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Iran Urges War on Cyber Capabilities of Terrorists

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A ranking Iranian security official warned against a major shift in the methods and approaches used by terrorist groups, calling for concerted global action to curb terrorists’ cyber capabilities and counter their modern tactics. Addressing the 8th International Meeting of High Representatives for Security Issues in Moscow on Wednesday, Secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council Ali Shamkhani warned of the shifting nature and geographical distribution of terrorists in the world. Pointing to the cyber-infrastructures and modern communication systems that terrorist networks employ to recruit, organize, train and control forces in different countries, Shamkhani stressed the need for serious international determination to restrict such modern capabilities and counteract terrorists’ Internet-based activities. He further noted that Iran, with years of experience in combatting terrorism and its military, security, and cyber threats, could play a significant role in the global initiatives against terrorism. Shamkhani then attributed the Daesh (ISIL) terrorist group’s acquisition of advanced communication systems, modern arms and weapons of mass destruction to the double standards adopted by certain “infamous governments” which sponsor terrorist groups. The top official further deplored the UN’s weak performance in dealing with regional crises, and urged certain states to end their “failed and dangerous policies” toward Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen. Security officials from 95 countries around the world have gathered in Moscow for the 3-day conference to coordinate efforts in ensuring cyber security, addressing the regional and international threats, and countering the issues leading to crises.

Iran's 2-month electricity exports tripled

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Iran’s exports of electricity to its neighboring countries tripled in the first two months of the current Iranian calendar year, which began on March 21, compared to the same period last year, Fars news agency reported on Friday quoting an energy official. According to Hooshang Falahatian, the deputy energy minister, it is not expected for the figure to stay at a 150 percent high all year, “it depends on the importing countries and maintaining the deals as well”, he said. “However, it is estimated that electricity exports will experience a 50 percent rise by the end of the current [Iranian calendar] year”, Falahatian added. The official further noted that Iraq has settled the second installment of its dues to Iran. Last January, Iran halted electricity supplies to Iraq because of the outstanding arrears, which have piled up to more than $1 billion. With the second payment done, now the dues are reduced to $800 million. Falahatian said that Iraq has been Iran’s top electricity importer so far and it is expected for exports to this country to further increase to 1350 megawatts. Iran exchanges energy with its neighbors namely Armenia, Azerbaijan, Turkey, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Iraq, as well as the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic and it is expected to export 10 billion kilowatt hours (kwh) of electricity to the countries by the yearend.

 

Ceaseless Middle East wars forcing change in approach to medical care

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The Middle East’s protracted conflicts have caused a region-wide health crisis that goes beyond war wounds to heightened resistance to antibiotics and a collapse in vaccination drives, leading to a resurgence of diseases tamed in peacetime. Health threats are so varied that one of the Middle East’s main teaching hospitals, the American University of Beirut Medical Center (AUBMC), has introduced a conflict-medicine program to equip students to cope in an environment afflicted by chaos. As fighting has engulfed Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Libya since 2011, doctors and nurses have had to adjust not only to treating terrible injuries but to a faster spread of disease and growing threats to their own safety from combatants. Doctors, universities and aid agencies must respond by sharing experience and expertise, and by adapting research and medical practices, said participants at a conflict medicine conference at AUBMC, pointing out that Lebanon’s doctors have had their share of experience in conflict medicine due to the 1975-1990 civil war. The conference was held a few hundred meters from the iconic Beirut building that is witness to the war with its riddled facade. One growing problem is the disruption of vaccinations. Ali Batarfi, dean of the Hadramawt College of Medicine in Mukalla, Yemen, described a recrudescence of dengue fever that had been comparatively rare before the war there. Yemen is suffering from a cholera outbreak after more than two years of a war that has crippled public services, fostered malnutrition, hindered the import of adequate medical supplies and hobbled hospital capacity with war injuries. The collapse in national health systems has accelerated resistance to antibiotics because of drug usage in excess of prescribed limits. At the same time, infections have spread as war has destroyed sanitation and clean water systems and triggered chaotic population movements. The impact ripples beyond countries at war. Lebanon’s health system has grappled with the extra patients from around the war-ridden region attending its hospitals, including some from the more than one million Syrian refugees now in the country. A fifth of patients at AUBC are from Syria and Iraq, of whom the overwhelming majority suffered from war wounds, though the burns department noted a big rise in cases among children because of tent fires in refugee camps. Doctors in war zones have had to radically alter their approach, rationing resources, operating in primitive conditions and changing the way they treat trauma injuries. Surgical treatment of injuries is very different when those wounds have been caused by high-velocity bullets or shrapnel – something traditionally trained surgeons must learn as war has spread in the Middle East. Increasingly, warring sides in conflicts are targeting medical facilities, seemingly aiming to reduce their enemies’ stomach for battle by aggravating the suffering of civilians. “When I started for MSF, my MSF jacket was my bullet-proof vest”, said Dr Anja Wolz, emergency coordinator at Medecins Sans Frontieres in Brussels, who has worked recently at the MSF field hospital in Mosul. “Now you feel like a target”. The ICRC has warned that the drawn-out crises plaguing the Middle East “could lead to the total collapse of health systems”.

Trump’s Announcement of the Kurdish-Centric Plan to Take Raqqa

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On May 9th, the Trump administration made public its plan to provide the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) with substantial heavy weaponry. The announcement signals Washington’s decision to rely on the SDF, which is dominated by the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), for the operation to liberate Raqqa from Islamic State (ISIS) control. Ankara’s reaction to this decision, as it was to the Obama administration’s similar conclusion, will be vociferous. Turkey views, with a good deal of justification, the PYD as the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) affiliate in Syria. The PKK has been fighting the Turkish state for most of last 33 years. Your humble columnist dearly wishes he could be a fly on the wall listening to the upcoming meeting between Trump and Erdogan on May 16th. Mr. Trump nonetheless made the only right, and only real, choice for an administration that promised to defeat ISIS in both Iraq and Syria. Going with Turkey for the Raqqa operation would have been a terrible choice. The Turks were never willing to send much of their army to Raqqa, their Free Syrian Army (FSA) proxies are not as good or proven fighters as the Kurds, the Turkish-aligned FSA are less numerous than the SDF/PYD, and in many cases they seem about as Islamist as ISIS. Turkish forces and their proxies would also have been fighting the Kurds all along the way to Raqqa. Naturally some policy elites in Washington appear intent on second guessing Mr. Trump’s decision on the matter. James Jeffrey, former U.S. ambassador to Turkey and Iraq, argues in an April 10 Foreign Policy Magazine piece that the U.S. should have gone with Turkey on the Raqqa operation. Although this columnist has not seen any evidence for Mr. Jeffrey’s contention that local tribes want a Turkish role in the liberation of Raqqa, the rest of his argument deserves some scrutiny. Jeffrey argues that by focusing on the short-term tactical goal of destroying ISIS, the Americans are forgetting the more important strategic contest (which he likes to a “great game” of chess) going on in the area: Efforts by Turkey, Israel and other Arab Sunni states to push back against Iranian and Russian attempts to overthrow the regional order in the Levant. Jeffrey’s then goes on to draw a misleadingly simple tradeoff, where Washington can either 1) Fight ISIS without Turkey and let Iran and Russia win the larger game; or 2) Join Turkey against the Iranian-Russian attempt at hegemony in the Levant.  Mr. Jeffrey, like many American and Turkish policy makers, appears unable to see more than a two-dimensional game of chess. He works hard to argue that Turkey is an American ally while the PKK (and its Syrian PYD sister) are proxies of Iran, Assad and Russia. Things are a lot more complicated than that. Sometimes the PKK and these actors cooperate, while at other times they fight each other. To understand what the Iranians’ and Russians’ three-dimensional chess game looks like, in contrast, one need only ask how Iran, which Jeffrey himself acknowledges to be much less economically and militarily powerful than Turkey, enjoys so much leverage and influence outside its borders? Russia as well, with an economy the size of Australia’s, seems to punch in a foreign influence weight class far beyond its real size and power. The answer has to do with both Iran and Russia’s complex policies of supporting and working with various actors internationally, adroitly applying patronage and cooperation to maximum effect. Iraqis, for instance, know very well how Iran supports myriad groups in that country including various Shiite parties competing with one another, some Kurdish political parties and even Sunni Arab parties. When Iran thus wants to get something done in Iraq, it has a lot of often mutually hostile groups it can turn to. If something occurs in Iraq that Iran opposes (such as the 2012 no-confidence motion against Prime Minister Maliki), it can use its influence to overthrow the whole process. If the Americans, either by shrewd design or by accident, are to play a similarly high level of three-dimensional strategic chess in the Levant, they might well start with more support for the PYD at the same time that they remain NATO allies with Turkey. This seems especially wise given Turkey’s own ties with Jihadi groups in Syria and elsewhere (Jeffrey conveniently ignores the question of replacing ISIS with Jabhat al Nusra or Ahrar al Shams, which would hardly offer much of an improvement from the American point of view). In such a game, why couldn’t the U.S. support the PYD against ISIS and simultaneously oppose Iran? A simple rhetorical flourish might even do the trick: While leaders in Washington have repeatedly stated that American weapons given to the SDF/PYD must not end up in PKK hands or be used against Turkey, they never said anything about such weapons finding their way to the PKK’s Iranian branch, the Kurdistan Free Life Party (PJAK). PJAK, of course, has been fighting a guerrilla war against the government in Tehran since 2004. This way, Ankara gets to keep supporting Hamas, Jabhat al Nusra (al Qaeda in Syria) and other American friends, while Washington can pursue its own Kurdish friendships outside of Turkey, and both can still pretend to be the best of friends at NATO summits — just like Turkey and Iran pretend to be friends at the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.

 

Iraq’s Shiite militias squeeze Islamic State toward Syria border

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Iraq’s Shi’ite paramilitaries launched an offensive on Friday to drive Islamic State from a desert region near the border with Syria as security forces fought the militants in the city of Mosul. Spokesman Karim al-Nouri said the target of the operation was the Qairawan and Baaj areas about 100 km west of Mosul, where U.S.-backed Iraqi forces are advancing in their campaign to rout the militants from city. Seven months into the Mosul campaign, Islamic State has been driven from all but a handful of districts in the city’s western half including the Old City, where it is using hundreds of thousands of civilians as human shields. The paramilitaries have been kept on the sidelines of the battle for the city of Mosul itself, but have captured a vast, thinly populated area to the southwest, cutting Islamic State supply routes to Syria. Islamic State is losing territory in both  Iraq and Syria. The Iraqi military said in a statement its air force was supporting the operation by the paramilitary groups known collectively as Hashid Shaabi or Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF). Unlike regular Iraqi security forces, the PMF does not receive support from the U.S.-led coalition, which is wary of Iran’s influence over the most powerful factions within the body. Officially answerable to the government in Baghdad, the PMF were formed when Islamic State overran around one third of Iraq including Mosul nearly three years ago and Iraqi security forces disintegrated. Nouri said PMF control over the border would assist Syrian government forces when they push toward the Islamic State-held city of Raqqa. On Friday, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said their assault on Raqqa, the militants’ biggest urban stronghold, would begin soon and that they were awaiting weapons including armored vehicles from the U.S.-led coalition

Kurdish journalist Ibrahim Abbas detained in Erbil

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Kurdish journalist Ibrahim Abbas was detained by Asayish (security forces) in Erbil after he criticized the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and corruption in the Kurdistan Region. Abbas’ wife, Saadiya Mohammed, told NRT that security forces were waiting for Abbas from 8 p.m. on Wednesday until 1 a.m. on Thursday, saying that they wished to speak with the journalist. Abbas ended up being detained at the house of a friend on Wednesday night as he wasn’t at home, Mohammed added. The day of Abbas’ arrest, May 3, also coincides with World Press Freedom Day. The journalist’s brother, Aso Abbas, said that security forces had told the family that they were under orders when they detained the journalist. According to Mohammed, Abbas had previously received threatening messages over his criticism of the KDP and corruption.

Iraq: Most gun owners in Kurdistan are unlicensed

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Only around 3,150 gun owners in the Kurdistan Region have permits for their firearms, according to the interior ministry which issues licenses to gun owners across the Kurdistan Region in coordination with provincial authorities. There are no official data about the number of guns or people who carry them, but the ministry says the large majority of gun owners have no permission for their firearms. “The provincial authorities have the legal powers to issue licenses for applicants who fulfill certain criteria including medical reports that show they have no mental illnesses”, said Sami Jalal at the interior ministry. According to Jala the ministry has struggled to prevent unauthorized gun ownership, as the provincial and local authorities often have access to more accurate information about the background of the applicants. Those who apply for gun licenses are obliged to obtain recommendations from a doctor, the police and the security agencies. They also must be 18 years of age or older and with no record of past misconduct. At least 70 people were detained last week in Erbil after a police raid targeted unlicensed gun owners, most of whom were released on bail or after paying fines. Kurdistan Region laws have heavy penalties for unlicensed gun owners including relatively long jail sentences — up to one year in prison in addition to paying fees.

Iraqi army opens new front, advances on ISIS in Mosul from northwest

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“At hour 06:00 forces of the army ‘s 9th Division and the 73rd Brigade of the 5th Division and forces of the federal police including the Rapid Response units attacked neighborhoods of Mshirfa, al-Kanisa and al-Haramat neighborhoods north of the right side of the city of Mosul”, the military statement read. “Your sons are now fighting to break defenses of the enemy and destroy its capabilities and they are ready to embrace either victory or martyrdom to liberate what has been remained of the Mosul city from the terrorist Daesh”, the statement continued using an Arabic acronym for ISIS. The attack would help the elite Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS) and Interior Ministry Federal Police troops who were painstakingly advancing from the south, a military commander told Reuters. The militants are now besieged in the north-western corner of Mosul which includes the historic Old City centre and the Grand al-Nuri Mosque-from which ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared a “caliphate” in 2014. Heavy sustained gunfire has been a constant in the Old City area for days, where militants are hiding among residents and using the alleyways, traditional family homes and snaking narrow roads to their advantage. Tens of thousands of Mosul residents are trapped inside homes, caught in the fighting, shelling and air strikes as Iraqi forces backed by a U.S.-led coalition advance in the west. The United Nations believes up to half a million people remain in the area, 400,000 of whom are in the Old City with little food, water and medicine

U.S. firm in Iraq ignores smuggling, security risks for F-16 jets.

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An American company that was paid nearly $700 million to secure an Iraqi base for F-16 fighter jets turned a blind eye to alcohol smuggling, theft, security violations, and allegations of sex trafficking – then terminated investigators who uncovered wrongdoing, an Associated Press investigation has found. Documents and interviews with two former internal investigators and a half-dozen former or current Sallyport Global staff describe schemes at Iraq’s Balad Air Base that were major contract violations at best and, if proven, illegal. The investigators were fired abruptly on March 12 – just two months ago – and immediately flown out of Iraq. They say they had been looking into timesheet fraud allegations and were set to interview company managers, whom they considered suspects. In a statement to the AP, Sallyport said it follows all contracting rules at the base, home to a squadron of F-16s that are indispensable to the operations of the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State group. In one allegation, informants told the investigators that “flight line” staff, who directed airplanes on the runways and handled cargo, were showing up drunk. At one point they passed around a bowl of gummy bears soaked in vodka. Balad is controlled by the Iraqi government. Americans have been there off and on since 2003. The base was evacuated in June 2014, when IS began overrunning Iraqi territory. When the Americans returned, Sallyport’s job was to keep Balad safe for the F-16s – and their Iraqi pilots. The contract required investigations into potential crimes and contract violations. That was the job of Cole and King.

UNICEF calls for stronger ties with ICCIMA.

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UNICEF representative in Iran has stressed the need to boost banking, hospitality, ICT and transport cooperation with Iran Chamber of Commerce, Industries, Mines and Agriculture (ICCIMA). At a joint meeting with UNICEF Representative in Iran Dr. Will Parks in Tehran, Vice-President of ICCIMA Pedram Soltani recounted on history and performance of chambers of commerce in the world saying “in the past 40 years, in addition to supplying needs of the private sector and their members, chambers have also sought to fulfill social and cultural interests.” The official referred to establishment of Abrar Charitable Society in ICCIMA adding the Chamber has put social and cultural development on agenda. He went on to enumerate major activities of Abrar Charitable Society including development of rural areas, supporting education of students in disadvantaged areas and participation in cultural and educational centers. Later at the meeting, Representative of United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) in Iran Dr. Will Parks recounted on his 40-year experience of activities in Iraq and Iran as well as 40 other world countries and voiced optimism that UNICEF’s ties with the private sector, which had remained at a hiatus since 2009, will be resumed. “UNICEF seeks to attract cooperation of state and private sectors as well as other international institutions in order to accomplish its objectives in Iran,” he added. Parks also highlighted the key role played by ICCIMA, as Iran’s largest private sector body, in shaping bonds between UNICEF and firms whose activities are somehow related to children; “these ties could facilitate UNICEF activities and provide them with greater legitimacy”.

 

 

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