Middle East: Iraqis sceptical about war on ISIL

Since last June, ISIL has overrun large parts of northern and western Iraq [Al Jazeera]

Since last June, ISIL has overrun large parts of northern and western Iraq [Al Jazeera]

Erbil, Iraq – Samih Radhwan, 26, is playing a game on his phone as he awaits his turn at a barbershop in Erbil’s Havalan neighbourhood.

Seven years ago, he and his family moved to Erbil in Iraq’s northern Kurdish region from Baghdad and settled in this neighbourhood, which has a large population that fled sectarian conflict in other parts of the country.

Although a Sunni Arab, he says he does not approve of the actions of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) despite its claims to be an advocate for Sunni rights in Iraq and the broader region.

“What they do is something that one can only expect in an extremely horrifying movie,” says Radhwan as he rubs his neatly trimmed and fashionable beard. “Our tragedy is that this is all actually real and happening.”

Since last June, ISIL has overrun large parts of northern and western Iraq and established itself as the de facto authority in most parts of the country’s Sunni-dominated governorates. The group’s dramatic rise in Iraq was in large part aided by the strong resentment that many average Sunnis felt toward the policies of former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s government, which was perceived to privilege members of Iraq’s Shia communities.

“ISIL is only one side of this game,” Radhwan said. “What about those other groups and militias and people in the government who pushed many Sunnis to support ‘Daesh’,” he adds, using the term Iraqis often use to describe ISIL.

Radhwan’s family has first-hand experience with sectarian brutality and his words amplify the grievances and misgivings of many Sunni Arabs about siding with the Iraqi government in the fight against ISIL.A few months before his family left their home in a Baghdad suburb, one of his uncles, a local store-owner, was abducted by a militia group for sectarian reasons. He was released three months later after a hefty ransom was paid by Radhwan’s family. They managed to collect the amount by borrowing money from relatives and friends.Sunnis have accused Maliki of deliberately attempting to marginalise and undermine them by viewing Sunnis in strictly sectarian terms.

Some Sunni Arab tribes and members of the Awakening Council are fighting alongside the Iraqi coalition against ISIL. But the majority of Sunni tribes have so far refused to turn against the group. Many of them want assurances that if they help expel ISIL from Iraq, the Iraqi government will honour its word and grant Sunnis more power and control over the regions in which they are populous.

In Tairawa neighbourhood, less than a kilometre from Erbil’s millennia-old citadel, Saman Salim, a 31-year-old teacher, is sharing a moment of relaxation with a friend as they eat ice cream.

“If you ask me, I’d say everyone should fight ‘Daesh’,” he says. “We have seen what they do and how they rule… Everyone needs to do more, the [Kurdish forces] Peshmerga, Iraqi army and the Americans.”

But even if they [ISIL] are defeated, there is little trust between the Sunnis and the government and even the Kurds and Baghdad… Problems will continue anyway in some shape and form.

– Saman Salim, Erbil resident

For many Kurds, ISIL was the last thing they needed. While the local economy had considerably slowed down since February when Maliki cut off the Kurdish government’s budget, ISIL’s emergence and swift attacks on Kurdish-held territory represented an existential threat.

But Salim does not believe that ISIL will be defeated easily.

“They are strong and many of them will fight to the end,” he said. “But even if they [ISIL] are defeated, there is little trust between the Sunnis and the government and even the Kurds and Baghdad… Problems will continue anyway in some shape or form.”

Observers say that had it not been for the US air strikes and military support from western nations and Iran, Kurds would have faced an extremely challenging task to fight ISIL on their own as the group is far better equipped than its Kurdish rivals.

Iraqi Kurds, speaking to Al Jazeera, have been unsettled by the unfolding events on the other side of the border in Syria as ISIL has laid siege and attacked the Kurdish-dominated area of Kobani, or Ayn al-Arab in northern Syria. Some estimates point out that as many as 200,000 civilians have fled their homes in Kobani.

For Iraqi Kurds, who have been repeatedly displaced in the past few decades, such scenes are all painful reminders of their past and hint at what might have happened if ISIL had not been stopped when they reached around 30km south west of Erbil last summer.



Erbil is now home to tens of thousands of internally displaced people who were driven out of their homes by ISIL’s offensives in northern Iraq.

Ainkawa, a Christian-dominated suburb in the northern part of the city, hosts dozens of families that hastily abandoned their homes in the historic Nineveh plains when ISIL fighters marched towards the area in August. Um Asma, 33, is one of them. She currently resides in an unfinished building.

“May God bless anyone who can rid us of those criminals,” she says waiving her hands passionately. “We have nothing now. We lost everything we had… Why do we have to see so much misery?”

ISIL’s onslaught in Nineveh plains has been particularly costly for the religious minorities there. It’s believed that for the first time since the advent of Christianity in Iraq nearly 2,000 years ago, Mosul, a historically significant city for Christians, is almost empty of its Christian population.

In Sinjar near the Syrian border, the militants are believed to have killed hundreds of the followers of the ancient Mesopotamian Yazidi religion and kidnapped many Yazidi women. Tens of thousands of Yazidis fled their homes as they got word of ISIL’s assault fearing the group’s brutality and proselytising zeal.

Ghanim Elias used to be a teacher in his hometown of Bashika northeast of Mosul, leading a quiet life with other people in the mixed Yazidi, Christian, and Muslim town. He is now in Erbil along with hundreds of other Yazidis and acts as a community leader trying to attract aid for members of his displaced community.

“This is the beginning of the end for ‘Daesh’ [ISIL],” he says. “The campaign should have started earlier.”

Khero Farhan, another Yazidi who fled his hometown of Sinjar shortly before ISIL reached there, is now a refugee in Dohuk, a city around a couple of hundred kilometres north of Erbil.

Seeing how the group has operated, he doubts victory can be achieved any time soon. “It’s going to take a lot of time and power for Daesh to be beaten,” says the 40-year-old man.

“Without international and American support, the Iraqi and [Kurdish] Peshmerga forces cannot do this alone. Daesh has surprised them with its power… Its fighters do not run away from death.”

 

 

More US raids as ISIL advances in Syria

Kurds have watched the fighting from the Turkish side of the border over the last two weeks [AP]

Kurds have watched the fighting from the Turkish side of the border over the last two weeks [AP]

Aljazeera – 1 October 2014

ISIL had continued closing in on the town near the Turkish border, despite multiple US air strikes on Tuesday The US defence department said it could not “bomb the militants into obscurity”.

US-led forces have carried out at least five air strikes against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) outside  Kobane, a monitoring group has said, after the group’s fighters pushed to within 2km of the Syrian-Kurdish town.

The strikes on Wednesday hit ISIL fronts south and southeast of the town, also known as Ain al-Arab , which the group has been battling to take for more than two weeks, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

ISIL had continued closing in on the town near the Turkish border, despite multiple US air strikes on Tuesday, as the US defence department said it could not “bomb the militants into obscurity”.”No oneshould be lulled into a false sense of security by accurate air strikes,” the department’s spokesman, John Kirby, said. “We will not, we cannot bomb them into obscurity.”The US and UK also bombed ISIL positions in Iraq as Kurdish peshmerga forces launched a ground assault on Tuesday.

A long-term effort will be needed to train and arm Syrian rebel forces and strengthen Iraq’s army, he said.

Tuesday’s advance was the closest ISIL had come to Kobane since it began an advance nearly two weeks ago, sending tens of thousands of mostly Kurdish refugees fleeing across the border.

NATO member Turkey, after months of caution in the fight against ISIL, has decided to harden its policy, and the government asked parliament on Tuesday to authorise military action against them in Iraq and Syria.

Politicians are due to debate a motion on Thursday that deputy prime minister Bulent Arinc said would “meet all the demands and eliminate the risks and threats”.

Turkey has remained silent about what its intervention would entail, but Arinc indicated the parliamentary mandate would be kept as broad as possible to allow the government freedom to decide.

In a separate development, three car bombs killed at least 13 people and wounded 41 in Shia-dominated areas of the Iraqi capital Baghdad on Tuesday, police and hospital sources said.

IRAQ IN TURMOIL

Two bombs in Baghdad have killed 21 people and injured 59 in an attack on a busy marketplace in Jediydah, a Shia area in the south of city. Al Jazeera’s Imran Khan, reporting from the city, said the first blast was an IED. The second was a bomb inside a parked vehicle. The explosions happened about 15 minutes ago, so Al Jazeera will update when more information is available.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

‘We will fight Daesh’ – Middle East soon in chaos?

Around 160,000 civilians have fled the town of Ain al-Arab and its surrounding area for Turkey [Reuters]

Around 160,000 civilians have fled the town of Ain al-Arab and its surrounding area for Turkey [Reuters]

Aljazeera – 30 Sept 2014

 

Violence in Ain al-Arab has prompted many Kurdish Syrians to flee to Turkey, but others are returning to battle ISIL.

Mursitpinar, Turkey – Dangling a thick plastic bag that carries many 250ml water bottles, eight-year-old Ali, a Syrian refugee who is now on the Turkish border, looks around to offer water to worried-looking men.

“Take it,” he insists, as hundreds of Kurdish men, women and children – some sitting on the ground and others standing – watch a battle unfold mere kilometres away between the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and Kurdish fighters in Ain al-Arab, called Kobane by the Kurds.

Ali’s father and older cousins are among the Kurdish group across the border. “They are not trained and have never picked up a gun, but they are helping the [Kurdish] fighters in whatever way they can,” said Ali’s 34-year-old mother, who crossed to the Turkish side of the border for her own protection.

As ISIL fighters rampaged towards the town of Ain al-Arab after taking more than 100 surrounding small villages in the past week, People’s Protection Units (YPG) fighters have resisted them. The YPG is a Kurdish rebel group operating on Syrian territory; it is primarily the only Kurdish group fighting ISIL, although some sources say Syrian rebels who fought against Assad are aiding them.

Echoes of gunfire frequently ring through the sky, while Kurds in the Turkish district of Suruc cheer on their brethren. “Kobane! Kobane!” they cry as the Kurds fire on ISIL. Passing pairs of binoculars around, they all take turns to spot black-clad ISIL fighters on one side and Kurds on the other – although in some areas, the battle is so close they do not need binoculars.

Daesh [ISIL] is not just our enemy; it is the enemy of the world, and the Kurds need help in this fight. ~ Ayla Akat, member of the Turkish BDP party

Earlier on Monday, activists told Al Jazeera that ISIL fighters were within five kilometres of Ain al-Arab. Intensified shelling in and around Ain al-Arab has angered Kurds on the Turkish side of the border, who said the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was not doing enough to stop the assault. Turkish tanks have been sent to hills overlooking Ain al-Arab, while a US-led coalition intensified its bombing of ISIL in northern and eastern Syria. At least 15 tanks were positioned, some with their guns pointing towards Syrian territory.

Both Turkish and Syrian-Kurdish fighters have been defending Ain al-Arab against ISIL, while around 160,000 civilians have fled the town and surrounding area for Turkey. “The Turkish government has not helped us. I ask them why,” said Adem Mehmoud, a Turkish Kurd who has family in Ain al-Arab.

Kurdish fighters do not have enough weapons to match ISIL’s heavy artillery, but they say they are determined. Some YPG fighters say that, without support from the Turkish government to fight ISIL, they have produced their own weapons. There is a long history of tension between Kurds and the Turkish government, with Turkey resisting the creation of an independent Kurdistan. But with mass killings on the Syrian side of the border and an exodus of Kurdish refugees, there are high hopes that the Turkish government will ultimately cooperate with Kurds in the fight.
“We want the Turkish government to help us save innocent Kurds, and the US and international community to help our fighters,” said Ayla Akat Ata, a member of the Turkish BDP party. “Daesh [ISIL] is not just our enemy; it is the enemy of the world, and the Kurds need help in this fight.”
The Turkish government, however, did not respond to Al Jazeera’s requests for comment.

Meanwhile, thousands of Syrian refugees have been allowed to enter Turkey, with the UN refugee agency suggesting it is possible the entire town of Ain al-Arab, population 400,000, could flee to Turkey.

“This is an existential battle for both Syrian and Turkish Kurds, who have in the past fought many battles for Kurdistan,” Ismat Sheikh Hassan, defence chief of Ain al-Arab, told Al Jazeera. “ISIL is a new but harsher enemy in their fight, and like in most occasions, we are fighting alone.”
From the Turkish border, ISIL fighters are easily visible on the eastern and western borders of Ain al-Arab. “The fight has been hard throughout the week,” and often continues after sunset, Sheikh Hassan said. Syrian refugees who escaped to the Turkish side tell tales of heavy clashes at night; while they can re-enter Ain al-Arab any time, Turkey’s military controls the influx on the Turkish side. One journalist who tried crossing the border told Al Jazeera, on condition of anonymity: “We want to go in and be able to cover the war from inside, but the Turkish military will deport us immediately on our way back. We will not be able to enter the country for at least two years.”

On Saturday, US-led air strikes also hit ISIL targets in Ain al-Arab. Ashraf Ali, a YPG fighter who crossed the border to Suruc after getting injured in a fight in Ain al-Arab on Friday, noted: “There is not a single help by the US or any other external party. The air strikes are in the area where Daesh is headquartered and no one is fighting them. Who will help us in this fight?”

US Central Command said an ISIL building and two “armed vehicles” were destroyed at the Ain al-Arab border crossing, while other strikes were also carried out in other parts of Syria and northern Iraq, hitting ISIL targets.

Last week, Abdullah Ocalan, the imprisoned leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), called for a mass conscription against ISIL. “I call on all Kurdish people to start an all-out resistance against this high-intensity war,” he said from prison on September 22, via his lawyer.

Within days, more than 200 Kurdish youth from Turkey and Syria in Mursitpinar had sworn allegiance to Ocalan, who has led many fights against Turkey for an independent Kurdistan.

“We want freedom for the Kurds,” hundreds of youth chanted after pledging their allegiance. “We will fight the Daesh.”

Later on Friday, fences lining the border of Turkey and Syria in Ain al-Arab were taken down by vigorous youth, and about 1,500 Kurdish men, women and children crossed into Ain al-Arab. They were received by YPG fighters. Some told Al Jazeera they had come to Turkey as refugees, but had now decided to return and join the fight against ISIL.

A Kurdish commander who fought ISIL when it approached Ain al-Arab last week, was helping to facilitate the flow of Syrians back into their hometown. “The Daesh had progressed within 15km of our city, and then we fought hard and sent them back. I will go again to fight,” he said on condition of anonymity.

Ali Cubuci, a 29-year-old Turkish Kurd who helped break the fences, added: “It’s better to die fighting ISIL to protect our land, than to die in a country that has never recognised us.”

Those re-entering Ain al-Arab to fight ISIL include women, elderly men and untrained fighters. “I will help in the logistics, whatever I can do to aid the fighters to protect us from Daesh,” Burhan Abdullah, a 34-year-old schoolteacher who has never picked up a gun, told Al Jazeera.

More than a dozen Kurdish parliamentarians also arrived at the Ain al-Arab border crossing to show support. “Most of these fighters are not trained, but the fighters in Ain al-Arab will train whomever they deem fit,” said BDP member Mehmet Emin Aman. “We are here to support them.”

Source: Al Jazeera