Egypt's former foreign minister, Mohammed al-Orabi, said Aug. 9 that President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi will coordinate with Arab countries to send military forces to confront ISIS. Orabi called for an "Arab Alliance" prepared "to repel any aggression or mobilization undertaken by ISIL against Gulf countries." He said "Sisi will intervene quickly to counter any aggression against those countries. Sisi will intervene immediately to protect them." (IraqiNews.com) The Pentagon meanwhile announced a new round of air-strikes, this time closer to Mount Sinjar, where the Yazidis remain beseiged. Read a statement by US Central Command: "US fighters and remotely piloted aircraft struck one of two ISIL armored personnel carriers firing on Yazidi civilians near Sinjar, destroying the APC." Kurdish Peshmerga forces with US air support opened a road to Mount Sinjar, allowing some 5,000 Yazidis to flee into Syrian territory. (Al Jazeera, AP via Lebanon Daily Star, AP via FoxNews) ISIS-held Mosul is reported to be partially without electricity or water. Foreign oil company personnel are flying out of Erbil, the Kurdish capital, where residents are arming themselves in anticipation of an ISIS assault. (Tehran Times) President Obama said that air-strikes will continue for as long as necessary. "I'm not going to give a particular timetable," he said shortly before leaving for a summer vacation at Martha's Vineyard. "We are going to maintain vigilance." (USA Today)
US jets and drones carried out air-strikes outside Erbil Aug. 8 in an effort to drive back the ISIS advance on the Kurdish regional capital. The targets included ISIS positions in Makhmour, about 60 kilometers southwest of Erbil, and a convoy of seven vehicles headed towards the city. The Pentagon said four aircraft executed two passes over the convoy, dropping a total of eight laser-guided bombs. (IraqNews) Peshmerga forces are delivering aid by helicopter to the besieged Yazidis on Mount Shingal. The aid was provided by Rwanga Foundation, run by Kurdish politician Idris Nechirvan Barzani. The number of those stranded on the mountain has been upped to some 100,000. US aircraft have also dropped supplies to the mountaintop. (Rudaw) Iraqi military planes struck the ISIS-held town of Gwier, outside Mosul, claiming some 130 militants dead and several humvees destroyed. (BasNews)
Well, this is surreal. In authorizing US air-strikes in northern Iraq, President Obama invoked the responsibility to protect the Yazidis from ISIS and avert a potential "genocide." Before the missiles fall, there will be air-drops of aid to the several thousand Yazidis besieged on a mountaintop in Sinjar, Nineveh governorate, driven from their homes below by ISIS militants. Said Obama: "Earlier this week, one Iraqi cried that there is no one coming to help. Well, today America is coming to help." (AP, AFP, NYT, Aug. 7) We have been noting for years the growing persecution and attacks on the Yazidis as jihadists have been unleashed in the decade since the US invasion, and warning of the threat of genocide. But too small to matter in the Great Power game, their plight was little noted by the outside world. Now their name is on the lips of the leader of the West, and in the global headlines.
Kurdish Peshmerga forces took control of the town of Zumar near Iraq's border with Syria Aug. 1, routing ISIS militants from oil installations they had taken in a surprise attack earlier in the day. Kurdish authorities said two Peshmerga troops were killed, along with several ISIS fighters, with several more ISIS militants taken prisoner. The Peshmerga victory comes two days after ISIS insurgents blew up the critical bridge over the Tigris River at Samarra, effectively cutting off Baghdad from Nineveh and Iraq's north. The emergence of the Peshmerga as a more potent force against ISIS than Iraq's national army (now approaching a state of disentegration) raises obvious dilemmas. In fact, in 2012, the town of Zumar was at the center of a political crisis between Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional Government. The central government sent military units to Zumar to take the border post, but were stopped by Peshmerga forces. Zumar lies in the northwest of Nineveh governorate, on the border of teritory controlled by the KRG and ISIS. (See map.) (Rudaw, Aug. 1; BasNews, July 30)
Iraq's government persuaded a US judge in Texas to order the seizure of $100 million of oil inside a tanker anchored off Galveston that it claims was illegally pumped from wells in Kurdistan. Kurdish officials “misappropriated” more than 1 million barrels of oil from northern Iraq and exported them through a pipeline to the Turkish port of Ceyhan, according to a complaint filed in Houston federal court. Magistrate Judge Nancy Johnson in Galveston authorized US marshals to seize the cargo and have it moved ashore for safekeeping until the dispute is resolved. However, as the vessel remains outside US territorial waters, the order cannot be carried out. "Either they’ll bring the oil into port, where we'll take possession of it, or they'll sail off somewhere else," Phillip Dye Jr., Houston-based attorney for the Iraqi Oil Ministry, told Bloomberg, adding that his clients don’t know who bought the cargo. A State Department spokesman said last week that the government would warn potential buyers of oil from Iraqi Kurdistan the legal risks involved. (Bloomberg, WSJ, July 29)
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)