Security


Operation Roundup Hits ISIS Remnants in Iraq, Syria

Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve and its partners have increased offensive activity against Islamic State of Iraq and Syria targets in designated parts of Iraq and Syria throughout the months of May and June.

Since the May 1 start of Operation Roundup, Syrian Democratic Forces resumed major offensive operations in the Middle Euphrates River Valley. Since then, the SDF has continued to gain ground through offensive operations coupled with precision coalition strike support.

Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve and its partner forces continue to exert pressure on ISIS senior leaders and associates in order to degrade, disrupt and dismantle ISIS structures and remove terrorists throughout Iraq and Syria. ISIS morale is sinking on the frontlines as privileged ISIS leaders increasingly abandon their own fighters on the battlefield, taking resources with them as they flee.

Over the coming weeks, Operation Roundup will continue to build momentum against ISIS remnants remaining in the Iraq-Syria border region and the middle Euphrates River Valley. The coalition remains committed to the lasting defeat of ISIS here, increasing peace and stability in the region and protecting all our homelands from the ISIS threat.

Coalition military forces conducted 26 strikes June 11-17, consisting of 36 engagements in Iraq and Syria.

Strikes in Syria

On June 17 near Shadaddi, coalition military forces conducted a strike consisting of two engagements against ISIS targets, destroying two ISIS fighting positions.

On June 16 near Abu Kamal, coalition military forces conducted three strikes consisting of three engagements against ISIS targets, destroying two ISIS supply routes.

On June 15, coalition military forces conducted three strikes consisting of three engagements against ISIS targets. Near Abu Kamal, a strike engaged an ISIS tactical unit and destroyed an ISIS vehicle. Near Shadaddi, two strikes engaged an ISIS tactical unit, destroying an ISIS vehicle and an ISIS anti-air artillery system.

On June 14, coalition military forces conducted two strikes consisting of two engagements against ISIS targets. Near Abu Kamal, a strike destroyed an ISIS-held building. Near Shadaddi, a strike destroyed an ISIS logistics hub and an ISIS fighting position.

On June 13, coalition military forces conducted seven strikes consisting of seven engagements against ISIS targets. Near Abu Kamal, four strikes destroyed two ISIS vehicles, an ISIS supply route and damaged an ISIS vehicle. Near Shadaddi, three strikes engaged an ISIS tactical unit, destroying an ISIS tactical vehicle, an ISIS line of communication and an ISIS headquarters.

On June 12, coalition military forces conducted four strikes consisting of 10 engagements against ISIS targets. Near Abu Kamal, a strike engaged an ISIS tactical unit. Near Shadaddi, three strikes engaged an ISIS tactical unit, destroying two ISIS fighting positions and three ISIS lines of communication.

On June 11 near Abu Kamal, coalition military forces conducted three strikes consisting of three engagements against ISIS targets, destroying three ISIS supply routes.

Strikes in Iraq

There were no reported strikes conducted in Iraq on June 15-17.

On June 14, coalition military forces conducted two strikes consisting of four engagements against ISIS targets. Near Basheer, a strike engaged an ISIS tactical unit and destroyed seven ISIS-held buildings. Near Rutbah, a strike engaged an ISIS tactical unit.

There were no reported strikes conducted in Iraq on June 13.

On June 12 near Basheer, coalition military forces conducted a strike consisting of two engagements against ISIS targets, destroying two ISIS tunnels and an ISIS supply cache.

There were no reported strikes conducted in Iraq on June 11.

Definition of Strikes

This coalition strike release contains all strikes conducted by fighter, attack, bomber, rotary-wing or remotely piloted aircraft, rocket-propelled artillery and ground-based tactical artillery.

A strike, as defined by coalition officials, refers to one or more kinetic engagements that occur in roughly the same geographic location to produce a single, sometimes cumulative effect in that location. For example, a single aircraft delivering a single weapon against a lone ISIS vehicle is one strike, but so is multiple aircraft delivering dozens of weapons against a group of ISIS-held buildings and weapon systems in a compound, having the cumulative effect of making that facility harder or impossible to use. Strike assessments are based on initial reports and may be refined.

Task force officials do not report the number or type of aircraft employed in a strike, the number of munitions dropped in each strike, or the number of individual munition impact points against a target.

(Source: US Dept of Defense)

Operation Roundup Hits ISIS Remnants in Iraq, Syria

Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve and its partners have increased offensive activity against Islamic State of Iraq and Syria targets in designated parts of Iraq and Syria throughout the months of May and June.

Since the May 1 start of Operation Roundup, Syrian Democratic Forces resumed major offensive operations in the Middle Euphrates River Valley. Since then, the SDF has continued to gain ground through offensive operations coupled with precision coalition strike support.

Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve and its partner forces continue to exert pressure on ISIS senior leaders and associates in order to degrade, disrupt and dismantle ISIS structures and remove terrorists throughout Iraq and Syria. ISIS morale is sinking on the frontlines as privileged ISIS leaders increasingly abandon their own fighters on the battlefield, taking resources with them as they flee.

Over the coming weeks, Operation Roundup will continue to build momentum against ISIS remnants remaining in the Iraq-Syria border region and the middle Euphrates River Valley. The coalition remains committed to the lasting defeat of ISIS here, increasing peace and stability in the region and protecting all our homelands from the ISIS threat.

Coalition military forces conducted 26 strikes June 11-17, consisting of 36 engagements in Iraq and Syria.

Strikes in Syria

On June 17 near Shadaddi, coalition military forces conducted a strike consisting of two engagements against ISIS targets, destroying two ISIS fighting positions.

On June 16 near Abu Kamal, coalition military forces conducted three strikes consisting of three engagements against ISIS targets, destroying two ISIS supply routes.

On June 15, coalition military forces conducted three strikes consisting of three engagements against ISIS targets. Near Abu Kamal, a strike engaged an ISIS tactical unit and destroyed an ISIS vehicle. Near Shadaddi, two strikes engaged an ISIS tactical unit, destroying an ISIS vehicle and an ISIS anti-air artillery system.

On June 14, coalition military forces conducted two strikes consisting of two engagements against ISIS targets. Near Abu Kamal, a strike destroyed an ISIS-held building. Near Shadaddi, a strike destroyed an ISIS logistics hub and an ISIS fighting position.

On June 13, coalition military forces conducted seven strikes consisting of seven engagements against ISIS targets. Near Abu Kamal, four strikes destroyed two ISIS vehicles, an ISIS supply route and damaged an ISIS vehicle. Near Shadaddi, three strikes engaged an ISIS tactical unit, destroying an ISIS tactical vehicle, an ISIS line of communication and an ISIS headquarters.

On June 12, coalition military forces conducted four strikes consisting of 10 engagements against ISIS targets. Near Abu Kamal, a strike engaged an ISIS tactical unit. Near Shadaddi, three strikes engaged an ISIS tactical unit, destroying two ISIS fighting positions and three ISIS lines of communication.

On June 11 near Abu Kamal, coalition military forces conducted three strikes consisting of three engagements against ISIS targets, destroying three ISIS supply routes.

Strikes in Iraq

There were no reported strikes conducted in Iraq on June 15-17.

On June 14, coalition military forces conducted two strikes consisting of four engagements against ISIS targets. Near Basheer, a strike engaged an ISIS tactical unit and destroyed seven ISIS-held buildings. Near Rutbah, a strike engaged an ISIS tactical unit.

There were no reported strikes conducted in Iraq on June 13.

On June 12 near Basheer, coalition military forces conducted a strike consisting of two engagements against ISIS targets, destroying two ISIS tunnels and an ISIS supply cache.

There were no reported strikes conducted in Iraq on June 11.

Definition of Strikes

This coalition strike release contains all strikes conducted by fighter, attack, bomber, rotary-wing or remotely piloted aircraft, rocket-propelled artillery and ground-based tactical artillery.

A strike, as defined by coalition officials, refers to one or more kinetic engagements that occur in roughly the same geographic location to produce a single, sometimes cumulative effect in that location. For example, a single aircraft delivering a single weapon against a lone ISIS vehicle is one strike, but so is multiple aircraft delivering dozens of weapons against a group of ISIS-held buildings and weapon systems in a compound, having the cumulative effect of making that facility harder or impossible to use. Strike assessments are based on initial reports and may be refined.

Task force officials do not report the number or type of aircraft employed in a strike, the number of munitions dropped in each strike, or the number of individual munition impact points against a target.

(Source: US Dept of Defense)

Video: Angelina Jolie visits Devastated Mosul

From AFP. Any opinions expressed are those of the authors, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

UNHCR Special Envoy Angelina Jolie visits West Mosul, less than a year after the city’s liberation.

The visit marks Jolie’s 61st mission – and her fifth visit to Iraq – with the UN Refugee Agency since 2001.

She arrives in the city on the second day of the Eid al-Fitr, the Muslim holiday marking the end of Ramadan.

View on YouTube

Syria, Iraq Consider Re-Opening Border

By John Lee.

Iraq and Syria are said to be considering the possibility of reopening their border for the first time in several years.

Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) reported that Syria’s Deputy Prime Minister Walid al-Moallem sent a letter to his Iraqi counterpart Ibrahim al-Jaafari hoping to increase efforts to reopen the border crossing connectinga the Syrian city of Albukamal and the Iraqi city of Al-Qa’im [Qaim].

(Source: AINA)

In Iraqi Kurdistan, Exam Questions Sold for $100

This article was originally published by Niqash. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

By Saman Omer.

In Iraqi Kurdistan, Final Exam Questions Sold for $100, Posted On Facebook

As Iraqi Kurdish students prepared to take final exams, many found they could read all about the upcoming tests online and cheat if they wished. But where were the stolen exams coming from?

At the end of May, around 230,000 students in senior grades in Iraqi Kurdistan started taking final exams. The grades these young people in the semi-autonomous northern region get, will play a major role in their futures – so the tests are important.

The exams, held on May 27, start at 8.30 in the morning and as they do, the local authorities have been known to interrupt Internet access. This is supposedly so that students who already finished their exams and leave the examination rooms don’t get to circulate the questions or any advice to those students still working.

The students are handed the exam questions in an envelope. On the outside of the envelope are written the words: Very Confidential. Unfortunately, this year, that description has been disproven, as exam questions and answers were leaked on local social media accounts – again.

Screenshots showing the exam papers appeared two or so hours before the first exams were taken. Several teachers have complained about it.

“What an English exam!” one teacher, who could only be identified by his initials, BK, posted on Facebook. “The answers were posted two and a half hours before the exam was taken.”

BK posted screen shots from the account that had leaked the exam materials but, perhaps because this is an extremely controversial issue that has been causing problems in Iraqi Kurdistan for years and seen multiple arrests and dismissals, the original account that displayed the materials closed down.

Another teacher in the Juman neighbourhood in Erbil, Tekoshar Hussein, also protested online on June 6, talking about how exam questions were leaking. ”Unfortunately questions are being leaked every day and are being accessed easily by students,” the teacher said.

“The last people who get the exam questions are the teachers and the supervisors of the exam halls,” Hussein told NIQASH, adding that he had seen students showing the answers on their mobile phones to the exam supervisors, shortly before testing was to begin. The students told the supervisors that the answers had been posted, several hours before the exam.

NIQASH’s correspondent decided to try and find out more and befriended or liked several of the Facebook pages known to dispense the cheating exam answers. This meant staying awake almost all night. It’s common knowledge among the students that the pages will post the illicit information in the very early morning, just before the exams, so that the education authorities don’t get a chance to change anything.

On the night of June 5, questions for a senior school chemistry exam were published and on the night of June 6, the questions for a senior school English exam were published on the Facebook and Instagram pages. Both showed up on Facebook two or so hours before the exams were due to take place and before the Internet services were throttled. After they were posted, the leaked exams were then circulated by different students on social media.

Screenshots of the information that was posted were later compared to the government-issued exams after the tests had taken place: They were genuine, the questions were all identical.

NIQASH then contacted the various different sites that had posted the exams to help students cheat. Given the sensitivity of the material, it was difficult to get any answers from those managing the Facebook pages and Instagram accounts involved. However eventually one of the Facebook supervisors agreed to talk, after being promised anonymity.

“We have a relationship with a person who sends us the exam questions on Viber,” the page supervisor told NIQASH. “We pay them US$100, or we send credits to their phone. That’s how we got the questions.”

Asked more about who they were getting the questions from, the page supervisor only replied: “We are in Kurdistan and everything is possible.” No further details were given.

NIQASH also questioned a number of students, all on condition of anonymity. One said he had received questions from maths and English exams from a teacher, via Facebook Messenger. “The teacher did this to ensure that myself and some of my friends would get good grades in the exams,” he explained.

Another older student said he was part of a special Facebook group that had been set up specifically so that exam questions could be circulated among the members. He received the exam questions he needed at 6am on the morning of the exam. At first, he didn’t take them seriously, he says because he thought it was either a joke or a plan to deceive cheaters. But when he eventually took the test, he found that almost all of the questions in his maths exam were the same as the ones he had seen online earlier.

A further 18-year-old student told NIQASH she had heard about the leaked questions and she had heard many rumours. She says she also had the opportunity to look at them but she did not – because she was too busy studying. That may have been wise – there were certainly also old exam questions and materials that had nothing to do with this year’s tests online too.

Local education authorities’ rules say that an education department representative from each district gets the exam questions in a sealed, signed envelope about three or four hours before the testing begins. The representative then delivers the questions to examination halls and exam supervisors at 8.30am.

This means the questions must be being leaked between being given to the district representatives and their delivery to premises where exams will be held. But one might also speculate that the leaks are made at certain times to deflect suspicions from one group or cast them on another one.

This isn’t the first time that exam questions have been leaked in Iraq, or in Iraqi Kurdistan. In 1994, a whole grade had to repeat their exams because of this. It is common practice for the government to turn off Internet servers during exams. And two years ago 77 people were fired from their jobs in education in Iraqi Kurdistan – including senior managers and teachers – and some were even arrested. Exams were not retaken in that case.

The local education ministry is very sensitive about the subject.

Of course we know about the leaks, admits Shirko Hama Amin, an Iraqi Kurdish politician who sits on the education committee in the regional parliament. “But we haven’t spoken to the media about it as yet because we are worried about the students’ state of mind. But we have submitted all the evidence to the ministry of education and we will meet with the responsible ministers and with the exam supervisors about this topic,” Hama Amin told NIQASH.

At the moment, education officials are not confirming anything though. “No questions have leaked and we reject these accusations,” Karim Dizayee, the official supervising exams in Iraqi Kurdistan, told NIQASH. “There could be some irresponsible teacher who took photos of the exam questions and then posted them online, while the students were actually taking the tests,” he suggests. But that is all.

Once the politicians and the supervisors meet, if any wrong doing is confirmed, then it will be up to local prosecutors to decide how much further this goes.

Of course, his office will be investigating, says Dildash Fayez, a spokesperson for the public prosecutor’s office. “But even if we do find evidence of leaks, the exams will not be held again,” Fayez concludes. “It would be impossible. But the law will be brought to bear on those who were behind the leaks,” he promises.

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Covering Corruption “Exposes Journalists to Arrest”

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has condemned the arrests to which two investigative reporters have been subjected in different parts of Iraq in the past few days in connection with their coverage of corruption, and calls for an end to the harassment of these journalists.

The latest victim was Mostafa Hamed, a reporter based in Fallujah, in the western province of Al Anbar, where he works for the local TV channel Sharqeya. He was arrested at his home at 2 a.m. on 9 June by policemen who did not tell him what he was charged with, and was finally released today without being charged.

According to the information gathered by the Journalistic Freedoms Observatory (JFO), RSF’s partner NGO in Iraq, Hamed had been investigating the involvement of Fallujah city hall leaders in a real estate scandal. Sharqeya is owned by Saad al Bazzaz, a local businessman and political rival of Al Anbar’s governor, who tried to get the TV channel closed last December.

The other recent victim is Hossam al Kaabi (pictured), a reporter based in Najaf, 180 km south of Baghdad, who has repeatedly been harassed in connection with his coverage of an alleged corruption case involving the Najaf provincial airport’s former governing board.

What with money, women and threats, every kind of method has been used in an attempt to silence his reporting on the case, he said. The corruption case is however by no means a secret. He has also been the target of dozens of legal actions. The latest method was an arrest warrant, which resulted in his having to pay the large sum of 15 million dinars (10,745 euros) in bail to obtain his release on 6 June.

The warrant was the result of a complaint filed by Najaf airport’s former administration four days after Kaabi’s main media outlet, the NRT network’s Arabic-language channel, was forced to close for financial reasons. Defended by a consortium of lawyers, Kaabi told RSF he is concerned about the outcome because of the lack of judicial independence in Iraq.

“These two arrest warrants highlight the different kinds of difficulties for journalists in Iraq, which not only include being unjustly prosecuted but also the risk of seeing your work used for the purposes of the political rivalry,” said Sophie Anmuth, the head of RSF’s Middle East desk. “The absurd proceedings against Hossam al Kaabi must be dropped and the authorities must do their duty to protect journalists who are the target of threats.”

As Kaabi points out on Facebook, in theory Iraqi law protects the right of journalists to seek information and sources. But in practice, as JFO has often reported, local officials act with impunity when they use judicial pressure and sometimes death threats to pressure journalists who investigate corruption.

Iraq is ranked 160th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2018 World Press Freedom Index.

(Source: RSF)

UN Security Council extends UNAMI Mandate

The UN Security Council has extended the mandate of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) by 10 months until 31 May 2019, adopting a streamlined text that would advance the Mission’s role in the Middle East nation’s post‑conflict reconstruction and reconciliation.

Unanimously adopting resolution 2421 (2018), the Council decided that the Special Representative of the Secretary‑General and UNAMI would, at the request of the Government of Iraq, give priority to the provision of advice, support and assistance to the Government and people of Iraq on advancing inclusive political dialogue and national and community‑level reconciliation.

More specifically, by the terms of the resolution, the Special Representative and the Mission would assist the Government and relevant institutions in such areas as electoral processes, constitutional review, and regional dialogue and cooperation on matters including border security, energy, environment, water and refugees.

In coordination with the Government, UNAMID would also — among other things — promote, support and facilitate the coordination and delivery of humanitarian assistance and the safe, orderly and voluntary return of refugees and displaced persons, as well as the coordination and implementation of programmes to improve Iraq’s capacity to provide civil, social and essential services to its people.

Also by the terms of the resolution, the Mission would promote accountability and support the work of the investigative team established by resolution 2379 (2017) to collect, store and preserve evidence in Iraq of acts that could amount to war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide committed by Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant.

Furthermore, it would assist the Government in ensuring the participation, involvement and representation of women at all levels, and participate in efforts to strengthen child protection.

Walter Miller (United States) said the renewal marked the Mission’s first major overhaul since resolution 1770 (2007) was adopted 11 years ago, noting that Council members decided to extend this year’s mandate for a period of 10 months to better align with the United Nations budget cycle.  The document had been trimmed down from seven to two pages of text, although it was important to note the complexity of the challenges UNAMI and Iraq faced moving forward.  He stressed the need to coordinate closely with other United Nations agencies in Iraq to ensure continuity of efforts on humanitarian and development issues on the national and community levels.  The World Bank was doing great work to stabilize Iraq’s financial footing, although more effort was needed on sustainable development, particularly concerning the country’s water issues and the dust storms that plagued the Iraqi people.

Carl Orrenius Skau (Sweden) welcomed the inclusion of an operative women, peace and security component in UNAMI’s mandate, which would allow the Mission to further enhance its efforts to ensure women’s full and meaningful participation in the political process.  Sweden also welcomed the inclusion of a component aimed at strengthening child protection efforts in Iraq, with a focus on the rehabilitation and reintegration of children in UNAMI’s mandate.

The meeting began at 10:02 a.m. and ended at 10:09 a.m.

Resolution

The full text of resolution 2421 (2018) reads as follows:

The Security Council,

Recalling all its previous relevant resolutions on Iraq, in particular 1500 (2003), 1546 (2004), 1557 (2004), 1619 (2005), 1700 (2006), 1770 (2007), 1830 (2008), 1883 (2009), 1936 (2010), 2001 (2011), 2061 (2012), 2110 (2013), 2169 (2014), 2233 (2015), 2299 (2016), 2379 (2017), and reiterating resolution 2107 (2013) on the situation between Iraq and Kuwait, and the values set forth in 2367 (2017),

Reaffirming the independence, sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity of Iraq, and emphasizing the importance of the stability and security of Iraq for the people of Iraq, the region and the international community, particularly in light of Iraq’s victory over the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as Da’esh),

Supporting Iraq in addressing the challenges it faces as it turns to the task of post‑conflict reconstruction and reconciliation, including the requirement to meet the needs of all Iraqis, including women, youth, children, displaced persons and persons belonging to ethnic and religious minorities,

“1.   Decides to extend the mandate of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) until 31 May 2019;

“2.   Decides further that the Special Representative of the Secretary‑General and UNAMI, at the request of the Government of Iraq, and taking into account the letter from the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Iraq to the Secretary‑General (document S/2018/430), shall

(a)  prioritize the provision of advice, support and assistance to the Government and people of Iraq on advancing inclusive, political dialogue and national and community‑level reconciliation;

(b)  further advise, support, and assist:

(i) the Government of Iraq and the Independent High Electoral Commission on the development of processes for holding elections and referenda;

(ii) the Government of Iraq and the Council of Representatives on constitutional review, the implementation of constitutional provisions, as well as on the development of processes acceptable to the Government of Iraq to resolve disputed internal boundaries;

(iii) the Government of Iraq on facilitating regional dialogue and cooperation, including on issues of border security, energy, environment, water, and refugees;

(iv) the Government of Iraq with progress on security sector reform efforts, on planning, funding and implementing reintegration programmes for former members of armed groups, where and as appropriate, in coordination with other multinational entities;

(c)  promote, support and facilitate, in coordination with the Government of Iraq:

(i) the coordination and delivery of humanitarian assistance and the safe, orderly and voluntary return, as appropriate, of refugees and displaced persons, including through the efforts of the United Nations country team;

(ii) the coordination and implementation of programmes to improve Iraq’s capacity to provide effective civil, social and essential services for its people and continue active donor coordination of critical reconstruction and assistance programmes;

(iii) Iraqi, World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and other efforts on economic reform, capacity‑building and setting conditions for sustainable development, including through coordination with national and regional organizations and, as appropriate, civil society, donors and other international institutions;

(iv) the contributions of UN agencies, funds, and programmes to the objectives outlined in this resolution under the unified leadership of the Secretary‑General through the Special Representative for Iraq, supported by their designated Deputy;

(d)  promote accountability and the protection of human rights, and judicial and legal reform, in order to strengthen the rule of law in Iraq, in addition to supporting the work of the investigative team established in resolution 2379 (2017);

(e)  approach gender mainstreaming as a cross‑cutting issue throughout its mandate and to advise and assist the Government of Iraq in ensuring the participation, involvement and representation of women at all levels;

(f)  and assist Government of Iraq and United Nations country team efforts to strengthen child protection, including the rehabilitation and reintegration of children;

“3.   Recognizes that security of United Nations personnel is essential for UNAMI to carry out its work for the benefit of the people of Iraq and calls upon the Government of Iraq to continue to provide security and logistical support to the United Nations presence in Iraq;

“4.   Expresses its intention to review the mandate of UNAMI by 31 May 2019 or sooner, if requested by the Government of Iraq;

“5.   Welcomes the results of the independent external assessment of UNAMI as requested by resolution 2367 (2017), its findings and its recommendations, and encourages UNAMI, the Secretariat and United Nations agencies, offices, funds and programs to implement those recommendations;

“6.   Requests the Secretary‑General to report to the Council every three months on the progress made towards the fulfilment of all UNAMI’s responsibilities, including actions taken in response to the independent external assessment;

“7.   Decides to remain seized of the matter.”

(Source: UN)

Sadr welcomes Return of Iraqi Jews

By Saad Salloum for Al Monitor. Any opinions here are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News. 

In a bold move, Iraq’s Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr spoke in favor of the return of the Jews who were evicted from the country half a century ago. Sadr responded to a question posed by one of his followers June 2 on whether Iraqi Jews have a right to return after having been forcibly displaced due to previous Iraqi policies, noting that they used to own properties and were part of the Iraqi community.

He said, “If their loyalty was to Iraq, they are welcome.” His answer was taken as tantamount to a religious edict, or fatwa.

The response has won him even more popularity and admiration for his policies and unexpected moves. His bloc, the Sairoon Alliance, won the largest number of parliament seats after allying with the Communist Party in an unprecedented move. This opening to ethnic and religious diversity reflects a shift in the personality of a Shiite religious and political figure known for being rebellious and defiant over the past 15 years.

However, an overview of Sadr’s previous positions reveals that this positive attitude toward Iraq’s Jews is not really new. In an interview with journalist Sarmad al-Tai in 2013, Sadr said he “welcomes any Jew who prefers Iraq to Israel and there is no difference between Jews, Muslims or Christians when it comes to the sense of nationalism. Those who do not carry out their national duties are not Iraqis even if they were Shiite Muslims.”

Diyaa al-Asadi, a leader in the Sadrist movement, told Al-Monitor that while his movement criticizes the founding of the State of Israel for usurping the historical lands of Palestine, it distinguishes between Zionism as a secular political movement and Iraqi Jews as a religious minority rooted in Iraq.

Sadr, whose policy of openness to religious diversity is part of his comprehensive program to ease the sectarian and religious polarization of Iraqi politics, calls for the protection of Iraqi Jews and for granting them all their citizenship rights.

Tai, the reporter who interviewed Sadr in 2013, told Al-Monitor that by touching on the return of Iraqi Jews, Sadr has broken the silence on a sensitive issue that no other political or religious Iraqi leader has dared raise since the exodus of Jews in 1950-1951.

Sadr’s stance has sent a sigh of relief to the Jewish community outside of Iraq. Edwin Shukr [Shuker], a leader in the British Jewish community and personal envoy of the president of the European Jewish Congress, considers Sadr’s initiative a milestone and expressed his willingness to meet with Sadr and thank him on behalf of the Jewish community.

Sadr’s positivity toward a sect that has been neglected for more than half a century represents a real revolution that could change the perspective of large segments of Iraqi society.

Professor Ronen Zaidel, a specialist on Iraqi affairs at the University of Haifa, takes particular interest in Sadr’s policies. He believes that the fact that Sadr linked the return of Jews to their loyalty to Iraq as a conditional openness extended only to those holding non-Israeli passports.

However, he expressed cautious optimism that this could be just a first step to start a dialogue with the representatives of Iraq’s expatriate Jews. He does not expect that Sadr’s position will upend the Iraqi policy on all issues related to the future of the Jewish community in Iraq.

“The Iraqi authorities may permit members of the Jewish community to visit Jewish holy sites and shrines without granting them further rights or restoring their Iraqi citizenship,” he said.

Iraq is home to several Jewish holy shrines, including that of the Prophet Ezekiel (Al-Kifil in Babylon), Ezra HaSofer (Al-Azir in Maysan), the Prophet Daniel (near the castle of Kirkuk), the Prophet Jonah (in Mosul, destroyed by the Islamic State) and the Prophet Nahum (in the village of Alqosh).

Shukr hopes that “the openness of Sadr will be the start of public interest in preserving the holy Jewish places, which are common symbols of the Abrahamic religious heritage within Iraq and would pave the way for the rebuilding of ties between the new generations that are freed from the chains of hatred and fears of conflict.”

Iraq’s 2005 constitution did not recognize Judaism as one of the officially recognized religions such as Islam, Christianity, Mandean and Yazidi (Article 2.2).

A 1982 law that defined the officially recognized religious communities in Iraq included the Jewish community among the official religions but under the name “Mossawi,” or “follower of Moses.” The term “Israeli community” had been used in previous legislation and was changed to avoid mention of Israel for fear it could be interpreted as official recognition of the state.

The new Iraqi Nationality Law of 2006 also reinstated Iraqi citizenship for those who had lost it as a result of political, sectarian or racial decisions. A few minorities among Saddam Hussein’s opponents, including the Feyli (Lurs), benefited from the law, but Jews were excluded.

Disputes over Election Results flare after Baghdad Ballot Fire

By Ali Mamouri for Al-Monitor. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

The fate of Iraq’s latest elections has become fraught following a deliberate arson attack on the ballot boxes storage center in the Rusafa district of Baghdad on June 10.

The facility exposed to the fire contained some 1.1 million of the overall 1.8 million votes from the Baghdad constituency. Baghdad is crucial to forming power in Iraq’s parliament as the district holds 71 of the total 329 seats. Votes from the Rusafa district alone account for around 40 seats and could alter the course of the future government.

The extent of the ballot losses remains unknown, but the head of the Independent High Electoral Commission, Riyadh al-Badran, claimed June 11 that 95% of the boxes had escaped the flames. The commission also announced in a statement that it “possesses backup copies of the results in the national office in Baghdad.”

Meanwhile, Iraq’s interior minister stated, “We have taken control of the situation.” He added that there was “no burning of any ballots,” and that only electronic counting and sorting devices were affected by the fire, not the ballots themselves. However, political forces have cast doubt on the credibility of these disparate claims, demanding that a full re-election be staged and warning that the country faces the risk of igniting civil war.

Following the fire, the speaker of the outgoing parliament, Salim al-Jabouri, called for “a redo of the elections that have been proved rigged, distorting the results and the will of the Iraqi people in a deliberate and dangerous manner. Those who contributed to this act of fraud and vandalism must be prosecuted.” Jabouri claimed that the incident was “planned [and] deliberately intended to conceal cases of fraud and falsification of votes and to deceive the Iraqi people, manipulating their choices and their will.”

However, Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr, whose Sairoon Alliance won the first tier in the election, expressed his opposition to restaging elections in a June 11 article, “Iraq in danger,” calling on all political parties to unite and advance toward forming a government.

“Is it time we stand together for reconstruction or for us to burn the ballot boxes and restage elections for the sake of a seat or two?” he asked. Warning of attempts by some parties to ignite a civil war, he said that Iraq would not fall into what some who “sold two-thirds of Iraq want, which is a civil war” — a clear reference to a prior statement by former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who is accused of failing to prevent the country from falling into the hands of the Islamic State in 2014, that “civil wars usually occur after elections if results are challenged.”

Sadr’s top aide also accused both winning and losing parties in the elections of participating in the arson attack, claiming, “The ballot boxes storage center fire was either aimed at forcing the restaging of elections or covering up fraud.”

The beneficiary of redoing the election would be the losing parties, which would attempt to recoup their losses in another opportunity to win votes, while any who won votes through rigging would benefit from a cover-up of electoral fraud.

In this complex situation, the Iraqi government faces no easy choices and only four options. It can completely cancel the election and restage it in conjunction with municipal elections in December. It can restage the vote only in the Rusafa district, where votes were affected by the fire, or nullify results from this district and count only the results from the rest of Iraq. Or it can proceed with the declared results, incorporating any slight changes that may occur after manual sorting and counting.

The first option appears unfeasible in light of official statements from the supervisory authority responsible for conducting the elections and overseeing the integrity of results.

Saad al-Hadithi, a spokesman for the prime minister, stated June 11 that the decision to rerun the election “is vested in the Federal Court, not the executive branch or any other party” — a clear comment on Jabouri’s call for a redo. Similarly, Board of Commissioners member Saad Kakaee said, “The decision to cancel the election results following the fire does not lie in the hands of the Board of Commissioners but with those in the Judicial Council and the Federal Court.”

The Judicial Council previously announced that there is no straightforward legal provision that allows the restaging of elections. Meanwhile, the winning blocs are opposed to any rerun, as indicated by previous statements from Sadr and Sairoon Alliance leaders, as well as from the Fatah Alliance that ranked second. Fatah Alliance spokesman Karim Nuri said, “We do not support a restaging … the compromise is a recount.”

Nullifying the results from the Rusafa district — whether accompanied by another election in the area or not — would open the path for opposition from other blocs that claim fraud has occurred in their constituencies. Among them are Al-Wataniya of Ayad Allawi, who has called for a referendum on the fate of the elections, and Kurdish opposition blocs including the Movement for Change (Gorran), which has accused the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and the Kurdistan Democratic Party of widespread electoral fraud.

The only remaining option is to proceed with the manual counting of outstanding votes by the judiciary, which has already appointed nine judges to supervise the process. Yet such a solution is not expected to yield results that differ markedly from those previously announced.

In the past, such electoral differences had been resolved through political settlements that sought to satisfy losing parties that contest the election results, while avoiding provoking opposition from the winners who endorse them. After a settlement is secured, the outcome will be announced through a decision by the judiciary, and will not be easily contested by the disputing parties.