Kurdistan

SDF declare Raqqa 'fully liberated' from ISIS

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) on Oct. 17 announced that they have "fully cleared" Raqqa of jihadist fighters and "liberated" the city from ISIS. The last group of hold-outs reportedly surrendered. The operation, launched in June, was named for Adnan Abu Amjad, an Arab commander with the SDF who was killed in August in the battle for Raqqa. The SDF coordinated their offensive closely with the US-backed coalition. More than 3,000 bombs have landed on Raqqa since January, devastating schools, hospitals and residential buildings. Less than one percent of Raqqa's 300,000 pre-war population is thought to remain in the city. The city has no electricity or water, and its last functioning bakery was destroyed recently. The Syrian Network for Human Rights counts more than 900 civilians killed over the course of the operation, including at least 570 in coalition air-strikes.

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."

Further internationalization of Syrian war

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has announced that Turkey is conducting a "landmark" military operation in Syria's Idlib governorate, extending the area brought under the control of Ankara and its rebel allies in last year's Operation Euphrates Shield against ISIS. Now the target is Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS). a formation led by militias to emerge from the former Nusra Front, some with apparent ties to al-Qaeda. (Al Jazeera, Oct. 9; Daily Sabah, Oct. 7) The Euphrates River has emerged as a border between Turkey's de facto "buffer zone"in northern Syria and areas still under Kurdish control—for now. However, Kurdish enclaves still remain west of the river, including the likely flashpoint town of Afrin. (See map.)

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.

Syria: Russia denies bombing Kurdish forces

Russia's Defense Ministry on Sept. 18 denied that Moscow's warplanes bombed positions of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces in Deir ez-Zor governorate. Both the SDF and the Pentagon reported the strikes, which left six Kurdish fighters injured on the eastern outskirts of Deir ez-Zor city. US forces were apparently embedded with the SDF unit, although no casualties were reported among the Americans. A Pentagon official said the US-led coalition denied a Russian military request to strike an area where there were SDF fighters and coalition advisors, but the Russians apparently decided to attack anyway. (EA Worldview)

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."

Turkish court orders release of opposition leader

A Turkish court ordered the release of an imprisoned Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) parliamentarian on Sept. 7, according to an HDP statement. Ayhan Bilgen is the former speaker of the HDP and had been jailed over allegations of terrorism. The release follows a "Conscience and Justice Watch" at the Constitutional Court building to demand action for those unjustly and unlawfully imprisoned. The current Turkish government has removed and arrested more than 150,000 people after a failed coup last year.

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