Iraq: US calls off rescue operation; PKK join fight

Defense Department officials said Aug. 13 that US air-strikes and Kurdish forces have broken the ISIS siege of Mount Sinjar, allowing thousands of the Yazidis trapped there to escape. An initial report from some dozen Marines and Special Operations troops who arrived the previous day said that "the situation is much more manageable," a Defense official told the New York Times. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, speaking to reporters at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., said it is "far less likely now" that the US will undertake a rescue mission. A White House official said: "The president's decisive decisions [sic] in the immediate wake of the crisis kept people alive and broke the siege of the mountain." But Yazidi leaders and relief workers dispute the claim that the siege has been broken, asserting that tens of thousands of Yazidis remain on the mountain in desperate conditions. Speaking from her hospital bed in Istanbul, Vian Dakhil, a Yazidi member of Iraq's parliament who was injured in a helicopter crash on the mountain, said that up to 80,000 remain stranded there. "It's better now than it had been, but it's just not true that all of them are safe—they are not," Dakhil said. "Especially on the south side of the mountain, the situation is very terrible. There are still people who are not getting any aid." (NYT, NYT, Ahram, The Guardian)

While the rescue mission is apparently abandoned, President Obama said in a televised statement that "American air-strikes will continue in Iraq." And while Obama is continuing to resist Kurdish requests for heavy arms to fight ISIS, the US embassy in Iraq announced the delivery of 15 million pieces of ammunition to the Baghdad government, while confirming that 12 Iraqi pilots are in the United States for training on F-16 fighter jets. The statement praised the military cooperation between Baghdad and the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) in Erbil. (

PKK joins the fight
The Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), designated a "terrorist organization" by the US for its armed struggle against the Turkish state, has joined with the KRG's Peshmerga force in the offensive against ISIS. The PKK last week issued a statement calling for all Kurdish factions to unite against ISIS. At Makhmour, Erbil governorate, a Maxmur Defense Forces have been formed to defend the town against ISIS, made up of both Peshmeraga troops and fighters from two militias aligned with the PKK, the People's Defense Forces (HPG, linked to Syria-based YPG) and the Free Women's Troops (YJA Star). 

The Maxmur Defense Forces issued a statement saying its operations were coordinated with US air-strikes in the Makhmour area. However, Defense Forces fighters interviewed by the indpendent Kurdish news agency Firat denied that they had received any warning of the US air-strikes, which they said hit empty areas, not ISIS positions. (ANF, Aug. 11; ANF, Aug. 9; WP, Middle East Eye, Aug. 5)

Yazidis still under threat
Two senior UN officials, Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict Zainab Hawa Bangura and Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Iraq Nickolay Mladenov issued a joint statement from Baghdad: "We are gravely concerned by continued reports of acts of violence, including sexual violence against women and teenage girls and boys belonging to Iraqi minorities… Atrocious accounts on the abduction and detention of Yazidi, Christian, as well as Turkomen and Shabak women, girls and boys, and reports of savage rapes, are reaching us in an alarming manner… We condemn, in the strongest terms, the explicit targeting of women and children and the barbaric acts the 'Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant' has perpetrated on minorities in areas under its control, and we remind all armed groups that acts of sexual violence are grave human rights violations that can be considered as war crimes and crimes against humanity." The statement warned that some 1,500 Yazidis and Christians may have been forced into sexual slavery. (Jurist, United Nations Iraq)

A Yazidi woman told the Kurdish news agency Rudaw that three of her daughters committed suicide after they were raped by ISIS militants and were later allowed to join their family on Mount Shingal. The mother said: "My daughters were calling on people to kill them, but no one wanted to do that. So they jumped from the mountain and ended their bitter life." The mother reportedly recounted her daughters' story on camera, but YPG fighters on the mountain seized the Rudaw camera and erased the tape. (Rudaw)

Battle for Fallujah
The United Nations has declared a Level 3 Emergency—its highest category—in Iraq, noting heavy fighting at the ISIS-held city of Fallujah, just 65 kilometers west of Baghdad in Anbar governorate. (Al Jazeera) Following the Syrian regime, Baghdad has resorted to raining crude but deadly barrel bombs on Fallujah. Rudaw reports that while residents know there are few measures they can take against the destruction, for the sake of comforting themselves they go through a routine of trying to protect themselves. "We start by turning off the lights at home and assembling all family members in one room," said one resident. (Rudaw, July 28)

Maliki steps down
Nouri al-Maliki finally bowed to pressure from all sides and stepped down as prime minister, allowing Haider al-Abadi to take office. Maliki's move was influenced by the statement of Iraq's most senior Shi'ite religious leader, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who urged him to step down. Iran and the US both threw their support behind Abadi. (Al Jazeera, BBC News)