Posts Tagged ‘ISIL’

US drone strike kills leader of Pakistan’s Jamaat-ul-Ahrar militants

October 19, 2017

In this screen grab taken from a video recording, Omar Khalid Khorasani, center, a top Pakistan Taliban commander, gives an interview in Pakistan’s Mohmand tribal region on June 2, 2011. (File photo: Handout via Reuters)
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DERA ISMAIL KHAN: The leader of Pakistani militant group Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, who planned some of the deadliest suicide bombings in Pakistan in the last year, died on Thursday after being wounded in a US drone strike in Afghanistan, a spokesman said.
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“Our leader, Omar Khalid Khorasani, was wounded in one of the recent drone strikes in Afghanistan. He was wounded badly, and today he was martyred,” Asad Mansoor, a Jamaat-ul-Ahrar spokesman, told Reuters by telephone.
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Jamaat-ul-Ahrar is a splinter group of the Pakistani Taliban and has in the past also supported Middle East-based Daesh.
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ISIS fanatics ‘plotting new 9/11’: Homeland Security chief says jihadists are working on a ‘big explosion’

October 19, 2017

Related image

  • Elaine Duke, Donald Trump’s Secretary of Homeland Security, issued a warning
  • She said recent attacks are keeping jihadis engaged ahead of ‘big explosion’
  • Terrorists plotting to take down planes to inflict mass civilian casualties, she says
  • Yesterday, MI5 boss Andrew Parker warned UK was facing biggest terror threat

A fiery blasts rocks the south tower of the World Trade Center as the hijacked United Airlines Flight 175 from Boston crashes into the building September 11, 2001 in New York

Islamic State fanatics and other terror groups are planning another massive attack on the scale of 9/11, a top US security chief warned today.

Elaine Duke, Donald Trump’s acting Secretary of Homeland Security, said jihadists were using crude knife and van attacks to keep their members engaged and their finances flowing as they plot another ‘big explosion’ similar to the September 2001 atrocities.

Speaking at the US embassy in London, she said intelligence is pointing to extremists plotting to take down planes to inflict mass civilian casualties.

Mrs Duke said ISIS is currently in an ‘interim’ period focusing on a much bigger endgame.

The security chief, who has served three US presidents, said: ‘The terrorist organisations, be it ISIS or others, want to have the big explosion like they did on 9/11. They want to take down aircraft, the intelligence is clear on that.

‘However, in the interim they need to keep their finances flowing and they need to keep their visibility high and they need to keep their members engaged, so they are using small plots and they are happy to have small plots.’

Islamic State fanatics and other terror groups are planning another massive attack on the scale of 9/11, a top US security chief warned

She added: ‘Creating terror is their goal and so a van attack, a bladed weapon attack, causes terror and continues to disrupt the world – but does not mean they’ve given up on a major aviation plot.’

Elaine Duke, Donald Trump’s acting Secretary of Homeland Security

Yesterday Mrs Duke said the prospect of a terrorist blowing up an airline using a laptop was just one of the threats facing airlines worldwide.

She said the free movement of goods and people means security has to be tightened in individual countries around the world.

She said: ‘The laptop is one of the many aviation threats, we will never be comfortable and we will always be evolving.

‘What we believe is that because of the movement of goods and people, we have to raise the baseline worldwide, we can’t only consider our borders.’ Mrs Duke went on: ‘We think the level of terrorist threat against the United States too is extremely high.

‘I think that it is challenging for you because you have the proximities to other countries, the ease of movement from some of the terrorist safe havens is a little easier for you, but we feel the terrorist threat is very high in the United States.’

Asked how the US is tackling the threat of another 9/11-style atrocity, she said: ‘We have worked on some strong measures that we can’t talk about. We are trying to play the away game and that is working against them in their terrorist safe havens and homes.

‘We do have some terrorist groups on the move, you just saw the take-over of Raqqa and so if we can keep them declining and moving they have less time to sit and prepare.’

They want to take down aircraft
Elaine Duke, Donald Trump’s acting Secretary of Homeland Security

Mrs Duke warned that the number of home-grown violent extremists, mostly inspired by terrorist organisations, is increasing in the US. She said the ability of IS militants to put terrorist propaganda on the internet will appeal more and more to extremists as they are pushed out of Syria and Iraq.

Mrs Duke said web giants need to do more to detect extremist content online, and one way of doing this could be using the same technology used to identify people in passenger lists.

‘Terrorists are strong, they are adaptable and the terrorist threat is the highest it has been since pre-9/11. We have got to have every tool that’s possible,’ she added.

A total of 2,996 people were killed during the September 11 attacks, when al-Qaeda suicide attackers hijacked planes and flew them into the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington.

Earlier in the day she met the British interior minister Amber Rudd to discuss how to force internet giants to do more to tackle terrorism ahead of the G7 summit.

Following the recent wave of attacks in Manchester and London, police chiefs have said the threat facing the UK is a ‘new norm’ that will not change.

Her chilling remarks came 24 hours after MI5 director general Andrew Parker warned Britain is facing its worst-ever terrorist threat in his first major speech since the UK was hit by a wave of attacks.

The British spy chief said it was taking terrorists just days to hatch plots as violent extremists exploit ‘safe spaces online’ to evade detection.

It is harder for the UK to protect itself because of its proximity to other countries and the ease of movement from terrorist safe havens, she suggested.

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4994906/ISIS-fanatics-plotting-new-9-11-warns-security-boss.html#ixzz4vwra39LU
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Qatar accuses Saudi Arabia of promoting ‘regime change’

October 18, 2017

Al Jazeera

Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani says the blockading nations' plan is to 'disrespect and bully' [Naseem Zeitoon/Reuters]
Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani says the blockading nations’ plan is to ‘disrespect and bully’ [Naseem Zeitoon/Reuters]

Qatar has accused Saudi Arabia of trying to engineer “regime change” during its four-month blockade of its Gulf neighbour.

Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani told CNBC on Tuesday that Riyadh is attempting to destabilise Qatar’s leadership.

“We see [Saudi] government officials talking about regime change… We see a country that is bringing back the dark ages of tribes and putting them together in order to create a pressure on connected tribes in Qatar,” he said.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Egypt severed diplomatic and trade links with Qatar on June 5, accusing Doha of supporting “extremism and terrorism” and cozying up to Iran – a regional nemesis.

Qatar has vehemently denied all allegations.

Sheikh Mohammed said the plan of the blockading countries was not to thwart terrorism but to “disrespect and bully”.

“It is nothing to do with stopping financing terrorism or hate speech while they are doing the same by promoting incitement against my country, promoting a regime change in my country,” he told the US broadcaster.

Qatar is the world’s largest exporter of liquefied natural gas, and also houses the region’s biggest US military base with more than 11,000 American troops.

READ MORE: Qatar-Gulf crisis: All the latest updates

Sheikh Mohammed said the blockade has impeded the fight against Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in the region.

The airspace blockade meant that Qatari aircraft providing logistical support for the American military base have been diverted, and Qatari officers participating in operations against ISIL were expelled from the Bahrain-based US military headquarters.

“So there are a lot of things which undermine … the global efforts in countering … Daesh,” Sheikh Mohammed said, referring to ISIL by an Arabic acronym.

Inside Isil’s forgotten outpost in the Philippines

October 10, 2017

A soldier stands guard in Marawi

For years it has been Islamic State’s forgotten outpost, but the perils of ignoring Isil’s growing influence in the Philippines came to the fore this weekend when a Filipino doctor was charged with plotting terrorist attacks in New York.

Russell Salic, 37, an orthopaedic surgeon from the restive southern Philippine island of Mindanao, home to a decades-old Muslim separatist insurgency and extremist Isil-linked groups, has been accused by the US of attempting in 2016 to fund bombings in Times Square and the New York metro.

The Philippine Justice Secretary confirmed on Sunday that he would be extradited. He faces a life sentence after an FBI sting revealed he tried to transfer funds to two accomplices in American who wanted to create “the next 9/11.”

Counter-terrorism analysts have frequently warned that a prolonged humanitarian crisis in Mindanao – a province afflicted by clan warfare, Islamic…

Read the rest behind paywall:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/10/08/dispatch-inside-isils-forgotten-outpost-philippines/

U.S. Commander: Final Assault on Islamic State Stronghold at Raqqa To Begin Sunday

October 8, 2017

The Jerusalem Post

By Reuters

OCTOBER 8, 2017 15:56

 

The Islamic State has been pushed out of Mosul and other major cities in the last several months, and Raqqa remains its last real stronghold.

A MEMBER of ISIS waves the group’s flag in Raqqa recently

A MEMBER of ISIS waves the group’s flag in Raqqa. (photo credit:REUTERS)

A final assault on Islamic State’s last line of defense in its former Syrian capital Raqqa should begin on Sunday night, a field commander for the US-backed forces operating there said.

The loss of Islamic State’s remaining streets and buildings in Raqqa following its defeat in Iraq’s Mosul this year and its retreat from swathes of territory in both countries, would mark a major milestone in the battle to destroy the jihadist group.

The assault on militants in the center of the northern city will focus on surrounding the sports stadium there, said a field commander in the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in western Raqqa, who gave his name as Ardal Raqqa.

“Daesh is massing there because this is the last stage. They will resist, or they will surrender or die,” he said. “This their last stand to the death.”

Islamic State declared a caliphate in 2014 and at the height of its power ruled over millions of people, from northern Syria to the outskirts of Iraq’s capital Baghdad, but it has since endured a series of losses under attack from many sides.

Raqqa was the group’s de facto Syrian capital, a center of operations where it oversaw the management of much of eastern, central and northern Syria and planned attacks abroad.

Now it is hemmed into a small area in the city center that includes the stadium, the National Hospital and a roundabout where Islamic State once displayed the heads of its enemies.

In the hours before the expected launch of the final assault, which the commander said could take up to a week, the sound of gunfire sporadically rattled around the area near the hospital.

The district had been flattened, with buildings completely gone. Coalition jets soared overhead and air strikes pounded at a higher rate than in recent days.

Islamic State has lost most of its territory to the SDF, spearheaded by the Kurdish YPG militia, and to a rival offensive by Syria’s army and allied forces this year, and has fallen back on the fertile Euphrates valley area downstream of Raqqa.

The army and its allies reached the city of Deir al-Zor in September after a months-long offensive across the Syrian desert, and have since then pushed down the Euphrates towards the border with Iraq.

On Sunday a Syrian military source said they had encircled Islamic State fighters in the city of al-Mayadin, one of the jihadists’ last strongholds in the area.

“Units of our armed forces with the allied forces continue their advance on a number of fronts and axes in Deir al-Zor and its countryside… and encircle Daesh terrorists in the city of al-Mayadin,” the military source said.

However, the group has still been able to launch a series of effective counter attacks against the Syrian army in the central desert region over the past week, putting pressure on the main supply road to Deir al-Zor from the west.

Syrian President Bashar Assad is backed in the war by Russia, Iran and Shi’ite militias including Lebanon’s Hezbollah, and its campaign against Islamic State has mostly been on the west bank of the river.

The US-backed SDF campaign has mostly been on the east bank, where Raqqa is located, and has also advanced downstream to hold areas opposite Deir al-Zor. The United States and Russia have put in place channels to lessen the risk of fighting between the rival offensives they back.

US officials have previously said that Islamic State had relocated some of its diminished command and propaganda structures to al-Mayadin as it was forced from territory elsewhere.

The spokeswoman for the SDF campaign in Raqqa, Jihan Sheikh Ahmad, said in a statement on a website for the campaign that it would announce the liberation of Raqqa “in the coming few days” after having captured 85 percent of the city.

Commanders directing the battle in Raqqa have said that Islamic State fighters have taken civilian hostages and are using sniper fire, booby traps and tunnels to slow the SDF advance.

The SDF began its campaign to isolate Raqqa early this year, pushing along several fronts to enclose the city against the Euphrates backed by coalition air strikes and special forces.Its attack on the city itself started in June and the fighting left much of Raqqa in ruins, as intense air strikes and street-to-street battles devastated buildings.

Erdogan: Turkey backing FSA rebels in new Idlib push

October 8, 2017

Turkey’s President Erdogan says operation in province largely controlled Hay’et Tahrir al-Sham is led by the Free Syrian Army.

 Turkish tanks seen at Iskendurun district in Hatay [Stringer/AFP/Getty Images]
Turkish tanks seen at Iskendurun district in Hatay [Stringer/AFP/Getty Images]

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says Ankara-backed Free Syria Army rebels have launched a major operation in northwestern Syria against former al-Qaeda-linked fighters.

The push on Saturday comes as Turkey along with Russia and Iran prepare to set up a so-called “de-escalation” zone in Idlib province, in line with deals in talks in Kazakhstan’s capital, Astana, aimed at ending the Syrian civil war.

Idlib is largely held by the Hay’et Tahrir al-Sham alliance, which was not part of the talks and has rejected the implementation of a de-escalation zone.

READ MORE: Syria’s civil war explained from the beginning

Erdogan said the operation, which has seen Turkish troops heading towards the border but not yet crossing it, was being conducted in coordination with Russia, an ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

“Today, there’s a serious operation in Idlib and it will continue,” Erdogan said in a televised speech.

”We have opened up a space in our region with operation Euphrates Shield and now we are making efforts to take a step forward by maintaining security in Idlib,” he added.

Erdogan said many Syrians had fled to Idlib from neighbouring Aleppo province, which was rocked by heavy fighting last year, and Turkey was not going to let them down.

“We can’t tell them, ‘Whatever happens, happens. You can either die or survive.’ We have to extend a hand to our brothers. Now, this step has been taken, and it is under way.”

‘Not a picnic’

Idlib is mainly controlled by HTS, an alliance led by al-Qaeda‘s former Syria affiliate, which ejected more moderate rebels in recent months

HTS is not party to a deal brokered in Astana by Russia, Turkey and Iran for the safe zone in the province, one of four such “de-escalation” zones across Syria.

Removing HTS forces from the area will be needed to allow the arrival of Iranian, Russian and Turkish forces to implement a de-escalation zone.

In a statement posted on social media, the group accused the Turkey-backed factions of working with Russia and described them as traitors – but did not mention Turkey.

HTS said Idlib would “not be a picnic” for them and added “the lions of jihad and martyrdom are waiting to pounce”.

Al Jazeera’s Hashem Ahelbarra, reporting from Gaziantep near the Turkey-Syria border, said the operation was “definitely a significant move by the [Turkish] army” but more details were needed.

“We have to wait and see what the military planners of Russia, Iran and Turkey come up with, particularly when it comes to maintaining troops on the ground,” he said.

Ahelbarra said the big question is what will be the reaction of HTS, which has thousands of fighters entrenched in different areas of the province.

“If they decide to put up resistance against this whole military operation I think in the coming days we are likely to see some of the most intensive fighting ever in Syria.”

Commando units

Erdogan told reporters the operation was led by FSA rebels and that the Turkish army was “not yet” operating inside Syria.

State-run Anadolu news agency said there was a major build-up of fully-equipped commando units and military vehicles around the town of Reyhanli bordering Idlib close to the Cilvegozu border crossing.

The Hurriyet daily said ultimately Turkey would ensure security in Idlib city and Russia in the surrounding area.

Appearing to confirm this, Erdogan said: “Idlib is a region where we will provide protection in the inside and Russia on the outside.”

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) monitor said Turkish army cranes had begun removing sections of the security wall Turkey has built on the border in preparation for an incursion. It said the operation was yet to formally begin.

Turkey earlier this year wrapped up its months-long Euphrates Shield operation in Aleppo province that involved both the Turkish army and Syrian rebels.

Asked whether the Idlib operation would be similar to Euphrates Shield, Erdogan replied: “When you enter the boxing ring you don’t count your punches.”

A rebel commander participating in the operation, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told AFP news agency in Lebanon’s capital, Beirut, that “all the rebel groups” who took part in Euphrates Shield are participating in the latest operation.

“The fighters number in the thousands and there are Turkish soldiers participating,” he added, without giving further details. “The goal of the operation is to liberate Idlib fully from Tahrir al-Sham.”

Coordination with Russia

The move comes a week after Russian President Vladimir Putin held talks with Erdogan in Ankara, with both sides agreeing to push for the Idlib de-escalation zone.

After those talks, Putin declared the right conditions now existed to end the over six-year civil war that has killed hundreds of thousands of people since 2011.

The Russian defence ministry said Saturday some 120 ISIL fighters and 60 foreign mercenaries were killed in a series of Russian air raids in Syria over the past 24 hours.SOHR in the last week has repeatedly accused Syria and Russia of carrying out deadly air raids in Idlib province with heavy civilian losses.

Despite being on opposite sides of the conflict, Russia and Turkey have been working together intensely since a 2016 reconciliation deal ended a crisis caused by the shooting down of a Russian warplane over Syria.

Russia, along with Iran, is the key backer of President Bashar al-Assad and Moscow’s military intervention inside Syria is widely seen as tipping the balance in the conflict. Turkey, however, has backed rebels seeking Assad’s removal.

Commenting on the coordination with Russia, Erdogan said: “Relations with the regime is something looked after by Russia, and we have taken measures in other areas.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies

Middle East Turkey Syria’s Civil War Turkey-Syria border

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http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/10/erdogan-turkey-backing-fsa-rebels-idlib-push-171007134000451.html

Troops killed in ambush on joint Niger-US patrol

October 5, 2017

Al Jazeera

Five Nigerien and three US special forces killed in attack on joint patrol in southwest Niger, officials say.

 

Five Nigerien and three US special forces were killed and others wounded in an ambush on a joint patrol in southwest Niger.

The attack, which occurred on Wednesday night, marks the first US combat casualties in Niger, where Washington provides training and security assistance in the fight against armed groups in the Sahel region.

“We can confirm reports that a joint US and Nigerien patrol came under hostile fire in southwest Niger,” a spokesperson of the US Africa Command told Radio France International (RFI) by telephone.

According to RFI, the ambush took place after fighters from Mali attacked the village of Tongo Tongo in Tillaberi. A counter-operation was launched, but the US and Niger soldiers fell into a trap, according to the radio report.

Namatta Abubacar, an official for the region of Tillaberi, told Niger TV that five Nigerian soldiers were among the dead.

READ MORE: The re-emergence of AQIM in Africa

No group has yet claimed responsibility for the attack but the area is largely controlled by fighters, including members of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS).

African security forces backed by Western troops have been stepping up efforts to counter the armed groups, which are part of a growing regional rebellion in the Sahel region.

Presidents of the Sahel countries, including Mali, Niger, Mauritania, Burkina Faso and Chad, are working on final modalities to set up a G5 Sahel force to help fight the numerous groups that are active in the region.

In mid-September, the government of President Mahamadou Issoufou extended Niger’s state of emergency in force since March due to a threat coming from Mali.

Analysts said the deadly incident will not change Washington’s involvement in the fight against armed groups in the Sahel.

“For several years the US has been expanding its footprint in that area. They are there to train the indigenous forces and not to carryout raids. And I don’t see that changing because of this incident,” Martin Reardon, a former FBI officer and senior vice president of Soufan group – a security intelligence organisation – told Al Jazeera.

“This ambush will not have blowback in the Congress. Politically this incident will not become a hot potato in Washington or Niger,” Reardon said.

In mid-June, Niger mounted a new military operation in the Tillaberi region to take on the armed groups.

The United Nations later warned that the conflict in Mali was spilling over to Burkina Faso and Niger, after a significant surge of attacks in border areas.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies

http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/10/troops-killed-ambush-joint-niger-patrol-171005041922809.html

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Erdogan visits Iran as ties warm amid shared fears

October 4, 2017

AFP

© Iranian Presidency/AFP / by Marc Jourdier | Iranian President Hassan Rouhani (L) welcomes Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan to Tehran on October 4, 2017 in a sign of warming ties between the two neighbours which both strongly oppose last week’s Iraqi Kurdish vote for independence

TEHRAN (AFP) – Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited Iran on Wednesday in a sign of warming ties between the two neighbours who support rival camps in Syria but both strongly oppose last week’s Iraqi Kurdish vote for independence.

The two governments fear the secession of Iraq’s Kurds would stoke separatist sentiment among their own large Kurdish minorities and are eager to work together with the federal government in Baghdad to block it.

Erdogan is due to meet both his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani and supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final say in all matters of state.

He was preceded in Tehran by Turkish armed forces chief of staff General Hulusi Akar, who arrived on Sunday.

Both countries have held military manoeuvres close to their borders with Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region in recent days to ratchet up the pressure on Kurdish leaders.

Those exercises have also involved forces of the federal government in Baghdad, which has demanded the annulment of the September 25 vote, which returned a 92.7 percent majority for independence.

“Cooperation between Iran, Turkey and Iraq can create stability and security in the region and block moves for secession,” Iranian Defence Minister General Amir Hatami said as he held talks with Akar on Tuesday.

Baghdad imposed a ban on all international flights to Kurdish airports on Friday prompting an exodus of foreigners.

Iran has ordered a halt to all trade in fuel products with Iraqi Kurdistan and has said it will allow Iraqi federal forces to deploy at its border crossings with the region.

Turkey has threatened to close its land border and halt the export of oil from Iraqi Kurdistan to the Turkish port of Ceyhan, an economic lifeline.

Erdogan vowed on Saturday that Iraqi Kurdistan “will pay a price” for the “unacceptable” referendum.

Since 1984, Turkey has battled rebels of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) which has rear bases in northern Iraq and which initially sought to create a breakaway state.

Two Kurdish rebel groups are active in Iran — the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran (KDPI) and the Party of Free Life in Kurdistan (PJAK).

– Pragmatism –

Iran and Turkey have been rivals for centuries but have recently sought to forge a pragmatic relationship, with the Islamic Republic strongly supporting Erdogan after last year’s failed coup.

The two governments have taken opposing sides in the six-year civil war in Syria but relations have thawed this year with them both joining Russia as co-sponsors of peace talks which began in Kazakstan in January.

Those talks have led to the setting up of three safe zones and plans for a fourth, with Iran and Russia keeping the government and its allies on board and Turkey doing the same with the rebels.

Iran and Turkey also both share sympathy with Qatar in a diplomatic crisis that erupted between the Gulf emirate and its neighbours in June.

Qatar, a longtime Turkish ally, hosted Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif for talks on Tuesday as the crisis pushes it closer to Tehran.

“We are on an upward and positive path in bilateral relations and regional cooperation between Iran and Turkey,” which is dictated by “reality”, Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Ghassemi told the ILNA news agency.

Iran’s reformist Shargh newspaper said Erdogan’s visit was an “opportunity to establish the basis for a new regional order and new alliances.”

The two sides are also expected to discuss new economic projects in a bid to meet their goal of boosting bilateral trade to $30 billion in 2018 from $10 billion last year.

The atmosphere for the talks is a far cry from Erdogan’s last visit to Tehran in January 2015 when a speech he gave just days before sparked demands from some Iranian lawmakers for it to be cancelled.

The Turkish leader had accused Iran of seeking to “dominate the region” and demanded that it withdraw its troops from Iraq and Syria.

by Marc Jourdier
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Turkey’s Erdogan in Iran Amid Tensions Over Iraqi Kurd Vote — Turkey asks Iran to take over control of the border between Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan

October 4, 2017

TEHRAN, Iran — Iran’s state TV is reporting the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is visiting Iran as Tehran and Ankara weigh how to respond to the Kurdish independence referendum in Iraq.

Erdogan arrived in Tehran on Wednesday and was greeted at the Mehrabad airport by Mohammad Shariatadari, minister of industry and mining.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani will welcome him officially at the Sadabad complex later in the day.

Iran and Turkey are among many countries that opposed the Kurdish referendum in Iraq.

Turkey already has several thousand ground forces stationed in northern Syria and Erdogan has stated he will not accept a Kurdish state along his borders.

Ahead of the vote in Iraq, Iran’s army and powerful Revolutionary Guard launched a military exercise in Iran’s northwestern Kurdish region.

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Al Jazeera

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is due to arrive in Iran on Wednesday to hold crucial talks with his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.on the outcome of the Iraqi Kurdish referendum and other regional security issues.

Erdogan’s visit to Tehran comes as Ankara continues to seek regional consensus on how to block efforts by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) to split from Iraq — a move Turkey fears would have a domino effect on its own 15 million ethnic Kurdish population.

Ahead of Erdogan’s visit, the Turkish foreign ministry announced on Tuesday that it wants Baghdad to take over from the KRG, the control of the border between Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan.

OPINION: Is there really a Turkey-Iran rapprochement?

On Sunday, Erdogan told parliament members in Ankara that he expects to draw up an agreement with Iran, on how to respond to the KRG referendum.

Erdogan’s visit to Tehran has been expected since August. But his original agenda focusing on military cooperation to fight the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS), and the establishment of a de-escalation zones in Syria, has since been overshadowed by a new regional crisis following the Kurdish referendum.

Turkish and Iranian analysts agree that while Erdogan’s visit is important for both countries, Ankara has much more at stake on its outcome than Tehran.

From a military and security perspective, Erdogan’s visit to Iran is “very important”, as Turkey considers more sanctions on the KRG and its regional capital Erbil, including the shutting of its borders, said Sinem Koseoglu, Al Jazeera’s Turkey-based correspondent and analyst.

She said Turkey could leverage its warming relations with Iran to put more pressure on the KRG to backtrack from its plan to declare an independent state.

On Monday, Erdogan dispatched Gen. Hulusi Akar, the military Chief of General Staff , to Tehran, the first ever visit for a top Turkish military official since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

At their meeting, Akar and Iran’s military chief, Mohammed Hussein Bagheri, condemned the Kurdish referendum as unconstitutional. In August, Bagheri also became the first ever top military official to visit Ankara since 1979.

Akar also held separate talks with President Rouhani, who at the meeting warned that the deterioration of geographical boundaries, in the event of a KRG split from Iraq, would harm regional security and stability.

For his part, Akar said that Turkey and Iran, “will play an important role in the region’s stability and peace with improving cooperation”, following the Kurdish referendum.

On September 25, voters in Iraq’s Kurdish region voted overwhelmingly to back a split from Baghdad, setting off a regional crisis.

Neighbouring Turkey and Iran, as well as Iraq’s central government in Baghdad have opposed the referendum, and have threatened to impose sanctions on the KRG should it decide to go ahead with its decision to declare an independent state.

The United Nations and the US, have also opposed the Kurdish referendum, saying it would distract operations against ISIL, as well as the civil war in Syria.

In the last week following the Kurdish referendum, Turkey has held joint military exercises with Iraq. Separately, Iraq also announced joint military exercises with Iran.

But so far, there have been no agreement reached on military exercises between Turkey and Iran.

Economic ties

Al Jazeera’s Koseoglu said Turkey stands to lose a lot more if its relations with Iraqi Kurdistan deteriorates.

She pointed out that KRG is Turkey’s largest trading partner next to Europe.

Last year trade between the two countries was estimated to be at least $7bn, and it is expected to increase to $14bn this year.

“So what if sanctions is implemented? The businessmen are going to lose, and business is a very important thing in politics as well. That is why until now Turkey has not shut down the borders. ”

During his visit to Tehran, Erdogan is also expected to meet with Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei [File: AP]

On Iran’s part, even if it shuts down its border with Iraq’s Kurdish region, it will still have other trade corridors going into Iraq, she said.

“So they can still continue to sell their products through the central government in Baghdad. So Iran is not going to lose in this case.”

Within Iran, there are an estimated six to eight million ethnic Kurds, but there have been no significant separatist movement among the ethnic population within its own border.

Iran has also maintained longstanding relations with Iraqi Kurds, supporting Kurdish armed groups during the rule of the Shah before the 1979 Islamic Revolution. The KRG President Masoud Barzani was born in the Kurdish region of Iran.

During the Iran-Iraq war, the Kurds sided with Iran against Saddam Hussein, and Iran opened its doors to the families of Kurdish leaders during that conflict. Saddam also targeted both the Iranian and the Kurds with chemical weapons.

In recent years Iran’s peshmerga fighters fought alongside Iranian-backed militia forces against ISIL.

Uneasy alliance

The Kurdish referendum crisis has pushed Turkey and Iran to set aside their differences for the time being, Rohollah Faghihi, a Tehran-based journalist and political analyst told Al Jazeera.

“There have been no sign of secessionism seen in Iran in the two past decades,” Faghihi said. “But when a crisis occurs next to Iran’s borders, it is natural for Tehran to get worried about them.”

Still he said, that a number of politicians and experts in Iran have argued that Tehran should not react “too harshly” like Erdogan did in recent days.

In response to the referendum, Erdogan warned of military action to stop the KRG splitting from Iraq and “ethnic and sectarian war”.

Faghihi said that despite the warming up of relations, there remains a mutual mistrust between Tehran and Ankara.

“They are actually saying that Erdogan could not be trusted and we shouldn’t follow Turkey’s footsteps for countering Kurdistan, by showing muscles and military power.”

Meanwhile, Sadegh Ghorbani, a Tehran-based analyst, agreed that while the Kurdish issue has drawn Turkey and Iran together, Iran “has the least concern about Kurds”.

“”Unlike in Iraq and Turkey, in Iran many Kurds consider themselves original Iranians,” he said.

“I think the main reason behind Iran’s opposition is that cessation of Kurdistan will harm the integrity of Iraq, and can create a new conflict near Iran’s borders and will also distract everyone from combating ISIL.”

http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/10/kurdish-secession-tops-erdogan-agenda-iran-visit-171003060210611.html

Iran’s Javad Zarif and Sheikh Tamim hold talks in Doha

October 4, 2017

Al Jazeera

Foreign minister’s visit comes after restoration of full diplomatic ties with Qatar and against backdrop of GCC crisis.

The visit is Zarif’s first to Doha since Saudi bloc imposed a land, air and sea blockade [Reuters]

Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister, has met Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani for talks on relations and strengthening “cooperation” between the two countries after almost four months of a blockade against Qatar.

The visit is Zarif’s first to Doha since four Arab countries – Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Egypt – cut diplomatic ties with Qatar on 5 June and imposed a land, air and sea blockade.

“During the meeting, they reviewed relations of cooperation between the two countries in various fields as well as exchanged views on the current situation in the region,” a statement from Qatar News Agency said, referring to Tuesday’s talks.

Zarif’s trip comes after Qatar restored full diplomatic relations with Iran in August.


READ MORE: Qatar-Gulf rift – The Iran factor


In January 2016, Qatar had pulled its ambassador from Tehran over attacks on Saudi Arabia’s diplomatic mission there, after the kingdom executed a Shia religious scholar.

Iranian state media published images of Zarif at the Doha meeting and quoted him as saying: “None of the regional crises have a military solution.”

All sides should “give priority to regional initiations for restoring collective stability and security”.

Zarif on Monday met Omani officials, including Sultan Qaboos bin Said, who has ruled Oman since 1970 and has served as an interlocutor between the West and Iran.

Kuwait has tried unsuccessfully to mediate the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) crisis, as has the US, which has a major military base in Qatar.

On June 22, the Saudi bloc issued a 13-point list of demands, including the shutdown of Al Jazeera, limiting ties with Iran and expelling Turkish troops stationed in the country, as a prerequisite to lift the sanctions.

The quartet accuses Qatar of supporting “extremism” and fostering ties with Iran. Qatar has rejected the allegations as well as the demands, and the quartet now consider the list “null and void”.

Survey on Iran

Against this backdrop, a new academic survey published this week suggests that the average citizens in the Arab members of the GCC do not see Iran as an existential threat in the same way some of their leaders do.

Face-to-face surveys of over 4,000 GCC citizens conducted in recent months found that with the exception of Bahrain, the spread of violent organisations like al-Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group represented their biggest worry, said Justin Gengler, a senior researcher at the Social and Economic Survey Research Institute at Qatar University.

READ MORE: Qatar-GCC crisis: All the latest updates

Gengler said the survey, funded by the Qatar National Research Fund before the Gulf crisis began and conducted along with researchers from the University of Michigan, was conducted in every GCC country except the UAE.

Gengler first published his results on Monday in the prestigious Foreign Affairsmagazine. The margin of error was below four percent among the surveys in each country.

Asked about the results, Gengler told the Associated Press news agency, Iran offered a convenient foe for Arab Gulf states struggling with internal problems and low global oil prices.

Political differences

Leaders in the Arab Gulf countries, those in Saudi Arabia and the UAE especially, view Iran with suspicion after its recent advances on the battlefields of Iraq and Syria.

They also worry about Iran’s nuclear programme and the 2015 deal that Iran struck with world powers over it.

Late last month, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, Qatar’s foreign minister, said the quartet’s blockade was pushing Qatar into closer economic ties with Iran despite political differences.

“They said Qatar was now closer to Iran. By their measures they are pushing Qatar to Iran,” he said in comments in Paris.

“Is that their objective, to push one country, a GCC member state towards Iran? This is not a wise objective.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies