A new report by Amnesty International uncovers the horrifying scale of death, injury and suffering of civilians trapped in the battle for west Mosul. The report documents how the group calling itself the Islamic State (IS) moved civilians from neighboring villages into the zones of the battle in west Mosul, trapped them in their homes and prevented them from escaping, using them as human shields. Meanwhile Iraqi and coalition forces failed to take adequate measures to protect civilians, instead subjecting them to a terrifying barrage of fire from weapons that should never be used in densely populated civilian areas.
The prime minister of Iraq on July 10 declared the full liberation of Mosul, as the last ISIS-controlled area in the Old City was taken by coalition forces. In a televised speech at the Counter Terrorism Service headquarters in Mosul, Haider al-Abadi said: "I announce from here the end and the failure and the collapse of the terrorist state of falsehood and terror." The operation to take Mosul from ISIS was launched in October 2016, bringing together a 100,000-strong force including the Kurdistan Region's Peshmerga, the Iraqi military and Hashd al-Shaabi paramilitary forces, all backed by the US-led multinational Combined Joint Task Force (CJFT). (Kurdistan24, Military.com, July 10)
It seems to have finally come to open war between the Rojava Kurds and the Turkish intervention force in Syria. The People's Protection Units (YPG) and allied factions of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have sent reinforcements to the northern countryside of Aleppo governorate to impede the Turkish progress towards Afrin district. "The YPG and SDF today deployed more forces and armored vehicles in northern Aleppo," a YPG officer told the independent Kurdish ARA News June 29. "The Kurdish people in Afrin region have suffered a lot under heavy bombardment by Turkey and allied Islamists." Clashes are already reported bewteen the two sides. But in another sign of shifting alliances, the Assad regime is reported to have sent troops to block the way of the YPG-SDF reinforcements. This is clear evidence that the tactical alliance between the Kurds and Assad is now severely strained if not entirely broken. It may even indicate Assad has acquiesced in establishment of a Turkish buffer zone in northern Syria under Russian pressure. (More at Zaman al-wsl, June 28; ANF, June 22)
ISIS and the United States exchanged accusations over the destruction of Mosul's historic Grand al-Nuri Mosque on June 21. Army Major General Joseph Martin, head of the US-led coalition's combined joint forces land component, called destruction of most of the mosque and its famous leaning minaret "a crime against the people of Mosul and all of Iraq," adding that "responsibility of this devastation is laid firmly at the doorstep of ISIS." However, ISIS claimed in a statement on its Amaq news agency that US aircraft destroyed the mosque. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said blowing up the mosque was "an official declaration of defeat" by ISIS. The ancient landmark with its famous leaning minaret was where IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi proclaimed a "caliphate" in 2014. It was from the medieval mosque that ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared a new "caliphate" three years ago.
Authorities in Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region have announced that the northern territory will hold a referendum on independence, with a date of Sept. 25 set for the vote. Masoud Barzani, president of the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG), announced the decision on Twitter June 7. The referendum on secession from Iraq will be held in the three governorates that officially make up the Kurdish region (Erbil, Sulaymaniyah and Dohuk) and in the areas disputed by the KRG and Baghdad but currently under Kurdish military control—most notably the potential flashpoint of oil-rich Kirkuk. (Al Jazeera, June 8) (See map)
Several civilians were killed June 8 when US-led air-strikes reportedly targeted Raqqa, the de facto ISIS capital in northern Syria, with white phosphorus—banned by the Geneva Convention as a weapon of war. The reports came both from Syrian state media and local activists on the ground in Raqqa, who posted footage online, showing the skies of above the city lit by a rainfall of glowing ordnance. The report comes as the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) are preparing a final offensive to take Raqqa. (Xinhua)
Iraq's Interior Ministry has launched an investigation into human rights violations carried out against civilians by its special forces while fighting the Islamic State in Mosul. The allegations were initially reported by Ali Arkady, an Iraqi photographer with Der Spiegel who accompanied the Interior Ministry's Emergency Response Division (ERD), a unit closely backed by the US-led coalition. During operations against IS, Arkady said he witnessed the killing, torture and rape of suspects. Arkady's piece featured photos of torture scenes that included people hanging from ceilings with their arms tied behind their backs. After days of such abuse, ERD commanders would execute the detainees with a technique Arkady says the unit's personnel learned from US instructors during military training. Brig. Gen Saad Maan, the Interior Ministry's spokesman, said "legal measures will be applied...against wrongdoers."
Over the past month, air-strikes carried out by the US and its coalition partners in Syria have killed the highest number of civilians on record since the bombing campaign began in September 2014, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. A total of 225 civilians, including 36 women and 44 children, were killed in the period between April 23 to May 23 by the Observatory's count. At least 122 ISIS fighters and eight members of militias loyal to the Syrian regime were also killed in US-led strikes over the same period.