Iraq Theater

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 to 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)

Kurdish fighters turning the tide at Kobani

Kurdish fighters at Kobani are starting to gain ground against ISIS forces, days after the jihadists had penetrated the besieged town in northern Syria. Images on the Daily Mail website show Kurdish YPG fighters triumphantly raising their flag above Tel Shair hill in the west of the town, where the black jihadist flag ISIS had recently been flying. The report emphasizes the role of US air-strikes in the turn-around, and also claims the YPG has started to press local youth into its ranks in a conscription drive. The Washington Post shows images of the latest US strikes on ISIS positions at Kobani, and notes that the US-led military campaign has now been officially dubbed "Inherent Resolve."

Iraq militias committing war crimes: Amnesty

Iraqi Shi'ite militia, armed and supported by the Iraqi government, have been committing war crimes and abducting and murdering "scores" of Sunni men in retaliation for attacks by the Sunni-led Islamic State (IS), Amnesty International (AI) said Oct. 14. In a briefing, AI reports that the militia face complete impunity for their actions over the last few months. "Absolute Impunity: Militia Rule in Iraq" depicts accounts of civilians taken from their homes, workplaces and at checkpoints, later found to be bound and shot, mostly execution-style and often after the victim's family paid a hefty ransom. According to AI many of the abductees are still unaccounted for, months after their disappearance. AI holds the Iraqi government responsible for the "serious human rights abuses, including war crimes, committed by these militias."

PFLP: solidarity with Kurdish struggle against ISIS

From the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), Oct. 13:

The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine expresses its solidarity with the Kurdish resistance in Kobane struggling to defend themselves and their community from the reactionary armed group, ISIS, whose entry into our region has been facilitated and supported by imperialist powers and their lackeys.

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