The Pentagon is dispatching some 2,500 ground combat troops to a staging base in Kuwait, from where they are expected to be mobilized to back up forces fighting ISIS in Iraq and Syria. The deployment includes elements of the 82nd Airborne Division's 2nd Brigade Combat Team, based at Fort Bragg, NC. About 1,700 troops from the same unit are already overseas, spread between Iraq and Kuwait. (Army Times, March 9) The US currently has only some 500 troops authorized to operate in Syria, predominantly Special Forces, and it is unclear if this new deployment breaches that threshold. However, the US Special Forces in Syria are increasingly tasked with keeping peace between Kurdish and Turkish forces rather than actually fighting ISIS. Special Forces are currently deployed at Manbij in what the Pentagon calls a mission to "reassure and deter"—interpreted as providing a buffer between Kurdish-led and Turkish-led forces, to prevent open conflict between them. (Military Times, March 6)
Amnesty International is demanding that Iraq's Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) immediately end the "shocking and arbitrary" detention of a Yazidi woman who has been held without trial for nearly two years after surviving captivity at the hands of ISIS. Bassema Darwish, a 34-year-old mother of three from the Babira village in Nineva governorate, has been detained by the KRG since October 2014, accused of complicity with ISIS forces who killed three Kurdish Peshmerga fighters when they arrived at the house where she was being held captive in Zummar village. She is currently detained at a prison in Erbil, denied access to family and counsel. She gave birth to a daughter while in custody.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed his concern for the human rights violations faced by the Yazidi minority in Northern Iraq on Aug. 3, stating that actions of the Islamic State (IS) may amount to genocide. Two years ago the IS attacked the Sinjar area in Iraq killing nearly 5,000 individuals. The statement claims that 3,200 Yazidi women and children remain in captivity and are subjected to nearly unimaginable violence. The Secretary-General proclaimed these acts may constitute war crimes, crimes against humanity and even genocide. The UN encouraged the Iraqi government to bring perpetrators of these crimes to justice, with a fair trials and due process, while supporting the survivors.
Human Rights Watch has called on the Iraqi and Kurdistan Regional Government authorities to prosecute ISIS fighters for war crimes against the Yazidi minority. "Yezidi victims of human rights abuses have a right to justice, not just government declarations with no consequences," said Skye Wheeler of HRW's women's rights division. Several ISIS fighters are now in custody following recent territory gains by both the Iraqi central government and Kurdish regional authorities. But HRW says so far no authorities in Iraq are investigating or prosecuting ISIS members for war crimes or crimes against humanity. (ARA News, June 23)
Rojda Felat, a Kurdish revolutionary feminist, is leading the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces' offensive on Raqqa, capital of the Islamic State's self-declared caliphate. A three-year veteran of the struggle against ISIS, she is serving as commander of 15,000 Kurdish and Arab fighters, backed by US special forces and warplanes, under the banner of the SDF. "My main goal is liberating the Kurdish woman and the Syrian woman in general from the ties and control of traditional society, as well as liberating the entirety of Syria from terrorism and tyranny," she told the London Times.
Syrian Kurds on March 17 formally declared a "Federation of Northern Syria," uniting their three autonomous cantons into one entity, in an announcement quickly denounced by the Assad regime, the opposition and regional powers alike. Democratic Union Party (PYD) official Idris Nassan said the federation brings together "areas of democratic self-administration" encompassing all the Rojava region's ethnic and religious groups. The decision was approved at a meeting in the town of Rmeilan (Jazira canton), attended by some 200 representatives of Kurdish, Arab, Armenian, Turkmen and Syriac communities. (Middle East Eye)
ISIS used "poisonous substances" during the shelling of a village in northern Iraq on March 8, with local officials reporting that over 40 residents suffered breathing problems and skin irritation, and five fell unconscious. The agents were released as ISIS fired mortar shells and rockets on Tuz Khurmatu (also rendered Taza), a Shi'ite Turkmen village south of Kirkuk. (TeleSur, Al Bawaba, March 10) This was just the latest in a growing number of such reports. On March 2, the Tal Afar district near Sinjar was hit by at least six rockets that emitted a yellow smoke on impact. Three civilians, including two children, were hospitalized with nausea, vomiting and skin irritation. On Feb. 25, after ISIS rockets hit Sinjar, nearly 200 people were treated for severe vomiting, nausea and headaches. (USA Today, March 10) Three Peshmerga troops were hospitalized after ISIS launched shells loaded with what was believed to be mustard gas on the Makhmour front Feb. 17. (Rudaw, Feb. 17)
Hundreds of former ISIS sex slaves have formed an all-female battalion to join an assault against their former abusers in northern Iraq. The battalion—the "Force of the Sun Ladies"—is made up of some 120 women who escaped ISIS captivity, and are now being trained for battle by the Kurdish Peshmerga. Another 500 are waiting for training. Cpt Khatoon Khider of the Sun Ladies told reporters: 'Whenever a war wages, our women end up as the victims. Now we are defending ourselves from the evil... We will do whatever is asked of us... Our elite force is a model for other women in the region. We want everyone to take up weapons and know how to protect themselves from the evil." The Sun Ladies are part of the Yazidi militia now preparing an offensive on ISIS-held Mosul with Peshmerga forces. The UN says ISIS still holds some 3,500 people captive in Iraq, the majority women and girls from the Yazidi community. Last month, the director of the UN human rights office in Iraq, Francesco Motta, accused ISIS of genocide, saying the jihadist group is seeking to "destroy part or the whole of the Yazidi people." (Christian Today, India Times, Feb. 11; Al Alam, Feb. 9)