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Mosul airport has been recaptured by Iraqi elite forces from ISIS.

The operation took four hours. ISIS continued to fire mortars at the airport from further inside the city after losing the ground to the army.

The jihadists have also entered a nearby military base amid further clashes, a military spokesman said.

Eastern Mosul was retaken last month.

Today’s advance brings the army within less than a mile of western Mosul, where the militants are expected to launch attacks from densely populated neighborhoods.

The assault began with air strikes by the US-led coalition before armored columns advanced to the airport’s perimeter.

Image source Iraqi News

Iraqi forces also came under fire from ISIS militants holed up inside airport buildings, reports said.

Foreign troops from the US-led coalition were with the attacking troops, officials told the Associated Press, without specifying their nationality.

According to reports, the airport’s runway has been destroyed by ISIS.

The airport and the al-Ghazlani base are on Mosul’s southern outskirts on the western side of the Tigris River.

Thousands of Iraqi troops, backed by artillery and air power, are involved in the assault to retake Mosul.

Leaflets warning residents of an imminent offensive were earlier dropped over western Mosul, where military officials say narrow winding streets could make retaking the area particularly difficult.

Although slightly smaller than the east, western Mosul is more densely populated and includes districts seen as pro-ISIS.


The UN has voiced concern about the welfare of civilians trapped in the city.

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According to a recent research, Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, has the world’s most generous people.

The CAF World Giving Index 2016 found that people in Iraq are the kindest to strangers, while Myanmar’s residents give the most away.

In the last month, eight in 10 Iraqis have helped someone they don’t know, with Libyans helping almost as many.

During the same period, 91% of those in Myanmar have given money to charity.

Image source Charities Aid Foundation

Image source Charities Aid Foundation

In comparison, 63% of Americans – the second most generous overall – have donated money, with 73% helping a stranger.

The annual ranking places Myanmar at the top of the list for the third year in a row, with more than half the population donating time and 63% helping a stranger.

The report said the generous giving reflected the practice of “Sangha Dana”, where Myanmar’s Theravada Buddhist majority donate to support those living a monastic lifestyle.

The overall table, which takes into account financial donations, help offered to strangers and volunteering, ranks the UK as the most generous place in Europe, the United Arab Emirates in the Middle East, Kenya in Africa and Guatemala in Latin America.

China is named as the least generous country.

However, the poll only takes into account the responses of 1,000 people on average in each of the 140 countries, and the Charities Aid Foundation acknowledges there is margin for error.

However, it is the kindness of Iraqis and Libyans to complete strangers in the face of years of conflict and terrible violence which stands out in the list.

ISIS has raided government buildings in and around the Iraqi city of Kirkuk.

According to Iraqi media, suicide bombers had attacked police stations and a power station, but that security forces had repelled the assaults.

A news agency affiliated to ISIS claimed its fighters had broken into Kirkuk’s town hall and seized a central hotel.

The attacks come as Iraqi pro-government forces continue an offensive to retake ISIS-held Mosul, to the north.US spendings  against ISIS

ISIS militants were reported to have set fire to a chemical plant south of Mosul as they retreated on October 20.

Sources said they started the fire at the sulphur plant in al-Mishraq deliberately when they were being pushed out of the area by security forces.

There are conflicting reports about the scale and extent of the attack on Kirkuk.

A local TV channel broadcast footage of black smoke rising over the city, with automatic gunfire audible.

The Beirut-based newspaper al-Sumaria reported that during the dawn attack, three suicide bombers had blown themselves up.

Kirkuk police sources said three Iranian workers at the power station were killed, along with eight Iraqis.

The city’s governor, Najm al-Din Karim, told the Kurdish news agency, Rudaw, that Kurdish Peshmerga and counter-terrorism forces were completely in control of the situation, and said the attackers were from ISIS sleeper cells.

Security forces had killed six suicide bombers, Najm al-Din Karim added.

Kirkuk, a multi-ethnic city that is located about 180 miles north of the capital Baghdad and 105 miles south-east of Mosul. It is claimed both by Iraq’s central government and by the country’s Kurds.

ISIS militants have killed at least 75 people in two bomb attacks carried out in Baghdad, Iraqi officials say.

Some other 100 people have been injured in the attacks.

In the first attack on July 2, a suicide car bomb exploded near a restaurant and shopping area in the central district of Karrada.

The street was busy with shoppers after sundown in the holy month of Ramadan.

ISIS militants control large areas of Iraq and neighboring Syria

ISIS militants control large areas of Iraq and neighboring Syria

A second bomb exploded later in a predominantly Shia area north of the capital.

The bombings come a week after Iraqi security forces recaptured the city of Falluja from Islamic State militants.

Authorities say the city was used as a launching pad for attacks on Baghdad by ISIS.

On July 2, ISIS claimed responsibility for the suicide car bomb in Karrada, which caused a huge street fire on the main street, in a statement distributed online by supporters of the hardline Sunni group.

The car bomb went off as people were eating out late during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, which ends next week.

ISIS still controls large swathes of territory in the country’s north and west, including Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city.

However, ISIS has been under pressure in Iraq and in neighboring Syria, where it has been targeted by government forces and US-backed rebels.

The oldest Christian monastery in Iraq has been destroyed by ISIS, satellite images confirmed.

St. Elijah’s monastery, or Dair Mar Elia, stood on a hill near the northern city of Mosul for 1,400 years.

Now, St. Elijah’s has joined a growing list of more than 100 demolished religious and historic sites, including mosques, tombs, shrines and churches in Syria and Iraq. The extremists have defaced or ruined ancient monuments in Nineveh, Palmyra and Hatra. Museums and libraries have been looted, books burned, artwork crushed – or trafficked.

Analysts said the images, obtained by the Associated Press, suggested St. Elijah’s had been demolished in late 2014, soon after ISIS seized Mosul.

Photo Flickr

Photo Flickr

A Catholic priest from Mosul warned that its Christian history was “being barbarically leveled”.

“We see it as an attempt to expel us from Iraq, eliminating and finishing our existence in this land,” said Father Paul Thabit Habib, who now lives in Kurdish-administered Irbil.

ISIS has targeted Christians in Iraq and neighboring Syria, seizing their property and forcing them to convert to Islam, pay a special tax or flee.

The group has also demolished a number of monasteries and churches, as well as renowned pre-Islamic sites including Nimrud, Hatra and Nineveh in Iraq and Palmyra in Syria.

St. Elijah’s Monastery was believed to have been constructed by Assyrian monks in the late 6th Century. It was later claimed by a Chaldean Catholic order.

In 1743, its monks were given an ultimatum by Persian forces to convert to Islam. They refused and as many as 150 were massacred.

At least 17 people have been killed in an attack on a shopping center in Baghdad, during which people were taken hostage.

About 20 gunmen stormed the al-Jawhara shopping center in the mainly Shia al-Jadeda area on January 11, after a car bomb exploded outside.Baghdad shopping center attack

Security forces sealed off the area and then stormed the building, killing the assailants and freeing their hostages, an interior ministry spokesman said.

It is not clear who the gunmen were.

However, Sunni jihadist militants from ISIS have frequently target Shia districts of Baghdad.

According to police, two of the assailants detonated explosive belts they had been wearing, killing several hostages.

Two other gunmen were shot dead, and another four arrested, police say.

The Iraqi military has declared the city of Ramadi “liberated” from ISIS.

Spokesman Brig. Gen. Yahya Rasul said forces had achieved an “epic” victory.

TV footages showed troops raising the Iraqi flag over the government complex.

However, some reports indicate there are still pockets of resistance in Ramadi.

Ramadi’s recapture marks a major reversal for the jihadist group. ISIS seized Ramadi in May, in an embarrassing defeat for the army.

Iraqi government forces have been fighting to retake it for weeks.

Photo AFP/Getty Images

Photo AFP/Getty Images

State TV showed pictures of soldiers in Ramadi firing their guns in the air and publicly slaughtering a sheep in celebration.

Troops managed to capture the government compound on December 27, flushing out or killing ISIS fighters and suicide bombers who had been holding out in its buildings.

Brig. Gen. Majid al-Fatlawi of the army’s 8th division told AFP that ISIS fighters had “planted more than 300 explosive devices on the roads and in the buildings of the government complex”.

Iraqi PM Haider al-Abadi praised the capture of Ramadi in a TV address.

“2016 will be the year of the big and final victory, when Daesh’s [ISIS’] presence in Iraq will be terminated,” he said.

“We are coming to liberate Mosul and it will be the fatal and final blow to Daesh,” he added, in a reference to the largest city under ISIS control in northern Iraq.

The operation to recapture Ramadi, about 55 miles west of Baghdad, began in early November.

It was backed by US-led coalition air strikes. But it made slow progress, mainly because the government chose not to use the powerful Shia-dominated paramilitary force that helped it regain the mainly Sunni northern city of Tikrit, to avoid increasing sectarian tensions.

The US military called the recapture a “proud moment for Iraq”.

It added that “the coalition will continue to support the government of Iraq as they move forward to make Ramadi safe for civilians to return”.

At least 27 Qatari hunters – including members of the ruling family – have been kidnapped by gunmen in a desert area of Iraq near the Saudi border, say police and the local governor.

The attackers were driving dozens of four-wheel drive vehicles when they swept into the hunters’ camp at dawn on December 16, officials said.

They struck near Layyah, 118 miles from regional capital, Samawa.

A wide-scale search has been launched for the attackers, police say.

The Qatari foreign ministry released a statement saying it was working with the Iraqi government “at the highest security and political levels… to find out the details of the Qatari citizens’ abduction and work on their release as soon as possible”.

The statement said they had been hunting with official Iraqi permission – though Iraq’s interior ministry accused the hunters of failing to abide by its instructions to remain inside secured areas.Qatari hunters kidnapped in Iraq

The aim of the abduction was “to achieve political and media goals”, the interior ministry said.

The remote area where the incident took place is highly tribal in nature and a Shia region.

The Shia political parties which dominate the Iraqi government are highly critical of Qatar’s role in supporting Sunni rebels in Syria – so this is bound to be a serious diplomatic incident, he says.

Two Iraqi officers providing security for the party were also taken by the gunmen but later released, officials said.

No details were provided on which members of the Qatari royal family were among those held.

Wealthy practitioners of the ancient sport of falconry from various Gulf states often travel to the area at this time of year.

The hunters had been escorted by Iraqi security forces but they decided not to engage a large number of gunmen, a police colonel from Samawa – the capital of Muthanna governorate – told Reuters.

“We are talking about at least 100 gunmen armed with light and medium weapons,” he said.

More than 12 years after the US-led invasion and occupation, Iraq is still plagued by violent crime and militant attacks.

Iraq’s foreign ministry has summoned the Turkish ambassador to demand the withdrawal of Turkish troops sent to an area near the northern city of Mosul.

According to the Iraqi foreign ministry, the troops had entered Iraq without Baghdad’s consent and that Iraq considered it “a hostile act”.

Turkey says it deployed 150 soldiers in the town of Bashiqa year to train Iraqi Kurdish forces fighting ISIS.Turkish troops Mosul

Mosul has been under the control of ISIS militants since 2014.

Turkish PM Ahmet Davutoglu described the deployment as a routine troop rotation. He said Turkish forces had set up a camp near Mosul a year ago in co-ordination with Iraq.

“This camp was established as a training camp for a force of local volunteers fighting terrorism,” he said.

Earlier, Iraqi PM Haider al-Abadi’s office said the move was a “serious breach of Iraqi sovereignty”.

The statement called on Turkey to “respect good neighborly relations and to withdraw immediately from the Iraqi territory”.

Turkey enjoys close relations with autonomous Kurdish regions in Iraq, although it views Syrian Kurdish groups over the border as hostile, analysts say.

The fall of Mosul was a key moment in the rise of ISIS and an Iraqi government offensive to retake the city has been repeatedly put back.

ISIS deputy leader Fadhil Ahmad al-Hayali has been killed in a US military strike in northern Iraq, the White House announces.

Fadhil Ahmad al-Hayali, also known as Hajji Mutazz, is described by US officials as the second in command of the group.

They said he was killed in an attack on his car in Mosul on August 18, and that his death would damage ISIS operations.

A number of ISIS leaders have been killed by US-led air coalition strikes in both Iraq and Syria in recent months.

Fadhil Ahmad al-Hayali was a primary co-ordinator for moving large amounts of weapons, explosives, vehicles and people between Iraq and Syria, the US National Security Council’s Ned Price said in a statement.

In Iraq, Fadhil Ahmad al-Hayali was “instrumental in planning operations over the past two years, including the IS offensive in Mosul in June 2014”, Ned Price said.

Photo NY Times

Photo NY Times

Fadhil Ahmad al-Hayali is described as “the senior deputy” to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who was reportedly seriously injured in another air strike by the US-led coalition in March 2014.

“Hayali’s death will adversely impact IS’s operations given that his influence spanned IS’s finance, media, operations, and logistics,” Ned Price added.

A second ISIS member who co-ordinated media, known as Abu Abdullah, was killed in the same air strike as Fadhil Ahmad al-Hayali.

It comes several months after Iraqi defence officials declared another “IS second-in-command”, Abdul Rahman Mustafa Mohammed, dead in an air strike in northern Iraq.

Abdul Rahman Mustafa Mohammed, also known as Abu Alaa al-Afari, was killed inside a mosque hit by a strike in Tal Afar in May, they reported.

At the time, there were unconfirmed reports Abu Alaa al-Afari had taken temporary charge of ISIS operations amid reports its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had become incapacitated.

In June 2015, the US reported that more than 10,000 IS fighters had been killed since the international coalition began its campaign against the group last summer.

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Turkey’s military has attacked ISIS positions in Syria and Kurdish PKK militants in northern Iraq to defend the country’s security, Turkish PM Ahmet Davutoglu announces.

Ahmet Davutoglu added that 590 suspected ISIS and PKK members had been arrested.

It follows a week which saw a bomb attack blamed on ISIS kill 32 people in the Turkish town of Suruc.

Subsequent clashes with ISIS militants on the Turkey-Syria border led to the death of a Turkish soldier.

The PKK’s military wing said it had killed two Turkish police officers on July 22, claiming they had collaborated with ISIS in the bombing in Suruc, which targeted left-wing activists.

A government statement on July 25 said the air force had hit PKK shelters, bunkers, storage facilities and other “logistic points” in northern Iraq, including the Qandil mountains where the PKK’s high command is based.Turkey attacks ISIS in Syria

It did not give details of what the jets had targeted in their attacks on ISIS in Syria.

Turkey’s military had also shelled Islamic State and PKK positions from across the Turkish border, the statement said.

Speaking to reporters on July 25, PM Ahmet Davutoglu said: “Unfortunately Turkey is surrounded by a ring of fire.

“In such an atmosphere, Turkey tries to keep her democracy and development alive… these operations have carried a message to the countries in the region and to international circles: whatever happens in Syria and Iraq, in our border regions, we will not allow them to threaten Turkey’s security and will not hesitate to take necessary measures.”

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said areas of northern Syria cleared of ISIS fighters would become natural “safe zones”.

Turkey has also said it will let the US use a key airbase to attack ISIS targets.

The group has been fighting Turkey for an autonomous homeland for the Kurds for decades.

In a statement on its website quoted by Reuters news agency, the PKK said: “The truce has no meaning any more after these intense air strikes by the occupant Turkish army.”

The Turkish government has faced criticism at home and abroad for not doing enough against ISIS, despite being part of the international coalition fighting it.

The first round of anti-ISIS air strikes on July 24 marked the first time Turkey had confirmed air strikes against targets in Syria since ISIS began its advance through Iraq and Syria in 2013.

The agreement to let the US use the Incirlik airbase, following months of negotiations, was made in a phone call between President Barack Obama and his Turkish counterpart, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan – but has yet to be approved by the Turkish cabinet.

The Turkish government could allow the US to step up air strikes against ISIS, as it is closer to northern Syria and Iraq than the Gulf, which currently serves as a launch-pad for bombing missions.

Benghazi attack suspect Ali Awni al-Harzi has been killed in an US airstrike in Iraq, the Pentagon says.

Ali Awni al-Harzi died on June 15 in the city of Mosul, which is controlled by ISIS, the Pentagon adds.

He was designated as a terrorist by the US Treasury and state department.

The US ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, was among four Americans killed in the Benghazi attacks in September 2012.Benghazi attack 2012

US officials blamed the attack on militants linked to al-Qaeda.

The Pentagon described Ali Awni al-Harzi as “a person of interest” in the attack on the US compound.

It said he was an organizational intermediary who operated closely with extremists linked to ISIS or ISIL throughout North Africa and the Middle East.

“His death degrades ISIL’s ability to integrate North African jihadists into the Syrian and Iraqi fight and removes a jihadist with long ties to international terrorism,” Pentagon spokesman Colonel Steve Warren said.

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According to new reports, the US spends more than $9 million a day on the war against ISIS, and has poured $2.7 billion into the bombing campaign since the start.

An international coalition has been conducting air strikes in Iraq and Syria since last August.

The first breakdown of US costs, released by the Pentagon, show that two-thirds of the total bill has gone to the Air Force.

It came as Congress rejected legislation banning further spending.US spendings  against ISIS

The US House of Representative approved a $579 billion defense spending bill.

It rejected an amendment calling for a stop to cash going on the fight against ISIS unless Congress passed a new authorization for the use of force.

The cost of the US military operation has risen sharply since it began last August in Iraq.

This week, the White House announced another 450 advisers for Iraq, bringing the total military personnel to 3,500.

But officials emphasize there are no combat troops and the US mission is to train local forces to do the fighting.

On June 11, the top general in the US said the country’s intervention in Iraq could extend further.

General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the role of calling in air strikes, which would put troops nearer the front lines, remained a future option.

Martin Dempsey raised the possibility of establishing a network of US training hubs in northern Iraq.

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At a news conference in Germany, President Barack Obama has revealed the US does not yet have a “complete strategy” for helping Iraq regain territory from Islamic State (ISIS).

He said the Pentagon was reviewing ways to help Iraq train and equip its forces.

However, Barack Obama said a full commitment to the process was needed by the Iraqis themselves.

The president had earlier met Iraqi PM Haider al-Abadi on the sidelines of the G7 summit in Germany.

ISIS has recently made gains in Iraq despite US-led coalition air strikes.Barack Obama G7 Summit news conference

In May the militants seized Ramadi, the capital of Anbar, Iraq’s largest province, as well as the Syrian town of Tadmur and the neighboring ancient ruins of Palmyra.

US officials cited a lack of training as a major factor in the fall of Ramadi.

However, Barack Obama said that the 3,000 US service personnel in Iraq sometimes found themselves with “more training capacity than we’ve got recruits”.

“We don’t have, yet, a complete strategy, because it requires commitments on the part of Iraqis as well about how recruitment takes place, how that training takes place,” Barack Obama told a news conference.

“We want to get more Iraqi security forces trained, fresh, well-equipped and focused and [Haider al-] Abadi wants the same thing so we’re reviewing a range of plans for how we might do that.”

President Barack Obama said he was “absolutely confident” ISIS would be driven out of Iraq if Haider al-Abadi has the support of the international coalition as well as a government that represents all the Iraqi people.

The president said all countries in the coalition were ready to do more to help train Iraqi security forces.

Iraq has become increasingly reliant on Iranian-backed Shia militias to take on ISIS in recent months.

Saddam Hussein’s aide, Tariq Aziz, has died in an Iraqi hospital at the age of 79, officials say.

Tariq Aziz served as Iraq’s foreign minister and deputy prime minister and was a close adviser to Saddam Hussein.

He was sentenced to death by the Iraqi Supreme Court in 2010 for the persecution of religious parties under Saddam’s rule but was never executed.

Tariq Aziz surrendered to US troops in 2003 shortly after the fall of Baghdad.

A local health official told reporters that Tariq Aziz was taken to hospital from prison after suffering a heart attack. Initial reports said he had died in prison.

Photo EPA

Photo EPA

He had long been in poor health, suffering from heart and respiratory problems, high blood pressure and diabetes, and his family repeatedly called for his release from custody

Tariq Aziz, who was known for his black-rimmed glasses and love of cigars, first came to prominence while serving as foreign minister during the first Gulf War in 1991.

As a Christian in a mainly Sunni Muslim government, Tariq Aziz was not considered a member of Saddam Hussein’s innermost circle.

A fluent English speaker, Tariq Aziz played a vocal role before the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, meeting Pope John Paul II in the Vatican to call for peace.

However, when Baghdad fell, Tariq Aziz’s lack of influence was reflected in his lowly ranking as the eight of spades in the US military’s famous “deck of cards” used to identify the most-wanted players in Saddam Hussein’s regime.

In 2009, Tariq Aziz was sentenced to 15 years for the execution of 42 Iraqi traders who had been accused of manipulating food prices while Iraq was subject to international trade sanctions.

Five months later, Tariq Aziz was sentenced to another seven years in prison for his role in the forced displacement of Kurds.

Iran-backed Shia militias have been sent by the Iraqi government to Ramadi to recapture the city seized by Islamic State (ISIS) militants on May 17.

About 500 people are reported to have died when the Iraqi military abandoned positions in Ramadi – only 70 miles West of Baghdad.

A regional government official spoke of people fleeing Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province, “in great numbers”.

Photo Reuters

Photo Reuters

The US has said it is confident the capture of Ramadi can be reversed.

Speaking in South Korea, Secretary of State John Kerry said: “I am convinced that as the forces are redeployed and as the days flow in the weeks ahead that’s going to change.”

The Shia militias, known as the Popular Mobilization (Hashid Shaabi), were key to the recapture from ISIS of another city, Tikrit, north of Baghdad, in April. But their use has raised concern in the US and elsewhere.

The militias pulled out of Tikrit following reports of widespread violence and looting.

Meanwhile, the Iranian Defense Minister, Hossein Dehghan, has arrived in Baghdad on a visit arranged before the latest developments in Ramadi.

The police and military made a chaotic retreat from Ramadi, which has been contested for months, after days of intense fighting.

A statement purportedly from ISIS said its fighters had “purged the entire city”. It said ISIS had taken the 8th Brigade army base, along with tanks and missile launchers left behind by troops.

The Islamic State (ISIS) has seized the Iraqi city of Ramadi after government forces abandoned their positions, officials say.

The police and military made a chaotic retreat after days of intense fighting.

Iraq’s PM Haider al-Abadi had ordered troops to stand their ground, saying he was deploying Shia militia to the city.ISIS captures Ramadi in Iraq

Ramadi is the capital of Iraq’s largest province, Anbar, and is just 70 miles West of Baghdad.

A statement purportedly from ISIS said its fighters had “purged the entire city”. It said ISIS had taken the 8th Brigade army base, along with tanks and missile launchers left behind by troops.

Footage posted on social media showed military vehicles speeding away from Ramadi, with soldiers hanging off the sides.

Reports said Iraqi forces fled following a series of suicide car bomb attacks on May 17.

Four almost simultaneous explosions hit police defending the Malaab district in southern Ramadi. Later, three more suicide bombers drove explosive-laden cars into the gate of the provincial military headquarters, the Anbar Operation Command, officials said.

PM Haider al-Abadi called on pro-government forces to “hold their positions and preserve them and not allow Daesh (ISIS) to extend to other areas in Ramadi”.

Anbar province covers a vast stretch of the country west from the capital Baghdad to the Syrian border, and contains key roads that link Iraq to both Syria and Jordan.

ISIS reportedly controls more than half of Anbar’s territory.

ISIS deputy leader Abdul Rahman Mustafa Mohammed, also known as Abu Alaa al-Afri, has been killed in a US-led coalition air strike in northern Iraq, the Iraqi ministry of defense says.

The second-in-command of Islamic State was inside a mosque in Tal Afar that was targeted, spokesman General Tahsin Ibrahim said.Abu Alaa al-Afri ISIS Deputy Leader Killed in Iraq

Abu Alaa al-Afri had been meeting dozens of militants who also died in the strike, he added.

In recent weeks, there were unconfirmed reports that Abu Alaa al-Afri had taken temporary charge of ISIS operations.

Iraqi security sources claimed that ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had been incapacitated as a result of a coalition air strike in northern Iraq in March.

Last week, the US state department offered a reward of up to $7 million for information on Abu Alaa al-Afri, whom it identified as Abdul Rahman Mustafa al-Qaduli.

Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, who was right-hand man to Iraq’s ex-leader Saddam Hussein, has been killed, Iraqi officials say.

They say the fugitive militant leader died in fighting in Salahuddin province, north of Baghdad. His supporters have denied the claim.

Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, 72, led the Naqshbandi Order insurgent group, a key force behind the recent rise of Islamic State (ISIS).

He was deputy to Saddam Hussein, who was ousted when US-led forces invaded Iraq in 2003 and executed in 2006.

Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri was regarded as the most high-profile official of Saddam Hussein’s Baath party to successfully evade capture after the invasion, and had a large bounty on his head for years.Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri killed in Iraq

He was the King of Clubs in the famous pack of cards the US issued of wanted members of Saddam Hussein’s regime after its defeat.

There have been reports of Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri’s death or capture before. The now dissolved Baath party denied the latest claim.

However, al-Arabiya TV showed a picture of what it said was Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri’s body.

Salahuddin governor Raed al-Jabouri said he had died during an operation by soldiers and allied Shia militiamen east of Tikrit – a city that was recaptured by the government two weeks ago.

Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri is believed to have played a key role in masterminding a major offensive by ISIS in 2014.

ISIS seized swathes of territory in eastern Syria and across northern and western Iraq, in an effort to establish an Islamic “caliphate”.

In recent months Iraqi forces – backed by US-led air strikes since August – have recaptured 25% to 30% of the territory initially lost to ISIS.

ISIS still controls large areas in Iraq, including Mosul, the country’s second largest city.

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During his traditional Easter Sunday’s Urbi et Orbi address, Pope Francis has called for peace in Syria and Iraq.

The pontiff urged the international community to address the “immense humanitarian tragedy” in both countries.

Pope Francis also called for peace in the Holy Land, Ukraine, Libya, Yemen, Nigeria, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

He once again referred to the persecution of Christians in many countries.

Pope Francis said: “We ask Jesus, the victor over death, to lighten the sufferings of our many brothers and sisters who are persecuted for his name, and of all those who suffer injustice as a result of ongoing conflicts and violence.

“We ask for peace, above all, for Syria and Iraq, that the roar of arms may cease and that peaceful relations may be restored among the various groups which make up those beloved countries. Pope Francis Urbi et Orbi 2015

“May the international community not stand by before the immense humanitarian tragedy unfolding in these countries and the drama of the numerous refugees.”

The Pope also said his thoughts and prayers were with the young people killed in last Thursday’s massacre at Garissa University College in Kenya.

Referring to the outline agreement on Iran’s nuclear program recently reached in the Swiss city of Lausanne, he expressed hope that it might be “a definitive step toward a more secure and fraternal world”.

Pope Francis concluded his address by saying: “We ask for peace and freedom for the many men and women subject to old and new forms of enslavement on the part of criminal individuals and groups.

“Peace and liberty for the victims of drug dealers, who are often allied with the powers who ought to defend peace and harmony in the human family. And we ask peace for this world subjected to arms dealers.”

During this year’s Good Friday service in Rome, Pope Francis condemned what he termed the “complicit silence” about the killing of Christians.

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Saddam Hussein’s tomb has been almost completely destroyed in fighting near Tikrit, Iraq.

Footage filmed by the Associated Press shows that all that remains standing of the once-lavish mausoleum in the village of al-Awja are some pillars.

Iraqi forces and Iranian-backed Shia militia are battling to drive Islamic State (ISIS) militants from Tikrit.

In 2014, the local Sunni population said they had removed the former Iraqi leader’s body and taken it to an unknown location.

The capture of the tomb came as fighting intensified north and south of Tikrit on March 15 as Iraqi security forces vowed to reach the city centre within 48 hours.

The footage shows the mausoleum, south of the city, reduced to concrete rubble.

Poster-sized pictures of Saddam Hussein that once covered the tomb have been replaced with Shia militia flags and pictures of militia leaders, including Iranian General Qassem Soleimani who advises the Shia militias.Saddam Hussein’s tomb almost destroyed in Tikrit fighting

There are suspicions among many in Iraq’s Sunni community that Saddam Hussein’s tomb was deliberately destroyed by the Shia militias.

AP said that its crew was embedded with the Iraqi military and may have been subject to reporting restrictions.

“This is one of the areas where ISIS militants massed the most because Saddam’s grave is here,” said Captain Yasser Numa, an official with the militias.

“The ISIS militants set an ambush for us by planting bombs around.”

ISIS said in August 2014 that the tomb had been completely destroyed but local officials denied this, saying it had been ransacked and suffered only minor damage.

Saddam Hussein, who was from Tikrit, was captured by US forces in 2003.

An Iraqi tribunal convicted him of crimes against humanity for the killings of Shia Muslims and Kurds and hanged him in 2006. Saddam Hussein’s body had been kept in the mausoleum since 2007.

The mausoleum featured a marble octagon with a bed of fresh flowers at the centre, covering the place where Saddam Hussein’s body was buried.

According to Iraqi media, loyalists removed Saddam Hussein’s remains last year amid fears that it would be disturbed in the fighting.

Tikrit was overrun by ISIS in June 2014 and several hundred militants are believed to be holding out there.

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ISIS militants have begun destroying the ruins of the ancient city of Hatra in Iraq, Kurdish sources say.

Hatra was founded in the days of the Parthian Empire over 2,000 years ago and is a UNESCO world heritage site.

Earlier this week, ISIS militants began bulldozing the nearby ruins of the Assyrian city of Nimrud.

ISIS, which controls large areas of Iraq and Syria, says shrines and statues are “false idols” that have to be smashed.

It not yet clear how extensive any damage might have been.

Hatra, located about 68 miles south-west of Mosul, was a fortified city that withstood invasions by the Romans thanks to its thick walls reinforced by towers.ISIS destroyed Hatra

Said Mamuzini, a Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) local official, told Kurdish media that IS militants had started destroying the site.

“The city of Hatra is very big and many artifacts of that era were protected inside the site,” he said, adding that the militants had already taken away gold and silver.

There is no independent confirmation of the destruction.

Reports of the bulldozer attack in Nimrud, an Assyrian city founded in the 13th Century BC, emerged on March 5.

On March 6, UNESCO head Irina Bokova condemned the “cultural cleansing” in Iraq as a “war crime”.

“There is absolutely no political or religious justification for the destruction of humanity’s cultural heritage.”

The Parthian Empire was a major political and cultural force in ancient Iran. At the height of its power in the second century AD, it extended from modern-day Pakistan to Syria.

Hatra later flourished under Arab rulers, and became a major trading-post on the Silk Road across the Asian continent.

ISIS has sparked an international outrage after bulldozing the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud in Iraq.

On March 5, ISIS – which controls swathes of Iraq and Syria – began demolishing the site, which was founded in the 13th Century BC, Iraqi officials said.

The Iraq director for the UN cultural agency UNESCO called it “another appalling attack on Iraq’s heritage”.

ISIS says ancient shrines and statues are “false idols” that have to be smashed.

“They are erasing our history,” Iraqi archaeologist Lamia al-Gailani said.

Nimrud lies about 18 miles south-east of Mosul.ISIS Nimrud archaeological site

Many of the artifacts found there have been moved to museums in Baghdad and overseas, but many remain on site.

ISIS “assaulted the historic city of Nimrud and bulldozed it with heavy vehicles,” the tourism and antiquities ministry said on March 5.

It said the militants continued to “defy the will of the world and the feelings of humanity”, calling for a UN Security Council meeting to discuss how to protect cultural heritage in Iraq.

A local tribal source told Reuters: “Islamic State members came to the Nimrud archaeological city and looted the valuables in it and then they proceeded to level the site to the ground.

“There used to be statues and walls as well as a castle that Islamic State has destroyed completely.”

Last week, ISIS released a video apparently showing militants with sledgehammers destroying historic artifacts in a museum in Mosul.

One militant was seen drilling through and pulling apart what appeared to be a stone winged bull.

That attack was condemned by the UN as a war crime.

ISIS has controlled Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, and nearby areas since June 2014 – a region with nearly 1,800 of the country’s 12,000 registered archaeological sites.

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Iraqi troops have retaken some districts around Tikrit in their fight to recapture the city from Islamic State (ISIS).

A force of about 30,000 soldiers and militia are said to be attacking on different fronts, backed by air strikes from Iraqi jets.

Tikrit, north of the capital Baghdad, fell to ISIS militants last June.

The troops had seized control of the two districts of al-Tin, near Tikrit university north-east of the city, and the district of al-Abeid, in the west.

Earlier, fighting was also reported in al-Dour, south-east of Tikrit, as well as in al-Alam, north of the city, and nearby Qadisiya.

There were few details of the operation but army and medical sources were quoted as saying that five soldiers and 11 militia fighters had been killed.

The Pentagon said that the US was not providing any air power in support of the operation.Iraq forces Tikrit

Iraqi PM Haider al-Abadi declared the start of the operation late on March 1, as tens of thousands of troops and militia massed in the central town of Samarra.

Tikrit, in Salahuddin province, lies on the road to Mosul – Iraq’s second city which was also seized by ISIS last year.

Correspondents say the current operation is crucial to any Iraqi plans to retake Mosul.

Iraqi forces are being helped by Iran’s Gen. Qasem Soleimani, commander of the Revolutionary Guard’s Quds Force, Iranian and Iraqi media reported.

Since the ISIS advance across Iraq last summer, Gen. Qasem Soleimani has personally overseen the defense of Baghdad and helped to organize pro-Iranian Shia militia.

He has been pictured visiting the front lines north of the capital on several occasions.

Tikrit is the hometown of deposed leader Saddam Hussein and was seized last year by IS militants backed by anti-government Sunni allies loyal to Saddam’s banned Baath party.

Iraq is split between a Sunni Muslim minority, many of whom supported Saddam Hussein, and the Shia Muslim majority.

Since Saddam Hussein was toppled, Sunnis have felt increasingly marginalized by the Shia-led government in Baghdad.

Shia militia has done much of the fighting against ISIS militants but have also been accused of killing scores of Sunni civilians in apparent revenge attacks.

ISIS militants hold several areas of Salahuddin, a predominantly Sunni Muslim province.

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Islamic State (ISIS) militants have destroyed historic artefacts at a Mosul museum in Iraq.

The head of the UN agency for culture, UNESCO, has said the artefacts’ destruction is a war crime.

Irina Bokova said she was appalled by an act of “cultural cleansing”, calling for an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council to discuss the issue.

ISIS posted a video on February 26 appearing to show militants with sledgehammers smashing statues in a museum in Mosul.

Some of the artefacts date back to the 9th Century BC.

ISIS militants said the statues were “false idols” that had to be smashed.

At a news conference in Paris, Irina Bokova described the video as “a real shock”, saying she was simply unable to finish watching the footage.

“I was filled with dismay by images of the attack on the Mosul Museum,” she said.

In a statement, UNESCO stressed that under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC), the deliberate destruction of cultural heritage is a war crime.ISIS destroys artefacts at Mosul museum

The statement added that Irina Bokova had already called on the ICC to launch an investigation.

She also announced the creation of a “global coalition against the illegal trafficking of cultural goods”, adding that it would meet in coming weeks.

Meanwhile, the Louvre Museum in Paris said in a statement: “This destruction marks a new stage in the violence and horror, because all of humanity’s memory is being targeted in this region that was the cradle of civilization, the written word, and history.”

In the video released via ISIS social media sites, black-clad men push over statues, smash them with sledgehammers and use a pneumatic drill to destroy the rubble.

The video shows one man drilling through and pulling apart what appears to be a stone winged-bull, an Assyrian protective deity dating to the 7th Century BC.

One of the militants in the video seeks to justify their destruction in religious terms.

Analysts say the artefacts are unique and priceless, although the museum does also house copies of some items.

ISIS has controlled Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, since June 2014. The US military have said that an assault on the city by the Iraqi army could happen within months.

The region under ISIS control in Iraq has nearly 1,800 of Iraq’s 12,000 registered archaeological sites.

The reported destruction of the statues follows recent reports that ISIS burnt down Mosul Library, which housed over 8,000 ancient manuscripts.

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