Iraq: civil resistance leader assassinated

Azad AhmedAzad Ahmed, a leading figure in Iraq's civil resistance movement, was murdered by unknown assailants when his car was stopped Oct. 30 between the northern cities of Kirkuk and Sulaymaniyah. No faction has yet taken responsibility. Ahmed was a longtime member of the political bureau of the Worker-Communist Party of Iraq. His first political experience was as a labor activist during the 1991 uprising in the Kurdish zone, when he helped establish workers' councils that succeeded in collectivizing industries in Iraq's north during the rebellion. In 1999, he helped found the Children's Protection Center in Kirkuk, which expanded after the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, establishing shelters in Sulaymaniyah, Baghdad and Basra to help children wounded or left homeless in the war. In 2005, he became a co-founder of the Iraqi Freedom Congress, a body that coordinated nonviolent resistance to the US occupation and Islamist militias alike. He represented the IFC at international anti-war conferences, and was a prominent advocate of a secular, pluralist Iraq with a dignified place for workers, children and women. (Solidarité Ouvrière,  Nov. 2)

Iran hangs 16 after Baluch border clash

Sixteen accused militants were hanged Oct. 26 at Zahedan prison in Iran's Sistan-Baluchistan province, on the Pakistani border—in apparent retaliation for the deaths of 14 border guards in an ambush just the night before. Officials blamed the attack outside Saravan on "anti-revolution guerrillas"—an apparent reference to the armed Baluch Sunni group Jundallah. But loca parialment member Hedayatollah Mirmoradzehi named a new Jaish al-Adl, or Army of Justice, as responsible for the attack. The BBC's Kasra Najisaid the mass execution "smacks of revenge killing by the judiciary."

Syria war portends Middle East 'balkanization'?

Robin Wright, author of Rock the Casbah: Rage and Rebellion Across the Islamic World  (and a "distinguished scholar" at the United States Institute of Peace and the Wilson Center) has an op-ed in the New York Times Sept. 28, ingenuously entitled "Imagining a Remapped Middle East"—as if nobody ever has. Wright sees a portending breakdown of Syria into smaller entities—the oft-discussed Alawite mini-state on the coast and the inevitable Kurdish enclave in the north. But Wright predicts the separatist contagion spreading from Syria to the rest of the Middle East—using some of the most clichéd names imaginable, e.g. Iraq breaking into "Sunnistan" and "Shiitestan." (Note to "distinguished scholar" Wright: the "stan" suffix is of Persian origin, and very unlikely to be taken up by Arabs, of whatever sectarian affiliation.)

Iraq: chemical attack survivors sue corporations

Survivors of the 1988 chemical weapons attack on northern Iraq's Kurdish city of Halabja, which left up to 5,000 dead, announced this month that they will bring suit against companies that supplied chemical agents to the Saddam Hussein dictatorship. The head of the Association of Halabja Martyrs and Victims, Lokman Abdulkadir, said the group has identified 27 companies as complicit in the attack, and will appeal to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague to open a case against them. "The verdict of the ICC will be of utmost impoorrtance in terms of recognition of the Halabja massacre as a genocide," Abdulkadir said. "We want the companies selling those chemical weapons to the Baath regime to be called to account, be judged and pay compensation to the victims and their families." The companies are of US, German and French origin.

Syria: Nusra Front cleanses Kurds

Up to 20,000 refugees have crossed from Syria into Iraqi Kurdistan in the past three days, apparently fleeing fighting between Kurdish militias of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and Salafist factions led by the Nusra Front. The PYD reportedly drove Salafist forces from the northeastern town of Ras al-Ain, taking control of a border post on the Turkish frontier. But the Salafists are apparenlty launching bloody reprisals, with refugees who have fled to Iraq reporting massacres in Kurdish villages.

Iraq: sectarian war escalating fast

At least 40 were killed in clashes that raged overnight after militants launched coordinated attacks on two Iraqi prisons July 22. The attacks on the prisons at Taji and Abu Ghraib, both outside Baghdad, included car bombs and mortar strikes on the front gates before gunmen assaulted the guards. At least 500 prisoners escaped.  (AFP, July 22)  A coordinated wave of seven car bombs tore through bustling streets July 20 in Shi'ite areas of Baghdad, leaving some 45 dead. (AP, July 20) On July 19, a bomb blast at a Sunni mosque during Friday prayers in the town of Wajihiya, Diyala, killed 20 people. Violence has killed at least 200 in Iraq since the start of Ramadan. (Rudaw, July 22; RFE/RL, July 19)

Syria: sectarian, ethnic fighting spreads

A rocket strike near an important Shi'ite shrine in the southern suburbs of Damascus killed one of its custodians July 19. The gold-domed Bibi Zainab shrine, said to hold the remains of the daughter of Shia founder Imam Ali and ground-daughter of the Prophet Mohammed, is now being protected by hundreds of volunteer Shi'ite fighters from Iraq and Hezbollah troops. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has threatened "grave retribution" if any harm befalls the shrine. (Reuters, July 20) Shi'ites held mass rallies in Islamabad, Karachi and other Pakistani cities against the attack on the shrine. (GeoTV, INP, July 12)

Turkey: police fire on Kurdish protesters

Turkish security forces killed one and wounded nine as villagers armed with improvised petrol bombs attacked a construction site of the gendarmerie at Kayacik in the Kurdish-majority province of Diyarbakir June 29. The attack came amid a protest against the new police station. Officers used tear-gas and live fire against the attackers. (Euronews, Focus Information Agency, June 29) The incident came two weeks after a conference in Diyarbakir openly broached the independence of Turkey's Kurdish areas, a topic long taboo in the country. The Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) and the Congress of Democratic Society (KCD) have held many conferences on Kurdish issues in the past, but this was the first where leaders discussed possible secession from Turkey and an independent Kurdish state. Organizers referred to the imprisoned leader of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) Abdullah Ocalan as "the president of the Kurdish nation." (Rudaw, June 26)

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