Iraq Theater

Iraqi forces take Kirkuk, lower Kurdistan flag

Iraqi government forces, including elite troops of the US-trained Counter Terrorism Service and irregulars of the Shi'ite militia Hashd al-Shaabi, began an attack on Peshmerga-controlled areas south and west of Kirkuk at midnight Oct. 15, and took the disputed city the following day. Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi ordered Iraqi forces take down the Kurdistan flag in the city, and hoist only the Iraqi national flag. Iraqi forces have also taken control of the K-1 military base and Baba Gurgur oilfield outside the city, as well as the airport, and key infrastructure and roads. Thousands of Kurdish civilians have fled the city, heading toward Erbil and Sulaimani, within the official borders of the Kurdistan Region. Peshmerga forces are apparently abandoning their positions to avoid conflict, and no casualties are reported. US officials said they were "engaged with all parties in Iraq to de-escalate tension," while President Trump said the White House is "not taking sides." (Rudaw, BBC News)

Yazidis: UN resolution on genocide insufficient

Leaders of Ezidikhan, the newly declared Yazidi autonomous zone in northern Iraq, are protesting that a UN Security Council resolution calling for an investigation into possible genocide by ISIS is to limited in scope. Resolution 2379, unanimously passed Sept. 21, authorizes establishment of an investigation team to support Iraq’s efforts to hold ISIS accountable for "acts that may amount to war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide." Ezidikhan Minister for Human Rights Rania Qaso Mesho applauded the resolution as a milestone on the path to justice, but also emphasized its shortcomings, saying: "The UN Security Council resolution does not go far enough. The resolution must also consider abuses by anti-ISIS forces that were complicit in attacks on Yezidi people."

Baghdad and Kurdistan at odds on independence

As results come in from the Kurdistan Regional Government's referendum on independence from Iraq, the Baghdad government is rejecting the vote as illegitimate, refusing all talks on the matter and threatening punitive action. "We are not ready to discuss or have a dialogue about the results of the referendum because it is unconstitutional," said Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi  in a speech broadcast on state TV.  Raising the stakes, Abadi has given the KRG until the end of the week to surrender control of its two international airports or face a shutdown of international flights.

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)

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