Assad and ISIS are two sides of the same coin

Fred Hof writes: The Assad regime and Iran have every reason to applaud strikes on the Islamic State in Raqqa and to the east: it costs them nothing, and airstrikes in the far east of Syria presumably can damage the ability of the Islamic State to sustain operations in Iraq from rear areas in Syria. Yet Tehran and its client will not want to see the US-led coalition hone-in on Islamic State targets in western Syria, where the forces of the self-proclaimed caliph work in tandem with the regime to kill off the nationalist rebels.

It may well be that engaging potential Islamic State targets around Aleppo and elsewhere is problematical in terms of target identification, collateral damage, and the like. Still, left to their own devices, the Islamic State and the Assad regime will work together — either tacitly or explicitly — to remove the anti-Islamic State military ground component identified by President Obama. This would presumably be unacceptable to the United States.

Helping the nationalist opposition survive the combined ministrations of the Assad regime and the Islamic State is table ante for engaging in the ultimate contest: overcoming state failure in Syria so that phenomena like the Islamic State will have no place to grow and prosper. Even as the world averts its gaze from regime barrel bombs, starvation sieges, and mass incarceration and torture, strikes against Islamic State forces in western Syria will hurt the Assad regime and disappoint Iran. In the end, however, what can they say in terms of objection?

If overcoming state failure in Syria is the end game, moving against the Assad regime is unavoidable. Bashar al-Assad is the caliph’s recruiting sergeant. Iran knows this, but thinks it needs Assad in western Syria to keep Hezbollah fit to fight in Lebanon. Russia knows it too, but apparently, President Vladimir Putin has a larger point to make about the survival of Moscow’s clients, no matter how unattractive they are. The West has been feckless with respect to Assad, and regional powers have — in the absence of US leadership — pursued policies of narrow self-interest. All of that must change, and perhaps the requisite change has begun. [Continue reading...]

facebooktwittermail

Is this Iraqi official Washington’s intermediary to Assad?

Foreign Policy: Immediately after the United States began its bombing campaign in President Bashar al-Assad’s backyard, the Syrian leader received a conspicuous visitor: Iraqi National Security Advisor Faleh al-Fayyad. The two men discussed the ongoing fight against Islamic State militants and, according to the Syrian state media summary of the meeting, Assad told the Iraqi official “that Syria supports any international counterterrorism effort.” It was at least their second meeting in as many weeks.

While the report contained no specific mention of U.S. bombing in Syria, Assad’s comment walks that fine line where it can be easily interpreted as a signal to Washington that Damascus will not stand the way of — and indeed welcomes — U.S. efforts to strike the Islamic State, which Assad sees as a mortal enemy.

The Syrian civil war and the subsequent rise of radical jihadist groups in the country have made strange bedfellows of the United States and its erstwhile enemies. Inside Iraq, U.S. airstrikes have at times come in support of Iranian-backed Shiite militias, putting Washington in the odd position of serving as Tehran’s air force in Iraq. As for Syria, President Barack Obama has called for Assad’s ouster but has now found common cause with the brutal strongman in launching an air war against the Islamic State militants fighting to overthrow him.

While U.S. officials maintain that they are not cooperating with Iranian forces in Iraq, privately they concede that they are coordinating airstrikes with Iranian militias by using Iraqi security forces as intermediaries. With the U.S. air war now expanding to Syria, Fayyad’s repeated trips to Damascus raise the possibility that Iraqi officials are reprising that coordination during another alliance of convenience between the United States and an ostensible enemy. [Continue reading...]

facebooktwittermail

Obama’s ill-conceived coalition against ISIS

Musa al-Gharbi writes: The U.S. was the only non-Arab actor to participate in the Syria raids. Collaborating with the U.S. were five other Arab states: Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the UAE, Bahrain, and Jordan.

While many pundits have and will continue to describe them as “moderate Arab allies” — what “moderate” usually means is something akin to “compliant with the U.S. agenda in the region.” What may be more significant to note about these powers is that they are all monarchies—in fact, the actors who took part in the strike are most of the region’s surviving dynasties (excluding only Oman, Kuwait, and Morocco).

The Gulf monarchs are far from beloved in Iraq, even among the Sunni population. Readers may remember that the “Sunni” Hussein regime wanted to go to war with the KSA, provoking the U.S.-led Operation Desert Shield. There is a long enmity between the peoples of Iraq and the Gulf monarchs — and an even deeper enmity between these powers and the Syrians. So the idea that the populations of IS-occupied Iraq and Syria will find these forces and their actions legitimate simply in virtue of the fact that they are “Sunni” is a gross oversimplification that reinforces problematic sectarian narratives even as it obscures important geopolitical truths. Among them:

If anything, the alliance that carried out the strike actually reinforces the narrative of the IS: it will be framed as the United States and its oppressive monarchic proxies collaborating to stifle the Arab Uprisings in order to preserve the doomed status quo.

In a similar manner, it is somewhat irrelevant that salafi and “moderate” Sunni Muslim religious authorities have condemned al-Baghdadi’s “caliphate” as invalid and ill-conceived — in part because it presupposes that most of the foreign fighters who are joining ISIS for ideological reasons are devout, well-informed about fiqh and closely following the rulings of jurists, etc. In fact, the opposite seems to be true, and many of those coming from abroad to join the IS are motivated primarily by factors other than religion. Even much of their indigenous support is from people who join for money, or else due to their grievances against the governments in Iraq and/or Syria — not because they buy into the vision of al-Baghdadi and his ilk. Accordingly, the value of “Sunni buy-in,” framed religiously, is probably both misstated and overstated.

And not only will the involvement of the Gulf kingdoms strikes be extremely controversial on the ground in Iraq and Syria, but also within the emirates who took part in these raids. Syria and the so-called “Islamic State” remain highly polarizing issues across the region — many will be apprehensive of their governments getting involved, others actually support the aspirations of these mujahedeen and view their own regimes as corrupt. [Continue reading...]

facebooktwittermail

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...]

facebooktwittermail

Iran slams U.S.-led attacks on ISIS while Syria supports ‘any international counterterrorism effort’

Press TV: A senior Iranian diplomat has censured the recent US-led airstrikes in Syria as violation of the Arab country’s sovereignty and the international law, emphasizing that they will create a pretext for fresh interference in the Middle East.

“From Tehran’s view, any military action in Syria’s territory, without the request of the Damascus government and respect for the international law, is not acceptable since the fight against terrorism cannot serve as logic for violating the national sovereignty of countries,” Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister for Arab and African Affairs Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said on Tuesday.

SANA (Syrian state media) reports: President Bashar al-Assad on Tuesday met Faleh Fayyad, the Iraqi National Security Advisor and the envoy of Russian Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.

Talks during the meeting tackled counterterrorism efforts, with the Iraqi envoy briefing President al-Assad on the latest steps taken in this regard, as well as discussing upcoming steps and possible measures to ensure the success of these efforts and eliminate terrorists organizations in all their forms.

President al-Assad affirmed to Fayyad that Russia is proceeding resolutely in its war against all forms of takfiri terrorism which it has been waging for years, asserting that Syria supports any international counterterrorism effort.

SANA also reports: In a press statement on Tuesday, the Ministry added “Yesterday, Minister of Foreign and Expatriates Affairs Walid al-Moallem received a letter from his American counterpart delivered by the Iraqi Foreign Minister in which he informed him that “The US will target the positions of the ISIS terrorist organization, some of which are in Syria.”

The Ministry continued “The Syrian Arab Republic affirms that it has been and it is still fighting the ISIS in Raqqa and Deir Ezzour and other areas, and it will not stop fighting it in cooperation with the countries which are directly or indirectly affected by it, on top of which the brotherly country of Iraq…In this framework, Syria affirms that coordination between the two countries is ongoing and on highest levels to fight terrorism in implementation of the international resolution No. 2170 which was unanimously passed by the UN Security Council.”

The Ministry concluded the statement by saying “Announcing for the second time that it is standing with any international efforts in the framework of combating and fighting terrorism regardless of its names such as Jabhat al-Nusra and the ISIS, the Syrian Arab Republic asserts that this must be done with completely preserving the lives of innocent civilians and in the framework of the national sovereignty and according to the international pacts.”

facebooktwittermail

Peter Van Buren: Back to the future in Iraq

On April 4, 1967, Martin Luther King delivered a speech at Riverside Church in New York City titled “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence.” In it, he went after the war of that moment and the money that the U.S. was pouring into it as symptoms of a societal disaster.  President Lyndon Johnson’s poverty program was being “broken and eviscerated,” King said from the pulpit of that church, “as if it were some idle political plaything on a society gone mad on war… We were taking the black young men who had been crippled by our society and sending them eight thousand miles away to guarantee liberties in Southeast Asia which they had not found in southwest Georgia and East Harlem.  I could not be silent in the face of such cruel manipulation of the poor.”  Twice more in that ringing speech he spoke of “the madness of Vietnam” and called for it to cease.

Don’t think of that as just a preacher’s metaphor.  There was a genuine madness on the loose — and not just in the “free-fire zones” of Vietnam but in policy circles here in the United States, in the frustration of top military and civilian officials who felt gripped by an eerie helplessness as they widened a terrible war on the ground and in the air.  They were, it seemed, incapable of imagining any other path than escalation in the face of disaster and possible defeat.  Even in the years of Ronald Reagan’s presidency, when there was a brief attempt to paint that lost war in a more heroic hue (“a noble cause,” the president called it), that sense of madness, or at least of resulting mental illness, lingered.  It remained embedded in a phrase then regularly applied to Americans who were less than willing to once again head aggressively into the world.  They were suffering from, it was said, “Vietnam syndrome.”

Today, almost 25 years into what someday might simply be called America’s Iraq War (whose third iteration we’ve recently entered), you can feel that a similar “madness” has Washington by the throat.  Just as King noted of the Vietnam era, since 9/11 American domestic programs and agencies have been starved while money poured into the coffers of the Pentagon and an increasingly bloated national security state.  The results have been obvious.  In the face of the spreading Ebola virus in West Africa, for instance, the president can no longer turn to civilian agencies or organizations for help, but has to call on the U.S. military in an “Ebola surge” — even our language has been militarized — although its forces are not known for their skills, successes, or spendthrift ways when it comes to civilian “humanitarian” or nation-building operations.

We’ve already entered the period when strategy, such as it is, falls away, and our leaders feel strangely helpless before the drip, drip, drip of failure and the unbearable urge for further escalation.  At this point, in fact, the hysteria in Washington over the Islamic State seems a pitch or two higher than anything experienced in the Vietnam years.  A fiercely sectarian force in the Middle East has captured the moment and riveted attention, even though its limits in a region full of potential enemies seem obvious and its “existential threat” to the U.S. consists of the possibility that some stray American jihadi might indeed try to harm a few of us.  Call it emotional escalation in a Washington that seems remarkably unhinged.

It took Osama bin Laden $400,000 to $500,000, 19 hijackers, and much planning to produce the fallen towers of 9/11 and the ensuing hysteria in this country that launched the disastrous, never-ending Global War on Terror.  It took the leaders of the Islamic State maybe a few hundred bucks and two grim videos, featuring three men on a featureless plain in Syria, to create utter, blind hysteria here.  Think of this as confirmation of Karl Marx’s famous comment that the first time is tragedy, but the second is farce.

One clear sign of the farcical nature of our moment is the inability to use almost any common word or phrase in an uncontested way if you put “Iraq” or “Islamic State” or “Syria” in the same sentence.  Remember when the worst Washington could come up with in contested words was the meaning of “is” in Bill Clinton’s infamous statement about his relationship with a White House intern?  Linguistically speaking, those were the glory days, the utopian days of official Washington.

Just consider three commonplace terms of the moment: “war,” “boots on the ground,” and “combat.”  A single question links them all: Are we or aren’t we?  And to that, in each case, Washington has no acceptable answer.  On war, the secretary of state said no, we weren’t; the White House and Pentagon press offices announced that yes, we were; and the president fudged.  He called it “targeted action” and spoke of America’s “unique capability to mobilize against an organization like ISIL,” but God save us, what it wasn’t and wouldn’t be was a “ground war.”

Only with Congress did a certain clarity prevail.  Nothing it did really mattered.  Whatever Congress decided or refused to decide when it came to going to war would be fine and dandy, because the White House was going to do “it” anyway.  “It,” of course, was the Clintonesque “is” of present-day Middle Eastern policy.  Who knew what it was, but here was what it wasn’t and would never be: “boots on the ground.”  Admittedly, the president has already dispatched 1,600 booted troops to Iraq’s ground (with more to come), but they evidently didn’t qualify as boots on the ground because, whatever they were doing, they would not be going into “combat” (which is evidently the only place where military boots officially hit the ground).  The president has been utterly clear on this.  There would be no American “combat mission” in Iraq.  Unfortunately, “combat” turns out to be another of those dicey terms, since those non-boots had barely landed in Iraq when Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Martin Dempsey started to raise the possibility that some of them, armed, might one day be forward deployed with Iraqi troops as advisers and spotters for U.S. air power in future battles for Iraq’s northern cities.  This, the White House now seems intent on defining as not being a “combat mission.”

And we’re only weeks into an ongoing operation that could last years.  Imagine the pretzeling of the language by then.  Perhaps it might be easiest if everyone — Congress, the White House, the Pentagon, and Washington’s pundits — simply agreed that the United States is at “war-ish” in Iraq, with boots on the ground-ish in potentially combat-ish situations.  Former State Department whistleblower and TomDispatch regular Peter Van Buren spent his own time in Iraq and wrote We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People about it.  Now, he considers the mind-boggling strangeness of Washington doing it all over again, this time as the grimmest of farces. Tom Engelhardt

Apocalypse Now, Iraq edition
Fighting in Iraq until hell freezes over
By Peter Van Buren

I wanted to offer a wry chuckle before we headed into the heavy stuff about Iraq, so I tried to start this article with a suitably ironic formulation. You know, a déjà-vu-all-over-again kinda thing. I even thought about telling you how, in 2011, I contacted a noted author to blurb my book, We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People, and he presciently declined, saying sardonically, “So you’re gonna be the one to write the last book on failure in Iraq?”

I couldn’t do any of that. As someone who cares deeply about this country, I find it beyond belief that Washington has again plunged into the swamp of the Sunni-Shia mess in Iraq. A young soldier now deployed as one of the 1,600 non-boots-on-the-ground there might have been eight years old when the 2003 invasion took place. He probably had to ask his dad about it.  After all, less than three years ago, when dad finally came home with his head “held high,” President Obama assured Americans that “we’re leaving behind a sovereign, stable and self-reliant Iraq.” So what happened in the blink of an eye?

[Read more...]

facebooktwittermail

As Sunni tribes sit on sidelines, U.S. airstrikes don’t halt ISIS

The New York Times reports: After six weeks of American airstrikes, the Iraqi government’s forces have scarcely budged Sunni extremists of the Islamic State from their hold on more than a quarter of the country, in part because many critical Sunni tribes remain on the sidelines.

Although the airstrikes appear to have stopped the extremists’ march toward Baghdad, the Islamic State is still dealing humiliating blows to the Iraq government forces. On Monday, the government acknowledged that it had lost control of the northern town of Sijr and lost contact with several hundred of its soldiers who had been trapped for several days at a camp north of the Islamic State stronghold of Falluja, in Anbar Province.

By midday, there were reports that hundreds of soldiers had been killed in battle or mass executions. Ali Bedairi, a lawmaker from the governing alliance, said more than 300 soldiers had died after the loss of the base, Camp Saqlawiya, although his count could not be confirmed.

“They did not have any food and they were starving for four days,” a soldier who said he was one of 200 who managed to escape said in a videotaped statement that he circulated online. “We drank salty water, we could not even run.”

Behind the government’s struggles on the battlefield is the absence or resistance of many of the Sunni Muslim tribes that all sides say will play the decisive role in the course of the fight — presenting a slow start for the centerpiece of President Obama’s plan to drive out the militants. [Continue reading...]

facebooktwittermail

ISIS uses top video game Grand Theft Auto 5 to radicalise and recruit children

The Daily Mail reports: Isis is trying to swell its ranks and train fighters using hit video game Grand Theft Auto 5, claiming that what players do in the game resembles their battlefield operations.

They have posted a video to YouTube carrying their flag showing violent scenes from the game, including police officers being gunned down and trucks being blown up.

At the start of the video a message appears that reads: ‘Your games which are producing from you, we do the same actions in the battelfields (sic)!!’ [Continue reading...]

The Local reports: Children as young as 13 are travelling from Germany to Syria and Iraq to join Islamic jihadists, according to German intelligence agencies.

Hans-Georg Maaßen, head of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), told the Rheinische Post at the weekend that at least 24 children had headed to the Middle East from Germany. “The youngest was 13,” he said.

Of the 24 who have left, five children have returned with battle fighting experience, Maaßen said. [Continue reading...]

facebooktwittermail

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.

facebooktwittermail

The ISIS campaign of mass sexual violence

Aki Peritz and Tara Maller write: Of the many terrifying stories emerging from Islamic State-occupied Iraq and Syria, the violence directed toward women is perhaps the most difficult to contemplate.

The Islamic State’s (IS) fighters are committing horrific sexual violence on a seemingly industrial scale: For example, the United Nations last month estimated that IS has forced some 1,500 women, teenage girls, and boys into sexual slavery. Amnesty International released a blistering document noting that IS abducts whole families in northern Iraq for sexual assault and worse. Even in the first few days following the fall of Mosul in June, women’s rights activists reported multiple incidents of IS fighters going door to door, kidnapping and raping Mosul’s women.

IS claims to be a religious organization, dedicated to re-establishing the caliphate and enforcing codes of modesty and behavior from the time of Muhammad and his followers. But this is rape, not religious conservatism. IS may dress up its sexual violence in religious justifications, saying its victims violated Islamic law, or were infidels, but their leaders are not fools. This is just another form of warfare.

Why isn’t this crime against humanity getting more consistent attention in the West? It seems this society-destroying mass sexual violence is merely part of the laundry list for decrying IS behavior. Compare this to IS’s recent spate of execution videos, and the industrial scale of the group’s sexual assaults seems to fade into the background. Rarely do they seem to be the focal point of politicians’ remarks, intelligence assessments, or justification for counterterrorism actions against the group.

In his Sept. 10 speech laying out his plan for fighting IS, President Obama devoted just eight words to the issue: “They enslave, rape, and force women into marriage.” [Continue reading...]

facebooktwittermail

Suspicions run deep in Iraq that the CIA and ISIS are united

The New York Times reports: The United States has conducted an escalating campaign of deadly airstrikes against the extremists of the Islamic State for more than a month. But that appears to have done little to tamp down the conspiracy theories still circulating from the streets of Baghdad to the highest levels of Iraqi government that the C.I.A. is secretly behind the same extremists that it is now attacking.

“We know about who made Daesh,” said Bahaa al-Araji, a deputy prime minister, using an Arabic shorthand for the Islamic State on Saturday at a demonstration called by the Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr to warn against the possible deployment of American ground troops. Mr. Sadr publicly blamed the C.I.A. for creating the Islamic State in a speech last week, and interviews suggested that most of the few thousand people at the demonstration, including dozens of members of Parliament, subscribed to the same theory. (Mr. Sadr is considered close to Iran, and the theory is popular there as well.)

When an American journalist asked Mr. Araji to clarify if he blamed the C.I.A. for the Islamic State, he retreated: “I don’t know. I am one of the poor people,” he said, speaking fluent English and quickly stepping back toward the open door of a chauffeur-driven SUV. “But we fear very much. Thank you!” [Continue reading...]

facebooktwittermail

Christianity in Iraq is finished

Daniel Williams writes: In the part of his Sept. 10 speech on confronting the Islamic State that probably drew the least attention, President Obama mentioned the need to help Christians and other minorities, expelled from cities and villages in northern Iraq, return from where they came. “We cannot allow these communities to be driven from their ancient homeland,” he said.

Obama got that wrong. Christians, of whom around 120,000 have taken refuge in Iraqi Kurdistan, will not be going home even if their tormentors suddenly disappear.

I spent 10 days talking with Christian refugees in Irbil, the capital of the northern autonomous region of Kurdistan, this month, and they are adamant they will not be returning to Mosul and nearby towns on what is known as the Nineveh Plain.

It is not simply that these Christians have gone through tremendous trauma. It is not only because they lost everything, including their homes and businesses, and in some cases spent days and even weeks in detention while being badgered to convert to Islam, where they saw babies taken from mothers’ arms to be held for ransom and busloads of young people ferried off into the unknown.

Nor is it because their neighbors, in Mosul but especially in the countryside, welcomed and even joined fighters from the Islamic State, pointed out the homes of minorities and let them know which ones were wealthy.

No, it is because, for Christians in Iraq, the past three months have been the climax of 11 years of hell. We Americans have short memories (that goes for you, too, in the “Bush Was Right” crowd), but it’s worth noting that Christians began having serious problems within a year after the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003. Sometimes it was the work of al-Qaeda, sometimes Sunni insurgents pining for the return of Sunni control of Iraq. Sometimes it was Shiite militias fighting the Sunnis but finding time to persecute Christians. [Continue reading...]

facebooktwittermail

Turkey somehow secures release of 49 hostages held by ISIS

Not a shot fired, no ransom paid, no prisoners exchanged, but somehow Turkish intelligence (MİT) agents managed to escort 49 captives out of Syria and back to Turkey earlier today.

So far, the only clue on how Turkey managed to pull off this operation comes from Hurriyet Daily News reporting this: “there are indications of a kind of false flag, or deception operation by MİT. In answering such a question one ranking official said MİT ‘has tried every possible method and left no stone unturned’ to get the hostages alive.”

But the same report also describes ways in which the operation was coordinated with ISIS:

It was ISIL’s condition to give the hostages to Turkey at the border with Syria, “Because of their own security concerns due to their heavy clashes with Kurdish forces. They did not want to make the handover through the Kurdish region,” a security source told HDN.

The report also says: “One official source said ISIL might have ‘not wanted to get into a clash with Turkey’.”

As has widely been reported, a reluctance to put the lives of these hostages in jeopardy was one of Turkey’s main reasons for declining to join the U.S.-led coalition against ISIS — all the more reason to assume that ISIS must have believed that its interests would in some other way be served by releasing the hostages.

The PKK has called on Kurds in Turkey to join their comrades in Kobane, northern Syria, where they are fighting alone against ISIS. Perhaps Turkey threatened ISIS that if it did not free the hostages, Turkey would do nothing to prevent the flow of Kurdish recruits into Syria.

In spite of the suggestion that ISIS was deceived in some way, I’m inclined to believe that the group had reason to expect that it had more to gain by releasing its Turkish hostages than it could by holding on to them.

Slemani Times, an independent English language news publication, covering the Kurdistan Region, Iraq, and the Middle East, in an unsourced tweet offers this explanation for how Turkey successfully negotiated the release of the hostages:

facebooktwittermail

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...]

facebooktwittermail

Iraq’s Shiite militias are becoming as great a danger as ISIS

Phillip Smyth writes: Armed men posing with severed heads, massacres of mosque-goers during Friday prayers, massive reliance on transnational jihadists — these are crimes that are usually associated with the Islamic State (IS). However, they’re also the actions of some of Iraq’s growing Shiite militia organizations, which are playing an increasingly prominent role in fighting the Sunni jihadists. These groups, many of which have deep ideological and organizational links to Iran, are sweeping away what is left of any notion of the Baghdad government’s authority — and represent a massive challenge to President Barack Obama’s stated goal of working with an inclusive Iraqi government to push back IS.

Over 50 Shiite militias are now recruiting and fighting in Iraq. These groups are actively recruiting — drawing potential soldiers away from the Iraqi army and police and bringing fighters into highly ideological, anti-American, and rabidly sectarian organizations. Many of these trainees are not simply being used to push back Sunni jihadists, but in many cases form a rear guard used to control districts that are supposedly under Baghdad’s control.

Shiite militias have embedded themselves within the structures of the Iraqi government, which has become far too reliant on their power to contemplate cracking down on them. Together, they have committed horrifying human rights abuses: In early June, Shiite militias, along with Iraqi security forces, reportedly executed around 255 prisoners, including children. An Amnesty International report from June detailed how Shiite militias regularly carried out extrajudicial summary executions, and reported that dozens of Sunni prisoners were killed in government buildings. [Continue reading...]

facebooktwittermail

‘Lend me your ears’ (and pay up) — an ISIS ransom note

john-cantlie

“After two disastrous and hugely unpopular wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, why is it that our governments appear so keen to get involved in yet another unwinnable conflict?”

The question comes from a British journalist, John Cantlie, who has been a prisoner of ISIS for most of the last two years and who has now been compelled to become the organization’s spokesman.

In a newly released video he continues:

I’m going to show you the truth behind these systems and motivation of the Islamic State, and how the western media, the very organisation I used to work for can twist and manipulate that truth to the public back home.

There are two sides to every story – think you’re getting the whole picture? And I’ll show you the truth behind what happened when many European citizens were imprisoned and later released by the Islamic State and how the British and American governments thought they could do it differently to every other every other European country.

They negotiated with the Islamic state and got their people home while the British and Americans were left behind.

It’s very alarming to see where this is all headed and it looks like history repeating itself yet again. There is time to change this seemingly inevitable sequence of events, but only if you, the public act now. Join me for the next few programmes and I think you may be surprised by what you learn.

Stay tuned.

ISIS is frequently credited for its media sophistication, but its use of a prisoner to serve as a spokesman shows how impoverished the organization must be when from among its thousands of Western recruits apparently there aren’t any fit to represent and articulate the cause they are all fighting for. (Individuals like Moner Mohammad Abusalha from Florida might accurately represent the Western face of ISIS, but they also undermine the organization’s credibility.)

When we are told that several European governments successfully negotiated with ISIS and “got their people home,” no mention is made of ransoms being paid.

While ISIS’s latest message tries to leverage antiwar sentiment in the West, no one should mistake this as a wise warning whose purpose is to forestall another military misadventure.

Put most simply the message is: hold fire, pay up, or John Cantlie will meet the same fate as James Foley, Steven Sotloff, and David Haines.

Other commentators have argued that ISIS’s use of beheading videos has been designed to bait the West — to draw the U.S. and its allies into another unwinnable war — but the latest video seems to confirm what I have said repeatedly: ISIS wants to consolidate and expand its caliphate since its success in doing that serves as a much potent magnet for recruits than the prospect of being targeted in U.S. airstrikes.

In response to the start of U.S. military operations in Iraq, ISIS seems to have focused most of its efforts beyond America’s current reach by making gains in Syria.

Even though President Obama says he is ready to order airstrikes in Syria, there seems little reason to believe that these are imminent, and ISIS wants to use the intervening period to its full advantage.

The Cantlie video is the second ISIS releases this week.

flames-of-war

“Fighting has just begun” declares the “trailer” for its Hollywood-style “Flame of War,” but as it did in its other video release this week, Alhayat Media Center is addressing the public, rather than Western governments, in an effort to increase war fears more than war fever.

facebooktwittermail

If Obama wanted to, he could help free thousands of enslaved Yazidi women in a single day

Matthew Barber writes: The plight of thousands of Yazidi women, kidnapped by the Islamic State (IS) during its August 3 attack on Iraq’s Sinjar mountains and in the following weeks, has received some media attention, but most people are unaware of just how far-reaching this disastrous phenomenon is. Boko Haram kidnapped girls in the hundreds, prompting international outcry and an online campaign demanding that they be freed; IS has kidnapped Yazidi women and girls in the thousands in a sexually-motivated campaign that has rent apart countless families and wrought unimaginable levels of pain and destruction.

During the Syria conflict there have been numerous allegations of forced jihadi marriages that have been difficult to confirm, and widely denied by IS supporters online. Many of those stories were dropped, lacking credible evidence. As the past few years in Syria have demonstrated, rumors run rampant in contexts of conflict, and the initially difficult-to-confirm cases of kidnapped Yazidi women of this summer have been treated with appropriate caution.

Despite this initial caution, the sheer scale of the kidnapping of Yazidi women and the firsthand reports of escaped survivors—and those still in captivity via telephone—have made details of the phenomenon, and its sexual motivations, certain.

Having stayed in northern Iraq all summer, I can confirm the assertions of the journalists who have written about the problem. I have worked directly with those involved in rescue efforts and have personally interacted with families whose daughters have been kidnapped and are now calling their relatives from captivity.

I have no trace of doubt that many women have been carried off and imprisoned; the question that remains is about the numbers. Restrained estimates have posited numbers of kidnapped Yazidi women in the hundreds. However, the reality is likely to be in the thousands. [Continue reading...]

facebooktwittermail

Iraq’s Shia militias appear to be more powerful than the army

The New York Times reports: Militia justice is simple, the fighters explained.

“We break into an area and kill the ones who are threatening people,” said one 18-year-old fighter with Asaib Ahl al-Haq, a Shiite militia that operates as a vigilante force around Baghdad.

Another 18-year-old fighter agreed. “We receive orders and carry out attacks immediately,” he said, insisting that their militia commanders had been given authority by Iraqi security officials. That free hand has helped make Asaib Ahl al-Haq the largest and most formidable of the Iranian-backed Shiite militias that now dominate Baghdad.

Once a leading killer of American troops, the militia is spearheading the fight against the Sunni extremists of the Islamic State, also known by the acronyms ISIS and ISIL. That means Asaib Ahl al-Haq and the United States military are now fighting on the same side, though each insists they will not work together.

But the power and autonomy of Asaib Ahl al-Haq and other Shiite militias also pose a central challenge to the creation of a more just and less sectarian Iraqi government. President Obama has said that the new American military offensive depends on such an inclusive Iraqi government, to undercut the appeal of the Sunni extremists and avoid American entanglement in a sectarian war.

Even while many Iraqi Shiites view the militias as their protectors, many in the Sunni minority say they fear the groups as agents of Iran, empowered by the Baghdad government to kill with impunity.

After a decade of support from Iran and a new flood of recruits amid the Islamic State crisis, the Shiite militias are also now arguably more powerful than the Iraqi security forces, many here say, limiting the ability of any new government to rein them in.

“The militias have even bigger role now that they are said to be fighting ISIS” said Alla Maki, a Sunni lawmaker. “Who will control them? We have no real Iraqi Army.”[Continue reading...]

facebooktwittermail