Nearly a quarter of a million people have died in Syria's war since March 2011, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR). The organiztion said Aug. 7 that the number of documented deaths had risen to 240,381 from 230,618 in June. Of these, 71,781 have been civilians and 11,964 children, the group found. 50,570 were soldiers or fighters allied with the regime. The toll for rebel fighters was put at 43,384 and foreign fighters (apparently counted separately) at 34,375. The 30,000 who have gone missing in Syria, including the 20,000 said to be held in regime prisons, were not counted in the toll. (The Telegraph, Aug. 8; Al Jazeera, Aug. 7)
Following weeks of mounting protests over economic conditions and corruption, tens of thousands took to the streets of Baghdad Aug. 7, filling Tahrir Square to demand basic services including electricity in the midst of a crushing heat-wave. The protest had the support of all Iraq's Shi'ite factions—in a challenge to Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi from his own constituency. Even parliament speaker Saleem al-Jubouri called on Abadi to dismiss of a number of ministers accused of corruption related to a budget-cutting package that just passed, under pressure from fallling oil prices. Large protests were also reported from across Iraq's Shi'ite south, including in the cities of Basra, Najaf, Karbala and Nasiriyah. A week earlier, secular and left-wing groups held a smaller protest in Tahrir Square. But the leftists also had a contingent at the Aug. 7 march, chanting "Secularism, secularism, no to Sunni, no to Shia." (In Defense of Marxism, Aug. 10; AP, Aug. 7)
An Aug. 7 account on Daily Beast reports that young Yazidis—including women—are returning to the Mount Sinjar area of Iraq from which they were "cleansed" by ISIS last year, and fighting to reclaim their homeland from the jihadists. They also hope to rescue hundreds of Yazidi women and youth who remain in ISIS captivity. They are organized in a militia called the Sinjar Protection Units (YBS), which the article portrays as trained by and in the political orbit of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). Young Yazidi fighters are quoted saying they feel betrayed by the Peshmerga of Iraq's Kurdistan Regional Government, which they say abandoned them to ISIS. But we've noted before the problemetic nature of Daily Beast's reportage on Syria and Iraq, and this is no exception. The PKK is called a "Marxist and allegedly terrorist organization" (the word "allegedly" apparently having been added after publication, to go by the cache as it appears on Facebook). It states that the PKK was "[b]uilt on Marxist-Leninist ideals and Kurdish nationalism," without stating that it has in recent years moved away from both towards an anarchist-influenced politics.
The ongoing betrayal of the Syrian Kurds is no less maddening for being utterly predictable. The Wall Street Journal reports Aug. 3 that the US and Turkey have reached an agreement to keep Kurdish forces out of the "buffer zone" Ankara hopes to establish in Rojava, or northern Syria. In other words, the very forces that have been most effective in fighting ISIS are to be purged from the territory they have defended and liberated. The Kurds, who have been cynically accused of "ethnic cleansing" by Ankara's propagandists, are about to be ethnically cleansed. And, of course, this operation, ostensibly aimed at beating back ISIS, is actually aimed at crushing the revolutionary Kurds whose ground offensive has been driving ISIS back towards Raqqa, the "Islamic State" capital. Turkey's air campaign began last week with a few strikes on ISIS targets—which ISIS boasted hadn't hit anything. Since then, the overwhelming majority of the strikes (185 sorties against 400 targets, according to Al Monitor), have been hitting Kurdish positions across Kurdistan—within Turkey and Iraq as well as Syria. Even Reuters states: "Turkey's assaults on the PKK have so far been far heavier than its strikes against Islamic State, fuelling suspicions that its real agenda is keeping Kurdish political and territorial ambitions in check, something the government denies." Of over 1,000 arrested in sweeps within Turkey since the campaign began, only 140 are ISIS followers—compared to more than 870 followers of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), the formation in the ideological leadership of the Kurdish revolution. (Workers Solidarity Movement)
Well, the long-awaited "other shoe" is finally dropping. It is clear that Washington has given Turkey a green light to crush the revolutionary Kurds—in Turkey, Syria and Iraq alike—as the price of Ankara's cooperation against ISIS. And it's also pretty clear that crushing the Kurds is far more of a priority for Ankara than fighting ISIS. The New York Times writes: "Turkey's new airstrikes...against the Islamic State...came alongside an equally intense barrage on Kurdish militants in Iraq, whose Syrian affiliates are also fighting the Islamic State." Equally intense or far more intense? Media accounts have few specifics of ISIS targets hit by the Turkish strikes. But Haaretz reports: "Turkish fighter jets launched their heaviest assault on Kurdish militants in northern Iraq overnight since airstrikes began last week... The F-16 jets hit six targets in Iraq and were scrambled from an air base in Turkey's southeastern province of Diyarbakir... Turkey began bombing PKK camps in northern Iraq last Friday in what government officials have said was a response to a series of killings of police officers and soldiers blamed on the Kurdish militant group."
News reports today have Turkey finally intervening in Syria and Iraq against ISIS. The USA Today headline is typical: "Turkey expands anti-Islamic State campaign." However, the specifics about the targeting indicate that anti-ISIS Kurdish forces are actually being hit. BBC News reports that the Kurdish-led People's Protection Units (YPG) say Turkish tanks shelled their fighters at the border villages of Zormikhar and Til Findire, near Kobani in northern Syria. Daily Sabah quotes an anonymous Turkish official denying the claims: "The ongoing military operation seeks to neutralize imminent threats to Turkey's national security and continues to target the self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) in Syria and the PKK in Iraq... PYD, along with others, remains outside the scope of the current military effort." This strikes us as a disingenuous statement, as the Democratic Union Party (PYD) is the civil and political entity that runs the Kurdish autonomous zone in northern Syria (in alliance with other formations), while the YPG is its military arm. So the Kurdish self-defense forces could be coming under attack, and this statement would still be (very narrowly) correct. A BBC News account also notes that the intervention comes as the US and Turkey have announced that they are working together on military plans to create an "Islamic State-free zone" in Syria's north—in other words, the long-anticipated buffer zone that is really aimed at destroying the Kurdish autonomous zone and amounts to a de facto Turkish annexation of Syrian territory. The "IS-free zome" (perhaps better dubbed a "PYD-free zone") is reportedly to extend 68 miles (109 kilometers) west of the Euphrates River.
OK, this one is sending the irony meter into full tilt. Two Spanish volunteers who went to Iraq to fight ISIS at Sinjar (presumably alongside PKK forces) in an "International Brigade" were arrested upon their return to Madrid and face charges of... (wait for it)... membership in a "terrorist organization"! One defendant is named as Paco Arcadio; the other only by his nom de guerre "Marto." El Mundo reports they were released on bail July 6. Anarchist website Insurrection News informs us that they are followers of Reconstrucción Comunista, one of the more militant tendencies to emerge from Spain's fragmented Communist Party. Upon his release from jail, Arcadio made a statement about why they went to fight ISIS: "In this region, the proletarian struggle is advancing. It is the struggle against fascism as represented by the Islamic State. We went to help, as the international brigades came to help us in '36."
In a press conference at the Pentagon today, President Obama said the struggle against ISIS will be a "long-term campaign," but that the US is "intensifying" efforts. He boasted: "In the past year we've seen when we have effective partners on the ground." He also stated: "Altogether, ISIL has lost over a quarter of the populated areas it had seized in Iraq." In naming those forces on the ground, he mentioned first and foremost "our Arab partners"—despite the fact that the most significant gains against ISIS have been not at the hands of Arabs but Kurds. Of the specific victories he invoked, only one—Tikrit—was by Arab forces. All the rest—Kirkuk, Sinjar, Mosul Dam, Kobani, Tal Abyad—were by Kurdish forces. Nowhere in his 20-minute comments did Obama so much as utter the word "Kurds," although he did refer to the "Peshmerga," "tribal fighters" and the "moderate opposition" in Syria.