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Muqtada al-Sadr, the nationalist populist Shia cleric, has once again defied predictions as the coalition he leads outperformed rival parties in the parliamentary election on 12 May. His supporters successfully campaigned for social and political reform and against a corrupt and dysfunctional political establishment. It was the latest surprise in the career of a man... Read More
Iraqi prime minister Haider al-Abadi is ahead in Iraq’s parliamentary election, according to unofficial results, in a poll that has added significance because of the escalating confrontation between the US and Iran. The surprise of the election so far is the strong showing of the Shia populist nationalist cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr, who has an electoral... Read More
Americans Need to Rethink War and Look Honestly at Ourselves and Our Friends
"This time, they think they have it right." So declared an Associated Press story reporting an upbeat assessment by this country's top military officer at the end of a five-day visit to Afghanistan earlier this spring. Marine General Joseph Dunford Jr., chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was heading home from the war zone,... Read More
This month marks the 15th anniversary of the US war on Iraq. The “shock and awe” attack was launched based on “stove-piped” intelligence fed from the CIA and Pentagon through an uncritical and compliant US mainstream media. The US media was a willing accomplice to this crime of aggression committed by the George W. Bush... Read More
A gathering of rich oil Arabs pledged $30 billion this week at a meeting in Kuwait to start rebuilding war-shattered Iraq. Sounds nice but these kinds of conclaves are notorious for offering big but delivering little. The event was billed as helping Iraq repair war damage caused by ISIS. In fact, most of the damage... Read More
The first pathetic pieces of wreckage of North Korean fishing boats known as “ghost ships” to be found this year are washing up on the coast of northern Japan. These are the storm-battered remains of fragile wooden boats with unreliable engines in which North Korean fishermen go far out to sea in the middle of... Read More
The US-Iran confrontation is already destabilising parts of the Middle East that were starting to settle down after the defeat of Isis in the second half of last year. “The escalating American threats against Iran mean that the Iranians will be more vigorous in safeguarding their position in Iraq and Syria,” said a former Iraqi... Read More
isismarch
Who defeated the Islamic State In Syria? Before answering that question. What is the ISIS? Can the public overcome its chronic amnesia and think back to the sudden appearance of ISIS dressed in brand new black uniforms, gleaming white NIKE’s and driving Toyota trucks? They seemed to appear out of nowhere in 2014. ISIS looked... Read More
I spent most of the last year reporting two sieges, Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria, which finally ended with the decisive defeat of Isis. This was the most important event in the Middle East in 2017, though people are already beginning to forget how dangerous the Isis caliphate was at the height of... Read More
The final elimination of Isis in Iraq and Syria is close, but welcome though the defeat of these monstrous movements may be, it has only been achieved at the cost of great destruction and loss of life. This is the new face of war which governments try to conceal: a limited number of combat troops... Read More
Violence in Iraq has fallen to its lowest level since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003, as Isis loses its base areas and its bombing attacks are thwarted by informers and double agents. A senior Iraqi security official says that intelligence about potential Isis attacks has improved to the point that government forces can... Read More
Baghdad On a sandstorm-swept morning in Baghdad earlier last week, Abu Mahdi al-Mohandes, the legendary deputy leader of Hashd al-Shaabi, a.k.a. People Mobilization Units (PMUs) and the actual mastermind of numerous ground battles against ISIS/Daesh, met a small number of independent foreign journalists and analysts. This was a game-changing moment in more ways than one.... Read More
TIKRIT and NAJAF, Iraq Nothing, absolutely nothing prepares you to revive, on the spot, the memory of what will go down in history as ISIS/Daesh’s most horrid killing field in Iraq or Syria since the death cult stormed across the border in the summer of 2014; the Speicher massacre of June 12, 2014 – when... Read More
An exclusive, on-the-scene report, with original photography from a region gradually liberating itself from ISIS.
Nothing, absolutely nothing prepares you to revive, on the spot, the memory of what will go down in history as ISIS / Daesh’s most horrid killing field in Iraq or Syria since the death cult stormed across the border in the summer of 2014; the Speicher massacre of June 12, 2014 – when almost 2,000... Read More
Millions stage world's greatest pilgrimage
Millions of black-clad Shia pilgrims are converging on the holy city of Kerbala for the Arbaeen religious commemoration, the largest annual gathering of people anywhere on earth. Walking in long columns stretching back unbroken for as much as 50 miles, sleeping and eating in tents erected by supporters beside the road, the event has become... Read More
It is one of the most shocking of many sadistic videos shot and publicised by Isis in which its gunmen are seen executing their victims. It shows scenes from the Camp Speicher massacre on 12 June 2014 when Isis murdered 1,700 army recruits in a former palace compound of Saddam Hussein on the banks of... Read More
“Fake facts!” exclaimed a senior Iraqi official in exasperation as he pointed to photographs online allegedly showing the Iranian General Qasem Soleimani in Kirkuk, orchestrating the Iraqi government retaking of the city last month. He said that in reality the picture, tweeted by a Kurdish leader as evidence of Iranian hegemony, dates from 2014. The... Read More
'They had tanks and planes, we had no chance'
The defeat of the Kurds in Kirkuk is devastatingly complete. “We used to be in control here and now we are not,” says Aso Mamand, the Kurdish leader in the city, summing up the situation in a helpless and embittered tone as he describes the fall of Kirkuk and the nearby oilfields to the Iraqi... Read More
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi is triumphant as he describes his country’s security forces driving out Isis from its last strongholds in western Iraq. “Our advances have been fantastic,” he said in an interview with The Independent in Baghdad. “We are clearing the deserts of them right up to the border with Syria.” Isis is... Read More
There is a growing mood of self-confidence in Baghdad which I have not seen here since I first visited Iraq in 1977. The country seemed then to be heading for a peaceful and prosperous future thanks to rising oil revenues. It only became clear several years later that Saddam Hussein was a monster of cruelty... Read More
Two cities – Kirkuk and Raqqa – fall in two days and the political landscape of the Middle East is transformed. One of these events, the capture of Raqqa, the last urban stronghold of Isis, by the Syrian Kurds backed by US airpower, had been expected, but was no less important for that. The “caliphate”... Read More
The Kurds may have lost 40 per cent of the territory they previously controlled over the last two days as they withdraw from areas long disputed with Baghdad. Kurdish Peshmerga fighters are pulling back from a great swathe of land in northern Iraq stretching from Syria in the west to Iran in the east. It... Read More
Kurdish and Arab fighters have raised their flag over the last Isis stronghold in Raqqa, bringing to an end the four-month siege of the city which has served as the de facto Isis capital and headquarters in Syria. A small number of Isis fighters holding out in the sports stadium were overrun by the Syrian... Read More
Elite Iraqi security forces have captured the Kurdish government headquarters buildings in the centre of Kirkuk with the Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi ordering the Iraqi flag to be raised over Kirkuk and other disputed territories. An Iraqi Oil Ministry official said that it would be “a very short time” before the Iraqi military seized... Read More
The Iraqi government has banned international flights to the Kurdish capital Irbil from 6pm this Friday, isolating the Kurds in Iraq to a degree they have not experienced since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003. The isolation is political as well as geographical as traditional Kurdish allies, like the US, UK, France and Germany,... Read More
The overwhelming vote for Kurdish independence in the referendum in northern Iraq is re-energising Kurdish nationalism and the demand for a separate Kurdish state. “Bye bye, Iraq! Bye bye, Iraq!”, chanted demonstrators in Irbil, capital of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), as they danced in the streets after the polls closed. The impact of the... Read More
Iraqi Kurds go to the polls today to cast their votes in a non-binding referendum on Kurdish independence, which outside powers fear will destabilise Iraq. The vote is taking place not only in the territory of the Kurdistan Regional Government, which has long been highly autonomous, but in areas in dispute – including the oil-producing... Read More
On 10 April 2003, I was driving on a road west of Kirkuk, waiting for the city to be captured by the Kurdish Peshmerga and worried that we might arrive there before the Iraqi army had withdrawn or broken up. We could see no cars from Kirkuk coming towards us, which might mean that there... Read More
The Kurdish leadership is coming under intense international pressure to postpone the referendum on independence due to take place in Kurdish-controlled parts of northern Iraq on 25 September. Outside powers see the poll as destabilising Iraq and neighbouring countries at the very moment when Isis and its self-declared caliphate are being defeated. But Kurdish President... Read More
On 22 May, Ahmed Mohsen, an unemployed taxi driver, left his house in the Islamic State-controlled western part of Mosul to try to escape across the Tigris to the government-held eastern side of the city. He and his mother, along with ten other people, carried rubber tyres down to the river: most of them couldn’t... Read More
The catastrophic number of civilian casualties in Mosul is receiving little attention internationally from politicians and journalists. This is in sharp contrast to the outrage expressed worldwide over the bombardment of east Aleppo by Syrian government and Russian forces at the end of 2016. Hoshyar Zebari, the Kurdish leader and former Iraqi finance and foreign... Read More
True civilian death toll feared at 40,000
More than 40,000 civilians were killed in the devastating battle to retake Mosul from Isis, according to intelligence reports revealed exclusively to The Independent – a death toll far higher than previous estimates. Residents of the besieged city were killed by Iraqi ground forces attempting to force out militants, as well as by air strikes... Read More
Iraqi security forces kill Isis prisoners because they believe that if the militants are sent to prison camps they will bribe the authorities in Baghdad to release them. “That is why Iraqi soldiers prefer to shoot them or throw them off high buildings,” says one Iraqi source. A former senior Iraqi official said he could... Read More
Northern Iraq is one of the most fought over places on earth. Ancient and modern fortifications are everywhere. Just outside Erbil is the site of the battle of Gaugamela where Alexander the Great defeated the Persian army in 331 BC. Saddam Hussein’s soldiers fought the Kurds here for decades. But the nine-month long struggle for... Read More
“The people of Mosul will receive their salaries, while the people of Basra will receive the bodies of their martyrs,” runs a bitter comment on Iraqi social media. Many Iraqis see the inhabitants of Mosul as willing collaborators with Isis during its three years in power in the city. In particular, there are calls for... Read More
“There were very few Daesh [Isis fighters] in our neighbourhood, but they dropped a lot of bombs on them,” says Qais, 47, a resident of the al-Jadida district of Mosul. “We reckon that the airstrikes here killed between 600 and 1,000 people.” He shows pictures on his phone of a house that had stood beside... Read More
Iraq's Prime Minister formally declared victory over Isis in the northern city of Mosul, saying their defeat marks the "collapse" of the self-proclaimed caliphate. "I announce from here the end and the failure and the collapse of the terrorist state of falsehood and terrorism which the terrorist Daesh announced from Mosul," Haider al-abadi said in... Read More
Iraq is declaring victory over Isis in Mosul as Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, wearing black military uniform, arrived in the city to congratulate his soldiers at the end of an epic nine-month-long battle. Elite Iraqi government forces raised the country’s flag on the banks of the Tigris River this morning, though Isis snipers are still... Read More
Iraqi soldiers have started celebrating their defeat of Isis in Mosul after a nine-month siege, even before the last resistance has been extinguished. An Iraqi commander called on a loudspeaker for surviving Isis fighters to surrender, but this was rejected by their commander. “It may take another two or three days,” said an Iraqi observer,... Read More
In the early dawn of 5 July, a 200-strong force of anti-Isis fighters launched a surprise attack on the Old City of Raqqa, which is the last big urban centre held by Isis anywhere in Syria and Iraq. Recruited mostly from survivors of a tribe that Isis massacred three years ago, the five-man assault teams,... Read More
President Trump has told a crowd of cheering Polish nationalists in Warsaw that the great threat to the world is from “radical Islamic terrorism”, which should make it good news for him that Isis is losing Mosul, the heart of its self-proclaimed Caliphate and its de facto capital in Iraq. At the same time, US-backed... Read More
The voice of Abdulkareem, 43, a former construction worker trapped inside the fast-shrinking Isis enclave in Mosul, trembles with fear as he describes the battle raging around him. He knows that it would be dangerous to try to escape, but it may be even more risky to stay where he is. He told The Independent... Read More
The battle for Mosul is a ferocious struggle that has now been going on for 256 days, or two months longer than the battle of Stalingrad. The fighting between Iraqi government forces and Isis is much smaller in scale than in Russia 75 years ago, but is comparable in its savagery and the importance with... Read More
The blowing up by Isis of the al-Nuri mosque in Mosul marks a decisive defeat for the caliphate declared by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in the same mosque three years ago. Isis will continue fighting as a guerrilla force, but it will be the end of a state once the size of Great Britain and fielding... Read More
Anti-Isis forces are advancing into eastern Raqqa, the de facto Isis capital in Syria, and Iraqi troops have penned surviving Isis fighters into one part of the Old City in Mosul, once the heart of the self-declared Caliphate. “They are down to their last neighbourhoods in Mosul and they already lost part of Raqqa, and... Read More
Ice cream and blood mingle on the floor after a bomb exploded outside an ice cream shop in the Karada district of Baghdad as people broke their fast during the first day of Ramadan. A bewildered young girl wanders through the wreckage, past the smashed yellow tables and benches where at least 26 people have... Read More
What It Really Means to Be on a “Flattening” Planet
The closest I ever got to Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, was 1,720.7 miles away -- or so the Internet assures me. Although I’ve had a lifelong interest in history, I know next to nothing about Mosul’s, nor do I have more than a glancing sense of what it looks like, or more accurately what... Read More
When Lionel Messi scored a last minute winning goal for Barcelona against Real Madrid on 23 April, football fans in the Syrian coastal city of Tartous who had been watching the game on television rushed into the street to celebrate. This turned out to be a mistake from their point of view because many of... Read More
Officials at Baghdad International Airport became suspicious earlier this month when their X-ray machines could not see into 23 large bags unloaded from a Qatari plane, producing only a black image because the contents were wrapped in a special material impenetrable to detecting devices. They were further amazed when they opened the bags to discover... Read More
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of Isis and self-declared Caliph, escaped from the siege of Mosul two months ago when the road to the west was briefly re-opened by a fierce counter attack by Isis fighters, according to a senior Kurdish official. “Isis used 17 suicide car bombs from Mosul and some of their units... Read More
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