A United Nations report released Jan. 19 details the severe and extensive impact on civilians of the ongoing conflict in Iraq, with at least 18,802 civilians killed and another 36,245 wounded between January 2014 and October 2015, while another 3.2 million people have been internally displaced due to violence. An estimated 3,500, mainly women and children, are being held as slaves by Islamic State militants. "The violence suffered by civilians in Iraq remains staggering," the report states. "The so-called 'Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant' (ISIL) continues to commit systematic and widespread violence and abuses of international human rights law and humanitarian law. These acts may, in some instances, amount to war crimes, crimes against humanity, and possibly genocide."
The head of the UK's Iraq Historic Allegations Team (IHAT), charged with looking into alleged abuses committed during the war in Iraq, said Jan. 3 that British soldiers may face prosecution for war crimes. Mark Warwick, a former police detective and the head of IHAT, stated that some of the allegations being investigated included murder. According to the investigation, there may be as many 1,515 victims, 280 of whom are alleged to have been unlawfully killed. However, Public Interest Lawyers, representing some of the alleged victims, said IHAT is not doing an effective job investigating those responsible for "systemic" abuse. They state that "Despite public inquires, court proceedings ongoing since 2004 and the IHAT team of investigators, there is yet to be a single prosecution resulting from IHAT's work." Carla Ferstman, director of the human rights group Redress, echoed these comments, stating that the the "incredibly slow pace" of IHAT's investigations was "wholly unacceptable."
Ahead of next month's planned meeting between Syrian opposition groups the government of Bashar al-Assad, Voice of America writes: "But already, there is a sense that the talks, advocated by the United States, are doomed to fail." Among those quoted is former CIA director James Woolsey, who told VOA: "I haven't seen any indication that the US has a coherent plan for dealing with failed states." Also quoted is Lahur Talabani, intelligence chief for Iraq's Kurdistan Regional Government, who said: "There is no Syria or Iraq. With the arrival of [ISIS] in the region, they removed the borders that were put in place."
Well, here's a bizarre irony. Iraq's Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi today warned Turkey that "only 24 hours" were left for Ankara to remove forces it sent into the north of his country. "We must be prepared and ready to defend Iraq and its sovereignty," said Abadi. "The air force has the capability...to protect Iraq and its borders from any threat it faces." (Al Jazeera) Turkey says it has deployed the 150 soldiers to the town of Bashiqa to train Kurdish Peshmerga forces fighting ISIS. (BBC News) So Iraq's Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and its strongman Masoud Barzani have invited in Turkish forces, while the Baghdad regime is demanding that they leave. Turkey is doubtless motivated by the need to police northern Iraq against the growing influence there of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). The KRG and PKK are ostensibly allied against ISIS. But the KRG is shamefully acquiescing in Turkey's bombing of PKK fighters within its own territory—a terrible blow to Kurdish solidarity and the anti-ISIS struggle. Now this contradiction has just become clearer—and more urgent.
Well, the British parliament just voted to enter the air war against ISIS in Syria, having up till now limited its air-strikes to Iraq as part of the US-led coalition. (WP) The Independent boasts that its Patrick Cockburn (assailed as a "media missionary" for the Assad dictatorship by supporters of the Syrian revolution) was invited by Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn to "brief MPs on the facts about...Syria" ahead of the vote in the House of Commons. By "facts," they actually mean fictions, of course. Putting aside the actual question at hand (that of air-strikes), Cockburn's "briefing" was in fact dedicated to dissing and dismissing the Syrian resistance that is fighting both Assad and ISIS on the ground...
The United Nations Security Council on Nov. 20 unanimously adopted a new resolution (PDF) calling on all member states to fight to eradicate ISIS. Introduced by France in the wake of the Paris attacks that claimed 129 lives, the resolution asks states to do what they can to destroy ISIS safe havens in Syria and Iraq. Characterizing ISIS as "a global and unprecedented threat to international peace and security," the Security Council warned that further attacks are expected, given recent ISIS attacks in Tunisia, Turkey, over Egypt with the downing of a Russian plane, and in Beirut and Paris. By a 15-0 vote in favor, the Security Council pledged to attack all terror organizations in the Iraq and Syria region, including Nusrah Front, both with physical force and by working to crack down on foreign fighters joining the cause and by blocking financing.
In the wake of the Paris attacks, the centripetal tendency in world affairs seems to hold sway—a further Great Power convergence against ISIS. When the French nuclear aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle reaches its position off Syria's coast, it joins a Russian guided missile cruiser already there—and cooperation between the two powers appears imminent. "Under the Russian president's decree, the General Staff is working out joint anti-terrorism operations with the French Navy," said Col-Gen. Andrey Kartapolov, deputy chief of staff, according to Moscow's state news agency Tass. "With the arrival of the Charles de Gaulle warship to the Syrian shore we will organize joint military operations." Citing Kartapolov, Tass also claimed, "Russian warplanes have destroyed about 500 fuel tank trucks that were illegally transporting oil from Syria to Iraq for refining." While not stated, this presumably means ISIS oil. (NPR)
On the same day as the Paris attacks, a serious blow was dealt against ISIS in Iraq, as the town of Sinjar was liberated from the jihadists by a mixed force led by Kurdish Peshmerga troops. Sinjar has a special symbolic significance, as it was the main town of Iraq's Yazidi minority, which ISIS is bent on exterminating. Thousands of Yazidis were massacred or enslaved by ISIS after they took the town during their surge into northern Iraq last year. The anti-ISIS offensive, Operation Free Sinjar, was backed up by US air-strikes and coordinated forces of the Peshmerga, PKK-aligned Kurdish fighters, and a Yazidi militia. Another 28 villages were liberated in the two-day sweep. The Kurdistan Regional Government claimed that 200 square kilometers were taken in the operation, and some 300 ISIS fighters killed. (BBC News; Rudaw) A Facebook video showed Yazidis celebrating the liberation of their town.