BAGHDAD / LONDON: Air strikes in northern Iraq yesterday killed the top aide of jihadist Islamic State (IS) chief Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi, the country’s ranking army officer said.
“Iraqi warplanes carried out a security operation today, resulting in the killing of... Abu Hajr Al Suri,” General Babaker Zebari said. Zebari said the strikes in Nineveh province were “based on accurate intelligence information,” and that the target was destroyed.
It was not possible to independently confirm Suri’s death.
The area where the strikes were carried out, located between Mosul and Tal Afar, is outside government control, posing a major challenge to verifying Suri’s death.
IS-led militants launched a major offensive in June, overrunning Iraq’s second city Mosul and then sweeping through much of the country’s Sunni Arab heartland.
The group also holds significant territory in neighbouring Syria, and has declared a cross-border Islamic “caliphate” in which it has carried out atrocities that have shocked the world.
IS launched a renewed push in Iraq last month that drove Kurdish forces back toward the capital of their autonomous northern region, sparking a campaign of US air strikes that have helped them regain some ground.
The federal government won its first major military success of the conflict on Sunday, when Iraqi forces, Shiite militiamen and Kurdish fighters broke a months-long jihadist siege of the town of Amerli and surrounding areas.
Meanwhile, the United States expressed concern yesterday that undeclared Syrian chemical weapons could fall into the hands of Islamist extremists.
David Cameron has for the first time opened a legal path to strike Islamic State (Isis) inside Syria by saying Bashar Al Assad’s government is illegitimate.
He suggested the west would not need an invitation from Assad under international law to strike at Isis within Syrian borders.
Speaking at the start of the Nato summit in Wales, Cameron ramped up the case for UK involvement in air strikes in Iraq, saying that Isis represented a direct threat to the UK - and that decisions on strikes would be taken if they were in the national interest.
The prime minister, speaking in a round of broadcast interviews ahead of a meeting with the US president, Barack Obama, also disclosed he wanted to do more to arm Kurds, as well as potentially even train some of their battalions so they can defend their minorities and people.
Cameron is still treading cautiously — aware of the need to bring public and political opinion with him, as well as to ensure a regional coalition is in place determined to defeat Isis with the support of largely western-led air power.
America has launched as many as 140 air strikes but British air power has so far only been involved in humanitarian aid and some reconnaissance. But Cameron’s remarks suggest a case for British involvement is being assembled.
In his interviews yesterday, he repeatedly said it was necessary to learn the lessons of the past, adding he was not seeking to impose a solution over the heads of the countries in the regions, but instead to build an international coalition. He added there was “a crying need for the Iraqi government” to be reformed so that it was broadly based and non-sectarian. Asked if he now supported air strikes he said: “I certainly don’t rule anything out and I absolutely do think that Islamic State is a direct threat to the United Kingdom.”
US Ambassador Samantha Power raised the concerns as a joint UN and Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons mission winds up an drive to eliminate Syria’s chemical arsenal.
The mission is supposed to formally conclude its work by September 30, but its chief Sigrid Kaag said there were still “discrepancies and questions” related to Syria’s weapons declarations.
“The international community must continue to press for a resolution of all discrepancies and omissions,” said Power.
“The US is concerned about all discrepancies and also the potential that there are real omissions in the declaration,” she added.
Power said the Security Council, currently presided by the United States, “intends to stay very much on top of this.”
“Extremist groups have terrorized everyone they come into contact with in Syria and Iraq and these weapons stocks, if there are any left, could fall into their hands,” she said.
The United States has launched an air campaign against Islamic State militants as they have swept through large parts of Iraq from strongholds in Syria.
Power also recalled that the Syrian regime had carried out chemical weapons attacks itself, particularly on August 21 2013 in a Damascus suburb.
Kaag, delivering her last report to the Security Council as the mission’s chief, said Damascus had presented “four amendments” to its weapons declaration, and that there had been “constructive” discussions on certain discrepancies, including the volume of toxic chemicals declared.
A total of 1,300 tonnes of chemical agents have been removed from Syria and subsequently destroyed at sea.