MIDDLE EAST NEWS ROUNDUP
IS threatens to kill 300 Yazidi families
BAGHDAD/ WASHINGTON — Islamic State militants have threatened to kill more than 300 families from Iraq’s Yazidi ethnic minority unless they convert to Islam, witnesses and a Yazidi lawmaker told Reuters on Saturday.
The families in the villages of Koja, Hatimiya and Qaboshi are surrounded by the Sunni militants who are mounting an offensive through northern Iraq which has sent tens of thousands of Yazidis and Christians fleeing for their lives, prompting international outrage.
President Barack Obama warned Saturday that the US offensive in Iraq was a “long-term project” to rout out militants and deliver aid to beleaguered civilians. Recognizing there was no US military solution to reverse Islamic State fighters’ advances in Iraq, Obama called on Iraqi officials to urgently form a unity government.
While US air strikes have destroyed the militants’ arms and equipment within striking distance of the autonomous region of Kurdistan, Obama said the operations that began this week could last “months.” He spoke as Iraqi forces prepared a US-backed counter-offensive.
“We feel confident we can prevent ISIL from going up the mountain and slaughtering the people who are there,” Obama said, using the militant group’s former name of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
“But the next step, which is going to be complicated logistically, is how do we give safe passage for people down from the mountain and where can we ultimately relocate them so that they are safe.”
In a significant boost to efforts to help the civilians stranded on Mount Sinjar, the Obama said British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Francois Hollande have agreed to lend their support following telephone talks.
Obama has justified the US intervention by warning of the risk of genocide against the small Yazidi minority, many of whose members have been trapped on the mountain for a week in northern Iraq.
Stressing that Iraq’s deep divisions along ethnic and religious lines were undermining the effort to combat IS, Obama said that it would be easier to mobilize Iraqis against the threat and obtain international support once an inclusive government is in place.
“Ultimately, only Iraqis can ensure the security and stability of Iraq, and the United States can’t do it for them, but we can and will be partners in that effort,” he said.
Thousands of Yazidis, a Kurdish-speaking minority, fled their homes when militants attacked the town of Sinjar and many have since been stranded in the nearby mountain range with no food and water. The first US bombings struck IS positions and at least one convoy of vehicles carrying militants west of Arbil.
Earlier Saturday, the US military air dropped food and water for the second day in a row on Mount Sinjar. One C-17 and two C-130 cargo aircraft together dropped a total of 72 bundles of supplies, according to the Pentagon. They were escorted by two F/A-18 Hornet fighter jets launched from the USS George H.W. Bush aircraft carrier.
Islamic State insurgents who seized Iraq’s biggest dam in a offensive have brought in engineers for repairs, witnesses said on Saturday, as nervous Kurds stocked up on arms to defend their enclave nearby.
Turkey’s defense minister said it is out of the question for Turkey to launch a military intervention against Islamic State fighters in Iraq, and that his country was not involved in US airstrikes against the extremists near the Kurdish regional capital of Irbil.
The Anadolu news agency reported Saturday that Defense Minister Ismet Yilmaz told reporters in Sivas that his country had not provided “any support to the US so far.” He cited Turkey’s responsibility toward 49 Turkish citizens taken hostage by the IS from the Turkish consulate in Mosul in June. The hostages include diplomatic staff, special forces police and children.
Oil production from Iraqi Kurdistan remains unaffected despite an incursion by Islamic State militants along the autonomous region’s border, its Ministry of Natural Resources said in a statement on Saturday.
Kurds were snapping up AK-47 assault rifles in arms markets for fear of imminent attack, although these had been ineffective against Islamic State fighters with superior firepower.
Given the Islamic State threat, a source in the Kurdistan Regional Government said it had received extra supplies of heavy weaponry from the Baghdad federal government “and other governments” in the past few days, but declined to elaborate.
An engineer at Mosul dam said that Islamic State fighters had brought in engineers to repair an emergency power line to the city, Iraq’s biggest in the north, that had been cut off four days ago, causing power outages and water shortages. — Agencies
“They are gathering people to work at the dam,” he said. A dam administrator said that militants were putting up the trademark Islamic State black flags and patrolling with flatbed trucks mounted with machine guns to protect the facility they seized from Kurdish forces earlier this week.
In Washington, the Pentagon said planes dropped additional bundles of supplies, bringing the total to 36,224 ready-to-eat meals and 6,822 gallons of drinking water, for threatened civilians near Sinjar, home of the Yazidis.
They are ethnic Kurds who practice an ancient faith related to Zoroastrianism. A UN relief spokesman said some 200,000 people fleeing the Islamists’ advance had reached the town of Dohuk on the Tigris River in Iraqi Kurdistan. Tens of thousands had fled further north to the Turkish border, Turkish officials said.
Iran jails, lashes policeman for killing blogger
TEHRAN — An Iranian policeman has been sentenced to three years in jail, 74 lashes and two years’ internal exile for the unpremeditated killing of a blogger in 2012, media reported Saturday.
Sattar Beheshti, 35, arrested on Oct. 12 that year for criticizing Iran’s regime on the Internet, was found dead in his cell at Iran’s notorious Kahrizak prison on Nov. 3. Opposition groups alleged at the time that he had been tortured to death.
The Tehran prosecutor ruled that Beheshti’s death was “probably caused by shock after several blows to sensitive parts of his body, or by extreme psychological pressure,” the media reports said.
The court decided that his killing was “not premeditated,” a ruling which the lawyer for the blogger’s family contested. “When journalists are jailed for six years, a sentence of three years for murder is surprising,” Giti Pourfazl was reported as saying.
The convicted officer from the police cybercrime unit was not identified. Premeditated murder is among the crimes punishable by death in Iran, based on its interpretation of Shariah law in force since the 1979 Islamic revolution.
After Beheshti’s death, influential MP Aladin Borujerdi took issue with claims by pathologists that he had died of shock and fear, saying he had “very clearly” been beaten in custody. Borujerdi heads Iran’s parliamentary foreign affairs committee.
Beheshti’s death also led to the dismissal of the head of Iran’s cybercrime unit, launched in January 2011 to confront anti-regime activity on the Internet. Reports said the cybercrime chief was fired for “negligence, weakness and not controlling his staff properly.”
A number of investigations were launched after UN experts and some Western states condemned Beheshti’s death and demanded that Iran investigate it, with Amnesty International saying the blogger may have died from torture.
Hundreds of opposition figures — politicians, journalists, bloggers, lawyers, rights activists, union figures and media workers — are in Iranian prisons, according to international human rights groups.
14 Yemeni soldiers slayed, drone kills three Al Qaeda suspects
ADEN — An Al Qaeda-affiliated group in Yemen said it killed 14 soldiers in an eastern province as revenge for an army offensive against its members, while a US drone attack killed three suspected militants in central Yemen on Saturday, an official said.
The Yemeni army has sent extra troops to the Wadi Hadramout region in northeastern Yemen to counter attempts by militant group Ansar Al Sharia to declare an Islamic emirate in the city of Seiyoun.
In the past week, Yemeni security forces have killed at least 25 suspected militants in clashes in Wadi Hadramout, including seven who were killed on Thursday when they tried to attack an army facility.
Residents and officials said people in the area found the bodies of the 14 soldiers riddled with bullets on a road near Seiyoun, three hours after they were abducted from a public bus. The soldiers were on their way to Sanaa, on leave after serving in the area.
Ansar Al-Sharia, in an Internet posting late on Friday, confirmed its militants had ambushed and killed the soldiers for taking part in military operations against the group. “..The captive soldiers participated in the latest campaign against Sunni Muslims in Wadi Hadramout, and thus the mujahideen decided to kill them as a punishment for their crimes,” the statement said.
The group posted pictures of the soldiers in civilian clothes surrounded by militants concealing their faces with traditional head dresses. On Saturday, three suspected Al Qaeda militants in the central province of Maareb were killed in a US drone, a local official told Reuters. “The air raid was conducted by a US drone plane which targeted a house in the Maareb province, killing three people inside who are suspected to be members of Al Qaeda,” he said.
The United States considers Al Qaeda in Yemen one of the most dangerous wings of the militant network founded by Osama Bin Laden. In recent years it has made several attempts to carry out international attacks. To counter the group, Washington lends financial and logistical support to the Yemen’s government and military, including regular drone strikes.
Stability in Yemen, one of the poorest countries in the Arab World, is of international concern because it borders major international shipping lanes and lies next to Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil exporter.
Taking advantage of a power vacuum that arose during a 2011 uprising against the then President Ali Abdullah Saleh, militants took over several southern towns and districts but were later repelled by a US backed military offensive.
In recent months, militants have been trying to consolidate their control over remote and volatile parts of eastern Yemen such as Wadi Hadramout.
In Seiyoun, the group had been distributing leaflets suggesting they wanted to establish an Islamic emirate and ordered women not to go out without a male guardian.