Iraq Theater

ISIS advances on Palmyra archaeological site

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reports that ISIS forces are advancing on the ruins of the ancient city of Palmyra, a UN World Heritage Site, where it is feared they will carry on their campaign against the archaeological treasures of the Fertile Crescent. ISIS militants have already seized parts of  adjacent city of Tadmur. Palmyra and Tadmur are situated in a strategic area on the road betwee Damascus and the contested eastern city of Deir al-Zour, and close to gas fields (BBC News) ISIS militants have executed 26 civilians in villages they seized near Palmyra, according to the Syrian Observatory. "Daesh executed 26 civilians, including at least 10 by beheading, after accusing them of collaborating with the Syrian regime," said the Observatory. (AFP)

ISIS franchise: Nigeria to Yemen to Pakistan

Over the past two months, the ISIS international franchise has made foreboding gains from West Africa to the Indian subcontinent. In Nigeria, Boko Haram pledged allegiance to ISIS in March, according to the anti-terrorist monitoring group SITE. The pledge, attributed to Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau, was made in an audio posted on Twitter (and since removed). "We announce our allegiance to the Caliph... and will hear and obey in times of difficulty and prosperity," SITE quoted the statement. (Al Jazeera, March 8) 

Cultural legacy lost as ISIS torches Mosul library

ISIS forces put the Mosul library to the torch Feb. 22—over vociferous pleas and protests from the city's notables. "ISIS militants bombed the Mosul Public Library," said Ghanim al-Ta'an, director of the library. "They used improvised explosive devices." Among the many thousands of books it housed, more than 8,000 rare old books and manuscripts were burned. The library was established in 1921, the same year that saw the birth of the modern Iraq. Among its lost collections were manuscripts from the 18th century, Syriac (Aramaic) language books printed in Iraq's first printing house in the 19th century, Iraqi newspapers from the early 20th century, and some rare antiques such as an astrolabe used by early Arab mariners. The library had hosted the personal libraries of more than 100 notable Mosul families over the past century. Bloggers and activists in Mosul got out the word of the building's destruction over the Internet. (Fiscal Times via Yahoo News, Feb. 23)

Kurdish forces advance towards ISIS capital

Syrian Kurdish forces, backed by US air-strikes, advanced Feb. 19 into Raqqa governorate, where ISIS has its de facto capital at the provincial seat. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the Kurdish YPG forces and allied FSA units captured 19 villages in Raqqa. "The US-led international coalition played a key role in the advance, bombing the IS positions and forcing its fighters to withdraw," said Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman. Since driving ISIS fom Kobani (Aleppo governorate) last month, Kurdish and allied forces have captured some 242 villages from ISIS, including the 19 in Raqqa. Among the contested areas is the border town of Tal Abyad. The YPG charges that ISIS forces at Tal Abyad cross into Turkey, where they have established a staging territory. (AFP-JIJI, Feb. 20)

Iraq militias may be committing war crimes

Human Rights Watch (HRW) said Feb. 15 that militias allied with Iraqi forces are committing abuses that are "possibly war crimes." HRW reports that in some areas residents have been forced from their homes, kidnapped and extrajudicially executed. In the Muqdadiyya area of Diyala governorate, more than 3,000 people have been forced from their homes since June and have been prevented from returning, in some cases, because militia forces torched their homes. HRW has been interviewing victims, some of whom claim that the militias "said that they would kill [them] because [they] are Sunni." HRW is also investigating allegations that militia forces had killed 72 civilians in Barwana and Muqdadiyya.

ISIS and atrocity pornography: politics of horror

The new ISIS propaganda video showing the immolation of a captive Jordanian pilot is very professionally done, its special creepy quality coming from the mix of slick production and utterly barbaric content. Before the big climax, we are shown several images of mangled children, purported to be victims of bombardment by the US-led coalition. Each image is engulfed by photo-shopped flames, symbolizing the explosions that left them dead or maimed. Then the eerily ritualistic finale, in which the pilot stands erect in an orange jump-suit, inside a metal cage in a bombed-out site, surrounded by an impassive phalanx of masked thugs with machine-guns. One thug approaches with a torch, and it becomes clear the captive has been drenched with gasoline. His body is quickly engulfed by real flame, and the camera lovingly details his agonizing death. The implication is that this is just retribution for the lives claimed by the air-strikes. Fox News is one of the few media outlets to display the full video (with the warning: "EXTREMELY GRAPHIC VIDEO"). Fox only wants to make the point that ISIS is a barbaric enemy (as if we didn't know), but there are other points to be made here too...

Chem-armed ISIS being funded through US?

Well, probably not, but maybe we can get some hits by throwing cold water on the inflammatory claims. Russia Today of course jumps on a report in Pakistan's Express-Tribune Jan. 28 claiming that the ISIS commander for the country confessed under interrogation that he has been receiving funds through the United States. Authorities said Yousaf al Salafi was arrested in Lahore Jan. 22—although "sources" said he was actually arrested in December and it was only disclosed on Jan. 22. An anonymous "source" also said: "During the investigations, Yousaf al-Salafi revealed that he was getting funding—routed through America—to run the organization in Pakistan and recruit young people to fight in Syria." Unnamed "sources" said al-Salafi's revelations were shared with the US Secretary of State John Kerry during his recent visit to Islamabad, and with CentCom chief Gen. Lloyd Austin during his visit earlier in January. "The US has been condemning the IS activities but unfortunately has not been able to stop funding of these organizations, which is being routed through the US," the "source" taunted. OK, could be, but we are a little tired of the current craze for anonymous and therefore unverifiable sources.

Kurdish forces open new front against Assad

Fighting broke out between Kurdish forces and Syrian government troops in the northeastern city of Hassakeh, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Jan. 18. The clashes reportedly began after Kurdish fighters of the People's Protection Units (YPG) detained around 10 regime loyalists they accused of seizing part of a demilitarized zone. Under a deal made last year, YPG forces control around 30% of the city, with regime forces controlling most of the city's Arab-majority neighborhoods, and a buffer zone off-limits to both sides. The deal was arranged as both sides fought to keep ISIS out of Hassakeh, a provincial capital of some 200,000 people. The new fighting is being portrayed as opening a Kurdish front against the regime. (Daily Star, Lebanon, Today's Zaman, Turkey, Jan. 18)