US ground forces fought their first direct battle against ISIS militants, Iraq's Shafaq news agency reported Dec. 16. The battle came when ISIS forces launched an attack on Ain al-Assad base, 90 kilometers from Ramadi, capital of Anbar governorate. Sheikh Mahmud Nimrawi, a local tribal leader, said that "US forces intervened because...ISIS started to come near the base." He added that he welcomed the US intervention, saying he hoped it will "not be the last." The US troops seem to have been backing up a mixed force of Iraqi government soliders and local tribal fighters. Nimrawi said that the "US promised to provide tribal fighters who are in that region...with weapons." (Shafaq News, Dec. 16)
Despite—or perhaps partly because of—threats from ISIS militants, a record 15.5 million Shi'ite pilgrams have converged on Karbala for Arbaeen. The holy day marks the end of the 40-day period of mourning after the anniversary of the death of Imam Hussein in 680 CE, and has been punctuated by sectarian terror in Iraq in recent years. One was killed and four wounded in mortar attack on the outskirts of the city Dec. 12. Earlier this week, three were killed and four wounded in a bomb attack on a Baghdad encampment of pilgrims headed for Karbala. Another three were in a stampede as they crossed the border from Iran.
The Great Power convergence against ISIS continues to show ever greater signs of political schizophrenia. The Pentagon acknowledged Dec. 2 that (former?) Axis of Evil member Iran has carried out air-strikes against ISIS targets in eastern Iraq. Rear Adm. John Kirby insisted the US is not co-ordinating with Iran. "We are flying missions over Iraq, we co-ordinate with the Iraqi government as we conduct those," he said. "It's up to the Iraqi government to deconflict that airspace." As if the US had no influence over its client state. A senior Iranian military official also dismissed talk of co-operation between the two countries. Yet some astute observers noted that Iran may have been sending a coded political message by using F-4 Phantoms in the strikes—warplanes purchased from the US under the Shah's reign, before the Iranian revolution of 1979. (IBT, BBC News, Dec. 2)
November is usually a busy month for farmers in the Iraqi town of Jurf al-Sakhar as they sow their seeds ahead of the bitter winter months. Yet this year fields lie unplanted and untethered goats and cows wander aimlessly among slayed palm trees. Months of fighting have taken a heavy toll on the town, 60 kilometers south of Baghdad in Babil governorate, leaving buildings in ruin and fields flooded or scorched—in many cases both. The area has a ghostly emptiness. Although it was reclaimed from Islamist militants by Iraqi security forces in late October, many displaced residents have stayed away due to fears of landmines and other explosive remnants of war. "I have lost everything," Salih Al-Janabi, 56, a farmer from the area now based in neighbouring Musayib District, told IRIN. "I grew up on my farm, it is a part of my family. My palm trees were my children and now I don't know when I can even go back."
Columbia University's Institute for the Study of Human Rights hosted a public event Nov. 19, "Yezidi Woman Reports on Genocide by ISIS," featuring Pari Ibrahim, founder of the Free Yezidi Foundation, with David Sklar, an advisor to Iraq's Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). Ibrahim described the fall of the Yazidi town of Sinjar to ISIS in June, the populace taken unawares and largely unarmed. Many of the town's men were summarily killed, while women and children were taken away to be trafficked as sex slaves for Arab buyers. Ibrahim charged President Obama with responding too slowly, despite pleas from Yazidi leaders. "There was a genocide by ISIS in Sinjar, but the world did not react sooner."
The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported Nov. 22 that US-led airstrikes in Syria have killed over 900 people since September—including 785 ISIS fighters, 72 Nusra Front militants and 52 civilians. Among the civilians were eight women and five children. Activists say Syria's civil war has now claimed over 200,000 lives. (AP, Nov. 22) In northern Iraq, local Kurdish officials announced that ISIS commander Mustafa Sulaiman Qarabash AKA Abu Husam al-Iraqi, held responsible for selling hundreds of abducted Yazidi girls, was killed in a coalition air-strike in Mosul. A KDP official for the Mosul area said 35 ISIS militants were killed in the strike, and their base destroyed. (Rudaw, Nov. 22)
A study by UK-based Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) finds there were nearly 10,000 terrorist attacks in 2013, 44% more than the year before. The number of terrorism-related deaths climbed 61%—from 11,133 in 2012 to 17,958 in 2013. The Global Terrorism Index reported four groups dominated the attacks: ISIS, Boko Haram, al-Qaeda and the Taliban, collectively responsible for 66% of the fatalities. Iraq was the country most affected by terrorism, with 2,492 attacks that killed more than 6,300. The report found that ISIS was responsible for "most" of the deaths in Iraq. The next top countries were Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria and Syria. IEP produces the report from the Global Terrorism Database compiled by the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START), at the University of Maryland. (Yahoo News, Nov. 18; AP, Nov. 17)
Metropolitan area Kurds and their supporters on Nov. 18 held a panel at the City University of New York entitled "Kobanê and the Rojava Revolution"—which actually featured a live Skype connection to Salih Muslim, co-chair of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and political leader of the Kobani resistance, who was speaking from Europe. Also speaking via Skype was sociologist Nazan Üstündağ of Turkey's Boğaziçi University, who has been studying the Kurdish self-government system in northern Syria, or Rojava. Following up at the podium in the CCNY lecture hall was US-based Kurdish affairs analyst Mutlu Çiviroğlu. The event was chaired by David Phillips of the Institute for the Study of Human Rights at Columbia University, who is a former advisor to the US State Department. The panel provided a vivid illustration of the contradictions facing the Rojava revolution.