In August, two months after its lightning conquest of the Sunni Arab Provinces of Iraq, the “Islamic State” launched a large-scale offensive against Kurdistan. Surprised by the suddenness and size of these attacks on several fronts at once, the Peshmergas initially suffered some reverses, in particular the loss of Shingal (Sinjar) and Qaraqosh, which provoked the flight of over ten thousand Yezidis and Christians whose fate aroused the international public concern.
On Paris and Washington’s initiative, the international community was gradually mobilised to come to help the under-equipped Kurds where were short of arms and ammunition, unlike the Jihadists heavily armed thanks, mainly to the gigantic Iraqi arsenal, worth several millions of euros that they had captured.
The following is a summary of August’s dramatic events here.
On 1 August, while visiting Khanaqin, President Masud Barzani announced to the Peshmergas the arrival of more effective arms than those with which they had hitherto been equipped so as to be better able to fight against the “Islamic State” (IS), which possessed sophisticated American arms abandoned by the Iraqi Army as it fled from Mosul in June.
On the 2nd fighting broke out between the Peshmergas and the IS round the towns of Zummar (West of the Mosul dam and North of Tell Afar) until the former retreated either because they were short of ammunition or to let the Iraqi Air Force bomb the enemy positions. At the same time a convoy of armed Kurdish militants went to the battle area, whose inhabitants had already started to flee to safer areas.
The IS attack at the beginning of August seemed to have two objectives:
- Firstly to take control of the oil wells around Mosul. Thus the Ain Zala and Batma al-Murtafa fields were conquered and they gained total control of the pipeline linking Northern Iraq and Turkey.
- The second objective was the Mosul dam, held by the Peshmergas who were given a 2-hour ultimatum to evacuate even as the assaults were under way. The loss of the Mosul dam aroused throughout Iraq the fear of a mass flooding from Mosul to Baghdad should the IS decide to release the water either as a suicidal gesture or should they prove incapable of ensuring its proper maintenance.
However, the IS launched another surprise attack on Shingal (Sinjar in Arabic). This is a historic area, sacred to the Yezidi Kurds but West of Mosul and without any common borders with Iraqi Kurdistan and closer to Syria. This easily encircled by the IS as they consolidated their control of Mosul and Nineveh Province.
On 3 August Jihadist units suddenly charged at the town of Shingal, surprising the Peshmergas there. Indeed, according to some eyewitnesses, some officers and local officials fled without resisting. In a few hours the IS flag was flying over the building previously occupied by the Kurdish troops. Immediately thousands of Yezidis and Shabaks left, either towards Duhok Province to towards the Shingal mountains where they were trapped, without food, water of help and completely besieged by the IS, while the latter busied themselves destroying the places and building sacred to the Yezidis, as they had already foes to Moslem and Christian monuments in Mosul.
The Kurdish forces remaining on the spot (regular Peshmerga units and special Zeravani forces) found themselves also surrounded on three sides in this region while the YPG forces crossed the Syrian border to take part in the fighting on the East side.
On 4 August it was clear that Shingal and Zummar had been conquered by the IS, while there were contradictory reports regarding the Mosul dam, some times reporting it held by the Peshmergas and sometimes by IS until 8August when the Kurdistan Presidency’s Chief if Staff, Fuad Hussein announced that the dam had, indeed, been taken by IS.
According to Kurdish official sources, Peshmerga reinforcements returned to the town of Shingal as from 5 August and a correspondent of daily paper Rudaw said that about 10,000 men surrounded the town and had reached the centre, trying to repel the Jihadists. Other units were also on their way to the mountains to break the siege round the Yezidis
On 8 Aug. to the East of Shingal the Syrian PKK’s YPG forces, having crossed the border succeeded in setting up a safety corridor and ensured the evacuation to Syria of thousands of Yezidis trapped in the mountains. The humanitarian air drops of food and water had, in fact been insufficient because the land layout, the number of those besieged and the way they were scattered over a vast mountainous area. The IS fire at the helicopters also prevented them coming low enough to drop the survival kits properly, resulting in the destruction of many of them on hitting the ground. On 11 August the first evacuation of refugees by helicopter also took place but were more difficult in view of the number of people in the mountains and the IS firing at the helicopters
Violent clashes also took place to defend the Rabia area of the border, in joint operations with the YPG (who held the Syrian side round Yaroubia) similar to those early in June.
On 6 Aug. the PKK military commander in Qandil, Murat Karayilan, in an appeal made through the daily Radikal, called on “all the Kurdish armed group” to unite against the IS, expressing the hope of a “joint command” while the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran also prepared its units to go and help the Peshmergas.
Faced with these reverses, President Masud Barzani, in a speech addressed to the Kurdish nation as a whole, announced an offensive tactic in place of the previous defensive one. Thus the Peshmergas have started attacking several IS positions, in Mosul as well as Kirkuk and Khanakin. However, the extent of the front line (over 1000 Km) and the Pesjmergas’ lack or arms and ammunition had, at first the result of the Pehmergas retreating from their initial positions.
The inhabitants of many localities near Mosul (many of whom are Christians) had also started to flee to areas further North like Sheikhan, partly because of bombarding from the Iraqi armed forces and partly from fear of further advances by IS, particularly in the region of Hamdaniya and Tell Kayf where the Peshmergas and the IS were fighting heavily. At the same time IS was gradually seizing areas inhabited by Christians, Yezidis and Shabaks, which led to another mass wave of refugees towards Duhok and Erbil.
On 7 Aug. in the large Christian town of Qaraqosh (Baghdida), with about 50,000 inhabitants, which was in danger of being surrounded, the Pershmergas were ordered to withdraw from the town to avoid the Shingal disaster. This time they were able to warn the inhabitants, even though at short notice, who were obliged to leave in the middle of the night and walk for hours to Erbil, where they crowded into the Christian township of Ankawa. Similarly, Tell Kayf, Bartella and Al-Qosh were evacuated so that thousands of Christians came to join the Yezidi and Shabak refugees in Duhok and Erbil provinces.
Further South, on 6 Aug.IS attacks began to threaten Makhmour, in the Erbil region, and heavy fighting took place with the Peshmergas as well as PKK units that had come to reinforce them. Makhmour houses a refugee camp of Kurds from Turkey, more or less organised by the PKK. The women and children were evacuated from the camp and the PKK fighters deployed there.
On 8 Aug. since Makhmour is only 40 Km from Erbil, the US, stirred by the threat to their citizens living in the Kurdish capital, began hitting IS in this area as well as at Shingal, where the population was threatened by genocide.
Touz Khurmatu, one of the positions held by the Peshmergas South of Kirkuk was also attacked. On 11 Aug. at Jalawla, near Khanaqin, the advance of IS forces also provoked the flight of some inhabitants while the IS flag was already flying in several quarters.
Gwer (al-Quwayr in Arabic), only 30 Km from Erbil, was also the scene of violent fighting, as at Khanaqin. Peshmerga reinforcements arrived from Suleimaniyah but on 14 Aug. large-scale movement of OS troops towards Gwer, particularly by crossing the Little Zab, led the Iraqi Army to increase the flow of water from the Sokan dam to hinder their advance (the flow increased from 70 m3/sec to 300).
By mid-August the American air strikes enabled the Kurdish troops to regain ground. Some areas near Mosul and Tell Kayf were regained with enabled the dam and the oil fields to be regained, though the Jihadists had set fire to the latter before evacuating them.
On 18 Aug. the Pehmergas announced that the dam had been cleared of the IS, though the latter had booby-trapped some building with explosives which slowed their advance. However, on the 19 Aug. US President Barack Obama was able to affirm that the dam was again controlled by the Peshmergas and the Iraqi Army. A joint operation by Iraqi and Kurdish forces then undertook to retake Zummar, which had fallen on 2 Aug. while US strikes continued in the Mosul region and near Erbil. On 20 Aug the Kurds had advanced to Rabia, near the Syrian border, where the fighting with IS led the villagers to cross the border and seek refuge in areas held by the PYD, in Hassake.
The disastrous retreat from Shingal and its tragic consequences for the Yezidis were a humiliating shock for the Iraqi Kurds. The PKK and the PYD didn’t miss the opportunity comparing their military feats and salutary action in Shingal to the Peshmergas’ reverses there. The administrative, military and police officials guilty of flight in the face of the enemy were removed from office by a furious Masud Barzani and are subject to enquiries. It should, however, be noted that not all the Peshmergas deserted Shingal, that other units stood firm — but had to wait for reinforcements and ammunition to reach them. Then the Peshrmerga reinforcing units recaptures and cleared a large part of Shingal, though too late for the thousands of Yezidis trapped in the mountains or in localities surrounded by the IS. The evacuation of Qaraqosh, on the other hand, though late and too hasty did at least prevent a similar tragedy to recur.
Paradoxically, this conflict forces the Peshmergas, for the first time, to fight like a regular army instead of a guerrilla force and against fighters who are not the regular armies of Turkey, Iraq or Iran but rebel forces, responsible to no state and thus freed of modern international rules (often, it is true, flouted by all those states when fighting the Kurds). Any locality lost or temporarily left to the enemy has its population subjected to a fate provided for in the Qoran but applied in its most archaic form: the captured men obliged to submit to the IS version of Islam or be killed, the women, children and non-combatants treated as spoils of war. Only a fifth of this loot goes to the Caliph (it is the share due to God, the poor and the State) — the rest is distributed to the Jihad armies, who, at the moment, are sharing the Yezidi women and children in Mosul or Raqqa. This dos not even need to be justified by a fatwa (that is a legal opinion solely used when Islamic law is unclear). This is laid out in Sura VIII Anfal (the Spoils) — which Saddam had already used — though against a population (the Kurds) who were mostly Sunni
Defending Kurdistan (greatly expanded since last June) forces its armies into a war of positions. This involves the necessity of providing for the evacuation of populations in the event of a retreat — particularly faced with an enemy that has no intention of respecting the lives of civilians since these Jihadists are waging a war of extermination. On the other hand, the tactic if an “offensive” against the IS and the recon quest of Mosul, initiated by Barzani, involves the Kurdish troops in a war of movement stretched out between Nineveh and Diyala which requires an highly unified command and a strategy of overall awareness of the enemy’s movements to avoid the danger of being encircled, as at Shingal and Qaraqosh.
Thus the overhauling or “reform” of the Peshmerga forces was announced by Barzani following the Kurdish Army’s first setbacks, which had revealed its weaknesses. A report of the Kurdish Parliamentary Commission appointed to enquire into the failures of the Ministry for Peshmergas highlighted the partisan and decentralised character of the armed units, their misunderstandings and lack of internal co-ordination that were sources of logistic and tactical problems.
According to this report, the shortages of ammunition, supplies and equipment that the fighters complained of were not the only factors undermining the capacity for resistance or offensive action of the Peshmergas and other Kurdish units. Bahar Abdurrahman, one of the M.P.s who took part in the enquiry gave the main outlines of the report to the daily paper Rudaw. One of the crucial weaknesses is that the Peshmergas Ministry does not always have full authority over all the troops and that, even inside the Ministry different “decision making sources” are an obstacle to efficiency and a reactivity to orders send to those in the field. Thus the commission recommended that there be set up a “High Command Council directly supervised by the President and the Peshmerga Minister”. Alongside this, the political character of the fighting units, all of which originated from political parties that were competing for power in local chiefdoms, have long been criticised even in Kurdish civil society. Last month Masud Barzani ordered that any display of party or political flags or symbols by the troops be forbidden — they should only fly the Kurdistan flag. It is still hard to say to what extent these measures will be observed straight away or if they will be enough to prevent the Peshmergas and other groups from hiding their political alignments.
This very new situation of a strategic offensive or even reconquest will lead the Peshmergas, Zeravani etc to operate in Mosul and Jalawla, in mixed areas— that is, with an Arab population, some of whom support the IS. It also looks like the first Kurdish national war since it is the first time in its history that all the armed forces of the whole of Kurdistan find themselves together fighting the same enemy. It is also the first war waged by a Kurdish government acting on the international scene virtually like a sovereign State and receiving official military assistance for a war regarded as “legitimate” since its outcome determines more than the future of the Kurds but that of the whole Middle East.
Because the gravity of the Iraqi crisis and the dangers incurred by the civilian populations as well as by the Kurdish region — hitherto the only stable area in Iraq and the land that has welcomed hundreds of thousands of refugees — has obliged the international community to mobilise and supply the Kurds military as well as humanitarian help. The Kurds are insistently calling Not for Western troops to be sent but for weapons as sophisticated as those captured by the IS following the fall of Mosul. The lack of suitable arms and ammunition is a problem that is constantly raised when press correspondents question Peshmergas, either at the front or in the hospitals where they are being treated.
The difficulty or the “taboo” about delivering arms to Kurdistan came from the fact that the latter is not an independent state, that in principle this had to be done through Baghdad. However, the recent setbacks of the Iraqi Army have resulted in the insistent demands by Nuri al-Maliki to the United States for more arms for his own army have been rejected. Moreover, since this Prime Minster, so despised by the Kurds was still in office and the height of the crisis, relations between Baghdad and Erbil gave grounds for fearing that any aid (humanitarian or military) would never reach the Kurdish forces. In the same way that Nuri Maliki has frozen the pay of civil servants and of Peshmegas since February 2014 as a reprisal against Kurdistan’s indepentent fuel and power policy.
While Obama has, since the start of this crisis, been very hesitant and, as he himself admits, “lacking in strategy” against the IS, France has seemed the most reactive country and the most determined to help Kurdistan, dragging the rest of the EU behind it. On 7 Aug. it called an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council to initiate an international mobilisation against the terrorist danger represented by the IS. Om 8August President François Hollande stated that his country was ready to “support the forces engaged is opposing the IS” though without specifying the nature of this support. He also said he had personally telephoned Masud Barzani to tell him of his wish to cooperate with the Kurds in this war.
On 10 Aug. the Foreign Minister, Laurent Fabius, personally visited Baghdad and help a joint press conference with Hussein Sharistani, expressing his hope to see an Iraqi government of reconciliation that included all the elements of Iraq. On the same day, he flew to Erbil. Carrying 18 tons of humanitarian aid and accompanied by Red Cross teams. Speaking on France 2 TV directly from Erbil airport, he described the actions of IS as a genocide of the Christian and Yezidi populations, calling for an immediate mobilisation of the European Union on both humanitarian and military levels. In a letter to Catherine Ashton, top EU Foreign Affairs representative, he set out the crucial needs of the Kurdish Region.
“I am back from Erbil hand have been able to confirm the totally tragic character of the situation in North Iraq. Faced with the advances of the IS, the threatened civilian populations are obliged to flee in daily increasing numbers and the local authorities are facing a tragic humanitarian situation, the extent of which outstrips their capacity to cope.
Faced with this tragedy that is taking place before its gates, Europe cannot remain inactive. Solidarity with these persecuted communities is a moral imperative. It is also in European strategic interests and as well as the defence of freedom.
President Masud Barzani and the Kurdistan Regional Government have asked me to set up, as a matter of urgency, a humanitarian air bridge between Europe and North Iraq as well as deploying the means for the temporary buildings to help the authorities meet the needs of hundreds of thousands of displaced people who have fled the barbarism of the Islamic State.
He also insisted on the urgent need for having arms and ammunition to enable him to face and beat Islamic State terrorist group.
It is essential that the European Union be obelised as from today to meet this call for help. I would be most grateful if you would urgently mobilise the member states as well as the European institutions to answer this call. A special meeting of the Council of Foreign Ministers seems most desirable to me.
France, those first delivery of humanitarian aid I supervised yesterday, will be there in time”.
The Italian Foreign Minister, Federica Mogherini, who Masud Barzani had met last May during his European tour, similarly called for a special needing of the Council of Ministers to discuss the crises of Gaza, Iraq and Libya “which directly concern Europe” and also wished to see arms deliveries to Kurdistan. As from 13 Aug. France, without waiting for the European Ministers’ meeting announced a fresh delivery of humanitarian aid (20 tons) as well as its decision to arm the Kurds against the IS. Britain also said it was ready to send army equipment to Erbil and finally Germany, one of the countries, along with Sweden, most opposed to sending arms to countries at war, announced that it would also send military material to Kurdistan.
Chancellor Angela Merkel justified this unusual decision of the German government by citing the “genocide” taking place in Iraq and a “direct” threat to Europe. As well as the United States and Canada and seven European countries (Albania, Croatia, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom) Iran, that is directly targeted by the highly anti-Shite policies of the IS has also supplied arms to the Kurds while denying he existence of Iranian forces operating in Baghdad and other Iraqi regions. Australia, for its part, has supplied logistic help in transporting arms and humanitarian material organised by the US.
In reprisals against “the Anericano-Kurdish alliance” the IS has begun the blackmailing execution of hostages that may cover all the States that decide to support the Kurds, the Iraqis and the Syrians. Thus the states most unwilling to return to the battlefield may be led, against their will, into direct military action, of which the Kurds, long time the neglected ones of the Middle East, would become the vanguard and foot sluggers.
The IS is continuing its territorial warfare to unify and make more secure its strongholds if Mosul and Raqqa. This leads it to try offensives to conquer the neighbouring Provinces of Hassaké and Nineveh fighting both against the Kurdish Army of Peshmergas and the PYD-PKK’s YPG units. Were the IS to succeed in overcoming Serê Kaniyê and Qamishlo, the Northern borders of this State would look very much like the Rojave that the PYD and other Syrian Kurds dreamed of, covering the whole of the areas, both Kurdish and Arab, bordering on Turkey.
Until 20 Aug. fighting was essentially a guerrilla warfare against the Kurds into neighbouring localities, trying at Hassaké as at Nineveh to rally to their cause the Sunni Arab tribes, hostile to Kurdish power. The places captured by the IS, like Tell Hamis and Al-Shadad were not retaken by the YPG. However, its attempts to attack and isolate Qamishlo and Hassaké or to besiege Serê Kaniyê didn’t achieve any advances liable to conquer the two cantons of Cizîrê and Kobanî, even though the IS push could, logically lead it to the North of Hassaké and its oil fieldi
The military offensives were accompanied by suicide bomb attacks and kidnapping in these areas. For the moment the positions held by the YPG and IS have remained fairly stable since January in North-east Syria, since the assault of the Jihadist militia were mainly launched against Shingal-Sibjar and Mosul with the temporary capture of the dam and the oil fields. The capture of Shingal should be seen as a continuation of the “cleansing” of Hassaké-Nineveh, since this Kurdish area was located in the middle of IS territory since mid-June, with the border post separating the towns of Rabia-Yaroubiah as the only “Kurdish” corridor, relatively far from the town o Shingal, and with the mountains in between
If seems that both the militia from Mosul (that had captured it in June) and others from South of Hassake simultaneously launched the attack on Shingal, which was caught in a pincer movement. After having seized Shingal the next target was logically Rabia-Yaroubiah, the only Iraqi-Syrian border post held by the Kurds, YPG and Peshmergas, and which served as a retreat corridor for the Peshmergas and for the evacuation of the Yezidis who managed to flee Westwards to Syria.
However, between 3 and 4 Aug. under the joint YPG and Peshmergs attacks, the IS had to give up its attempt to take the border post, even though the positional warfare was continuing in the surrounding area.
The IS’s other Syrian front was Raqqa, and three bases held by the regime fell between July and August, including the military airfield of Tabaqa, the regime’s last stronghold in the province, on 24 Aug. about 250 captured Syrian soldiers were taken to the desert and executed en mass. The savagery of this act of repression may be due both to the losses IS had suffered, as the battle was long and hard and to the fact that, by fighting for the Alawiite regime these soldiers were considered heretics and unbelievers, regardless of their denomination.
It has, moreover, been established by identifying the bodies of members of the militia that many had been forcibly recruited by IS from the local population, ordered to give a son to the fight or a daughter to the fighters. Reprisal raids with kidnappings took place in Kirkuk Province in villages occupied by IS — even against Sunni Arab populations.
Om the other IS front, Southwards between Kirkuk and the Arab Sunni areas, IS Similarly tried to make its territory more secure so as to form a continuous band between Diyala-Anbar and Mosul, the biggest massacre of soldiers (800) was perpetrated in June in Iraq. This has recently been revealed by Human Rights Watch, from the accounts of 20 survivors, freshly recruited and sent to the Speicher training camp at Tikrit. They are said to have been betrayed by their senior commanders (which these officers deny) who was said to have assured them that an agreement had been reached with IS ensuring them safe withdrawal if their left the base without arms. They were, in fact, handed over by Sunni Arab tribes, hostile to these mainly Shiite troops. On its web sites IS affirms it executed 1,700 and HRW can confirm the death of about 700 soldiers, while considering these figures could well be much higher
The treatment of minorities who fell into the hands of Al-Baghdadi’s fighters continues to conform to a completely literal interpretation of the Qoran and its more warlike surats (especially those of the Medina period. In principle, Christians who reused to convert or to leave have to conform to an inferior status and pay tribute while those of religions it recognised as “revealed” and dissident Moslems, “heretics” (especially Shiites) have to submit to Islam or die. The whole population, however, whether protected by dhimmiya status or not, that fought against the Moslem Armies immediately falls into the status of war “captives” that is slaves and treated as booty. The fighters are executed, the women led off as concubines or slaves for sale. The children, being also the victor’s property, can be separated from their mothers are sold separately or else be brought up as Moslems. The property of captives belongs to the Jihadists. It should be noted that the conversion of slaves does not necessarily mean their being freed.
The Yezidis are the group most hit by this “politico-religious” repression, all of whose aspects are listed in the definition of genocide under Article 2 of the Convention for the prevention and repression of the crime of genocide (9Devember 1948), namely:
s) Murder of members of a group
b) Serious injury to the physical or mental integrity of members of a group
c) Intentional submission of the group to conditions of existence liable to leading to total or partial physical destruction
d) Measures aiming at hindering births within the group
e) Enforced transfer of children of the group to another group
Thus on 15 Aug. the Jihadists killed at least 80me of the Yezidi village of Kotcho, near Shingal (other figures state there were over 300) in murderous raid that seems to have had the aim or taking slaves, women (several hundreds) and children take to Tell Afar as well as booty. A survivor of these massacres, saved, fed and hidden by a Moslem neighbour succeeded in escaping to Kurdistan and his testimony was recorded by Amnesty International, which considered that the Minorities of Northern Iraq were being subjected to “ethnic cleaning”. Other killings are probably still unknown as can be concluded by the discovery on 10 September of a mass grave at Zummar, containing the bodies of 35 Yezidis, including some women and children.
On 30 Aug. a report by the Kurdistan Region’s High Council for Women’s Affaires gives a figure of 700 Yezidi women reduced to slavery or forced to marry Moslems legally. Some had been able to phone their families with mobile phones provided by the jihadists themselves, From their tales it appears that the fate of the majority, locked up, raped and ill-treated resembles more that of the “comfort women” kidnapped by the Japanese Army during the Second World War than the captive-concubines or wives mentioned in the Qoran. Legal marriage with a Moslem, in any case implies their “voluntary” conversion.
They weren’t all relegated to Mosul, some of them were sent to Raqqa, Aleppo or Hassake. A very few victims were able to escape and reach Kurdistan, Some were lucky enough be have been “bought” my Arabs with the aim of saving them and sending them back to their families. All the children born in captivity were taken from their mothers. It is estimated that the price of a Yezidi woman was about $ 1000, obviously varying according to her age, beauty and her virginity, though the virgins were often reserved to be deflowered by the commanders and them given to the rank and file members of the militia.
On occasions Yezidi men were spared but obliged to publicly renounce their faith and the ceremony of “conversion” was filmed and broadcast on the IS social media so as to encourage Yezidis (especially those trapped in the Shingal mountains and other “unbelievers” to embrace Islam.
The Yezidis are not the only Kurdish religious minority destined to be killed. The Kakay (or Yarsans) are just a polytheistic, apostate or heretical in the eyes of the Jihadists, but so far have been able to escape the large-scale massacres suffered by the Yezidis. However, their holy places were destroyed in the Hamdania district (Nineveh Province) as was the case with all monuments not considered to conform with their interpretation of the Sharia, be they Moslem or not.
IS’s other front, Diyala, was marked by the fierce resistance by 12,000 Shiite Turkomen in Amerli, a town south of Touz Khourmatoum which has been surrounded and besieged by IS since last June. Short of food and water, without electricity it only had a local militia recruited from the civilian population as a defence force. Finally the US Air Force was authorised by Barrack Obama to carry out strikes against the besiegers as well as dropping food and water for the inhabitants. Some Iraqi helicopters also dropped food and ammunition, defying the IS fire in what were described as suicide missions by Iraqi Colonel Mustafa Al-Bayati.
Humanitarian aide, however, would not protect the Turkomen from the massacre that threatened them should the town fall and Nickolay Mladenov, UN representative in Iraq called for urgent action to save the town to avoid it suffering the same fate as Shingal,
Finally, on 31 Aug., with the help of US bombing, the Kurdish and Iraqi Armies succeeded in breaking the siege to the North of the town, their advance having been slowed down by the mines IS had laid on the roads.
The heroic resistance of the Turkomen of Amerli illustrates one of the contradictory effects of the terrorising strategy adopted by IS: while at first the populations, terrorised by the ferocious savagery of the Jihadists might give way to panic and flee or submit without fighting, the unrelenting fate promised to “unbelievers” and widely publicised on the social media may drive the targeted populations to resist in despair to avoid a fate considered worse than death.
As for Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, he is said to have already left Mosul out of fear of American air strike in a convoy of 30 Hummers, to return to his safer stronghold in North Syria, according to a Kurdish official, the KDP spokesman Saeed Mammo, when questioned by Asharq al-Awsat.
The IS attacks are motivated both by the political determination to establish its rule over a relatively homogenous and consistent region with secure communication routes, as well as that of seizing (or trying to seize) the oil wells or the Mosul dam. These would enable it to control the fuel and power needs of its land — and those if its enemies. As for those particularly targeted at minorities, they also answer another economic and political imperative — winning fighter with promises of human and material loot and maintaining his troops by allotting them the share that the Qoran awards from conquests in Dar el Harb (lands of warfare) — namely 4/5ths of the loot, which frees the Caliph of any need to pay them wages . . .
Indeed, the IS cannot become economically viable without its “dhimmis” subjected to taxation or `Dar el-Harb or “lands of warfare”. This is, in fact, the cause of the fall of the Omayyades. As the IS is taking as its model the early period of Islam’s political organisation, it will, paradoxically need the existence of Christians (subjected to the tax on non-Moslems) as at that time it was not customary to tax Moslems apart from the legal almsgiving. Since the Christians have fled and the Yezidis are not eligible for the dhimmia, if it loses the oil wells or their output is insufficient, the Anfal, or Booty is the only economic resource left to the IS — the goods and slaves confiscated from the “ungodly”, whose existence it will need to maintain to ensure this source of slaves and booty . . .
Consequently this State is similar in its political and religious structure to that of the ghazis, those “fighters for the faith”, whose raids were distinguished both by military expeditions and banditry along the borders of the Dar el Islam. Hence those mercenaries hired by the Samanides in the as yet unconverted Khorassan, or else by Mahmud of Ghazna, in India or the bands used by the Seljuks to harass the Byzantine border regions. This were as much acts of piracy that enabled the sovereigns to rid themselves of potentially seditious warriors by keeping them away on enemy lands as acts of Jihad aiming at expanding the land of the believers.
Thus, to ensure its internal survival the IS, or Dawlat el-Islam needs the Dar al-Harb, since it is just from warfare that it can justify its existence.
On the “Rojava” (Syrian Kurdistan) front, the fight against the IS waged by the YPG takes place in the town of Hassaké, in cooperation with the Syrian Army and in the Tell Hamis field (scene of the YPG’s severe defeat last January) jointly with the Free Syrian Army (FSA) — an example of the wide disparity of the alliances with which the YPD is obliged to engage in the field. The town of Hassake is, for the moment, divided between military bases taken by the IS, others controlled by the Syrian regime and the Kurdish quarters held by the PYD.
In addition to the IS’s Jihadist militia, the YPG also has to fight some Sunni Arab tribes (or the local population) while depending on the cooperation of other Arabs — mainly by incorporation some Sunni Arab Militia that, together with the Christian and Yezidi militia make up the non-Kurdish forces that assist the YPG and the Asayish.
The increase in power of the IS at Raqqa and Hassake has thus led the YPG and the FSA to a truce, rather than an alliance, against the common enemy to prevent more places like Aleppo from falling into the hands of the “Caliph’s” armed bands. An agreement was reached on 22 Aug. (According to ANHA) between Abdo Ibrahim, the President of the “Afrin Canton” Defence Council and the YPG on the one hand and General Abdul Jabbar Agidi of the FSA in Aleppo, together with other FSA commanders. This agreement covers the joint defence of Aleppo and the surrounding area. Abdo Ibrahim, in an ANHA communiqué, made the point that in return for this joint defence, the YPD had asked that the FSA should accept the “specific character of the Kurdish regions and of Rojava”. This agreement will be extended to the “Euphrates” region in September, covering the YPG, the FSA and other “opposition” forces, the outcome of which will be a command of the joint forces united against the IS.
The offensive against Shingal, which is on the road between Raqqa and Mosul but is also a direct neighbour of Hassake, immediately incited the YPG to cross the border at Yaroubia to defend Rabia (as in June) while an official YPG statement announced its cooperation at the highest level with the Peshmergas, 700 of whom had retreated to the Syria side of the border after Shingal’s fall — in some cases for medical treatment at Derik Hospital (Malikiyah). The YPG also opened routes to enable the Yezidis trapped in the mountains to move Eastwards and 20,000 are said to have crossed into Syria. The pro-PKK media even talk of 100,000 refugees and have announced a new refugee camp Rubart, at Afrin to accommodate 30,000 Yezidis (in addition to the one at Hassake) to which has been added the Newroz camp in the came Canton.
In any case, the Yezidi armed forces, following the example of the Sutoro (the YPD’s Christian fighters) have started to be trained by the YPG so as to reconquer Shingal. These fighters are said, by Reuters, to be several hundred strong, mostly from the Iraqi side, though there may also be some Syrian Yezidis. In any case, it is highly likely that at least the Eastern side of Shingal will henceforth be part of the “Rojava front” even though the YPD denies any intention of creating a 4th Canton.
The YPG has also stated that it has fought in Zummar and Kaske, in Nineveh Province, these tow localities having been the first to suffer IS attacks after it had captured the Mosul dam.
On 19 Aug. the Jazaa locality, near Yarubia was attacked by the IS, that tried thereby to cut the YPG’s access to Shingal or cross the border freely. Fighting around Jazaa continued all the month of August and the YPG does not report that locality has been taken but reports heavy fighting and heavy losses on the IS side until the end of August, when they announced that they had driven all the IS fighters out of Jazaa, though fighting was continuing.
At Kobani (’Ayn al-Arab) there was also a succession of hills and villages taken and retaken. The YPG regularly announced throughout the summer heavy losses in the IS’s ranks (in general 100 IS killed for a dozen YPG, some of whom have come from Turkey). However, the IS attacked some villages to the East on or around the 19 Aug. with heavy weaponry and mortar fire.
While the international air strikes by the US against IS bases in Syria could help the YPG by loosening the IS stranglehold, it would probably not contribute to bringing them closer to the FSA (once the common danger is past, purely circumstantial alliances are liable to fall) or to distance them from the Syrian regime, to which they are too dependent in Qamishlo and Hassaké. Yet membership of the Syrian National Council is an essential pre-condition for being recognised as legitimate representatives of the Syrian opposition by the West. Indeed, the Kurdish National Council, despite its mistrust of the Syrian Arabs, is for this reason affiliated to the SNC.
On the other hand, the military value of the YPG, the fact that it is the only armed group in the Eastern part of Syria capable of repulsing the IS, might be taken into account, despite Turkish hostility, that in losing credibility because of its policy regarding Syria and Iraqi Kurdistan.
Despite international and virtually unanimous national pressures to urge Prime Minister Nuri Maliki not to assume a third term of office, he has stood firm on his position since April, claiming the constitutional right to this post on the grounds of his list’s election victory. Maliki’s policy, however, has alienated the overwhelming majority of Iraqis, including the Shiites, who consider him responsible for the Mosul disaster and the present Iraqi situation, so no serious politician is able to argue min his favour.
The Shiites have tried for several weeks to find an alternative to Nuri Maliki who would also be acceptable to the Sunni Arabs and the Kurds, since both these groups have broken with Baghdad. To persuade the Prime Minister to step down there had first to be a consensus in their coalition.
Meanwhile, the Iraqi President was elected on 24 July. It was a Kurd, Fuad Massum, and according to the Constitution, he had only 15 days in which to choose a Prime Minister who would them form a government. From the moment he took office Fuad Massum stated that 7 Aug. should be a red line date that should not be passed, though he did extend the period to the 10th. Finally, in the face of the difficulties involved, the Iraqi national Assembly extended it to the 19th since negotiations had not yet been “completed”.
When Fuad Massum called a meeting of the National Alliance, the largest Parliamentary coalition after that of Maliki’s State of Laws, it was noticeable that several members of Maliki’s State of laws coalition were also present, showing that the prime Minister’s party was not unanimously in his favour. At the same time, the State of Laws official Twitter published several warning against any recourse to violence — clearly aimed at Maliki who, as head Defence Minister, the Police and the Army, was suspected of wanting to resort to a coup d’état to keep his post.
Yet Nuri Maliki was not giving an inch and on 10 Aug. had declared his intention of filing a complaint to the Federal Court against the Iraqi Presidency for beach of the Constitution on two grounds:
1) having extended the 15 –day period for appointing a Prime Minister, who had to be head of the winning list at the elections
2) having further extended the period beyond 10 Aug.
Arguing with considerable cheek the “dangerous situation” in whch Iraq found itself, faced with the IS and “politicians close to IS” (that is all opposed to his) he had 90minutes before his televised speech ordered the deployment of the Iraqi Security forces and some Iraqi Special Operation Forces so “secure” the entrances to Baghdad and the Green Zone while blocking a certain number of streets and bridges inside the city. An (anonymous) source in the Green Zone told the press that the Presidential buildings had been surrounded by these forces, though this was denied by other sources from the Presidency that had deployed its own guards to ensure its security.
In fact, on 9 Aug. A demonstration of the Prime Minister’s supporters had gathered in the centre of Baghdad to call on Ayatollah Sistani (one of Maliki’s fiercest opponents) “not to meddle wit politics” and this message was publicly displayed during the demonstration.
The Iraqis and the Kurds immediately interpreted this deployment of armed forces as a threat of a military coup. The USA was also worried and the State Department’s spokesman, Jen Psaki, declared that his country “rejected any effort to reach their ends by coercion of by the manipulation of the constitutional or legal procedures ”, recalling that Washington was ready to support a new and inclusive government” in the fight against ISIS. John Kerry, even went so far as to envisage a breach of international support for iraq in this crisis.
Even when a new Prime Minister, Hayder Al Abadi, a Shiite from the same from the same State of Laws list was eventually elected and endorsed by Parliament, Nuri Maliki still seemed unready to renounce his office, despite US and EU support for this nomination and the vote of 127 M.Ps., including half of the members of State of Laws list (38) and 12 from the Mustaqilun block, led by Hussein Sharistani (whom nevertheless was the principal executive of Nuri Maliki’s anti-Kurdish policies regarding the management of natural resources. The rest of the State of laws block abstained.
Nuri Maliki started by refusing to recognise Hayder Al-Abadi as his successor, writing to the Federal Court that as the State of Laws block was registered in his name, its M.P.s did not have the right to express any position other than his, and that sl-Abadi, as a leader of his party could not act without his authorisation.
On 11 Aug. Nuri Maliki, increasingly disowned, could only collect 29 State of Laws members round him when he gave a second filmed speech, criticising the unconstitutional character of his removal from office. This did not, however, prevent the President Fuad Masslum from finally officially appointing his Prime Minister, in an official ceremony attended by Hussein Al Sharistani, al-Jafari (leader of the Iraqi Alliance), Baqir Jabur (Mowatin, or Allaince of citizens, a Shiite religious coalition), Dhia Al Assad (Sadrist) and a representative of another Sarist branch, Fadila.
The Iraqi Shiite militia, supported by Iran, also withdraw their support from Nuri Maliki by supporting al-Abdi, which shows Teheran’s defection from its principal political “pawn” in Baghdad.
However, this isolation and these successive withdrawals have not prevented Nuri Maliki from calling his supporters to demonstrate against al-Abadi on 13 Aug. This time, however, the ranks of the demonstration were much thinner.
At international level, the western powers, like the neighbouring states such as Saudi Arabia and Turkey, welcomed the appointment of al-Abadi. The latter, on the 12th, the day of the official ceremony of his appointment, called for a “unified Iraq”, while tactfully handling his predecessor, Nuri Maliki, who he praised for his “action against terrorism”. The next day, the 13th, several deadly explosions shook Baghdad and Kerbala. Whether they were due to IS cells or other unknown factions, either Sunni or Shiite, any improvement of the security of the cities of the South remains uncertain.
Hayder Al Abadi was born in Baghdad in 1952, where he studied engineering before leaving for Manchester to complete his qualifications. He joined the Shiite religious party, Al Dawa in 1967 and fairly rapidly rose to the leadership in the 70s, especially as a member of the Executive Committee while he was still in London, where he remained until 2003. In 1983, Iraq confiscated his passport for conspiring against the Ba’ath party, and three of his brothers were arrested during the same decade for being Dawa party members.
Returning to Iraq, he became minister of Communications between 2003 and 2004. Early in 2005 he was Prime Minister Iyad Allawi’s advisor and at the end of the same year was elected to Parliament, where he Chaired the Commission for the Economy of Investments and Reconstruction, then of Finances. Lat July he was elected Deputy Speaker of Parliament. He had been regularly put forward as an alternative to Nuri Maliki, with whom he was close. Described as an “open and friendly” man, he has the reputation of being “accessible”, which contrasts with the isolation bordering on paranoia of his predecessor, that had alienated so much or Iraqi and Kurdish political circles.
On 10 Aug. the Turkish presidential elections took place, for the first time with universal suffrage. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was the AKP candidate in succession to Abdullah Gul, who was also from the same party. As expected, he was elected in the first round with 51.79% of the votes, as against he main opponent Ekmeleddin Ihsanoğlu, former secretary of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, who led an implausible coalition of 13 parties going from religious and secular movements to the very secular CHP even to the extreme Right MHP. This coalition only scored 38,44%, that set the seal of the route of a fragmented Turkish opposition, which has difficulty in finding a coherent electorate in the face of the “election-winning machine” that the AKP has become.
The third candidate was the Kurdish lawyer Selahattin Demirtaş, who led the Democratic People’s Party (HDP), a pro-minorities and feminist party that had formed an alliance with the Kurdish BDP party during the municipal elections of March 2014, with which it has since fused.
Selahattin Demirtaş scored 9.76%, which is considered a very honourable score for “Kurdish” candidate in Turkey. He carried the Kurdish provinces of Şırnak (83%), Hakkari (81%), Diyarbakır (64%), Ağrı, Muş and Mardin (61%), Batman (60%, Siirt and Van (54%), Tunceli-Dersim (52%), Iğdir (42%).
Ekmeleddin Ihsanoğlu carried Kırklareli (67%) Edirne (64%), Muğla (63%), Izmir (58%), Tekirdağ (57%), Aydın (56%), Çanakkale (55%), Mersin (54%), Antalya (53%), Hatay (52%), Eskişehir (51%), Adana (50%), Balıkesir and Denizli (49%), Manisa and Osmaniye (48%).
Recep Tayyip Erdoğan carried off Rize and Bayburt (80%), Gümüşhane (75%), Konya and Aksaray (74%), Çankırı and Düzce (73%), Maraş (71%), Elazığ, Trabzon and Malatya (70%), Adıyaman, Sivas and Sakarya (69%), Erzurum, Urfa and Niğde (68%), Bolu, Kayseri , Ordu, Karaman and Giresun (66%), Bingöl, Yozgat and Samsun (65%), Afyonkarahisar, Karabük, Kilis et Nevşehir (64%), Çorum and Kırıkkale (63%), Tokat (62%), Sinop (61%), Gaziantepe (60%), Erzincan and Kocaeli (58%), Bartın (57%), Amasya (56%), Isparta (55%), Artvin, Kirşehır and Bitlis et Zonguldak (52%), Ankara (51%), Bilecik, Yalova and Uşak (50%), Istanbul (49%), Kars (42%), Ardahan (40%).
Following Erdogan’s election, his former Foreign Minister, Ahmet Davutoğlu was elected to lead the AKP in 21 August and became Prime Minister on the 29th. To form the Republic’s 62nd cabinet. He took the oath of office on the 29th. The government should remain in office till the next general elections in 2015. There are not many new faces in the cabinet as many have been there in Erdogan’s successive cabinets between 2007 and 2013.
The Deputy Prime Ministers are Bülent Arinc and Numan Kurtulmuş, two concervatives with religious ideas close to those of Erbakan’s Virtue Party, Ali Babacan, former Economids Minister and then Foreign Minister in Erdogan’s first two cabinets, and Yalçin Akdoğan, a former journalist on the conservative daily Yeni Safak.
Ahmet Davutoğlu is replaced at the Foreign Ministry by Mevlut Çavusoğlu, who has considerable experience in the Parliamentary Assembly of the European Council. The Minister of the Interior is still Efkan Ala,, who used to be Governor of Diyarbakir and Batman and has been a Minister since 2013. The Finance minister remains the Kurdish Economist Mehmet Şimşek (since 2009), Justice remains the jurist and theologian Bekir Bozdağ [since 2013). Taner Yıldız remains Minister of Energy and natural Resources (since 2009), Mehmet Muezzinoğlu remains at Health (since 2013), Nabi Avci at National Education (since 2013) and Omer Çelik at the Ministry of Culture and Toutism (the same). Nihat Zeybekçi remains at the Ministry of Economics, Lütfi Elvan remains at Transport and Communications and Ayşenur Islam is in charge of Family and Social Policy, Idris Güllüce of Environment and Town Planning.
The Minister of agriculture is the former Member of Parliament for Diyarbekir, Mehmet Mehdi Eker, who is a newcomer to the Cabinet, as are Faruk Çelik, at Labour and Social Security and Avrukan Bozkır at the European Union Department and , Nurettin Canikli at Customs and Foreign Trade. The Defence Minister is Ismet Yılmaz (in office since 2011) wnile Fikri İşık heads Science, Industry and Technology (since 2013) and Veysel Eroğlu remains at the Ministry of Water and Forests (since2013).
“Schlomo the Kurd”, a novel by the writer Samir Naqqash has been translated from Arabic and has just been published by Galaade publishers who present the author in these terms:
“Samir Naqqash was born in Baghdad in 1938. His was one of those Jewish families who were forced to leave Iraq in the 50s. He was a teenager when he found himself in Israel, but he never felt at home in that country. Indeed, he felt as if expelled from the paradise where he had spent his childhood: Baghdad. Thus he never forgave the States of Iraq and Israel for having abandoned the most ancient of Jewish Diasporas. He tried to leave Israel several times to go to Iran, India, Turkey, Lebanon, Egypt and England. However, he always ended up by returning to Israel, where he died in a Tel Aviv suburb.
Samir Naqqash always considered himself an Iraqi writer in exile.
His distinctive characteristic is that of having made the difficult choice of writing in Arabic, which makes him a most atypical Israeli writer. This choice cut him of both from a potential readership in Israel and an Arabic readership because he was a Jew.
Thus his work has, unfortunately, remained for a narrow readership — little read in the Arab world, even though he is greatly appreciated by many contemporary Iraqi writers and some Arab intellectuals and just as little read in Israel apart from the Jewish community of Iraqi origin. Only one of his books has been translated into Hebrew. Nevertheless, Neguib Mahfouz, a Nobel Prize-winner for Literature, considered him “one of the greatest authors writing in Arabic today”.
Several research workers have stressed the importance of spoken Arabic in Samir Naqqash’s work, since in his shot stories he sometimes uses the standard Iraq Arabic dialect (that which really is used by the Moslem community) and sometimes the Jewish community dialect.
Samir Naqqash is the author of a substantial body of work — a dozen works in several different
genres — novels, collections of short stories, plays. His written works are all in Arabic, published in Israel or in Germany (Al-Kamel Verlag, Cologne) were all written after his arrival in Israel. He was also a translator from Hebrew into Arabic.
“Shlomo the Kurd” is his last novel”.
Galaade publishing gave these reasons for their choice of this translation and publication:
“Why have we wanted, at any price, to publish this book in French since 2005? If only because Shlmo the Kurd is rather Shlomo Kattani the Kurd, also called Abu Salman, tossed about by History between Kurdistan, Teheran, Baghdad, Bombay and Ramat Gan from 1914 to 1985 tells us, in the style of the Arabian Nights, the trials and tribulations of a new Sinbad in these Oriental lands whose borders have changed as they grappled with the influences, trends and opportunities of trade and exploration, of colonialism then communism while the West was going through the First and Second World Wars.
Because this book is a magnificent novel about exile and international existence while marking its place in the history of literature. Because it explores the spoken dialects of both the Moslem and Jewish communities of Baghdad while throwing a light on the relations of the Iraqi-born writer, Samir Naqqash, with modern Hebrew and raises, with humour, the issue of the relation between language and identity. Because I love the ups and down of Shlomo, who speaks Aramean, Kurdish, Persian, Russia and manages to get bye in Arabic, Hindi and even English, yet reads Biblical Hebrew. Because Shlmo is Jewish, Kurdish and a trader. Because he is in love. And when I read Samir Naqqash’s Shlomo he Kurd, its Jewish and Arab voice I think of Anton Shammas or Sayed Kashua who also made a choice of a language. I love the way Samir Naqqash takes us on a journey into a world that has disappeared, which is somewhat like what Abdulrazak Gurnah tells us about Zanzibar, or Yoel Hoffmann\s Bernard, Hakan Günday’s Ziyan or Patrick Deville in Equatoria.”
A review by Quatrième de Couverture:
“Here is a beautiful story, an “Iranian Nights”. I would like to return to the capital of Harun al-Rashid. I still remember how I was driven out of Baghdad against my will together with other Iranian Jews.”
Shlomo the Kurd was written in golden letters above door stall in Baghdad market. His name is Shlomo Kattani the Kurd, he is also called Abu Salman. He speaks Aramean, Kurdish, Persian, Russia and manages to get bye in Arabic, Hindi and even English, yet reads Biblical Hebrew. Shlomo is a Jew, a Kurd and a trader. From 1914 to 1986, he is tossed around by history between Sablakh-Mahabad, Teheran, Bagdad, Istanbul, Bombay and Ramat Gan. He experiences success then failure; travels through a century of which he is a new Sinbad.
Shlomo the Kurd is also a sublime love story, linking Shlomo to his two wives, Esmer and Esther; it is an incredible epic between the Orient and Europe with a series of ups and downs between The Ottoman Empire under English occupation or a Soviet period, told with nostalgia, impertinence and humour.
This last novel by Samir Naqqash “one of the greatest authors writing in Arabic today” according to Naguib Mahfouz, Shlomo the Kurd is, essentially the tale of Paradise Lost where distances and times create the space indispensible for the unknown, for adventure and the wildest dreams. A magnificent novel about exile and internationality.