Obama disses Kurdish 'partners' against ISIS

In a press conference at the Pentagon today, President Obama said the struggle against ISIS will be a "long-term campaign," but that the US is "intensifying" efforts. He boasted: "In the past year we've seen when we have effective partners on the ground." He also stated: "Altogether, ISIL has lost over a quarter of the populated areas it had seized in Iraq." In naming those forces on the ground, he mentioned first and foremost "our Arab partners"—despite the fact that the most significant gains against ISIS have been not at the hands of Arabs but Kurds. Of the specific victories he invoked, only one—Tikrit—was by Arab forces. All the rest—Kirkuk, Sinjar, Mosul Dam, Kobani, Tal Abyad—were by Kurdish forces. Nowhere in his 20-minute comments did Obama so much as utter the word "Kurds," although he did refer to the "Peshmerga," "tribal fighters" and the "moderate opposition" in Syria.

This oversight was doubtless intentional, intended at placating Turkey and "Arab partners"—specifically, the corrupt, reactionary, sectarian and rapidly collapsing Iraqi central government. There's a particular sad irony to this. Invoking a "generational struggle" against ISIS, Obama correctly stated: "Ideologies are not defeated by guns. They're defeated with better ideas." But the Erdogan regime and "Arab partner" states do not have those "better ideas." Forces aligned with the Shi'ite-dominated Baghdad regime have been committing sectarian massacres that will only drive Sunnis into the ranks of ISIS. And "partners" such as Saudi Arabia, with its recent beheading spree, can almost be seen as a sort of "ISIS Lite."

As we've stated, the fact that the Rojava Kurds have been the most effective force against ISIS is related to the fact that they also have the best politics—that they stand for something better than an internecine sectarian bloodbath, or a "moderate" (sic) version of reactionary political Islam.

Meanwhile on the ground... In a reversal for the Rojava Kurds, ISIS apparently regained control of the north Syrian town of Ain Issa, which had been taken by the Kurdish YPG militia days earlier. The YPG and allied Arab FSA forces are now fighting to take the town a second time, and cited a lull in US air-strikes as allowing ISIS to advance.  (Rudaw, ARA News) In Iraq, ISIS militants attempted to take several villages in the south of Kirkuk province, and were beaten back by Kurdish Peshmerga. (Rudaw) And in a new video (a grim addition to its growing archive of atrocity pornography) ISIS showcased the execution of 25 Syrian regime soldiers in the amphitheater at the ancient ruins of Palmyra. The executioners appear to be adolescents, or possibly younger. (LWJ)

If Obama is serious about defeating ISIS, he will have to stop his appeasement of the reactionary forces in the region that only fuel its growth. Alas, he is probably constitutionally incapable of this. A secular-democratic upsurge in the region is the only real hope against ISIS. The Rojava Kurds are the foremost exponent of this—and that, once again, is why they are being punished for their success, most recently with this subtle presidential diss.

Syrian archaeologist beheaded by ISIS at Palmyra

Syrian archaeologist Khaled al-Asaad was publicly beheaded by ISIS Aug. 18 at Palmyra—the ancient city he had dedicated his life to studying and protecting. The militants hanged his body from one of the Greco-Roman columns in the site, apparently after torturing him for information on where some of its treasures had been hidden. The octogenarian archaeologist and native of Palmyra had been held by ISIS for about a month. "They killed him because he would not betray his deep commitment to Palmyra," UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova said in a statement. ISIS in its own statement accused al-Assad of being a "director of idolatry." (PRI, BBC News, NYT, Aug. 19)

ISIS destroys ancient temple at Palmyra

Islamic State militants have destroyed Palmyra's ancient temple of Baalshamin, the head of Syria's Directorate General of Antiquities & Museums said Aug. 23. "Daesh placed a large quantity of explosives in the temple of Baal Shamin today and then blew it up causing much damage to the temple," said Maamoun Abdulkarim, using the local name for ISIS. "The cella [inner area of the temple] was destroyed and the columns around collapsed," he said. However, the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that the demolition took place one month ago. (BBC News, AFP)

ISIS destroys another temple at Palmyra

The UN reports that ISIS militants have blown up the Temple of Bel at Palmyra, the central edifice at the site. UNOSAT satellite imagery shows that nothing remains of the structure.  (BBC News, Sept. 1)

ISIS continues destruction of Palmyra

ISIS militants destroyed three ancient tower tombs in the central city of Palmyra in the last few days, Maamoun Abdulkarim, the head of the Antiquities and Museums Department in Damascus, said Sept. 4. Tower tombs, built on high grounds, are a particular feature of the Roman-era ancient caravan city. 

In a report issued Sept. 3, the ASOR Syrian Heritage initiative said ISIS has destroyed seven tower tombs since the end of June over two phases. The last round of destruction occurred between Aug. 27 and Sept. 2, including the destruction of the Tower of Elahbel, the most prominent example of Palmyra's distinct funerary monuments. Earlier, the Tomb of Iamliku and that of Atenaten were also destroyed. (CBS, Sept. 4)

ISIS continues destruction of Palmyra

ISIS militants have blown up another monument in the ancient city of Palmyra, officials and local sources say. The Arch of Triumph was "pulverised" by the militants who control the city, a Palmyra activist told AFP news agency. It is thought to have been built about 2,000 years ago. The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an activist group monitoring the conflict, said sources on the ground had confirmed the destruction. Syrian antiquities chief Maamoun Abdulkarim also confirmed the news, and told Reuters news agency that if IS remains in control of Palmyra, "the city is doomed." (Al Jazeera)