The ongoing betrayal of the Syrian Kurds is no less maddening for being utterly predictable. The Wall Street Journal reports Aug. 3 that the US and Turkey have reached an agreement to keep Kurdish forces out of the "buffer zone" Ankara hopes to establish in Rojava, or northern Syria. In other words, the very forces that have been most effective in fighting ISIS are to be purged from the territory they have defended and liberated. The Kurds, who have been cynically accused of "ethnic cleansing" by Ankara's propagandists, are about to be ethnically cleansed. And, of course, this operation, ostensibly aimed at beating back ISIS, is actually aimed at crushing the revolutionary Kurds whose ground offensive has been driving ISIS back towards Raqqa, the "Islamic State" capital. Turkey's air campaign began last week with a few strikes on ISIS targets—which ISIS boasted hadn't hit anything. Since then, the overwhelming majority of the strikes (185 sorties against 400 targets, according to Al Monitor), have been hitting Kurdish positions across Kurdistan—within Turkey and Iraq as well as Syria. Even Reuters states: "Turkey's assaults on the PKK have so far been far heavier than its strikes against Islamic State, fuelling suspicions that its real agenda is keeping Kurdish political and territorial ambitions in check, something the government denies." Of the over 1,000 arrested in sweeps within Turkey since the campaign began, only 140 are ISIS followers—compared to more than 870 followers of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), the formation in the ideological leadership of the Kurdish revolution. (Workers Solidarity Movement)
Well, the long-awaited "other shoe" is finally dropping. It is clear that Washington has given Turkey a green light to crush the revolutionary Kurds—in Turkey, Syria and Iraq alike—as the price of Ankara's cooperation against ISIS. And it's also pretty clear that crushing the Kurds is far more of a priority for Ankara than fighting ISIS. The New York Times writes: "Turkey's new airstrikes...against the Islamic State...came alongside an equally intense barrage on Kurdish militants in Iraq, whose Syrian affiliates are also fighting the Islamic State." Equally intense or far more intense? Media accounts have few specifics of ISIS targets hit by the Turkish strikes. But Haaretz reports: "Turkish fighter jets launched their heaviest assault on Kurdish militants in northern Iraq overnight since airstrikes began last week... The F-16 jets hit six targets in Iraq and were scrambled from an air base in Turkey's southeastern province of Diyarbakir... Turkey began bombing PKK camps in northern Iraq last Friday in what government officials have said was a response to a series of killings of police officers and soldiers blamed on the Kurdish militant group."
News reports today have Turkey finally intervening in Syria and Iraq against ISIS. The USA Today headline is typical: "Turkey expands anti-Islamic State campaign." However, the specifics about the targeting indicate that anti-ISIS Kurdish forces are actually being hit. BBC News reports that the Kurdish-led People's Protection Units (YPG) say Turkish tanks shelled their fighters at the border villages of Zormikhar and Til Findire, near Kobani in northern Syria. Daily Sabah quotes an anonymous Turkish official denying the claims: "The ongoing military operation seeks to neutralize imminent threats to Turkey's national security and continues to target the self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) in Syria and the PKK in Iraq... PYD, along with others, remains outside the scope of the current military effort." This strikes us as a disingenuous statement, as the Democratic Union Party (PYD) is the civil and political entity that runs the Kurdish autonomous zone in northern Syria (in alliance with other formations), while the YPG is its military arm. So the Kurdish self-defense forces could be coming under attack, and this statement would still be (very narrowly) correct. A BBC News account also notes that the intervention comes as the US and Turkey have announced that they are working together on military plans to create an "Islamic State-free zone" in Syria's north—in other words, the long-anticipated buffer zone that is really aimed at destroying the Kurdish autonomous zone and amounts to a de facto Turkish annexation of Syrian territory. The "IS-free zome" (perhaps better dubbed a "PYD-free zone") is reportedly to extend 68 miles (109 kilometers) west of the Euphrates River.
OK, this one is sending the irony meter into full tilt. Two Spanish volunteers who went to Iraq to fight ISIS at Sinjar (presumably alongside PKK forces) in an "International Brigade" were arrested upon their return to Madrid and face charges of... (wait for it)... membership in a "terrorist organization"! One defendant is named as Paco Arcadio; the other only by his nom de guerre "Marto." El Mundo reports they were released on bail July 6. Anarchist website Insurrection News informs us that they are followers of Reconstrucción Comunista, one of the more militant tendencies to emerge from Spain's fragmented Communist Party. Upon his release from jail, Arcadio made a statement about why they went to fight ISIS: "In this region, the proletarian struggle is advancing. It is the struggle against fascism as represented by the Islamic State. We went to help, as the international brigades came to help us in '36."
In a press conference at the Pentagon today, President Obama said the struggle against ISIS will be a "long-term campaign," but that the US is "intensifying" efforts. He boasted: "In the past year we've seen when we have effective partners on the ground." He also stated: "Altogether, ISIL has lost over a quarter of the populated areas it had seized in Iraq." In naming those forces on the ground, he mentioned first and foremost "our Arab partners"—despite the fact that the most significant gains against ISIS have been not at the hands of Arabs but Kurds. Of the specific victories he invoked, only one—Tikrit—was by Arab forces. All the rest—Kirkuk, Sinjar, Mosul Dam, Kobani, Tal Abyad—were by Kurdish forces. Nowhere in his 20-minute comments did Obama so much as utter the word "Kurds," although he did refer to the "Peshmerga," "tribal fighters" and the "moderate opposition" in Syria.
The UNESCO World Heritage Committee said June 29 that extremist groups' destruction of antiquities and heritage sites in conflict zones could amount to war crimes. The committee noted particularly the Islamic State's destruction of the ancient city of Hatra in Iraq, and was deeply concerned about the group's capture of Palmyra in May. Both cities are UNESCO World Heritage sites, and carry much archaeological significance. The committee adopted a resolution which states in part that "[i]ntentional attacks against buildings dedicated to religion, education, art, science or charitable purposes and historic monuments may amount to war crimes." The resolution also expressed UNESCO's deep shock and alarm at the repeated attacks by ISIS "aimed at destroying cultural diversity through deliberate targeting of individuals and communities on the basis of cultural, ethnic or religious background, as well as places of worship, memory and learning," as well as looting and excavations that "seriously undermine irreplaceable cultural treasures."
The Pentagon announced June 23 that Ali Awni al-Harzi, a suspect in the Sept. 11, 2012 attack in Benghazi, Libya, was killed eight days earlier by a US air-strike in Mosul, Iraq. The Defense Department describes al-Harzi as a "person of interest" in the Benghazi attack, adding that he "operated closely with multiple ISIL-associated extremists throughout North Africa and the Middle East." In April, both the US State Department and the United Nations designated al-Harzi as a terrorist. The State Department found that Harzi "joined Ansar al-Sharia in Tunisia (AAS-T) in 2011 and was a high-profile member known for recruiting volunteers, facilitating the travel of AAS-T fighters to Syria, and for smuggling weapons and explosives into Tunisia." Ansar al-Sharia works closely with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). The State Department's designation did not mention Harzi's role in the Benghazi attack, but the UN's designation for Harzi reads: "Planned and perpetrated the attack against the Consulate of the United States in Benghazi, Libya on 11 Sep. 2012."
A new group of 450 military advisors is being dispatched to Iraq, the White House announced June 10, bringing the total of US troops in the country to 3,500. The immediate goal is retaking Ramadi from ISIS. The new advisors are assigned to Taqaddum military base, between Fallujah and Ramadi in Anbar governorate, bringing to five the number of bases housing US troops in Iraq. US advisors are currently training some 3,000 Iraqi troops, but news accounts said that the forces to be trained at Taqaddum are to include "local Sunni fighters." (Reuters, Bloomberg, June 10) This is presumably meant to counter-balance the Shi'ite militias that have been leading the fight against ISIS in central Iraq (and are accused of reprisals and war crimes against Sunni non-combatants), but it still represents an official US embrace of sectarian militias rather than the increasingly fictional "official" Iraqi army.