Kurdish forces press gains against ISIS

Kurdish forces made further gains against ISIS at Kobani in the final days of 2014, advancing higher on the Mshta Nur hills overlooking the besieged town in northern Syria. The local People's Protection Units (YPG) made advances with the help of Iraqi Peshmerga units, which brought heavy artillery to the fight, and US air-strikes on ISIS positions. US-led forces bombed ISIS positions around Kobani almost every day in December. Kobani has been under siege for over 100 days, but upwards of 70% of the town has now been liberated.  (Al Arabiya, Dec. 31; Rudaw, Dec. 25)

Peshmerga forces in Iraq are meanwhile preparing a new offensive to drive ISIS from historically Kurdish lands, following victories against the jihadists in areas northwest of Mosul. The Peshmerga's special Zeravani forces are to lead the push to liberate a dozen Kurdish and Christian towns on the Nineveh plains. "This area is multicultural and we as Peshmerga are ready to sacrifice with our lives to protect every inch of this land," Sayid Shukur, commander of the 4the Zeravani brigade, told independent news agency Rudaw. In December, the Peshmerga liberated around 2,500 square kilometers from ISIS near the Syrian border. This includes the Gwer-Makhmour area, which is disputed between the Kurdish Regional Government and Baghdad. The status of these disputed territories, including the city of Kirkuk, is to be resolved through Article 140 of Iraq's new constitution. (Rudaw, Jan. 2)

The UN Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) on Dec. 2 reported that civilian casualty figures for the country have reached their highest point over the past five years. The UN mission reported that last year's totals included 12,282 deaths and 23,126 injured citizens. UNAMI chief Nickolay Mladenov stated, "Yet again, the Iraqi ordinary citizen continues to suffer from violence and terrorism." (Jurist, Jan. 2)