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Iraqi Kurds’ Independence Vote Exposed Risks to Energy Strategy

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Iraqi Kurdish leaders have long sought to craft an energy policy independent of the federal government in Baghdad, courting international companies and offering lucrative deals to drill for potentially huge new reserves of oil and gas.

Then in September, Kurdish voters overwhelmingly chose to break free of Baghdad. But instead of stepping closer to nationhood, the Kurds were handed a humiliating setback: Iraqi troops seized the disputed city of Kirkuk and the oil fields around it. That loss of territory comes on top of worsening trends in the local oil sector and continued tensions between Kurdistan, a region in northern Iraq, and its neighbors.

Taken in concert, those factors raise questions about the Kurds’ strategy of achieving political independence through energy, which provides nearly of all the regional government’s revenue.

The consequences of battling over northern Iraq’s riches extend beyond the region’s borders. Kurdistan’s oil sales look unlikely to live up to their early promise, and the uncertainty that followed the referendum only heaps risk on energy markets already unsettled by heated rhetoric between the United States and Iran, and the near-collapse of Venezuela.

“It is going to be incredibly difficult for Kurdistan to move forward with its original plans,” said Ayham Kamel, leader of the Middle East unit at Eurasia Group, a political risk firm. “I don’t think they can do what they want to do.”

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Iraq’s oil industry has recovered markedly since Saddam Hussein was ousted in 2003. Including Kurdish output, the country is the second-largest producer in the OPEC cartel with about 4.5 million barrels of crude per day, but decades of underinvestment mean its vast oil reserves could be squeezed for even more.

Marginalized and brutally oppressed under Saddam, Kurdistan has sought a piece of the global oil action. The energy consultants Wood Mackenzie peg total potential oil and gas holdings in the region at about 13 billion barrels, and Kurdish officials have worked to attract investment from international oil companies. They offered advantageous revenue-sharing agreements to foreign firms, a stark contrast to the low-margin fixed-fee deals offered by Baghdad.

To some global companies, the rewards were attractive. Kurdistan offered easily extractable oil in a politically friendly environment, without the huge costs and environmental risks of drilling in the Arctic or mining the tar sands in Canada. Energy giants like Chevron and Exxon Mobil shrugged off the threats of legal action by the Iraqi government and the displeasure of Washington by signing contracts with the Kurdish region at a time when oil prices were significantly higher than they are now.

The energy companies wanted to see whether large troves of oil lurked below the hills of Kurdistan, as exist elsewhere in Iraq and in neighboring Iran.

But the luster of those prospects has since faded. Drilling has not produced the large finds they had hoped for, leading companies to back off. Chevron said recently that it was suspending operations in Kurdistan. Total of France relinquished its exploration blocks last year, taking a $200 million write-down. Analysts say the poor exploration results, combined with world oil prices that have fallen off from their peak above $100 a barrel, raise doubts about the value of continuing to invest in Kurdistan.

“It is not a play that is working for the majors,” said Ian Thom, head of Middle East analysis at Wood Mackenzie. “They have bigger fish to fry.”

Some of the smaller companies that originally opened up Kurdistan to exploratory drilling have also struggled. Genel Energy — the London-listed company co-founded and led until 2015 by the former BP chief executive Tony Hayward — has in the past two years sharply downgraded its estimates of the volumes in Taq Taq field, one of its two Kurdish mainstays. Output from the field has plummeted to about 14,000 barrels a day compared with 128,000 barrels a day in early 2015.

The region now finds itself exporting around 250,000 barrels of oil a day, just a quarter of what it optimistically estimated a few years ago, according to Ruba Husari, managing director of the consulting firm Iraq Insight.

These disappointments were largely masked by the giant oil fields seized in recent years by Kurdish fighters, known as the pesh merga. As Iraq reeled from the Islamic State’s onslaught in 2014, the pesh merga took control of some of the energy producing areas near Kirkuk. Holding those fields allowed Kurdistan to increase exports to about 550,000 barrels a day, with roughly half of it coming from Kirkuk, according to Ms. Husari. Those advances, however, have largely been reversed.

Beyond the short-term issues resulting from the independence vote, longer-term problems persist.

For one, Massoud Barzani, Kurdistan’s longtime regional president, has said he will leave his post. That could create a power vacuum, threatening the region’s domestic stability and complicating talks with the federal government and neighbors like Turkey. The landlocked region remains dependent on good relations with Ankara, and probably still with Baghdad, to move its oil and gas to market.

The Kurds and the federal government have also never agreed on how to share oil revenue, or how to handle oil concessions in Kurdistan — or even what territory constitutes the Kurdish region. With Kurdistan’s attraction fading as an energy bet, those concerns may loom larger in industry calculations.

Such issues pose a threat to the Kurdish independence bid. The regional government is struggling to pay Civil Service salaries and manage its debts to oil companies. And Iraq could take legal action against buyers of crude from Kurdistan.

“Kurdistan has lost its revenue lifeline and its far from certain it can continue its independence push in these circumstances,” said Bill Farren-Price, president of Petroleum Policy Intelligence, a market research firm.

How far Baghdad will go is not yet clear. but it is not standing pat.

About 15 percent of Iraq’s oil sales are transported via a pipeline that runs through parts of Kurdistan. With some of the oil from the fields around Kirkuk shut in, the federal government is ramping up exports from its southern oil terminals.

Baghdad also wants BP, which helped to develop the Kirkuk fields and had been providing technical assistance there until 2015, to assist in rejuvenating them. David Nicholas, a BP spokesman, acknowledged that the company met with Iraq’s oil minister just after Iraq retook Kirkuk to discuss several issues, including the oil field and BP’s “potential support.”

BP might be able to coax more oil from the Kirkuk fields. If so, both Baghdad and the Kurds, who are constitutionally entitled to a slice of the nation’s oil revenue, might benefit.

“The Kirkuk field is an amazing resource, but has not been managed to its full potential,” said Rob West, an analyst at the market research firm Redburn. “That’s an incentive for Kurdistan and Baghdad to cooperate.”

Continue reading the main story

Iraqi Kurdish leaders have long sought to craft an energy policy independent of the federal government in Baghdad, courting international companies and offering lucrative deals to drill for potentially huge new reserves of oil and gas.

Then in September, Kurdish voters overwhelmingly chose to break free of Baghdad. But instead of stepping closer to nationhood, the Kurds were handed a humiliating setback: Iraqi troops seized the disputed city of Kirkuk and the oil fields around it. That loss of territory comes on top of worsening trends in the local oil sector and continued tensions between Kurdistan, a region in northern Iraq, and its neighbors.

Taken in concert, those factors raise questions about the Kurds’ strategy of achieving political independence through energy, which provides nearly of all the regional government’s revenue.

The consequences of battling over northern Iraq’s riches extend beyond the region’s borders. Kurdistan’s oil sales look unlikely to live up to their early promise, and the uncertainty that followed the referendum only heaps risk on energy markets already unsettled by heated rhetoric between the United States and Iran, and the near-collapse of Venezuela.

“It is going to be incredibly difficult for Kurdistan to move forward with its original plans,” said Ayham Kamel, leader of the Middle East unit at Eurasia Group, a political risk firm. “I don’t think they can do what they want to do.”

Iraq’s oil industry has recovered markedly since Saddam Hussein was ousted in 2003. Including Kurdish output, the country is the second-largest producer in the OPEC cartel with about 4.5 million barrels of crude per day, but decades of underinvestment mean its vast oil reserves could be squeezed for even more.

Marginalized and brutally oppressed under Saddam, Kurdistan has sought a piece of the global oil action. The energy consultants Wood Mackenzie peg total potential oil and gas holdings in the region at about 13 billion barrels, and Kurdish officials have worked to attract investment from international oil companies. They offered advantageous revenue-sharing agreements to foreign firms, a stark contrast to the low-margin fixed-fee deals offered by Baghdad.

To some global companies, the rewards were attractive. Kurdistan offered easily extractable oil in a politically friendly environment, without the huge costs and environmental risks of drilling in the Arctic or mining the tar sands in Canada. Energy giants like Chevron and Exxon Mobil shrugged off the threats of legal action by the Iraqi government and the displeasure of Washington by signing contracts with the Kurdish region at a time when oil prices were significantly higher than they are now.

The energy companies wanted to see whether large troves of oil lurked below the hills of Kurdistan, as exist elsewhere in Iraq and in neighboring Iran.

But the luster of those prospects has since faded. Drilling has not produced the large finds they had hoped for, leading companies to back off. Chevron said recently that it was suspending operations in Kurdistan. Total of France relinquished its exploration blocks last year, taking a $200 million write-down. Analysts say the poor exploration results, combined with world oil prices that have fallen off from their peak above $100 a barrel, raise doubts about the value of continuing to invest in Kurdistan.

“It is not a play that is working for the majors,” said Ian Thom, head of Middle East analysis at Wood Mackenzie. “They have bigger fish to fry.”

Some of the smaller companies that originally opened up Kurdistan to exploratory drilling have also struggled. Genel Energy — the London-listed company co-founded and led until 2015 by the former BP chief executive Tony Hayward — has in the past two years sharply downgraded its estimates of the volumes in Taq Taq field, one of its two Kurdish mainstays. Output from the field has plummeted to about 14,000 barrels a day compared with 128,000 barrels a day in early 2015.

The region now finds itself exporting around 250,000 barrels of oil a day, just a quarter of what it optimistically estimated a few years ago, according to Ruba Husari, managing director of the consulting firm Iraq Insight.

These disappointments were largely masked by the giant oil fields seized in recent years by Kurdish fighters, known as the pesh merga. As Iraq reeled from the Islamic State’s onslaught in 2014, the pesh merga took control of some of the energy producing areas near Kirkuk. Holding those fields allowed Kurdistan to increase exports to about 550,000 barrels a day, with roughly half of it coming from Kirkuk, according to Ms. Husari. Those advances, however, have largely been reversed.

Beyond the short-term issues resulting from the independence vote, longer-term problems persist.

For one, Massoud Barzani, Kurdistan’s longtime regional president, has said he will leave his post. That could create a power vacuum, threatening the region’s domestic stability and complicating talks with the federal government and neighbors like Turkey. The landlocked region remains dependent on good relations with Ankara, and probably still with Baghdad, to move its oil and gas to market.

The Kurds and the federal government have also never agreed on how to share oil revenue, or how to handle oil concessions in Kurdistan — or even what territory constitutes the Kurdish region. With Kurdistan’s attraction fading as an energy bet, those concerns may loom larger in industry calculations.

Such issues pose a threat to the Kurdish independence bid. The regional government is struggling to pay Civil Service salaries and manage its debts to oil companies. And Iraq could take legal action against buyers of crude from Kurdistan.

“Kurdistan has lost its revenue lifeline and its far from certain it can continue its independence push in these circumstances,” said Bill Farren-Price, president of Petroleum Policy Intelligence, a market research firm.

How far Baghdad will go is not yet clear. but it is not standing pat.

About 15 percent of Iraq’s oil sales are transported via a pipeline that runs through parts of Kurdistan. With some of the oil from the fields around Kirkuk shut in, the federal government is ramping up exports from its southern oil terminals.

Baghdad also wants BP, which helped to develop the Kirkuk fields and had been providing technical assistance there until 2015, to assist in rejuvenating them. David Nicholas, a BP spokesman, acknowledged that the company met with Iraq’s oil minister just after Iraq retook Kirkuk to discuss several issues, including the oil field and BP’s “potential support.”

BP might be able to coax more oil from the Kirkuk fields. If so, both Baghdad and the Kurds, who are constitutionally entitled to a slice of the nation’s oil revenue, might benefit.

“The Kirkuk field is an amazing resource, but has not been managed to its full potential,” said Rob West, an analyst at the market research firm Redburn. “That’s an incentive for Kurdistan and Baghdad to cooperate.”

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.

Continue reading the main story

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.)

Continue reading the main story

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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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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US chemical blame-game: Well-timed PR stunt or trick to justify military presence in Syria?

French Foreign Affairs Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. © Philippe Wojazer / Reuters

- 20180124 sdf3d46d3 image 400x240 - 37 Turkish soldiers and gang members killed in Afrin  - 20180124 sdf3d46d3 image 80x80 - 37 Turkish soldiers and gang members killed in Afrin 
Rojava3 hours ago

37 Turkish soldiers and gang members killed in Afrin 

According to SDF sources, the invading Turkish army and allied gangs suffered heavy losses during ongoing clashes in Afrin. Bodies...

kurdistan3 hours ago

US-led coalition strikes kill 150 Islamic State militants in Syria

US news US-led coalition strikes kill 150 Islamic State militants in Syria Strikes near As Shafah come as the US...

- 20180124 sdfaedabe image 400x240 - 8 soldiers killed in an action by SDF fighters  - 20180124 sdfaedabe image 80x80 - 8 soldiers killed in an action by SDF fighters 
Rojava3 hours ago

8 soldiers killed in an action by SDF fighters 

Fighters of the Syrian Democratic Forces carried out an action against the Turkish army and affiliated gangs in Bazara village...

- 24Friedman web facebookJumbo 400x240 - The Tweet Trump Could Never Send Tehran - 24Friedman web facebookJumbo 80x80 - The Tweet Trump Could Never Send Tehran
Iran3 hours ago

The Tweet Trump Could Never Send Tehran

Photo The Hamoun wetlands in Iran’s Sistan-Baluchistan Province have dried up. Credit Behrouz Mehria/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images After violent...

- 20180124 raj084be1 image 400x240 - Turkish attack on Rajo kills one civilian, wounds two others  - 20180124 raj084be1 image 80x80 - Turkish attack on Rajo kills one civilian, wounds two others 
Rojava3 hours ago

Turkish attack on Rajo kills one civilian, wounds two others 

Turkish army is continuing its invasion attacks against Afrin Canton of Northern Syria, also hitting civilian areas besides military targets....

- 20180124 20180123 2018 01 23 hsk dauyyani ji bo efrin 2 620x3649b2bdb imageb2feed image 400x240 - Self-Defense Forces: We will not allow Turkey to invade Afrin  - 20180124 20180123 2018 01 23 hsk dauyyani ji bo efrin 2 620x3649b2bdb imageb2feed image 80x80 - Self-Defense Forces: We will not allow Turkey to invade Afrin 
Rojava4 hours ago

Self-Defense Forces: We will not allow Turkey to invade Afrin 

The Defense Councils of Northern Syria regions made a joint statement at Heseke Stadium in solidarity with the resistance of...

- KACOttawa 400x240 - Kurds in Canada urge Turkey to ‘stop spilling Kurdish blood’ in Afrin - KACOttawa 80x80 - Kurds in Canada urge Turkey to ‘stop spilling Kurdish blood’ in Afrin
kurdistan4 hours ago

Kurds in Canada urge Turkey to ‘stop spilling Kurdish blood’ in Afrin

Rojen Rahmani, head of lobbying and advocacy for KAC, said the Canadian government needs to respond and condemn Turkey’s violent...

- 20180123 20180123 555ef125f imaged8d415 image 400x240 - Number of civilians wounded in Turkish attacks rises to 10  - 20180123 20180123 555ef125f imaged8d415 image 80x80 - Number of civilians wounded in Turkish attacks rises to 10 
Rojava4 hours ago

Number of civilians wounded in Turkish attacks rises to 10 

Turkish army continued its airstrikes and artillery attacks on Cindires and Rajo districts of Afrin throughout Tuesday. 10 civilians suffered...

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