People began protesting in Baghdad this weekend demanding a new government amid the third parliament session cancelled this week as officials discuss political reforms. The session of parliament was cancelled because the chambers "could not be secured" as tempers flared again. The political turmoil has been the result of a plan by Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to bring "technocrats" into the cabinet in order to bring down corruption. On March 31, al-Abadi presented a list of people to attempt to accomplish this, but then drafted a second list after political pressure that was more in line with party's wishes. Many MP's then staged a sit-in protest of this move, as they believed it would allow corruption to continue.
A car bomb exploded in a park in the central Kizilay district of Turkish capital Ankara March 13, killing 32 people and wounding more than 100. No group has yet claimed the attack, but officials told Reuters that initial findings suggested it was the work of the PKK or an affiliated group. (BBC News) The Feb. 17 bomb attack in Ankara that left 28 dead was claimed by the Kurdistan Freedom Hawks (TAK)—which is a break-away faction of the PKK, not "affiliated" with them. That attack killed many civilians, but military buses were the target. Previous recent attacks in Turkey that, like this new one, actually targeted civilains were the work of ISIS. The PKK itself, while hardly fastidious about avoiding civilian deaths, has neither targeted civilians like ISIS nor been as reckless about "collateral damage" as the TAK. It is waging a campaign of guerilla warfare, not terrorism. The rush to blame the PKK in the new attack is political and unseemly.
Amid reports of jihadist chemical attacks against Kurds in both Syria and Iraq, Turkey is reviving the same accusations against Kurds that were used during the Armenian Genocide a century ago. The latest in a string of such statements, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said in a Feb. 27 speech in the (heavily Kurdish) eastern province of Bingol: "They are collaborating with Russia like the Armenian gangs used to do. They are opening a diplomatic mission in Moscow." This was a reference to the Kurdish-led People's Democratic Party (HDP), whose leader Selahattin Demirtaş had in fact just visited Moscow to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. It was also the most blatant and unaplogietic invocation of the Armenian Genocide yet by a Turkish leader. A report on this ominous statement in Al Monitor notes that supposed treasonous collaboration with Russia was precisely the charge made against the Armenians during World War I, justifying their mass deportation into the Syrian desert by Ottoman Turkish authorities—from which over a million never returned. The account also says that anti-Kurdish graffiti has started to appear on walls in Turkey's east, with the unsubtle phrase "Armenian bastards." This was seen alongside "We are with you, RTE"—a reference to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
ISIS used "poisonous substances" during the shelling of a village in northern Iraq on March 8, with local officials reporting that over 40 residents suffered breathing problems and skin irritation, and five fell unconscious. The agents were released as ISIS fired mortar shells and rockets on Tuz Khurmatu (also rendered Taza), a Shi'ite Turkmen village south of Kirkuk. (TeleSur, Al Bawaba, March 10) This was just the latest in a growing number of such reports. On March 2, the Tal Afar district near Sinjar was hit by at least six rockets that emitted a yellow smoke on impact. Three civilians, including two children, were hospitalized with nausea, vomiting and skin irritation. On Feb. 25, after ISIS rockets hit Sinjar, nearly 200 people were treated for severe vomiting, nausea and headaches. (USA Today, March 10) Three Peshmerga troops were hospitalized after ISIS launched shells loaded with what was believed to be mustard gas on the Makhmour front Feb. 17. (Rudaw, Feb. 17)
Hundreds of former ISIS sex slaves have formed an all-female battalion to join an assault against their former abusers in northern Iraq. The battalion—the "Force of the Sun Ladies"—is made up of some 120 women who escaped ISIS captivity, and are now being trained for battle by the Kurdish Peshmerga. Another 500 are waiting for training. Cpt Khatoon Khider of the Sun Ladies told reporters: 'Whenever a war wages, our women end up as the victims. Now we are defending ourselves from the evil... We will do whatever is asked of us... Our elite force is a model for other women in the region. We want everyone to take up weapons and know how to protect themselves from the evil." The Sun Ladies are part of the Yazidi militia now preparing an offensive on ISIS-held Mosul with Peshmerga forces. The UN says ISIS still holds some 3,500 people captive in Iraq, the majority women and girls from the Yazidi community. Last month, the director of the UN human rights office in Iraq, Francesco Motta, accused ISIS of genocide, saying the jihadist group is seeking to "destroy part or the whole of the Yazidi people." (Christian Today, India Times, Feb. 11; Al Alam, Feb. 9)
Mass graves in Iraq are being disturbed, which could lead to destroyed evidence in proving possible genocide committed against the Yazidis, according to a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report released on Jan. 30. Dozens of Yazidi people are believed to have been killed by the Islamic State, actions many believe may amount to genocide. Yazda, a support group for the Yazidi people, also contributed to the report. Yazda has said that on numerous visits to Mount Sinjar (liberated from ISIS by Kurdish forces last year), they have observed mass graves that were completely unprotected and say that people regularly take items from these sites. In one instance, a bulldozer was used at one site to cover the grave with earth. HRW is urging authorities in Iraq to have forensic experts analyze the graves for evidence of any possible crimes and to preserve any evidence found.
A United Nations report released Jan. 19 details the severe and extensive impact on civilians of the ongoing conflict in Iraq, with at least 18,802 civilians killed and another 36,245 wounded between January 2014 and October 2015, while another 3.2 million people have been internally displaced due to violence. An estimated 3,500, mainly women and children, are being held as slaves by Islamic State militants. "The violence suffered by civilians in Iraq remains staggering," the report states. "The so-called 'Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant' (ISIL) continues to commit systematic and widespread violence and abuses of international human rights law and humanitarian law. These acts may, in some instances, amount to war crimes, crimes against humanity, and possibly genocide."
The head of the UK's Iraq Historic Allegations Team (IHAT), charged with looking into alleged abuses committed during the war in Iraq, said Jan. 3 that British soldiers may face prosecution for war crimes. Mark Warwick, a former police detective and the head of IHAT, stated that some of the allegations being investigated included murder. According to the investigation, there may be as many 1,515 victims, 280 of whom are alleged to have been unlawfully killed. However, Public Interest Lawyers, representing some of the alleged victims, said IHAT is not doing an effective job investigating those responsible for "systemic" abuse. They state that "Despite public inquires, court proceedings ongoing since 2004 and the IHAT team of investigators, there is yet to be a single prosecution resulting from IHAT's work." Carla Ferstman, director of the human rights group Redress, echoed these comments, stating that the the "incredibly slow pace" of IHAT's investigations was "wholly unacceptable."