Rojda Felat, a Kurdish revolutionary feminist, is leading the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces' offensive on Raqqa, capital of the Islamic State's self-declared caliphate. A three-year veteran of the struggle against ISIS, she is serving as commander of 15,000 Kurdish and Arab fighters, backed by US special forces and warplanes, under the banner of the SDF. "My main goal is liberating the Kurdish woman and the Syrian woman in general from the ties and control of traditional society, as well as liberating the entirety of Syria from terrorism and tyranny," she told the London Times.
Syrian Kurds on March 17 formally declared a "Federation of Northern Syria," uniting their three autonomous cantons into one entity, in an announcement quickly denounced by the Assad regime, the opposition and regional powers alike. Democratic Union Party (PYD) official Idris Nassan said the federation brings together "areas of democratic self-administration" encompassing all the Rojava region's ethnic and religious groups. The decision was approved at a meeting in the town of Rmeilan (Jazira canton), attended by some 200 representatives of Kurdish, Arab, Armenian, Turkmen and Syriac communities. (Middle East Eye)
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 mutual hypocrisy of the Russo-Turkish game for control of Syria continues to become more grimly amusing. Turkey's Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu today accused Russia of attempting "ethnic cleansing" with its air-strikes in northern Syria. "Russia is trying to make ethnic cleansing in the northern Latakia [region] to force [out] all Turkmen and Sunni populations who do not have good relations with the [Syrian] regime," Davutoglu told reporters in Istanbul, according to the BBC News. He added that the Russian air-strikes are "strengthening" ISIS. Turkmen areas in Latakia have indeed been coming under vicious Russian aerial bombardment, and it is plausible that these air-strikes are ethnically taregted. But Turkey has also been conniving with ISIS and other jihadist forces that are bent on "cleansing" Kurds, Yazidis and Assyrians. The fact that Moscow (for its own propagandistic purposes) is now making such charges doesn't mean that they aren't true! And Turkey's plans for a "buffer zone" in northern Syria are clearly aimed at expunging the Kurdish autonmous zone in the region. What's more, Turkey is arguably already commiting ethnic cleansing in its renewed counter-insurgency campaign against Kurdish rebels within its own territory.
Well, here's a bizarre irony. Iraq's Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi today warned Turkey that "only 24 hours" were left for Ankara to remove forces it sent into the north of his country. "We must be prepared and ready to defend Iraq and its sovereignty," said Abadi. "The air force has the capability...to protect Iraq and its borders from any threat it faces." (Al Jazeera) Turkey says it has deployed the 150 soldiers to the town of Bashiqa to train Kurdish Peshmerga forces fighting ISIS. (BBC News) So Iraq's Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and its strongman Masoud Barzani have invited in Turkish forces, while the Baghdad regime is demanding that they leave. Turkey is doubtless motivated by the need to police northern Iraq against the growing influence there of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). The KRG and PKK are ostensibly allied against ISIS. But the KRG is shamefully acquiescing in Turkey's bombing of PKK fighters within its own territory—a terrible blow to Kurdish solidarity and the anti-ISIS struggle. Now this contradiction has just become clearer—and more urgent.