Iraq/United States/Da’esh – The United States is willing to deploy Apache attack helicopters and advisers to help Iraq retake the city of Mosul from the Da’esh terror group as it considers options to speed up the campaign against the extremist group, a top US general said on the 1 Feb 16. US officials have said they want to accelerate the campaign against Da’esh militants, and have called on allies to increase their military contributions to efforts to destroy the group in Iraq and Syria. US Army Lieutenant General Sean MacFarland, the head of the US-led coalition battling Da’esh in Iraq and Syria, said he is looking to retake Mosul as quickly as possible, but did not say whether he agreed with Iraqi estimates that it could be wrested from Da’esh control by the end of this year. "I don't want to put a date out there," MacFarland said. "I would like to get this wrapped up as fast as I possibly can." Past steps to speed up the campaign have included the deployment of dozens of US special operations forces in northern Syria, and an elite targeting force to work with Iraqi forces to go after Da’esh targets. It could also include deployment of more military and police trainers, including from the United States. MacFarland said the US-led coalition has trained more than 17,500 Iraqi soldiers, and about 2,000 police, with another 3,000 soldiers and police in training now. MacFarland said the proposals he is drawing up do not necessarily require the commitment of more US troops, who have largely stayed away from the front lines of combat. Instead, coalition partners could contribute troops, he said. "As we extend operations across Iraq and into Syria ... there is a good potential that we'll need additional capabilities, additional forces to provide those capabilities and we're looking at the right mix," MacFarland said. The United States is also ready to send Apache attack helicopters and deploy advisers to help Iraqi and Kurdish forces retake Mosul if requested, MacFarland said. US Defence Secretary Ash Carter said in December 2015, that the United States was ready to send the advisers and helicopters if requested by Iraq to help in the fight to retake Ramadi, but Iraqi officials did not ask for the extra help. "We can't inflict help on somebody, they have to ask for it, they have to want it, and we're here to provide it as required," MacFarland said. "Everything that the secretary said is really still on the table."
Kurdistan (Autonomous Region) – Iraq's autonomous Kurdistan region should hold a non-binding referendum on independence, its president said on the 2 Feb 16, despite the numerous crises it is facing. Massoud Barzani has previously called for a referendum but set no timetable for a proposed vote. The chaos created by ISIS's occupation of swathes of Iraq and Syria has given Kurds a chance to further their long-held dream of independence. But the region is currently struggling to avert an economic collapse. "The time has come and the situation is now suitable for the Kurdish people to make a decision through a referendum on their fate," Barzani said in a statement on his website. "That referendum does not mean proclaiming statehood, but rather to know the will and opinion of the Kurdish people about independence and for the Kurdish political leadership to execute the will of the people at the appropriate time and conditions." In recent years Iraq's Kurds have sought to maximize their autonomy, building their own pipeline to Turkey and exporting oil independently as relations with the federal government in Baghdad frayed over power and revenue sharing. The global slump in oil prices however has compounded existing economic problems, bringing the region to the point of insolvency. Regional powers have historically opposed Kurdish aspirations for independence, especially neighbouring states with large Kurdish minorities of their own. The United States also says it wants the Kurds to remain part of Iraq. "If the people of Kurdistan are waiting for someone else to present the right of self-determination as a gift, independence will never be obtained. That right exists and the people of Kurdistan must demand it and put it into motion," Barzani said. Some view such calls for independence as an attempt to divert attention from internal issues and rally Kurds behind Barzani, whose mandate as president expired last year, but remains in office. "The same way that Scotland, Catalonia and Quebec and other places have the right to express their opinions about their destiny, Kurdistan too has the right, and it's non-negotiable".
Lebanon/Hezbollah/al-Qaeda – Hezbollah fighters killed at least four members of the al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front in a rocket attack on their car in north-eastern Lebanon on the 2 Feb 16, a security source said. The incident took place in a restive area near the Syrian border, just outside the Lebanese town of Arsal, which Nusra Front and Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) fighters overran briefly in 2014 before withdrawing after clashes with the army. Shi’ite Hezbollah has previously targeted Sunni Islamist fighters in the area who have staged regular incursions from Lebanon’s war-torn neighbour. Nusra Front and ISIS - themselves enemies in Syria’s conflict - have in the past week clashed in the outskirts of Arsal. Nusra Front initiated the fighting with its jihadist rival by trying to capture ISIS positions in the area, the source said. ISIS counter attacked, pushing Nusra Front out of positions it controlled east of Arsal. The clashes killed several fighters on each side, the source said. Nusra Front freed 16 Lebanese soldiers and policemen in December in exchange for the release of jailed Islamists. It had captured the soldiers during the Arsal incursion in 2014. ISIS is believed to be still holding nine soldiers it captured. The Arsal incursion and the continued presence of Nusra Front and Islamic State in the border area in northern Lebanon are an example of the spill over from the five-year-old Syrian conflict. The spill over has also included bombings, such as an ISIS-claimed suicide attack in November that killed more than 40 people in Beirut.
Lebanon/Hezbollah – Police have smashed a cell of Hezbollah agents accused of trafficking cocaine for one of the world's most ruthless drug cartels to fund the militant group's war in Syria it was reported on the 2 Feb 16. The agents, arrested in France, allegedly masterminded a massive global drug ring which raised millions of dollars to arm Hezbollah gunmen fighting for Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president, in Syria. According to America's Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), they worked directly with Colombian cocaine cartels, including a feared debt collection outfit set up by the Pablo Escobar, the late drug lord. Two years ago, one of the outfit’s sicarios, or hitmen, was arrested in Spain on suspicion of having ordered up to 400 murders worldwide. The Hezbollah agents detained by French police include alleged leaders of the group's European cell, including 45-year-old businessman Mohamad Noureddine. The DEA, which has classified him as a “specially-designated global terrorist”, accuses him of being a Lebanese money launderer for Hezbollah’s financial arm. The agency said its operation had targeted the "business affairs component" of Hezbollah’s main external security organisation, which raises money through supporters in the Lebanese business diaspora around the world. Past DEA inquiries have suggested it launders drug cash through firms exporting second-hand cars to Africa, sometimes even hiding cash inside the vehicles as they are shipped internationally. A DEA statement said: "These proceeds are used to purchase weapons for Hezbollah for its activities in Syria. This ongoing investigation once again highlights the dangerous global nexus between drug trafficking and terrorism." The DEA did not give the total number of those arrested or say where they were apprehended. But it said that seven countries, including France, Germany, Italy and Belgium, were involved in the investigation, which began last February. The US Treasury Department last week imposed sanctions against Noureddine and Hamid Zaher El Dine, another alleged Hezbollah money launderer. Noureddine's company, a Lebanese conglomerate called Trade Point International, was also placed under sanctions. “Hezbollah needs individuals like Mohamad Noureddine and Hamdi Zaher El Dine to launder criminal proceeds for use in terrorism and political destabilisation,” said Adam J. Szubin, acting under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence. The claims that Hezbollah, a Shia Muslim group, is doing business with cocaine traffickers is potentially highly embarrassing for the group, which cultivates an image of religious piety at home in Lebanon. It is also embarrassing for its main external backers, Iran, which, like Hezbollah, has also sent fighters to support the regime in Damascus. The decision of Hezbollah and the Revolutionary Guard to help Assad, a fellow Shia, has been cited as one of the main reasons for the conflict escalating into sectarian civil war. Outlining how the money-laundering scheme worked, the DEA said it had uncovered an intricate network of Hezbollah money couriers. They transported millions of Euros in drug proceeds from Europe to the Middle East. That currency was then paid in Colombia to drug traffickers using the Hawala system, a Middle Eastern form of "money wire", whereby trusted intermediates pay out cash in one country once a counter-payment has been made in another. The DEA added that Hizbollah’s business arm was still laundering "significant drug proceeds" via the "Black Market Peso Exchange", a complex system set up by Latino drug cartels that effectively acts as their own international currency network. First pioneered in the 1980s, when drug lords like Escobar found themselves overwhelmed by the sheer amount of cash they were earning, the system launders drug cash by giving it indirectly to legitimate Colombian businessmen to purchase US consumer goods for sale in Colombia. The DEA's accusations hint at the scale of the global cocaine smuggling network, and the symbiotic relationship between paramilitary groups and professional drug traffickers. Hezbollah has long been known to have a particularly active global fundraising network, taking advantage of the large Lebanese diaspora communities who have fled successive wars in the country over the last century. Today Lebanese are well represented in both West Africa and Latin America, where they run hotels, shops and import-export businesses. Within those communities are a number of Hezbollah supporters, who are said to move freely between the US and South America by using forged passports issued from Venezuela. The DEA investigation also links Hezbollah to a Colombian cartel known as La Oficina de Envigado, which was set up as a debt collection and dispute resolution outfit by Escobar's Medellin cartel. Named after the city of Envigado where it was first set up, it now also sells drugs itself, and also runs casinos to launder cash. In 2014, a Colombian hitman nicknamed "The Mouse", was accused of orchestrating at least 400 murders for La Oficina de Envigado, was arrested outside Alicante in Spain.
Syria/Turkey/Saudi Arabia – The Turkish deployment, which Ankara has so far failed to confirm, could be a game-changer in the war against Islamic State, which has spilled over from Syria to Turkey in recent months. It came as Saudi Arabia pledged to support any US-led alliance with troops on the ground it was reported on the 4 Feb 16 . Saudi defence minister Brigadier General Ahmed Asseri said: "The kingdom is now ready to participate in any ground operations that the coalition (against Islamic State) may agree to carry out in Syria." Major General Igor Konashenkov, the Kremlin's Defence Ministry spokesman, said images of a checkpoint on the Turkish-Syrian border taken in late October and late January show a build-up of vehicles that could be used for moving in troops, ammunition and weapons. The defence chief declared: "We have serious grounds to suspect intensive preparations by Turkey for a military invasion on the territory of the sovereign state of Syria. "We are recording more and more signs of concealed preparations by the Turkish military." Any military intervention in Syria by Turkish armed forces could spark a conflict with Russia. Footage obtained by Russia Today claimed to show satellite images of military vehicles and a base located in a mountain range along the Turkish-Syrian border.
Also – (http://english.alarabiya.net/en/2016/02/04/Saudi-Arabia-ready-to-join-ground-operation-in-Syria-.html)
Syria/United Arab Emirates – The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is ready to send ground troops to Syria as part of an international coalition to fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group, a top official has said on the 7 Feb 16. The announcement comes just days after Saudi Arabia expressed the same position, saying that it was prepared to deploy troops to fight ISIL in Syria if the US-led coalition were to agree. "Our position throughout has been that a real campaign against [ISIL] has to include a ground force," the UAE's Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash said at a news conference in Abu Dhabi on the 7 Feb. Gargash added that "US leadership on this" would also be a prerequisite for the UAE. He did not elaborate about how many troops the UAE could send - but added: "We are not talking about thousands of troops". Saudi Arabia, which has targeted ISIL with air strikes since the campaign began in Syria in September 2014, said on the 4 Feb 16 it was ready to provide ground forces to defeat the armed group. "We know that air strikes cannot be enough and that a ground operation is needed. We need to combine both to achieve better results on the ground," Brigadier General Ahmed Asseri said. Syria, however, responded by warning against foreign intervention, threatening all foreign army soldiers who enter the country without President Bashar al-Assad's government's agreement. "Any ground intervention in Syria, without the consent of the Syrian government, will be considered an aggression that should be resisted by every Syrian citizen," Syria's Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem said on the 6 Feb 16. "I regret to say that they will return home in wooden coffins." Muallem appeared to indicate a boosted confidence that the government's recent military advances against opposition fighters in Aleppo put it "on track" towards winning the five-year civil war. "Like it or not, our battlefield achievements indicate that we are headed towards the end of the crisis," he said, before calling on rebel fighters to "come to their senses" and lay down their weapons. 361 COMMENT: We are now seeing the desire to end the IS crisis. With Saudi Arabia, the UAE and possibly Turkey joining an Islamic coalition the fall of the IS in Iraq and with the Russians in Syria will be near. No dout successes in Yemen will give them a much needed boost. What would be left is the ideology of the group and the remnants will no doubt move to Libya where they are growing stronger. The emphasis will move from the Region and on to Africa and more importantly Europe. Like it or not this fight still has a great deal of mileage in it and the sooner the terrorist group is moved from Arabia the better. When the group moves to Libya it will be important for Europe and possibly the United States to finish them once and for all. But it will be necessary for the European powers to ensure that the Islamic State does not grow too strong in North Africa. Talk of sending trainers to Libya has already started and must be followed through now and not wait until the group has a firm footage in the country. COMMENT ENDS
Syria – A car bomb struck close to a market and a police club in the north of the Syrian capital Damascus on the 9 Feb 16 causing casualties, state media reported. SANA news agency said at least three people were killed and 14 injured in a "terrorist car bomb" attack near a vegetable market in Masaken Barzeh district. "The attack also caused material damage to the nearby building of the General Establishment for Mills," it added. State TV said the blast occurred near a police officers' club, inflicting casualties. Syrian TV, quoting a source in the interior ministry, reported that a car had tried to ram into the police officers' club in the area, but was stopped by guards. While the capital has been largely spared, a multiple bomb attack near the Sayyida Zeinab shrine outside the city killed at least 71 people in Jan 16.