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BEIRUT, August 20, 2018 (News Wires) - The US-led coalition in the war against the Islamic State group says one of its service members has been killed in an aircraft crash in Iraq.

The coalition's statement says the cause of the crash, which took place early on Monday, is under investigation. The aircraft did not appear to have been shot down.

The coalition did not immediately identify the name or nationality of the deceased service member. It did not say what kind of aircraft was involved and whether it was a helicopter.

It says coalition forces rescued all the personnel immediately following the crash. The coalition says three service members were evacuated for treatment.

BAGHDAD, August 20, 2018 (News Wires) - Iraq’s Supreme Court has ratified the results of the May 12 parliamentary election, its spokesman said, setting in motion a 90-day constitutional deadline for the winning parties to form a government.

Parliament in June ordered a nationwide manual recount of the results, which were tallied electronically, after a government report said there were widespread violations and blamed the electoral commission.

Yet the recount showed little had changed from the initial results as populist Shi’ite Muslim cleric Moqtada al-Sadr retained his lead, positioning him to play a central role in forming the country’s next government.

“The Supreme Federal Court issued on the afternoon of Aug. 19, 2018, its decision to ratify the names received,” its spokesman Iyas al-Samouk said in a statement.

The ratification makes the results formal and lawmakers now have to gather and elect a speaker, then president and finally a prime minister and cabinet within 90 days.

ABU DHABI, August 19, 2018 (News Wires) - US forces will stay in Iraq "as long as needed" to help stabilise regions previously controlled by Islamic State, a spokesman for the US-led international coalition fighting the militants said on Sunday.

"We'll keep troops there as long as we think they're needed ... The main reason, after IS(Islamic State) is defeated militarily is the stabilisation efforts and we still need to be there for that, so that's one of the reasons we'll maintain a presence," Colonel Sean Ryan told a news conference in Abu Dhabi.

BAGHDAD, August 18, 2018 (MENA) - As many as 347 displaced Iraqis have returned to Mosul city, coming from Syria, the Iraqi Ministry of Migration and Displacement said on Saturday.

In a statement broadcast by Alsumaria news channel, the ministry said that its buses managed to bring 74 Iraqi families back from Al Hawl refugee camp in Syria to a camp in Mosul.

Further batches of Iraqi refugees will be back from Al Hawl camp in accordance with a plan that has been outlined by the ministry in coordination with the Syrian side, said the statement.

The ministry announced earlier that 446 Iraqis had returned home from Syria.

IRBIL, Iraq, August 17, 2018 (News Wires) - Iraqi security officials said on Friday that the Iraq's air force carried out two airstrikes targeting Islamic State group inside Syria, killing at least 28 IS militants.

They say one of the two airstrikes by F-16s targeted a meeting of would-be suicide bombers who intended to strike in Iraq during next week's Muslim Eid al-Adha holiday.

About 20 militants were killed in that airstrike, while eight died in the second one. Both targets were inside Syria near the Iraqi border.

Iraq announced the strikes on Thursday but details on targets and casualties only emerged on Friday. The statement said the targets were identified by the Eagles Cell, Iraq's top counterterrorism agency.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.




BAGHDAD, August 14, 2018 (AFP) - In a dusty Baghdad dance studio, conductor Mohammed Amin Ezzat tries to fire up the musicians of Iraq’s National Symphony Orchestra, whose enthusiasm has been dampened by eight months without pay.

An ageing air conditioner fights to beat back the summer heat in the cramped space at the capital’s School of Music and Ballet as the 57-year-old maestro leads the group through a rehearsal of Modest Mussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain.

The shaggy-haired Ezzat and the 40 musicians surrounding him are gearing up to perform at Baghdad’s National Theatre on Saturday, but the group’s morale is at an all-time low.

The ensemble has lost more than half its members since the start of the year, when the government issued a directive barring state employees with two jobs from receiving two salaries.

The anti-corruption measure was suggested by the World Bank and should affect only about a third of the orchestra’s musicians, but because of delays in carrying out the reform wages have been withheld from the entire group.

“The orchestra is in great danger,” Ezzat said. “Some don’t have enough money to come, and others are disappointed by the impact of politics on the orchestra.”

Officially created in 1970 after several unsuccessful attempts, Iraq’s national orchestra has survived decades of upheaval.

It has survived wars, an invasion, a 12-year international embargo and a devastating three-year battle against Islamic State group, which came to an end last year.

But this may be the last straw for the outfit, a collateral victim of Iraq’s “war on corruption”.

“Not being paid for eight months has had a terrible psychological effect on the musicians, but we’ll continue to resist peacefully with our music,” said Ezzat, who became the orchestra’s first Iraqi conductor in 1989.

“We’re on the precipice but sure that we won’t jump.”

When all its salaries are tallied up - including the maestro’s US$1,200 a month, peanuts for a major conductor - the orchestra costs the state about US$85,000 a year.

The sum is a pittance compared to the exorbitant figures siphoned off by ministers and high officials who have either fled or been arrested.

The conductor, his daughter Noor, a timpanist, and his sons Hossam and Islam, who play the cello and viola respectively, have all been without a salary since January.

But according to Raed Allawi, the head of administrative affairs at Iraq’s culture ministry, there is no reason to panic — the wages will soon be paid.

“The finance ministry has asked for a regularisation of contracts. Verification measures are under way and this explains the late payment of wages,” Allawi said.

“The orchestra is one of the country’s cultural showcases (and the ministry) respects its artists and their talent.”

For the symphony’s musicians, however, these are empty words they have heard already.

‘Two professions, same passion’

Saad al-Dujaily, a professor of medicine and a flutist, thinks the measure is regressive.

“I’ve been an obstetrician and a flute player since I was very young,” he said.

Because of the directive, the 57-year-old practitioner — who teaches at Baghdad’s al-Nahrain University and plays in the national orchestra — is now entitled to only one salary.

“In Iraq, we’re proud to have more than one job, to have more than one love, to practise two professions with the same love and passion,” said Dujaily, who plans to continue with the orchestra to help preserve its quality.

Further along into the rehearsal, the studio’s electricity cuts, a common occurrence in a country plagued by power outages.

The orchestra cannot afford the diesel to fuel the building’s generator.

But the musicians play on in the windowless room, using their cell phones to illuminate the sheet music.

“There have been crises in the past, but this is the worst,” said Doaa Majid al-Azzawi, an oboe player.

“Especially since my father and I are musicians. We don’t know what will happen, but if the orchestra has to stop, it’s culture in Iraq that will be dealt a deadly blow,” the 25-year-old said.

When the studio’s lights eventually make a flickering return, so too does the players’ enthusiasm, and the music swells.

“As long as we live, music will live. It’s our culture,” said Noor, the conductor’s daughter.

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