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.
But there was a grim side to the victory—Kurdish fighters discovered a mass grave in Sinjar, believed to hold the remains of dozens of Yazidi women executed by ISIS. The grave contains the bodies of some 75 women aged between 40 to around 80, according to younger Yazidi women who had been captured by ISIS, witnessed the executions and later escaped. "It seems the terrorist members only wanted young girls to enslave," said Miyasir Hajji, a member of the Sinjar town council. (AFP)
And in more grim news, at least 17 people were killed and 40 wounded in a suicide attack in Baghdad just as Sinjar was being freed. The bomber targeted the funeral of a Shi'ite militia member—but the latest in the virtually incessant terror in Iraq that is mere background noise for the world media. (BBC News)
Meanwhile, dozens of Syrian rebel groups issued a joint statement denouncing the Paris attacks. Forty-nine armed factions, including the powerful Jaish al-Islam coalition, signed on to the statement, condemning "in the strongest terms…the terrorist attacks against civilians in the city of Paris." The statement called the ISIS actions "criminal attacks that are against [Islamic] laws and human values." It added: "This terrorism does not differ from the terrorism that the Syrian people have suffered from every day for the past five years."
Residents of Douma, a rebel-held town east of Damascus now besieged and under bombardment by the Bashar Assad regime, also wrote an open letter to the French people. "First, and before everything, we express our warm condolences to the French families who lost loved ones," the letter read. "We condemn in the strongest of terms the targeting of civilians there and anywhere around the world. We extend our hands to all the people that love peace and freedom, most of all the French people." (AFP) Photos of a candlelight vigil in besieged Douma in solidarity with Paris was also posted on Facebook.
These Iraqis and Syrians have an important message for those of us in places like Paris and New York. As those who are directly standing up to terror—whether that of ISIS and their jihadist ilk or the Assad dictatorship—their expressions of solidarity comes with a special moral authority. May their heroism be an antidote to our despair. Take heart, and offer any encouragement to the good guys in the Middle East. As Woody Guthrie said last time around, all you fascists are bound to lose…