Israel’s solidarity with the Kurds is duplicitous, not only because it also arms one of the Kurdish people’s biggest oppressors, but also because it supports their independence while denying millions of Palestinians that same right.
The Kurds have a saying that their only friend is the mountains, and in the past few weeks, US President Donald Trump and his deputy, Mike Pence, have seemed determined to prove them right.
Kurdish forces fought alongside Americans to defeat Islamic State at the cost of 11,000 of their young fighting men and women’s lives. Despite this, almost two weeks ago the United States withdrew the 1000 troops who were keeping the peace along the border with the Kurds’ long-time enemy, Turkey.
Ankara responded almost immediately by invading territory the Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces have effectively ruled over for several years.
On top of that, as is his habit, Trump insulted them. Their existential battle with Turkey “has nothing to do with us”, the President said, and Kurds were, by the way, “no angels”.
HOW CAN AUSTRALIA OR ANY OTHER NATION TRUST AMERICA WHEN PUSH COMES TO SHIVE. AUSTRALIA YOUR BEING CONNED TRUMP WON’T DO ANTHINGTO HELP IF YOUR CAUGHT BETWEEN A ROCK AND A HARD PLACE IT’S THE LEAST TRUSTED COUNTRY IN THE WORD TODAY. (ODT)
Trump appeared to address some of the concerns over his decision to withdraw support in northern Syria, tweeting Monday that he would “totally destroy” Turkey’s economy if its leaders did anything he considers to be “off limits.”
“The U.S. has done far more than anyone could have ever expected,” he wrote. “It is now time for others in the region, some of great wealth, to protect their own territory. THE USA IS GREAT!”
Trump tells the world he defeated ISIS (ODT)
The jets hit 18 targets in Maarrat Umm Hawsh, a region north of the city of Aleppo, the official news agency Anadolu said.The army claimed 160 to 200 militants f
Syrian Kurdish forces have been among the bravest and most effective in the war against ISIS in Syria. They may well be on course to also be the most treacherous.
ERBIL, Iraq — THE Islamic State continues to control a huge section of Syria. But in Iraq, its advance has stalled. While Shiite militias and their Iranian allies fight the Islamic State ferociously, the Kurds have held a 640-mile front against the Islamic State’s advance. Their steadfastness should prompt America to rethink its alliances and interests in the region and to deepen its relationship with the Kurds — who are sometimes described as the world’s largest stateless nation.
Last week, the Sunni town of Tikrit (Saddam Hussein’s hometown) fell to largely Shiite forces from Iraq, backed by Iran. An offensive to retake Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city and the heart of Arab Sunni nationalism, is now within reach. The Kurds plan to enter eastern Mosul, where many Kurds lived before the Islamic State seized the city in June, but they say that moderate Arab Sunnis must lead the effort to retake the rest of the city — not Baghdad’s predominantly Shiite forces or the Iranian-backed Shiite militias. The Kurds point out that it was grievances against Shiite rule that helped drive Sunni support for the Islamic State in the first place.
Together with Lydia Wilson and Hoshang Waziri, our colleagues at Artis, a nonprofit group that uses social science research to resolve intergroup violence, we found that the Kurds demonstrate a will to fight that matches the Islamic State’s. The United States needs to help them win.
In Kirkuk last week, where only a narrow canal separates Kurdish and Islamic State forces, we talked to three captured Islamic State fighters, and to their captors: Gen. Sarhad Qadir, the city’s Kurdish police chief, and his deputy, Col. Gazi Ali Rashid.
General Qadir, who lost a brother in earlier fighting, has been wounded 14 times in battles with Sunni militants, most recently in a suicide attack on Tuesday. The Islamic State recently paraded Colonel Rashid’s brother in a cage, along with other Kurds captured in a large-scale offensive that stalled in late January. Arab Sunni tribes have been trying to negotiate a prisoner exchange to signal to the Kurds that they are not all aligned with the Islamic State, but Colonel Rashid has no hope. “I know my brother will die,” he told us shortly before he was severely wounded on Tuesday.
The Islamic State prisoners most likely will be executed for having committed assassinations and deadly car bombings. The three are in their early 20s; two have wives and young children. None finished elementary school. They recounted growing up in the failed Iraqi state during the last decade: a hellish world of guerrilla war, disrupted families, constant fear and utter lack of hope. They see Iran and the Shiites as their greatest enemy but they also believe that America allowed them to oppress the Arab Sunni minority for the sake of majority rule.
When we asked the prisoners “What is Islam?” they answered “my life.” Yet it was clear that they knew little about the Quran, or Islamic history, other than what they’d heard from Al Qaeda and Islamic State propaganda. For them, the cause of religion is fused with the vision of a caliphate — a joining of political and religious rule — that kills or subjugates any nonbeliever.
The Kurds’ commitment to Islam is matched by their commitment to national identity; theirs is a more open-minded version of Islam. They have defended Yazidis and Christians, as well as Arab Sunnis, who make up the bulk of the more than one million displaced persons in Iraqi Kurdistan.
But perhaps what most reveals commitment by the Kurds is how they hold the line with so little material assistance.
On the night of Jan. 30, the Islamic State used the cover of fog to attack a Kurdish battalion near the town of Mahmour. Seven Kurds were killed immediately. Their colleagues said that if they had had night-vision goggles — or better yet, thermal-imaging scopes to also detect vehicles — all would most likely be alive. When we gave them a gift of our small, store-bought binoculars with which we had been watching Islamic State movements less than one mile away, they expressed deep gratitude. As we left, a mine went off as they moved earth to make a defensive wall, for there is no demining equipment.
To be sure, coalition airstrikes have prevented Islamic State forces from deploying heavy artillery to break Kurdish lines, although Gen. Sirwan Barzani, who commands the main front between Erbil and Mosul, told us that a Pentagon lawyer must approve every strike (a policy intended to minimize chances of civilian casualties from drone attacks). Sometimes, that approval comes too late.
With its big guns vulnerable to air attack, the Islamic State adapts its tactics, piercing Kurdish lines with suicide attacks in primitively armored vehicles. One Kurdish commando near the Mosul Dam showed us, on his smartphone, a video of the approach of a steel-hardened vehicle. No amount of rifle fire or rocket-propelled grenades could stop the attack, which killed 23 and wounded 40.
Yet the United States insists that the Kurds obtain permission, grudging and often denied, from the central government in Baghdad for essential equipment to counter these and better weapons that the Islamic State seized from the Syrian and Iraqi Armies.
Meanwhile, the Islamic State won’t quit. Their wounded fighters often booby trap their bodies rather than be captured, and face down fire to recover dead comrades’ bodies. The leaders they call emirs, who are chosen because of their religious devotion and fearless effectiveness, and their foreign fighters, are especially fierce. The Westerners often die in suicide attacks; seasoned fighters from North Africa and the Middle East, and particularly from former parts of the Soviet Union (like Chechnya, Uzbekistan, Dagestan), are prominent as operational leaders and snipers. Foreign fighters return to their countries only if they escape or are sent home, because the punishment for defection is death.
Local Syrians and Iraqis conscripted to fight for the Islamic State, in contrast, are not totally committed. In one conversation picked up by a Kurdish walkie-talkie, a fighter with a local accent asked for help: “My brother has been killed. I am surrounded. Help me take his body away.” The reply: “Perfect, you will join him soon in Paradise.” The fighter retorted: “Come for me. This Paradise, I don’t want.”
The Islamic State will say to a local sheikh: “Give us 20 young men or we loot your village.” To a father with three sons, they will say: “Give us one or we take your daughter as a bride for our men.” One girl of 15 told how she was “married” and “divorced” 15 times in a single night to a troop of Islamic State fighters (under some readings of Shariah law, “divorce” is as easy as repeating “I divorce you” three times, which makes it easy to cast rape as marriage). In the face of such brutality, wavering supporters of the Islamic State could well rally to an Arab Sunni force allied with the Kurds. That is a prospect the United States, which fears leaving the fight mainly to Iran and its allies, should welcome.
As we said goodbye at the front, a young Kurdish sniper promised us she would never abandon her comrades or their cause. Will the United States deny her people the means to counter the Islamic State — for the sake of upholding the costly illusion of an Iraqi nation-state, devised from three Ottoman provinces to fit British imperial desires but now hopelessly fragmented?
Kurdish leaders say they would accept a federated Iraqi state if they were given autonomy in political, economic and security matters. The United States should have agreed to do this long ago; it’s not too late to do so now. If America does not, Iraqi Kurdistan will most likely declare itself an independent state, which Turkey, Iran and Syria will move forcefully to stop, for fear that their own Kurdish populations will try to join it.
The United States must help the Kurds translate their bravery into a true ability to defeat the Islamic State. They are America’s most reliable friends on the ground, and should be treated as such.
In a bold move, Daesh (i.e. ISIL or ISIS) fighters moved Monday on Kirkuk and Erbil, two cities patrolled by the Iraqi Kurdistan paramilitary, the Peshmerga (those who stand before death).
Erbil is the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan. Kirkuk is an oil city and is disputed among Turkmen, Arabs and Kurds. If Daesh, based in Syria’s al Raqqah and in Iraq’s Mosul, could capture Kirkuk, it would gain a major source of oil income.
Daesh fighters were repelled, and some number killed, by the oddest coalition you’d ever want to see. The Kurdistan Peshmerga took the lead in defending Kurdistan, but they were joined by Iraqi government security forces and by Shiite militiamen who came up from the south. These forces were given close air support by the US Air Force.
Kurdish commanders announced that they had regained control of Kirkuk and had chased away the Daesh fighters.
The Peshmerga were aided in a number of battles by the Arab Shiite militiamen, recalling their coalition at Amerli, last fall. They had also collaborated in Diyala Province more recently.
Kurdistan President Massoud Barzani visited the front and stressed that any force willing to fight alongside the Peshmerga against Daesh is welcome.
Daesh fighters also tried to take villages near Erbil, the captial of Iraqi Kurdistan. They were repelled with the additional help of US fighter jets. Dozens died in this fighting.
The cooperation achieved between the Shiite “popular forces” militias and the Peshmerga may not have been unprecedented, but it did refute observers who had predicted an Arab-Kurdish fight.
Kirkuk has an Arab population, including some Shiites, along with Turkmen Shiites– who contest Kurdish insistence on annexing it to Kurdistan. Barzani appears to have earlier been threatened by the Shiite paramilitaries’ approach. He warned that he would not let them come into Kirkuk.
His warning was in part a reply to the leader of the extremist Shiite militia, the League of the Righteous (Asa’ib Ahl al-Haqq), who had complained of the “Kurdishization” of Kirkuk. Hadi al-Ameri, head of the Badr Corps, another Shiite militia, also pledged to come into Kirkuk. The largely Shiite Iraqi army deserted its posts in Kirkuk last June, leaving the Peshmerga (who had conducted joint patrols with the army) in charge of the oil city. The Shiite militias appeared to wish to replace the Iraqi troops, laying down a marker on Arab interest in Kirkuk, which has de facto been annexed by Kurdistan.
As Daesh approached, Barzani abruptly changed his tune and welcomed the Shiite militias with open arms. (It is not impossible that Iran played a behind the scenes role in getting Barzani and the Shiites to make up. Iran supports both Iraqi Kurdistan and the Shiite militias.
This tension tells us two things. 1) The potential for further Kurdish-Shiite tension is there. And, 2), both sides are for the moment pragmatic enough to bury the hatchet in the breast of their common foe.
Women and girls living in Syria and Iraq have been subject to gross sexual violence, economic strife and the psychological trauma of a war that, to them, seems endless. But women in these countries are not just victims of violence, they are also great agents for change. These women should be our best allies in the fight against Islamic State.
We have seen reporting on female Kurdish fighters; women who were university students, mothers and grandmothers. But women are not just taking up arms. Though missing from the news, women in Syria and Iraq are also working towards peace. For example, in the suburbs of Damascus, a women’s group negotiated a 40-day ceasefire between regime and opposition forces to allow the passage of essential supplies.
The US-led international coalition needs to go beyond seeing women as passive victims of this war. Instead, it needs to connect with these women, whose work is central to long-term stabilisation and peace in Syria and Iraq.
What is the world doing to help these women?
Nearly eight in ten of the 6.8 million people who have been displaced by the conflict in Syria are women and children. The United Nations has appealed for more than US$2.2 billion to meet critical humanitarian needs of displaced people, but the international community has committed only one-third of what is needed.
Gender concerns are being integrated into humanitarian planning and programming, but women and girls still face huge challenges.
The International Rescue Committee recently completed a large survey of Syrian women and girls. When asked “what are the biggest challenges you are facing?”, the most common responses related to the daily reality of sexual exploitation and harassment:
Constantly fearful, women and girls told us about extreme levels of harassment.
… some 1500 Yazidi and Christian persons may have been forced into sexual slavery.
When sexual violence is used as a weapon of war, the social fabric needed to recover from conflict is threatened. Even the UN Security Council has stated in the past that sexual violence:
… can significantly exacerbate situations of armed conflict and may impede the restoration of international peace and security.
The women leaders we could be supporting
There is increasing acknowledgement that victory against Islamic State will take more than just dropping bombs. We know from recent experiences in Afghanistan that violent extremism thrives in places where governance and the rule of law are virtually non-existent. There, military analysts knew that coalition forces were being out-governed by the Taliban.
Local community leaders in Syria now fear that people will become radicalised in places where there is no employment, education or other opportunities. But there can be no stability if we do not address the security concerns of half the population.
October 31 marks the 14th anniversary of the landmark UN Security Council Resolution 1325 that formalised women’s participation and protection as a priority of international peace and security. It was the first in a suite of seven resolutions to acknowledge the disproportionate impact of conflict on women and girls.
That resolution obliges member states not just to protect women from sexual violence, but also to increase their participation in prevention, mitigation and resolution of conflict.
In Iraq, women like Shatha Naji Hussein work to secure the right for women to build a safer future. It’s a two-way process between civil society and government to empower women to bring about positive change in their communities. It’s women like this that the international community need to support in the fight against Islamic State.
We need to support women like Honey Al Sayed, who is promoting leadership and tolerance in Syria by communicating positive messages at the grassroots level, particularly to youth groups. She co-founded the online radio station Radio SouriaLi, which promotes civic engagement, community development and responsible citizenship, under the motto “Unity in Diversity”.
Only with local leadership can there be effective conflict resolution and transition. Women like Afra Jalabi, who started The Day After Project, have developed plans for a post-conflict, democratic Syria.
The Syrian Women’s League has conducted a comparative assessment of constitutions in the region to establish a set of guiding principles for a new Syrian constitution.
What Australia and our allies can do
At the Annual Civil Society Dialogue on Women, Peace and Security on September 23, Australia’s Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Women, Senator Michaelia Cash, said:
… there are countless other women who have the skills and capabilities to participate in peace-building and peacekeeping. But they are denied the opportunity. This must be remedied.
Having made military commitments to the conflict with Islamic State, the Australian government now needs to prioritise the commitments made in the Australian National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security 2012-2018. It is a whole-of-government policy, which has bipartisan support.
One of the strategies of the National Action Plan is to “take a co-ordinated and holistic approach” to women, peace and security.
Of course, Australia and our allies need to invest in the protection of women and girls affected by the conflict in Syria and northern Iraq. But as Cash rightly pointed out, women are not merely victims in this conflict: they also have vital skills and local knowledge.
To defeat Islamic State in the long run, the world needs to support Iraqi and Syrian women to be more actively involved in conflict mitigation, resolution and peace processes. Australia could be doing more – and we need to be pushing our allies to do the same.
(Reuters) – A convoy of peshmerga fighters from northern Iraq headed across southeastern Turkey on Wednesday towards the Syrian town of Kobani to try to help fellow Kurds break an Islamic State siege which has defied U.S.-led air strikes.
Kobani, on the border with Turkey, has been under assault for more than a month and its fate has become a test of the U.S.-led coalition’s ability to combat the Sunni Muslim insurgents.
Weeks of air strikes on Islamic State positions around Kobani and the deaths of hundreds of their fighters have failed to break the siege. The Kurds and their international allies hope the arrival of the peshmerga, along with heavier weapons, can turn the tide.
The Kurdish fighters were given a heroes’ welcome as their convoy of jeeps and flatbed trucks, some bearing heavy machineguns, snaked its way for around 400 km (250 miles) through Turkey’s mostly Kurdish southeast after crossing the border from northern Iraq.
The presence of Kurdish forces passing with government permission through a part of Turkey which has seen a three-decade insurgency by local Kurdish PKK militants was an extraordinary sight for many residents.
Villagers set bonfires, let off fireworks and chanted by the side of the road as the convoy passed. Thousands took to the streets of the border town of Suruc, descending on its tree-lined main square and spilling into side streets, some with faces painted in the colors of the Kurdish flag.
“All the Kurds are together. We want them to go and fight in Kobani and liberate it,” said Issa Ahamd, an 18-year-old high school student among the almost 200,000 Syrian Kurds who have fled to Turkey since the assault on Kobani began.
An initial group of between 90 and 100 peshmerga fighters arrived by plane amid tight security in the nearby city of Sanliurfa early on Wednesday, according to Adham Basho, a member of the Syrian Kurdish National Council from Kobani.
Saleh Moslem, co-chair of the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), said the peshmerga were expected to bring heavy arms to Kobani – known as Ayn al-Arab in Arabic.
“It’s mainly artillery, or anti-armor, anti-tank weapons,” he said. The lightly armed Syrian Kurds have said such weaponry is crucial to driving back Islamic State insurgents, who have used armored vehicles and tanks in their assault.
Kurdistan’s Minister of Peshmerga, Mustafa Sayyid Qader, told local media on Tuesday that no limits had been set to how long the forces would remain in Kobani. The Kurdistan Regional Government has said the fighters would not engage in direct combat in Kobani but rather provide artillery support.
Islamic State has caused international alarm by capturing large expanses of Iraq and Syria, declaring an Islamic “caliphate” that erases borders between the two. Its fighters have slaughtered or driven away Shi’ite Muslims, Christians and other communities who do not share their ultra-radical brand of Sunni Islam.
Fighters from the Nusra Front, al Qaeda’s official affiliate in the Syrian civil war, have meanwhile seized territory from moderate rebels in recent days, expanding their control into one of the few areas of northern Syria not already held by hardline Islamists.
Nearly 10 million people have been displaced by Syria’s war and close to 200,000 killed, according to the United Nations. A Syrian army helicopter dropped two barrel bombs on a displaced persons camp in the northern province of Idlib on Wednesday, killing many, camp residents said.
In Iraq, security forces said they had advanced to within 2 km (1.2 miles) of the city of Baiji on Wednesday in a new offensive to retake the country’s biggest oil refinery that has been besieged since June by Islamic State.
Islamic State has threatened to massacre Kobani’s defenders, triggering a call to arms from Kurds across the region.
The U.S. military conducted 14 air strikes on Tuesday and Wednesday against Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, according to a statement from U.S. Central Command. Eight of the raids destroyed Islamic State targets near Kobani, it said.
At least a dozen shells fired by Islamic State fighters fell on the town overnight as clashes with the main Syrian Kurdish armed group, the YPG, continued, according to the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
It said preparations were being made at a border gate which Islamic State fighters have repeatedly tried to capture before the arrival of the peshmerga, while YPG and Islamic State forces exchanged fire in gun battles on the southern edge of the town.
The Observatory also said 50 Syrian fighters had entered Kobani from Turkey with their weapons, though it was unclear which group they belonged to. Turkey has pushed for moderate Syrian rebels fighting President Bashar al-Assad to join the battle against Islamic State in Kobani.
Rebel commander Abdul Jabbar al-Oqaidi said he had led 200 Free Syrian Army fighters into Kobani but there was no independent confirmation of this. The FSA describes dozens of armed groups fighting Assad but with little or no central command. It is widely outgunned by Islamist insurgents.
The Iraqi Kurdish region’s parliament voted last week to deploy some peshmerga forces to Syria and, under pressure from Western allies, Turkey agreed to let then cross its territory.
The United States and its allies in the coalition have made clear they do not plan to send troops to fight Islamic State in Syria or Iraq, but they need fighters on the ground to capitalize on their air strikes.
Syrian Kurds have called for the international community to provide them with heavier weapons and munitions and they have received an air drop from the United States.
But Turkey accuses Kurdish groups in Kobani of links to the militant PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party), which has fought the insurgency against the Turkish state and is regarded as a terrorist group by Ankara, Washington and the European Union.
That has complicated efforts to provide aid.
A Syrian Kurdish official said in Paris on Wednesday that France, which has taken part in air strikes in Iraq and given Iraqi peshmerga fighters weapons and training, had yet to fulfill a promise to give support to Kurds in Syria.
“France has said it was ready to help the Kurds, but we haven’t been received by the French authorities. There has been no direct or indirect contact,” Khaled Eissa, representative in France of the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), said.
French officials confirmed there had been no meetings in large part due to concern about historic links to the PKK.
Ankara fears Syria’s Kurds will exploit the chaos by following their brethren in Iraq and seeking to carve out an independent state in northern Syria, emboldening PKK militants in Turkey and derailing a fragile peace process.
The stance has enraged Turkey’s own Kurdish minority, about a fifth of the population and half of all Kurds across the region. Kurds suspect Ankara, which has refused to send in its forces to relieve Kobani, would rather see Islamic State jihadists extend their territorial gains than allow Kurdish insurgents to consolidate local power.
(Reuters) – American-led forces have sharply intensified air strikes in the past two days against Islamic State fighters threatening Kurds on Syria’s Turkish border after the jihadists’ advance began to destabilize Turkey.
War on the militants in Syria is threatening to unravel a delicate peace in neighboring Turkey where Kurds are furious with Ankara over its refusal to help protect their kin in Syria.
The plight of the Syrian Kurds in Kobani provoked riots among Turkey’s 15 million Kurds last week in which at least 35 people were killed.Turkish warplanes were reported to have attacked Kurdish rebel targets in southeast Turkey after the army said it had been attacked by the banned PKK Kurdish militant group, risking reigniting a three-decade conflict that killed 40,000 people before a ceasefire was declared two years ago.
“For the first time in nearly two years, an air operation was carried out against our forces by the occupying Turkish Republic army,” the PKK said. “These attacks against two guerrilla bases at Daglica violated the ceasefire,” the PKK said, referring to an area near the border with Iraq.
U.S. officials have expressed frustration at Turkey’s refusal to help them fight against Islamic State. Washington has said Turkey has agreed to let it strike from Turkish air base. Ankara has said that is still under discussion.
NATO-member Turkey has refused to join the coalition unless it also confronts Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a demand that Washington, which flies its air missions over Syria without objection from Assad, has so far rejected.
The unrest shows the difficulty Turkey has had in designing a Syria policy. Turkey has already taken in 1.2 million refugees from Syria’s three-year civil war, including 200,000 Kurds who fled the area around Kobani in recent weeks
The alliance is under its greatest strain in Turkey, which has met US requests to intervene in Kobani on behalf of Kurdish rebels not just with refusal, but with air strikes aimed instead against Kurdish groups in Turkey.
Turkish fighter jets bombarded Kurdistan Workers’ party (PKK) positions in south-eastern Turkey this week for the first time since the start of the peace process between the outlawed group and the Turkish government in 2012.
The attacks on the PKK came in the wake of violent clashes last week between Kurdish factions and security forces in several Turkish cities, as anger grows over perceived government inaction against the Isis attack on Kobani.
According to local media reports, the strikes came in retaliation for armed PKK offensives on several military outposts in the area.
The Turkish chief of general staff said the military “opened fire immediately in retaliation, in the strongest terms” after repeated PKK attacks in the area, and before air strikes were launched.
Iraq’s Shiite militia, Kurds use U.S. air strikes to further own agenda
Helped by the United States and Iran, Kurdish forces and Shi’ite militia are finally beating back Islamic State militants who overran most Sunni Arab areas in northern and central Iraq nearly three months ago.
But the aftermath illustrates the unintended consequences of the U.S. air campaign against Islamic State.
Kurdish and Shi’ite fighters have regained ground, but Sunni Muslims who fled the violence are being prevented from returning home.
Rather than help keep the nation together, the air strikes risk being used by different factions for their own advantage in Iraq’s sectarian and ethnic conflicts. Yet again with weapons supplied by the West.
The fallout also risks worsening grievances that helped Islamic State find support amongst Iraq’s Sunnis. It allows the militant group to portray the U.S. strikes as targeting their minority sect.
The unlikely coalition of Kurdish peshmerga fighters, Shi’ite militias and the U.S. air force have won for the moment. But the Sunni villagers,
“There is no way back for them: we will raze their homes to the ground,” said Abu Abdullah, a commander of the Shi’ite Kataib Hizbollah militia in Amerli.
The area is now held by Kurdish peshmerga and Shi’ite militia, who have become the most powerful forces on the ground, rather than the Iraqi army, whose northern divisions collapsed this summer when Islamic State attacked leaving the US weapons behind for IS.
Sunni civilians have now fled, fearing for their lives.
“If a regular army were holding the area we could return, but as long as the militias are there we cannot,” said a 30-year-old displaced Sunni resident “They would slaughter us on the spot.”
He admitted some villagers had supported IS, but said it was only one or two for every 70 to 80 households, and that the rest were innocent civilians who were too scared to stand against the militants or had nowhere else to go.
A non aligned family had their son kidnapped. The next time they saw him was in a video on the internet captioned “arrest of an Islamic State member”, which appears to show their son being beheaded by Shi’ite militia fighters.
“We cannot return. Even if the Shi’ite army and militia withdraw, Islamic State will come back and the same will happen all over again,” said the mother.
“Since there is no confidence between Sunni and Shi’ite any more, they need guarantees from a third party, maybe the Kurds, then we can live peacefully together again, as we were.”
Sunni Arabs are also feeling a backlash in villages where they used to live alongside Kurds, who accuse them of collaborating with Islamic State. Kurds, who are also mostly Sunni but identify first and foremost with their ethnicity Kurds no longer trust Arab Sunnis enough to live with them.
“All my neighbors were Arabs. Now most of them are with Islamic State,”
But even during the operation, there were cracks in the coalition: Shi’ite militia and Kurdish forces fought under their own banners and the least visible flag was that of Iraq.Now that the common enemy has been pushed back, the alliance is unraveling. Kataib Hizbollah, which controls access to Amerli, is denying Kurds entry to the town and one peshmerga commander described the militia as the “Shi’ite IS”.
The tensions reflect a struggle for territory which the Shi’ite-led government in Baghdad claims, but the Kurds want as part of their autonomous region in the north of the country.All with a renewed armoury