Posts Tagged ‘Mosul’

Shaken by car bomb, Mosul fears return of IS nightmares

November 9, 2018

A deadly car bomb in Iraq’s Mosul, the first since the city was recaptured from jihadists, has left residents shaken and terrified that past nightmares are returning to haunt them.

The blast late on Thursday hit the popular  in Mosul, the northern city that for three years served as the Islamic State group’s Iraq headquarters.

When residents awoke to the scene of destruction on Friday morning, they feared their bloody past with IS was not yet behind them.

© AFP | Wrecked vehicles line the street outside the Abu Layla restaurant in Iraq’s Mosul on November 9, 2018, after three people were killed in the first car bombing to hit the second city since its recapture from the Islamic State group in July last year

“We were liberated, so we thought that security was back,” Mossab, a 25-year-old restaurant employee, told AFP.

“But now it’s worse than ever.”

Three people were killed and 12 wounded in the bombing, medical and security sources said.

The restaurant suffered significant damage. One side, which sits on a road junction, seemed to have its windows blown out and the facade partly sheared off.

The cars in the street all had shattered or cracked windscreens and were covered in black ash and debris.

Mossab’s car, parked nearby, was one of them.

“I’ve been working for four years to save up to buy it, but it all went in the blink of an eye,” he said, devastated.

Iraqi security forces deployed outside the restauarant on Friday, standing guard as cleaning crews worked to remove the debris.

Residents nervously came to inspect the damage.

Khodor Ali, a 38-year-old who lives nearby, was worried there would be more violence.

“If the security situation stays like this, then our future is in the gutter,” he told AFP.

– ‘They said IS was finished’ –

Troops and paramilitaries recaptured Mosul in July last year, months before the government declared IS had finally been defeated in Iraq.

But the group still carries out bloody hit-and-run attacks, mostly in the rugged mountains of the north and in desert areas along the western border with Syria.

Security forces frequently arrest suspected jihadists or break up sleeper cells, and are still uncovering jihadist tunnels and hideouts in Mosul.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for Thursday’s attack, but a statement by security forces blamed it on “terrorists.”

Ali said Iraqi officials were at least partly to blame for Thursday night’s attack.

“If they weren’t able to protect the city, they shouldn’t stay,” he said angrily.

“The only thing these officials want are senior posts. They told us, ‘IS is finished’ — but then there’s a car bomb that kills innocent people.”

City officials have pointed the finger at the security forces deployed across Mosul.

“One of the main reasons we’re seeing a deterioration of the security situation is that there are too many decision-makers,” said member of parliament for Mosul, Ahmad al-Jarba.

Between Iraq’s central military command and the Hashed al-Shaabi paramilitary force, both of which are stationed in and around Mosul, there were mixed signals on security, Jarba said.

He said endemic corruption had also played a role.

Iraq is the 12th most corrupt country in the world, according to monitoring group Transparency International.

Mosul’s residents have shouldered much of the rebuilding themselves, opening restaurants and shops along the Tigris river that divides the city in two.

But after Thursday’s blast, the spectre of IS seems closer than they had thought.



Iraq to build oil refinery in Al-Faw with Chinese companies — seeking investors to build three more

January 29, 2018

Above, a floating oil platform offshore from the southern Iraqi port city of Al-Faw. (AFP)
BAGHDAD: Iraq plans to build an oil refinery at the port of A-Faw on the Gulf with two Chinese companies, and is seeking investors to build three more, the oil ministry said on its website on Monday.
The refinery in Al-Faw will have a 300,000 barrel-per-day capacity and include a petrochemical plant, it said.
No automatic alt text available.
Two other refineries, each with a 150,000-bpd capacity, are planned in Nasiriya, southern Iraq, and in the western Anbar province. A third, with a 100,000-bpd capacity, is planned in Qayara, near Mosul, the northern Iraqi city, which was taken back from Daesh militants last year.
Iraq is OPEC’s second-largest oil producer, after Saudi Arabia. Its refining capacity was curtailed when Daesh overran its largest oil processing plant in Baiji, north of Baghdad, in 2014.
Iraqi forces recaptured Baiji in 2015, but the place sustained heavy damage in the fighting. The country now relies on the Doura refinery, in Baghdad, and Shuaiba plant, in the south.
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The view from the protests in Mashhad, Iran

December 30, 2017

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed | 

The demonstrations in Tehran in 2009 came as an unforeseen surprise, not because the Iranian regime had no opponents at home but because the demonstrators who threatened the regime came from within the regime itself. Tens of thousands took to the streets for days, and the demonstrations were only stopped by force and killing.

This time, however, the demonstrations have come from the sidelines, from towns like Mashhad, spreading to other towns, carrying slogans against the ayatollah and state policies, and resonating all over Iran.

Public demonstrations may not be able to kill the regime, but they can certainly wound it. Ayatollah Khamenei and his military and political leaders thought that promoting their victories in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon could guarantee their popularity and prolong their lives, but these wars became a counter-argument against them. Most demonstrations in the past couple of days condemned Iran’s interference in the outside world and the evasion by the government of its responsibilities at home.

About four years ago, at the early stages of Iranian involvement in the Syrian war, many Iranian MPs warned the warmongering general, Qassem Soleimani, that the state could not afford the costs of his adventures, and that the Iranian people would not tolerate the return of their children in coffins because they had died  defending other regimes in foreign wars. Soleimani responded at the time that his war in Iraq and Syria aimed to defend the security of Iran and the Iranian regime.

However, his argument was insufficient to justify the losses. Soleimani continued to argue that the war which was defending the Islamic Republic and the clerical system did not cost Iran much. He organized militias from the poor Pakistani and Afghan refugees in Iran and from Iraqis, as well as from about 20,000 Lebanese Hezbollah fighters. There were only a few thousand Iranian soldiers who were taking care of training, intelligence, and command. He even boasted that he did not cost the Iranian treasury much.

Iranian militias may have reached Damascus, Mosul, Beirut, Gaza and Sanaa, but they are incapable of controlling the situation in their own backyard. 

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

His war cost Iran a few billions, but he transferred most of the bills to Iraq and forced it to finance the Iranian wars. The Iraqis footed the bills of the fighting militias, as well as the annual commitments of Iran toward Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza. With the collapse of the prices of oil, however, Iraq refused to pay most of the bills.

Iran is a country of nearly 90 million people and it is dependent mostly on oil revenue. However, it is currently facing difficulties, just as other oil-producing countries are. But Iran is a completely closed country, governed by a regime which is similar to the former regimes of Saddam and Qaddafi. It relies on a security apparatus, limits the use of communication and bank transfer services, and imposes heavy fines on traveling abroad. Moreover, Iran has a huge and expensive network of militias and terrorist organizations in many parts of the world from Malaysia to Argentina.

It is true that Iran has an advanced military industry compared to other regional countries, but it remains a poor country. This is the problem in similar countries, such as Cuba and North Korea, which have also had to face poverty. The former Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, East Germany, Libya, South Yemen, Syria and other regimes collapsed because they were interested in security and military superiority more than anything else; that is why they remained poor in all other fields. In Iran, the Revolutionary Guards do not control only security; they control everything. Their influence increased during former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s era, dominating even big economic institutions and oil refineries.

Therefore, it was only logical to assume that the Iranian regime would face the fury of the majority who helped it to take power 40 years ago, thinking that their lives would improve, but their lives got worse instead.

I do not think that the Iranian people will be able to challenge the oppressive apparatus of the regime. However, through their intermittent uprisings, they have been showing the world a different picture. The militias of the ayatollah’s republic may have reached Damascus, Mosul, Beirut, Gaza and Sanaa, but they are incapable of controlling the situation in Mashhad.

•  Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is a veteran columnist. He is the former general manager of Al Arabiya news channel, and former editor in chief of Asharq Al-Awsat.
Twitter: @aalrashed

Pope pleads for migrants at Christmas Eve Mass

December 25, 2017


© Andreas Solaro, AFP | Pope Francis kisses a statue of baby Jesus during Mass on Christmas Eve marking the birth of Jesus Christ on December 24, 2017 at St Peter’s basilica in Vatican


Latest update : 2017-12-25

Pope Francis in his Christmas eve mass Sunday urged the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics not to ignore the plight of migrants who are “driven from their land” because of leaders willing to shed “innocent blood”.

“So many other footsteps are hidden in the footsteps of Joseph and Mary,” the Argentine pontiff, himself the grandson of Italian migrants, told worshippers in Saint Peter’s Basilica

“We see the tracks of millions of persons who do not choose to go away but, driven from their land, leave behind their dear ones.”

Many engulfed in the ongoing migration crisis were forced to flee from leaders “who, to impose their power and increase their wealth, see no problem in shedding innocent blood”, said the 81-year-old, who will give his traditional “Urbi et Orbi” Christmas address on Monday.

The pontiff’s plea for “hope” came as fresh tensions simmered in the West Bank following Washington’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

The announcement by US President Donald Trump on December 6 unleashed demonstrators and clashes, including in Bethlehem in the Israeli-occupied West Bank where Christians marked the birth of Jesus at a midnight mass.

On Sunday, Guatemala President Jimmy Morales said his country would move its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, following Trump’s controversial lead.

Fewer tourists in Bethlehem

Celebrating mass in the ancient town, Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, apostolic administrator of the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, used his homily to lambast the wars that “the Herods of today fight every day to become greater, to occupy more space”.

He urged “Christians of the Holy Land, who are worried, and perhaps afraid by the reduction of our numbers, the inadequacy of our means, the insecurity that characterises our daily life,” to have courage in the troubled region.

Criticising Trump’s announcement, Pizzaballa insisted “Jerusalem is a city of peace, there is not peace if someone is excluded. Jerusalem should include, not exclude,” stressing the principle that Jerusalem is a city for both peoples and the three Abrahamic faiths.

“Jerusalem is our mother,” he said, and if one of her children “is missing the mother cannot be at peace, so we have to pray for the peace of Jerusalem,” the archbishop said in his homily in the presence of Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas.

Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel has sparked almost daily protests in the Palestinian territories and put a damper on Christmas festivities.

Palestinian scouts played drums and bagpipes at celebrations in Bethlehem, but many tourists stayed away this year.

Hundreds of people gathered in the cold on Bethlehem’s Manger square to watch the annual scout parade towards the Church of the Nativity, built over the spot where tradition says Mary gave birth to Jesus.

But the square was noticeably quieter following the violence between Palestinian protesters and the Israeli army in the past weeks.

Twelve Palestinians have been killed since Trump’s declaration, including a 19-year-old who died of his wounds on Sunday nine days after he was shot during a Gaza protest.

In the square, Nahil Banura, a Christian woman from Beit Sahur, near Bethlehem, said Trump’s decision had made the run-up to Christmas “miserable”.

“People are only going out to vent,” she said.

‘Sadness and joy’

The Israeli army officer in charge of the Bethlehem area said that while tensions had been high in the area following the Jerusalem announcement, he did not expect trouble at Christmas.

“We’ve reinforced our troops, and are ready for any scenario,” Lieutenant Colonel Benny Meir told AFP.

Israel seized east Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East war and later annexed it, in moves never recognised by the international community.

Palestinians view east Jerusalem as the capital of their future state, and interpreted Trump’s statement as rejecting their right to a capital in east Jerusalem, although the Americans deny this.

In a statement earlier, Abbas called on “world Christians to listen to the true voices of the indigenous Christians from the Holy Land… that strongly rejected the US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital”.

Mitri Raheb, pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church in Bethlehem,  told AFP that Christmas this year is a “mix of sadness and joy” because of the US decision on Jerusalem, which he called “the beating heart of Palestine”.

Christmas in Mosul

Christmas decorations have meanwhile become more visible in Christian areas of Syria’s capital Damascus this year.

In the central Syrian city of Homs, Christians will celebrate Christmas with great fanfare for the first time in years after the end of battles between regime and rebel forces, with processions, shows for children and even decorations among the ruins.

In Iraq too, this year marks a positive turning point for the Christian community in the northern city of Mosul.

Hymns filled a Mosul church on Sunday as worshippers celebrated Christmas for the first time in four years after the city’s recapture from the Islamic State group in July.

Muslims stood alongside Christian worshippers amid the candles and Christmas trees at St Paul’s Church in Mosul.

Image result for St Paul's Church in Mosul, photos

Iraqi priests lead the prayers during a Christmas mass at the Saint Paul”s church in Mosul



Iraq Christmas service takes place in Mosul after IS defeat — Chaldean Catholic Church

December 25, 2017


Iraqi priests lead the prayers during a Christmas mass at the Saint Paul"s church in Mosul city, northern Iraq, 24 December 2017
The service at St Paul’s church in Mosul was the first Christmas service in years. EPA photo

A Christmas service at a church in the Iraqi city of Mosul has taken place for the first time since militants from the so-called Islamic State (IS) were driven out of the region.

Under IS the public performance of any Christian rituals was dangerous and difficult.

Many Christians fled persecution, with IS forcing worshippers to convert to Islam, pay a tax or face death.

Iraqi forces defeated IS in Mosul in July.

Earlier this month, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared the three-year campaign to expel IS from Iraq had been successful.

During the service, armoured vehicles sat outside Saint Paul’s church and, inside, white sheets covered up bombed-out window frames.

Iraqi Christians arrive to attend a Christmas mass at the Saint Paul"s church in Mosul city, northern Iraq, 24 December 2017.
Despite the end of IS rule, the security situation in the city is still tense.. EPA photo

The patriarch of Iraq’s Chaldean Catholic Church, Louis Raphael Sako, requested that followers pray for “peace and stability in Mosul, Iraq and the world”.

Farqad Malko a Christian who returned to the city after the defeat of IS, said the service was “important to relaunch Christian life”.

Saint Paul’s is the only functioning church in Mosul, and is only open thanks to the efforts of volunteers, the AFP agency reports.

Before the advance of IS in 2014, church leaders estimated Mosul had a Christian community of 35,000.

IS not dead yet but ‘caliphate’ dream probably dead for now — “Most veterans of IS and Al-Qaeda in Iraq are now regrouping in Syria”

November 18, 2017


© AFP/File / by Ali Choukeir and Sarah Benhaida | Members of the Iraqi forces cheer as they carry an upside-down flag of the Islamic State (IS) group in Mosul on July 2, 2017

BAGHDAD (AFP) – Its “caliphate” has imploded, its de facto capitals in Iraq and Syria have fallen, and hundreds of its fighters have either surrendered or fled.The Islamic State jihadist group may not be dead yet but its dream of statehood has already been buried, analysts say.

No one in IS “will now think of imposing ‘the territory of the caliphate’,” said Hisham al-Hashemi, an Iraqi specialist on extremist movements.

In 2014, self-proclaimed IS “caliph” Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi ruled over seven million people in a territory as large as Italy encompassing large parts of Syria and nearly a third of Iraq.

This new “territory of Islam” — Dar al-Islam in Arabic — attracted thousands of jihadists from around the world, many accompanied by their wives and children.

The city of Raqa became the de facto Syrian capital, while Baghdadi made his only public appearance in a mosque in Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city and once a major Middle East trading hub.

In all of the cities the jihadist group controlled, the black banner of IS flew above the buildings of a new administration.

Courts, hospitals and other official bodies even issued birth or marriage certificates or verdicts and other decrees on IS letterhead.

But less than four years after its sweeping offensive stunned the world, IS has lost almost all of the territory it controlled along with the precious income from oilfields that funded its activities.

“In the course of recent battles, especially Mosul, a huge number of jihadis have died,” said Kirk Sowell, publisher of Inside Iraqi Politics.

“Subsequent to that defeat, many others have surrendered or simply fled the country or are trying to melt into the population.”

According to the US-led coalition fighting IS, the jihadists have lost 95 percent of the cross-border caliphate they declared in 2014.

– Ever-tightening noose –

Hashemi said that after suffering such heavy losses, “even what might remain of IS would not think of returning” to the idea of ??military and administrative control of territory.

And the routed group has been confined in Iraq to “four percent of the territory: wadis, oases and desert areas” without any population, along the porous border with Syria where it has also been cornered into an ever-tightening noose.

In addition to the Syrian and Iraqi armies, the remaining jihadists face myriad forces backed by Russia, the United States or Iran, often at odds with each other over their differing regional interests.

“The caliphate project ran up against geopolitical realities,” according to Karim Bitar of the Paris-based Institute of International and Strategic Affairs.

As a result, “the international jihadi galaxy is likely to revert to its previous strategy of de-territorialisation and revert to strikes against the ‘distant enemy’ in the West or Russia to show it must still be reckoned with,” he added.

There is already a figurehead waiting in the wings.

IS was born of the ashes of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and Al-Qaeda before it, and Hashemi said that despite the “caliphate” going down in flames, a new organisation is beginning to emerge.

“Most veterans of IS and Al-Qaeda in Iraq are now regrouping in Syria” where jihadist groups still occupy many areas, he said.

These fighters — “the most indoctrinated and most disciplined” — have since September been forming the “Ansar al-Furqan group, led by Hamza bin Laden”, the son and would-be heir of Osama bin Laden.

The younger bin Laden has become active as an Al-Qaeda propagandist since his father’s death at the hands of US special forces in 2011 in Pakistan.

In January, the United States added Hamza bin Laden to its terrorist blacklist.

His father may be dead, but the bin Laden name continues to attract recruits, Hashemi said.

by Ali Choukeir and Sarah Benhaida

Hashed al-Shaabi coalition of Iraqi paramilitary forces report fierce clashes near Mosul Tuesday with Jihadists from the Islamic State group

October 24, 2017


© AFP | Fighters of the Hashed al-Shaabi coalition of Iraqi paramilitary forces have been instrumental in fighting around Mosul
BAGHDAD (AFP) – 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.

Kurds accuse Iraq of readying push for oil fields

October 13, 2017


© AFP/File | Kurdish peshmerga fighters, shown here voting in last month’s independence referendum, are on alert for a possible attack by Iraqi troops and allied militia

ARBIL (IRAQ) (AFP) – Kurdish authorities accused the Iraqi government on Friday of massing forces in readiness for an offensive to seize Kurdish-held oil fields, as tensions soar after a vote for independence last month.The accusation came after Kurdish peshmerga fighters briefly closed main roads out of federal government-held areas on Thursday for fear of attack further north.

The Kurdistan Regional Security Council (KRSC) said that federal troops and allied paramilitary units had been massing in two areas south of Kirkuk, a Kurdish-held but ethnically divided city that lies at the heart of the decades-old dispute.

 Image result for Iran-trained Shiite militia, photos

It said that both the army and Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) — paramilitary units dominated by Iran-trained Shiite militia — had been deploying tanks and heavy artillery to Bashir and Taza Khurmatu, two mainly Shiite Turkmen areas.

“These forces are approximately three kilometres (two miles) from peshmerga frontline positions,” it said.

“Intelligence shows intention to take over nearby oil fields, airport and military base.”

Kirkuk province is the location of northern Iraq’s main oil fields and, even though far more crude is now pumped from the south, it is bitterly disputed between Baghdad and the Kurds.

Baghdad continues to reject decades-old Kurdish ambitions to incorporate the province and other areas, including districts north of second city Mosul, in their autonomous region.

On Thursday, Kurdish peshmerga closed the two main roads from Mosul to the Kurdish cities of Arbil and Dohuk for several hours for fear of an attack in the area, Kurdish officials said.

Image result for Iran-trained Shiite militia, photos

Shiite militia

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi denied any attention of ordering an assault on his own people but the Kurds were unconvinced and accused the army’s militia allies of trying to provoke a confrontation.

“We call on the Iraqi government to stop the PMF aggression in Kirkuk and north Mosul,” the KRSC said.

“Kurdistan continues calling for dialogue and peaceful means to settle differences. The international community too must denounce the military deployments and call on the Iraqi government to return to talks.”

The rise in tensions came two weeks after Kurdish voters overwhelmingly backed independence in a non-binding referendum that the federal government condemned as illegal.

Polling was held not only in the three provinces that have long formed an autonomous Kurdish region but also in neighbouring areas, including Kirkuk, that Kurdish forces seized from the Islamic State group during the fightback against the jihadists’ lightning 2014 offensive through areas north and west of Baghdad.

Suspect in Paris ‘explosives lab’ linked to Islamic State group

September 10, 2017

Reuters and France 24


Latest update : 2017-09-10

A French prosecutor said on Sunday that a man arrested last week after a police raid on a flat near Paris had a direct connection with the Islamic State group.

Police discovered a stash of explosives in the raid last Wednesday in Villejuif, south of Paris, and found TATP, a product often used by suicide bombers.

A second cache of explosive materials was discovered in a nearby town the following day.

Two men who were arrested were put into formal investigation on Sunday and placed in detention, the Paris prosecutor, François Molins, told a a news conference. A third suspect was released with no charges.

“Analysis from the material seized showed one of the suspects had been in direct contact in August 2016 with Rachid Kassim via Facebook,” Molins said.

Kassim, believed to be a senior Islamic State militant, was targeted by the U.S. military in a strike near the city of Mosul, Iraq, earlier this year.

TATP has been used by militants in several attacks in Western Europe in recent years, including Manchester in May, Brussels in 2016 and Paris in 2015.

More than 230 people have been killed by Islamist-inspired attackers in the past three years in France, which along with the United States and other countries are bombing Islamic State bases in Iraq and Syria.


About 2,000 Islamic State Fighters Remain in Syria’s Raqqa — Coalition observes car bomb kill SDF troops as danger persists

August 4, 2017

WASHINGTON — About 2,000 Islamic State fighters are estimated to remain in the Syrian city of Raqqa, fighting for their survival in the face of an offensive by the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, a senior U.S. official said on Friday.

Brett McGurk, U.S. special envoy for the coalition against Islamic State, said the SDF had cleared about 45 percent of Raqqa since launching an attack in early June to seize Islamic State’s stronghold in northern Syria.

“Today in Raqqa ISIS is fighting for every last block … and fighting for their own survival” McGurk told reporters.

Some 2,000 ISIS fighters are left in the city and “most likely will die in Raqqa,” he said.

The assault on Raqqa coincided with the final stages of a campaign to drive Islamic State from the Iraqi city of Mosul, where the Islamist militants were defeated last month.

McGurk said Islamic State has lost 27,000 square miles (70,000 sq km) of the territory it once held in the two countries – 78 percent of what they had seized in Iraq and 58 percent of what they held in Syria.

Before every military operation, coalition forces surround the area targeted to make sure Islamic State’s foreign fighters cannot escape and make their way out of Iraq and Syria, he said.

With the close cooperation of Turkish forces, the entire Syrian-Turkish border was sealed and Islamic State can no longer send militants trained in Syria for attacks in Europe and elsewhere, McGurk said.

The coalition has compiled a database of almost 19,000 names of Islamic State fighters gathered from cellphones, address books and other documents found on battlefields which it is sharing with the international police agency Interpol, he said.

Islamic State is also fighting the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who is backed by Russian air power and Iranian-backed militias.

McGurk said “deconfliction” arrangements the U.S. and Russian militaries have made to avoid accidents as they operate separately in Syria were working well despite deteriorating diplomatic relations between the two countries.

President Donald Trump said on Thursday the U.S.-Russian relationship was at “an all-time and very dangerous low,” and Russia said new sanctions imposed by Washington meant an end to hopes for better ties with the Trump administration.

“So far we have not seen an effect on our engagement with the Russians when it comes to Syria,” McGurk said.

(Reporting by Washington Newsroom; Editing by Eric Beech and Tom Brown)



ISIS claimed that 40 fighters of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) were killed after a VBIED (car bomb) driven by a Tajik suicide bomber targeted their gathering in the Al-Hal market in the southern part of Raqqa city. ISIS addded that the attack also resulted in the destruction of two Humvees, two vehicles and 4 SDF fortified positions.

40 SDF Fighters Reportedly Killed In ISIS VBIED Attack In Raqqa City (Map, Photos)

Click to see the full-size image

40 SDF Fighters Reportedly Killed In ISIS VBIED Attack In Raqqa City (Map, Photos)

Click to see the full-size image

40 SDF Fighters Reportedly Killed In ISIS VBIED Attack In Raqqa City (Map, Photos)

Click to see the full-size image

40 SDF Fighters Reportedly Killed In ISIS VBIED Attack In Raqqa City (Map, Photos)

Click to see the full-size image

Separately, ISIS claimed that its snipers killed 5 SDF fighters and wounded 4 others in Hisham bin Abdul Malik and Nazlat Shehadeh districts and near the Al-Atiq Mosque.

US-led coalition spokesman Colonel Ryan Dillon said that ISIS uses IEDs and VBIEDs (vehicle-borne improvised explosive device — or car bomb)   in 80% of its attacks on The SDF in Raqqa city. Dillon confirmed that SDF controls about 45% of the city and not 55% as claimed by several pro-Kurdish sources.

The SDF continued its advance from the eastern, western and southern directions on ISIS positions. Only 250 meters is left until SDF units meet and capture all the southern districts of Raqqa city.

US-led coalition warplanes carried out 14 airstrikes on ISIS positions in Raqqa city in the last 24 hours. Opposition sources claimed that eight civilians from one family lost their life as a result of a US airstrike on the city yesterday.

ISIS increased suicide attacks against the SDF in Raqqa city, after the US-backed force had besieged ISIS inside the city completely.