The oil refinery city of Baiji was taken from ISIS Oct. 21 by Iraqi security forces and their Shi'ite militia allies. Key to the fighting was the Popular Mobilization Units or Hashid al-Shaabi militia. (Long War Journal, Oct. 19) After driving ISIS forces from the city, the PMU reported the discovery of at least 19 mass graves containing "365 bodies of Daesh terrorists"—the Arabic acronym for Islamic State. It was not clear how long the bodies had been buried there or how they were identified as ISIS fighters. (AFP, Oct. 21)
Members of Iraq's Yazidi minority on Sept. 24 submitted a report to the International Criminal Court detailing the crimes committed against their community by militants of the Islamic State (IS) and urged the court to open an investigation. The Yazidi group met with chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda in The Hague and said the actions taken by IS since August 2014 in Northern Iraq constituted religious genocide against their people. The report includes statements made by human rights organizations which have concluded that IS targets Yazidi people on religious grounds and the UN statement that IS attacks on the Yazidi group may amount to genocide. Former ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said the court should open preliminary examinations. Although Iraq is not a party to the ICC Rome Statute (PDF), the court could prosecute IS members who are nationals of signatory states.
Insurgents fired nearly 400 rockets at the two Shi'ite (presumably Alawite) villages of al-Foua and Kefraya in northwestern Syria's Idlib governorate Sept. 18, and detonated at least seven car bombs, opening a new assault on besieged government-held areas. The attacks were carried out by the "Army of Conquest," a coalition that includes the Nusra Front and Ahrar al-Sham. (Reuters) Meanwhile, ISIS claimed responsibility for two suicide bombs in Baghdad that killed at least 23 people and wounded more than 60. The attacks targeted police checkpoints in the Wathba and Haraj markets during morning rush-hour—both in mostly Shi'ite areas. Another bomber (not yet claimed by ISIS) struck in the city's Bab al-Sharji area, killing eight civilians and a police officer. (BBC News)
Authorities in Turkey's eastern Muş province have launched an investigation into the distribution of photos on social media showing the dead and mutilated body of a woman believed to be a militant of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). (See map) The governor's office confirmed that the woman in the picture was PKK militant Kevser Eltürk AKA Ekin Wan, who was killed in a clash with Turkish security forces on Aug. 10 in Muş' Varto district. The picture shows a naked woman, apparently dead, lying on the ground with bruises and blood visible on her body. Three men, whose faces are not seen, are seen standing near the body. Eltürk appeared to have finally been strangled, according to Democratic Regions' Party (DBP) regional co-chair Hamiyet Şahin, who washed the militant's body in preparation for burial. A protest march over the incident Aug. 16 was followed by a sit-in protest organized by the DBP that drew Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) deputies Gülser Yıldırım and Enise Güneyli. (Al Arabiya News, Aug. 19; Hurriyet Daily News, Aug. 17)
The Kurdish news agency Rudaw reports Aug. 28 that the First Kakai Battalion of the Peshmerga, a 630-strong force made up entirely of members of the Kakai religious minority, is preparing to go into battle against ISIS along the frontline near Daquq—and protests that they are being denied the weaponry they need. When ISIS swept into northern Iraq last year, commander Farhad Nezar Kakai urged the Kurdistan Regional Government to establish the Kakai force to defend the minority's nine villages near the frontline in Kirkuk governorate. "After the catastrophe of Shingal, we felt that same thing could happen to Kakais," Nezar told Rudaw, referring to the massacre of thousands of Yazidis at Mount Sinjar (as it is more commonly rendered). The Kakai, like the Yazidis, are followers of a pre-Islamic faith, and targeted for extremination by ISIS.
Israel's YNet reports Aug. 31 that Russian fighter pilots are expected to begin arriving in Syria in the coming days, to begin sorties against ISIS and rebel forces. The report cites diplomatic sources to the effect that "a Russian expeditionary force has already arrived in Syria and set up camp in an Assad-controlled airbase. The base is said to be in area surrounding Damascus, and will serve, for all intents and purposes, as a Russian forward operating base. In the coming weeks thousands of Russian military personnel are set to touch down in Syria, including advisors, instructors, logistics personnel, technical personnel, members of the aerial protection division, and the pilots who will operate the aircraft."
Independent aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) reported Aug. 25 that it had treated four members of a Syrian family who suffered from breathing difficulties and developed blisters after a mortar hit their home in Marea, Aleppo governorate. The Syrian American Medical Society also reported receiving 50 patients showing symptoms of chemical exposure in the same area. Local rebels said the shells were fired from an ISIS-held village to the east. A spokesman for one rebel group, the Shami Front, told the New York Times that half of the 50 mortars and artillery rounds that hit Marea contained sulphur mustard. The powerful irritant and blistering agent —commonly known as "mustard gas" but actually liquid at ambient temperature—causes severe damage to the skin, eyes and respiratory system.
Kurdish-American pop singer Helly Luv travelled to northern Iraq where she donned a Peshmerga uniform and visited the frontline against ISIS to gyrate before the cameras in a video for a song dubbed "Revolution," offering encouragement to the Kurdish fighters: "Stand up, we are united; together we can survive it... Brothers and sisters we all come from one; Different religions we share the same blood." This has of course won her death threats from ISIS—we can imagine how upset the jihadists must be by a video combining Luv's unabashed sexuality with glorification of the anti-ISIS fighters. She also issued an appeal to President Obama to directly arm the Peshmerga—something he still hasn't done, although various European leaders have. "If we can give the Peshmerga the weapons, they can destroy the enemy. Even right now, they don't have strong weapons, but they're still winning," Helly said.