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Iraq Orders Kurdistan to Surrender Its Airports

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Erbil International Airport, in the capital of the Iraqi Kurdish region. Credit Safin Hamed/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

ERBIL, Iraq — Angered by a vote on independence by Iraqi Kurdistan, Iraq’s prime minister on Tuesday gave the autonomous region until Friday to surrender control of its two international airports or face a flight shutdown.

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, speaking one day after a controversial Kurdish referendum on independence from Iraq, said humanitarian and other “urgent” flights would be exempted from the ban.

The Kurdistan Regional Government antagonized Iraq, Turkey and Iran by holding the referendum on Monday. The vote was nonbinding but was expected to produce an overwhelming “yes” vote to seek independence from Iraq.

The regional government, which has its own parliament and military force, operates international airports in its capital, Erbil, and in the northern city of Sulaymaniyah.

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Both Turkey and Iran have threatened sanctions against the Kurdish region, including possible flight bans and the closing of border crossings. Turkish and Iraqi troops are conducting military exercises on Iraq’s northern border near Kurdistan, and Iranian forces are carrying out similar maneuvers on its border with Iraq.

The move by Mr. Abadi was viewed in Kurdistan as the beginning of a campaign to pressure the region to back away from independence. Baghdad has rejected the referendum, calling it unconstitutional, and has refused to negotiate with the Kurdish leadership.

The referendum was opposed by virtually the entire international community, including the United States, which feared that it would destabilize Iraq and undermine the American-led coalition against Islamic State militants.

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ERBIL, Iraq — Angered by a vote on independence by Iraqi Kurdistan, Iraq’s prime minister on Tuesday gave the autonomous region until Friday to surrender control of its two international airports or face a flight shutdown.

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, speaking one day after a controversial Kurdish referendum on independence from Iraq, said humanitarian and other “urgent” flights would be exempted from the ban.

The Kurdistan Regional Government antagonized Iraq, Turkey and Iran by holding the referendum on Monday. The vote was nonbinding but was expected to produce an overwhelming “yes” vote to seek independence from Iraq.

The regional government, which has its own parliament and military force, operates international airports in its capital, Erbil, and in the northern city of Sulaymaniyah.

Both Turkey and Iran have threatened sanctions against the Kurdish region, including possible flight bans and the closing of border crossings. Turkish and Iraqi troops are conducting military exercises on Iraq’s northern border near Kurdistan, and Iranian forces are carrying out similar maneuvers on its border with Iraq.

The move by Mr. Abadi was viewed in Kurdistan as the beginning of a campaign to pressure the region to back away from independence. Baghdad has rejected the referendum, calling it unconstitutional, and has refused to negotiate with the Kurdish leadership.

The referendum was opposed by virtually the entire international community, including the United States, which feared that it would destabilize Iraq and undermine the American-led coalition against Islamic State militants.

Nytimes

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Iraq

Philippines Arrests Explosives Expert Tied to Mideast Militants

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Director General Ronald dela Rosa of the Philippine National Police. He said Monday that an Iraqi chemist had been arrested after being seen acting “suspiciously” in the northern city of Angeles. Credit Noel Celis/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

MANILA — Philippine intelligence operatives have arrested an Iraqi explosives expert who has eluded the local authorities since last year and were checking whether he had been in contact with Filipino militant groups, the police said Monday.

The man, Taha Mohamed al-Jabouri, 64, arrived in the Philippines in August as the country was getting ready to host a gathering of Southeast Asian foreign ministers in preparation for a November summit meeting that included President Trump.

Mr. Jabouri was a “chemist with knowledge of explosives” and is known to have ties to militant extremist movements in the Middle East, said Ronald dela Rosa, director general of the Philippine National Police, citing Iraqi intelligence information.

“The Iraqi Embassy in Manila alerted the Philippine intelligence community of his presence,” he said.

Mr. Jabouri was arrested Saturday after the authorities in the northern city of Angeles advised the police that he was there, the director general said, adding that Mr. Jabouri had been observed acting “suspiciously.”

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Police intelligence operatives were then dispatched to Angeles and found Mr. Jabouri, who gave up peacefully. He was carrying luggage that contained personal items and different denominations of foreign currency, the police said.

Mr. Jabouri admitted while being interrogated that he had served as a consultant for Hamas in Syria before moving to Turkey in 2012.

“He also said that he traveled to Manila to meet a Chinese business group that hired him as a consultant,” Director General dela Rosa said, without identifying the group.

A police intelligence official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said investigators were also checking whether Mr. Jabouri had made any connections to local militant groups, noting that his visit came as the country was fighting Islamic State-linked Filipino militants, backed by foreign fighters, who had taken over the southern city of Marawi.

The fighting, which left at least 1,200 people dead — most of them militants — was declared over in October, although security forces have said nearly 200 Filipino militants who took part in the siege escaped and remained at large.

The arrest came after a year in which the Philippines has grappled with deadly bombings.

In May 2017, the police in Manila placed the crowded Quiapo district under lockdown after two bombs exploded within hours of each other near a Muslim center. Two people were killed, and six others, including two police officers investigating the first blast, were hurt.

A month before those blasts, a pipe bomb also exploded in Quiapo, injuring a dozen people.

The Philippine police had sought to play down the attacks, saying they did not appear to be connected.

But six months earlier, in November 2016, the authorities prevented a bombing when they recovered a powerful explosive device near the American Embassy in Manila. Director General dela Rosa tied that bombing to a Muslim militant faction that would later help lead the Marawi insurgency.

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MANILA — Philippine intelligence operatives have arrested an Iraqi explosives expert who has eluded the local authorities since last year and were checking whether he had been in contact with Filipino militant groups, the police said Monday.

The man, Taha Mohamed al-Jabouri, 64, arrived in the Philippines in August as the country was getting ready to host a gathering of Southeast Asian foreign ministers in preparation for a November summit meeting that included President Trump.

Mr. Jabouri was a “chemist with knowledge of explosives” and is known to have ties to militant extremist movements in the Middle East, said Ronald dela Rosa, director general of the Philippine National Police, citing Iraqi intelligence information.

“The Iraqi Embassy in Manila alerted the Philippine intelligence community of his presence,” he said.

Mr. Jabouri was arrested Saturday after the authorities in the northern city of Angeles advised the police that he was there, the director general said, adding that Mr. Jabouri had been observed acting “suspiciously.”

Police intelligence operatives were then dispatched to Angeles and found Mr. Jabouri, who gave up peacefully. He was carrying luggage that contained personal items and different denominations of foreign currency, the police said.

Mr. Jabouri admitted while being interrogated that he had served as a consultant for Hamas in Syria before moving to Turkey in 2012.

“He also said that he traveled to Manila to meet a Chinese business group that hired him as a consultant,” Director General dela Rosa said, without identifying the group.

A police intelligence official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said investigators were also checking whether Mr. Jabouri had made any connections to local militant groups, noting that his visit came as the country was fighting Islamic State-linked Filipino militants, backed by foreign fighters, who had taken over the southern city of Marawi.

The fighting, which left at least 1,200 people dead — most of them militants — was declared over in October, although security forces have said nearly 200 Filipino militants who took part in the siege escaped and remained at large.

The arrest came after a year in which the Philippines has grappled with deadly bombings.

In May 2017, the police in Manila placed the crowded Quiapo district under lockdown after two bombs exploded within hours of each other near a Muslim center. Two people were killed, and six others, including two police officers investigating the first blast, were hurt.

A month before those blasts, a pipe bomb also exploded in Quiapo, injuring a dozen people.

The Philippine police had sought to play down the attacks, saying they did not appear to be connected.

But six months earlier, in November 2016, the authorities prevented a bombing when they recovered a powerful explosive device near the American Embassy in Manila. Director General dela Rosa tied that bombing to a Muslim militant faction that would later help lead the Marawi insurgency.

Nytimes

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Iraq

Military Shifts Focus to Threats by Russia and China, Not Terrorism

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Defense Secretary Jim Mattis spoke Friday at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington. Credit Jacquelyn Martin/Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The United States is switching its priority to countering Chinese and Russian military might after almost two decades of focusing on the fight against terrorism, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Friday, unveiling a national defense strategy that Pentagon officials say will provide a blueprint for years to come.

The new strategy echoes — on paper, if not in tone — a national security blueprint offered last month in which President Trump described rising threats to the United States from an emboldened Russia and China, as well as from what was described as rogue governments like North Korea and Iran.

But where Mr. Trump struck a campaign tone during the unveiling of his national security strategy, with references to building a wall along the southern border with Mexico, Mr. Mattis took a more sober route by sticking to the more traditional intellectual framework that has accompanied foreign policy doctrines of past administrations.

Drawing inspiration from Winston Churchill, who once said that the only thing harder than fighting with allies is fighting without them, Mr. Mattis said that the United States must strengthen its alliances with other powers.

“History proves that nations with allies thrive,” Mr. Mattis said in remarks at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. “Working by, with and through allies who carry their equitable share allows us to amass the greatest possible strength.” (One of those allies, Britain’s defense secretary, quickly released a statement welcoming Mr. Mattis’s words.)

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Unlike Mr. Trump, who said Russia and China “seek to challenge American influence, values and wealth” without mentioning Russian interference in the 2016 election, Mr. Mattis appeared to take direct aim at Russia. “To those who would threaten America’s experiment in democracy: If you challenge us, it will be your longest and worst day,” he said.

In seeking to shift the military emphasis to Russia and China after years fighting terrorism, the Trump administration is echoing many of the same pronouncements made by the Obama administration, which famously sought to pivot to Asia after years of fighting in Iraq. But the rise of the Islamic State, which declared a caliphate in Iraq and Syria, put a stop to the Asia pivot talk in Mr. Obama’s final years in office.

Now a new administration is again seeking to leave the terrorism fight behind. Mr. Mattis described increased “global volatility and uncertainty, with great power competition between nations a reality once again.” He declared the defeat of the Islamic State’s physical caliphate in Iraq and Syria.

“We will continue to prosecute the campaign against terrorists, but great power competition — not terrorism — is now the primary focus of U.S. national security,” Mr. Mattis said.

But the United States is still at war in Afghanistan, where Mr. Trump has promised to set no artificial deadlines for withdrawing troops against a resilient Taliban. And American pilots and Special Operations forces continue to go after militants fighting with the Islamic State, Al Qaeda and the Shabab from Syria to Yemen to Somalia.

But as tensions in the Korean Peninsula have continued to rise over the past year, American military commanders and senior defense officials have fretted over whether 16 years of counterinsurgency fighting has left the military unprepared for a great powers land war.

Pentagon officials say that the need to do both — fight insurgents and prepare for a potential war among great powers — is pushing a military that is already stretched. Added to that is the uncertainty that has plagued the Pentagon’s budget since 2011, when mandatory spending caps were put in place.

Congress has been unable to pass a spending bill, and on Friday the federal government was, once again, teetering on the edge of a shutdown. Mr. Mattis, during his speech on Friday, took aim at the budget shenanigans.

“As hard as the last 16 years of war have been, no enemy in the field has done more to harm the readiness of the U.S. military than the combined impact of the budget control act’s defense spending caps, and nine of the last 10 years operating under continuing resolutions, wasting copious amounts of precious taxpayer dollars,” he said.

Continue reading the main story

WASHINGTON — The United States is switching its priority to countering Chinese and Russian military might after almost two decades of focusing on the fight against terrorism, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Friday, unveiling a national defense strategy that Pentagon officials say will provide a blueprint for years to come.

The new strategy echoes — on paper, if not in tone — a national security blueprint offered last month in which President Trump described rising threats to the United States from an emboldened Russia and China, as well as from what was described as rogue governments like North Korea and Iran.

But where Mr. Trump struck a campaign tone during the unveiling of his national security strategy, with references to building a wall along the southern border with Mexico, Mr. Mattis took a more sober route by sticking to the more traditional intellectual framework that has accompanied foreign policy doctrines of past administrations.

Drawing inspiration from Winston Churchill, who once said that the only thing harder than fighting with allies is fighting without them, Mr. Mattis said that the United States must strengthen its alliances with other powers.

“History proves that nations with allies thrive,” Mr. Mattis said in remarks at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. “Working by, with and through allies who carry their equitable share allows us to amass the greatest possible strength.” (One of those allies, Britain’s defense secretary, quickly released a statement welcoming Mr. Mattis’s words.)

Unlike Mr. Trump, who said Russia and China “seek to challenge American influence, values and wealth” without mentioning Russian interference in the 2016 election, Mr. Mattis appeared to take direct aim at Russia. “To those who would threaten America’s experiment in democracy: If you challenge us, it will be your longest and worst day,” he said.

In seeking to shift the military emphasis to Russia and China after years fighting terrorism, the Trump administration is echoing many of the same pronouncements made by the Obama administration, which famously sought to pivot to Asia after years of fighting in Iraq. But the rise of the Islamic State, which declared a caliphate in Iraq and Syria, put a stop to the Asia pivot talk in Mr. Obama’s final years in office.

Now a new administration is again seeking to leave the terrorism fight behind. Mr. Mattis described increased “global volatility and uncertainty, with great power competition between nations a reality once again.” He declared the defeat of the Islamic State’s physical caliphate in Iraq and Syria.

“We will continue to prosecute the campaign against terrorists, but great power competition — not terrorism — is now the primary focus of U.S. national security,” Mr. Mattis said.

But the United States is still at war in Afghanistan, where Mr. Trump has promised to set no artificial deadlines for withdrawing troops against a resilient Taliban. And American pilots and Special Operations forces continue to go after militants fighting with the Islamic State, Al Qaeda and the Shabab from Syria to Yemen to Somalia.

But as tensions in the Korean Peninsula have continued to rise over the past year, American military commanders and senior defense officials have fretted over whether 16 years of counterinsurgency fighting has left the military unprepared for a great powers land war.

Pentagon officials say that the need to do both — fight insurgents and prepare for a potential war among great powers — is pushing a military that is already stretched. Added to that is the uncertainty that has plagued the Pentagon’s budget since 2011, when mandatory spending caps were put in place.

Congress has been unable to pass a spending bill, and on Friday the federal government was, once again, teetering on the edge of a shutdown. Mr. Mattis, during his speech on Friday, took aim at the budget shenanigans.

“As hard as the last 16 years of war have been, no enemy in the field has done more to harm the readiness of the U.S. military than the combined impact of the budget control act’s defense spending caps, and nine of the last 10 years operating under continuing resolutions, wasting copious amounts of precious taxpayer dollars,” he said.

Nytimes

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Iraq

Suicide Bombs in Baghdad Kill Dozens, Puncturing Newfound Sense of Hope

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The site of a bomb blast in Baghdad on Monday. The attackers struck during rush hour in the city’s Tayran Square, which is usually crowded with laborers seeking work. Credit Khalid Al-Mousily/Reuters

BAGHDAD — Two suicide bombers killed more than two dozen people in Baghdad on Monday, mostly street vendors and day laborers gathered at dawn in hopes of finding work at an open-air market, in the first major attack in the Iraqi capital since the government declared victory over the Islamic State.

The carnage in Tayaran Square punctured a growing sense of hope and pride that had permeated Baghdad after Iraq’s security forces, bolstered by large numbers of volunteers and fresh recruits, successfully fought grueling battles against the insurgent group that had held one-third of Iraqi territory and terrorized millions of citizens.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the bombings, but officials in charge of security in the capital immediately cast suspicion on Islamic State sleeper cells, the target of Iraq’s intelligence and counterterrorism forces since major military operations ended in the fall.

Even as battles against Islamic State militants raged in northern Iraq and in its second-largest city, Mosul, Baghdad had largely been free of violence. The suicide bombings Monday morning caught many residents of the capital off guard, as they had become used to living relatively free of fear, taking their families to parks and shopping malls.

The attacks came a day after Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and other politicians announced competing coalitions ahead of national elections scheduled for May. Since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003, campaign seasons in Iraq have been scarred by terrorist attacks and other violence.

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It is still unclear how the two assailants wearing suicide vests had entered Baghdad or why they had chosen to attack a market popular for cheap electronics and secondhand clothes.

The first assailant detonated his explosives around 6 a.m., as the sun was rising and as day laborers, shopkeepers and street vendors started gathering for work, according to Maj. Muhammad Mudhir, a traffic police officer who witnessed the attack. Minutes later, as people rushed to help the wounded, the second assailant detonated his explosives, said Kadhim Ali, a construction worker who was at the square.

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Some of the methods Iraqi authorities are using to weed out ISIS supporters among Sunni civilians in newly liberated Mosul have heightened concerns over human rights abuses.

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Dr. Abdul Ghani, the director of Al Rusafa hospital in Baghdad, said at least 27 people had been killed, and 60 others wounded, many of whom were in a serious condition.

Since counterterrorism operations were ramped up in 2015, Iraqi security forces have established a tight security cordon around Baghdad in an attempt to keep insurgents and violence from infiltrating the city.

The belt of suburbs and farms to the west of the capital have long been home to bomb factories for Al Qaeda offshoots that have plagued Iraq since the mid-2000s.

Muhammad al-Jiwebrawi, the head of the Baghdad Province’s security committee, said those areas around the capital remained insecure. He urged the government to increase intelligence operations around the city to flush out insurgents.

“Islamic State terrorists are still present,” Mr. Jiwebrawi said. “There are reasons for what they are doing.”

Although the areas around the capital have been relatively safe compared with previous years, violence has not disappeared.

On Jan. 13, an insurgent detonated an explosive vest near a convoy carrying the head of Baghdad’s provincial government, wounding four Iraqi security forces.

A suicide bombing on a checkpoint in the north of the city on Saturday killed at least five people, according to the Iraqi police.

Continue reading the main story

BAGHDAD — Two suicide bombers killed more than two dozen people in Baghdad on Monday, mostly street vendors and day laborers gathered at dawn in hopes of finding work at an open-air market, in the first major attack in the Iraqi capital since the government declared victory over the Islamic State.

The carnage in Tayaran Square punctured a growing sense of hope and pride that had permeated Baghdad after Iraq’s security forces, bolstered by large numbers of volunteers and fresh recruits, successfully fought grueling battles against the insurgent group that had held one-third of Iraqi territory and terrorized millions of citizens.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the bombings, but officials in charge of security in the capital immediately cast suspicion on Islamic State sleeper cells, the target of Iraq’s intelligence and counterterrorism forces since major military operations ended in the fall.

Even as battles against Islamic State militants raged in northern Iraq and in its second-largest city, Mosul, Baghdad had largely been free of violence. The suicide bombings Monday morning caught many residents of the capital off guard, as they had become used to living relatively free of fear, taking their families to parks and shopping malls.

The attacks came a day after Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and other politicians announced competing coalitions ahead of national elections scheduled for May. Since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003, campaign seasons in Iraq have been scarred by terrorist attacks and other violence.

It is still unclear how the two assailants wearing suicide vests had entered Baghdad or why they had chosen to attack a market popular for cheap electronics and secondhand clothes.

The first assailant detonated his explosives around 6 a.m., as the sun was rising and as day laborers, shopkeepers and street vendors started gathering for work, according to Maj. Muhammad Mudhir, a traffic police officer who witnessed the attack. Minutes later, as people rushed to help the wounded, the second assailant detonated his explosives, said Kadhim Ali, a construction worker who was at the square.

Dr. Abdul Ghani, the director of Al Rusafa hospital in Baghdad, said at least 27 people had been killed, and 60 others wounded, many of whom were in a serious condition.

Since counterterrorism operations were ramped up in 2015, Iraqi security forces have established a tight security cordon around Baghdad in an attempt to keep insurgents and violence from infiltrating the city.

The belt of suburbs and farms to the west of the capital have long been home to bomb factories for Al Qaeda offshoots that have plagued Iraq since the mid-2000s.

Muhammad al-Jiwebrawi, the head of the Baghdad Province’s security committee, said those areas around the capital remained insecure. He urged the government to increase intelligence operations around the city to flush out insurgents.

“Islamic State terrorists are still present,” Mr. Jiwebrawi said. “There are reasons for what they are doing.”

Although the areas around the capital have been relatively safe compared with previous years, violence has not disappeared.

On Jan. 13, an insurgent detonated an explosive vest near a convoy carrying the head of Baghdad’s provincial government, wounding four Iraqi security forces.

A suicide bombing on a checkpoint in the north of the city on Saturday killed at least five people, according to the Iraqi police.

Nytimes

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