Iraq Theater

Turkey bars Kurdish militants from relieving Kobani

The UN refugee agency reports that up to 70,000 Syrian Kurds have crossed into Turkey over the past 24 hours to escape the ISIS advance on the town of Kobani (Ayn al-Arab). A Kurdish commander on the ground said ISIS forces had advanced to within 15 kilometers of the town. Most of the refugees are women, children and the elderly. Turkey opened a stretch of the border to allow the refugees to cross over. But Turkish security forces later fired water cannon and tear-gas at crowds that gathered in support of the refugees on the border. Authorities said they wanted to stop Kurdish PKK fighters entering Syria, while local TV said Kurds had been trying to deliver aid. (AP, Reuters, Al Jazeera, BBC News)

Syria: ISIS-besieged Kurds appeal for aid

the Kurdish town of Kobani is holding out against a dramatic ISIS advance into Syrian territory over the past 48 hours, wth the jihadists in control of nearly 60 villages to the east of the town. "Kobani is facing the fiercest and most barbaric attack in its history," said Mohammed Saleh Muslim, head of Syria's opposition Democratic Union Party (PYD), a PKK-aligned formation that has been in control of the area. "Whoever is going to do something for Kobani should do it now," Muslim said, calling on forces throughout the Kuridsh regions to come to the town's defense. Refering the northern Iraqi town that has been cleansed by ISIS, he added: "If we really don't want a second Sinjar we must defend Kobani.... Our people were slaughtered in Sinjar and our women and girls were sold. Honor is everything... We still have an opportunity to prevent a repetition in Kobani."

ISIS blows up birthplace of Saladin

ISIS militants on Sept. 17 detonated explosive charges to destroy the Citadel of Tikrit, birthplace of Salahaddin Ayubi (popularly rendered Saladin), one of the most important archeological sites in Iraq. Iornically, Saladin is a revered figure in Islam, who liberated much of Palestine from the Crusaders and recaptured Jerusalem for the Muslims in 1187. But ISIS charged that the place is revered as a shrine, and the fact that Saladin was Kurdish may have added to their intolerance of the site's veneration. Since seizing northern Iraq. ISIS have bombed many cultural, archeological and holy places of all the region's religions, including the tomb of the Prophet Younis in Mosul, the tomb of Baba Yadgar in Kakayi and other holy places of the Yazidis and Christians. (BasNews, IraqiNews, DiHA, PUKMedia, Sept. 17) ISIS is so extreme in its rejection of "idolatry" that it has even announced its aim to destroy the Kaaba, Islam's most sacred site. This may backfire and eventually lead to a Sunni uprising against ISIS in their areas of control. Meanwhile, cultural treasures are being lost every day.

Low oil price: calm before the storm?

We've long maintained that global oil prices are not determined by scarcity or even the laws of supply and demand so much as by politics—the price rises or falls in response to war or comparative stability in the Middle East. Oil fields don't have to actually go up in flames—the mere fear that this will happen is sufficient to drive up the price: it is about perception. We've also noted that the global petro-oligarchs are hoping to reap a windfall from the multiple global crises, plugging the North American energy boom as a key to security and low prices. But ultimately, high prices are needed to fuel continued expansion of the industry, whether in North America, the Arctic, Persian Gulf or Caspian Basin. So, to an extent, the global price is manipulated—we are alternately told that energy self-sufficiency is reducing reliance on unstable global markets, and that instability threatens our "way of life" so we had better loosen burdensome environmental restraints on new exploitation. At the moment, we are on the first part of the cycle: After an initial price shock when ISIS seized northern Iraq, prices have now stabilized, and we are being told it is thanks to domestic fracking and tar-sands oil. Soon enough (just you wait) they will be surging up again, especially if (as seems all too likely) the Middle East continues to escalate. This much is admitted in a Sept. 15 National Public Radio report, "With Turmoil Roiling Abroad, Why Aren't Oil Prices Bubbling Up?"...

China factor in the fight against ISIS

We've noted that Iran is a de facto member of the Great Power convergence against ISIS, but the Islamic Republic wasn't invited to today's summit in Paris, where leaders of some 30 nations pledged to support Iraq in its fight against the so-called "Islamic State" by "any means necessary, including appropriate military assistance, in line with the needs expressed by the Iraqi authorities, in accordance with international law and without jeopardizing civilian security." However, the two principal US imperial rivals were there: Russia and China. Of course we can take the reference to "civilian security" with a grain of salt, and the final statement made no mention of Syria—the stickiest question in the ISIS dilemma. (AFP via Lebanon Daily Star, Sept. 16) China's interest in the issue was crystalized over the weekend by the arrest in Indonesia of two ethnic Uighurs on suspicion of ties to ISIS. The two were detained in Central Sulawesi province, said to be a "major hotbed of militancy," in a sweep of suspected ISIS recruits. They had allegedly procured false passports in Thailand, and were in possession of literature and other paraphernalia with ISIS insignia. (SCMP, Sept. 15)

ISIS burns Syrian cannabis fields

The extremist ISIS—now calling themselves the "Islamic State"—have left a bloody trail of mass murder in their advance across large swaths of northern Syria and Iraq over the past three months, slaughtering and enslaving Christians, Shi'ites and others deemed to be heretics. It is hardly surprising that they've been taking a tough line on cannabis. ISIS militants have posted footage on the Internet showing their men burning cannabis fields in the Syrian governorate of Aleppo. The video, online at The Telegraph, shows men cutting down the plants in a large field, making a number of piles, dousing them with a flammable liquid and setting them alight. ISIS claim they discovered the farm after having captured the town of Akhtarin from the rival Free Syrian Army in recent weeks. The militants claim the farm owner fled over the nearby border with Turkey, according to Huffington Post.

Best hope to destroy ISIS: indigenous resistance?

The hope that a Sunni uprising will overthrow ISIS in their areas of control is daily given a boost by each new report of the organization's repression of the traditional "folk Islam" practiced by the common people of northern Iraq and Syria. Reuters on Sept. 13 reports the claim of the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights that ISIS militants have destroyed several Sufi shrines and tombs in the eastern Syrian province of Deir al-Zor—the latest in a string of such desecrations across their territory. In March, ISIS bombed the mosque of Ammar bin Yassir and Oweis al-Qarni in Raqqa, once a destination for Shi'ite pilgrims from Iran, Lebanon and Iraq. Destroying even sites revered by Sunnis is precisely the kind of overreach that even al-Qaeda warned its regional franchises against when they were in control of northern Mali last year. But the affiliate organizations didn't listen, and the local populace did indeed turn against them. Can we hope for a replay?

ISIS: will US intervention fuel sectarian war?

Iraq's new Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi issued a statement welcoming Barack Obama's announcement of a new campaign against ISIS. On the same day Obama gave his speech, Abadi met in Baghdad with US Secretary of State John Kerry to discuss international support for Iraqi forces in the drive against ISIS. (BasNews, Sept. 12; Aswat al-Iraq, Sept. 10) While Abadi's government continues to be Shi'ite-dominated, there are signs of success in his efforts to forge a pact with Sunnis to resist ISIS. Sunni tribes in Salaheddin governorate have formed a council to mobilize tribesmen to retake the provincial capital of Tikrit from ISIS in coordination with Iraq's army. Significantly, the new command center established for the effort is in Auja, a district recently retaken from ISIS by Iraqi troops—and the birthplace of Saddam Hussein, who was buried there following his execution in 2006. (Azzaman, Sept. 12)

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