Iraq Theater

Outrage in Turkey over atrocities against Kurds

Authorities in Turkey's eastern Muş province have launched an investigation into the distribution of photos on social media showing the dead and mutilated body of a woman believed to be a militant of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). (See map) The governor's office confirmed that the woman in the picture was PKK militant Kevser Eltürk AKA Ekin Wan, who was killed in a clash with Turkish security forces on Aug. 10 in Muş' Varto district. The picture shows a naked woman, apparently dead, lying on the ground with bruises and blood visible on her body. Three men, whose faces are not seen, are seen standing near the body. Eltürk appeared to have finally been strangled, according to Democratic Regions' Party (DBP) regional co-chair Hamiyet Şahin, who washed the militant's body in preparation for burial. A protest march over the incident Aug. 16 was followed by a sit-in protest organized by the DBP that drew Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) deputies Gülser Yıldırım and Enise Güneyli. (Al Arabiya News, Aug. 19; Hurriyet Daily News, Aug. 17)

Iraq: Kakai militia prepares to fight ISIS

The Kurdish news agency Rudaw reports Aug. 28 that the First Kakai Battalion of the Peshmerga, a 630-strong force made up entirely of members of the Kakai religious minority, is preparing to go into battle against ISIS along the frontline near Daquq—and protests that they are being denied the weaponry they need. When ISIS swept into northern Iraq last year, commander Farhad Nezar Kakai urged the Kurdistan Regional Government to establish the Kakai force to defend the minority's nine villages near the frontline in Kirkuk governorate. "After the catastrophe of Shingal, we felt that same thing could happen to Kakais," Nezar told Rudaw, referring to the massacre of thousands of Yazidis at Mount Sinjar (as it is more commonly rendered). The Kakai, like the Yazidis, are followers of a pre-Islamic faith, and targeted for extremination by ISIS.

Russia launches Syria intervention

Israel's YNet reports Aug. 31 that Russian fighter pilots are expected to begin arriving in Syria in the coming days, to begin sorties against ISIS and rebel forces. The report cites diplomatic sources to the effect that "a Russian expeditionary force has already arrived in Syria and set up camp in an Assad-controlled airbase. The base is said to be in area surrounding Damascus, and will serve, for all intents and purposes, as a Russian forward operating base. In the coming weeks thousands of Russian military personnel are set to touch down in Syria, including advisors, instructors, logistics personnel, technical personnel, members of the aerial protection division, and the pilots who will operate the aircraft."

ISIS named in new Syria chemical attack

Independent aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) reported Aug. 25 that it had treated four members of a Syrian family who suffered from breathing difficulties and developed blisters after a mortar hit their home in Marea, Aleppo governorate. The Syrian American Medical Society also reported receiving 50 patients showing symptoms of chemical exposure in the same area. Local rebels said the shells were fired from an ISIS-held village to the east. A spokesman for one rebel group, the Shami Front, told the New York Times that half of the 50 mortars and artillery rounds that hit Marea contained sulphur mustard. The powerful irritant and blistering agent —commonly known as "mustard gas" but actually liquid at ambient temperature—causes severe damage to the skin, eyes and respiratory system.

Kurdish diva wages culture war on ISIS

Kurdish-American pop singer Helly Luv travelled to northern Iraq where she donned a Peshmerga uniform and visited the frontline against ISIS to gyrate before the cameras in a video for a song dubbed "Revolution," offering encouragement to the Kurdish fighters: "Stand up, we are united; together we can survive it... Brothers and sisters we all come from one; Different religions we share the same blood." This has of course won her death threats from ISIS—we can imagine how upset the jihadists must be by a video combining Luv's unabashed sexuality with glorification of the anti-ISIS fighters. She also issued an appeal to President Obama to directly arm the Peshmerga—something he still hasn't done, although various European leaders have. "If we can give the Peshmerga the weapons, they can destroy the enemy. Even right now, they don't have strong weapons, but they're still winning," Helly said.

Syria war toll passes quarter million

Nearly a quarter of a million people have died in Syria's war since March 2011, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR). The organiztion said Aug. 7 that the number of documented deaths had risen to 240,381 from 230,618 in June. Of these, 71,781 have been civilians and 11,964 children, the group found. 50,570 were soldiers or fighters allied with the regime. The toll for rebel fighters was put at 43,384 and foreign fighters (apparently counted separately) at 34,375. The 30,000 who have gone missing in Syria, including the 20,000 said to be held in regime prisons, were not counted in the toll. (The Telegraph, Aug. 8; Al Jazeera, Aug. 7)

Mass protests shake Baghdad regime

Following weeks of mounting protests over economic conditions and corruption, tens of thousands took to the streets of Baghdad Aug. 7, filling Tahrir Square to demand basic services including electricity in the midst of a crushing heat-wave. The protest had the support of all Iraq's Shi'ite factions—in a challenge to Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi from his own constituency. Even parliament speaker Saleem al-Jubouri called on Abadi to dismiss of a number of ministers accused of corruption related to a budget-cutting package that just passed, under pressure from fallling oil prices. Large protests were also reported from across Iraq's Shi'ite south, including in the cities of Basra, Najaf, Karbala and Nasiriyah. A week earlier, secular and left-wing groups held a smaller protest in Tahrir Square. But the leftists also had a contingent at the Aug. 7 march, chanting "Secularism, secularism, no to Sunni, no to Shia." (In Defense of Marxism, Aug. 10; AP, Aug. 7)

PKK-aligned Yazidi militia battles ISIS

An Aug. 7 account on Daily Beast reports that young Yazidis—including women—are returning to the Mount Sinjar area of Iraq from which they were "cleansed" by ISIS last year, and fighting to reclaim their homeland from the jihadists. They also hope to rescue hundreds of Yazidi women and youth who remain in ISIS captivity. They are organized in a militia called the Sinjar Protection Units (YBS), which the article portrays as trained by and in the political orbit of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). Young Yazidi fighters are quoted saying they feel betrayed by the Peshmerga of Iraq's Kurdistan Regional Government, which they say abandoned them to ISIS. But we've noted before the problemetic nature of Daily Beast's reportage on Syria and Iraq, and this is no exception. The PKK is called a "Marxist and allegedly terrorist organization" (the word "allegedly" apparently having been added after publication, to go by the cache as it appears on Facebook). It states that the PKK was "[b]uilt on Marxist-Leninist ideals and Kurdish nationalism," without stating that it has in recent years moved away from both towards an anarchist-influenced politics.

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