Iraq Theater

New York Kurds stand with Kobani

A group of local Kurdish Americans gathered in New York's Union Square Oct. 3 to show their support for Kobani, the Kurdish town in northern Syria now besieged by ISIS. A Kurdish flag was held along with black-background signs reading "KOBANE IS NOT ALONE." The vigil demanded international solidarity for the People's Protection Units (YPG), the Kurdish militia force that is defending the canton of Kobani, home to some half million people. Their statement asserted that since US air-strikes on the ISIS capital of Raqqa, the jihadists have moved their fighters and weapons into the Kurdish areas to the north. "Therefore, we are here to ask your help in demanding the Obama Administration to immediately bomb ISIS positions around Kobane and give Kurdish forces...military assistance so that Kurds can better defend themselves... [W]e also urge the international community to immediately provide...humanitarian assistance to the people of Kobane."

Turkey prepares military action in Syria

The Turkish government on Oct. 1 submitted a motion to parliament to expand authorization to act against security threats in Iraq and Syria. Turkish forces are currently authorized to operate across the Iraqi border to fight the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). In recent weeks, 160,000 refugees have crossed the border into Turkey fleeing the ISIS advance on the Kurdish town of Kobani in northern Syria. (PUKMedia) President Recep Tayyip Erdogan meanwhile denied claims by Abu-Omar al-Tunisi, head of ISIS Foreign Relations, that the extremist group has opened a diplomatic consulate in Istanbul. (

ISIS advances on Kobani —and Baghdad

Iraq's military has halted ISIS forces just 40 kilometers outside of Baghdad. Iraqi government air-strikes Sept. 28 held the jihadist fighters at Ameriyat al-Fallujah, a strategic town west of Baghdad and south of ISIS-controlled Fallujah. But panic spread in the capital as rumors circulated of ISIS attacks in the capital's immediate suburbs. Reports indicate some 1,000 Iraqi soldiers were killed in the offensive over the weekend. (Rudaw) Meanwhile, ISIS advanced to within three kilometers of the Kurdish town of Kobani in northern Syria. Kobani official Idriss Nassan appealed to the outside world for urgent assistance: "We need help. We need weapons. We need more effective air-strikes. If the situation stays like this, we will see a massacre. I can't imagine what will happen if ISIS gets inside Kobani." (CNN)

Syria: first US air-strikes on ISIS at Kobani

The US-led coalition launched its first air-strikes targeting ISIS positions on the outskirts of the besieged Kurdish town of Kobani on Sept. 27, according to local officials. The strike follows a week-long ISIS offensive that has driven over 140,000 Syrian Kurds across the Turkish border. Ahmed Sulaiman, an official of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), told Kurdish news agency Rudaw that the mission targeted ISIS forces based at several villages east of Kobani, including Jim-Hiran, Ali-Shar, Mirde Smill and Sheran. The PKK-aligned People's Protection Units (YPG) are defending the town, and have issued a statement vowing to "make Kobani the graveyard of ISIS fighters." (Rudaw, Sept. 27)

US air-strikes fueling growth of ISIS?

The Sept. 23 US air-strikes on the so-called "Khorasan Group" near Aleppo on Sept. 23 killed 50 al-Qaeda militants and eight civilians—including three children and a woman—according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The Pentagon said the strikes on the Khorasan Group "were undertaken only by US assets," while strikes against ISIS elsewhere in Syria included warplanes from Arab coalition members. (Daily Star, Sept. 23) The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also reports that ISIS has recruited more than 6,000 new fighters since the US air-strikes began. One of Washington's favored rebel factions, Harakat Hazm, part of the Free Syrian Army alliance and a recipient of US missiles, issued a statement on Twitter denouncing the "external intervention"—meaning the US-led bombing campaign—as "an attack on the revolution." The group is demanding "unconditional arming" of the Free Syrian Army as an alternative to the air raids. (LAT, Sept. 23; Haaretz, Sept. 19)

First US air-strikes on ISIS targets in Syria

The US carried out its first air-strikes against ISIS targets in Syria on Sept. 22. In a statement, Pentagon press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby said the US used "a mix of fighter, bomber and Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles" launched from the USS George HW Bush in the Persian Gulf. Kirby said that because these strikes are ongoing, he could not give details about where they took place. But an unnamed Pentagon official told NPR the strikes targeted positions near Raqqa, the ISIS de facto capital. Planes from five Arab countries participated in the strikes—also not named by Kirby, although FoxNews identified them as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Bahrain and Qatar. There was no indication that the Syrian government had been consulted on the strikes, as Damascus had demanded.

ISIS destroys Armenian genocide memorial church

News agencies in the Middle East report that ISIS militants have destroyed the Armenian Genocide Memorial Church in Der Zor, the Syrian site where Turkish forces established concentration camps for deported Armenians during World War I—known as the "Auschwitz of the Armenian Genocide." The reports surfaced as Armenia was celebrating the 23rd anniversary of its independence Sept. 21. Armenia's Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian issued a statement calling the destruction of the church a "horrible barbarity." The church was built in 1990, and consecrated a year later. A memorial and  museum housing remains of the genocide victims was also built in the church compound. Thousands of Armenians from Syria and neighboring countries gathered at the memorial every year on April 24 to commemorate the genocide. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians perished in Der Zor and the surrounding desert during the genocide. (Armenian Weekly, Sept. 21)

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)

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