The Parliament of Iraq on Nov. 26 voted to give militias fighting Islamic State legal status in the country. The 208 votes allow the Popular Mobilization Units (Hashd al-Sha'abi) to fight the militant group throughout the country as long as they keep their "identity and character" and do not threaten Iraq's "national security." The bill legitimizes and recognizes the militia network as an extension of the state; fighters will now receive pensions and instruction from the regular armed forces. Opponents to the bill note that "mobilization forces" are traditionally Shi'ite, and that the authorization will allow the militias to continue sectarian fighting with the blessing of the government. Proponents say the militias have been a formidable weapon against ISIS after the US troop draw-down.
It's clear that President Obama had set a goal to take both Mosul and Raqqa from ISIS before leaving office, and bequeath these victories to his successor Hillary Clinton. But both of these battles hold the potential both for humanitarian disaster and a violent aftermath as Arabs, Kurds, Sunnis and Shi'ites contend for liberated territory. Now all this will instead be bequeathed to Donald Trump—with no savvy about the region, and a blatant appetite for destruction. This dramatically escalates the potential for disaster. It is pretty clear Trump intends to divide Syria with Putin the way Hitler divided Poland with Stalin. The US will take Raqqa and the east; Russia will establish a reduced Assad state as a protectorate around Damascus and Latakia in the west. Whether the US will be able to control its sphere amid social collapse and sectarian maelstrom is another matter.
An Oct. 23 AFP story relates how Syria's Kurds are restoring ancient names to "Arabized" towns in the country's north (where the regime has collapsed an a Kurdish-led autonomous administration holds power). Writer Delil Souleiman reports from a small town in the "official" governorate of Hasakeh known for decades as Shajra but now once again by the older Kurdish name of Joldara. Said one elderly resident: "Joldara in Kurdish means a plain covered in trees. This was the name of the village before it was Arabized by the Syrian government in 1962 and changed to Shajra," which means tree in Arabic. Joldara is one of hundreds such towns where new road-signs have been raised by the autonomous administration, with the Kurdish names in both Latin and Arabic script.
The US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled (PDF) Oct. 21 that former detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison may continue their torture lawsuit against civilian military contractors. Four former prisoners allege that they were subjected to various forms of torture at the hands of CACI Premier Technology contractors. The case had previously been dismissed under the "political question doctrine," but the court held the doctrine does not prevent the judiciary from deciding the case.
The Iraq Parliament approved a law "Forbidding the import, manufacture and sale of all kinds of alcohol drinks." Until this time, alcohol has been made readily available in shops, bars, restaurant and hotels in Baghdad and some of the provinces; it was not unusual for young people in Baghdad to be observed drinking. Lawmaker and head of the parliament's legal panel, Mahmoud al-Hassan, stated that the law was necessary to preserve Iraq's identity as a Muslim country. Al-Hassan belongs to the Shi'ite majority, a conservative section of Iraq's population, which has dominated the parliament since the US invasion of the country in 2003.
As a US-led mixed Kurdish and Arab force advances on ISIS-held Mosul, an apparent ISIS "sleeper cell" of at least some 30 fully armed militants came to life in Kurdish-held Kirkuk, attacking government, police and security buildings. At a power station in Dubis, on the outskirts of the city, several engineers and workers were killed as militants detonated car-bombs and suicide vests. US-led coalition warplanes bombed a building in central Kirkuk that had been taken by the militants, and street-fighting rages across the city. The death toll so far is put at nearly 60, with twice as many wounded. (Rudaw, BasNews, KUNA)
UN humanitarian agencies operating in Iraq are bracing for what could be a displacement catastrophe of massive proportions as the US-led offensive to retake Mosul from ISIS is launched. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) warns that up to one million people may be forced from their homes in the operation, which is expected to last months. (UN News Centre) The UN High Commissioner for Refugees Fillippo Grandi arrived in Erbil Oct. 17 to discuss preparations for the anticipated deluge. (Rudaw) With fighting now underway on the outskirts of the city, at least 2,000 residents have massed on the border with Syrian Kurdistan, hoping to cross over to safety. Another estimated 3,000 Mosul residents have arrived at an IDP camp near Hasakah in northern Syria. (BasNews)
The Pentagon plans to send some 600 additional troops to Iraq to help launch a long-awaited offensive to retake Mosul from ISIS in the coming weeks. Added to the 560 new troops announced in July, this will bring total US troop strength in Iraq to over 5,000. Most of the new troops will be deployed to Qayyarah, an Iraqi air-base also known as Q-West, about 40 miles south of Mosul that has become the key staging base for the offensive. Some also will be deployed to the al-Asad base, which is further west in Anbar province. (LAT, Sept. 28)