Iraq gunmen attack Erbil governorate building

Security forces have killed the remaining gunman who attacked the governorate building, thereby ending the siege.
Monday 23/07/2018
Iraq’s Kurdish security forces gather near a governorate building in the Iraqi city of Erbil, on July 23. (Reuters)
Iraq’s Kurdish security forces gather near a governorate building in the Iraqi city of Erbil, on July 23. (Reuters)

LONDON – Gunmen entered the governorate building in Erbil, the seat of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in northern Iraq on Monday, and fired from windows at security forces, a deputy governor of the city and Kurdish security officials said.

Two policemen were wounded. Security forces have cleared the streets around the building in the commercial sector of Erbil, capital of Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdistan region.

It was not immediately clear who the attackers were.

“At around 7:45 am two gunmen approached the entrance of the governorate and opened fire at the guards. They managed to enter and now they are on the third floor,” said the deputy governor, Tahir Abdullah.

“Security forces have surrounded the building and entered the ground floor, preparing to attack the assailants.”

The gunmen seized weapons from the guards. The men were shouting “Allahu Akbar” (God is Greatest), said a spokesman for the KRG.

One of the gunmen who entered the governorate building carried out a suicide bombing, a witness and Kurdish security sources said.

Security forces have killed the remaining gunman who attacked the governorate building, thereby ending the siege, said security officials.

The gunmen are suspected of being members of Islamic State.

“We believe that the attackers are from Islamic State because of the tactics they used in breaking into the building from the main gate. Two gunmen used pistols to shoot at the guards,” said a security official.

These types of attacks are rare in Erbil, although ISIS, which has been largely defeated in Iraq, has carried out bombings in the city in the past. 

Iraq declared victory over ISIS in December but the militants have carried out attacks in some parts of the country.   

Fresh protests 

Fresh protests hit southern Iraq Sunday as medical sources put at 11 the number of demonstrators killed in two weeks of unrest sparked by ire over corruption and lack of public services.

Security forces remained deployed around the capital Baghdad after struggling Friday to disperse crowds of angry protesters who took to the streets.

Demonstrations have roiled swathes of southern and central Iraq since erupting in the oil-rich port city of Basra on July 8, when security forces opened fire killing one person.

Overall medical sources put the death toll in the unrest at 11 people, three in each of the cities Basra, Samawah and Najaf, and one in both the cities of Diwaniyah and Karbala.

Most of them were killed by gunfire from unidentified assailants, while one person suffocated to death on tear gas used to disperse the demonstrators.

Protesters on Sunday took to the streets in the cities of Samawah and Nasiriyah, chanting “no to corruption”, a scourge Iraqis say has long blighted their country.

Since the start of the demonstrations those involved have focused their anger on the political establishment, with government buildings and party offices being sacked or set ablaze.

The Iraqi authorities have scrambled to halt the unrest and have blocked social media sites online to try to prevent the spread of protests.

Iraq is in a state of political limbo with Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi overseeing a caretaker government as wrangling to form a new government drags on after elections in May.

A coalition headed by populist cleric Moqtada Sadr topped the polls, campaigning on an anti-graft ticket to claim the most seats in parliament.

Iraq admits holding ‘terrorism’ suspects for months

An Iraqi security agency has admitted holding hundreds of “terrorism” suspects for months, Human Rights Watch said Sunday while calling on authorities to inform the families of those held.

The National Security Service acknowledged it was holding male prisoners at a facility in east Mosul, the Iraqi city from which ISIS was ousted last year.

After previously denying the existence of any detention facilities, the NSS allowed HRW on July 4 to visit the centre where the group found clean but “extremely overcrowded” cells.

“Researchers were granted access to the facility, where officials said 427 prisoners were being held at the time,” HRW said in a press release.

An NSS officer speaking on the condition of anonymity told researchers some people had been held for “over one year”, before the end of the battle to retake Mosul from ISIS.

On a daily basis, Iraq’s two anti-terror courts in Baghdad and Mosul judge dozens of people suspected of being ISIS members.

Around 20,000 people were arrested during the three-year battle to evict ISIS, which seized swathes of western and northern Iraq in 2014.

Children were among those held at the Mosul facility, HRW said as it called on Iraqi authorities to release all minors who had not been charged with a crime.

“Authorities should be doing whatever it takes to make sure that families know where their loved ones are,” said Lama Fakih, the organisation’s deputy Middle East director.

HRW requested the NSS clarify how many people were being held and to detail the number and location of detention facilities.

Families gather weekly in Mosul to demand news of their missing fathers, brothers and sons.

Many of those searching for relatives feared their family members were wrongly detained on “terrorism” charges amid the chaos of the offensive against ISIS.

The NSS, which reports to the prime minister, denied the use of torture and acknowledged “very limited cases of death, which were judicially documented”.

(The Arab Weekly staff and news agencies)