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DISASTER MANAGEMENT
Near Mosul, soldiers and displaced meet at the spa
By Wilson Fache
Hammam Al-Alil, Iraq (AFP) April 10, 2017


More than 200 people from Germany fighting IS: ministry
Berlin (AFP) April 10, 2017 - More than 200 people have travelled from Germany to fight with Kurdish militias against the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq, the interior ministry reported Monday.

Sixty-nine of the 204 fighters are German nationals, the ministry added in a statement on the issue which is particularly delicate for German-Turkish relations.

The official data did not include fighters for the peshmerga, the armed forces of Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region.

Among the volunteers who have travelled from Germany since 2013, 102 have returned including 43 German citizens.

Three have been killed including one fighter in a Turkish air strike on a Syrian village last November.

The ministry said the exact circumstances of the raid were unclear: "There was no occasion to discuss his death with the Turkish government."

The information was released following a formal query by an MP from the far-left opposition party Die Linke.

The MP, Ulla Jelpke, criticised the findings, calling it "scandalous" that Berlin had failed to investigate the death in the Turkish raid.

The German government warns against travel to the areas of heavy fighting in Iraq and Syria.

But it does not actively dissuade the fighters with the Kurdish forces or consider them to be a security risk upon their return "as opposed to those who return from areas under the control of the Islamists in Syria/Iraq", the ministry said.

Hundreds of foreign fighters have fought alongside the Kurds in Syria, of whom at least 25 have been killed, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor says.

The United States is arming and training the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), but questions remain over how much support Washington should give the Kurdish component of the alliance given concerns from Turkey, a NATO partner which views the Kurdish fighters as "terrorists".

Turkey appears to be sidelined as the SDF including Kurdish fighters are laying the groundwork for an assault on the heart of the jihadists' so-called caliphate.

White House warns Syria on chemical, barrel bomb use
Washington (AFP) April 10, 2017 - The White House on Monday warned Syria that further use of chemical weapons or chlorine-laden barrel bombs could bring US military retaliation.

Broadening its warning to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, White House spokesman Sean Spicer indicated that such attacks were unacceptable.

"If you gas a baby or drop a barrel bomb onto innocent people, you will see a response from this president," Spicer said.

A second US official clarified that Spicer was referring to crude bombs that have sometimes been laced with industrial chlorine.

Barrel bombs more broadly are crude munitions notorious for causing indiscriminate casualties and are used frequently during the Syrian war, according to experts and rights groups.

Assad denies his forces use the weapon.

Trump last week ordered missile strikes against an air field in Syria that US intelligence believes was used to carry out an attack with the chemical agent sarin.

The White House also doubled down on its rhetoric on the need for Syria's leader to step down.

"You can't imagine a stable and peaceful Syria with Assad in charge," said Spicer.

Hammam al-Alil's sulphur springs and reopened spa have become a spot where the soldiers fighting in Mosul and the civilians fleeing it meet for a rare moment of relaxation.

"We fight on the front line and we come here when we get leave," said Sahad Mohammed Jaber, a 32-year-old member of a federal police artillery unit.

"We relax, take a bath and go back to battle," said the young fighter, walking around the dilapidated spa in his dripping wet white socks and a police cap tightly fitted to the brow.

Hammam al-Alil lies a half-hour drive south of the front line in west Mosul, where thousands of Iraqi forces are attempting to root out diehard Islamic State group jihadists defending their last major bastion in Iraq.

The town on the west bank of the Tigris river was retaken in the early stages of an offensive, Iraq's largest military operation in years, that began almost six months ago.

Hammam al-Alil, which means "The bath of the sick" in Arabic, is well known across Iraq and, even though the spa's white tiles are peeling off the walls, it provides a much needed space for leisure.

One soldier does a backflip into one of the round pools of warm sulphur water while others have their backs rubbed down with soap.

The spa is also open to the tens of thousands of civilian men who continue to flee Mosul every week as Iraqi forces advance through the city's western half.

Some of them live in tents in a large and overcrowded displacement camp just a few minutes south of Hammam al-Alil where everything from drinking water to food and latrines are in short supply.

More than 200,000 people have already fled west Mosul since a renewed offensive there was launched in mid-February and after crossing paths on the front line, soldiers and civilians meet again at the spa.

"I fled from the Yarmuk neighbourhood but Daesh caught me," said Mohammed Aziz, who walked from the camp for the displaced with his son, brother and cousin.

- 'These people were dirty' -

"They took my ID, hit me on the head and searched me before killing people who were fleeing in front me," he recounted as he came out of the shower.

"Many people, families... 19 people in total. They assassinated children the age of my son," he said, squeezing Omar, his five-year-old boy.

"I made it out alive by saying I had a sponsor" in the Islamic State group, he said, water dripping from his hair.

After spending close to three years of his life trapped in the "caliphate" that IS proclaimed, Aziz said he was delighted to dip in the same pool as the people the jihadists see as heretics deserving death.

"There are people from Basra, Diwaniya, Karbala, Baghdad... the people of the south are my brothers," he said with a broad smile.

Iraq's south is mostly Shiite while Mosul is overwhelmingly Sunni.

While the regular forces are not recruited along sectarian lines, their make-up reflects the country's demography and the majority of the fighters involved in the six-month-old operation against IS are Shiite.

The staff at the Hammam al-Ali spa are also happy to see the place crowded again.

"Under Daesh, people had no money so very few people came," said Hussein Abdallah, one of the spa's employees. "Thank God, now salaries are being paid again and the security forces also come here."

There were some regular visitors under the caliphate, Abdallah recalled.

"Daesh fighters would always come here. They would go to fight and then come here after the battle," he said, listing some of their nationalities: "Iraqis, Europeans, Chechens, Chinese..."

"When we retook this area, we changed the water," said Laith Ali Farhan, a government fighter. "Because you know, these people were very dirty."

DISASTER MANAGEMENT
Colombia orders protection for musdlide town
Bogota (AFP) April 9, 2017
Colombia's government on Sunday ordered measures to protect the stricken town of Mocoa from deforestation thought to have contributed to a deadly mudslide. The March 31 torrent of earth killed 316 people including more than 100 children after three rivers flooded near the Amazon town, according to authorities. Environment Minister Luis Alberto Murillo announced that the at-risk area wher ... read more

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