Kurds accuse Iran of sending 30,000 troops to fight in Iraq

Al Jazeera: Kurdish authorities in Iraq have accused Iran of sending 30,000 soldiers and military experts to fight the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group.

Shakhawan Abdullah, the head of the Iraq’s parliamentary security and defence committee, told Al Jazeera on Sunday that Iranian soldiers were operating in a number of Iraqi cities and fighting on Iraqi soil.

Abdullah said Iran’s presence went beyond military advisers and experts, and that Iranians were fighting under the banner of the Popular Mobilisation Forces.

The Popular Mobilisation Forces is an umbrella organisation of Shia armed groups composed of around 100,000 fighters.

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Iraqi Kurds say ISIS used chlorine gas against them

Reuters: Iraqi Kurdish authorities said on Saturday they had evidence that Islamic State had used chlorine gas as a chemical weapon against their peshmerga fighters in northern Iraq in January.

The Security Council of the semi-autonomous Kurdish region said in a statement to Reuters that the peshmerga had taken soil and clothing samples after an Islamic State car bombing attempt on Jan. 23.

It said laboratory analysis showed “the samples contained levels of chlorine that suggested the substance was used in weaponized form.” The Kurdish allegation could not be independently confirmed.

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Unsettled at home, veterans volunteer to fight ISIS

The New York Times reports: In the northern Iraqi city of Sulaimaniya, [Patrick] Maxwell [a 29-year-old Iraq war veteran from Austin, Texas] was greeted at the airport by the Kurdish lieutenant. Soon after, he befriended one of the few foreign volunteers there, a Canadian veteran named Dillon Hillier, who had served in Afghanistan.

“We both thought it was important to help, to not sit back and watch it happen,” Mr. Hillier said in a phone interview from his home in Ontario.

The pair ended up in a ragtag infantry battalion on the front lines near Kirkuk, eating meals of rice and flatbread, traveling in beat-up, sometimes bullet-pocked trucks and sleeping on the floors of shipping containers.

“This is just like back in Al Anbar Province,” Mr. Maxwell said with a laugh in a video he made while speeding to the front lines in the back of a Ford pickup, holding a belt-fed machine gun. “Except we have no safety gear, no medical support and no air support.”

Much of the time he was kept away from the fighting, providing security for pesh merga generals, while occasionally manning sniper positions on the front line.

Mr. Maxwell said fighting was rare during his time on the Kurdish lines. “It was more like a World War I standoff,” he said.

In the seven weeks he was in Iraq, he became disenchanted as he watched a procession of American outcasts come to volunteer, including a man kicked out of the Marines who had arrest warrants in the United States and a biker with lip piercings, implanted fangs and “necromancer” written across his black leather jacket.

“Guys who had nothing to live for and just wanted to lay down bodies,” Mr. Maxwell said.

His time with the pesh merga abruptly ended in mid-January, he said, when American Special Operations forces advising the Kurds spotted him at a base near Kirkuk and State Department officials told pesh merga leaders that American civilians should not be in combat.

Mr. Maxwell said that he was removed from the front and that a few days later he and Mr. Hillier flew home in frustration.

“There was no point being there,” he said. “Politics had gotten in the way.”

In January when Mr. Maxwell arrived at Kennedy International Airport in New York with more than 100 pounds of military gear, he assumed he might be detained and possibly charged for fighting with the pesh merga, but no one stopped him. [Continue reading..]

The Daily Beast spoke to another American volunteer, referred to as “Patrick” — not his real name: Patrick’s journey to Syria started when he contacted a recruiter affiliated with the Lions of Rojava Facebook page, which specializes in recruiting foreigners for the YPG. The YPG is an affiliate of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, and is perhaps best known in the West for its defense of Kobani and the use of its all-female YPJ units. Though both are Kurdish and have at times fought together, the YPG and YPJ are not the Peshmerga of neighboring Iraqi Kurdistan.

“I decided to join the fight against ISIS because…at a certain point in my life I made a promise to defend my nation against enemies foreign and domestic, and I decided that ISIS presents a clear threat not only to the people of Kurdistan, not only to the people of the Middle East, but eventually will threaten our national security at home,” Patrick said.

He added that some of the foreign fighters he met had previous military experience, though he wouldn’t say whether he did. He said he doesn’t have an exact count of just how many foreigners are with the YPG but that it could be as many as 100-plus — now. When he initially arrived in Syria, the YPG was seeking to form all-Western units, but Patrick said these units were later broken apart to allow the YPG command to structure message control, and some of the foreigners even had their passports and phones taken away. Patrick said the YPG told the fighters this was because they feared ISIS might gain a propaganda victory if they killed or captured a foreigner and discovered their passport. He said he believed, however, it might have had just as much to do with ensuring the fighters couldn’t leave at will or speak to anyone on the outside without a YPG minder present.

From there, Patrick said, the foreigners were trained on the YPG’s aging weapons systems and occasionally manned checkpoints and went on patrols, but they never participated in any real battles.

“The Western fighters who spend time with YPG soon realize they’re not going to fight. I did not meet one single person, one single Westerner, that didn’t catch on to the fact that they were never intended to fight and they were being used as propaganda,” he said.

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At Kurdish front-line outpost, skepticism abounds about assault on Mosul

McClatchy reports: Major Deliar Shouki, the commander of a string of Kurdish fire bases less than 20 miles from Mosul, admitted he was skeptical when he’d heard the news last week that a U.S. official had told Pentagon reporters that 25,000 Iraqi troops would attack the Islamic State-held city perhaps as soon as April.

“There really is no Iraqi army, so I don’t know where they get the idea that they can train 25,000 soldiers in two months to fight house to house in Mosul,” he said on Friday as he gave a visiting journalist a tour of his men’s positions on the outskirts of the tiny hamlet of Sultan Abdullah, which lies about midway between Mosul and the Kurdish capital of Irbil.

Only a few hundred yards of open ground separates his troops from the Islamic State positions, with Shouki’s men dug in deeply on the tops of hills and the Islamic State fighters occupying the tiny village below. Nearly every night, the area is the scene World War I-style battles as the extremists attempt to storm the Kurdish trenches, only to be thrown back, with heavy casualties.

“It just seems to me like the Iraqi [Arabs] lack a certain morale to be soldiers, and I don’t want to directly accuse them of anything, but every time they fight Daash, they lose ground and equipment that ends up being used against us,” he said, using the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State. “It’s very suspicious and I don’t think they want to fight them.” [Continue reading…]

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The implications of Turkey’s withdrawal from Suleyman Shah in Syria

Aaron Stein and Michael Stephens write: Just days after finalizing an agreement to train a new rebel force inside Turkey to attack the Islamic State, Turkish forces moved into Syria to evacuate some 40 soldiers protecting the Suleyman Shah Tomb: a small Turkish enclave on the eastern bank of the Euphrates river, 30 kilometers from the Turkish border town of Karkamis. The operation included 39 tanks, 57 armored vehicles, and an estimated 572 military personnel. The soldiers removed the body of Suleyman Shah and transported his remains to an area just opposite the Turkish town of Esmeler.

In their analysis of the operation, Stein and Stephens come to these conclusions:

It is important to put this operation into perspective: Ankara launched a limited incursion to evacuate a tomb that had come under threat. The coalition, the Kurds, and the FSA did much of the heavy lifting. Turkey, however, has proven yet again that its role in the Syrian conflict must not be overlooked. It has links to all the main actors operating in northern Syria and is able to generally get its way with most of them, albeit with the occasional disagreement.

The biggest change appears to be Ankara’s approach to ISIS. Since 2013, Turkey had treated ISIS as an irritant, rather than a major security threat, but the Suleyman Shah operation is the clearest sign to date that this approach is changing. However, it is far too early to determine whether this will result in Turkey changing its approach to the coalition’s military operations. All signs indicate that Turkey will not agree to increase its role in the coalition by opening up Incirlik Air Force base for armed strikes, or by allowing its planes to bomb ISIS directly.

Turkey’s role will remain limited to the train and equip, intelligence sharing, and border enforcement, rather than engaging ISIS from the air. In fact one must consider that now that the potential embarrassment of an ISIS takeover of the Tomb has been avoided, Turkey will take a more relaxed stance to events south of its border, and it is unlikely that another Turkish military incursion will be repeated. It is more likely that Turkey will continue with the policy it has pursued thus far: border defense at airports, increased military deployments along certain areas of the border, and the training of the new rebel brigade with US assistance. This signals one key change: Turkey is now attacking ISIS through the use of proxies, which Ankara had previously rejected, in favor of focusing on Assad.

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In the war against ISIS, Kurds feel they’re doing the dirty work for the West

Mike Giglio reports: The soldier pressed a handkerchief to his face to fight the smell of corpses at his feet. Then he crossed the street, sat on a curb, put his head between his knees, and spit. He lit a cigarette. “I’d rather smell the smoke,” he said, “because the stench is rotten, it’s gross.”

The soldier gazed warily at three young ISIS fighters who lay dead at the foot of a crumbled wall. One was charred from a rocket-propelled grenade. Another had a hole in his head. The jihadis wore thick socks but no shoes, to muffle their steps along the pockmarked streets during the battle that raged there the day before.

The soldier was part of an ethnic Kurdish force called the peshmerga that has spent more than six months battling ISIS in northern Iraq. He and his colleagues won this town south of the Mosul Dam, called Wana, the previous afternoon. They spoke as if they’d been dispatching demons. “They are like animals,” a 30-year-old lieutenant said, “and they don’t have brains to think.”

It was ISIS’s push into Iraq’s Kurdish region that prompted the U.S. to begin airstrikes against the group in August, paving the way for the Obama administration to launch a new war. Two months after taking over the Iraqi city of Mosul, the extremists were threatening genocide against the Yazidi religious minority around Mt. Sinjar and advancing toward the regional capital of Erbil.

The peshmerga have since become the main partner on the ground for the U.S. and its coalition of allies, shouldering the grunt work of combat. More than half of the airstrikes the U.S. has carried out in Iraq, according to the U.S. military command overseeing operations against ISIS, have hit along Kurdish lines. The extent of U.S. cooperation with the Kurds suggests the true percentage is far higher, said Christopher Harmer, an analyst tracking the conflict at the Institute for the Study of War.

Six months into the offensive, soldiers along the peshmerga’s 650-mile front with ISIS show the strain of a grueling war. They fight to protect their land — but also feel they’re doing the dirty work for Western countries that keep far from the smell of death. A major in Sinjar called the peshmerga “the only ones on the front fighting” as soldiers fired over stacks of sandbags; a colonel barricaded across from ISIS in Kirkuk said, “It’s not supposed to be this way.” At a western outpost overlooking ISIS-held Syria, an officer said the Kurds hold the line “for every single country fighting ISIS,” while in Wana, the weary soldiers prepared to clear the three corpses as feral cats began to pick at their flesh. [Continue reading…]

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ISIS in danger of losing its main supply route

The Washington Post reports: For weeks, U.S.-backed forces have been fighting to oust the Islamic State from key areas of northern Iraq in a series of small-scale battles that could have an enormous impact on the group’s “caliphate.”

A major prize in the clashes is a highway that serves as a lifeline for the Islamic State. It runs from the group’s Iraq stronghold in Mosul to its enclaves in northeastern Syria, including its self-styled capital, Raqqa, 300 miles away.

The battles are occurring as Islamic State is causing growing alarm internationally over its brutal actions, which have included the murder of a captured Jordanian pilot and the beheading of 21 Egyptian Christians by Libya-based adherents of the extremist group.

In late January, however, Islamic State fighters suffered a setback as Iraqi Kurdish forces seized a stretch of the key highway at the town of Kiske, west of Mosul.

The Islamic State is still using the highway, detouring onto back roads to get around Kiske. But if the Iraqi Kurdish fighters can maintain and expand their hold on the road, the Islamist extremists “will be under a kind of siege in the area. It will be very hard for them” logistically, said Hisham al-Hashemi, an Iraqi researcher who is an expert on the radical group. [Continue reading…]

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Peshmerga doesn’t want wide-eyed Westerners or other foreigners volunteering to join its ranks

Rudaw reports: Peshmerga leaders have been turning away foreign volunteers eager to fight against the Islamic State, explaining the Kurdish military needs weapons, not manpower.

Citing reasons ranging from safety to diplomatic relations, Peshmerga officials say the practice of putting foreigners on the frontline is just not done. For one thing, as Ministry of Peshmerga spokesman Helgurd Hekmat explained, it’s illegal.

“The Peshmerga is a professional fighting force,” Hekmat said, adding that Kurdish law expressly forbids admission of foreigners to the iconic Kurdish military corps whose name means “those who face death.”

Still, Hekmat said he routinely turns away wide-eyed Westerners drawn to put their lives on the line in the name of fighting ISIS, and adventure. [Continue reading…]

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Anti-ISIS forces advance towards Raqqa stronghold

Reuters: Kurdish forces backed by Syrian insurgent groups took control of a hill inside the provincial stronghold of the militant Islamic State group on Sunday after deadly clashes, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The Kurdish forces, supported by U.S.-led air strikes, drove Islamic State fighters from the town of Kobani last month near the Turkish border and have pushed them back from surrounding villages in northern Syria. Islamic State still holds tracts of land across northern and eastern Syria and into Iraq.

Now the Kurds and other local fighters who oppose Islamic State have taken a hill south of Kobani which lies within Raqqa province – the stronghold of the al Qaeda offshoot in Syria, said the Observatory, which tracks the conflict through sources on the ground.

“It is the first time they get into Raqqa,” the Observatory’s founder Rami Abdulrahman said. He added that at least 35 Islamic State fighters and four members of the Kurdish forces had been killed on Sunday in battles near Kobani, which were the heaviest since the Kurds took back the town.

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Can Iraq’s Sunni, Shia and Kurds unite to liberate Mosul?

Jesse Rosenfeld reports: In an inconspicuous flour mill near the front line of Makhmour, southeast of Mosul, a Kurdish commander is in charge of training 350 Sunni fighters from the area. Lining up in formation, the fighters wear balaclavas to hide their features out of fear that jihadists will take revenge on their families if their identity is found out.

Peshmerga Col. “Bab Argin,” who uses a nom-de-guerre because his visits to Baghdad to coordinate with the Iraqi army make him a target, concedes that only 800 Sunni Arab fighters in total are being trained currently for the Mosul fight.

“Daesh [the Arabic acronym for ISIS] is everyone’s enemy,” says Bab Argin, trying to explain the Sunnis’ interest in fighting alongside Shia-dominated government forces that oppressed them and Kurds who want to separate from Iraq.

Most of the Sunni volunteers are Iraqi army soldiers from the Mosul area who fled the ISIS takeover.

“The high ranking officers moved on and left us soldiers behind,” says “Abu Tariq,” a young recruit donning a balaclava. He says he comes from a village under ISIS control near Mosul. “We had no one to give us orders,” he adds.

Parroting the nationalist slogans of an era before the entrenched sectarian divisions that hardened under the American occupation, Abu Tariq contends that “we are fighting for an equal and united Iraq.”

The volunteers recount a rose-tinted version of recent history, contending that Iraqis and their army were united before ISIS split the country, and that the goal of this war is to rebuild that unity. They turn a blind eye to the reprisals against Sunni Arabs carried out by Iranian-backed Shia militias and actively ignore the American occupation’s legacy of a central government that turned majority rule into majority repression. [Continue reading…]

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Why the victory in Kobane matters

Aron Lund writes: It is true that Kobane has been turned into a city of ruins. And enemies of the Islamic State should not get carried away by what happened there, because the success in Kobane will not be easy to repeat elsewhere.

Even though the YPG has proven itself a strong fighting force and a useful on-the-ground partner for the U.S. Air Force, it is at heart an ethnic self-defense militia — not an all-purpose tool for Western intervention in the Syrian war. The YPG’s effectiveness as an offensive force beyond Kobane will be sharply limited by Turkey’s hostility and refusal to provide aid across the border.

In addition, the secular-leftist YPG’s poor relations with most of the surrounding Arab countryside and the Sunni-Islamist mainstream of the Arab opposition make it singularly ill-suited to lead an advance deeper into Syria.

Even as Kurdish refugees are beginning to trickle back into Kobane, there are reports of Arab civilians fleeing the YPG’s advance further south. Many are just trying to get out of the way of the war, but some surely fear that the victorious Kurds will now avenge themselves on Arab villages and families suspected of harboring pro-jihadi sympathies. That’s exactly what is now happening in northern Iraq, where the Islamic State had recruited local Sunni forces in a campaign of genocidal violence against the Yazidi religious minority. Having beaten back the jihadis, some Yazidis are now returning to loot and burn Sunni villages.

The Islamic State is of course exploiting Arab-Kurdish tension around Kobane as well, in the hope of rallying Arab locals to its side. The jihadis are said to have ordered military-age Arab males in the area to stay and help them defend their villages against the YPG, while allowing women and children to flee south to Raqqa. The deeper the YPG pushes into Arab territory, the uglier the ethnic warfare is likely to get.

Well aware of these limitations, the YPG leaders will certainly want to reclaim the rest of the Kurdish territory lost in September. If they succeed, they will perhaps also try to carve out a bit of a buffer zone to further fortify the enclave. But then, they’re in all likelihood just going to dig down and seek to rebuild Kobane. [Continue reading…]

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ISIS resorts to forced conscription and pointless suicide attacks after losing 2,000 fighters in Kobane

Reuters reports: Islamic State’s defeat in Kobani and other recent setbacks in Syria suggest the group is under strain but far from collapse in the Syrian half of its self-declared caliphate.

Islamic State’s high-profile defeat by Kurdish militia backed by U.S.-led air strikes capped a four-month battle that cost Islamic State 2,000 of its fighters, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which tracks the war.

Further from the spotlight, Islamic State has also lost ground to Syrian government and Syrian Kurdish forces elsewhere. Its foes have noted unusual signs of disorganization in its ranks, while reports of forced conscription may indicate a manpower problem as the group wages war in both Syria and Iraq.

There is a long way to go before the tide turns decisively against the group in Syria, where it has faced less military pressure than in Iraq. Islamic State still has a firm grip over its Syrian stronghold in Raqqa province and territory stretching all the way to the other half of its caliphate in Iraq.

The group faces no serious challenge to its rule over those Sunni Arab areas, where it has violently crushed all opposition.

It may yet respond to the Kobani defeat by opening new fronts in Syria. And its capacity to wage psychological warfare was amply demonstrated by this week’s video showing the group burning to death a captive Jordanian pilot.

Yet the Kobani defeat marks the first significant setback for Islamic State (ISIL) in Syria since the rapid expansion of its territorial grip there last year following its capture of Iraqi city of Mosul in June. [Continue reading…]

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Syria’s Kurds celebrate after winning Kobane, but self-rule far off

Reuters reports: Kurds are celebrating after flushing Islamic State militants out of the town of Kobani, but victory is not yet certain in their campaign to cement hard-won autonomy in northern Syria.

Hundreds of U.S.-led coalition air strikes have devastated the town, which is adrift in an Islamic State-controlled sea. Objections to autonomy from neighboring Turkey and the United States could also make it hard for them to sustain their gains.

The retaking by People’s Protection Units (YPG) last week of predominantly Kurdish Kobani after a four-month siege by Islamic State was a major defeat for the Sunni fundamentalist group that controls a 20,000-square mile arc of Syria and Iraq.

For the Kurds, it is a bittersweet victory, as almost 200,000 people, almost the entire population of Kobani province, are still sheltering in Turkey.

But many were still exuberant. Dozens of men waiting at the Turkish crossing to return to Kobani late last week shouted and danced for joy, unfazed by the wrecked city looming behind them.

Most of Kobani is destroyed, with unexploded shells and twisted hunks of cars strewn along the streets. [Continue reading…]

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ISIS surprises Kurds in Iraq, killing a commander in a day of attacks

The New York Times reports: Exploiting a foggy night as cover, Islamic State militants launched a surprise attack on Iraqi Kurdish positions on the outskirts of Kirkuk early Friday, killing a senior Kurdish commander and at least five of his men, security officials in the city said.

The assault was one of the most aggressive undertaken against Kirkuk in months by the Islamic State, the jihadist group that straddles a large stretch of Iraq and Syria. The city, in northern Iraq, is an oil hub that is seen as central to the aspiration of Iraqi Kurdish leaders and that poses an attractive strategic target for the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL.

Families fled their homes as the fighting intensified, and at one point, the militants stormed an abandoned hotel in the Kirkuk city center.

The deadly foray on Friday demonstrated the continued ability of Islamic State fighters to harass Iraq’s cities, despite a punishing monthslong campaign by Iraqi forces backed by United States airstrikes to dislodge the extremists. [Continue reading…]

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Does defeat in Kobane mark the beginning of the end for ISIS?

Al Jazeera reports: Losing Kobane after more than four months of intense fighting is a significant propaganda blow to ISIL. The group invested extensive military resources to capture the isolated town on the border with Turkey.

“Daesh [ISIL] took most of the places it wanted in Syria and Iraq but could not capture Kobane,” said Anwar Muslim, the prime minister of the self-ruled administration of Kobane, referring to the organisation by its Arabic name.

“This victory marks the beginning of the end for Daesh.”

Kurdish forces have so far taken control of at least three villages in the southern surroundings of Kobane. It will be a highly challenging task for them to expel ISIL from the dozens of villages that dot the plains around the agricultural town. [Continue reading…]

Robin Wright writes: Stuart Jones, the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, told Al Arabiya last week that more than six thousand militants, including many top commanders, have died in Iraq and Syria since launching their blitz last summer. Some are apparently no longer so keen on martyrdom. The senior Administration official also said that the human toll may be demoralizing to ISIS. “We track quite closely the over-all attrition of its ranks, its vehicles, and the dissension it has caused within the organization,” he said. “We understand that a lot of its fighters now are simply refusing to go to Kobani, and the fighters refusing to go to Kobani are being assassinated by ISIL.”

The campaign has been expensive for the West. The U.S.-led coalition ran more than six hundred airstrikes on Kobani — eighty per cent of all its bombings in Syria — which cost hundreds of millions of dollars. Kobani has certainly paid a price. Fighting and bombings have destroyed half the city, which now has no economy, let alone electricity. There is little left for the forty thousand residents who fled; many may remain refugees for some time.

Kobani’s fate could have little impact on how the rest of Syria fares. It may be true, as the senior Administration official told me, that in areas of northern Iraq where ISIS’s command and control is broken down, “its ability to direct fighters to certain areas of the front — where, whenever fighters go there, they never return — is not nearly what it was four months ago.” But the Islamic State nevertheless appears capable of recruiting more men. Twenty thousand foreigners have now gone to fight in Syria and Iraq. It is “the largest mobilization of foreign fighters in Muslim countries since 1945,” the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence, at King’s College London, reported on Monday.

The total number of foreign fighters now exceeds that of foreigners mobilized during the ten-year war against the Soviet occupation in Afghanistan, which was the genesis of extremist movements like Al Qaeda. Unlike the situation in the eighties, though, nearly a fifth of today’s fighters — some four thousand — are residents or nationals of Western European countries, the I.C.S.R. reported. The largest numbers come from France, Britain, and Germany. Others come from Ukraine, China, and New Zealand. [Continue reading…]

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Inside Kobane

Bulent Kilic writes: We’ve been waiting for two days to get into Kobane, ever since Kurdish fighters wrested back the town from IS jihadists. Finally, this morning, the Turkish authorities say they will allow us access for a few hours. The police take down our names, and we’re escorted over the border into Kobane, about 20 reporters from Turkish and foreign media. [Continue reading…]

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Kurds celebrate liberation of Kobane as ISIS calls for new Paris-style attacks

Vice News reports: On Monday, the same day Kurdish fighters in Syria decisively broke the Islamic State’s bloody and sustained siege of Kobane, a senior leader of the extremist group called for jihadists to carry out fresh Paris-style attacks across Europe.

Fireworks lit up the dark night in Turkish and Syrian towns and refugee camps across the border from the embattled Syrian town of Kobane Monday night, while elated Kurdish residents bearing flame torches flooded the streets, celebrating the liberation of their friends, family, and neighbors, who until earlier that morning had been under militant control since September. In the distance, the Kurdish flag flapped silently on a hill east of Kobane — a declaration of the resilience of peshmerga fighters and rebel brigades who had fought deadly battles to drive out the extremists for four months. [Continue reading…]

David L. Phillips writes: The battle for Kobani is significant for several reasons:

  • It’s a major setback for Daesh’s propaganda campaign. Daesh uses its aura of invincibility to gain recruits. In Kobani, Daesh was bloodied and beaten.
  • It has brought global attention to the Kurds of Syria and their social revolution, which is based on grass-roots democracy, women’s empowerment, and environmental sustainability.
  • It was a public-relations disaster for Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Turkey sealed its border to cut off Kobani’s defenders. Erdogan demanded that the U.S. impose a no-fly-zone and a security buffer in exchange for Turkey’s cooperation with the U.S.-led multinational coalition fighting Daesh. Many observers (including this author) allege Turkey is providing military, logistical, financial and medical support for Daesh and other jihadists.
  • It did what no Kurdish leader could do: Kurds from Syria, Turkey, Iraq, and Iran found common cause in forming a united front against terrorism and the Islamic State’s fascist nihilism.

The Islamic State’s defeat in Syria followed a victory for the Peshmerga in Sinjar, where they defeated Daesh and saved thousands of Yazidis. The Iraqi armed forces is also rolling up Daesh in Iraq’s Diyala province.

Despite these battlefield gains, challenges remain. Thousands of displaced persons need assistance resettling to their ruined homes in Kobani. Villages around Kobani are still under control of Daesh. Cooperation between Washington and the Democratic Union Party, which represents Syrian Kurds, is shallow and should expand.

Today Kurds rejoice. The world applauds their heroism — and joins their celebration.

When Daesh’s obituary is written, Kobani will be enshrined as the turning point in the struggle to destroy the Islamic State.

Reuters adds: Turkish police fired tear gas on Tuesday to stop people trying to cross back into Kobani to celebrate its retaking, a Kurdish politician and a journalist said. [Continue reading…]

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Turkey won’t accept Iraq-style Kurdish rule in Syria, says Erdoğan

Today’s Zaman reports: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has ruled out any possibility of accepting an autonomous Kurdish government in northern Syria similar to the one in northern Iraq, saying a government like this would cause major problems in the future.

In his remarks to reporters on his way back to Turkey after an African tour, Erdoğan criticized the United States’ policy on Syria, which doesn’t involve toppling Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

“[The US] doesn’t want to make moves that target the [Syrian] regime. It says [toppling the government] is not among its targets. If it doesn’t take place, there won’t be any solution. What would happen? The same thing that happened in Iraq will happen. We don’t want a new Iraq. What is this? Northern Iraq… [We don’t want] a northern Syria to appear! It is not possible for us to accept this,” Erdoğan said.

“I know the burden on Turkey is heavy. We have to keep our stance [firm] on this issue. Otherwise, after a northern Iraq, there would be a northern Syria. These formations will cause big problems in the future,” he concluded.

Erdoğan also pointed to the three Kurdish autonomous administrations formed by Syrian Kurds in January 2014, and once more scolded the US for only placing importance on Kobani. [Continue reading…]

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