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.
Martin Dempsey, head of the US joint chiefs of staff, arrived in Baghdad on Nov. 15, days after President Barack Obama authorised sending up to 1,500 more forces to Iraq—roughly double the planned US "post-withdrawal" presence—to advise and train Iraqi and Kurdish forces. Before his trip, Dempsey was questioned about whether US troops will accompany Iraqi forces in an operation to take back Mosul, and said it was unlikely "but we're certainly considering it." He added: "We're going to need about 80,000 competent Iraqi security forces to recapture territory lost, and eventually the city of Mosul, to restore the border."
ISIS is committing war crimes and crimes against humanity on a large scale in areas under its control, the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria finds in its new report—citing massacres, beheadings, torture, sexual enslavement and forced pregnancy. "The commanders of ISIS have acted wilfully, perpetrating these war crimes and crimes against humanity with clear intent of attacking persons with awareness of their civilian or 'hors de combat' [non-combatant] status," the report said. "They are individually criminally responsible for these crimes." Based on more than 300 interviews with people who have fled areas under ISIS control, as well as photographs and video footage released by ISIS itself, the report calls for the perpetrators to be brought to justice. (DİHA, Nov. 14)
Bashar Assad can only be taking perverse joy at Turkey's attempt to play an Arab-versus-Kurdish divide-and-rule card, seeking to isolate the Kurds from the Arab-led Syrian opposition. There was an advance for this stratagem today, as a Free Syrian Army (FSA) commander said it was wrong to send rebel forces to the ISIS-besieged Kurdish town of Kobani when Aleppo was besieged by Assad regime forces. Nizar al-Khatib told a group of journalists at a press conference in Istanbul: "I am criticizing this decision because we need these forces in the other fronts in Aleppo. The situation is very critical in Aleppo right now, regime forces have been surrounding the city for some time." (Hurriyet Daily News)