An ongoing stand-off between an elite force of Iraq's national army and Kurdish Peshmerga forces around the contested northern city of Kirkuk led to skirmishes that left two dead and several wounded at the village of Tuz Khurmatu this week. The army's Dijla (Tigris) Operations Command (DOC), launched in June by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, was ostensibly sent to put down the remnants of insurgency in Diyala, Kirkuk and Salahaddin governates. But local Kurdish leaders—including Kirkuk governor Najmaddin Karim, of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK)—charge that the real aim of the deployment is to prevent Kirkuk governate from be annexed by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), now made up of the governorates of Erbil (also Arbil or Irbil), Slemani (Sulaymaniya) and Duhok. (See map.) A referendum on the future of Kirkuk, mandated by Aritcle 140 of Iraq's constitution, has been repeatedly put off by the central government.
The main Islamist rebel groups in Aleppo on Nov. 19 rejected the newly formed Syrian opposition bloc, saying they want an Islamic state. "We, the fighting squads of Aleppo city and province, unanimously reject the conspiratorial project called the National Coalition and announce our consensus to establish an Islamic state" in Syria, a spokesman announced in an Internet video. "We reject any external coalitions or councils imposed on us at home from any party whatsoever." The unidentified speaker, sitting at the head of a long table with some 30 other men and a black Islamist flag on the wall, named 14 armed groups as signatories to the statement, including al-Nusra Front, Ahrar al-Sham and Liwa al-Tawhid. Ahrar al-Sham rejected the proclamation on its official webpage, however, saying that its leadership did not endorse the statement.
The Turkish military carried out a ground operation against guerillas of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in northern Iraq Nov. 6, followed by airstrikes in the Kandil Mountains along the border in the following days. Turkish Maroon Beret troops crossed the border and went five kilometers into northern Iraqi to carry out an operation against PKK forces, and returned to Turkey after completing the operation. No official statements have been released by the General Staff about the ground operation pr air strikes, but they were confirmed by local officials on both the Turkish and Iraqi sides of the border. Skirmishes were also reported in Turkey's southeastern province of Şırnak, leaving at least three PKK fighters dead, while 23 people were detained in the eastern province of Van on charges of attacking schools with Molotov cocktails over the past months. This past summer saw an upsurge in PKK attacks in southeast Turkey, notably in the Hakkari region. (Reuters, Nov. 9; Today's Zaman via Phantom Report, Nov. 7)
The US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, sitting en banc Nov. 7, ruled that two US citizens cannot sue former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld for alleged torture by US soldiers in Iraq. The plaintiffs, who worked for a private security firm in Iraq, were arrested in 2006 by military personnel after being suspected of dealing arms. The plaintiffs alleged they were subject to torture in military prison, including sleep deprivation, extreme temperatures, and denial of food and water. In their lawsuit, the plaintiffs argued that Rumsfeld authorized harsh interrogation methods in Iraq and that victims of torture should be able to establish a private right of action against government officials. The Seventh Circuit rejected this argument as unworkable and contrary to the government's national security interests:
Human rights groups are expressing fears that Iraq's government may be using state-sanctioned executions to eliminate opponents held in prison following spate of executions carried out last month. Three women were among 21 prisoners executed in a single day on Aug. 27. Two days later, five more detainees were put to death. The government provides few details about the identity of executed prisoners, or the charges against them. Former Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, now in exile in Turkey, last month sent a letter to President Jalal Talabani requesting his intervention "to stop the arbitrary and ever-increasing rate of executions in Iraq." Days after al-Hashemi sent the letter, the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki sentenced him to death in absentia for allegedly killing a security official and a lawyer. His son-in-law Ahmed Qahtan was likewise sentenced to death by hanging.
Nobel Peace Prize laureate Desmond Tutu on Sept. 1 called in an op-ed in The Observer for former US president George W. Bush and former UK prime minister Tony Blair to stand trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC) for their roles in the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Tutu argues that:
The immorality of the United States and Great Britain's decision to invade Iraq in 2003, premised on the lie that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction, has destabilised and polarised the world to a greater extent than any other conflict in history. Instead of recognising that the world we lived in, with increasingly sophisticated communications, transportations and weapons systems necessitated sophisticated leadership that would bring the global family together, the then-leaders of the US and UK fabricated the grounds to behave like playground bullies and drive us further apart.
An Iraqi court on Aug. 2 rejected a US extradition request for accused Hezbollah commander Ali Mussa Daqduq. The court also ruled that Daqduq should be released immediately from his house arrest. In May an Iraqi court had cleared all charges against Daqduq. The court stated that Iraq could not extradite someone whose charges were dropped. He had been detained by the US for four years based on allegations that he was involved with Hezbollah and that he was responsible of planning a raid in 2007 which resulted in the deaths of five US soldiers. He had been transferred in December of last year when talks over which country should be responsible for trying him failed. US President Barack Obama considered trying Daqduq on US soil but was unable to reach an agreement with Iraqi authorities resulting in an extradition request pursuant to the 2008 Status of Forces Agreement between the US and Baghdad.
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, top leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq and its affiliated Islamic State of Iraq, announced in an audio message July 22 a new plan to free imprisoned militants, attack the Iraq's judiciary and retake lost territory. "We are setting off a new stage of our struggle, with the launch of a plan named 'Breaking the Walls,'" said the message, which urged the Sunni tribal leaders to send their men to join his movement. "On the occasion of the return of the Islamic State to the regions that we had evacuated from, I urge you to send your sons to join the mujahedeen to defend your religion and honor." He also threatened the US, saying "You will see them [al-Qaeda militants] at the heart of your country with God's willing, since our war against you has just started." (WSJ, RFE/RL, July 22)