Tag Archives: peshmerga

Tensions Between Kurds And Iran-Backed Militias Are Starting To Show In Iraq

Members of the Kurdish security forces take part in an intensive security deployment after clashes with Islamic State militants in Jalawla, Diyala province November 23, 2014. REUTERS/Stringer

JALAWLA, Iraq (Reuters) – The blood of two militants killed during Islamic State’s rout in the Iraqi town of Jalawla has yet to be washed away, but a turf war is already brewing between Kurdish and Shi’ite forces that jointly drove the insurgents out.

The recapture of disputed territory and towns such as Jalawla is reopening rivalries over the boundary between areas of Kurdish control and those administered by the Shi’ite-led Baghdad government.

Local Sunni Arabs displaced in the fighting have little choice but to align themselves with one side or the other.

Not long after Islamic State began its offensive across Iraq this summer, Kurdish commanders in the eastern province of Diyala invited the head of the largest Sunni Arab tribe in Jalawla to discuss jointly resisting the insurgents.

“We sat with them here in this very building,” said Brigadier General Barzan Ali Shawas, describing the meeting with Sheikh Faisal al-Karwi in a Kurdish peshmerga barracks on the banks of the Diyala river, lined with date palms.

“We said: What do you want? True, you are Arabs and we are Kurds, but the unity of Iraq is in our interest.” The sheikh had replied he would consider the Kurds’ offer to set up a unit for local Sunnis under peshmerga command, but he never came back with an answer.

Since that June day, Jalawla changed hands several times, until the peshmerga and Shi’ite militia drove the militants out on Nov. 23. According to Shawas, they agreed before the offensive that the Shi’ite militia would withdraw as soon as it was over and hand full control to the Kurds, but that has yet to happen.

Jalawla, which lies about 150 km (90 miles) northeast of Baghdad, is overwhelmingly Arab and was under the central government’s jurisdiction until Islamic State overran it. However, the Kurds say it was theirs until the 1970s, when Saddam Hussein brought in Sheikh Faisal’s Karwiya tribe to “Arabise” the area.

Now it is deserted except for stray animals, Shi’ite militiamen and peshmerga, marking their territory with flags and graffiti. The atmosphere is tense.

“Jalawla is Kurdistani,” is spray-painted on the front of a bakery. Fridges dragged into the road as barricades are beginning to rust.

ISIS iraq

Shi’ite fighters drive a pick-up truck with a picture of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on the bonnet. One gets out and approaches the Kurds, finger on the trigger of his rifle, to ask if they have permission to be there from the head of the Shi’ite Khorasani Brigades militia.

“If they retain a fanatic stance about the areas they have taken, there’s no way we will allow them,” said Jawad al-Hosnawi, the Khorasani Brigades’ field commander.

Iraqi Kurds have controlled an autonomous region since the early 1990s and their fighters moved into other disputed areas this year to combat Islamic State.

But Hosnawi rejects any further Kurdish ambitions. “Our problem is if they want to separate from Iraq or form an ethnic state – no way,” he said.

RESIDENTS FEAR MILITIAS

Cats pick through uncollected rubbish in Jalawla and a cow strolls down the street, oblivious to the danger of thousands of mines planted by the militants. A burst of gunfire and the occasional thud of an explosion can be heard.

Shawas promised civilians would be allowed to return, except those who sided with Islamic State, once a bomb disposal team finishes its work, and water and electricity are restored.

Hosnawi said the Kurds were bulldozing Sunni homes to discourage them from coming back.

Many Jalawla residents are camping a few kilometers away on a football pitch, its perimeter fence draped with laundry. They celebrated the news that Islamic State had been forced from Jalawla and the adjacent town of Saadiya.

Most said they had fled not the militants, but air strikes targeting them. Now they fear the Shi’ite forces, who have killed Sunnis and destroyed their homes in other towns they recaptured from Islamic States.

“We want to go back but the militias will slaughter us,” said a 40-year-old farmer from Saadiya who was too afraid to give his name. “We ask the peshmerga to annex Jalawla and Saadiya to the (Kurdistan) region so we can live in peace.”

To slow enemy advances, Islamic State blew up bridges across the milky waters of the Diyala river, into which some militants flung themselves to escape when the game was up.

The blood of two insurgents who did not get away stains the entrance to a shop that used to sell roofing. Its shutters are down now and daubed with Shi’ite slogans.

Sheikh Faisal confirmed rejecting the Kurds’ proposal, and says his tribe had fought the peshmerga to prevent them taking over a base abandoned by the Iraqi army.

“They won’t let Arabs return, mostly the Karwiya. They want to take Jalawla. It’s an Arab area,” he said by telephone from the nearby town of Baquba.

He denies collaborating with Islamic State, as the Kurds allege, and says the militants blew up his house in Jalawla because he refused to join them.

Unlike the displaced residents, Sheikh Faisal’s nephew Zumhar Jamal al-Karwi said Jalawla should remain under the Baghdad government, not the Kurds.

“We won’t accept Jalawla remaining in Kurdish clutches. If they cling to it by force, it will be retaken by force,” Zumhar said. “We are prepared to fight against the Kurds alongside the militias unless the peshmerga leave Jalawla.”

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Islamic State conflict: Kurdish fighters arrive in Turkey

Turkish Kurds welcome Peshmerga fighters crossing from Iraq at Habur crossing (29 Oct)

A group of 150 Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga fighters have arrived in Turkey from where they plan to cross into Syria to battle Islamic State (IS) militants besieging the town of Kobane.

One contingent flew from Iraq to a south-eastern Turkish airport.

Another contingent, carrying weapons including artillery, is travelling separately by land through Turkey.

Turkey agreed to the deployment last week after refusing to allow Turkish Kurds to cross the border to fight.

Thousands of cheering, flag-waving supporters gathered to see off the first batch of Peshmerga forces as they left the Iraqi Kurdish capital of Irbil by plane.

The group of 90-100 fighters landed in the early hours of Wednesday at Sanliurfa airport in south-eastern Turkey.

They were then reported to have left the airport in buses escorted by Turkish security forces.

Kurds in Turkey, celebrate the deployment of Peshmerga fighters to Syria (28 October 2014)News of the deployment of the Iraqi Kurdish fighters triggered celebrations in Turkey

A few hours later, just after dawn, a convoy of 80 lorries carrying weapons and more fighters crossed by land into south-eastern Turkey through the Habur border crossing.

Turkish police fired into the air to disperse a large crowd of Kurds who had come to welcome their arrival. Some in the crowd threw stones at the police.

The two groups of fighters are expected to meet later on Wednesday in Suruc, some 10 miles (16km) from Kobane, before crossing the border into Syria.

Turkey has come under considerable international pressure to do more to prevent Kobane falling into IS hands but has refused to allow Turkish Kurds from the militant PKK to cross the border.

The PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) has fought a decades-long insurgency in Turkey, although a ceasefire was declared last year. The government in Ankara sees the Syrian Kurdish fighters across the border in Kobane as linked to the PKK, which it views as a terrorist organisation.

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has rejected claims that not enough was being done to end the jihadist assault.

He told the BBC that Turkey would only take part once the US-led coalition against IS had an “integrated strategy” that included action against the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The Kurdistan Parliament authorised sending 150 Peshmerga to help defend the predominantly Kurdish Syrian town last week. It was unclear why their deployment was delayed.

The Kurdish population in both Iraq and Syria is under significant threat because of the rapid advance by IS.

US state department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said that America would “certainly encourage” the deployment of Iraqi Peshmerga forces to Kobane.

Map showing frontline in Kobane, 20 October 2014

The battle for Kobane has emerged as a major test of whether the coalition’s air campaign can push back IS.

Weeks of air strikes in and around Kobane have allowed Kurdish fighters to prevent it from falling, but clashes continued on Tuesday and a local Kurdish commander said IS still controlled 40% of the town.

More than 800 people have been killed since the jihadist group launched an offensive on Kobane six weeks ago.

Convoy of Peshmerga fighters drive through Irbil, Iraq, en route to Turkey (28 October 2014)Turkey agreed last week to allow the Peshmerga to pass through its territory to defend Kobane

Convoy of Peshmerga fighters drive through Irbil, Iraq, en route to Turkey (28 October 2014)The Peshmerga are bringing heavy weapons Syrian Kurdish fighters say are desperately needed

The fighting has also forced more than 200,000 people to flee across the Turkish border.

IS has declared the formation of a caliphate in the large swathes of Syria and Iraq it has seized since 2013.

The UN says that millions of Syrian refugees fleeing the conflict have had an “enormous” impact on neighbouring countries in terms of “economics, public services, the social fabric of communities and the welfare of families”.

More than three million Syrians have fled their country since the uprising against President Assad began in March 2011, with most of them now sheltering in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and Iraq.

Explosion in Kobane, Syria, after air strike by US-led forces (28 October 2014)A US-led coalition has been carrying out air strikes to help defend Kobane

The coffins of Syrian Kurdish Popular Protection Units (YPG) fighters are carried by Kurds in the Turkish town of Suruc (28 October 2014)More than 800 people are believed to have been killed in the six-week battle for Kobane

UK troops training Kurdish forces in Iraq, says Ministry of Defence

Kurdish fighters

A “specialist team” of 12 UK soldiers is training Kurdish forces fighting Islamic State militants in Iraq, the Ministry of Defence has said.

It said troops from the Yorkshire Regiment were training Iraqi Kurds to use UK-supplied heavy machine guns.

The UK has already sent supplies, including weapons, to northern Iraq to help Kurdish forces.

And Royal Air Force Tornado jets based in Cyprus have been flying combat missions over Iraq since September.

The UK training mission comes amid heavy fighting between Syrian Kurds and IS forces in the town of Kobane, in Syria.

Last month, the Ministry of Defence announced it was supplying Kurdish forces, known as the Peshmerga, with 40 heavy machine guns, as well as thousands of rounds of ammunition.

The RAF has also transported military equipment and ammunition to northern Iraq on behalf of other countries, while providing equipment such as body armour, helmets and ration packs.

‘Non-combat army trainers’

Confirming the deployment, an MoD spokesman said the government had previously made clear its intention to provide training to the Peshmerga as part of a “continued effort” to assist the fight against IS.

“The defence secretary has approved the deployment of a small specialist team of non-combat Army trainers, which is now in the Irbil area providing instruction on operating, employing and maintaining the heavy machine guns that were gifted by the UK last month,” the spokesman added.

BBC defence correspondent Jonathan Beale said the UK team, from 2nd Battalion the Yorkshire Regiment, was expected to spend just a week in Irbil, in Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq.

“But there is a promise that Britain will be doing more to help train Iraq’s security forces in the coming weeks and months. But so far, Britain’s contribution to this US led effort has been modest.”

The last UK combat troops left Iraq in April 2009, with a small number staying on to train Iraqi forces until 2011.

Smoke rising over KobaneCivilians watched fighting in Kobane from across the nearby Turkish border

Air strikes

IS – also known as Isis or Isil – controls large swathes of Syria and Iraq after rapid advances through the region this year.

The UK is among more than 40 nations that have joined forces to challenge the militant group.

Countries including the US have also taken part in air strikes against militant positions in Syria, but the UK military effort has so far been confined to Iraq.

RAF TornadoRAF jets have been conducting daily flights over Iraq, amid fierce fighting near the Syrian-Turkish border

In Syria, an intense battle is taking place for Kobane, a strategic town on the country’s border with Turkey.

At least 553 people are reported to have died in a month of fighting, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. The UK-based Syrian opposition body counted 298 IS fighters among the dead.

US aircraft have bombed IS positions but Kurdish leaders said they remain outgunned on the ground.

Kobane official Idris Nassan told Reuters news agency that “the supply of fighters is very good”.

“But fighters coming without arms, without weaponry, is not going to make a critical difference,” he added.

Iraq Crisis: Kurdish Troops Launch Attack on Isis on Three Fronts

kurdish fighter

Kurdish troops have launched three separate offensives on Isis (now known as the Islamic State) positions in Northern Iraq, according to senior military officers.

The attacks took place before dawn north of Iraq’s second city Mosul, south of oil town Kirkuk and on a town situated on the Syrian border.

Graphic showing areas in Iraq and Syria targeted by airstrikes

A Kurdish source confirmed that troops had entered the town of Rabia after capturing the villages of As-Saudiyah and Mahmudiyah.

“Ground troops are now fighting in the centre of Rabia,” the senior source in the Kurdish Peshmerga, speaking on condition of anonymity, said.

Kurdish troops in Rabia. File photo

He revealed that Peshmerga forces, with artillery and air support, had launched an attack on Zumar, a city 40 miles northwest of Mosul and near Iraq’s largest reservoir, which IS captured in June following a large-scale offensive.

To the south of Kirkuk, Kurdish forces recaptured villages in close proximity to the town of Daquq, which has also been under the control of IS since June, and were now attempting to reclaim the village of Al-Wahda.

“They have liberated the villages of Saad and Khaled. The Peshmerga have taken full control of the area, following fierce fighting,” Kurdish General Westa Rasul said.

The Kurdish attacks come after reports that IS militants are now less than 10km (6.3 miles) from Baghdad as clashes with the Iraqi army continue.

Fighting with the terror group is taking place on the outskirts of the Iraqi capital with Iraqi forces attempting to halt their advance on the city.

Turkey’s Peace Talks With Kurds Marred by Deaths

Attacks by the PKK Have Increased Over the Past Week, Undermining Peace Talks

ISTANBUL—Turkey said on Wednesday that at least one soldier was killed in an attack by the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, as its assaults have increased over the past week, undermining the best efforts yet to end a three-decade conflict.

The assaults by the PKK, which is listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the European Union and the U.S., targeted security forces across four provinces in the country’s east, some by the Iraqi and Iranian borders, the military General Staff said in a written statement posted on its website.

A push to set up more military outposts in the country’s heavily Kurdish populated southeast, amid ongoing peace negotiations, is seen as the driving force behind the escalating violence. Kurds make up about 18% of Turkey’s 77 million population.

On Tuesday, as the PKK staged an ambush in the province of Van that also left a soldier wounded, the military said, clashes erupted between security forces and protesters in the Diyarbakir province.

One demonstrator was killed as Turkey removed a Kurdish militant’s newly erected statute in the Lice district of Diyarbakir, according to local news reports.

The PKK didn’t have any immediate comments on the clashes.

With Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan preparing to take over the presidency Aug. 28 and pledging to clinch peace with Turkey’s Kurds as a top priority, PKK strikes threaten both the premier’s resolve and his popular mandate to end a conflict that has claimed more than 40,000 lives in the past three decades.

PKK actions are also poised to stoke national security concerns at a time the militia has expanded its operations across Syria and Iraq, fighting the radical Sunni group Islamic State and aiding Iraqi Kurdish forces, the Peshmerga.

Separately, the PKK-linked militia in Syria has enabled Kurds to establish strongholds in the country across the Turkish border, intensifying the pressure on Ankara to get lasting peace with Kurds.

The gains have emboldened PKK fighters, who have been largely dormant since the organization’s jailed leader, Abdullah Ocalan, declared a cease-fire in March 2013—the most significant step yet in negotiations started by Mr. Erdogan in late 2012.

Despite the recent outburst of hostility, Mr. Erdogan’s sweep in the first public presidential elections on Aug. 10 signaled strong support for the premier and his peace process.

Mr. Erdogan, who has said solving Turkey’s so-called Kurdish issue will remain a top priority, is credited with securing a period of calm, halting the frequent funerals seen in 2011 and 2012 as PKK-military clashes prompted the deadliest year since the 1990s.

In July, the premier’s party overcame parliamentary opposition to pass legislation that formalized the peace talks, providing legal immunity to officials involved in the negotiations.

Dismissing the recent clashes as “provocation,” Besir Atalay, the deputy prime minister in charge of the process, told the private NTV news channel on Tuesday that the government is working on a road map for the talks.

 

He suggested that negotiations might include the PKK command in northern Iraq’s Qandil mountains—a move that could curb the influence of Mr. Ocalan, long regarded a hero by Kurds in Turkey.

“We are forming a new delegation, I desire for it to meet directly with Qandil,” Mr. Atalay said. “No one has anything to be concerned about, once we form our road map, everybody’s agreement and adherence will be absolutely necessary.”

US-backed Kurds fight Islamists to retake Iraq’s largest dam

© Ahmad al-Rubaye, AFP | A general view of the Mosul dam on the Tigris River.

Kurdish forces backed by US warplanes battled Saturday to retake Iraq’s largest dam from the Islamic State Organisation (formerly known as Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria, or ISIS), whose latest atrocity was a massacre in a Yazidi village.

Two months of violence have brought Iraq to the brink of breakup, and world powers relieved by the exit of long-time premier Nuri al-Maliki were flying aid to the displaced and arms to the Kurds.

Map of Mosul dam, Iraq

Kurdish forces attacked the IS fighters who wrested the Mosul dam from them a week earlier, a general told AFP.

“Kurdish peshmerga, with US air support, have seized control of the eastern side of the dam” complex, Major General Abdelrahman Korini told AFP, saying several jihadists had been killed.

Image said to show IS gunmen on the Mosul dam, Iraq, 9 August
An image said to show Islamic State gunmen on the Mosul dam on 9 August

Buoyed by the air strikes US President Barack Obama ordered last week, the peshmerga have tried to claw back the ground they lost since the start of August.

The dam on the Tigris provides electricity to much of the region and is crucial to irrigation in vast farming areas in Nineveh province.

The recapture of Mosul dam would be one of the most significant achievements in a fightback that is also getting international material support.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier meets Yazidi refugees in Irbil, northern Iraq, 16 August
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier meets Yazidi refugees in Irbil, northern Iraq, 16 August German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier meets Yazidi refugees in Irbil

A day after the European Union foreign ministers encouraged the bloc’s member countries to send arms to the Kurds, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier visited Iraq.

Steinmeier, whose country hosts the largest Yazidi diaspora in the West, visited the autonomous region to assess the needs of the displaced and the peshmerga.

Marchers in Hannover, Germany, condemn violence against Iraqi minorities, 16 August
Marchers in Hannover, Germany, condemn violence against Iraqi minorities

Jihadists ‘took their revenge’

Fear of an impending genocide against the Yazidi minority, whose faith is anathema to the Sunni Muslim extremists, was one reason Washington cited for air strikes it began on August 8.

Obama declared the Mount Sinjar siege over on Thursday, but vulnerable civilians remain in areas taken by the jihadists.

In Kocho, senior Kurdish official Hoshyar Zebari said the jihadists “took their revenge on its inhabitants, who happened to be mostly Yazidis who did not flee their homes”.

Iraq map

Human rights groups and residents say IS fighters have demanded that villagers in the Sinjar area convert or leave, unleashing violent reprisals on any who refused.

A senior official of one of Iraq’s main Kurdish parties said 81 people had lost their lives in the Friday attack, while a Yazidi activist said the death toll could be even higher.

The village lies near the northwestern town of Sinjar, which the jihadists stormed on August 3 sending tens of thousands of civilians, many of them Yazidi Kurds, fleeing into the mountains to the north.

A Yazidi refugee girl in Dohuk, northern Iraq, 16 August
A Yazidi refugee girl in Dohuk, northern Iraq

They hid there for days with little food or water.

Mohsen Tawwal, a Yazidi fighter, said he saw a large number of bodies in Kocho on Friday.

“We made it into a part of Kocho village, where residents were under siege, but we were too late,” he told AFP by telephone.

“There were corpses everywhere. We only managed to get two people out alive. The rest had all been killed.”

“The youngest refugees are clearly starting to recover from their ordeal”

The Pentagon announced that US drones had struck an IS convoy leaving the village on Friday after receiving reports that residents were under attack.

The outcome of the latest US strike was not immediately clear.

Thousands kidnapped, says Amnesty

Amnesty International, which has been documenting mass abductions in the Sinjar area, says IS has kidnapped thousands of Yazidis since it launched its offensive in the region on August 3.

Members of the Christian, Turkmen and other minorities have also been affected by the violence.

An FA-18 fighter bomber takes off from the flight deck of the US Navy aircraft carrier USS George HW Bush in the Gulf, 15 August
An FA-18 takes off from the US Navy aircraft carrier USS George HW Bush in the Gulf on Friday

In New York, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution aimed at weakening the jihadists, who control large areas of neighbouring Syria as well as of Iraq.

The resolution “calls on all member states to take national measures to suppress the flow of foreign terrorist fighters”, and threatens sanctions against anyone involved in their recruitment.

When jihadist forces began their Iraq offensive on June 9, Kurdish peshmerga forces initially fared better than retreating federal soldiers, but the US-made weaponry abandoned by government troops turned IS into an even more formidable foe.

They were able to sweep through the Sunni Arab heartland north and west of Baghdad in early June, encountering little effective resistance.

Many in and outside Iraq say the Shiite-led government was partly to blame by pushing sectarian policies that have marginalised and radicalised the Sunni minority.

Control of the dam could give ISIS, which has threatened to march on Baghdad, the ability to flood major cities. (File photo: Reuters)

Outgoing premier Nuri al-Maliki was seen as an obstacle to any progress, and his announcement on Thursday that he was abandoning his efforts to cling to power was welcomed with a sigh of relief at home and abroad.

In another potentially game-changing development, 25 Sunni tribes in the western province of Anbar, including some that had previously been on the fence, announced on Friday that they were launching a coordinated effort to oust IS fighters.