Despite reported airstrikes, ISIS edges toward Kobani

Syria Direct reports: The Islamic State appeared to be closing in on the Kurdish-majority city of Ain al-Arab in northern Aleppo Wednesday despite unconfirmed reports of airstrikes against IS positions in the area the night before.

Reports on the ground indicate that the Islamic State is anywhere from 10 to 15 kilometers from Ain al-Arab, known as Kobani in Kurdish.

Meanwhile, conflicting accounts cast doubt on the reported airstrikes against IS positions in Ain al-Arab.

The primary source of the report, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said Wednesday that an airstrike Tuesday night hit IS supply roads 35 kilometers west of Kobani.

The monitoring group could not confirm that the plane was part of the American- led coalition, but did add that the aircraft was not Syrian and came from the direction of Turkey.

Arabic and Kurdish news agencies also reported the airstrikes Tuesday night.

“According to local sources…airplanes with the international alliance hit IS positions west of Kobani,” Ara News, a pro-opposition Syrian news agency, was quoted as saying.

Kurdish reactions to the airstrikes against IS in Syria appear to be positive, even if confusion remains as to whether the strikes around Ain al-Arab actually took place.

“There was a state of joy and satisfaction [amongst the Kurds] following the strikes,” Baz Ali Bkari, a Kurdish journalist based in the Turkish side of the border, told Syria Direct Wednesday, “because it means saving the Kurdish people from a genocide at the hands of IS.”

“The Kurdish people are with the American strikes against IS,” according to Radwan Biza, another journalist based in the Kurdish city of Tal Abyad on the Syrian-Turkish border.

“US-led airstrikes targeted IS strongholds in Kobani at the Turkish border,” said Kurdish news agency Rudaw Wednesday.

Turkish officials, however, denied that Turkey was involved in the attack, saying that neither Turkish airspace nor airports were used in the operation. [Continue reading...]

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Syrian Kurds call for more targeted strikes

The Wall Street Journal reports: The chaos in a town near Turkey’s Syrian border intensified after U.S.-led airstrikes against Islamic State targets Tuesday, prompting Kurdish leaders to call on Washington to give them a role in coordinating the fight against the jihadists.

Kurdish leaders said that after U.S. warplanes hit Raqqa, the de facto capital of Islamic State, the insurgents redeployed men and heavy weaponry closer to Kurdish areas. The officials said the jihadist onslaught around the Syrian city of Ayn al-Arab, known in Kurdish as Kobani, continued through Tuesday, as shells fell on the city and surrounding villages were seized.

Turkey’s government said on Tuesday that the number of refugees fleeing the jihadist advance rose to 150,000, while the United Nations relief agency warned the number could reach 400,000.

Panic over Islamic State’s advance led to fresh clashes at the border between Turkish security forces and angry Kurdish protesters who cursed the absence of Turkey—a North Atlantic Treaty Organization member with a major U.S. air base—from the Washington-led coalition. Speaking to reporters in New York, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey could give military or logistical support to the U.S.-led coalition, but stopped short of offering any firm commitments.

The Syrian Kurdish militia, which fights under the banner of the People’s Defense Units, or YPG, on Tuesday asked to join President Barack Obama’s coalition.

“We welcome the airstrikes but they didn’t help Kobani. The U.S. should coordinate with us,” said Redur Xelil, a YPG spokesman. “We fear that the airstrikes may even push their fighters to concentrate on Kobani, endangering the city even more.” [Continue reading...]

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Does Turkey still remain hostage to ISIS?

Cengiz Candar writes: Faruk Logoglu, a former Turkish ambassador to Washington and an opposition member of parliament, a leading figure in foreign policy issues, sees the “deal with IS” as scandalous, which could place Turkey’s relations with the Western world on a more problematic course. He asked the government: “There are serious allegations that IS has been supplied with tanks and weapons and that these were carried by train to Tell Abyad. The government must respond to these allegations. What is meant by a ‘diplomatic deal’ is the freeing of IS militants detained in Turkey. How many? Why were they detained? For example, on March 25, 2014, three IS terrorists were arrested for killing three citizens at Ulukisla-Nigde. Are they part of the deal?

“Erdogan’s remarks on an exchange are scandalous, showing that he recognizes IS as an interlocutor to make diplomatic deals with. Social media close to IS reported 150 IS militants, 50 of them women, detained in Turkey were released. Sources close to the PKK allege Turkey has supplied IS with tanks and other weapons. Finally, IS could have been assured that Turkey will remain outside the coalition.”

There are many indicators that Turkey, even after the hostage release, does not have a free hand vis-a-vis IS. While it has rescued its hostages, it still remains hostage to IS. [Continue reading...]

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PKK leader calls for mass mobilization of Kurds to fight against ISIS

The Associated Press reports: The imprisoned leader of a Kurdish rebel group fighting Turkey has called for a mass mobilization of all Kurds against the Islamic State militant group which is fighting Kurdish forces in Syria.

In a message relayed through his lawyer late Monday, Abdullah Ocalan said: “I call on all Kurdish people to start an all-out resistance against this high-intensity war.”

“Not only the people of Rojava (Syrian Kurdistan) but also all people in the north (Turkey) and other parts of Kurdistan should act accordingly,” lawyer Mazlum Dinc quoted Ocalan as saying.

The call came hours before the United States and five Arab countries on Tuesday launched airstrikes against the Islamic militants in Syria. [Continue reading...]

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200,000 flee in biggest displacement of Syrian conflict

CNN reports: The sudden, massive flood of refugees fleeing the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria is unlike any other displacement in the 3½-year Syrian conflict.

As many as 200,000 people have left the area surrounding the Syrian Kurdish city of Kobani, also known as Ayn al-Arab, in just four days as ISIS advances into the area, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Monday. Most have gone into Turkey, the London-based monitoring group said.

Turkey’s semiofficial Anadolu news agency and the United Nations said 130,000 Syrian refugees have entered Turkey since Friday.

But the unprecedented surge that broke loose Friday has slowed, as Turkey reduced the number of open crossings from eight or nine to just two, said Ariane Rummery, a spokeswoman for the U.N. refugee agency. [Continue reading...]

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Kobane Kurds in Syria warn of ‘second Shingal’

Rudaw reports: Syrian Kurds in Kobane warned on Monday they are facing a “second Shingal” at the hands of the Islamic State (IS/ISIS) unless the international community intervenes within days.

As the jihadist fighters advanced towards the border city, Adham Basho of the Syrian Kurdish Azadi Party told Rudaw that IS was now within 10 kilometers of Kobane and the residents faced a “very difficult” situation.

He said they faced a similar fate to the Yezidis of Shingal in northern Iraq, who were marooned on mountain tops in their thousands in August before help came to the rescue.

Mahmoud Kalo, the head of the Kurdish National Council, an umbrella group of Syrian Kurdish political parties, told Rudaw from inside Kobane that the parties were holding a meeting in the town to discuss the situation.

He said Syrian Kurdish fighters, who have halted the IS advance to the east of the town, would only be able to hold their lines for two more days before they ran out of supplies.

“We want the international community to impose an exclusion zone in and around Kobane to protect it from the ISIS militants. The people of Kobane can only fight IISIS for two more days without the international community’s support,” said Kalo.

“If there is no immediate assistance from the international community there will be a second Sinjar (Shingal).”

A large number of young Kurds want to go to Kobane from the Kurdish region of Turkey but Turkish soldiers and police had blocked their way, he said. [Continue reading...]

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100,000 refugees cross into Turkey fleeing ISIS attacks in Syria

The Associated Press reports: The 19-year-old Kurdish militant, who has been fighting the Islamic State group in Syria, brought his family across the border into Turkey to safety Sunday. But in the tranquility of a Turkish tea garden just miles from the frontier, Dalil Boras vowed to head back after nightfall to continue the fight.

Pulling a wad of Syrian bills from his pocket, the young fighter – who has already lost a 17-year-old brother to the Islamic militants’ brutal advance – said that if the Turkish border guards tried to stop him, the money would persuade them.

Boras and his relatives are among some 100,000 Syrians, mostly Kurds, who have flooded into Turkey since Thursday, escaping an Islamic State offensive that has pushed the conflict nearly within eyeshot of the Turkish border.

On Sunday, heavy clashes broke out between the Islamic State militants and Kurdish fighters only miles from the Syrian border town of Kobani, where members of the al-Qaida breakaway group were bombarding villagers with tanks, artillery and multiple rocket launchers, said Nasser Haj Mansour, a defense official in Syria’s Kurdish region.

“They are even targeting civilians who are fleeing,” Haj Mansour told The Associated Press.

At a border crossing where Turkish authorities were processing the refugees, Osman Abbas said he and 20 relatives were fleeing a village near Kobani when Islamic State fighters shot one of his sons. The 35-year-old had tried to return to their home to recover valuables while the rest of the family fled.

“They took our village, they took our house, they killed my son,” Abbas said. “I saw it with my own eyes.”

As refugees flooded in, Turkey closed the border crossing at Kucuk Kendirciler to Turkish Kurds in a move aimed at preventing them from joining the fight in Syria. A day earlier, hundreds of Kurdish fighters had poured into Syria through the small Turkish village, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. [Continue reading...]

Yesterday, AP reported: Some 600 PKK fighters also crossed from Iraq into Syria, heading toward Kobani, said a military official in Iraq’s northern Kurdish region. That official also spoke on condition his name not be used because he wasn’t authorized to speak to journalists. The PKK have a base in the Qandil mountains in the Kurdish region of Iraq.

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About 60,000 Syrian Kurds flee to Turkey as ISIS advances

Reuters reports: About 60,000 Syrian Kurds have crossed into Turkey in the past 24 hours, a deputy prime minister said on Saturday, fleeing an advance by Islamic State militants who have seized dozens of villages close to the border and are advancing on a Syrian town.

Turkey opened a stretch of the frontier on Friday after Kurdish civilians fled their homes, fearing an imminent attack on the border town of Ayn al-Arab, which is also known as Kobani. Islamic State is now within 15 km (9 miles) of the town, a Kurdish commander on the ground said.

Islamic State’s advances in northern Syria have prompted calls for help by the region’s Kurds who fear a massacre in Kobani. The town sits in a strategic position on the border and has prevented the radical Sunni Muslim militants from consolidating their gains across northern Syria.

Lokman Isa, a 34-year-old farmer, said he had fled with his family and about 30 other families after heavily-armed Islamic State militants entered his village of Celebi. He said the Kurdish forces battling them had only light weapons. [Continue reading...]

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The PKK’s strategy for fighting ISIS

Jamil Bayek, the head of the PKK Leadership Committee, says in an interview appearing in As-Safir and translated by Al-Monitor: We have a clear strategy, the most important thing in it is that we do not view IS as an organization, but as a group of mercenaries and murderers who pose a threat to the region’s peoples, cultures and religions, even a threat to all humanity. Since the PKK is a humanitarian movement and in light of this brutal onslaught against the peoples of the region in general and [against] the will of our people in western Kurdistan in particular, we are determined to break the will of those mercenaries. Our directives are clear in this regard: we will attack IS wherever it is found, with all our capabilities. We will not allow it to advance and achieve its goals. And we will be ready to lead a joint struggle alongside all those who resist IS and who have a clear position toward it, in order to defeat these mercenaries, liquidate them, and obliterate them from existence.

As-Safir: What is your position regarding the international coalition led by the United States against the Islamic State?

Bayek: Humanity should be aware what IS is and how it arose. This group did not fall from the sky and did not appear accidentally or suddenly. Many analyses indicate that Middle Eastern and international powers used IS to achieve their interests. At the moment, we see that the US does not want IS to achieve progress that allows it to become a great Middle Eastern power, especially since it has reached a dangerous point.

There are objective and good American attempts to confront this danger. But the problem, in our view, is not limited to IS, as there is a structure upon which these mercenaries stand, launch from, and protect themselves with. Therefore, we see that there is a need to get rid of this structure by establishing a shared democracy and freedom among the peoples of the Middle East on the basis of fraternity and equality as a substitute for the authority of the nation-state. We believe that the basis of the solution starts from here. Regarding the US measures to address IS, they are good steps without a doubt. They may produce certain results at a certain time. As long as IS constitutes a threat, military measures remain necessary. But achieving the desired results requires a radical solution. It involves, as I said earlier, “democratizing” the Middle East and achieving freedom for its all peoples. [Continue reading...]

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ISIS captures 21 Kurdish villages in northern Syria

Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reports: ISIS have taken over 21 villages inhabited by Kurdish civilians, in the western and eastern countrysides of Ein al-Arab “Kobane” after a massive attack using heavy artillery and tanks, confirmed reports of losses in both of YPG and ISIS sides, in addition to human losses in Kurdish civilians, the area is witnessing a migration of civilians into areas nearby, amid fears of committing massacres by ISIS in these areas in case it broke into it, the clashes continue between the two sides near these areas.

SOHR also reports: Reliable resources have confirmed to SOHR that 162 people have joined to IS military camps in the northern eastern and eastern countryside of Aleppo since September 10 and after the President Barack Obama’s speech where he has declared war on the Islamic States. Among those who have joined in the past seven days, 15 fighters from different Arab and foreign nationalities, including 4 Australian persons entered to Syria through Turkish territory and 147 ex- Syrian combatants of al Nusra Front and the Islamic battalions.

It is worth mentioning that reliable resources reported to SOHR that 6300 fighters joined to the training camps of the Islamic State in the two cities of Aleppo and Al Raqqa in the last July in 2014, where this is considered the widest process of recruiting fighters in the Islamic State’s ranks since the declaration of establishment in April/2013 in the city of Al Raqqa until it transferred to the Islamic State in the late of June/2014.

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Kurds retake Christian villages from ISIS

AFP reports: Kurdish peshmerga forces on Tuesday recaptured several Christian villages in northern Iraq in clashes with Islamic State (IS) jihadists, an officer and a cleric said.

Tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians, most of them Chaldeans, fled their homes when IS militants launched a renewed drive in the north in early August.

Iraq’s largest Christian town, Qaraqosh, and dozens of other villages were all but emptied in what Christian leaders described as the worst disaster for the minority in centuries. [Continue reading...]

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Syrian Kurds ally with rebel groups to fight ISIS

Vice reports: Kurdish and rebel armed groups fighting extremist militants the Islamic State (IS) in Syria have agreed to join forces against their common enemy, the latest in a complex and shifting series of battlefield allegiances.

Units affiliated with the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), Islamic Front (IF) and US-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) will form a new coalition named Burkan al-Forat (Euphrates Volcano) after the river which flows through the region in which the agreement was formalized.

The alliance was announced via a video posted on Wednesday in which a man read a statement in front of an armed group including a number of women fighters backed by YPG pennants alongside the three-starred flag of Syrian opposition groups and others. The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also reported the news.

The man asked those who had joined IS to desert the group, called for assistance from the international community and finished by saying that the coalition wished to free all areas of Syria under IS control, including Qaraqozaq, Jarabulus, Sirin, Manbaj and Raqqa.

Syrian rebel groups have not always had a smooth relationship with Kurdish militias. The YPG, which is the main force in majority Kurdish parts of the country, has maintained an uneasy truce with President Bashar al-Assad’s forces in the region, leading some rebels to accuse them of colluding with the government, a charge the Kurds deny.

However, it has been instrumental in the fight against IS and has been one of the few forces to mount an effective defense against the jihadis, inflicting heavy losses against them clashes across northern Syria and stymying their efforts to extend control into Kurdish regions. Problematically for the US, the YPG is affiliated with the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), an organization which is on both America and the EU’s terrorist blacklist. [Continue reading...]

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As NATO allies unite against ISIS, it’s time for the U.S. to talk to the PKK

The Washington Post reports: The Obama administration accelerated efforts Friday to build an international coalition to combat the Islamic State, winning pledges of support from nine allies but leaving questions about the extent of possible expanded military force.

The United States has waged a series of airstrikes seeking to slow the advance of the Islamic State in northern Iraq and bolster the defenses of Western-allied fighters in the Iraq’s nearby Kurdish region.

But Washington is now eager to broaden the military and diplomatic pressures on the group, which has drawn international condemnation for sending non-Muslim minorities fleeing in fear and waging bloodshed such as mass killings and the beheadings of two American journalists.

The 10-nation alliance, forged at a NATO summit in Wales, could raise worries about deepening Western military engagement in the region nearly three years after the withdrawal of U.S. combat forces from Iraq.

Secretary of State John F. Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel used the NATO forum to hold meetings with foreign and defense ministers from nine countries: Britain, France, Germany, Canada, Australia, Turkey, Italy, Poland and Denmark.

The leaders described themselves as the core of an emerging coalition to counter the Islamic State, although they downplayed the prospect of imminent joint military action. They also left unsaid whether they were planning to attack Islamic State’s strongholds in Syria or limit their mission to Iraq. [Continue reading...]

The New York Times adds this tough-talk from Kerry: “There is no containment policy for ISIL,” Secretary of State John Kerry said at the beginning of the meeting, using an alternate acronym for ISIS. “They’re an ambitious, avowed, genocidal, territorial-grabbing, caliphate-desiring quasi state with an irregular army, and leaving them in some capacity intact anywhere would leave a cancer in place that will ultimately come back to haunt us.”

So even though the text of the statement issued by the State Department makes no mention of attacking ISIS in Syria, that’s part of the plan — right?

It’s widely recognized that the most effective force fighting against ISIS is the YPG (People’s Protection Units), the branch of the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) based in Rojava, Syrian Kurdistan.

When the U.S. claimed success in rescuing thousands of Yazidis trapped on Mount Sinjar, it was YPG fighters on the ground who played the crucial role in creating a safe corridor.

In building its international coalition to fight ISIS, the U.S. will naturally want the support of as many allies as possible, yet what could be the most productive alliance of all — with the PKK — will remain hamstrung unless Washington grows up and ditches its childish anti-terrorism fundamentalism and quickly de-lists the PKK as a so-called terrorist organization.

Not only is this particular designation unwarranted — as Henri Barkey points out, the U.S. should be willing to talk to the PKK when the PKK’s chief adversary, Turkey, is already doing so — but the whole idea of designating organizations and individuals as terrorists is itself an insult to the rule of law. Such labeling functions as a political tool used without much more subtlety than the Catholic church’s practice of branding heretics at the time of the inquisition. Democracy, however, only allows for the designation of illegal actions — not illegal opinions or affiliations.

The necessity of fighting ISIS has arisen not because it promotes a diabolical ideology; it derives from the fact that the members of ISIS are engaging in genocide, ethnic cleansing, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.

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Is the PKK becoming a new Middle East power?

30% of PKK fighters are women.

30% of the PKK’s fighters are women.

The Turkish columnist, Kadri Gursel, writes: [T]he PYD [the Democratic Union Party, the PKK’s Syrian branch] has been able to hold on to these three regions [Ras al-Ain, Kobani and Afrin, in northern Syria] and resist the jihadists for more than two years. Hence, long before IS’ capture of Mosul, the PKK already deserved to be recognized as the Middle East’s only fighting force to defy and resist IS for the struggle it has waged in Rojava [Syrian Kurdistan].

The Kurdish forces in Syria have surprised the world not only with their resolve against the jihadists but also with their female fighters. Against a barbarian mindset that enslaves and sells women as concubines, the PYD has displayed a secular mindset embracing gender equality, which has enormously contributed to its international image.

In Iraq, on the other hand, the PKK has put aside disagreements with the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) to form a national military alliance against the jihadist threat to Iraqi Kurdistan.

That the Western public is already discussing the prospect of the PKK’s removal from the lists of terrorist organizations is a clear indication of how much the PKK’s struggle against the jihadists has contributed to its international standing.

Lauren Bohn reports: Standing in a parched field far from any roads in Turkey’s southeastern mountains, a teary-eyed Sokrun Gunduz clutched photographs of her two absent sons.

Mazlum, 15, is in a Turkish prison under suspicion of collaborating with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), a group branded a terrorist organization by Turkey, the European Union and the United States.

Agit, 22, is in northern Iraq battling the jihadist Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) with the same group. The young man is one of thousands of PKK soldiers who have joined the war against ISIS in Kurdish areas of Syria and Iraq, and who have become vital to the international community’s battle against the powerful Islamist insurgency.

“The Kurdish fight has spread,” the 43-year-old grocer said at a recent rally marking the anniversary of the PKK’s armed struggle against Turkey. The group has battled the Turkish state for cultural and political rights and Kurdish self-rule for 30 years in a conflict that has claimed more than 30,000 lives.

“We must protect our Kurdish brothers and sisters,” she said amid a crowd of thousands of PKK fighters and supporters celebrating the 30th anniversary of the group’s struggle. “In doing so, we will finally get our own Kurdish state.”

Many of Turkey’s Kurds – a disenfranchised minority that makes up a fifth of the country’s population – feel revitalized by the PKK’s role in Syria and Iraq, and hope their successes on the battlefield will produce political victories such as greater autonomy, more rights and perhaps even an independent state.

“In a way, we have to thank the Islamic State. They’ve united us, reviving the great Kurdish cause,” said Seyid Narin, a municipal mayor in Diyarbakir, long the center of the Kurdish resistance and separatist movement in southeast Turkey. Ten months ago he lost a son who was fighting in Syria — a second one is now in northern Iraq with the PKK.

“Our struggle is reborn,” he said.

This struggle poses a potential threat to Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) which has spearheaded efforts to restart peace talks with the terror group and now tolerates its military role in Turkey.

“Both the (ruling party) and PKK know that ISIS must be stopped … if anything, this fight will bring the AK party and Kurds closer together,” said Bedirhan Akyol, a Kurdish Justice and Development official in Diyarbakir. “The PKK is becoming stronger through this fight, but that won’t have a bad effect on peace talks.”

But Akyol’s positive spin belies a deep unease in Turkey about the PKK’s role fighting ISIS in Syria and its place in society at large. That the long reviled organization has been cast as the hero in the war against homicidal Islamist fighters has prompted alarm and anger in some circles.

The ruling party and the PKK are essentially creating laws that would result in the break- up of Turkey, said Oktay Vural, a leading Turkish opposition politician.

“The terrorists failed to divide Turkey for 30 years, but the country is now being brought to the brink of partition in the name of [Recep Tayyip] Erdogan’s political future,” he wrote in an editorial, referring to the country’s powerful prime minister and president elect.

Even some who do not consider talks with the PKK treasonous, like Vural does, worry that Turkey already has enough on its plate with the regional threat posed by ISIS and a teeming Syrian refugee population, before dealing with the legitimization of a group long branded as terrorists. [Continue reading...]

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Should U.S. remove the PKK from its terrorist list?

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Can the Kurdish pesh merga forces rebuild their reputation?

When ISIS fighters advanced on Kurdistan in August, the pesh merga fled the front line and only reclaimed lost ground thanks to U.S. airstrikes. The failure of the Kurdish forces has prompted Kurdish president, Massoud Barzani, to reorganize the army. The New York Times reports:

Last Tuesday, Mr. Barzani signed an amendment to create a more national army. Rather than having a force largely divided between their allegiance to two major parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, officials will integrate the units under the banner of the Ministry of the Pesh Merga.

Officials said consistent training would become the focus. Young men and women, whether they join the military or not, will be given some measure of military training, he said.

“During this long period of time, we failed to create a nationalized pesh merga,” said Mustafa Sayid Qadir, the minister of pesh merga. “We are planning to create and establish a united, nationalized and systematic army.”

Still, many remain skeptical that the political will exists to upend a decades-old power structure. Some officials believe that to encourage the pesh merga restructuring, there should be conditions set on any aid given to the Kurdish government.

“As we know in this part of the world, it is not just about laws on paper, but about political commitment,” said one Kurdish official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue. “It can be done, but it could go either way.”

As it stands, experts believe that each of the two parties fields more than 60,000 soldiers, while the ministry can claim just 50,000 in its own ranks.

“The vast bulk of the pesh merga are under the control of the individual political parties,” said Michael Knights, a researcher at the Washington Institute, who has specialized in the Kurdish forces.

Exact numbers of pesh merga fighters are a closely held secret in Kurdistan, but experts like Mr. Knights figure the total has swelled to about 175,000 since the ISIS assault began. Young and old have rushed to the battlefront, dusting off old weapons to assist in the defense of the Kurdish enclave.

But the young fighters have no battle experience. Many of the older pesh merga moved on, starting businesses and embracing the changing face of Kurdistan. And for those who remained, the pesh merga was practically a pension — steady pay for little work. [Continue reading...]

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‘ISIS tore our families apart. Now we’re fighting back’. Meet the Kurdish women’s resistance army

Sofia Barbarani reports: A shot rings out across an oval of dusty land, next to a man-made lake.

There, crouched in front of a light support weapon, is a young Iraqi woman, her hair in a long plait tied with a silver butterfly clip, hanging over her shoulder. Two Syrian Kurdish soldiers instruct her on how to aim and shoot, while a row of women dressed in camouflage sit beind her on a mound of sand, looking on. And awaiting their turn.

Welcome to this remote corner of Syria’s Kurdish region, between the city of Derik and the Tigris River, where a group of 11 Yazidi women are being trained to form a resistance army.

They are among more than 1,000 men and women who have joined the Sinjar Resistance Units here and are being prepared to fight by the People’s Protection Units (YPG) and Women’s Protection Units (YPJ); the female armed-wing of Syria’s Kurdish Supreme Committee.

In early August approximately 200,000 of Iraq’s estimated 600,000 Yazidis – a minority religious community – fled their hometowns in Sinjar province when the Islamic State gave them an ultimatum: convert to Islam or die.

While most found refuge in the Kurdistan Region, more than 15,000 fled to the Sinjar mountain range, where they were escorted by the protection units through a man-made ‘safety corridor’ into Syria. They have been sheltering here ever since.

Video footage from the area has shown refugees, including many children, living in unbearably hot conditions, with little food and water and reliant on aid.

But there is another side to the Yazidi experience. For, in driving these people from their homes, the extremist organisation IS – known for its barbaric treatment of women and girls – has unknowingly created an army of women, prepared to fight.

“For myself and for my people I will go to Sinjar to either die or live there freely,” 26-year-old Hend Hasen Ahmed tells me.

“We are being trained to use snipers, Kalashnikovs, rocket propelled grenades and hand grenades,” she explains. [Continue reading...]

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U.S. Special Operations Forces may already be fighting in Iraq

From Zumar in northern Iraq, the Daily Beast reports: At around 10 a.m. [yesterday], the Peshmerga halted our movement. Fearing that the situation was changing rapidly, we asked the Kurdish security element accompanying us what was happening. “We don’t know,” they said, “we just got information that you cannot move forward.” Repeated calls were met with the same firm statement that we could not move forward.

Stuck out in the open with no clear sense of what was occurring in the battle that required us to be stopped, we made contact with high-level Peshmerga ministries, both in Erbil and on the ground in Zumar. “Yes, we want to let you in, but we can’t,” said one high-level Kurdish government official. “We have visitors, you’ll see them,” he stated. As we tried to decipher his cryptic response our answer came: multiple armored Toyotas swept down the mountain, passing within feet of us. The Toyotas were packed with what appeared to be bearded Western Special Operations Forces. I watched the trucks pass and saw for myself the crews inside them. They didn’t wear any identifying insignia but they were visibly Western and appeared to match all the visual characteristics of American special operations soldiers.

Contacts in the Kurdish intelligence service and Peshmerga leadership confirmed what we saw. “Yes,” one commander replied to our questions. “German and American forces are on the ground here. “They are helping to support us in the attack.”

“There are no U.S. troops on the ground in or around Zumar.” The Pentagon told The Daily Beast on Monday night. Captain Rick Haupt, a spokesman for U.S. Central Command, which has control over military operations in the Middle East, denied that U.S. troops were involved in the fighting but confirmed U.S. aircraft “performed one strike destroying several vehicles in the vicinity of Zumar” on Monday.

Kurdish officials told The Daily Beast a different story. Ranking members of the Kurdish military and intelligence service said that one team of U.S. Special Operations was on the ground in Zumar along with several German counterparts, working in conjunction with Peshmerga units. According to the Kurdish sources, U.S. and German special operations teams had taken up positions in Zumar that allowed them to coordinate with U.S. aircraft.

If American troops were active in the fighting in Zumar, as they appeared to be on Monday, and as Kurdish officials stated, it would mark a significant break with U.S. official policy. [Continue reading...]

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