Russian-backed Assad regime forces are on the verge of taking the last remaining rebel stronghold in Syria's Eastern Ghouta enclave, in the Damascus suburbs. A Russian military commander boasted: "The militants are being evacuated from Douma, their last bastion in Eastern Ghouta, and within a few days the humanitarian operation in Eastern Ghouta must be completed." This "humanitarian operation" has seen the near-total destruction of Ghouta by aerial bombardment over the past weeks, with some 1,500 killed. Thousands of fighters and residents have been allowed to evacuate via buses to Idlib, Syria's last rebel-held province, under what was reported as a "surrender agreement." (Al Jazeera, Syria Direct)
Turkish air-strikes killed four civilians camping in a rural area of northern Iraq's Qandil Mountains as part of a gathering celebrating the traditional Kurdish spring festival, Nowruz. The March 22 air raid on the Choman district of Iraq's Kurdistan Region was ostensibly aimed at positions of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). But local residents told Kurdistan 24 the young men killed in the strikes, at a site known as Dali Baliani, were all civilians.
Waheed Mandoo Hammo, prime minister of Ezidikhan, the self-declared autonomous homeland of the Yazidi people in northern Iraq, issued a statement expressing his nation's appreciation and gratitude in a letter to Armenia's Prime Minister Karen Karapetyan after the Armenian National Assembly approved a resolution recognizing the Yazidi Genocide of 2014. Armenia is the first UN member state to formally recognize as genocide the mass killings and enslavement of Yazidis by "Islamic State" forces after their seizure of the Sinjar area in August 2014. Invoking the the 1948 Genocide Convention, the Armenian resolution condemned the "genocidal acts by terrorist groups against the Yazidi people committed in territories of Iraq under their control," and called for the "international community to take measures to ensure the safety and protection of the Yazidi people, provide them humanitarian aid," and "make all possible efforts to prevent" new attacks.
Leaders of Ezidikhan, the newly declared Yazidi autonomous zone in northern Iraq, are protesting that a UN Security Council resolution calling for an investigation into possible genocide by ISIS is to limited in scope. Resolution 2379, unanimously passed Sept. 21, authorizes establishment of an investigation team to support Iraq’s efforts to hold ISIS accountable for "acts that may amount to war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide." Ezidikhan Minister for Human Rights Rania Qaso Mesho applauded the resolution as a milestone on the path to justice, but also emphasized its shortcomings, saying: "The UN Security Council resolution does not go far enough. The resolution must also consider abuses by anti-ISIS forces that were complicit in attacks on Yezidi people."
In an historic step for the beleaguered Yazidi people of northwestern Iraq, the Supreme Spiritual Council of the Yezidi Nation, led by Baba Sheikh Khurto Hajji Ismail, has proclaimed the establishment of the "Provisional Government of the Autonomous Nation of Ezidikhan." The provisional government arrives just three years after the Yazidi people faced a genocidal assault that brought them to the edge of extinction, following the seizure of their territory by ISIS. The territory, centered around the area of Sinjar, has since been liberated, in part by a newly formed Yazidi militia. The provisional government says it will establish a democratic governance structure for the liberated territory, draft a constitution, and work for the return of the Yazidi diaspora. The statement guarantees gender equality and freedom of expression within the autonomous territory, and states that Ezidikhan will "be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations and international law."
Trump's disparate reactions to the similar attacks in Charlottesville and Barcelona provide an obvious but inevitable study not only in double standards, but (worse) the president's actual embrace of racist terror. Whether opportunistically or not, ISIS has claimed responsibility for the Barcelona attack, in which a motorist ploughed into pedestrians on Las Ramblas, a pedestrian thoroughfare packed with tourists, killing 13 and wounding scores. Just five days earlier, a neo-Nazi did the same thing to a crowd of antifa counter-protesters in Virginia, killing one and wounding 19. Mother Jones is among those to provide a sampling of the presidential statements and tweets in response to the two like attacks, just days apart. Regarding Charlottesville, Trump blamed "many sides" for the violence, and said there were "fine people" on the side that was flying the Nazi flag and committed an act of terror. He's also been waxing maudlin about the "beautiful" statues of Confederate generals now coming down around the country. This of course squanders all credibility to tweet that he "condemns the terror attack in Barcelona." But it gets much, much worse...
Following last week's Turkish air-strikes on Kurdish forces in northern Syria, the autonomous administration in the region is said to have issued a call for a "no-fly zone." Tev-Dem, the self-governance structure for Syria's Kurdish autonomous zone, reportedly issued the call after Turkish raids killed at least 20 fighters of its militia force, the People's Protection Units (YPG). Because US-backed Kurdish forces are basically calling for international protection from US ally Turkey, this development further heightens the contradictions that Washington faces in northern Syria. It is telling that the Tev-Dem statement is aggressively touted by Kremlin mouthpiece Sputnik. It has also been reported by Syria Deeply and UPI.
The Pentagon is dispatching some 2,500 ground combat troops to a staging base in Kuwait, from where they are expected to be mobilized to back up forces fighting ISIS in Iraq and Syria. The deployment includes elements of the 82nd Airborne Division's 2nd Brigade Combat Team, based at Fort Bragg, NC. About 1,700 troops from the same unit are already overseas, spread between Iraq and Kuwait. (Army Times, March 9) The US currently has only some 500 troops authorized to operate in Syria, predominantly Special Forces, and it is unclear if this new deployment breaches that threshold. However, the US Special Forces in Syria are increasingly tasked with keeping peace between Kurdish and Turkish forces rather than actually fighting ISIS. Special Forces are currently deployed at Manbij in what the Pentagon calls a mission to "reassure and deter"—interpreted as providing a buffer between Kurdish-led and Turkish-led forces, to prevent open conflict between them. (Military Times, March 6)