Peshmerga accused of razing Arab villages in Iraq

A leading human rights group has accused Kurdish forces of razing entire Arab villages in Iraq’s north. The Kurdistan Regional Government says it’s investigating the allegations.

Irak Baschiqa Kämpfe Peschmerga (Reuters/A. Lashkari)

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Security forces from the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) destroyed Arab homes and villages in northern Iraq over the past two years in what may amount to a war crime, Human Rights Watch said Sunday.

“In village after village in Kirkuk and Nineveh, KRG security forces destroyed Arab homes – but not those belonging to Kurds – for no legitimate military purpose,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director of the rights group. “KRG leaders’ political goals don’t justify demolishing homes illegally.”

The New York-based group said in a report that violations between September 2014 and May 2016 in 21 towns and villages within disputed areas of Kirkuk and Nineveh provinces had followed “a pattern of apparently unlawful demolitions.”

HRW called on Washington and other members of the international anti-IS coalition to pressure the Kurdish authorities to end the demolitions.

Kurdish peshmerga fighters are part of a 100,000-strong Iraqi alliance, backed by a US-led air campaign and supplied with German arms, that is battling to retake Mosul from the self-styled “Islamic State.”

 

Promised investigation

Satellite imagery provided evidence of destruction in another 62 villages after Kurdish forces recaptured them, but researchers said the lack of available witness testimony precluded “definitive conclusions” in those cases.

Officials in the Kurdish region have stated their intention to absorb land recovered from “Islamic State” into their autonomous region and prevent Arab residents from returning to areas “Arabized” decades ago by Saddam Hussein. That’s leading to inevitable conflict between Kurdish leaders and the Iraqi federal government, who are both part of the anti-IS coalition but whose historical disputes complicate the fractious alliance.

The rights group said it had presented its findings to the Kurdistan Regional Government, which announced an investigation and responded to some, but not all allegations. Kurdish authorities further claimed that much of the destruction was caused by US-led airstrikes as well as artillery fire and structures booby-trapped with explosives by retreating Islamist militants.

Some of the conclusions in the Human Rights Watch report are corroborated by a separate investigation by the Reuters news agency, which alleged that Iraq’s ethnic Kurds were using the battle against “Islamic State” to settle old disputes and grab land in the ethnically mixed territory that divides the Kurdish autonomous region from the Arab-majority south.

jar/tj (Reuters, AFP)

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Turkey coup aftermath: Pro-Kurdish Istanbul protests broken up

  • 5 November 2016
  • From the sectionEurope
Media captionDemonstrators dispersed as they were hit by freezing water

Turkish police have used water cannon and tear gas to break up a protest in Istanbul against the arrest of leaders of the pro-Kurdish HDP party.

Demonstrators assembled outside a mosque in the Sisli district and shouted slogans denouncing the “fascist” state before scattering as they were sprayed with freezing water.

Nine HDP figures, including its co-leaders, were jailed on Friday.

Journalists from the pro-opposition Cumhuriyet newspaper are also in jail.

Nine journalists were arrested on Saturday and remanded in custody by a court in Istanbul.

Cumhuriyet’s editor, a well-known cartoonist, and an anti-government columnist were among those detained.

It is the latest in a string of legal moves against critics of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan since July’s attempted coup.

On top of the nine HDP detentions on Friday, a further nine party officials, including regional heads from the south-eastern province of Adana, were taken into custody on Saturday.

The Cumhuriyet newspaper is one of the few Turkish media outlets which remains critical of Mr Erdogan.

Policeman outside Cumhuriyet office in Istanbul (5 November)Image copyrightTOLGA BOZOGLU
Image captionA placard outside the newspaper’s Istanbul office read, “Long live Cumhuriyet”

Its journalists have been charged with links to US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, who is accused of plotting the coup attempt.

On the night of 15 July, rebel soldiers used military hardware including tanks and fighter jets to try to seize control.

Since the coup attempt, a total of about 110,000 people, mainly state employees, have been sacked or suspended and 37,000 arrested.

Both the Cumhuriyet journalists and HDP politicians will be held in jail until trial. No date has been set for either hearing.

Cumhuriyet was one of four winners of the “alternative Nobel Prize” in October, alongside Syria’s White Helmets and others., awarded for “fearless investigative journalism and commitment to freedom of expression in the face of oppression, censorship, imprisonment and death threats.”

Friday’s arrests coincided with a bomb blast in the Kurdish-dominated city of Diyarbakir in the south-east which killed 11 people and injured dozens more.

Damaged building in Turkey's Diyarbakir after a bomb blast on 4 November 2016Image copyrightAFP
Image captionA building damaged in the Diyarbakir attack

Confusion remained on Saturday as to who carried out the attack.

The governor’s office in Diyarbakir said that the Kurdish militant PKK, which has conducted a campaign of violence for Kurdish autonomy, was behind the blast. It based this on what it said were intercepted communications.

But on Friday, so-called Islamic State (IS) said, via its Amaq news agency, that it was behind the attack.

‘Opponents silenced’

President Erdogan currently holds emergency powers in the aftermath of the failed July coup.

They allow the president and his cabinet to bypass parliament when drafting new laws and to restrict or suspend rights and freedoms.

Critics claim he is using those powers to silence opponents. At the beginning of November, 15 media outlets were closed and 10,000 civil servants were dismissed.

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Mosul Iraq battle: ‘Tens of thousands of civilians’ used as IS human shields

A newly displaced woman holds her sons in a truck at check point in Qayyara, east of Mosul on 26 OctoberImage copyrightREUTERS
Image captionSo far, only “modest” numbers of people have fled Mosul, the UN says

Islamic State (IS) militants have abducted tens of thousands of civilians from around the Iraqi city of Mosul to use as human shields, the UN says.

The group also killed some 190 former members of Iraq’s security services and 42 civilians, apparently for refusing to obey its orders, the UN adds.

Iraqi, Kurdish and allied forces have advanced on their push to retake Mosul, IS’s de facto capital in Iraq.

As many as 1.5 million people are believed to remain there.

There are fears IS could use them to defend itself as the operation gets closer to the centre of the city.

“Credible reports” suggested that civilians in sub-districts around Mosul had been forced from their homes and relocated inside the city since the offensive began earlier this month, UN spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani said.

Media captionBattle for Mosul: Inside the Kurdish advance on the last IS stronghold
Media captionResidents of Mosul tell an Iraqi radio station of the fear of living in the city held by the IS group

Men, women and children from 6,000 families were abducted in areas including Shura, she added.

“Isil’s depraved cowardly strategy is to attempt to use the presence of civilian hostages to render certain points, areas or military forces immune from military operations, effectively using tens of thousands of women, men and children as human shields,” Ms Shamdasani added, using an acronym for IS.

She said the allegations had been corroborated by the UN but added that the true number might be greater.

Map of Mosul and surrounding area

The UN said last week so-called Islamic State was apparently not allowing families to flee for territory held by the Iraqi army outside Mosul and that civilians suspected of being disloyal to the group appeared to had been targeted.

The organisation added that only “modest” numbers of people had so far fled Mosul.

Mosul offensive: ISIS kills hundreds of men and boys, Iraqi source says

Story highlights

  • US Defense Secretary arrives in Erbil, southeast of Mosul
  • Peshmerga forces launch new offensive from Mosul’s northeast

(CNN)ISIS rounded up and killed 284 men and boys as Iraqi-led coalition forces closed in on Mosul, the terror group’s last major stronghold in Iraq, an Iraqi intelligence source told CNN.

Those killed Thursday and Friday were used as human shields against attacks forcing ISIS out of southern parts of Mosul, the source said.
ISIS dumped the corpses in a mass grave at the defunct College of Agriculture in northern Mosul, the intelligence source said.
The victims — including children — were all shot, said the source, who asked for anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the media. CNN could not independently confirm the killings.

Latest developments

  • US Defense Secretary Ash Carter arrived in Erbil on Sunday, after commenting that the Mosul operation was going to plan
  • Peshmerga forces started an offensive from two fronts in Bashiqa, northeast of Mosul, the Peshmerga General Command said Sunday
  • Prime Minister Abadi reiterated his view that Iraq does not need Turkey’s assistance in the battle
  • Kurdish officials accused Sunni Arabs in Kirkuk of supporting ISIS a day after attacks killed dozens
  • Iraqis displaced by the Mosul offensive are seeking shelter in camps, the UN refugee agency said

Freeing a Christian town

The Iraqi military intensified its offensive Saturday to retake Hamdaniya — also known as Qaraqosh — from ISIS, the Iraqi Joint Operations Command center said. Iraqi forces and a Christian paramilitary group entered the town Wednesday, but face fierce resistance from ISIS fighters, 200 of whom were killed in one day of clashes.
ISIS using drones in battle for Mosul

ISIS using drones in battle for Mosul 02:43
The city is about 15 kilometers (nine miles) southeast of Mosul.
Iraqi security forces and Peshmerga — as the Kurdish fighters are known — have made progress and isolated Hamdaniya, a US military official said in Baghdad, speaking on background.
Iraqi troops on Saturday entered the al-Askary neighborhood and liberated the mayor’s building and the main hospital, raising the Iraqi flag over those buildings, Lt. Gen. Qassim al-Maliky said.
At least 60 ISIS fighters have been killed since Friday when Iraqi security forces launched an attack on the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, Gov. Najmaldin Karim said.
“Life will be restored to normal in the next few hours” Karim said Sunday, adding that security checkpoints in the city would be reopened. He did not mention how many security forces and civilians were killed in the ISIS offensive.

Tal Kayf is next target

Iraqi troops are also advancing toward Tal Kayf and plan on storming the Chaldean town, the Iraqi Joint Operations Command said Saturday.
Iraqi army and militia forces arrive Thursday in Saleh village in the offensive to wrest Mosul from ISIS.

Tal Kayf is about 10 kilometers (six miles) north of Mosul.
It’s the closest Iraqi security forces have come to Mosul, a CNN analysis indicates.
The US military official said US and coalition aircraft were providing air support as needed Saturday. The official said land forces were working through “a hard outer crust,” and resistance would intensify as the offensive neared Mosul.
The official said ISIS fighters have infiltrated towns cleared earlier, including Bartella, requiring renewed efforts to combat them.

Clashes in Kirkuk, Laylan

Kurdish security forces were going house to house Saturday in Kirkuk following a major ISIS attack a day earlier. Kirkuk is 175 kilometers (109 miles) southeast of Mosul.
Kirkuk’s police chief said 48 ISIS militants were killed during hours of clashes.
Security officials told CNN that at least 40 others were killed and 76 wounded in the attack, the majority of them Kurdish Peshmerga.
The ISIS attacks continued in the area Saturday, with an attempt to infiltrate the town of Laylan, 20 kilometers (12 miles) southeast of Kirkuk. Nine militants were killed, according to the mayor of Laylan, Mohammed Wais, and some security force members were injured.
Kurdish President Masoud Barzani described ISIS’ attack on Kirkuk as “a failed attempt by terrorists to make up for the defeats they have suffered at the hands of the Peshmerga on the front line.”
Previous attacks by ISIS militants on Kirkuk have been attempts either to capture the city from the Peshmerga or divert Kurdish troops from the fight in Mosul.

Kurdish officials accuse local Arabs of helping ISIS

In the wake of the Kirkuk attack, Kurdish officials accused local Arabs and some displaced in camps around the city of helping ISIS.

Kirkuk’s police chief, Brig. Gen. Khatab Omar, said the militants had probably infiltrated the 600,000 internally displaced in and around the city.
Gen. Hallo Najat, another police official, told local media to expect further fighting because 30% of the Arabs there supported ISIS rather than the government or Kurdish authorities.
Najmaldin Karim, Kirkuk’s governor, said: “We have prior knowledge that an operation like this could happen; we were preparing for it, but the timing was not known exactly.”
He said a curfew would remain in force for another day and urged the internally displaced community in Kirkuk to help track down militants.

US defense chief briefed on Mosul operation

Carter, the US defense secretary, paid an unannounced visit Saturday to Baghdad, where he was briefed on the Mosul offensive and met with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.
U.S. Sailor killed by roadside bomb in Iraq identified

U.S. Sailor killed by roadside bomb in Iraq identified 03:02
Carter then addressed about 50 US service members at Baghdad International Airport, recalling the US naval officer killed this week in northern Iraq and the risks taken by all those serving.
The defense chief told the crowd he was encouraged by what he has seen so far in the fight to retake Mosul.
“So far it is proceeding according to our plan,” Carter said. “We’ve got tough fighting ahead and the US will continue to play its part.”
US forces in Iraq are providing air support for the Mosul operation as part of an international coalition. US special operations forces are also advising Iraqi and Kurdish units on the ground.
After meeting with Carter, Abadi repeated his view that Iraq does not need Turkey’s assistance in the battle for Mosul, while acknowledging the importance of maintaining good relations with its northern neighbor. “If we (need) help, we will ask for it from Turkey or from other regional countries,” he said.
The Turkish leadership has expressed a desire to join the push to oust ISIS.

UN ‘gravely worried’ over human shield use

The United Nations expressed concern Friday that ISIS has taken 550 families from villages around Mosul to use as human shields.
Pain still raw for Mosul's Christians in Jordan

Pain still raw for Mosul’s Christians in Jordan 02:52
Two hundred families from Samalia village and 350 families from Najafia were forced out Monday and taken to Mosul in “an apparent policy by ISIS to prevent civilians escaping,” Ravina Shamdasani, deputy spokeswoman for the UN Human Rights Office, told CNN.
Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said, “We are gravely worried by reports that (ISIS) is using civilians in and around Mosul as human shields as the Iraqi forces advance, keeping civilians close to their offices or places where fighters are located, which may result in civilian casualties.”

Iraqis flee violence

The first influx of Iraqis — 144 people — arrived at a new camp, Zelikan, set up to shelter what is expected to become a flood of families displaced by the Mosul offensive, the UN refugee agency said Saturday.
UN data indicate some 3,900 people — or 650 families — have so far been forced from Mosul and Hamdaniya districts, agency spokesman Adrian Edwards told a news briefing Friday in Geneva, Switzerland.
The UN refugee agency is working to establish 11 camps, five of which are already in place, to house those forced from their homes by the battle. The camps will have capacity for about 120,000 people, the agency said.
As many as 600,000 could be helped if the refugee agency obtained sufficient funding, it said. Mosul is believed currently to have a population of about 1.5 million people, it added.
Concerns over mass displacements in Iraq
Concerns over mass displacements in Iraq 04:15
The charity Oxfam warned Saturday that more must be done to provide safe routes for those fleeing the conflict.
People who escaped from Hawd, 50 kilometers (about 30 miles) south of Mosul, told Oxfam that many civilians had been injured.
A woman told Oxfam her children had respiratory issues after breathing in thick smoke from oil wells that ISIS militants set afire to provide cover from coalition air attacks.
The smoke also concerned US and coalition troops at an airfield near Qayyara, about 60 kilometers (37 miles) south of Mosul. Forces were assessing Saturday whether the smoke was putting them at risk, and troops have been told to limit their outdoor activity, the US military said.

Islamic State group: Turkey and US ‘ready to invade capital’

Islamic State militants in Raqqa, Syria (30 June 2014)Image copyrightREUTERS
Image captionRaqqa is considered the IS militants’ de facto capital and its loss would be a huge blow

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has suggested he and the US are ready to drive so-called Islamic State (IS) from its Syrian stronghold of Raqqa.

Mr Erdogan said US President Barack Obama floated the idea of joint action against the militants when they met at the G20 summit in China.

He said Turkey would have “no problem” with such action.

Last month Turkey launched an operation inside Syria, targeting both IS and Kurdish rebels.

The US State Department would not confirm the details of Mr Erdogan’s statement, but an official said it was important that “local forces” were involved in the fight to deliver “a lasting defeat” to IS.

“The actions that Turkey is currently taking along its border with Syria, with US support, is having the important effect of isolating Raqqa,” the official said.

“That is a critical step in our ultimate objective to liberate Raqqa from Isil (IS) control.”

Turkish-backed militia have driven IS from the border town of Jarablus, but Turkey has also been concerned with checking the advance of Kurdish forces whom it regards as terrorists.

The offensive continues, and Deputy Prime Minister Nurettin Canikli said Turkish forces might push deeper into Syria after securing a stretch of land along the border.

Mr Canikli also said 110 Islamic State and Kurdish militia fighters had been killed since the operation began.

Russia, which is allied to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, said it was “deeply concerned” by the Turkish advance.

‘What is necessary will be done’

Mr Erdogan’s comments on Raqqa were published in Turkish media.

“Obama wants to do some things jointly concerning Raqqa,” Mr Erdogan said. “We said this would not be a problem from our perspective.”

“I said: ‘Our soldiers should come together and discuss, then what is necessary will be done’,” Mr Erdogan added.

Map showing control of northern Syria - 6 September 2016

Mr Erdogan gave few other details but said more discussions would follow.

Raqqa’s fall was a key point in the rise of IS as it seized swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria, and is now considered the jihadists’ de facto capital.

Between 250,000-500,000 people are still thought to live there, with brutal stories emerging of the treatment of civilians.


Analysis: By Jonathan Marcus, BBC defence & diplomatic correspondent

Through its large-scale incursion into northern Syria, Turkey has made itself a military player in the country.

But Ankara’s move, directed in part against Kurdish forces backed by Washington, prompted serious strains in US-Turkey relations, already poor in the wake of the failed coup against the Erdogan government.

There is now a desire on both sides to improve ties and the suggestion from President Erdogan of US acquiescence in a Turkish role in the wider battle-plan to recapture Raqqa from IS is clearly part of this.

It would be an acknowledgement by Washington of Turkey’s continuing strategic interest in Syria.

No details have been given as to what a Turkish role might amount to but clearly if Raqqa is attacked then the zone approaching the Turkish border to the north of the city needs to be secured to block the withdrawal of fleeing IS forces.

Turkish forces bombard northern Syria areas controlled by Kurdish militia

Turkish bombardments have killed at least 35 people as Turkish forces move into areas controlled by Kurdish militia in northern Syria. A ground offensive is aimed at reversing Kurdish gains.

Turkish army tanks make their way towards the Syrian border town of Jarablus

Scores of civilians were killed on Sunday in strikes in northern Syria as part of Turkey’s “Euphrates Shield” campaign to drive fighters with the so-called “Islamic State” (IS) and rival Kurdish forces away from Turkey’s border, a monitor said.

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that air strikes and artillery fire on two villages under Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) control had had devastating effects on non-combatants.

“At least 20 civilians were killed and 50 others wounded by Turkish artillery fire and air strikes on Sunday morning at Jeb el-Kussa,” a village south of Jarablus, according to Rami Abdel Rahman, director of the Observatory.

Turkish soldiers with their tanks at the Syrian borderTurkish soldiers with their tanks at the Syrian border

There has been no official comment from Ankara although at least one Turkish official Tweeted that the slain people had been fighters with the YPG militia. Turkey considers it a terrorist group, linked to Turkey’s Kurdish insurgents.

Turkish Defense Minister Fikri Isik said the Kurdish militia wanted to unite Kurdish-controlled cantons east of Jarablus with those further west. “We cannot let this happen,” he said.

Second Turkish strike

A second Turkish strike on Sunday near the town of Amarneh reportedly killed a further 15 civilians and wounded 25 more, many seriously, as jets attacked the village south of Jarablus.

The borderlands region has been controlled by militias aligned to the Kurdish-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). It is a broad grouping which includes the YPG. It has been coordinating with US warplanes and special forces in a broad military coalition against IS fighters.

Ankara wants to prevent Kurdish forces gaining control of an unbroken swathe of Syrian territory on Turkey’s frontier. It fears this could embolden the Kurdish militant group PKK, which has waged a three-decade insurgency in Turkey.

Turkey suffered its first fatality Saturday after a rocket attack on a tank fired by Kurdish forces.

Brüssel Salih Muslim PYD Kurden SyrienKurdish PYD chief Saleh Muslim, said that Turkey was entering a “quagmire” in Syria

Conflict frustrates anti-IS efforts

The military clashes between Kurdish and Turkish forces in Syria have put Turkey and the US at odds as Washington regards Kurdish fighters as its most effective ally against IS forces in Syria.

That adds complexity to the Syrian conflict that erupted five years ago with an uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The conflict has since drawn in regional states and world powers.

jar/jm (AP, AFP, Reuters)

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Syria war: Rival claims as Turkish strikes kill at least 25

Media captionKurdish news agency video shows mortar fire being directed by Kurdish fighters at Turkish forces in Syria

Tens of people have been killed in continuing Turkish strikes on Kurdish-held areas in Syria near the border city of Jarablus.

A monitoring group said at least 35 civilians and four militants had been killed in the Turkish attacks.

The Turkish military said 25 people, all Kurdish militants, had been killed.

The strikes came on the fifth day of Turkey’s military operation to target so-called Islamic State (IS) militants and Kurdish militia inside Syria.

Speaking in Gaziantep, where IS militants killed 54 people at a Kurdish wedding last week, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said “operations against terrorist organisations will continue until the end”.

Turkish tanks and troops backed by Syrian rebels have captured territory from IS and clashed with the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), a Kurdish militia supported by the United States, which is itself fighting IS.


Analysis: Guney Yildiz, BBC News

Turkey’s coming into conflict with the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) or their Arab allies could further complicate its military campaign.

Ankara wants to force the Kurds to withdraw to the east of Euphrates River, stopping short of establishing a corridor to link two Kurdish-led areas in north-western Syria.

Turkey enjoys tacit support from Russia, the Assad government and Iran in acting to prevent further territorial gains by the Kurds and their allies. The US, on the other side, has said it will try to prevent Turkey coming into conflict with its allies in the region.

A possible Turkish campaign against the Kurds in Syria could also risk igniting further clashes with the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) militants inside Turkey. The PKK recently upped its attacks significantly in correlation with the Turkish operation inside Syria.


The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 20 people died in strikes on Jeb el-Kussa and another 15 were killed in a separate bombardment near al-Amarneh.

Four local fighters were also killed, the Observatory reported.

Turkey’s military said in a statement that it had killed 25 members of the PYD, an offshoot of the PKK.

Jeb el-Kussa is located 14km (9 miles) south of Jarablus and is controlled by local fighters with support from Kurdish forces.

Map showing control of northern Syria

On Saturday Turkey’s military suffered its first fatality of the offensive, when a soldier died in a tank hit by a rocket. Turkish authorities blamed Kurdish militia for the death.

Complicated alliances

Turkey has been targeting Kurdish-controlled villages around Jarablus, which Turkish-led forces captured from IS on the first day of the offensive.

It fears Kurdish fighters gaining an unbroken strip of territory along its border, which would be a huge boost to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), a banned Kurdish rebel group fighting for autonomy in Turkey.

Turkey’s operations further complicate the already protracted Syrian civil war. Both Turkey and Kurdish rebels are US allies.

The US has backed Turkey’s anti-IS operations in Syria, and both countries have demanded that Kurdish forces withdraw to the east bank of the Euphrates river.