In Episode 127 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg notes that the Kurdish-controlled Syrian city of Kobani, which became a global icon of resistance to ISIS in 2014, is now under threat of Turkish aggression. The Syrian Kurds were betrayed in 2019, when their autonomous zone of Rojava was greatly reduced by Turkey's first thrust into their territory. Erdogan is now threatening to extinguish it altogether, and incorporate all of Rojava into his "security zone." There is growing speculation that the US could "green light" this aggression in exchange for Turkey dropping its objections to Sweden and Finland joining NATO. Meanwhile, the Yazidis of northern Iraq, who were subjected to genocide and slavery at the hands of ISIS in 2014, are facing extermination of their hard-won autonomous zone Ezidikhan at the hands of Baghdad's military—acting under pressure from Turkey. Great Power meddling in Syrian and Iraqi Kurdistan alike is pitting the peoples of the region against each other, portending a potentially disastrous Arab-Kurdish ethnic war. How can activists in the West help break this trajectory? Listen on SoundCloud or via Patreon.
Clashes between the Iraqi military and a local Yazidi militia have forced more than 3,000 people to flee the northern town of Sinjar. Fighting erupted May 1, when the military launched an operation to clear the area of the Sinjar Resistance Units (YBS), a militia with ties to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). Many of those displaced are Yazidis who survived the 2014 Islamic State genocide against the ethnicity. They are now distributed in camps across Iraq's Kurdish region. In 2020, Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) signed a pact to restore their joint control to the autonomous Yazidi enclave, known as Ezidikhan. The deal has not been implemented until now, despite growing pressure from Turkey, which has carried out intermittent air-strikes on the Sinjar area. (WaPo, AP, TNH)
Iran's Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) claimed responsibility for ballistic missile attacks on northern Iraq's Kurdish regional capital of Erbil on March 13, saying that the strikes targeted an Israeli "strategic center" in the city. Iranian state media reported that the missiles were aimed at "Mossad bases" in Erbil. The IRGC had days earlier vowed to seek revenge against Israel, saying the Zionist state will "pay the price" for killing two of its guards in recent Israeli air-strikes on targets in the Syrian capital Damascus. Erbil's governor Omed Khoshnaw denied any Israeli military or intelligence presence in the city, calling the accusation "baseless." The estimated 12 rocket strikes took no casualties, but caused damage to civilian properties and triggered panic among the populace in neighborhoods of Erbil. (Rudaw, Rudaw, Al Jazeera)
Iraq's Ministry of Oil on Dec. 30 signed an $8 billion agreement with China's state-owned Hualu Engineering & Technology to oversee expansion of al-Faw Petrochemical Complex, allowing its refinery to process 300,000 barrels per day of crude. The expansion of al-Faw complex, along the strategic Shatt al-Arab waterway in Basra governorate, is the largest yet undertaken in the Iraqi energy sector, and is seen as facilitating a new thrust of output by the country's oil industry. The deal is a "build-own-operate transfer" (BOOT), which means Hualu could gain effective control of the facility. Hualu is majority-controlled by the giant China National Chemical Engineering Company (CNCEC). (IraqiNews.com, MENAFN, Argus)
The head of the United Nations team investigating Islamic State crimes in Iraq on Dec. 2 delivered his report to the Security Council, accusing Islamic State (ISIS) actors of committing war crimes and crimes against humanity. Christian Ritscher, special adviser and head of the UN Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for Crimes Committed by Da'esh/Islamic State in Iraq & the Levant (UNITAD), reported that his team had uncovered evidence of the deaths of at least 1,000 Shi'ite prisoners at a prison in Mosul in June 2014. The executions had been planned in detail by senior ISIS members. The team also carried out an analysis of battlefield evidence that showed ISIS developed and deployed chemical weapons as part of a long-term strategic plan. The team identified more than 3,000 victims of ISIS chemical attacks to date.
A cycle of attacks and counter-attacks in eastern Iraq raises concerns about a return of deadly sectarian violence in the country. On Oct. 26, gunmen killed 15 people in the largely Shi'ite village of al-Rashad (also rendered al-Hawasha) outside the town of Muqdadiya, Diyala governorate. The attack was blamed on remnants of the so-called Islamic State. Revenge attacks shortly followed on a nearby Sunni village, Nahr al-Imam, including the burning of crops and homes, forcing some residents to flee. The reprisal attacks were said to have included the participation of members of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF)—a network of Shi'ite militias now formally under the command of the official state security forces. The Iraqi government has sent troops and delegations to the region, but tensions remain high.
Kurdish rebels launched a mortar attack on a Turkish military position in northern Iraq, killing one soldier Aug. 13. The troops were stationed at the outpost as part of Ankara's "Operation Claw-Lightning" to hunt down fighters of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). Turkey's Defense Ministry said its forces immediately retaliated for the attack, and three PKK fighters were "neutralized" (killed). (Al Jazeera) The following day, thousands of Kurds marched in Dusseldorf, Germany, to protest ongoing Turkish military operations in Turkey's eastern Kurdish region, in northern Iraq, and in Syria's Rojava region. The demonstration was timed for the 37th anniversary of the start of the PKK's armed struggle against the Turkish state. Organizers reported that local police banned slogans calling for the release of imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan. (Rudaw)
A US District Court in New York on July 27 ordered craft chain Hobby Lobby to cede its claim to the Gilgamesh Dream Tablet, a rare cuneiform text from ancient Mesopotamia that was smuggled into the United States from Iraq, so that it may be repatriated. The company's founder and president, Steve Green, bought the 3,500-year-old Akkadian artifact in 2014, intending to display it in his Museum of the Bible, in Washington DC. The tablet is one of approximately 17,000 looted artifacts that Washington has agreed to return to Iraq.