Cut off from Iraq by the Islamic State (IS) for almost a month, Kurdistan is trying to ensure its economic emancipation, contain the IS’s attacks on Nineveh and Kirkuk, and politically organise itself with its future independence in view.
On 3 July, President Masud Barzani asked Parliament to draft a Bill and form an independent Electoral Commission preliminary to holding a referendum whereby the population of Iraqi Kurdistan could express itself on the issue of independence. He also asked the Members of Parliament to select a date for the poll. The Kurdish president had earlier summarised to the members of Parliament the rush of events that had followed the capture of Mosul by the IS. This included his varied exchanges with Baghdad before this, repeating what he had already told the foreign press, namely that the KRG had warned Nuri Maliki, some months before the fall of Mosul, of the danger to Iraq of the behaviour of the Islamic State. The Iraqi Prime Minister had assured him that he had everything under control and advising him “to mind Kurdistan’s business”. He also recalled all his government’s grievances with Baghdad, particularly the freezing of the wages of Kurdish Civil Servants.
On the subject of a possible independence, Masud Barzani affirmed that Kurdistan enjoyed some international support and that “those who do not support us are not opposed to us”. He also affirmed that the territories covered by article 140 of the Iraqi Constitution, in particular Kirkuk, which were now defended by the Peshmergas alone, following the flight of the Iraqi Army, would remain in the Kurdish Region.
On 9 July, Masud Barzani met the foreign consuls and representatives of international NGOs at his official residence of Salahaddin, to talk about the latest developments in the political and security situation in Kurdistan and Iraq. He warned that the foreign powers should not remain inactive in the face of the Islamic State and the threat it represented “for the Middle East and the region as a whole”, advising that international cooperation should be set up.
The Kurdish President recalled Nuri Maliki’s “dangerous policy of division” and said that maintaining him in office could lead to “the country’s complete destruction”. He repeated that the Peshmergas and other Kurdish security forces deployed in the regions of Nineveh, Kirkuk and Diyala were protecting the populations from the terrorist groups and would not withdraw. However, the populations living there would decide on their future by referendum, as provided for in Article 140 of the Iraqi Constitution.
Finally, on 11 July Massud Barzani addressed the Iraqi people as a whole in an open letter in which, making the same remarks he recalled the whole series of conflicts between the Kurds and the Central Government, which had led the firmer to wish to vote for their self determination. He also called for a “new Iraq” with a “new administration” and a “new vision” to govern the country in the future.
A few days earlier, while Masud Barzani was asking the members of Parliament to draft a Bill on a referendum, his Chief of Staff, Fuad Hussein, was in the United States with Falah Moustafa Bakir, the Kurdish Foreign Minister, to explain and defend the Kurdish position. Fuad Hussein explained at a Press conference that a confederation of a pacified and democratic Iraq was conceivable. Such a confederation required that the member-states be independent and sovereign — thus presenting the referendum for independence as a first step towards a “new Iraq”. The question remains whether the Presidency itself believes in a positive Iraqi development in the near future. . .
Interviewed for Al-Monitor by Mustafa Al-Kadhimi, an Iraqi specialist in political issues and Human Rights, Masud Barzani confirms his refusal to take part in a third “Maliki cabinet” should the latter manage to hold onto his post: “The problem with Maliki is not personal but rather nut rather conceptual and linked to what is at the heart of the philosophy and culture of the public administration that is in responsible for Iraqi interests”.
Asked about the referendum promised to the Kurds, Masud Barzani recalled that the fall of Mosul and the Sunni Arab regions has created a new situation for Kurdistan, that is now physically separated from the rest of Iraq by the IS, with which it shares an over one thousand kilometre border. On the subject of the eventuality of military cooperation between the Kurdish Army and the United States, Iraq or any other regional forces to drive out the IS, Masud Barzani replied that the problem as “above all a political one” and that a political resolution to the Iraqi crisis depended on the military success of actions against the IS and, in particular the conflict between the Iraqi Arab Shiites and Sunnis. “Serious thought must be given to peacefully resolving the issue of the legitimate rights of the Sunni Arabs in that region and thus to isolating the terrorists from those who demand their legitimate rights. It is only then that the Sunni Arabs will be able to drive the terrorists out of their region, and we will certainly help them do it”.
The Kurdish president confirms that another referendum will be proposed to the inhabitants of the incorporated regions to ask their wishes, as provided for in Article 140 and this enable them to “choose their identity”.
On 24 July the Kurdish Parliament in Erbil passed a Bill to form an independent Electoral Commission. This Commission will be authorised to hold elections, referenda and to set dates for the poll, without having to refer back to Baghdad and the Iraqi High Electoral Commission.
As another step towards emancipation, the bill refers to “Kurdistan” and no longer to the Kurdistan Region, which is the name given to the Federal region in the Iraqi Constitution. This new law will apply equally to the three provinces of Duhok, Erbil and Suleimaniah as to Kirkuk and the other Kurdish territories covered by Article 140.
The law calls on the KRG to create this commission within 90 days of the vote passing it. The commission shall be formed of 9 representatives of different political parties of Kurdistan plus 2 reserved seats for minorities.
Reactions to this news varied from strong opposition (Iran and Baghdad) to restrained disapproval without any real threats (USA) and openly displayed neutrality from Turkey, “neither for nor against, quite the opposite”. This, effectively, is expressed by increasing imports by Kurdistan from Turkey as its links with Baghdad became looser. As from June the Kurdistan Ministry of Finance had announced that this time the revenues from Kurdish oil sales would not be sent to Baghdad but go direct to Erbil. The Assistant Minister, Rashid Tahir, thus explained to the Basnews Agency that the money would be transferred to Europe, to an account opened with the Turkish Halk Bank, from which it would be sent to the Kurdistan Central Bank. Since the central government had been refusing to pay the Kurdish Civil Servants since January 2014, “there was no reason to send them any part of these revenues”.
Foreseeing this eventuality, Kurdistan had passed a law in 2013 declaring that if the conflict between Erbil and Baghdad lasted more than 90 days the Kurdish government would be free to use any means available to obtain the financing to which it was entitled. This is confirmed by Dilshad Sahban speaking to the same news Agency on behalf of the Parliamentary Commission on Natural Resources: “If Baghdad does not sent the 17% of its budget due to the Kurdistan Region it will not receive a penny from us — only the 5% compensation sent to Kuwait” (Iraq owes damages to Kuwait for harm caused by its 1991 invasion, paid for by a percentage of its oil revenues).
According to Sadiq Aytekin, assistant councillor to the Ministry of Energy, 1,480,000 barrels of Kurdish oil have been exported to world markets from Ceyhan Port at the price of $110/barrel. Thus nearly 93 million US$ have been deposited at the Halk Bank. Some of this money will be used to finally pay the Civil Servants, who may well be paid in dollars directly.
The setting up of this bank account was made official during the visit to Turkey of Deputy Prime Minister, Qubad Talabani, accompanied by the Minister of Natural Resources, Ashti Hawrami, and the Finance Minister, Rebaz Mohammad. According to the KRG spokesman, these three senior Officials are the only ones having the signature rights to draw 0n this account.
The Kurdish Government hopes, with this revenue, to ease or end the “wages crisis” caused by Baghdad’s failure to pay. The Finance Ministry’s budget has, so far, only been able to cover 10% of the salaries of the one and a quarter million civil Servants, some of whom are said to be “ghost employees” according to some internal enquiries.
The collapse of Mosul and the general chaos in Iraq have not prevented Kurdish exports from taking place as planned and on 17 June another oil tanker left Ceyhan loaded with oil from the Region (the first had left on May2).
On 7 July, Ashti Hawrami, the Kurdish Minister of Natural Resources gave an account to Parliament of the crisis caused by the battle between the Iraqi Army and the IS, which has deprived Kurdistan of access to the Baiji Refinery and cause a general shortage of fuel throughout the country. Ashti Hawrami recalled that, prior to these events, the Kurdistan Region consumed 7.5 million litres of fuel per day. Today, following restrictions its consumption has been limited to 6 million a day. Two hundred thousand fuel concessions have been delivered. The government is planning to build a refinery at Duhok and one at Garmiyan and the Minister stated that these two refineries would broadly resolve the crisis, but that they would only be operational in two years time.
On the other hand, two large oil fields in Kirkuk have come under the control of the Peshmergas, who drove out the Islamic State on 13 July. These two oil fields have a production capacity of 300,000 barrels a day.
Kurdistan hopes to increase its exports to 250,000 barrels a day in the next few months and even to 500,000 by the end of the year with the Kirkuk oil swelling its exports. In 2015, the Kurdish government hopes to link the Kirkuk fields to the Khurmala and Makhmur pipelines, so as to export it to Turkey via the Kurdistan pipeline.
While trade with Turkey has increased, that with Iraq has collapsed. The President of the Erbil Chamber of Trade estimates that 90% of this trade had ended owing to the presence of the Islamic State in Central Iraq.
Regarding trade with Iran, the figures for trade and tourism have dropped by 80% since the beginning of July. On 23 July, Ahmed Ali Kalari, of the Suleimaniah Chamber of Trade and Industry, pointed out in a Press Conference, that at present 180 lorries a day are entering Kurdistan via the Parwezkhan border crossing as against 900 a day had previously brought goods from Iran to Kurdistan. Iran has closed its borders to Iraqi and Kurdish tanker trucks and only allows Iranian ones to cross the border.
However, while the KRG has just renewed a contract for electric supply with Turkey, another contract is being negotiated with Iran, which indicates that “anti-independence” measures by Teheran against Erbil may not take place. Iraqi Kurdistan has always tried, ever since 1992, to keep a certain balance in its relations with Turkey and Iran. The continuance and even increase in its trade with its Eastern neighbour would enable it to avoid being entirely dependent on Turkey while easing Iran’s fears.
On 27 July an oil tanker carrying a Kurdish cargo reached the port of Galveston, in Texas. A million barrels of crude had been sold for about 100 million dollars. However, on 28 July the cargo was seized on the orders of a Galveston judge following a complaint from the Iraqi Oil Ministry to the Huston Federal Court. The judge, Nancy Johnson, did not take a decision on the case itself, but ordered the Galveston Marshal to confiscate the crude and keep it in store on land pending resolution of the legal issue.
Reacting immediately, on 29 July the Kurdish Oil Minister published on his site the letter that the Kurdish Government’s lawyers had sent to Judge Nancy Miller, firstly criticising the fact that they had not been informed of either the complaint or the Judge’s decision. He also disputes the facts as presented by the Federal government as well as the jurisdictional competence of the Texan Court (the cargo was not in US territorial area but on board). After explaining the legal and constitutional dispute with Iraq as well as the illegal embargo to which they are subjected by the Federal government, the KRG’s lawyers attached to the letter documents supporting their defence, such as a complete English translation of the 2005 Iraqi Constitution and of the Kurdistan Region’s Law on Oil an Gas.
He also attached copies of letters to the Iraqi Oil Minister from the Minister of Natural Resources, the opinions of international experts such as professor James Crawford on the jurisdictional powers of the Kurdish authorities over their hydrocarbons as well as other documents establishing the Federal Government’s stoppage of payments to the Region. The Minister of natural Resources concluded by denying the competence of the US authorities in deciding on internal Iraqi-Kurdish disputes and indicated the possibility, on his part, of filing a complaint against Iraq.
The full letter is published on the Kurdish Ministry’s site:
On the battlefront, the Peshmergas are still containing the IS both at Jalawla and Nineveh, with losses that must now be rising. Since the beginning of June they have lost 90 killed, 200 wounded and some prisoners. The day of 26 June was the heaviest, when the Peshmergas temporarily took control of two positions at Jalawla but been obliged to withdraw through lack of ammunition, reporting 13 killed, 40wounded as against 38 IS fighters killed.
The former Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, who is also the symbolic leader of the PUK. has at last returned to Kurdistan. He was welcomed back by the Kurdish political class as a whole. Welcomed with full official honours by the Kurdish Presidency, Jalal Talabani was visited by a number of Kurdish political public figures, from the top leadership of the PUK to Leyla Zana, who was visiting the KRG, as well as a number of Shiite religious leaders and even the more controversial figure in Kurdistan of Nuri Maliki. As he was persona non grata at Erbil, his visit to his former President was presented as a semi-private one.
While Iraq is de facto amputated of its Sunni Arab territories, conquered by the Islamic State, Baghdad is having difficulty in forming a new government resulting from the last general elections. The mew M.P.s have to elect a President who, in turn, has to appoint a Prime Minister. However this first step was to elect a President in a national Assembly that had difficulty in reaching a quorum. The retiring Speaker of the House, Osama Al-Nudjaïfi, fairly quickly withdrew his candidacy.
On 12 June, two days after the fall of Mosul, only 128 of the 328 MPs has been able to reach Parliament so the session could not take place.
On 1 July, in a fresh attempt the session also turned short when some Kurdish MPs and members of the State of Laws Party (Nuri Maliki’s list) quarrelled violently, causing the Kurdish MPs to leave, followed by some Sunni Arab MPs, so again there was no quorum.
On 13 July the weather intervened as, because of a dust storm, 25 Kurdish MPs who were due to fly from Erbil to Baghdad, had their flight cancelled because of the storm. Although a quorum was possible without them, their absence a meeting more uncertain and subject to clashes between Sunnis and Shiites.
The meeting was postponed to 15 July. However on the 15 the Sunni block announced that they had agreed on a candidate for the Speaker of Parliament, Salim Al-Juburi, from the Iraqi Islamist Party, who had been elected on the list “Diyala is our Identity”, which had then jointed a broad Sunni Arab coalition, led by his predecessor as Speaker, , Osama Al-Nudjayfi, brother of the Governor of Mosul. He is considered a “moderate Islamist” and won 194 of the 272 votes. The two Deputy Speakers, are the Shiite, Haydar al-Abadi (State of Law) and the Kurd Aram Al-Sheikh Mohammed (Goran).
The second stage was to elect the new Iraqi President, a post that the Kurds (and especially the PUK members) feel is theirs by right. Thus the political negotiations between Erbil and Suleimaniah were closely followed by Iraqis as a whole.
Several names had been mentioned in the Arabic and Kurdish press throughout the month of July. One of the favourites was Barham Salih, a former Prime Minister of the KRG who had also acted as Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister between 2004 and 2005. However, his differences with the “Talabani clan” apparently closed the door to Baghdad for him The PUK had proposed Fuad Massum, a Party veteran and close to Jalal Talabani. To these two potential candidates was added a third, the very popular Governor of Kirkuk, Najimaldin Karim, a PUK member elected from his province, who decided to stand for the Presidency against the wishes of is party’s leadership. In the end he withdrew his candidacy and the MPs of the Kurdish block in Baghdad had to choose between Fuad Massum and Barham Salih. The former won the majority (30 against 23) while the MPs voted in private session in a Baghdad hotel.
On 24 July Fuad Massum was this elected President of Iraq by the Baghdad parliament with 175 votes of the 225 present.
He is 76 years of age, and one of the founders of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. Having received his secondary school education in a Kurdish religious school, in 1958 he went to study at Al Azhar, Cairo’s prestigious Islamic University. He secured a doctorate in Islamic science but fairly soon joined the Iraqi Communist Party before joining the Kurdistan Democratic Party led by Mustafa Barzani.
On returning to Iraq he taught for a while at Basra University, then joined the Kurdish resistance in 1967, where he took part in military actions, From 1973 to 1975 he represented Barzani in Cairo before following Jalal Talabani and founding the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan with him.
In 1992 he was chosen to e the Prime Minister of Kurdistan before the temporary split between the KDP and the PUK. However, his longstanding links with the KDP enabled him to play a moderating role in the struggle between the two parties in 1994 to 1997.
Fuad Massum is considered a politically moderate man by both the Sunni and Shiite Arabs. However the task that falls on him, that of appointing a Prime Minister is an arduous one because of the sharp opposition to Nuri Maliki’s determination to remain Prime Minister despite the categorical rejection of the Kurds and Sunni Arabs to this as well as from a substantial number of Shiite religious and political figures and the disaffection of his main international supports.
Indeed, Nuri Maliki has unceasingly affirmed his determination to have a third term of office, even after the military disaster from the IS and on 5 July, ten days before Parliament’s election of a new President he affirmed, in a communiqué on the Iraqi National channel that “he would never renounce the post of Prime Minister”, basing himself on his list’s electoral victory. Indeed, the candidate at the head of the list that secured the highest vote is, in principle, appointed to this post although this is not a constitutional obligation.
Nuri Maliki has rejected all the accusations of incompetence and of his responsibility for the disintegration of Iraq, describing them as a “campaign targeting the State of Law” coming from internal and external enemies.
The Iraqi Prime Minister has not ceased, moreover, to strengthen his narrow stranglehold over the Iraqi State, additional to those he already has over the security and defence forces, since he has been their commander since 2010. Whereas all, except this partisans, hold him responsible for the defeat by the IS, he accused the Iraqi generals of treason and has sacked a number of them. On 6 July he placed the Commander in Chief of the land Army, Ali Ghedan on early retirement as well as the Chief of Staff, Faruq Aeraji, giving his own son the post held by the latter.
Similarly, while the United States and the United Nations unceasingly urge Baghdad and Erbil to agree about forming a plural and united government, Nuri Maliki accused the Kurdish Region of being “the Headquarters of the IS, the Baath and Al-Qaida” and of sheltering there all the organisations behind the terrorist operations.
President Barzani retorted, in a communiqué, by describing the Prime Minister as “hysterical” while the Kurdish Minister in the Iraqi cabinet boycotted its meetings in protest. Thus the Iraqi Foreign Minister, Hoshyar Zebari, a Kurd, described to Reuters that the Kurdish members of Parliament of the Kurdish block were continuing to sit in Parliament but that the Kurdish officials of his Ministry, the Ministry of Commerce , of Migrations and of Health had ceased all their official activities.
In reply, Nuri Maliki nominated, temporarily, Hussein Al Sharistani, to the Foreign Ministry in place of Hoshyar Zebari. Since Hussein Al Sharistani is the most constant and virulent adversary of the Kurds on the Natural Resources issue, it is obviously not a suitable appointment for preparing the ground for a united government as Washington wishes.
For the moment, it seems that no ally, or any international body can sway Nuri Maliki who, isolated and criticised though he be, holds out by concentrating more and more powers in the State apparatus. Can he still count on Iranian support when it seems that Teheran is also trying to persuade the Prime minister to give up his candidacy.
According to confidential information’s from two high-ranking Iraqi political figures to Associated Press off the record, Teheran had tried to persuade the Prime Minister to withdraw, which the latter rejected. According to them, General Passim Soleimani, head of the Al-Qods forces of the Revolution Guards, who is organising Shiite defence militia in what is left of the Army and the para-military militia. Recently had a meeting with Nuri Maliki and tried to urge him to retire. He received, in return, the same arguments, mechanically repeated since May, namely that because of the score of his parliamentary block, his has “full right” to his post.
On 4 July, the first day of Ramadan, the self-proclaimed Caliph of Mosul, Ali Al-Baghdadi, made his first public appearance, leading the prayers in Mosul’s Al-Nuriyya mosque. There he gave his first sermon, in which he also laid out his political programme, addressed to the whole of the “Umma” — that is to say to the whole Moslem community whose allegiance he demands.
After a preamble covering the religious character of Ramadan and its religious practices, the “caliph” recalled that this was also the month when the Prophet launched his armies “to fight God’s enemies”; the month in which he had “led a Jihad against the polytheists!” He quoted some Qoranic verses calling for the Jihad, inter alia “Allah loves us to kill his enemies and to wage a jihad in his name”; “He enjoins us to fight that which is hateful”; “Fight them until there is no more fitnah (sedition) and the religion of all is that of Allah”. He also quoted verses recommending the application of the Sharia and of the punishments (hudud) for breaches of the law.
Alluding to his military successes that e considered a sign that Allah “gives victories and conquests” to his mujahadeen, “firm before the enemies of Allah”, that he was made “powerful in the country up to the proclamation of the Caliph and the choice of an imam”. The fight against the “enemies of Allah” is described as “waajib”, the highest obligation regarding the religious duties of believers and “concerns the whole earth”.
There followed his remarks at a more personal level. Ali al-Baghdadi describes himself as an elect of God. Then, on a more modest scale: “I have been tested by Allah in my election as Caliph. It is a heavy burden. I am no better then you. Advise me when I wee, follow me if I succeed. And help me against idolatry (tawagheet)”.
There followed a series of Qoranic quotations promising victory to his worshipers and exalting the Jihad.
The sermon was filmed by the “caliph’s” believers and very rapidly broadcast on Internet — at first on pro-IS networks then spread like a virus, both on press sites and on private networks. The reactions were radically different depending on whether they came from Jihad supporters or the rest of the Web; the former praising his mastery of the Arabic language and al-Baghdadi’s fine chanting voice while others rather mocking and pointing to some details like the very expensive watch the “caliph” wore which earned him the nickname all month long of “caliph bling” or “caliph Rolex”.
On a practical level, while the Sunni Arab populations felt, for a while, relived at the departure off the Iraqi Army, which they accused of behaving like an army of occupation, the religious minorities immediately felt the effect of the Islamic State’s religious programme. Contrary to what has very often been said in the international press, the Christians were not the Jihadists’ first target — religious groups not included amongst the “people of the Book”, like the Yezidis and Shabaks, stigmatised as polytheists and apostates, were sooner and more radically targeted by the Jihad’s “cleansing” and were offered no other choice but conversion or death. Shiites (many of the Turcomen in the region conquered by the IS are Shiites) are also seen as a major enemy, a source of “fitna” (sedition) or as heretics and, as from June, have had to face threats, kidnappings, tortures and assassinations. Thus 83 Shabaks have been kidnapped and 7 or them have been found assassinated (source Human Rights Watch).
As for the Christians, their relative respite was short lived. On 19 July the Islamic State began to apply their interpretation of the Sharia regarding dhimmi (Jews and Christians), making them submit to Islam by either paying a poll tax (jiziya) of $200 to 250 per month, converting or leaving the “Dar al-Islam” (Moslem territories where the laws of war are not imposed).
As an even more sinister sign, the houses of Christians in Mosul have had their doors marked with the Arabic letter Nun. This N stands for “Nasrani”, or “Nazarenes” in Arabic— an ancient Jewish term of abuse to describe the early Judeo-Christian communities, which has passed into the Arabic language.
The effect of the first measures was very rapid. In the space of two days, between 14 and 17 July, thousands of Christians fled on the roads leading to Kurdistan, to swell the flood of other refugees. There are now about twenty Christians left in Mosul, some having accepted to pay the infamous poll tax, others having, perhaps, converted under duress. As they left, however, the refugees were stripped by the Jihadist militia of all they had been able to carry with them, on the pretext that those goods “belonged to Islam”. Thus it was on foot, under a scorching sun, that thousands of exhausted families reached Kurdistan.
The Shabaks and the Shiite Turcomen also had their houses marked by distinctive signs and their fate is even more threatened. Hundreds of them have fled, following summary executions preceded by kidnappings in several villages. The Yezidis are similarly threatened and ordered to convert to Islam.
The Islamic State was also very active this month in its programme of destruction of monuments “offensive” to Islam. Not only were Christian monasteries and patriarchal building seized, and tombs and statues were vandalised, but also places venerated by Moslems were attacked. This is their strict interpretation of Sharia rulings banning tombs of Sufis or prophets and their associated cults. The Islamic State also destroyed by blowing up the most symbolic tombs of the three monotheistic religions in Mesopotamia, those of Jonas and Seth as well as the mausoleums of Sufi Sheikhs. As for the Shiites, even their mosques were destroyed as well as the mausoleums.
All women, whatever their faith, are obliged to go out completely veiled, and all clothing, whether for men or women, considered “illicit” such as jeans or other westernised dress is banned. Shopkeepers selling cigarettes or narguillahs are being gradually told to close their shops and the Islamic State is gradually setting up a society similar to that of the Talibans in Afghanistan.
In the military field, the IS is mainly confronted by the Iraqi Army at Tikrit and Jalawla as well as the Kurdish Peshmergas in this zone. Sporadic fighting has also take place in Nineveh Province between the Peshmergas and the Jihadists.
The successes of the Islamic State have not turned it away from the Syrian front and intense attacks are continuing on Deir ez-Zour, where the IS is trying to establish its power in as complete a manner as in the Nineveh and Tikrit regions. Here, however, it clashes with other Jihadist movements, using tactics that alternate between suicide attacks and calls for defections and rallying behind its banner, displaying a reassuring pro-Sunni discourse, promising pardon to fighters who lay down their arms and swear allegiance to the “caliph”.
While the numerical strength of the IS is limited, its cohesion is an advantage compared with the confusion and disorganisation that often reigns amongst the militia f the FSA and other Jihadists. The prestige it has gained by its devastating success I Iraq is not unconnected with the retreat of Jabhat al Nusra in the military field and in terms of popularity and worldwide Jihadist prestige.
Despite local resistance, it seems that the IS is managing to consolidate itself between Raqqa and Deir ez-Zour, which in addition to the Syrian oil fields (added to those of Mosul) allows it to control its new State with out a break right up to Anbar (the Sunni Arab province of Iraq.
From this point of view, Kobani, which has suffered constant attacks throughout the month of July, is of secondary importance compared with central Syria, but capturing of this “Kurdish pocket” that cuts across its own territories between Ras al-’Ayn and Jezirah would enable it to connect with its Northern (Turkish) border and so push further towards the FSA positions round Aleppo. However, contrary to the “Syrian Arab” front of Deir ez-Zour and Raqqa, the IS cannot hope to win this through defections by the YPG suddenly rallying to the Jihad.
As from 5 July, the government of the “Kobani canton” has called for a general mobilisation, since the canton’s villages are subjected to sustained shelling. Thus for the first three days of July the village of Zor Mexar (35 km from Kobanî) was subjected to 300 mortar shells. The YPG communiqués regularly publish figures mentioning “heavy losses” in the IS ranks (even though military communiqués must be read with a certain caution). What does seem to emerge from them is that some villages are constantly being lost and won back by both sides.
More recently an IS offensive took place against Hassake, according to the YPG and the presence of the Syrian Army in the town is unclear. Some local information sources mention both coordination between the YPG and the Syrian Army against the IS and the withdrawal of the Syrian troops from Hassake, perhaps to concentrate for a future offensive on Aleppo, which is thought to be impending.
The “general mobilisation” calling on the Kurdish youth to join the YPG coincided with the announcement by the PYD of the demobilisation of its minor fighters, following its commitment to the Geneva Appeal, which opposes, inter alia, the use of “child soldiers”, of anti-personnel mines and sexual violence. The PYD and the YPG had solemnly committed themselves to ban such practices (in fact only this first point concerns them) and had announced the withdrawal of young boys and girls under the age of 18 from their fighting units. The age of minor fights in the YPG is said to be from 14/15 to 16/17 — they are only “children” in the sense that they are minor). The demobilised youth would be sent to “schools” which in fact are probably PYD military and political academies where they will receive a military and ideological education.
Elisabeth Decrey, head of the Geneva Appeal NGO speaks about 149 YPG youth concerned by this measure, but it is hard to estimate the real number of minors fighting in the YPG’s ranks. All the reports and photos of YPD forces show adolescents of both sexes carrying arms. However, before the signing of this
Appeal, this was part of the communications tactics of the PYD, to show the support of the “Kurdish youth” ( and especially its young women against the Jihadists. However a media over-representation is not a reliable statistic . .
Whether this was a coincidence or a consequence, after demobilising its minors the PYD announced its intention of imposing on the canton of Jezireh (Hassake) compulsory military service, regardless of their political sympathies or opposition to this arty.
According to this draft law on conscription, families living in the zones of “democratic self-administration” must provide at least one of its male members aged 18 to 30 for this self-six-month self-defence service (either continuous or with interruptions during the year), at the end of which the conscript could “decide” if he is ready to serve in the front line.
Handicapped or ill men would be exempted as well as families one of whose members has already joined the YPG (Armed forces) or the Asayish (police) of the Movement for the Liberation of Kurdistan, the Popular Protection Units or the Young Women’s protection Units. The law also provides for sanctions in the event of refusal.
The Kurdish National Council (KNC) (which includes all the Syrian Kurdish parties opposed to the PKK) immediately protested and rejected this compulsory conscription. It also recalled the tenor of the Erbil agreements, signed in July 2012 and renegotiated in December 2012, that stipulates that the KNC and the Western Kurdistan Parliament (a PYD associate) should unite their administrative and armed forces for joint defence and administration of the Kurdish regions of Syria.
Speaking to Aras News, Mustafa Misto, one of the members of the KNC, while not himself opposed to the principle of “a duty of national defence” recalled that the authority of the PYD was “illegitimate” and that consequently all the laws it promulgated were as well.
`The PYD has received its power in Northwest Syria from the hands of the Syrian regime and uses arms to establish itself. Treating the other Kurdish parties in a totalitarian manner.… The PYD refuses to include the others in political life so as to hold onto the entire benefit of the present situation”.
According to Mustafa Misto, this recruitment aims at serving “the PYD’s agenda, that has nothing to do with the Kurdish problem in Syria”.
Hitherto, the Kurdish fighting movements have always been composed of volunteers, since they were the expression of a political commitment — and this in all parts of Kurdistan. Even Iraqi Kurdistan, the closest to being a conventional State, does not resort to compulsory military service — its Peshmergas are a professional army. How will such recruitment be perceived by the cantons of Rojava? A report by Vladimir Van Wilgenbourg, for Middle East Eye, shows fairly half-hearted reactions. Some people refuse to be incorporated into what they consider to be a political militia:
I will not join any of the forces that exist at the moment, either the YPG, or the FSA or Dash (the IS) or Assad or Jabhat al Nusra. I will not join YPG they will not let you fight freely — you have to fight for the YPG or Abdullah Ocalan”. (Alan Qamishlo, 26 years old, employed in a Qamishlo bakery).
Rodi Hesen, a journalist with Wishe, considers “it is fairer that everyone take part in the protection and defence of the country” instead of it falling on a single faction, but he fears that this only carries the KNC’s argument s in its criticism of the PYD. Another “perverse” effect, in his opinion, would be that such a law would allow many young Syrian Kurds to ask for asylum in Europe to escape compulsory recruitment (like many who refused to be called up to serve under the Syrian flag).
The PYD is not bothered by these criticisms from the KNC, but can such an arrangement really be effectively applied in terms of defence? Will the YPG and the Asayish have to devote part of their energy to supervise and discipline recruits who are possibly disinclined to obey them? There is also the danger of arousing or increasing discontent in the population just for an insignificant increase in manpower.
However things go, this compulsory service has not yet taken place and the Pokka’s call to the youth of Turkish Kurdistan to rally round the PYD to defend Kabana seems to have more success. Since the relaunching of the peace process between Turkey and the PKK was announced at the beginning of summer, and the withdrawal of the guerrillas about to begin again, will there be a redeployment of PKK personnel in the Rojava cantons?
The Turko-Syrian border, apparently very permeable for recruits to the IS and other Jihadists, as the co-President of the PYD keeps pointing out, will be quite different for Kurds coming to swell the ranks of the YPG.
On the Turco-Iranian borders of Iraqi Kurdistan, a major archaeological site has been discovered, bringing to light the remains of a temple, statues and the bases of columns that date back to at least the Iron Age, that is the third millennium before our era. It is possible that this is the ancient city of Musasir, which was the capital of a principality of the 1st millennium before our era. The location of this city, mentioned in Assyrian and Urartian texts, has been lost but they suggest it was somewhere in the region of Rawanduz.
The first archaeological surveys (without digging) were carried out by a Kurdish doctoral student from Leyden University, after some villagers had accidentally found some artefacts, including the base of a pillar and a small bronze statue representing a goat. Dilshad Marf Zamua then started to work on the area in 2005.
The site has a long human history of human occupation since some inscriptions in cuneiform on the base of a pillar indentify a temple dedicated to the God Haldi, a god worshipped in the city of Musasir or Ardini. The temple was pillaged by the Assyrians in 714 BC in the reign of King Rusa I of Urartu, who on learning the news “threw himself on the ground and tore his garments and his arms lost all their strength. He tore off his head band and threw himself face down to the ground” according to a chronicle.
The location of this temple has long been unknown and Dilshad Marf Zamua thinks he may have solved the mystery.
A bas-relief dug up in Khorsabad in the 19th Century shows the city of Musasir: the building on the slope of a hill with three open windows on each floor and a door on the ground floor. This corresponds with the traditional architecture of the region, where the upper floors were living quarters and the ground floor used for storage or acting as cattle sheds or stables.
Some large statues have since been found (2.3 metres high) in limestone, basalt or sandstone, some of which are partly broken. They show bearded men, some holding a goblet in the right hand, the left hand resting on the stomach. One of these holds a dagger, another an axe. They may have been part of a funerary complex and may date to the 6th or 7th Century BC, at a time when the Assyrian Empire was retreating under pressure of Scythian or Cimmerian advance.
A bronze statuette, 8.4 cm high and 8.3 c, long represents a wild goat and the research workers are trying to decipher the cuneiform inscription on it.
The site covering three borders is not a safe one for digs because of the anti-personnel mines there, which still cause victims among the local shepherds. The Iranian Army still engages in artillery shelling because of the presence of guerrillas on the border and the Turkish Air Force has often bombed the region in the past.
The extend of his discoveries have recently been presented by Dilshad Marf Zamua at an International Archaeological Congress on the ancient Near East as Bale, in Switzerland. Dilshad Marf Zamua also lectures at Erbil’s Salahaddin University.