Iraq Theater

Kirkuk at question in Kurdish independence vote

Thousands rallied in Erbil, capital of Iraq's Kurdistan Region, on Sept. 13 in support of the upcoming historic referendum on independence. But one day earlier, Iraq's parliament passed a resolution rejecting the referendum, and demanding that Kurdish authorities "cancel" it. Kurdistan President Masoud Barzani retorted in kind: "I say clearly to the Iraqi parliament to reconsider your decision because the will of the people of Kurdistan will not be broken by you." A particular sticking point is the inclusion of Kirkuk in the vote scheduled for Sept. 25—not within the Kurdistan Regional Government's formal borders, but under its de facto control since Kurdish forces occupied the city with the collapse of the Iraqi army during the ISIS offensive of June 2014. The Iraqi parliament resolution made special note that the referendum is proceeding within "disputed territories, including Kirkuk."

Yazidis declare autonomous nation of Ezidikhan

In an historic step for the beleaguered Yazidi people of northwestern Iraq, the Supreme Spiritual Council of the Yezidi Nation, led by Baba Sheikh Khurto Hajji Ismail, has proclaimed the establishment of the "Provisional Government of the Autonomous Nation of Ezidikhan." The provisional government arrives just three years after the Yazidi people faced a genocidal assault that brought them to the edge of extinction, following the seizure of their territory by ISIS. The territory, centered around the area of Sinjar, has since been liberated, in part by a newly formed Yazidi militia. The provisional government says it will establish a democratic governance structure for the liberated territory, draft a constitution, and work for the return of the Yazidi diaspora. The statement guarantees gender equality and freedom of expression within the autonomous territory, and states that Ezidikhan will "be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations and international law."

Carnage in anti-ISIS campaign jumps under Trump

Civilian casualties from the US-led war against ISIS are set to double under President Donald Trump, according to the AirWars website that has been monitoring the toll of the conflict. AirWars resarchers estimate that at least 2,300 civilians were likely killed in Coalition strikes overseen by the Obama White House—roughly 80 each month in Iraq and Syria. As of July 13, more than 2,200 additional civilians appear to have been killed in Coalition raids since Trump was inaugurated—upwards of 360 per month. That's 12 or more civilians killed for each day of his administration.

Amnesty sees 'civilian catastrophe' in Mosul

A new report by Amnesty International uncovers the horrifying scale of death, injury and suffering of civilians trapped in the battle for west Mosul. The report documents how the group calling itself the Islamic State (IS) moved civilians from neighboring villages into the zones of the battle in west Mosul, trapped them in their homes and prevented them from escaping, using them as human shields. Meanwhile Iraqi and coalition forces failed to take adequate measures to protect civilians, instead subjecting them to a terrifying barrage of fire from weapons that should never be used in densely populated civilian areas.

Iraq: will fall of Mosul widen war?

The prime minister of Iraq on July 10 declared the full liberation of Mosul, as the last ISIS-controlled area in the Old City was taken by coalition forces. In a televised speech at the Counter Terrorism Service headquarters in Mosul, Haider al-Abadi said: "I announce from here the end and the failure and the collapse of the terrorist state of falsehood and terror." The operation to take Mosul from ISIS was launched in October 2016, bringing together a 100,000-strong force including the Kurdistan Region's Peshmerga, the Iraqi military and Hashd al-Shaabi paramilitary forces, all backed by the US-led multinational Combined Joint Task Force (CJFT). (Kurdistan24, Military.com, July 10)

Syria: will fall of Raqqa widen war?

It seems to have finally come to open war between the Rojava Kurds and the Turkish intervention force in Syria. The People's Protection Units (YPG) and allied factions of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have sent reinforcements to the northern countryside of Aleppo governorate to impede the Turkish progress towards Afrin district. "The YPG and SDF today deployed more forces and armored vehicles in northern Aleppo," a YPG officer told the independent Kurdish ARA News June 29. "The Kurdish people in Afrin region have suffered a lot under heavy bombardment by Turkey and allied Islamists." Clashes are already reported bewteen the two sides. But in another sign of shifting alliances, the Assad regime is reported to have sent troops to block the way of the YPG-SDF reinforcements. This is clear evidence that the tactical alliance between the Kurds and Assad is now severely strained if not entirely broken. It may even indicate Assad has acquiesced in establishment of a Turkish buffer zone in northern Syria under Russian pressure. (More at Zaman al-wsl, June 28; ANF, June 22)

Who destroyed Mosul's al-Nuri mosque?

ISIS and the United States exchanged accusations over the destruction of Mosul's historic Grand al-Nuri Mosque on June 21. Army Major General Joseph Martin, head of the US-led coalition's combined joint forces land component, called destruction of most of the mosque and its famous leaning minaret "a crime against the people of Mosul and all of Iraq," adding that "responsibility of this devastation is laid firmly at the doorstep of ISIS." However, ISIS claimed in a statement on its Amaq news agency that US aircraft destroyed the mosque. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said blowing up the mosque was "an official declaration of defeat" by ISIS. The ancient landmark with its famous leaning minaret was where IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi proclaimed a "caliphate" in 2014. It was from the medieval mosque that ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared a new "caliphate" three years ago.

Iraq: Kurdistan to vote on independence

Authorities in Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region have announced that the northern territory will hold a referendum on independence, with a date of Sept. 25 set for the vote. Masoud Barzani, president of the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG), announced the decision on Twitter June 7. The referendum on secession from Iraq will be held in the three governorates that officially make up the Kurdish region (Erbil, Sulaymaniyah and Dohuk) and in the areas disputed by the KRG and Baghdad but currently under Kurdish military control—most notably the potential flashpoint of oil-rich Kirkuk. (Al Jazeera, June 8) (See map)

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