VICE News is covering the developing situation in Iraq from on the ground and across the globe. We will be updating this page throughout the day, so check back regularly for updates.
Violent sectarian tensions in Iraq between the nation's ruling Shiite groups and Sunni militants advancing in the north are threatening to throw the country back into the grip of civil war.
Hundreds of young Iraqis rallied to a call-to-arms by the nation's top Shiite cleric, who asked them to fight the militant forces spearheaded by al Qaeda splinter group Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). The group has seized large swathes of Iraq — and also controls territory in neighboring Syria — including the country’s second-largest city, Mosul.
Now, ISIS threatens Baghdad.
And keep up to date on the latest as the story progresses on the VICE News live blog...
Thursday 7/17 3:40 pm ET
A senior Iranian general is directing Iraqi security forces and pro-government militia in their fight against militants led by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), according to officials and militia members cited by the Associated Press.
Gen. Ghasem Soleimani is part of a group of 120 Iranian Revolutionary Guard members working with Iraqi government troops to defend the country against hardline Sunni insurgents, and he regularly travels to the front lines, AP reports.
Soleimani is apparently a particularly regular visitor to Samarra, which is home to the revered Shiite al-Askari shrine, and stands between the militants and their stated goal of overrunning Baghdad. The shrine was targeted in recent ISIS mortar attack and was previously damaged in a 2006 bombing, which exacerbated existing Sunni-Shiite tensions.
Shiite powerhouse Iran is a vital ally to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government. However, its increasingly obvious role in the fighting could deepen sectarian divides and alienate Iraq's Sunni and Kurdish minorities.
Thursday 7/17 2:40 pm ET
Sunni insurgents and tribal leaders have vowed to keep fighting until they overrun the Iraqi capital of Baghdad and remove the central Shiite government from power.
The decision came after a closed meeting attended by hardline Sunni militants, tribal heads, former military personnel, and ex-members of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party, Reuters reported.
“We are now in a state of continued jihad to end the remnants of the US occupation and restore the rights of the Iraqi people,” senior Salafi cleric Abd al-Naser Al Janaby, who supports the insurgents, told Reuters. “We expect a new dawn for Iraq from this revolution.”
Thursday 7/17 2:00 pm ET
Journalists, particularly those working for Kurdish news outlets, are suffering amid Iraq's deteriorating security situation and mounting tension between the majority Shiite government and the country's Kurdish minority, Reporters Without Borders said today.
In one July 15 incident, gunmen reportedly stormed the Baghdad headquarters of the Arabic language Al-Taakhi daily newspaper, which supports the Kurdistan Democratic Party. The attackers apparently threatened journalists and looted cars, equipment, and cash. Al-Taakhi's editor said the men wore Iraqi security service uniforms and drove police cars.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's relationship with the country's Kurds has been strained for years, but deteriorated still further recently when Kurdish forces moved into disputed areas in the north of the country last month after militants led by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) seized a swathe of northern territory and routed Iraqi troops.
Massoud Barzani, president of the Kurdish territories, has since said that Kurds would hold onto the disputed regions and took the first steps towards a referendum on Kurdish independence. Maliki in turn accused the Kurds of taking advantage of the situation and said that the Iraqi Kurdistan capital of Erbil is being used as a base by ISIS fighters.
“The Iraqi media, especially Kurdish media, are caught between the terrorist groups threatening the country and the current government, which is taking advantage of the chaos to settle scores with the media that criticize it,” said Reporters Without Borders assistant research director Virginie Dangles. “At this time of political and security turmoil, it is vital that the authorities guarantee the safety of journalists, so that the media are able to operate with complete freedom.”
Thursday 7/17 11:00 am ET
At least four people were killed and 12 wounded in a bombing at a large outdoor Baghdad market today, according to officials.
The attack took place close to a Shiite Mosque in Shorja Market early today when a bomb concealed inside a wooden cart detonated, police and medical sources told the Associated Press.
Baghdad has seen a number of smaller bombings in recent weeks, but not a repeat of the devastating attacks which took place in the run up to April elections and during the height of sectarian violence in 2006 and 2007. The market has been targeted by similar attacks in the past.
Thursday 7/17 10:20 am ET
A number of Indian workers who had been trapped by the fighting in Iraq returned home today, although others are still being held by suspected ISIS militants, local media reported.
One of the workers, Hind Nath Sharma, told Asian News International that she and her colleagues had been forced to work on an unpaid basis and only managed to escape because they were able to contact Indian authorities. "The situation in Iraq is tense as every where there is bombing and attacks. The company forcefully made us work and didn't pay our salary, the people who are not able to contact the embassy are still stranded there," she said. "The Indian government found us and helped us in returning home."
Sharma's experience could be a common one, Amnesty International said last month that hundreds of Indians may be stranded in Iraq, unable to return home because their employers refuses to return their passports.
A group of 46 Indian nurses who had been stranded in a hospital in ISIS-held Tikrit were freed earlier in the month as have some others.
Thursday 7/17 10:00 am ET
More than 1.2 million people have been displaced within Iraq since the beginning of the year amid rising levels of violence between security forces and anti-government militants, the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq said today. 550,000 of those fled fighting in Anbar province, where the opposing groups have battled for control of Fallujah and Ramadi. An additional 650,000 were displaced when ISIS seized a large swathe of northern Iraq last month, including the country's second city of Mosul.
Wednesday 7/16 12:30 pm ET
Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki welcomed the appointment of new parliamentary speaker Salim al-Jabouri during his weekly televised address today. Jabouri's election, which took place yesterday, was the first step by Iraqi politicians towards forming a new government and broke a political deadlock which many feared would lead to Iraq's collapse in the face of attacks from ISIS-led Sunni militants.
Maliki, who has been in office since 2006, also asked the new legislatory body to work together and pass pending laws. "I hope that they will work in harmony and to agree on running the parliament... away from all differences and calculations," AP reported.
Maliki did not say whether he still planned to run for another presidential term, however. The top three posts in Iraqi government are divided between the country's three largest demographics as part of an informal agreement enacted after the toppling of Saddam Hussein, with a Shiite prime minister, a Sunni speaker and a Kurdish president. However, many of Iraq's Sunnis and Kurds perceive Maliki as having presided over a corrupt and sectarian government. As a result, they, along with some of his former allies, have called for him to step aside.
Wednesday 7/16 12:30 pm ET
ISIS-led militants repelled the Iraqi army's latest assault on Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit this morning, marking another failed attempt by Baghdad to retake the city.
Government troops and Shiite militias launched an offensive — code named operation "Sharp Sword — at dawn yesterday with an assault from the south of the city. However the forces were forced to withdraw under heavy mortar bombardment and sniper fire, soldiers involved told Al Jazeera.
Iraqi government forces have been trying to retake Tikrit, which is 100 miles north of Baghdad and was overrun by ISIS on June 12, for two and a half weeks, launching a number of assaults backed by armored vehicles and helicopter gunships. So far, however, they gave been unable to dislodge the insurgents.
Tuesday 7/15 2:40 pm ET
Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) said ISIS's June 29 declaration of a cross-border Islamic caliphate in Iraq and Syria has "defects" and restated its loyalty to Al-Qaeda leadership, which previously disowned ISIS for being too extreme even for them.
Monitoring group SITE Intelligence reported that in a message sent earlier this month, AQIM said the ISIS should have consulted the leaders of different jihadi groups but added that ISIS, along with the heads of different Al-Qaeda factions should "fix the defects inside the one house, away from the media,” AFP said.
AQIM may have been irked at the ongoing exchange of strongly worded statements between ISIS and Al-Qaeda leaders. For instance, ISIS spokesman Abu Mohammed al-Adnani criticized al Qaeda’s Ayman Mohammed Rabie al-Zawahiri for fragmenting jihadi groups and called for the head of al Qaeda’s official Syrian affiliate, Jabhat al-Nusra, to be fired. Zawakiri, meanwhile, has repeatedly asked ISIS to leave Syria and stop fighting with al-Nusra.
Zawakiri's pleas have been ignored and ISIS and al-Nusra have clashed in a series of increasingly bloody encounters in Syria. The extremist groups have even been launching suicide attacks against each other, although both are Sunni Muslim groups that are militantly opposed to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Tuesday 7/15 2:40 pm ET
At least 800 Kurdish fighters crossed from Turkey into Syria to help their comrades battle ISIS forces, according to activists.
The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), which collects information from a network of local sources, told AFP that the fighters made the crossing to reinforce Kurds battling ISIS forces which have laid siege to the Kurdish city of Ain al-Arab. The SOHR added that the move came after the Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK) called for mobilization to protect the city.
Syrian Kurds have battled ISIS for months, largely holding their ground. ISIS may now prove to be a formidable foe, however, thanks to the weaponry and vehicles it seized from the Iraqi armed forces.
Ain al-Arab is strategically important for ISIS because it lies between the group's Syrian stronghold of Raqqa and Aleppo, where it also has a strong presence.
Tuesday 7/15 2:15 pm ET
Iraqi security forces, accompanied by Shiite militias, launched a fresh offensive on the Tigris city of Tikrit in an attempt to dislodge the ISIS-led militants who seized it on June 12 during a lightning advance across northern Iraq.
The Iraqi Defense Ministry said operation "Sharp Sword" began at dawn today with an assault from the south of the city. Officers involved in the attack said that army personnel were joined by Shiite militias and volunteer fighters, Reuters reported.
Government forces have been trying to retake the city, which is Saddam Hussein's hometown and about 100 miles north of Baghdad, for more than two weeks, launching assaults with tanks and armored vehicles backed by helicopter gunships. So far, however, they gave been unable to make significant progress.
Tuesday 7/15 1:00 pm ET
Iraqi politicians took the first step towards forming a new government today by naming a new parliamentary speaker. The decision, which came after a twice-delayed vote, breaks a political deadlock which many feared would tear Iraq apart in the face of the ISIS-led insurgency.
Moderate Sunni Islamist Salim al-Jabouri was selected as new speaker, AP reported, as part of a power-sharing government seen as essential to the country's survival. However, it is not yet clear whether Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki will stay in his post for a third term — a Shiite leader told Al Jazeera that Jabouri's appointment was part of a broader deal, but did not elaborate on whether that involved the PM.
Maliki has been in office since 2006, but many of Iraq's Sunnis and Kurds perceive him as having presided over a corrupt and sectarian government. His opponents, and even sometime-time allies have called for him to step aside after his apparent inability to deal with ISIS. Maliki has resolutely refused.
The top three posts in Iraqi government are, under an informal agreement enacted after the toppling of Saddam Hussein, divided between the country's three largest demographics, with the prime minister's position going to a Shiite, the parliamentary speaker's to a Sunni, and the presidency to a Kurd.
It remains to be seen whether Jubouri's appointment will lead to a timely agreement on the other top posts. A Shiite lawmaker told AP that their support for the new speaker was predicated on Sunni support for Maliki. However, a Sunni politician and member of Jubouri's bloc said that they supported "any other candidate".
Monday 7/14 3:30 pm ET
Civilians living in northern Iraq and surrounded by the ongoing fighting are experiencing a spiraling pattern of revenge killings and abductions, according to a report released by Amnesty International today. “Northern Iraq: Civilians in the Line of Fire” details the harrowing accounts from the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who have fled the fighting after ISIS’ takeover of the region.
Abductions have occurred in every town that ISIS has occupied, many of which result in brutal summary executions that include beheadings, crucifixions, and mutilation, according to the report.
“The takeover in early June by ISIS of Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, and other towns and villages in north-western Iraq has resulted in a dramatic resurgence of sectarian tensions and the massive displacement of communities fearing sectarian attacks and reprisals,” read the report.
Monday 7/14 1:30 pm ET
Residents of Sadiya, a town north of Baghdad, discovered 12 bodies with execution-style bullet wounds today, after fighting took place between rival Sunni militant groups overnight.
The incident comes after increased fighting between ISIS militants and the Naqshbandi Army, a group led by allies of the former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. It marks an escalation of violence between ISIS and other Sunni groups who do not necessarily identify with the militant Islamic group but who are also fiercely opposed to the Shiite-dominated Iraqi Army.
ISIS took control over Sadiya – a Naqshbandi Army stronghold – on June 10, as part of the rapid militant offensive in the northwest of the country earlier last month. Originally, residents of Sadiya supported ISIS but have since clashed with the group, resulting in increased skirmishes in the town that has further destabilized the region.
Monday 7/14 12:00 pm ET
Two car bombings exploded in central Baghdad Monday morning, killing at least seven people, as the Iraqi military continued its efforts to oust militants from the capital and halt their rapid advancement from the north.
One blast took place in the predominately Shiite neighborhood of Allawi, which is home to many government offices and foreign embassies. Four civilians were killed and 12 wounded in the bombing. The second car bomb blew up in the southeastern area of Bayaa, killing three people.
No one has claimed responsibility yet for the attacks but it was believed to have been carried out by Sunni militants associated with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which has been advancing towards Baghdad in recent weeks. The Iraqi military has been fighting back against the incursion by ISIS, but the militant group has successfully carried out several small-scale bombings in recent weeks in the capital, leading many to fear of a full-blown takeover of the city. Iraqi officials said militants continued to occupy key government buildings on Monday and are engaging in sporadic clashes with the military.
Monday 7/14 11:00 am ET
Militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) executed four men for being “spies” for the Syrian president Bashar al-Assad in western Iraq, a doctor said Monday morning. ISIS brought the men in a convoy of trucks to the main street of Al-Qaim, near the Syrian border and shot them dead in public, according to witnesses. The four men were allegedly flying the flag of the Assad regime.
ISIS have been battling against the Assad government in Syria for the past several years and the fighting has recently spilled over into Iraq, where they have been carrying out a bloody insurgency in the north-west of the country. ISIS aims to establish a fundamentalist Islamic state between Iraq and Syria and has been rapidly gaining territory and taking over Iraqi cities over the past month.
Monday 7/07 3:00pm ET
The Islamic State's murky relationship with antiquities and artifacts takes a new twist. While in Syria, ISIS (the organization that eventually morphed into the Islamic State) harshly suppressed followers of other religions as well as Shia Muslims. That persecution was also tempered by ISIS' regular illicit sale of archeological valuables to generate revenue.
Since the ISIS takeover in Iraq, Christians and other religious minorities have feared they would be subjected to the same fate as their Syrian counterparts. But so far, ISIS has limited its campaigns to local Iraqi Shia populations. In the most recent round, ISIS has demolished a number of Shia shrines, while leaving Christian and other sites intact.
Monday 7/07 1:45pm ET
On Monday, Iraq's parliament postponed further meetings until August, meaning that the effort to replace the current Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has stalled. After a few early meetings, Iraqi members of parliament were unable to reach a consensus, and in some cases, even a quorum, on substantive issues relating to the current crisis in the country.
According to current practice, the prime minister is Shia, the president a Kurd, and the speaker of parliament is a Sunni. In recent years, Maliki has rejected power sharing agreements — a practice that has inflamed sectarian tension and which ultimately contributed to the current uprising throughout the country.
The US and other countries have been pressuring Maliki to engage with the Sunnis and Kurds, a demand which he has so far rejected. The inability to replace him is likely to make the current situation worse. According to the Iraqi constitution, the parliament must select a new prime minster within 75 days of starting a new first session. The current parliamentary session began on July 1.
Monday 7/07 12:07pm ET
According to the Sunday Times, source close to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki say he may be preparing to revoke the 2008 Strategic Framework Agreement (SFA) signed with the US, amid delays in fulfilling a previous agreement to deliver F-16 combat aircraft and AH-64 attack helicopters to Iraq. The US has delayed some shipments due to concerns about the security situation in Iraq, Iraqi proficiency with the specific systems scheduled for future delivery, and questions about Maliki's political posture. In response to previous delays in the arrival of the F-16s, Maliki has directly sought out Iranian and Russian help.
Monday 7/07 11:00pm ET
According to a brief report from AP, the commander of Iraq's 6th Division, Major General Najim Abdullah Ali, was killed by mortar round in recent operations in Sunni-controlled areas to the west of Baghdad on Monday. The division came under fire during operations near the village of Karma to retake territory lost to the Islamic State and their local Sunni militia allies.
Thursday 7/03 3:30pm ET
Massoud Barzani, president of Iraq's autonomous Kurdish territories made the first step towards independence for the region today, asking parliament to form a committee which would organize a referendum on the issue, a parliament member told Reuters.
Kurdish forces moved into disputed areas in northern Iraq — including taking singlehanded control of oil-rich Kirkuk — when a lightning offensive by ISIS-led militants routed Iraqi troops in the region. Barzani has since said that Kurds would hold on to the disputed regions, including the oil rich city of Kirkuk.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, however, has expressed outrage on the partitioning of Kurdish Iraq. "No one has the right to exploit the events that took place, to impose a fait accompli as has happened in the Kurdish region," he said yesterday during his weekly television address, AFP reported. "This is rejected."
Iran has also warned Kurdish politicians about declaring independence.
Thursday 7/03 1:55pm ET
32 Turkish truck drivers who had been held my ISIS in Mosul have been released, according to local media. .Today’s Zaman reported that they had been handed over to the Turkish Conul in Erbiul on Thursday. The drivers had been held since June 9th.
49 other Turks, including consulate staff, are still being held in Mosul. They were seized on June 11 when ISIS overran the city.
Thursday 7/03 Noon ET
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has offered a general amnesty to Sunni tribes which have been fighting government forces. Speaking during his weekly televised address yesterday, he told fighters to "return to their senses" and added "We are not excluding anybody, even those who committed misdeeds, apart from those who killed or shed blood," Al Jazeera reported.
The move is intended to splinter support for the ISIS-led Sunni insurgents that seized swathes of Northern Iraq in recent weeks. ISIS has aligned with Sunni tribal leaders and ex-baathist contingencies that felt persecuted by al-Maliki's Shiite dominated government.
Thursday 7/03 11:00am ET
US authorities arrested a 19-year-old Denver woman in April for providing support to ISIS, the BBC reports.
Shannon Maureen Conley was detained at an airport while attempting to travel to Turkey, then Syria to meet an online suitor claiming to be a Tunisian member of ISIS, according to recently unsealed Colorado court documents.
Conley had received firearms and military tactics training from the US army explorers and planned to use them to help ISIS, the documents allege.
Thursday 7/03 10:10am ET
The latest delivery of Su-25 attack jets to the Iraqi military came from Iran, according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS). Russia had previously delivered a number of the aircraft, but the source of the most recent batch received on July 1 had not been officially confirmed by the Iraqi Ministry of Defence.
IISS analysts concluded that these latest examples originate from neighboring Iran, based on their serial numbers and also their camouflage scheme, which is identical to that currently, and uniquely, applied to Iranian Su-25s. Key operator markings, such as Iranian roundels, have also been painted over, the IISS said.
Iran has promised military assistance to Iraq if it was required, although it is currently unclear whether, and to what extent, Baghdad took it up on the offer. Most of Iran's small fleet of Su-25s were actually formerly part of the Iraqi Air Force, but seized and held by Iranian authorities when their pilots fled there with their aircraft during the first Gulf War.
Wednesday 7/02 4:05 PM
Fighting broke out in the holy Shia city of Karbala on Tuesday. The Telegraph reported at least 14 dead as militiamen affiliated with local Shia cleric Mahmoud al-Sarkhi, a frequent critic of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, attacked Iraqi Security Faces after their headquarters were raided.
According to Al Jazeera, which reported up to 25 dead, the violence began when followers of al-Sarakhi were prevented from marching to a local shrine by Iraqi Security Forces. Imran Khan, reporting for Al Jazeera, said it was the most intense fighting the city had seen in years.
The battle highlighted splits within the Shia community. Al-Sarkhi had criticized a fatwa by Iraq’s top cleric Ayatollah ali al-Sistani, who called for all Shiites to rise up and defend the country against the Sunni insurgency rampaging through the country.
Middle East analyst Kirk Sowell described Sarkhi as a somewhat insignificant rabble-rouser frequently at odds with the government.
Wednesday 7/02 12:05 PM
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS, issued a call for all Muslims to head to his newly established caliphate in order to build the Islamic State.
In his first recording since ISIS declared the establishment of the new caliphate, al-Baghdadi said that he wanted engineers, doctors, judges, and other civil society professionals to emigrate to the new state, saying, “"O Muslims everywhere, whoever is capable of performing hijrah (emigration) to the Islamic State, then let him do so, because hijrah to the land of Islam is obligatory.”
Al-Baghdadi also called for increasing jihadi attacks during the holy month of Ramadan, which began on Sunday, and said that him and his followers are on the path to conquer Rome.
Wednesday 7/02 11:30 AM
Iranian officials have harshly condemned Kurdish calls for independence, calling it unlikely and saying that it was “vital to take measures to prevent the break-up of the country [Iraq].”
At a meeting in Moscow on Tuesday, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahiyan told the AFP, "Instead of daydreaming, the leaders of Iraqi Kurdistan should take a look at reality.”
Iran has heavy ties to the current Iraqi government, and is also home to an oppressed Kurdish minority that has called for independence and fought a low scale guerrilla war.
Tuesday 7/01 5:30 PM
Massoud Barzani, the president of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region, told the BBC that he will seek to hold a referendum in the coming months regarding the creation of an independent Kurdish county.
"From now on, we won't hide that that's our goal. Iraq is effectively partitioned now. Are we supposed to stay in this tragic situation the country's living?,” Barzani told the BBC. “It's not me who will decide on independence. It's the people. We'll hold a referendum and it's a matter of months."
The recent conflict has seen the Kurds expand their territory into so-called disputed areas previously controlled by the central government. The United States, among others, has pushed for the Kurds to remain part of Iraq. Kurdish politicians, however, are increasingly calling for independence.
Meanwhile, in the disputed areas that Kurds had taken over south of their official territory, trenches are being dug and barriers are being built to solidify control. "We are drawing the border on the disputed areas, which is our right," a member of the peshmerga told the AP.
Tuesday 7/01 4:00 PM
The US has boosted its military presence in Iraq with the deployment of an additional 200 personnel alongside helicopters and drone aircraft, officials announced yesterday. The force will take on security roles related to the US embassy and Baghdad International Airport.
"The presence of these additional forces will help enable the embassy to continue its critical diplomatic mission and work with Iraq on challenges they are facing as they confront Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)," said Pentagon Press Secretary, Rear Admiral John Kirby in a statement.
Tuesday 7/01 1:00 PM
Iraq's newly elected parliament convened today amid widespread pressure to deal with the ISIS-led insurgency threatening to tear the country apart. The session began with the national anthem and was presided over by the eldest parliamentary member, Mehdi al-Hafidh, in his capacity as acting speaker.
Hadidh told lawmakers that the security situation must be dealt with. "The security setback that has beset Iraq must be brought to a stop, and security and stability have to be regained all over Iraq, so that it can head down the path in the right way toward the future," he said, Reuters reported.
The session did not last long, however, as minority Sunnis and Kurds abandoned proceedings when Shiites were unable to name a replacement for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki,according to the Associated Press. The chances of a national unity government being formed now look slim, despite international pressure and an ever-increasing threat from hardline Sunni insurgents.
Rudaw reported a session rife with tension, with Arab MP’s hurling insults at their Kurdish counterparts. The next session is scheduled for July 8th.
Tuesday 7/01 12:45 PM
Russian-supplied Sukhoi Su-25 ground attack aircraft, which were delivered to Iraq three days ago, are already operational and in the skies above Baghdad, military spokesman Qassem Atta tells Al Jazeera English's Imran Khan.
Iraq's Ambassador to the US, Lukman Faily, said today that delays in US military aid meant Iraq was forced to seek help from other countries, the Associated Press reported.
The Iraqi Army uploaded video of one of the jets in action on June 28.
Tuesday 7/01 12:30 PM
A Shiite group in India has amassed 25,000 volunteers who have pledged to travel to Iraq and fight ISIS-led militants, protect Shiite shrines and care for the wounded,Al Jazeera reports.
The mission, which is led by the Anjuman-e-Haideri organization, has put out a tender to Indian airlines inviting them to transport the volunteers to Baghdad in August.
"We will go to Iraq come what may to defend our holy shrines, protect civilians from the ISIL [ISIS] brutes and treat the wounded. This is purely a humanitarian effort. The volunteers include Shias and Sunnis both. They are doctors, engineers and civil servants," said the group's chief patron, M Ali Mirza.
Tuesday 7/01 11:30 AM
Video of an ISIS victory parade in Raqqa, Syria showing off weaponry they claim to have captured appears to show a Scud missile alongside tanks and armored vehicles. However, Eliot Higgins, who blogs under the alias Brown Moses on weaponry used in the Syrian conflict says the missile poses little danger.
"The missile is likely real, but inoperable, as ISIS (IS) tries to maintain credibility in its propaganda--but the cost-benefit ratio of rendering the missile operable will probably keep it on indefinite parade duty," said Rick Berger, an independent Iraq researcher who tracks IS military capabilities. "The missile likely lacks key components--like guidance systems, fuel, or precision-crafted pieces--that are difficult to acquire and impossible to integrate without a team of engineers well-versed in Russian missile systems”
The scud was most likely not captured in recent fighting in Iraq. Rather, Higgins said that the scud was most likely captured in February of 2013 in Syria after militants captured a former nuclear facility near Deir ez-Zor.
Tuesday 7/01 10:30 AM
A mortar attack near revered Shiite shrine in the city of Samarra killed one and injured at least 14 people last night, according to official sources cited by Reuters.
A 2006 bombing at the same site, the Imam al-Askari shrine, exacerbated existing Sunni-Shiite tensions and sparked a full-blown sectarian conflict that killed tens of thousands.
Tuesday 7/01 9:30 AM
More than 2,400 Iraqis were killed in June as ISIS-led militants overran the north of the country, the UN said today, in what has been some of the worst violence in years.
At least 2,417 Iraqis were killed and 2,287 injured in "acts of terrorism and violence" last month, according to The United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI). More than 1,500 of the dead and 1,700 wounded were civilians.
“The staggering number of civilian casualties in one month points to the urgent need for all to ensure that civilians are protected," said Nickolay Mladenov, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Iraq and UNAMI head. "As large parts of the country remain under the control of ISIL [ISIS] and armed groups, it is imperative that national leaders work together to foil attempts to destroy the social fabric of Iraqi society."
Monday 6/30 12:30 PM
Bizarre English-language video emerged on Sunday from a media account associated with ISIS, calling for further destruction of the border between Iraq and Syria.
The documentary-style footage — complete with music and shot from multiple camera angles — is entitled The End of Sykes-Picot, and was released the same day that a new “caliphate” was declared by the group.
A jihadist, identified as Chilean, speaks of the dissolution of the border, shows off captured Iraqi military vehicles, and prisoners allegedly being held by the group. The title references the 1916 agreement between France and Britain that split up the Arab provinces of the Ottoman Empire after World War I.
Monday 6/30 11:55 AM
Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu announced yesterday that he supported the formation of an independent Kurdish state. The move put him at odds with US policy, which favors keeping Iraq unified, rather than letting it split into separate Kurdish, Sunni, and Shiite sections.
“With respect to the Kurds, they are a warrior nation that is politically moderate, has proven they can be politically committed, and is worthy of statehood,” Netanyahu said, according to local media.
Monday 6/30 11:30 AM
An audio statement released by ISIS yesterday claims the caliphate is already a functional state with governors, courts and taxes imposed on "infidels." Blogger Pieter Van Ostaeyen, who focuses on jihadis in Syria, has provided an English-language translation.
"The Muslims are honored. The kuffar (infidels) are disgraced. Ahlus-Sunnah (the Sunnis) are masters and are esteemed. The people of bid’ah (heresy) are humiliated. The hudud (Sharia penalties) are implemented — the hudud of Allah — all of them. The frontlines are defended. Crosses and graves are demolished. Prisoners are released by the edge of the sword... Wulat (plural of wali or “governors”) and judges have been appointed. Jizyah (a tax imposed on kuffar) has been enforced. Fay’ (money taken from the kuffar without battle) and zakat (obligatory alms) have been collected. Courts have been established to resolve disputes and complaints."
Monday 6/30 10:45 AM
The battle for Tikrit continued today as Iraqi government forces tried to dislodge the ISIS-led militants who have held the city since they overran large swathes of northern Iraq earlier in the month. The army began an assault on Tikrit last week, but has thus far been unable to dislodge the insurgents.
Helicopter gunships struck militant positions on Saturday and last night, whilst fighting continued today, residents told Reuters. Video released by the military also showed convoys of tanks moving towards the city.
Monday 6/30 10:30 AM
ISIS's announcement of having formed a new caliphate was celebrated by its supporters in the group's Syrian stronghold of Raqqa city. The footage below, uploaded by the local Raqqa Media Center, shows crowds cheering and firing weapons into the air.
The caliphate announcement was made by ISIS spokesman Abu Mohammed al-Adnani, who said the territory would stretch from Diyala in Iraq to Aleppo, Syria and be headed by ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Al-Adnani also announced that the militant group would now be called simply "The Islamic State."
Friday 6/27 1:21 PM
Friday, US Secretary of State John Kerry signaled that the US hopes that moderate rebels fighting in Syria may be persuaded to fight in Iraq against ISIS and other extremist militants. President Obama recently requested $500 million to set up a Pentagon program to expand training for moderate Syrian factions in that country's civil war.
Friday 6/27 1:14 PM
"A few" US armed drones are being flown over Baghdad in case US troops or diplomats require protection, an anonymous US official told AFP. The US has deployed 180 military personnel in advisory roles to provide support for Iraqi forces battling ISIS-led Sunni militants.
Friday 6/27 10:54 AM
Multiple news agencies are reporting that Saudi Arabia has placed its military on high alert in response to recent developments in Iraq and Syria. Saudi Arabia's state-run media reported Thursday that "King Abdullah has ordered that "all necessary measures" be taken to protect Saudi Arabia against terror threats." The news agency went on to say "Anticipating (that) the terrorist organizations or others might carry out actions that might disturb the security of the homeland, the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques has ordered taking all necessary measures to protect the gains of the homeland and its territories in addition to the security and stability of the Saudi people."
Saudi Arabia shares long, largely unmonitored, borders with Syria and Iraq, and has been engaged in a long running battle with al Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) which is operating out of remote parts of Yemen, on Saudi Arabia's southern border.
Friday 6/27 9:52 AM
Human Rights Watch (HRW) said today that analysis of photographs and satellite imagery strongly indicates ISIS killed between 160 and 190 men in Tikrit after seizing the city on June 11. ISIS claimed to have "exterminated" 1,700 Shiite soldier on June 12 and subsequently posted photographs apparently showing the executed men.
“The photos and satellite images from Tikrit provide strong evidence of a horrible war crime that needs further investigation,” HRW emergencies director Peter Bouckaert said. “ISIS apparently executed at the very least 160 people in Tikrit.”
HRW said that the real number of victims could be much higher, but that difficulty in accessing the area and locating bodies made a full investigation impossible.
Friday 6/27 7:15 AM
President Barack Obama asked Congress for $500 million yesterday to train and arm moderate Syrian opposition groups, which as well as being opposed to Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, have also been fighting ISIS in the north of the country for some time.
In a statement, NSC Spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden reaffirmed prior commitments that US troops would not see service in Syria, but said military aid would help Syrians battle Assad's forces as well as hardline militants. "...this request marks another step toward helping the Syrian people defend themselves against regime attacks, push back against the growing number of extremists like ISIL (ISIS) who find safe-haven in the chaos, and take their future into their own hands by enhancing security and stability at local levels."
Friday 6/27 5:52 AM
Support for Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki from his vital Shiite ally Iran is wavering,the Associated Press reported. Sources told AP that Iranian president Hassan Rouhani thinks Maliki should stand down to avoid Iraq splitting into three, although Iranian supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, would like to see him remain in his post. High-ranking Iranian general Ghasem Soleimani recently returned home after meetings with Shiite politicians with a list of possible alternative candidates for Maliki's position, the sources added, and he is expected back in Baghdad soon to inform Iraqi politicians of Iran's favorite prime ministerial candidate.
Thursday 6/26 1:52 PM
State media has broadcast video footage which it claims shows Iraqi forces in control of the country's largest oil refinery at Baiji, north of Baghdad. ISIS has battled with Iraqi military for control of the refinery for several days, and while government officials say it is now under their control, statements published elsewhere have contradicted these reports.
Thursday 6/26 1:46 PM
Reuters reports that in addition to Israeli offers of assistance to moderate Arab states in the region, leaders in the country have been advocating for Kurdish statehood. During his discussions yesterday with US Secretary of State John Kerry, the Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman was quoted by an Israeli spokesman saying, "Iraq is breaking up before our eyes, and it would appear that the creation of an independent Kurdish state is a foregone conclusion."
Reports indicated that these statements echo comments made yesterday to President Obama by the Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres.
Thursday 6/26 1:42 PM
Video has emerged apparently showing the aftermath of Syrian air force attacks on ISIS positions at the Iraq-Syrian border. There are conflicting reports as to exactly where the strikes occurred. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki confirmed today that they took place in an interview with the BBC, but said the positions hit were inside Syria. However, US and Iraqi military officials cited by AP report that it was on the Iraqi side.
Thursday 6/26 6:20 PM
ISIS in Aleppo tweeted pictures showing cleaning and restoration efforts in Manbij on June 25. The cleanup was the work of the “public services directorate” according to the tweets by @Wilaiat_Halab. Photos also show the entrance to the Tishrine Dam on the Euphrates River, now ornamented with the flag of the Islamic State. The hydroelectric dam was renamed “Farouq Dam” by ISIS.
Thursday 6/26 11:54 PM
AFP is reporting that Israel has offered to help moderate Arab nations in the fight against ISIS. Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman told US Secretary of State John Kerry during a meeting in Paris today that "Israel could provide effective and reliable assistance to moderate Arab states who are dealing with extremists."
The foreign minister also expressed the view that ISIS could pose a threat to the stability of the entire region and singled out Kuwait as being particularly vulnerable to the growing unrest in Iraq.
Wednesday 6/26 1:44 PM
Thousands of Christians are fleeing ISIS mortar attacks on the city of Qaraqosh, and the entire town is now abandoned, according to VICE News reporter Danny Gold. Peshmerga forces are engaging with heavy artillery and mortars, and traffic on the road to Erbil near Khalizar camp is backed up for miles.
One resident fleeing with his entire family said that they had been cut off from electricity and had no water.
"We just locked our houses and left. There's no one left in the city," he said.
Wednesday 6/25 11:45 AM
Armed ISIS militants rolled through the Iraqi city of Mosul on Monday in a convoy made up of dozens of armored humvees, trucks, and cars, showing off military hardware that militants seized from the Iraqi government as they took over control of the city. Check out more photos here.
Wednesday 6/25 11:25 AM
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki reportedly rejected US-led pleas for the formation of a national unity government, describing it as a "coup" against the constitution. In a televised address, he said: "The call to form a national emergency government is a coup against the constitution and the political process... It is an attempt by those who are against the constitution to eliminate the young democratic process and steal the votes of the voters," according to Al Jazeera.
However, AFP's Prashant Rao tweeted to say that Maliki actually used the word "salvation" rather than "unity," an important distinction.
Wednesday 6/25 11:10 AM
Fighting for control of the Baiji refinery complex in Iraq’s Saladin province continued today, according to Reuters, the day after ISIS militants claimed the capture of the facility. The strategic industrial site has been the centre of ongoing clashes between Iraqi forces and ISIS for over a week.
This video, described as captured on June 24, shows black smoke billowing from the facility.