Winnipeg Free Press Newspaper Archives Mar 14 2015, Page 25

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Winnipeg Free Press (Newspaper) - March 14, 2015, Winnipeg, Manitoba C M Y K PAGE A26 A 26 WINNIPEG FREE PRESS, SATURDAY, MARCH 14, 2015 WORLD winnipegfreepress. com T IKRIT, Iraq — The U. S. has failed to live up to its promises to help Iraq fight Islamic State extremists, unlike the “ unconditional” assistance being given by Iran, the commander of Iraq’s powerful Shiite militias alleged Friday. In a battlefield interview near Tikrit, where Iraqi forces are fighting to retake Saddam Hussein’s hometown from the militants of the so- called Islamic State, commander Hadi al- Amiri criticized those who “ kiss the hands of the Americans and get nothing in return.” Iraqi forces entered Tikrit for the first time Wednesday from the north and south. On Friday, they waged fierce battles to secure the northern neighbourhood of Qadisiyya and lobbed mortar shells and rockets into the city centre, still in the hands of IS militants. Iraqi military officials have said they expect to reach central Tikrit in two to three days. The Iranian- backed Shiite militias have played a crucial role in regaining territory from the Sunni extremists of the Islamic State group, supporting Iraq’s embattled military and police forces. An Iraqi government official said Iran has sold Baghdad nearly $ 10 billion in arms and hardware, mostly weapons for urban warfare such as assault rifles, heavy machine- guns and rocket launchers. In November, U. S. President Barack Obama authorized the deployment of as many as 1,500 more U. S. troops to bolster Iraqi forces, which could more than double the total of American forces in Iraq to 3,100. The Pentagon has made a spending request to Congress of $ 1.6 billion, focusing on training and arming Kurdish and Iraqi forces. According to a Pentagon document prepared in November, the U. S. is looking to provide an estimated $ 89.3 million in weapons and equipment to each of the nine Iraqi brigades. The U. S.- led coalition of eight countries has launched more than 2,000 airstrikes in Iraq alone since August 2014, and the U. S. is also hitting the militant group from the air in Syria. Iraqi and U. S. officials have acknowledged the role airstrikes have played in rolling back the militants, saying the air campaign was an essential component in victories at the Mosul Dam, in Amirli, and more recently, in the crucial oil- refining town of Beiji. The U. S. is not taking part in the operation in Tikrit, with U. S. officials saying they were not asked by Iraq to participate. Al- Amiri, the Shiite militia commander who also is head of the Badr Organization political party, said “ help from Iran is unconditional.” He warned Iraq should not sacrifice its sovereignty for the sake of receiving weapons and assistance from the U. S., suggesting the Iraqi government is taking instructions from Washington. “ Our sovereignty is more important than U. S. weapons,” he said. “ We can bring weapons from any country in the world.” Separately, Grand Ayatollah Ali al- Sistani, Iraq’s top Shiite cleric, urged the government to step up its support for the Shiite militias and to take care of the families of militiamen killed in battle. His remarks were relayed by his spokesman Ahmed al- Safi in the Shiite holy city of Karbala. As many as 30,000 men are fighting the extremists in Tikrit — most of them volunteers with various Shiite militias, Iraqi officials say. U. S. Gen. Martin Dempsey said Wednesday as many as 20,000 militiamen may be involved. Karim al- Nouri, a spokesman for the Popular Mobilization Forces, the official name of the Shiite militias, said as many as 40 Iranian advisers are also taking part. In its march across Syria and northern and western Iraq, the Islamic State group — also known as ISIS or ISIL — has seized cities, towns and vast tracts of land. Its predominantly Sunni fighters view Shiites as apostates and have carried out a number of massacres. On Friday, a prominent Iraqi Sunni preacher urged authorities to prevent Shiite militias from carrying out revenge attacks on Sunnis in Tikrit. In his appeal, Sheik Abdel Sattar Abdul Jabbar cited reports of Shiite militiamen burning Sunni homes in the battle. “ We ask that actions follow words to punish those who are attacking houses in Tikrit,” Abdul Jabbar said during his Friday sermon in Baghdad. “ We are sorry about those acting in revenge that might ignite tribal anger and add to our sectarian problems.” Abdul Jabbar said if the government failed to stop revenge attacks by Shiite militias, Iraq would face reignited sectarian tensions, similar to those it witnessed at the height of Iraq’s sectarian wars in 2006 and 2007. Prime Minister Haider al- Abadi last week called on his forces to protect civilians and their property in recaptured areas, vowing zero tolerance for any violations. He also urged Sunnis who may have welcomed the initial onslaught or fought beside the militants to give up their support for IS. “ I call upon those who have been misled or committed a mistake to lay down arms and join their people and security forces in order to liberate their cities,” al- Abadi said. Human Rights Watch said Friday the Shiite militias have engaged in “ deliberate destruction of civilian property” after security forces recaptured the town of Amirli and other areas where Sunni militants were driven out. In a report titled, After Liberation Came Destruction: Iraqi Militias and the Aftermath of Amerli , the rights group cited evidence militias looted the property of Sunni civilians who had fled fighting, burned their homes and businesses and destroyed at least two villages. — The Associated Press PHOTOS BY KHALID MOHAMMED / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS A member of an Iraqi Shiite militant group called Soldiers of Imam Ali Brigades launches rockets against Islamic State extremists in Tikrit, Iraq. Shiite leader pans U. S. help By Qassim Abdul- Zahra and Sameer N. Yacoub Commander praises Iran in fight against extremists OTTAWA — More questions emerged Friday in Ottawa and Istanbul amid further indications — including a mysterious video — that a Syrian man said to be working for Canada’s intelligence service may have helped three British teenagers join the Islamic State. A Turkish news channel says a video that appears to show the man assisting the three girls was filmed in Gaziantep, on Turkey’s border with Syria. A Turkish government official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment, confirms the video came from the police. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu says the suspect — who is in custody — helped the teenagers even though he worked for the intelligence agency of a country that is part of the coalition fighting IS. Cavusoglu didn’t identify the country, but says it wasn’t the U. S. or a European Union member. CBC News reported from Istanbul Mohammad Al Rashed, a Syrian who purportedly went by the alias Dr. Mehmet Resit, allegedly helped the girls cross from Turkey into Syria shortly after they arrived from London on Feb. 17. Citing a witness statement in a Turkish intelligence report, CBC said the man claims he worked for Canadian intelligence and travelled occasionally to the Canadian Embassy in Jordan to share information he had gathered. Earlier this week, a European security source familiar with the case told Reuters the person in question had a connection with the Canadian Security Intelligence Service. In the House of Commons, NDP deputy leader Megan Leslie led off question period with the issue for the second consecutive day. “ Can the government confirm that someone linked to Canadian intelligence, either an employee, an agent or an asset, is being detained in Turkey?” she asked. Roxanne James, parliamentary secretary to the public safety minister, said while the government was aware of the reports, she could not comment on operational matters of national security. Leslie noted Bruno Saccomani, the former head of the prime minister’s security detail, is now Canada’s ambassador to Jordan. CSIS has referred questions about the matter to the Public Safety Department. Neither Public Safety nor Foreign Affairs would comment Friday. NDP foreign affairs critic Paul Dewar urged the government to figure out what took place, saying it would be a “ big problem” if Canada had been involved with someone “ working for the enemy.” In the video shown by Turkish broadcaster A Haber, a man speaking in English appears to tell the British girls they will be in Syria within an hour. The three girls — identified by British authorities as Shamima Begum, 15, Kadiza Sultana, 16, and 15- year- old Amira Abase — travelled from the U. K. to Turkey last month. Earlier this month, Turkish TV obtained video showing the teenagers in Istanbul before they boarded a bus. — The Canadian Press, with a file from The Associated Press CSIS asset tied to British teens who joined IS By Jim Bronskill A soldier inspects a damaged mosque following a car- bomb attack in Tikrit, Iraq. Iraqi forces are fighting IS for the city 130 kilometres north of Baghdad. Tikrit was Saddam Hussein’s hometown. WASHINGTON — Criticism of 47 Republican senators’ letter to Iranian leaders escalated Friday, and one of the lawmakers expressed misgivings about writing directly to an adversary to raise doubts about U. S. President Barack Obama’s nuclear negotiations. Several newspapers that endorsed the senators’ elections were harshly critical. A handful of conservative commentators and former Republican aides joined legions of liberals in calling the letter ill- advised. Republican Sen. Ron Johnson, who may face a tough re- election next year, defended the letter, but added, “ If there was any regret, tactically, it probably would have been better just to have it be an open letter addressed to no one.” Another signer, Sen. Pat Roberts, expressed similar thoughts. The letter “ could have been addressed to other folks and gotten the message out,” Roberts said. “ I think the message is more important than who we send it to.” All but seven of the Senate’s Republicans signed the letter; no Democrats did. The letter warns Iran’s leaders any negotiated agreement on their nuclear program could expire when Obama leaves office. Democrats and some academics say the letter undermines Obama’s — and future presidents’ — ability to set foreign policy. Republicans defended the letter, saying they must take dramatic steps to demand a voice in negotiations, because they fear Obama will be too soft on Iran. Some of the 47 senators, however, are taking heat back home from editorial pages that have supported them. In Ohio, the Cleveland Plain Dealer and Cincinnati Enquirer endorsed Sen. Rob Portman’s 2010 campaign, but they berated him this week for signing the Iran letter. “ The magnitude of this disgraceful decision,” a Plain Dealer editorial said, “ shows the degree to which partisanship has gobbled up rationality on foreign policy.” The Cincinnati Enquirer’s editorial said the letter “ diminishes the dignity of the Senate by disparaging the president and presenting an amateur lesson on U. S. governance.” It praised Portman in general, but said he erred because “ now, facing re- election, he’s nervous.” Portman, appearing in Columbus, Ohio, Friday, said the letter will strengthen Obama’s hand in negotiations with Iran. But former Ohio governor Ted Strickland, a Democrat hoping to unseat Portman next year, called the letter “ disgraceful” in a fundraising letter. In New Hampshire, the Telegraph of Nashua — which endorsed Sen. Kelly Ayotte in 2010 — chastised her for signing the letter. “ One wonders how loud and angry the Republican response would have been if a petty clan of Democratic senators had written an open letter to Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev” during nuclear arms talks with Washington, the Telegraph editorial said. The Salt Lake Tribune similarly criticized Utah’s two senators — Republicans Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee — for signing the letter. The paper has endorsed Hatch’s elections. Some of the seven Republican senators who didn’t sign the letter have gently questioned their colleagues’ actions. “ I just didn’t feel that it was appropriate or productive at this point,” said Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona. — The Associated Press Senators criticized for signing Iran letter Media denounce GOP lawmakers By Charles Babington SARAJEVO — Bosnian police said Friday they have arrested five men suspected of building an explosive device intended for an attack in an unspecified Scandinavian country. The arrests were the result of a coordinated operation also involving officials from Netherlands and Sweden. Bosnian police and prosecutors said the explosives were intended for a terror attack, but that was dismissed by police in Sweden. “ This is not terror- related,” Swedish police spokesman Andreas Fahlen said. “ This has to do with criminal activities in southern Sweden.” Bosnian prosecution spokesman Boris Grubesic said the crime the men are suspected of is classified as terrorism in Bosnia. Three of the arrested were nabbed at the Bosnian border while trying to leave the country with the explosive device in the trunk of their car, while the two others were arrested in Sarajevo. — The Associated Press Bomb plot defused A_ 26_ Mar- 14- 15_ FP_ 01. indd A26 3/ 13/ 15 9: 19: 18 PM

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