Kurdistan

Assad bashes Rojava Kurds as 'traitors'

Well, this is a telling irony. The Rojava Kurds, who have been repeatedly accused of collaborating with Bashar Assad, have now just been dissed by the dictator as "traitors." Assad told his official news agency SANA Dec. 18: "All those who work under the command of any foreign country in their own country and against their army and people are traitors, quite simply, regardless of their names, and that is our evaluation of the groups that work for the Americans in Syria." This is clearly a reference to the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), who have been received aid from the United States—although to fight ISIS, and definitely not the Assad regime. The core group in the SDF, the Kurdish YPG militia, has intermittently clashed with the regime.

Popular protests rock Iraqi Kurdistan

Thousands took to the streets across Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region Dec. 18 to protest budget cuts and the lack of basic services, in what is looking like a popular uprising as street clashes now enter their second day. At least six were killed Dec. 19 in Raniya, Sulaymaniyah province, as security forces fired on protesting civil servants, who have gone without pay for weeks. Demonstrators are demanding the resignation of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) administration. A group of protesters armed with assault rifles attacked the local office of the KRG's ruling Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) in Raniya, where a curfew has now been imposed. KRG authorities have also taken measures against the press, ordering closed independent Nalia Radio & Television (NRT), and arresting its owner Shaswar Abdulwahid, for allegedly inciting the protests. The KRG has been under a severe financial crunch since Baghdad cut off funding to the region over its unilateral referendum on independence in September. (BasNews, BasNews, BasNews, BasNewsArab News, CNN)

US to demand arms back from Rojava Kurds

The Donald Trump administration plans to ask Kurdish fighters in Syria to return weapons "loaned" for the fight against ISIS, an unnamed official told Al-Monitor. This was revealed the same day the White House made its first official comment on claims by the Turkish foreign minister that US support for the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) would be coming to an end. "Once we started winning the campaign against ISIS, the plan and part of the process is to always wind down support for certain groups," White House mouthpiece Sarah Huckabee Sanders said at a briefing on Dec. 1. "Now that we're continuing to crush the physical caliphate...we're in a position to stop providing military equipment to certain groups. But that doesn't mean stopping all support of those individual groups."

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.

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