Syrian rebels announced formation of a new Revolutionary Command Council at a meeting in Gaziantep, Turkey. The RCC claims to represent over 70 rebel militias. It includes both the Free Syrian Army and the Islamic Front, as well as more Salafist formations such as Ahrar al-Sham. It excludes the Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front. The RCC charter repeatedly uses the terms "the Syrian people," "civilian," and "revolution"—anathema to the Qaedist ideology of Nusra Front and ISIS. Each RCC affiliate is pledged to contribute at least 100 fighters to a proposed rapid intervention force. The RCC's elected head, Qais al-Sheikh, last week resigned from the Syrian National Coalition in protest of its poor performance. (Al Bawaba, Dec. 1)
Iraq's military has halted ISIS forces just 40 kilometers outside of Baghdad. Iraqi government air-strikes Sept. 28 held the jihadist fighters at Ameriyat al-Fallujah, a strategic town west of Baghdad and south of ISIS-controlled Fallujah. But panic spread in the capital as rumors circulated of ISIS attacks in the capital's immediate suburbs. Reports indicate some 1,000 Iraqi soldiers were killed in the offensive over the weekend. (Rudaw) Meanwhile, ISIS advanced to within three kilometers of the Kurdish town of Kobani in northern Syria. Kobani official Idriss Nassan appealed to the outside world for urgent assistance: "We need help. We need weapons. We need more effective air-strikes. If the situation stays like this, we will see a massacre. I can't imagine what will happen if ISIS gets inside Kobani." (CNN)
ISIS militants on Sept. 17 detonated explosive charges to destroy the Citadel of Tikrit, birthplace of Salahaddin Ayubi (popularly rendered Saladin), one of the most important archeological sites in Iraq. Iornically, Saladin is a revered figure in Islam, who liberated much of Palestine from the Crusaders and recaptured Jerusalem for the Muslims in 1187. But ISIS charged that the place is revered as a shrine, and the fact that Saladin was Kurdish may have added to their intolerance of the site's veneration. Since seizing northern Iraq. ISIS have bombed many cultural, archeological and holy places of all the region's religions, including the tomb of the Prophet Younis in Mosul, the tomb of Baba Yadgar in Kakayi and other holy places of the Yazidis and Christians. (BasNews, IraqiNews, DiHA, PUKMedia, Sept. 17) ISIS is so extreme in its rejection of "idolatry" that it has even announced its aim to destroy the Kaaba, Islam's most sacred site. This may backfire and eventually lead to a Sunni uprising against ISIS in their areas of control. Meanwhile, cultural treasures are being lost every day.
We've noted that Iran is a de facto member of the Great Power convergence against ISIS, but the Islamic Republic wasn't invited to today's summit in Paris, where leaders of some 30 nations pledged to support Iraq in its fight against the so-called "Islamic State" by "any means necessary, including appropriate military assistance, in line with the needs expressed by the Iraqi authorities, in accordance with international law and without jeopardizing civilian security." However, the two principal US imperial rivals were there: Russia and China. Of course we can take the reference to "civilian security" with a grain of salt, and the final statement made no mention of Syria—the stickiest question in the ISIS dilemma. (AFP via Lebanon Daily Star, Sept. 16) China's interest in the issue was crystalized over the weekend by the arrest in Indonesia of two ethnic Uighurs on suspicion of ties to ISIS. The two were detained in Central Sulawesi province, said to be a "major hotbed of militancy," in a sweep of suspected ISIS recruits. They had allegedly procured false passports in Thailand, and were in possession of literature and other paraphernalia with ISIS insignia. (SCMP, Sept. 15)
Another 130 US troops arrived in northern Iraq on Aug. 12 on what the Pentagon described as a temporary mission to assess the scope of the humanitarian crisis facing thousands of displaced civilians trapped on Mount Sinjar. Kurdish sources said four US Osprey aircraft landed in Erbil, where the military advisors disembarked and were greeted by officials of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). On a visit to California's Camp Pendleton, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel emphasized: "This is not a combat boots on the ground kind of operation. We're not going back into Iraq in any of the same combat mission dimensions that we once were in in Iraq." (AP, Rudaw)
Authorities in Mali said July 31 that a once-powerful jihadist leader has been arrested by French military forces in the northern desert town of Gao. Yoro Ould Daha was a commander of the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), which controlled Gao for nearly a year before the French intervention of 2013. Ould Daha was the MUJAO commander who announced the death of French hostage Gilberto Rodriguez-Leal, who was captured in November 2012 while traveling in Mauritania and Mali. He also took responsibility for the abduction of five humanitarian workers who were later released. (AP, July 31)
The Abravanel synagogue in central Paris is under police guard after more than 100 youths tried to storm the building July 13, chanting "Israel murderer!" The incident—near Bastille Place, on the eve of Bastille Day—followed a march protesting the Israeli air-strikes on Gaza. After the demonstration, a large group headed to the synagogue, where some 150 people had gathered for a memorial service for three Israeli teenagers murdered in the West Bank. Witnesses said the protesters grabbed chairs from a cafe nearby and used them as weapons as they tried to break through a police barrier outside the synagogue, where worshippers remained trapped for several hours. Six police and two members of the Jewish community were reportedly injured, and six protesters arrested. Some protesters were said to be armed with axes and knives. A private security unit employed by the synagogue was also engaged in the fighting. One day earlier, in the Parisian suburb of Belleville, a protest demonstration reportedly featured chants of "Kill the Jews!" The day before that, July 11, a firebomb was thrown at the synagogue of Aulnay-sous-Bois, another Paris suburb, causing damage to the building's facade. The National Bureau for Vigilance Against Anti-Semitism (BNVCA) reports that on July 8, a, 17-year-old Jewish girl was assaulted on a Paris street near the Gare du Nord train station by a man who blasted her face with pepper spray. The girl, identified by her initials, JL, wrote in her complaint to police that the man shouted: "Dirty Jewess, insh'allah you will die." (The Guardian, EJP, July 14; JTA, July 13)
Now comes the disturbing news that a Frenchman arrested in the killings at the Brussels Jewish museum had traveled to Syria as an insurgent and is apparently linked to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Police in Marseille arrested the suspect, Mehdi Nemmouche, after he arrived on a bus from Amsterdam May 30. Paris Prosecutor Francois Molins said he had an automatic weapon like that used in the Brussels attack, and ballistics analysis is underway to determine if it is the same weapon. The rifle was reportedly wrapped up in a white sheet scrawled with the name of ISIS. Police in Belgium meanwhile say the suspect had tried to film the May 24 killings, but his camera failed. Belgian federal prosecutor Frederic Van Leeuw said: "The new elements in this investigation draw attention once more to the problem of the 'returnees'—in other words the people going to Syria to participate in combat and return afterward to our country. All European countries are confronted at this moment with this problem." (AP, June 1) The days since the arrest have seen more raids on suspected "returnees" in France. Four were arrested in the Paris area and southern France on suspicion of recruiting militants to fight in Syria. Interior Minister Bernard Cazaneuve told Europe 1 radio: "There are people who recruit jihadists... We are acting everywhere. There will be no respite in the fight against terrorists." (BBC News, June 2)