybe our exact model is not applicable to Sunnistan but some sort of autonomy is,” he said at his office in Erbil. Kurdish pop star Helly Luv poses alongside Kurdish Peshmerga troops at a base in Dohuk

He said Sunnis living in scattered areas could have autonomy within their governorates even if they don’t have a contiguous region. “So long as Baghdad remains the centre of all decision making people will fight over it. There’s no leader today in the country that can talk on behalf of all Iraqis,” he added.

NO LOYALTY

Less than a generation ago tens of thousands of Kurds in northern Iraq were victims of attempted genocide: aerial bombardment, mass executions, chemical gas attacks and massive displacement by Saddam’s forces. More than 4,500 Kurdish villages were destroyed and around 1 million Kurds displaced.

The al-Anfal Campaign, known to Kurds as the Kurdish Genocide waged by Saddam from 1986-89, is still engrained in the Kurdish psyche. It is hard to meet anyone who hasn’t been marked by al-Anfal, which culminated with a nerve gas attack in 1988 on Halabja in which up to 5,000 Kurds were killed.

“I don’t feel any sense of belonging to Iraq,” said Ihsan Sheikh Almozuril, 46, who works in a money exchange shop.

“Our loyalty is first and foremost to Kurdistan. Even when Iraq plays a football match against another country we support the opponent.

Sarkaft Ahmed, 18, who works in a shop selling household appliances and speaks no Arabic said: “We want to separate from them. Arabs are the enemy. They are treacherous and they kill.”

Ali Tahsin, 37, and whose mother is Arab and father is Kurd, said: “Right now no Iraqi feels as though they are Iraqi – it’s not just in Kurdistan. We are living in a country where there is no value for human life.”

On the ground, the war in Syria and IS’s push into Iraq from 2013, have burst open the boundaries in the Middle East – fixed after the 1916 Sykes-Picot accord, which carved up not just Iraq but the Levant between Britain and France based on interests.Mideast Iraq

These frontiers ignored the complex ethnic, tribal and religious differences that dominated Middle Eastern politics. And they left the Kurdish people, estimated now at 30 million and mostly Sunni by religion, to live as minority communities in Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria as well as in the diaspora.

RIPPLE EFFECT

Ever since the KRG carved out a de facto independent enclave in northern Iraq, its neighbors in Turkey, Syria and Iran have fretted at the nightmarish prospect of a pan-Kurd state which might incite their own Kurdish minorities to secede.

While neighbours dread Kurdish secession that might break up their states, the reality on the ground is that the Kurds have given birth to a nation – at least in Iraq. Three enclaves in neighbouring north-east Syria are practically under Kurdish control, although menaced by IS.

Kurdish officials said Kurds were fighting Islamic State for areas that rightfully belonged to the Kurdish region but that they would avoid using Peshmerga fighters to drive IS from Sunni areas – much less to spearhead the recapture of Sunni Mosul.Peshmerga fighters stand on a vehicle with a Kurdish flag as they guard Mosul Dam in northern Iraq

They insist that that fight will have to be led by Iraqi army units, mostly Sunnis.

But any recapture of Mosul seems distant. PM Barzani and others emphasized that the timetable for such an offensive would depend on the rebuilding of the Iraqi army, which collapsed as IS conquered Mosul and raced across northern Iraq.

Atheel al-Nujeifi, the former regional governor who fled Mosul when IS pushed in, said the coalition’s response has been very slow and late. He said Mosul residents were too frightened to revolt unless supported by a force from outside.

“We think that if there were forces close to Mosul or on the outskirts, the city will mobilize (against IS) very quickly,” said Nujeifi, whose properties and Arab thoroughbred horses were looted by Islamic State, and whose Rolex watch was the one seen on the wrist of IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi when he appeared at a mosque in Mosul last year to declare his caliphate. (Additional reporting by Ned Parker; editing by Janet McBride)

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Iraq Situation Report: February 3-4, 2015

Sinan Adnan and ISW Iraq Team

Key Takeaway:

The legislation of the National Guard Law, along with other conditions, were first demanded by Iraqi Sunni political leaders in exchange for their participation in PM Abadi’s government. The goal behind the demand for this law was to give provinces with a Sunni majority the opportunity to maintain a security apparatus semi-independent of Baghdad. The initial approval of the law by the Council of Ministers is a positive indicator that the government is taking active measures to address grievances of Iraqi Sunnis. Nevertheless, it is important to highlight that further challenges lie ahead of the law; it will most likely involve a great deal of political maneuvering at the CoR before it is agreed upon. It will also likely be edited multiple times to accommodate the demands of different political blocs at the CoR. Despite the fact that the law was initially proposed to address Iraqi Sunni grievances, initial reporting from minster Saman Abdullah al-Dawudi, who is a member of the drafting committee, indicated that the National Guard would also include the “Popular Mobilization.” The government uses the term “Popular Mobilization” to describe both Iraqi Shi’a volunteers and members of the Iranian-backed Iraqi Shi’a militias fighting ISIS. It is unclear at this time if the draft law discusses the future status of Iraqi Shi’a militias. The future status of the militias will almost certainly be a point of contention between militia leaders like Hadi al-Ameri and Qays al-Khazali backed by Iran on one hand; and Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi, moderate Shi’a leaders within the political sphere, and the Shi’a religious establishment in Najaf on the other hand. The debate over these issues could stall the law for a lengthy period of time.

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EDITORIAL: Islamic State’s crime must not go unpunished

Asahi Shimbun

February 02, 2015

An incredibly monstrous act by the Islamic State militant group has dashed many people’s hopes for the release of Japanese hostage Kenji Goto.

It posted a video online on Feb. 1 purporting to show the slaying of Goto, a freelance journalist it was holding hostage. It was another heartless announcement of murder, coming one week after the apparent killing of another Japanese hostage–Haruna Yukawa.

The hostage crisis that came into the public eye on Jan. 20 did so as a threat to Japan during Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s tour of the Middle East.People walk past television screens displaying a news program about Japanese journalist Kenji Goto on a street in Tokyo

The Islamic State expressed revile for the Japanese government, which had announced humanitarian assistance for those who had been displaced to flee the rule of the group, and threatened to kill the hostages if its demands for ransom or a prisoner exchange were not met. The group’s statements and actions were extremely self-righteous and lacked all sense.

We strongly denounce the merciless, cruel killers and their organization.

BRING PERPETRATORS TO JUSTICE

The fact that this crisis ended in the worst possible way underscores many challenges confronting the international community and Japan.

The Islamic State is notorious for its cold-blooded crimes of capturing foreigners and killing them after issuing warnings. The group usually posts online videos showing its brutal acts.

The group’s deeds are the ultimate violation of human rights and international crimes. It is hard to imagine holding a dialogue or negotiating with an organization that continues to perpetrate such inhuman acts.

However, it is clear that military operations, including U.S.-led air strikes against the group’s strongholds, alone cannot resolve problems caused by the militants.

The question that needs to be asked is why such an organization, whose behavior and thinking are beyond understanding, came into being in the first place.

We cannot help but point out that the war against Iraq led by the United States and Britain despite opposition from other major countries created conflicts among religious sects in the Middle East, compounding the security situation in the region.

The international community has been adhering to the principle of nation-specific efforts to resolve problems, with the United Nations serving as the principal forum for discussions on such initiatives.

However, despite its name, the Islamic State does not fit the widely accepted definition of a modern state. The group seeks to expand areas it rules through the use of violence and flagrant disregard for national borders. The latest hostage incident involving the group underscores afresh the formidable challenge of how to respond to this entity.Ishido, mother of Kenji Goto, a Japanese journalist who was held captive by Islamic State militants, speaks to reporters at her house in Tokyo

A report drawn up last year by a U.N. fact-finding committee painted a gruesome picture of the list of atrocities committed by the Islamic State in its rule of terror, including violent thought control and organized sexual violence against women. The report called for the prosecution of the group’s commanders and other members involved in these acts for war crimes and crimes against humanity with the International Criminal Court.

This is no easy task. Still, we believe steps should be taken to increase international pressure to prosecute and punish the Islamic State militants responsible for the atrocities, including the killings of the two Japanese hostages and the earlier beheadings of U.S. and British hostages.

JAPAN’S RESPONSE NEEDS REVIEW

According to remarks made by Abe and other administration officials at the Diet and other venues, a liaison office was set up last August under the prime minister’s office after Yukawa was captured.

In November, the government became aware that Goto had gone missing after entering Syria. The incident was put on a list of cases that required government response.Japan's PM Abe speaks next to Defence Minister Nakatani and Foreign Minister Kishida during an upper house committee session at the parliament in Tokyo

We must face up to the fact that the two hostages were not saved despite all of these actions by the government.

In the first threatening video of the hostage crisis that was posted online, the terrorists set a short 72-hour deadline to meet their ransom demand. However, a considerable amount of time had already passed since the government realized the two had been captured.

In similar hostage cases involving French and Spanish journalists who were eventually released, it is believed that negotiations for their freedom were in progress before reaching the stage at which the hostage takers needed to publicize their threats to kill them.

Discussing Japan’s handling of the case during a Feb. 1 news conference, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the government had not made contact with the Islamic State.

Why is this? What was the role of the national security bureau, a new entity established last year, in the government’s response to the crisis?

To prevent similar tragedies, the government should fulfill its responsibility to disclose as much information as possible with regard to these questions, and examine and thoroughly assess how it handled the crisis.IMG_8028

OPEN UP TO DISPLACED REFUGEES

Since the end of the Cold War, the Middle East has become continuously riddled with wars and conflicts.

Unlike many Western nations, Japan has focused on non-military and humanitarian measures, such as aid to refugees, in its restrained involvement in international efforts to deal with situations in the region.

In its video claiming Goto had been killed, the Islamic State issued a threatening message lambasting Abe and identifying Japan as its enemy.

Yet Japan has not taken part in the military campaign against the Islamic State. Its longstanding focus on humanitarian assistance in its efforts to provide support in the Middle East has been widely accepted in the region.

Despite the irrational threat from the Islamic State, Japan should stick to its principle of providing aid to people in the region who have lost their homes and are facing hardship.

As a journalist with a great deal of experience covering the conflict zone, Goto focused his attention not on the outcome of battles but on the lives, joys and sorrows of local people.

The announced killings of the two Japanese hostages are utterly outrageous acts. Such gross outrages are a daily occurrence in the region.

However, these atrocities are not taking place in a far-off place with no serious implications for Japan. It has become a challenge that Japan needs to confront and tackle.

People fleeing war-torn Syria and Iraq are flooding into neighboring countries. The situation is increasing the burden on countries in Europe and elsewhere that accept refugees.

It is clearly time for Japan to open its doors to refugees.

The vast majority of Muslims are moderate, peace-loving people. We must get to know each other more. We then need to offer help to those who need it.

Japan should overcome this hostage tragedy and act in accordance with this principle.

Woman holding a placard reading "Free Kenji" during a vigil in front of the PM Abe's official residence in Tokyo

Military Airstrikes Continue Against ISIL in Syria and Iraq

February 1, 2015

SOUTHWEST ASIA – On Jan. 31, U.S. and Coalition military forces continued to attack ISIL terrorists in Syria, using attack, fighter, and remotely piloted aircraft to conduct eight airstrikes. Separately, U.S. and Coalition military forces conducted 26 airstrikes in Iraq, using bomber, fighter, and remotely piloted aircraft against ISIL terrorists. All strikes took place between 8 a.m., Jan. 31, and 8 a.m., Feb. 1, local time.US Iraq

The following is a summary of the strikes conducted since the last press release:

Syria
* Near Kobani, seven airstrikes struck an ISIL staging area and four ISIL tactical units and destroyed five ISIL fighting positions.
* Near Ar Raqqah, an airstrike struck an ISIL tactical unit.

Iraq
* Near Al Asad, an airstrike struck an ISIL tactical unit.
* Near Al Qaim, an airstrike destroyed an ISIL staging area.
* Near Hit, an airstrike struck an ISIL tactical unit.
* Near Kirkuk, 19 airstrikes struck four large ISIL units and 11 ISIL tactical units and destroyed eight ISIL fighting positions, an ISIL staging position, eight ISIL vehicles, two ISIL armored vehicles, an ISIL building, and an ISIL tank.
* Near Mahkmur, an airstrike struck an ISIL tactical unit.
* Near Sinjar, two airstrikes struck an ISIL tactical unit and destroyed two ISIL buildings, an ISIL heavy weapon, an ISIL shipping container, and an ISIL modular structure.
* Near Tal Afar, an airstrike destroyed an ISIL fighting position.

Airstrike assessments are based on initial reports. All aircraft returned to base safely.

The strikes were conducted as part of Operation Inherent Resolve, the operation to eliminate the ISIL terrorist group and the threat they pose to Iraq, Syria, the region, and the wider international community. The destruction of ISIL targets in Syria and Iraq further limits the terrorist group’s ability to project terror and conduct operations. Coalition nations conducting airstrikes in Iraq include the U.S., Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Netherlands, and the United Kingdom. Coalition nations conducting airstrikes in Syria include the U.S., Bahrain, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.