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WAR REPORT
49 dead in Syria regime raid in Idlib province: monitor
by Staff Writers
Beirut (AFP) June 8, 2015


Obama urges greater effort to halt foreign fighters entering Syria
Elmau Castle, Germany (AFP) June 8, 2015 - Thousands of foreign jihadists are still flooding into Syria to fight, US President Barack Obama warned Monday, as he urged greater efforts to halt the flow, particularly through the porous Turkish border.

"Not all of that is preventable, but a lot of it is preventable if we've got better cooperation, better coordination, better intelligence, if we are monitoring what's happening at the Turkish-Syria border more effectively," said Obama after meeting Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi on the sidelines of the G7 summit in Germany.

The United States is leading a coalition aimed at eliminating Islamic State jihadists in Iraq that has unleashed 4,000 air strikes on IS positions, helping Baghdad to drive the jihadists out of some of their strongholds.

The militants launched a lightning offensive a year ago and quickly snatched over a third of Iraq's territory, declaring a "caliphate" with parts of Syria they also control.

They still hold much of western Iraq and have in recent weeks proven capable of snatching new territory.

Obama said that cutting off the flow of foreign fighters would "isolate and wear out (IS) forces that are already there because we're taking a lot of them off the battlefield.

"But if they're being replenished, then it doesn't solve the problem over the long term," he said.

"This is an area where we've been seeking deeper cooperation with Turkish authorities who recognise it's a problem, but haven't fully ramped up the capacity they need, and this is something that I think we've got to spend a lot of time on," said Obama.

The president said another key issue was that some of the Iraqi forces were simply not battle ready.

"So we want to get more Iraqi security forces trained, fresh, well equipped, and focused, and Prime Minister Abadi wants the same thing," said Obama.

However, Obama said the Iraqi side needed to make commitments on "how recruitment takes place, how that training takes place".

"One of the things we're still seeing is, in (some places in Iraq) we've got more training capacity than we have recruits," he said, reiterating a coalition push for the Shiite leadership to tap the Sunnis.

Ancient sectarian tensions between the Shiite and Sunni sects of Islam run deep in Iraq.

The coalition has pushed for Sunni tribal fighters to be trained to fight the largely Sunni IS fighters in their own areas, but Shiite-ruled Baghdad is reticent to arm a population it fears may turn on it.

At least 49 civilians, including six children, were killed on Monday in Syrian government air strikes on a town in Idlib province in the country's northwest, a monitoring group said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the raids hit a square in the town of Al-Janudiyah, in the west of the province, which is now almost completely controlled by opposition forces.

"It's a public square, and a lot of people gather there because there are shops," said Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman.

He told AFP that people displaced from other areas of Idlib province had also sought refuge in Al-Janudiyah.

Regime military aircraft fired missiles on the town, he said.

Video uploaded on the YouTube website by activists showed absolute chaos in the aftermath of the strikes, with the air thick with grey smoke and dust and the square scattered with the rubble of buildings and the body parts of victims.

One video showed men picking through rubble next to the twisted metal of a mangled mini-bus as an older woman ran past gripping the hand of a child.

Other footage, apparently filmed later, showed members of the local civil defence force joining the rescue mission, and at least one bulldozer clearing rubble from the square.

Al-Janudiyah has been under opposition control since 2013, but much of Idlib province has only recently fallen to a rebel alliance that includes Al-Qaeda affiliate Al-Nusra Front.

Known as the Army of Conquest, the alliance has swept through the province since seizing the provincial capital Idlib city on March 28.

Since then, it has taken the key strategic town of Jisr al-Shughur, as well as the largest military base in the province.

The advances have left regime forces with only a handful of positions in the province.

But the army has continued to wage war from the air, using both conventional air strikes and deadly barrel bombs -- containers packed with crude explosives and shrapnel that have been condemned by rights groups for being indiscriminate.

The Islamic State: A year of death and destruction
Baghdad (AFP) June 8, 2015 - The Islamic State jihadist group launched a sweeping offensive a year ago that overran large chunks of Iraqi territory, led to thousands of deaths and displaced millions of people.

These are some key events in the conflict:

2014

JUNE:

9: IS-led offensive begins in Iraq's second city Mosul.

10: Mosul falls and the surrounding province of Nineveh follows as multiple Iraqi security forces divisions collapse. Then-premier Nuri al-Maliki announces the government will arm citizens who volunteer to fight.

11: Tikrit, another major city north of Baghdad, falls.

13: Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq's top Shiite cleric, calls on Iraqis to take up arms against IS.

IS claims it executed 1,700 mainly Shiite recruits, releasing photos showing the killings.

29: IS declares a cross-border Islamic "caliphate" in Iraq and Syria, headed by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

AUGUST:

2: IS launches a renewed northern offensive, driving Iraqi Kurdish forces back and targeting minority groups with mass killings, enslavement and rape.

Thousands of members of the Yazidi religious minority are besieged on Mount Sinjar, drawing international concern and calls for intervention.

8: US begins air strikes in Iraq. An international coalition follows suit.

14: Maliki, whose policies helped fuel IS's rise, steps aside, and is replaced by Haider al-Abadi.

19: IS says it has beheaded US journalist James Foley, releasing a video of the killing.

Similar shocking beheadings take the lives of journalists Steven Sotloff, Kenji Goto, aid workers David Haines, Alan Henning and Peter Kassig, and Goto's friend Haruna Yukawa.

22: Shiite militiamen gun down 70 people in an apparent revenge attack at a Sunni mosque in Diyala province.

SEPTEMBER:

23: Anti-IS air campaign expands to Syria.

OCTOBER:

25: Abadi declares first significant government victory, in the Jurf al-Sakhr area near Baghdad.

29: IS executes dozens of Albu Nimr tribesmen. More mass killings follow.

NOVEMBER:

14: Iraqi forces recapture the strategic town of Baiji, but subsequently lose it.

2015 JANUARY:

25: Witnesses and Sunni leaders accuse Shiite militiamen of executing over 70 residents in Diyala province.

26: Staff Lieutenant General Abdulamir al-Zaidi announces Diyala has been "liberated" from IS.

FEBRUARY: 3: IS video shows Jordanian pilot Maaz al-Kassasbeh being burned alive in a cage after his December capture in Syria.

26: IS releases video of militants destroying priceless ancient artefacts in a Mosul museum.

MARCH:

2: Iraq launches massive operation to retake Tikrit from IS.

5: Iraq says IS has begun "bulldozing" the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud. IS later releases a video of militants smashing artefacts before blowing up the site.

31: Abadi announces Tikrit has been retaken, a victory marred by pro-government forces burning and looting dozens of houses and shops.

APRIL: 5: IS releases video of militants destroying artefacts at the ancient city of Hatra, a UNESCO world heritage site.

MAY:

17: IS seizes Anbar capital Ramadi, which along with the capture of Palmyra in Syria a few days later signal its most significant victories in almost a year.


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