More than 700 were killed in Syria over the course of July 18-19, in what the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) called the bloodiest 48 hours in the conflict to date. SOHR president Rami Abdul Rahman compared the violence to the gas attack in Ghouta last year, which he said killed some 500. The dead were mostly from fighting between ISIS and pro-government forces in clashes over the Shaar gas field near Homs. Reports of ISIS atrocities in Syria continue to mount. ISIS militants reportedly carried out the stoning of a woman charged with adultery in the stadium of Tabqa city July 18. SOHR said residents resisted ISIS pressure to participate in the stoning. (Asharq Al-Awsat, July 20)
Iraqi security forces and militias affiliated with the government appear to have unlawfully executed at least 255 prisoners in six Iraqi cities and villages since June 9, Human Rights Watch reported July 11. The report notes: "The vast majority of security forces and militias are Shia, while the murdered prisoners were Sunni." At least eight of those killed were boys under age 18. The mass extrajudicial killings, which appear to be revenge killings for atrocities by ISIS, may be evidence of war crimes or crimes against humanity, HRW said. "Gunning down prisoners is an outrageous violation of international law," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at HRW. "While the world rightly denounces the atrocious acts of ISIS, it should not turn a blind eye to sectarian killing sprees by government and pro-government forces." HRW called for an international commission of inquiry to investigate violations of the laws of war by all sides in the Iraq conflict.
Iraq's government warned the UN July 10 that ISIS-led Sunni militants have seized 40 kilograms nuclear materials used for research at a university in Mosul. The letter appealed for international help to "stave off the threat of their use by terrorists in Iraq or abroad." US officials reportedly played down the threat, saying the materials were not believed to include enriched uranium. In a similar letter two days earlier, Iraqi officials said ISIS have taken control of a former chemical weapons facility at Muthanna northwest of Baghdad, where remnants of 2,500 rockets filled decades ago with the nerve agent sarin are stored along with other chemical agents. The US government again played down the threat from the takeover, saying it would be very difficult, if not impossible, to use the seized material for military purposes. (BBC News, July 10; AP, July 8)
We have already pointed out that Bob Dreyfuss is an intellectually dishonest coward. But his latest in The Nation is actually refreshingly honest, if utterly repugnant. The stateside Bashar Assad fan club rarely plays its hand so openly as he does in his new exercise in dictator-shilling, unabashedly entitled "US Should Back Syria's Assad Against ISIS"! Dreyfuss favorably quotes former US ambassador to Iraq and Afghanistan Ryan Crocker's obscene remarks in the New York Times a few months back that "Assad Is the Least Worst Option." He also similarly endorses recent comments to the same effect from Leslie Gelb in the same NY Times that "leftists" once derided as an organ of the imperial elite. He writes with wide-eyed credulity that Assad has "wrongly been accused of covertly supporting ISIS." That's pretty hilarious. This is the same Bob Dreyfuss who has been arguing for years (see, e.g. his Jan. 26, 2006 performance on Democracy Now!) that Israel covertly backed Hamas as a stratagem against Fatah before things got out of control. But he summarily dismisses the notion that Assad similarly backed the jihadists as a stratagem against the secular opposition before things similarly got out of control. However, there are more fundamental faults here...
Days after declaring a new "caliphate" and formally renaming itself simply the "Islamic State," to emphasize its pretensions to world domination, ISIS has claimed possession of at least one Scud ballistic missile. The militant group published photographs of what appeared to be a Scud paraded on the back on a truck surrounded by masked men in the Syrian city of Raqqa—the proclaimed capital of their "caliphate." The missile was presumably seized from either Iraqi or Syrian military forces. In a voice-over with the video message, "caliph" Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi issued a worldwide call to jihad, beseeching Muslims to rise up and avenge wrongs committed against their faith from Central African Republic to Burma. (Al Arabiya, July 2)
The US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled (PDF) July 1 that the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia erred in concluding that it lacked jurisdiction over a case of alleged torture in the Abu Ghraib prison because the alleged abuses occurred in Iraq. The case was brought in 2009 by four plaintiffs against military contractor CACI International Inc, accusing the company of crimes against humanity, sexual assault, torture and other violations at Abu Ghraib prison. Applying the fact-based inquiry articulated by the US Supreme Court in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co, the court held that the plaintiffs' claims "touch and concern" the territory of the US with sufficient force to displace the presumption against extraterritorial application of the Alien Tort Statute. The court did not reach the conclusion, however, that the issue was not a political question and thus remanded the case to the district court to undertake factual development of the record to make that determination.
The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) on June 29 announced the establishment of a "caliphate," and declared its own chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi to be the caliph and "leader for Muslims everywhere." Said ISIS spokesman Abu Mohammad al-Adnani: "The Shura [council] of the Islamic State met and discussed this issue [of the caliphate]... The Islamic State decided to establish an Islamic caliphate and to designate a caliph for the state of the Muslims... The jihadist cleric Baghdadi was designated the caliph of the Muslims." The statement said the group is to be henceforth known simply the Islamic State. "The words 'Iraq' and 'the Levant' have been removed from the name of the Islamic State in official papers and documents," Adnani said, describing the caliphate as "the dream in all the Muslims' hearts" and "the hope of all jihadists." (Al Arabiya, June 29)
The ISIS militants that have seized Iraq's northern city of Mosul have, not surprisingly, been engaging in a campaign of cultural cleansing—targeting not only the city's inhabitants, but its artistic and historical treasures. Religious buildings, cemeteries and public art have been destroyed or defaced, witnesses say. Among the destroyed works are sculptures of 19th-century musician and composer Osman al-Muesli and Abbasid-era poet Abu Tammam. The grave of Ibn Athir, a philosopher and chronicler who travelled with Saladin during the 12th century, is also reported destroyed. ISIS consider visiting religious sites to be idol worship, and have also destroyed many shrines and other ancient buildings in Syria. A jizya tax has been imposed on the city's Christian population, but most of the area's Christians—some 160 families—fled before the ISIS advance. (Aydinlik, Turkey, June 21)