America has become dispensable in Iraq

Emma Sky writes: “When the fighting breaks out between Arabs and Kurds, whose side will the Americans be on?” This was the message that Masoud Barzani, the president of the Kurdistan Regional Government and leader of the Kurdistan Democratic party (KDP), instructed his chief of staff to have me convey to senior U.S. officials in Baghdad in 2010. I was serving as the political adviser to General Raymond T. Odierno, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq. Nuri al-Maliki, then the prime minister of Iraq, and Barzani, concerned by rising tensions between Arabs and Kurds ahead of the 2010 national elections in Nineveh province, had asked General Odierno for help in preventing conflict. We had devised a system of joint check points to facilitate cooperation between the Iraqi Security Forces, the Kurdish Peshmerga, and the U.S. forces, and to ensure all forces remained focused on defeating al-Qaeda in Iraq.

A key part of the plan was to ensure freedom of movement for Atheel Nujaifi, Nineveh’s Sunni Arab governor, who had been elected the previous year on an agenda to roll back the gains the Kurds had made in the province since 2005. Determined to test the new security arrangements at the earliest, Governor Nujaifi decided in early February 2010 to make a trip to the town of Tel Kaif, in a part of the province which the Kurds lay claim to. Over Kurdish objections, the U.S. forces decided that the visit should go ahead. In response, the Kurds brought down reinforcements and tried to prevent the trip from taking place. Crowds of Kurds gathered to block the governor’s convoy; in the resulting melee, shots were fired. The Iraqi police detained 11 Kurds for incitement, and on suspicion of attempting to assassinate Governor Nujaifi.

I was awakened at 2 a.m. by a phone call from Murat Ozcelik, the influential Turkish ambassador to Iraq. He had received a report from Ankara that the Kurds had invaded Mosul, the largest city in Nineveh province. I investigated and soon discovered that there had been no invasion; instead, Kurdish forces had kidnapped a number of Arabs in Nineveh in retaliation for the arrest of the Kurds. President Barzani was furious. Every time he turned on his television, he saw footage of American tanks in a Kurdish village, and F-16s flying overhead. The Kurds had been highly supportive of the United States—not a single U.S. soldier had been killed by a Kurd. So why, he asked, had the Americans behaved this way towards Kurds?

Back in 2010, we did not need to answer Barzani’s question. We could mediate a deal whereby the kidnapped Arabs were swapped for the Kurds accused of attempting to assassinate the Governor of Nineveh. We had close relations with the Turks, and convinced them to back off. For once, everyone seemed happy with this solution, and things calmed down. We were the indispensable ally.

And then we weren’t. And Iran was.

Iran increased its influence during the negotiations to form a government in Iraq after the tightly contested 2010 elections. Iraqiyya, led by Ayad Allawi, won 91 seats; Maliki’s bloc, the State of Law, came in second with 89 seats. After much heated internal debate, Vice President Joe Biden determined that Washington would support the incumbent, insisting that Maliki was “our man,” an Iraqi nationalist, and would permit a contingent of U.S. forces to remain in Iraq post-2011 when the security agreement expired. But despite considerable arm-twisting, the United States could not convince its allies to support a second term for Maliki. Sensing an opportunity, Qassim Suleimani, the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Council, pressured Muqtada al-Sadr, an influential and anti-American Shia cleric, to support Maliki on the condition that all U.S. troops would pull out of Iraq and that Sadrists would be given government positions.

Thus it was that Iran ensured Maliki remained as Prime Minister. The Obama administration, in its rush for an exit from Iraq, gave up the American role of “balancer,” of moderator, of protector of the political process, withdrawing its soft power along with its hard.

Secure in his seat for a second term, Maliki pursued a series of sectarian policies. He accused Sunni politicians of being terrorists, forcing them to flee the country; he reneged on his promises to the Sunni Awakening leaders who had fought against al-Qaeda in Iraq; and he arrested Sunni protestors en masse. This created the conditions that enabled ISIS to rise from the ashes of al-Qaeda in Iraq and proclaim itself the defender of Sunnis against the Iranian-backed sectarian regime of Maliki. [Continue reading…]

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ISIS is not beaten and will return

Shiraz Maher writes: Raqqa has crumbled far more quickly than anyone imagined. In just over four months, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), with Western air support, have liberated most of the city from Islamic State (IS). The de facto capital of the so-called caliphate, Raqqa was tightly controlled by its rulers, but it was a bustling hub of activity and urban life. For the hordes of foreign fighters who joined IS, it was almost enough to make them forget the virtues of the afterlife.

The fall of the city to SDF forces is a particularly bitter blow to IS, coming so soon after it lost control of its other main base, Mosul, across the border in Iraq. Yet the Islamic State message remains as defiant as ever. The terror group’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, released a 46-minute audio message in September lauding the efforts of his fighters in Mosul. Yes, they lost the city but, Baghdadi insisted, this was only after sacrificing their flesh and blood. “Thus, they were excused,” Baghdadi said.

He also pointed to the group’s ability to strike Western capitals with terrorist attacks. “The Americans, the Russians and the Europeans are living in terror in their countries,” said Baghdadi, “fearing the strikes of the mujahedin.” Direct addresses from Baghdadi have been rare. This latest speech signalled his need to rally supporters after a series of defeats. [Continue reading…]

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U.S.-backed force claims capture of ISIS’s de facto Syrian capital Raqqa

The Washington Post reports: U.S. backed forces in Syria claimed full control of the Islamic State’s onetime capital of Raqqa on Tuesday, heralding an end to the militants’ presence in their most symbolically important stronghold and bringing closer the likelihood of their complete territorial demise.

Talo Silo, a spokesman for the Syrian Democratic Forces, or SDF, said that military operations had halted and that members of the joint Kurdish-Arab force were clearing the city of explosive devices and hunting for sleeping cells.

It was still unclear whether some Islamic State pockets remained, but the SDF portrayed the battle for Raqqa as effectively over.

Besieged and severely weakened, dozens of militants had launched a final stand from inside Raqqa’s main hospital and stadium. But hundreds of others surrendered during the final days of the battle after local officials brokered a controversial deal which could see many escape prosecution. [Continue reading…]

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ISIS fighters, having pledged to fight or die, surrender en masse

The New York Times reports: The prisoners were taken to a waiting room in groups of four, and were told to stand facing the concrete wall, their noses almost touching it, their hands bound behind their backs.

More than a thousand Islamic State fighters passed through that room this past week after they fled their crumbling Iraqi stronghold of Hawija. Instead of the martyrdom they had boasted was their only acceptable fate, they had voluntarily ended up here in the interrogation center of the Kurdish authorities in northern Iraq.

For an extremist group that has made its reputation on its ferociousness, with fighters who would always choose suicide over surrender, the fall of Hawija has been a notable turning point. The group has suffered a string of humiliating defeats in Iraq and Syria, but the number of its shock troops who turned themselves in to Kurdish officials at the center in Dibis was unusually large, more than 1,000 since last Sunday. [Continue reading…]

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Russia may have saved the Assad regime. But its real ally has been terrorism

Faisal Al Yafai writes: The double suicide bomb attacks in Damascus on Monday were just the start of a long guerrilla war against the regime. ISIL and its competitors Hayat Tahrir Al Sham sense that the regime could yet crumble from within. The next stage in the war of ISIL and its offshoots will be to weaken Syria and seek to take over Damascus – as they once tried to take over Baghdad.

Terror attacks like the one last week will only increase, and it is there that the regime will face its most severe test. For all its protestations that the uprising was instigated by “terrorists”, the regime has very little experience dealing with the political and social consequences of terrorism. Part of the social contract of the regimes of the Al Assads has been stability; too many attacks will fray that contract.

A weakening of the regime and an emboldening of the terrorists – whichever group manages to win the internecine conflict for supremacy now taking place in Syria’s ungoverned spaces – will frighten neighbouring countries and those further afield, from where many of the recruits will come and in whose cities attacks may be staged. Security cooperation will become the thin end of the wedge that ultimately brings the regime international legitimacy.

At the start of the uprising, the Assad regime, having carefully prepared for just such a challenge to its authority, cleverly empowered the extremists by releasing prisoners and avoiding the areas where ISIL was growing. In that way, their prophecy came true and terrorism really did grow out of the uprising. Now, once again, the fear of terrorism will come to the aid of the regime. [Continue reading…]

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Syria’s war has deadliest month this year

BBC News reports: September has been the deadliest month in Syria’s civil war so far this year, a monitoring group has said.

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said more than 3,300 people had died in September, including 995 civilians.

Of those civilian deaths, it said about 70% were caused by Russian, Syrian government, or coalition air strikes.
The group bases its casualty reports on information provided by a network of activists in Syria.

It counted 207 children among the civilian dead, along with some 790 pro-government fighters, more than 700 from so-called Islamic State (IS) and al-Qaeda affiliates, and some 550 rebels. [Continue reading…]

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Inside the ruins of Raqqa

Quentin Sommerville and Riam Dalati report: There is a moment in the journey into Raqqa when you leave the real world behind. After the bombed-out Samra bridge, any signs of normal life vanish.

Turn right at the shop that once sold gravestones – its owner is long gone – and you are inside the city.

Ahead lies nothing but destruction and grey dust and rubble.

This is a place drained of colour, of life, and of people. In six days inside Raqqa, I didn’t see a single civilian.

They are somewhere inside, trapped by the so-called Islamic State and the Western coalition’s bombing campaign.

IS uses them as human shields, and as bait, to lure out the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

It seems that not a single building has escaped the onslaught. Many have been crushed, flattened, or knocked to one side by the Western coalition’s air strikes and artillery.

It is a barrage that never ceases. More than two dozen air strikes a day, and hundreds of shells fall on the city.

Their target is the last men of the Islamic State. There may be as few as 400 left. [Continue reading…]

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A physicist who models ISIS and the alt-right

Natalie Wolchover writes: Neil Johnson used to study electrons as a buttoned-up professor of physics at the University of Oxford. Then, a decade ago, he decamped to the University of Miami — a young institution that he sees as unconstrained by rigid traditions or barriers between disciplines — and branched out. In recent years, the 55-year-old physicist has published research on financial markets, crowds, superconductivity, earthquake forecasting, light-matter interactions, bacterial photosynthesis, quantum information and computation, neuron firing patterns, heart attacks, tumor growth, contagion and urban disasters, not to mention his extensive body of work on terrorism and other forms of insurgent conflict.

Johnson models the extreme events and behaviors that can arise in complex systems. The author of two books on complexity, he has found that the same principles often apply, regardless of whether a system consists of interacting electrons, humans or anything else. After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, he began modeling extremism in human society. He had also spent time in Colombia during the war against the FARC guerrilla army, and grew up near London during the era of IRA bombings. “I started wondering what the patterns of attacks in the respective places might be telling us about how humans do terrorism,” he said. “Terrorism suddenly became, for me, an urgent problem that I might be able to help society understand, and perhaps even one day predict.”

The rise of ISIS has served as both an impetus and test case for Johnson’s models. Even more recently, he has begun using his models to study the growth of white nationalist groups in the United States.

Quanta Magazine caught up with Johnson to discuss his findings by phone in June, before he left to spend the summer working with collaborators in Bogota, Colombia. A condensed and edited version of that conversation, and a subsequent email exchange after the events in Charlottesville, follows. [Continue reading…]

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Path to radicalization winds through shame and loneliness

Elizabeth Charnock and Dounia Bouzar write: The problem of Islamist radicalization presents a grim challenge to France, and the forces that drive young people to join violent extremist groups remain poorly understood. Far more than the United States, the circumstances that drive average people to become violent affect a far larger proportion of the population.

Often, discussions of the subject devolve into simple platitudes. Radicals must be mentally unstable; religious fanatics; or victims of societal pressure —or all of the above. Grooming efforts by terrorist recruiters, playing on the personal vulnerabilities and shame of French citizens, appear to be the root cause of radicalization.

While there is much argument about the value of deradicalization programs, including their ability to stop attacks, these programs have immense value from an intelligence gathering perspective. They can offer a unique mechanism for intelligence gathering on the jihadist recruitment process. And France provides a useful case study for the self-destructive paths the radicalized take.

The number of French-speaking jihadists worldwide well exceeds that of any other Western language. So it is no surprise that their recruitment efforts are the most sophisticated in France, as observed by CPDSI [Center for the Prevention of Sectarian Excesses Linked to Islam] firsthand through extended interviews with more than 1,000 individuals. The CPDSI is a French government entity that works to intervene in the lives of citizens at risk of becoming radicalized.

In France, there is significant evidence that ISIS recruiters utilize standard case officer techniques to broaden their pool of potential recruits well beyond the Muslim population. These recruiters probe for vulnerabilities and opportunities to drive wedges between the recruit and French society.

The vulnerabilities can be along any axis: social, socioeconomic, political, cultural, ethnic, religious, or psychological. The mission of the recruiter is to transform the malaise into an adherence to jihadist ideology. The goal is to manipulate the recruit into believing that such adherence is the only possible escape from their malaise.

The motivations of the recruit depend on their recruiter, but most motivations are pedestrian and banal, rather than ideologically or religiously motivated. For example, the promise to women of a faithful, protective husband holds an alluring pull, as roughly 50 percent of the radicalization cases reported in France involved women. The most common threads all share one thing in common: they promise access to a better world, and perhaps a better self. [Continue reading…]

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How far could the dangerous endgame in eastern Syria go?

The Washington Post reports: The war against the Islamic State always promised to get messy in its final stages, as the militants retreat and rival forces converge from different directions. That moment has arrived.

World powers and their local allies are scrambling to control the remote desert province of Deir al-Zour in eastern Syria, in an accelerating race that is being compared to the fall of Berlin in 1945.

Under Islamic State control since 2014, the province is three times the size of Lebanon and consists mostly of empty desert. It also happens to contain most of Syria’s oil resources. But much more is at stake: the future contours of postwar Syria; Kurdish aspirations to some form of autonomy; and the competition for influence in the Middle East among the United States, Iran and Russia.

On the ground the combatants fall into two camps: one backed by Russia and Iran, the other by the United States and its allies.

Advancing from the north are the U.S. backed Syrian Democratic Forces, or SDF, a Kurdish-led coalition of Kurdish and Arab forces that is expanding the boundaries of the autonomous area they have carved out farther north. They are accompanied by American Special Operations troops and backed by U.S. airstrikes.

Making rapid progress from the east are the Syrian government and its allies, accompanied by Russian and Iranian advisers and backed by Russian airstrikes. They’re fulfilling President Bashar al-Assad’s goal of reasserting Syrian sovereignty over every inch of Syria — and also making sure the United States stays out. [Continue reading…]

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With Assad’s fate secure, Russia sets its sights on ISIS fighters in Syria

The Guardian reports: The head of the Russian army in Syria has said the defeat of Islamic State in the country is imminent during a visit to a strategically located town recently recaptured from Isis by forces loyal to Bashar al-Assad.

“All the conditions are in place for the final stage of defeating Isis in Syria,” said Lt Gen Alexander Lapin, standing amid heavy security outside the building of a former Isis sharia court, adorned with the extremist group’s black-and-white logo. “I can promise you that no Isis terrorist will ever set foot in this town again.”

Okeirbat was regained by forces loyal to the Syrian government on 2 September after a three-month assault amid intensive Russian airstrikes. Recapturing the town enabled government-backed forces to push forward towards breaking the long-standing siege on Deir ez-Zor, in the east of the country.

Russia entered the conflict on the side of Assad’s government in September 2015 at a time when the regime looked close to falling. Although Moscow’s stated goal has always been to defeat Isis, during the first year of engagement the majority of Russian airstrikes targeted other opposition groups, including those supported by western countries.

Russia’s long-standing policy in the Middle East has been that retaining the status quo, however unpleasant the regime may be, is always better than revolution, and the Russian intervention appeared designed to shore up the Assad regime at any cost. [Continue reading…]

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Moscow flaunts might against fading ISIS as it alters balance of power in Syria

The Guardian reports: “I recommend you to look in that direction,” said Maj Gen Igor Konashenkov with a smile, gesturing at the Mediterranean waters from aboard the Admiral Essen naval frigate.

Moments later, two whooshes of noise and smoke heralded the launch of seven cruise missiles by two submarines from Russia’s Black Sea fleet.

The Kalibr missiles, each with a half-tonne payload, hit Islamic State targets to the south-east of Deir ez-Zor around midday on Thursday, roughly an hour after launch, Konashenkov said. The town is a key strategic outpost in eastern Syria, where the Islamist fighters are in retreat. Opposition activists later said that at least 39 civilians were killed in airstrikes by Russian and US-backed coalition forces across the country.

Viewing the missile launch was the latest element of a tour for a group of Russian and foreign journalists, including the Guardian, of Russian activities in Syria, designed to show that Moscow is in control of both war and the peace in the country. [Continue reading…]

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ISIS is near defeat in Iraq. Now comes the hard part

The Washington Post reports: The collapse of the Islamic State in its most important Iraqi strongholds has brought a rare moment of hope for a country mired in war for most of the past four decades.

It is also a moment of peril, as Iraq emerges from the fight against the militants only to be confronted with the same problems that fueled their spectacular rise in 2014.

Old disputes between Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds over territory, resources and power already are resurfacing as the victors of the battles compete to control liberated areas or jostle for political advantage in the post-Islamic State landscape.

They now are compounded by the mammoth task of rebuilding the towns and cities destroyed by the fighting, returning millions of displaced people to their homes and reconciling the communities that once welcomed the Islamic State’s brutal rule as preferable to their own government’s neglect and abuse.

Failure risks a repeat of the cycle of grievance and insurgency that fueled the original Iraqi insurgency in 2003, and its reincarnation in the form of the Islamic State after 2011, Iraqis and analysts say.

But it is a vast and potentially insurmountable challenge, laid bare on the traumatized streets of Mosul. In the relatively unscathed eastern part of the city, life has bounced back. Traffic clogs the streets, music blares from markets and stores are piled high with consumer goods that were banned or hard to find under Islamic State rule, such as cellphones, air conditioners and satellite dishes. [Continue reading…]

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U.S.-backed forces announce anti-ISIS push in Syria’s oil-rich east

The Washington Post reports: U.S.-backed forces in Syria announced a fresh offensive around the Islamic State’s most important remaining stronghold Saturday, accelerating a global scramble for control of the country’s oil-rich east.

Islamic State militants are under pressure from all sides in the border province of Deir al-Zour, facing down competing offensives involving almost all of the six-year war’s major players, as the extremist group’s self-declared caliphate crumbles across Syria and Iraq.

The Syrian Democratic Forces, a Kurdish-dominated militia supported by U.S.-led coalition airstrikes, said Saturday that they would clear the Islamist militants from territory east of the Euphrates River. [Continue reading…]

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Why do people die fighting for a cause?

Science reports: To beat your enemies, you must understand them intimately. And so anthropologist Scott Atran and his colleagues have spent the last 2 years interviewing Islamic State group fighters and their opponents on the front lines. For a study published yesterday in Nature Human Behavior, Atran, director of research at Artis International, a research institute based in Scottsdale, Arizona, and his research team personally talked with extremists in the field, whom they’d reached through local leaders. They also conducted online surveys with thousands of Spanish citizens in order to include a more pacific population. Science spoke with Atran, who also holds positions at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom, and France’s CNRS in Paris, about his work. This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Q: What makes someone willing to die fighting for a cause?

A: Well, lots of things, but what best predicted willingness to die on the battlefront was both devotion to a tight-knit group of comrades—fusion with them—and commitment to sacred values. But the values actually trumped the group, which may be the first time that was shown. Because most of the military sociology and psychology, at least since World War II, has said that will to fight is based on camaraderie and fighting for your buddies.

In September 2014, [then-President Barack] Obama’s national security director said the greatest mistake the U.S. made in Iraq was underestimating ISIS’s will to fight, and he said it was similar in Vietnam. And then he said will to fight is an imponderable, which is why we undertook this study.

Q: What are sacred values?

A: They are moral values. We’ve shown in lots of different contexts that sacred values are immune or resistant to material trade-offs. You wouldn’t sell your children or sell out your country or your religion for all the money in China. Another aspect is that they generate actions because they’re the right thing to do, so you’re not really worried about risks or rewards or cost or consequences. [Continue reading…]

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U.S. role in the fight to oust ISIS from Raqqa raises questions about what will follow victory

Borzou Daragahi reports: The Trump administration has dramatically increased US military and political involvement in northern Syria, providing air and ground support to local forces camped out in abandoned buildings on the outskirts of Raqqa as they seek to oust ISIS from the capital of its self-declared caliphate.

Under President Donald Trump, the US-led coalition has developed closer coordination with a collection of militias and tribes called the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), directing air and ground assaults. Senior State Department and USAID officials have visited Raqqa’s outskirts to coordinate efforts to help displaced civilians and secure the city’s future once ISIS is driven out. US officials have also carved out a semipermanent diplomatic presence close to the northern Syrian city of Kobane.

US and other Western security officials grill captured ISIS fighters, most of them held at a prison near Kobane, to glean intelligence on the jihadis, their future plans, and their ties to other fighters in the Middle East and the West, according to SDF fighters and Kurdish intelligence officials, as well as a former US military official. The efforts have made Trump popular among many of Syria’s autonomy-minded Kurds, with some praising him as a patron of their project to build a self-ruled enclave.

The ground war, launched late last year with skirmishes on the outskirts of Raqqa before reaching the city in early June, has become a grueling street battle, with tens of thousands of Syrian militiamen approaching from the east, west, and south. Each day, the SDF — a multiethnic, multireligious collection force mostly led by Kurdish commanders — struggles to force its way into the city, while US-led coalition planes circle overhead and laser-guided howitzer artillery guns manned by Marines stand ready. The SDF is strongly under the sway of the YPG, a Syrian offshoot of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), a fact that creates huge tensions with the US’s NATO partner Turkey and may precipitate a raft of political problems once ISIS is defeated. But for now the SDF’s fighters are Washington’s best allies in northern Syria, risking their lives under extreme conditions in the slow, brutal effort to take Raqqa.

ISIS has controlled Raqqa for more than three years, building a network of tunnels, secret passages, and fortified positions. Field commanders say the fight isn’t just house to house, it’s often room to room. There is Raqqa, and then a second Raqqa hidden underground and in the cracks, said one commander who described a 14-hour battle just to get to the second floor of a building after taking control of the first floor. Unlike Iraqi troops operating in the recently liberated city of Mosul, few if any of the SDF fighters have body armor. [Continue reading…]

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Syria: ‘Deadly labyrinth’ traps civilians trying to flee Raqqa battle against ISIS

Amnesty International reports: Thousands of civilians trapped in Raqqa, northern Syria, are coming under fire from all sides as the battle for control of the city enters its final stage, Amnesty International said following an in-depth investigation on the ground. The warring parties must prioritize protecting them from hostilities and creating safe ways for them to flee the frontline.

In a report released today, the organization documents how hundreds of civilians have been killed and injured since an offensive began in June to recapture the “capital” and main stronghold of the armed group calling itself Islamic State (IS).

Survivors and witnesses told Amnesty International that they faced IS booby traps and snipers targeting anyone trying to flee, as well as a constant barrage of artillery strikes and airstrikes by the US-led coalition forces fighting alongside the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) armed group. At the same time, survivors recounted how Russian-backed Syrian government forces also bombarded civilians in villages and camps south of the river, including with internationally banned cluster bombs.

“As the battle to wrest Raqqa from Islamic State intensifies, thousands of civilians are trapped in a deadly labyrinth where they are under fire from all sides. Knowing that IS use civilians as human shields, SDF and US forces must redouble efforts to protect civilians, notably by avoiding disproportionate or indiscriminate strikes and creating safe exit routes,” said Donatella Rovera, Senior Crisis Response Adviser at Amnesty International, who led the on-the-ground investigation. [Continue reading…]

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After victory over ISIS, Mosul discovers the cost: Homes were turned into graves

The Washington Post reports: Aya Abosh found her sister in the house where she spent her final moments, trapped with her boys as shells fell from the sky and caved in the roof.

They were lying there, in the detritus of floral blankets and twisted railings. “Hammoudi,” Abosh said, somehow recognizing her 6-year-old nephew, Mahmoud. Recovery workers toiled around her, struggling to find a zipper on a body bag, then straining to wrap remains disfigured by trauma, time and sun.

Sajjida, the sister, was 28 and devoted to God, Abosh said. Bakr, the other boy, was 9. In the heat and stench and swirling dust, Abosh quietly stared at the bodies before the workers spirited them away. It was early yet, and there were many more bodies to uncover in the Old City of Mosul.

This was the site of Iraq’s landmark military victory just weeks ago that ended the Islamic State extremist group’s wrenching occupation of Mosul and crippled the militants’ odious ambitions for the Middle East, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said. There were noisy, flag-waving celebrations, even as the prime minister reminded the nation that there had been “blood and sacrifices,” too.

Only now is the terrible cost of the victory emerging, in quarters of the Old City ground to rubble by airstrikes and shelling and suicide bombs. For under the barrage were thousands of homes packed with families. Hundreds of the houses were transformed into graves. [Continue reading…]

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U.S.-led airstrikes are killing hundreds of civilians in the battle for ISIS-held Raqqa

The Washington Post reports: U.S.-led coalition airstrikes in the Islamic State’s de facto capital in Syria are killing hundreds of civilians each month, according to monitoring groups, deepening already grave concerns for thousands of families trapped inside the city.

At least 725 civilians have been killed in coalition airstrikes since the offensive to retake Raqqa began June 6, according to Airwars, a London-based monitoring organization that works with local activists, human rights groups and the Pentagon.

“We had been flagging for months prior to the offensive that far more civilians were dying around Raqqa than we would have expected even a few months earlier,” said Chris Woods, the director of Airwars.

“Since the assault began, we have seen a casualty count that is relatively high compared to the rest of the coalition’s war against ISIS,” he said, using another name for the Islamic State. “In Raqqa, this means high numbers of identifiable civilians, many of them women and children.” [Continue reading…]

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