Iraqi forces launch major anti-ISIS operation
LONDON - Iraqi forces launched a major operation against remnants of the Islamic State (ISIS) group on Wednesday following public anger over the militants’ murder of a group of abducted civilians.
Dubbed “Vengeance for the Martyrs”, the operation will see army, special forces, police and Kurdish peshmerga fighters hunting down ISIS cells in the centre of the country, Iraq’s Joint Operations Command (JOC) said in a statement.
It comes after the bodies of eight ISIS captives were found late last month along a highway north of Baghdad. Some of the abductees had appeared in a video in which ISIS threatened to execute them unless Baghdad released female prisoners.
The JOC statement said army, federal police, special forces, peshmerga fighters and the Shia-led paramilitary force had launched “a vast operation to clear out the region east of the Diyala-Kirkuk” highway.
The operation was being supported by the Iraqi air force and the US-led coalition that intervened against ISIS in Iraq and Syria after the militants seized control of large parts of both countries in 2014.
One militant had already been killed and eight captured, the JOC said, and equipment including vehicles and bombs destroyed.
The operation marked the first time that federal Iraqi forces and the peshmerga were working together since clashes following last year’s Kurdish independence referendum.
Iraq declared victory over ISIS in December after expelling the jihadists from all major towns and cities in a vast offensive.
But the Iraqi military has kept up operations targeting mostly remote desert areas from where ISIS militants have continued to carry out attacks.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi had vowed to avenge the eight civilians killed by ISIS and ordered the execution of hundreds of convicted militants. Thirteen militants on death row were executed last week.
Iraq calls for repatriation of children of foreign fighters
Iraq called for the home countries of foreign ISIS fighters held in its jails to repatriate hundreds of children of the captured militants.
At least 833 children of 14 nationalities are currently in prison in Iraq, according to the JOC.
“We ask all diplomatic missions in Iraq, resident and non-resident, to take back their nationals who have served their sentences and children who are not convicted,” said foreign ministry spokesman Ahmed Mahjoub.
“Iraq has informed all of the countries that have citizens in its prisons. We have already spoken with the embassies of Germany, Azerbaijan, Russia and other countries to take (their citizens) back.”
Iraqi law renders children punishable at the age of nine, according to Human Rights Watch.
They face five years in prison for belonging to ISIS. Under Iraqi law, children can face up to 15 years in prison for violent acts.
A Russian diplomatic source in Moscow told AFP that there “are 70 Russian women on trial and there are about 100 children in Iraqi prisons”.
“We are trying to bring these children back to Russia after identifying them because almost all of them do not have identity papers,” the source said.
Partial vote recount begins in Kirkuk
In addition to occasional clashes with militants, Iraq is also dogged by a political crisis over voter fraud allegations.
A partial recount of Iraq’s May parliamentary vote began Tuesday in the multi-ethnic city of Kirkuk, capital of the eponymous oil-rich province where turnout for the poll was the strongest.
“The counting process first started in Kirkuk because that is where there was the greatest number of disputes,” electoral commission member Imad Jamil told AFP.
A team of about 30 commission staff began counting ballots in 500 boxes, 186 of which were not included in the first count, Jamil said, without elaborating.
Baghdad sent military reinforcements to the area on Monday, and on Tuesday counter-terrorism units set up a security cordon around the building where ballots were being manually recounted.
Journalists with the official Iraqiya channel were the only members of the press allowed into building.
Iraq’s Supreme Court ordered a manual vote recount in polling stations where results from the May 12 legislative poll were contested following allegations of fraud.
On Sunday, at least 19 people were wounded in a suicide attack on a warehouse in Kirkuk where ballots from the legislative poll where stored.
The building was damaged by the blast but the ballot boxes were unaffected, said Kirkuk governor Rakan al-Juburi.
The election was won by populist Shia cleric Moqtada Sadr’s bloc, as long-time political figures were pushed out by voters seeking change in a country mired in conflict and corruption.
After the manual recount of the ballots in Kirkuk, the process will continue in the three Kurdish majority provinces of Erbil, Sulaymaniyah and Dohuk, as well as Sunni-Arab majority provinces of Nineveh, Salaheddin and Anbar, said Jamil.
Overseas votes cast in Iran, Turkey, Britain, Lebanon, Jordan, the United States and Germany will also be recounted, the panel added.
Representatives from the United Nations and foreign embassies will attend the process, as will local and international observers.
(The Arab Weekly staff and news agencies)