Drone strikes on Sept. 27 targeted positions of an Iran-backed pro-government militia, the Popular Mobilization Forces, in northern Iraq, at al-Bukamal near the Syrian border. Hours later, a second attack struck a base in the Fallujah area used by the same militia force. Reports suggested the strikes were carried out by Israel, which has been stepping up attacks on Iran-backed forces across the border in Syria. (Haaretz, ToI) On Sept. 24, Turkish warplanes attacked the Chamanke area of Duhok in Iraqi Kurdistan, killing a local shopkeeper. Turkey has been for years targeting positions of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in northern Iraq. (Rudaw) On Sept. 10, US-led coalition forces bombed a supposed ISIS stronghold on Qanus Island in the Tigris River, in Salahuddin province. ISIS fighters who had fled areas re-taken from the group in Mosul and Syrian territory are said to have taken refuge on the island. (Iraq News, Stars & Stripes)
A meeting in Turkish capital Ankara between the Turkish, Russian and Iranian presidents failed to reach a breakthrough on what is obviously a planned carve-up of Syria. But a consensus does appear to be emerging on betrayal of the Syrian Kurds. Ankara is promoting a plan to resettle displaced Syrians in a Turkish-controlled "safe zone" stretching across Syria's north. While the US wants the width of the "safe zone" confined to 10 kilometers, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan suggested that the zone could be expanded to Raqqa and Deir ez-Zor—respectively some 100 and 200 kilometers from the Turkish border. Significantly, the city of Raqqa and much of Deir ez-Zor province are controlled by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). Erdogan has named a figure of 3 million refugees and displaced persons to be settled within the "safe zone." (EA Worldview, France24, Reuters)
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has threatened to allow Syrian refugees to leave Turkey for Europe if his long-sought "safe zone" in northern Syria is not established. "We will be forced to open the gates. We cannot be forced to handle the burden alone," he told a meeting of his ruling party, the AKP, stating that Turkey "did not receive the support needed from the world." This is a reference to is the promised financial aid from the European Union, and the provision of visa-free travel to Europe for Turkish citizens, as part of the EU-Turkey deal on refugees struck back in 2016. Only half of the pledged €6 billion has arrived, according to Turkey, and visa-free travel for Turkish nationals has not yet been granted—largely due to concerns about the human rights situation in Turkey. In July, Ankara declared the refugee deal no longer under effect.
The municipalities of Diyarbakır, Mardin and Van in Turkey's east have been rocked by unrest since the central government removed their newly elected mayors from office over alleged links to a Kurdish armed group last month. "Trustees" have been appointed to govern the municipalities, as protesters have repeatedly clashed with riot police, who have deployed tear-gas, water-cannons and armored vehicles. The leftist and Kurdish-supported Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) has refused to accept the suspension of the mayors and called for ongoing protests to uphold "the will of the people." Amid the protest wave, Ankara has launched "Operation Kıran," a new campaign against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in the region, with hundreds arrested. Among those sentenced to prison last week was Raife İnatçı, a 70-year-old Kurdish woman in Diyarbakır, whose six-month term was upheld by a local court. She was accused of spreading "terrorist propaganda" with a placard she carried at a demonstration. (Al Monitor, Turkey Purge, BIANet, Daily Sabah)
US warplanes struck a position outside the capital of Syria's northern Idlib province Sept. 1, targeting a faction named as Huras al-Din and reportedly killing some 40 militants. Huras al-Din split from Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, the leading insurgent front in much of Idlib, after HTS broke ties with al-Qaeda in July 2016. (EA Worldview) The US air-strikes come amid an ongoing massive aerial assault on Idlib by Russia and the Assad regime—which continue their strategy of intentional targeting of hospitals. The day before the US strikes, local journalists and White Helmet civil defense volunteers reported that pro-Assad forces bombed the Women & Children's Hospital in Orem al-Kubra in western Aleppo province, near the border with Idlib. Six civilians were injured, and pregnant women and newborns were evacuated by the White Helmets from the damaged facility. (EA Worldview)
Russia and the Assad regime have resumed attacks on opposition-held northwest Syria, breaking a four-day pause declared by Damascus. Russian and regime forces, whose spring offensive shattered a "demilitarized zone" announced last September by Moscow and Turkey, again began bombing and shelling both rebel positions and civilian areas Aug. 5. The regime's military said four days earlier that it was halting operations, which have killed more than 700 civilians and wounded more than 2,200 since late April, while it gave an ultimatum to anti-Assad forces to withdraw from the 20-kilometer "demilitarized zone" through Idlib and northern Hama province. As the new air-strikes were launched, an army statement said: "The agreement to a truce was conditional... This did not happen... We resume our military operations against terrorist organizations."
In a new campaign against migrants who lack residency papers, Turkey has for the past weeks been deporting Syrians from Istanbul to Syria—including to the war-torn northwest province of Idlib. The crackdown comes at a time of rising rhetoric and political pressure on the country's 3.6 million registered Syrian refugees to return home. Estimates place hundreds of thousands of unregistered Syrians in Turkey, many living in urban areas such as Istanbul. Refugee rights advocates say deportations to Syria violate customary international law, which prohibits forcing people to return to a country where they are still likely to face persecution or risk to their lives. Arrests reportedly began in mid-July, with police conducting spot-checks in public spaces, factories, and metro stations around Istanbul and raiding apartments. As word spread quickly in Istanbul's Syrian community, many people shut themselves up at home rather than risk being caught outside. It is not clear how many people have been deported so far, with reported numbers ranging from hundreds to a thousand.
Some 100 civilians have been killed over the past week as Russia and the Assad regime step up aerial attacks on Idlib, the northern Syria province that remains outside regime control. White Helmets rescuer workers on July 24 reported at least 10 fatalities in Tubish village, near the "ghost town" of Khan Sheikhoun where the 2017 chemical attack took place. The search for victims under the rubble continues. Horrifying images of a five-year-old girl's desperate attempt to save her baby sister trapped under rubble following an air-strike in the town of Ariha has gone viral. The footage was shot by the independent Syrian media outlet SY24, which reports that the girl, named Riham, later died of her own injuries—one of 31 killed in air-strikes on Ariha this week. (EA Worldview, Al Jazeera, BBC News)