Iraq Theater

Rojava revolution speaks in New York City

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.

US ground troops for Mosul assault?

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." 

Kurdish revolution: what odds for survival?

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)

Kurds as pawns in Turko-Russian game?

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)

Turkey plays FSA off against Kurds

In its ever more blatant attempt to play an Arab-versus-Kurdish divide-and-rule card, Turkey now says it wants the Free Syrian Army (FSA) to control the ISIS-besieged border town of Kobani if the jihadists are defeated—not the Kurdish forces of the People's Protection Units (YPG) that have actually been leading the defense of Kobani. In an interview with the BBC broadcast Oct. 28, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu called for an "integrated strategy" with the United States to equip and train the FSA and oust Assad from power, as a condition of Turkey openinig its military bases and otherwise cooperating in the effort against ISIS. He said the US should commit to a plan for "a new pluralistic and democratic Syria." This stance has won Turkey recent support from the Syrian opposition, which justly fears being sold out to Assad by the US once ISIS is defeated. But Davutoglu made clear that Turkey would not accept the PKK-aligned YPG in power on its southern border: "If ISIS leaves the PKK terrorists should not come," he said. (AFP, Oct. 28) He did not make clear how the YPG is to be usurped from the territory by the FSA without exploding the nascent alliance between the two, or even fomenting war between them—which is pretty clearly the Turkish design.

Will Kobani intervention spur split in NATO?

Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga forces are set to arrive in Kobani, the ISIS-besieged town in northern Syria—allowed to pass through Turkish territory by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. But Erdogan is continuing to bar Kurdish PKK fighters from passing across the border to come to Kobani's defense—and is even taking harsh measures against Kurdish observers who have gathered at the border to witness the ongoing battle. On Oct. 26, Turkish forces used tear-gas to drive journalists and observers from two hills overlooking the border. The observers were removed to a third hill a kilometer north with a limited view of Kobani. The military cited concerns for the viewers' safety. (Rudaw, Oct. 26) Erdogan, demonstrating the grudging nature of the opening of his territory to the Peshmerga, said that Kobani's defenders do "not want" their help. Referring to the PKK-aligned Democratic Union Party (PYD), whose People's Protection Units (YPG) have been fighting to defend Kobani for more than a month, Erdogan said: "The PYD does not want the Peshmerga to come. The PYD thinks its game will be ruined with the arrival of the Peshmerga—their set-up will be spoilt." He also added that the PYD is a "terrorist group" because of its links to the PKK. (Rudaw, Oct. 26)

Blackwater security guards guilty in Iraq killings

A federal jury in the US District Court for the District of Columbia returned a guilty verdict on Oct. 21 for four ex-security guards for Blackwater, now Academi, who shot and killed 14 Iraqis and wounded 17 in a 2007 shooting in Baghdad. Nicholas Slatten was found guilty of first-degree murder, and three others were found guilty of multiple counts of voluntary manslaughter, attempted manslaughter and gun violations: Paul Slough, Evan Liberty and Dustin Heard. The men were serving as private contractors, hired to protect members of the US Department of State, when they fired into a group of people in a crowded intersection in Baghdad's Nisour Square. Counsel for the men claimed self-defense and argued the men were fired on by insurgents and Iraqi police before opening fire themselves. The federal prosecution argued the men showed a grave indifference to the consequence of their actions and the shooting was not provoked. More than a dozen Iraqis were scheduled to offer testimony in the 11-week trial, which was dismissed by the DC District Court in 2010. The trial has raised a number of legal issues, including federal jurisdiction over contractors working for the State Department. The ruling is expected to face a number of appeals.

US arms Kobani defenders —heightening contradictions

The US has started to air-drop weapons and medical supplies to Kurdish militia defending the north Syrian town of Kobani against ISIS forces—the first such drops to resistance fighters in Syria. In a statement Oct. 19, US Central Command said C-130 cargo planes made multiple drops of arms and supplies provided by Kurdish authorities in Iraq. (AP) And in an astonishing development that reveals the degree of pressure on Turkey, President Tayyip Erdogan agreed to allow Kurdish fighters cross into Syria. (AP, BBC News) A critical distinction, however, is that Ankara is only allowing Iraqi Peshmerga troops to pass through Turkish territory to reach Kobani from the north. The accounts say nothing about allowing PKK fighters to pass. And Erdogan is even now continuing to oppose US arming of the People's Protection Units (YPG), the PKK-aligned militia that is defending Kobani. (Chinatopix)