Iraq Theater

Yazidi woman speaks on ISIS genocide

Columbia University's Institute for the Study of Human Rights hosted a public event Nov. 19, "Yezidi Woman Reports on Genocide by ISIS," featuring Pari Ibrahim, founder of the Free Yezidi Foundation, with David Sklar, an advisor to Iraq's Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). Ibrahim described the fall of the Yazidi town of Sinjar to ISIS in June, the populace taken unawares and largely unarmed. Many of the town's men were summarily killed, while women and children were taken away to be trafficked as sex slaves for Arab buyers. Ibrahim charged President Obama with responding too slowly, despite pleas from Yazidi leaders. "There was a genocide by ISIS in Sinjar, but the world did not react sooner." 

Observers: US-led Syria strikes kill over 900

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported Nov. 22 that US-led airstrikes in Syria have killed over 900 people since September—including 785 ISIS fighters, 72 Nusra Front militants and 52 civilians. Among the civilians were eight women and five children. Activists say Syria's civil war has now claimed over 200,000 lives. (AP, Nov. 22) In northern Iraq, local Kurdish officials announced that ISIS commander Mustafa Sulaiman Qarabash AKA Abu Husam al-Iraqi, held responsible for selling hundreds of abducted Yazidi girls, was killed in a coalition air-strike in Mosul. A KDP official for the Mosul area said 35 ISIS militants were killed in the strike, and their base destroyed. (Rudaw, Nov. 22)

Global terrorism survey finds surging attacks

A study by UK-based Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) finds there were nearly 10,000 terrorist attacks in 2013, 44% more than the year before. The number of terrorism-related deaths climbed 61%—from 11,133 in 2012 to 17,958 in 2013. The Global Terrorism Index reported four groups dominated the attacks: ISIS, Boko Haram, al-Qaeda and the Taliban, collectively responsible for 66% of the fatalities. Iraq was the country most affected by terrorism, with 2,492 attacks that killed more than 6,300. The report found that ISIS was responsible for "most" of the deaths in Iraq. The next top countries were Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria and Syria. IEP produces the report from the Global Terrorism Database compiled by the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START), at the University of Maryland. (Yahoo News, Nov. 18; AP, Nov. 17)

Rojava revolution speaks in New York City

Metropolitan area Kurds and their supporters on Nov. 18 held a panel at the City University of New York entitled "Kobanê and the Rojava Revolution"—which actually featured a live Skype connection to Salih Muslim, co-chair of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and political leader of the Kobani resistance, who was speaking from Europe. Also speaking via Skype was sociologist Nazan Üstündağ of Turkey's Boğaziçi University, who has been studying the Kurdish self-government system in northern Syria, or Rojava. Following up at the podium in the CCNY lecture hall was US-based Kurdish affairs analyst Mutlu Çiviroğlu. The event was chaired by David Phillips of the Institute for the Study of Human Rights at Columbia University, who is a former advisor to the US State Department. The panel provided a vivid illustration of the contradictions facing the Rojava revolution.

US ground troops for Mosul assault?

Martin Dempsey, head of the US joint chiefs of staff, arrived in Baghdad on Nov. 15, days after President Barack Obama authorised sending up to 1,500 more forces to Iraq—roughly double the planned US "post-withdrawal" presence—to advise and train Iraqi and Kurdish forces. Before his trip, Dempsey was questioned about whether US troops will accompany Iraqi forces in an operation to take back Mosul, and said it was unlikely "but we're certainly considering it." He added: "We're going to need about 80,000 competent Iraqi security forces to recapture territory lost, and eventually the city of Mosul, to restore the border." 

Kurdish revolution: what odds for survival?

ISIS is committing war crimes and crimes against humanity on a large scale in areas under its control, the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria finds in its new report—citing massacres, beheadings, torture, sexual enslavement and forced pregnancy. "The commanders of ISIS have acted wilfully, perpetrating these war crimes and crimes against humanity with clear intent of attacking persons with awareness of their civilian or 'hors de combat' [non-combatant] status," the report said. "They are individually criminally responsible for these crimes." Based on more than 300 interviews with people who have fled areas under ISIS control, as well as photographs and video footage released by ISIS itself, the report calls for the perpetrators to be brought to justice. (DİHA, Nov. 14)

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.