Military & Civilian Authorities Lack Of Coordination Screws IDPs In Makhmour


Lack Of Coordination Leaves Nineveh IDPs Stranded In Makhmour

Yalla hears the stories of those that have escaped the fighting in villages east of the Tigris.

 

Aid workers have told Yalla they fear they will not be able to manage an increased influx of people displaced by fighting between Iraqi Security Forces and ISIL in villages east of the Tigris in Nineveh Province.

 

Speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, one member of the considerable NGO presence in Makhmour warned that agencies were at their limit providing food, shelter, health care and other core items to the 1,900 IDPs from Karbandan, Karmadi and Kidaila that are being processed in a youth centre, which has been repurposed as a transit camp. The aid worker blames a lack of coordination between military and civilian authorities for failing to ensure an adequate humanitarian response was in place, and an assumption that numbers would be more manageable.

 

Those numbers are likely to swell as the Nineveh operations intensify. Razgar Aubed, manager of the Barzani Charity Foundation’s presence in the Debaga Camp in Erbil Province, explained that progress by authorities is still too slow, and that as up to 30 more villages are liberated from ISIL, thousands more IDPs will arrive in Makhmour. “The biggest problem is that we don’t have the space for them. We are talking with the KRG [Kurdistan Regional Government] and UN to make new refugee camps,” he said. “We are dealing with the KRG to get space, and then all NGOs will come in and make a new camp. But we don’t have the land yet. We need to make several camps for 30,000 people.” The largest refugee camps in the Kurdistan Region have room for no more than 10,000 people.

 

Aubed said that so far aid agencies have been able to take care of the basic needs of the hundreds of people that have arrived in the last five days. 80% of those with medical problems have been effectively treated on site, and there are sufficient supplies for now. “We have enough food and supplies for these people, but if they keep coming we don’t have enough. If 30,000 people turn up in the next week, there will be problems.”

 

Yalla spoke to several people that had fled the fighting. Ahmed*, a lecturer at Mosul University who commuted from his village, worries that the poor living conditions could lead to an outbreak of infectious diseases. “There is no ventilation. There is a large problem of distribution of disease – scabies, colds – the place is very crowded with people, it is not big enough.” Yalla asked him about life in Iraq’s second largest city. “Mosul,” he sighed, pausing. “There is violence, there is violence, violence. Violence, violence. Yeah.” Ahmed’s face twitched as he trailed off, looking at the ground. “Help these people go to a better place, better than here.

 

“There with Daesh [ISIL] we had no freedom. Here there is no freedom, but only for the security process. The people hope to be free,” he said, explaining that he expects the necessary checks to be completed quickly. “As I hear [from] the Kurd government, there is a security process. They tell us that after this process finishes, to differentiate between good men and bad men, we will go to tents or houses, living better than here. This situation is temporary Insha’Allah.”

 

Like the vast majority of men at the transit centre, Ahmed has changed his appearance since arriving. “In [Mosul] your beard must stay long. I shaved here!” He claimed to have seen British, Chinese and Taiwanese members of ISIL in the city.

 

Yalla also spoke to a tribal leader from one of the villages, who escaped with eight members of his family. Mohammed* explained the economic hardship he had faced, and a final slap in the face as he left his home. “I worked in the directorate of education, we used to get salaries from Baghdad, but it stopped in June last year,” he told Yalla before saying that as he left the village he saw his $11,000 car hit by bullets from a Dushka machine gun, and set alight.

 

Mohammed also told of the hardships of living under ISIL. “It is very difficult to live with Daesh, but they don’t speak to you if you don’t do anything wrong. For example, if a woman leaves the house without her face covered, they would tell her to fetch her husband, and when he went he would be beaten or have to pay a fine. Education stopped in the village, because ISIL hid themselves in the schools, so we didn’t send our children to school. ISIL changed all the books to Islamic books, so nobody went to school. My son taught maths, but ISIL didn’t allow it to be taught.” When asked about the make up of the Iraqi Security Forces that liberated his village, Mohammed dismissed the question. “We are all Iraqi: not Christian, Sunni, Shia, Yazidi. Our religion is with God, and our country is for everyone.”

 

Finally, Mohammed directed Yalla to speak with Hussein*, whose brother was killed during the operation to liberate Karbandan. The 33-year-old related his story, holding back tears. “Our home is on a hill and in the middle of the fighting we weren’t safe so we moved to our family’s house. The fighting intensified, and was in the street. ISIL came and were shooting close to our house.

 

“My daughter was looking at them out of the window. My brother went to save her, and he was shot in his kidney. I put gauze over the wound, but it was a big injury and he began to bleed out, turn white. I was carrying his body and the Iraqi army saw me. My cousin works with Hashd al Shaabi and he helped to get a pick up to bring us here, where the government is helping us. They took my brother to the hospital, gave us the papers and took him to the cemetery.

 

“They gave us some dinars and fresh clothes because all my clothes were covered in blood. Every day the Asayish come to ask after us and see if we need anything. I am tired and I cry. Everyone else in my family is here, thank God.”

 

Later Hussein found Yalla’s reporter and introduced him to his 2-year-old daughter as she laughed while eating a plate of rice and beans, unaware of the pain her father has suffered.

 

 

 

*Names have been changed to protect family members still living in ISIL controlled areas.

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An Interview With the UK Consul General in Erbil


The United Kingdom Consul General in Erbil says that political unity in the Kurdistan Region and wider Iraq is essential for “both winning the war…and also for winning the peace that will follow.”

Angus McKee believes that Iraq can, with international support, build on the successes against Islamic State (IS) over the last year, and look beyond the war to address the economic crisis, reconcile communities and resolve political disputes.

“In the last few days the world has yet again seen the horror of terrorism in Paris, in Beirut, here again in Iraq, which is a reminder of the threat that Daesh poses to us all,” he said, using the Arabic acronym for IS. “Of course the atrocity in Paris is a reminder of the threat of terrorism, its a reminder of the poison of this extremist ideology, but its also a reminder that we have to beat Daesh.

“Coming so soon after the achievements of the Peshmerga and the Yazidi forces in Sinjar, those events remind us that Daesh is losing. Daesh will lose and the effort, the determination, the sacrifice of the Peshmerga, Iraqi security forces and the efforts of the international coalition in support of these forces, all of that is making progress, and Daesh is on the back foot.”

McKee insists that unity, on a local and national scale, is vital to seeing IS out of Iraq. “[Recent victories] underline the importance of political unity in the Kurdistan Region, and political unity in wider Iraq. That unity, collective effort and strengthening of forces that comes when political forces are working together, that is important both for winning the war, but also for winning the peace that will follow.”

The recent success in Sinjar should be an example for how future operations, especially the anticipated battle for Mosul, should be conducted, says the British Consul General. “[During] the successful operation in Sinjar, we saw the Iraqi air force provide support, including through medical evacuations. This was an operation led by the Peshmerga, with the support of others – Yazidi fighters, Iraq security forces, international coalition. Likewise as we look forward, towards further operations in Nineveh including Mosul, it will be essential that there is effective military coordination between the Peshmerga and the ISF.”

The required political unity in defeating Islamic State will be tested further by conditions in a post-IS Iraq. With many Yazidis saying they will not welcome Sunnis back into Sinjar and surrounding villages, unity on a community level may be harder to come by. “I wouldn’t say the politics is about planting flags, the politics is about what comes next and the need to reconcile communities that are hugely divided after this conflict and, let’s be honest, previous conflicts. It’s about rebuilding, restoring services, it’s about removing the many mines and unexploded ordanance and ammunition that has been left behind as a result of this conflict,” says McKee, insisting that the UK support is not merely military. “The UK and others in the coalition are providing the support to assist the government authorities in Iraq, including the KRG, to be able to restore services and rebuild after Daesh is pushed out of areas.”

The military role of the UK within the coalition has been significant. “The role of the Royal Air Force over the last year [has seen] over 1,500 combat missions, over 340 strikes. All the training provided, the counter-IED training to the Peshmerga, the gifting of equipment including counter-IED equipment, that is essential,” he points out, reiterating that the achievements of the last year need to be built on with a focus on the economy and reconciliation.

“Compare where we are now to where we were at the same time in 2014. Significant progress has been made with the contributions of the Peshmerga and the ISF and the coalition. Over that last year, some 30% of territory that was held by Daesh has been liberated.

“Daesh is struggling now economically, has been weakened by targeted air strikes on its oil facilities, including in Syria. The effort is making progress, what is important is that alongside that is the political effort, the economic focus, the planning for stabilisation so that as this territory is regained, communities can return and reconcile. The military effort as is will still take time, but the direction is clear, that Daesh will be defeated. Alongside continued military support is this need for a wider approach.”

Looking more closely at the problems facing the KRG, McKee is concerned that internal strife is shifting the focus from the conflict and the need to confront an economy in turmoil. The challenges “boil down to three things”.

“One is the security context. Secondly there are political disputes and differences of opinion between the leading parties, and thirdly, the economy is suffering – a period of low oil price, and expensive conflict. There is a need for the government not only to pay its workers but also to maintain international business confidence in the place at a difficult time.

“As is well known, over the summer there have been disputes [among] the political parties, the result being that I believe there have been times when the parties’ focus has been distracted from the fight against Daesh, and from addressing the pressing economic problems.”

There is hope that the divisions can be resolved soon. “I’ve met many party leaders over the last few weeks, there is a new resolve to overcome their differences,” he says, noting that “this consensus will be stronger if it is based on democratic principles, if it strengthens the political institutions and if it recognises that not only the political institutions matter but the media and media freedoms are important.”

The political distractions are not limited to the KRG however, and McKee is also confident that the ongoing disagreements between Erbil and Baghdad are on the way to being addressed. “The relationship between Baghdad and the KRG is not just about oil, it’s not just about budget, it also underpins the fight against Daesh. Again, if there are differences between Baghdad and Erbil it weakens resolve and distracts attention from the fight.

“Likewise at a time of low oil price, differences between these governments inhibit finding shared practical solutions to the economic challenges. Certainly the UK encourages the federal government and the KRG to come to an understanding on these issues, and again there are indicators that these political leaders are wishing to do so and that is something we welcome.”

But with territory in the Article 140 areas, which both governments lay claim to, seeing clashes between the Peshmerga and Shi’ite Hashd al-Shaabi militia, what does the future hold for Tuz Khurmatu, say?

“It is a reminder that there are many conflicts here that pre-date Daesh. Therefore a reminder that progress against Daesh alone is insufficient. Events such as the clashes in Tuz Khurmatu are a reminder that this a conflict where on occasion there is neglect, if not disregard for, civilians. This is yet another reminder of the need for all involved, and the political leadership collectively, to give attention to the needs of those who are caught in these battle zones, of the need to give sanctuary to those who are fleeing violence, of the importance of getting humanitarian assistance into areas which are difficult, and also the need to reconcile communities.

“It is incumbent on the political leadership here with the support of the international community to put the political effort not just into winning the war, but also winning that peace.”

Finally McKee scotches rumours that he is about to leave the Kurdistan Region. “I’m not leaving any time soon, I don’t know where those rumours come from. My job is a full time job, as are all of those in the British Consulate, whether working on the politics, the economic relationship, the military support or the humanitarian and development side, all of us are working very hard.

“We might be coming towards the end of a year, but we know there is much more work to do in the year ahead. I’m not going anywhere, and I’m relishing the challenges of the coming months.”

The Unity of Kurdish Purpose in Sinjar in May – Now Under Threat


I wrote this back in May, and although I met with no KDP Peshmerga, the Kurds fighting on the frontline were united. With the Peshmerga Ministry yesterday announcing that no fighters from the PKK, YPG etc would be allowed to participate in the Sinjar operation, it seems a good time to revisit what might be lost.

 

As our driver carves down the final descent from Mount Sinjar into the town below, we pass ten or more upturned cars, some with clothing spilled onto the side of the road. The burnt out husks are testament to those that perished at the hands of Islamic State (IS) as they fled their homes in the town below in August of last year.

The Yazidis that sought refuge in the crucible of the mountaintop endured extreme temperatures, fatal thirst and constant insecurity.

A Yazedi Peshmerga A Yazedi girl

IS have advanced up the mountain, only to be forced back, and Kurdish forces now control a frontline on the northern outskirts of the town. Thousands have been killed, and up to 5,000 women and girls kidnapped, to be traded as sex slaves in markets in IS territories.

It has been a terrible 11 months in the history of a people that chart their history in tragedy. Those on the mountain are waiting, with another blistering summer already begun, to go home. They want to trek down the mountain and breathe life back into their community.

Amid accusations of power plays between the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government, and even political divisions within the Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga, it is difficult to see how Kurdish forces can take back and then protect Sinjar town.

The PKK have been locked in a guerrilla insurgency against the Ankara government for 30 years and recent attempts at establishing a lasting peace have faltered. Turkey and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) enjoy close economic ties. However, since the attacks by IS, and the response in Sinjar of the PKK and closely aligned People’s Protection Units (YPG) from Syrian Kurdistan, broader Kurdish relations have improved. The Turkish government even allowed Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga through its territory to support the PKK and YPG in Kobani at the end of 2014.

BasNews is welcomed to the Kurdish forces base by Commander Muaed Tofiq, of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan’s (PUK) 70 Division Peshmerga. The PUK are seen as more traditionally in agreement with the left wing sentiments of the PKK.

Tofiq is unconcerned by the perceived allegiances the fighters under his command may have – in the short trip to the base the flags of the MLKP, YPG and PKK were clearly visible. One man at the base is wearing a t-shirt bearing the face of Mam Jalal Talabani, the PUK leader and former President of Iraq.

Kurds from several forces on the Sinjar front

There is no problem between the forces, they are supporting each other. The Minister of Peshmerga is responsible for all of them.”

Of greater concern to Tofiq is the lack of effective weaponry and equipment. It’s apparent that all the fighters here are under-equipped. Less than a quarter are wearing adequate shoes, with many fighters clambering through mortar debris in cheap flat soles, the backs flattened down. The only weapons are ageing AK-47s.

We need weapons and bullets….we want anything that can help us fight IS. Our forces are wearing cheap clothes.


“It’s war time, we need fighting equipment. We bought these weapons ourselves, we were not given them by the government.”

When asked about the G3 and G36 rifles gifted to the Kurdistan Region by the German government, Tofiq’s spirit is unbowed.

We are not getting any weapons. It’s not related to KDP or PUK or anything, we just aren’t getting any weapons. We have had no training [from the coalition]. We buy our own weapons and ammunition. Gratitude from Europe is not enough,” he says without bitterness, but perhaps just a slight crease of confusion on his brow.

In his immaculately ironed uniform and leather belt and holster, Tofiq leads us to the frontline, to meet the Kurdish forces that have been ordered by President Barzani to hold the position, not to launch an offensive.

As a shot rings out, Tofiq explains that there is no Peshmerga sniper at this position to return fire. “There is no sniper here, but we have a fighter with a BKC [a medium-sized machine gun]. We coordinate with the PKK sniper.” It appears that there is a Kurdish coalition fighting IS on the edge of town.

We are taken to the BKC position, on the first floor of a traditional house, climbing to the nest from a courtyard. The operator of the weapon, wearing the unlikely combination of a straw fedora and bayonet strapped to his chest, explains to BasNews how the Kurds are working together.

This morning three Peshmerga and a PKK fighter coordinated, they went to bring back the body of a comrade killed by IS. When they went, IS shot at them. I helped them by covering with my BKC. They came back without the body, but safely.

The PKK wanted to retrieve some IS equipment that had been left in the field. They got a BKC and an RPG, one of the IS fighters was killed by the Peshmerga in the operation. We are not PUK or KDP, we are KRG Peshmerga.”

Outside, fighters are sitting in the shade at the back of the house, safe from the attentions of IS snipers. Some are drinking tea, others are observing the Ramadan fast and won’t slake their thirst until iftar. The music of Rojava singer Mohammed Sherko leaks with tinny imperfection from a mobile phone.

A PKK fighter arrives, dressed in traditional sharwal trousers. He looks old enough to be carrying a weapon, but not by much. BasNews asks how old he was when he joined the PKK. Sheepishly Shevan (not his real name) replies that he hoodwinked the PKK command to join up, two years ago,

I’m 20 years old, but I told the PKK that I’m 22 because there are some rules with the military command; they won’t accept anyone under 20, and I’ve been in the PKK since I was 18.”

He’s been in Sinjar for eight months, and refuses to leave for rest, even missing the chance to vote for the People’s Democratic Party (HDP) in his home city of Mardin during the Turkish general election earlier this month.

The HDP is Apo’s project, which wants to collect all Kurdish ideas in one party. We’re really happy about the election, the HDP is very strong. The HDP will fight those who try to suppress Kurds in Turkey.”

Shevan is extremely distrustful of the Turkish government.

If we say IS is our enemy, the real enemy is Turkey and Iran, they have always wanted to fight the Kurds. IS want to fight the Kurds, and of course in this case Turkey want to help IS – we have proof that many times Turkey has helped IS forces,” he says, without elaborating on the evidence.

Black smoke starts to rise from IS houses 80 metres away, and we are ushered away. IS snipers have set fire to tyres, to give them cover from jets overhead as they move positions. This action is almost always accompanied by an increase in activity, and soon gunfire is cracking through the air. Tofiq later explains the tactic.

The problem with the snipers, they don’t fight from a stable position, they are moving every day, every night, every hour. When they burn the tyres they are changing places.

They have dug a lot of tunnels in this area – in the night they are coming, very close to the Peshmerga and then returning by tunnel, not overground. Sometimes the coalition drop heavy bombs when they know that they’re using the tunnels, but not very often,” he says.

We move to a compound shared by the PKK, YPG and the female units of the YPJ. There is a large hole in the garden, from which earth is used to fill sandbags. In the corner a PKK fighter cuddles an albino rabbit, almost completely obscured in his hands.

A PKK fighter with his pet rabbit

Two women from the YPJ tell us that they have been in Sinjar for 45 days. One is from Amedia, the other from eastern Turkey, or Bakur, as it’s known in Kurdish. Like Shivan they remain in Sinjar when they are given leave – they tell BasNews that they are here to free the town, and won’t leave until they have.

We head back to the base for one last chat. Over a glass of tea Tofiq explains how the Kurds are trying to combat IS with limited equipment.

Sometimes there is a conflict between IS and Kurdish cells [radios] and sometimes we hear them speaking in code for movements – ‘The seller is coming! The seller is coming!’ When we hear the voices, some of them are speaking in Turkmen, they are from Tal Afar, but the PKK understand them!” he says gleefully.

Sometimes we hear their voice without radios, because they are so close; at night especially.” A fighter interrupts to lament the lack of night vision equipment – although one PKK fighter has a set.

We leave the base to take the switchbacks up the mountain, once more passing the cars and clothes. As we pass the ridge and drive down into the long valley which is now home to several semi-permanent tent villages, the translator turns and tells me that the Peshmerga are often insulted and harangued when they travel through this area. Many Yazidis blame them for abandoning Sinjar when IS first arrived in August last year.

The view of the city from Mount Sinjar

But for now, on the front at least, there is Kurdish unity of purpose. Fighters from different militias are joining to confront the common enemy, sharing limited resources, good humour and linguistic skills.

Stroud Farmers’ Market Needs Syrian Cuisine


As of the latest census 115,000 (or thereabouts) people live in the Stroud District. It’s not the world’s most cosmopolitan area, but it’s full of diverse, accepting people. Sure, there are one or two pubs where darts seem to hang mid-air when a non-local walks in, but in my extensive research not one of them is actively unwelcoming.

But it’s about time we addressed The London Problem. These out-of-towners coming here, with their ToffRoaders and odd ways, buying all the best cuts at the Farmers’ Market. The result of the general election proves that UKIP doesn’t go far enough, and if we don’t stop these cross country immigrants heading over to the Five Valleys for the unspoilt air, soon there won’t be enough to go around.

Again, I’ve done thorough, faultless research. There are at least 10 families that have moved from outside Gloucestershire into Chalford, in search of “a better life”. Children are polluting the purring burr of thick Gloucestershire brogue with jarring estuary ‘English’ in classrooms across the district. Mothers are taking part-time jobs, in some cases even creating jobs to satisfy their lust to turn the High Streets of Stroud, Dursley and Nailsworth into some sort of ‘Little London’.

If we don’t stop this now, our culture will be diluted beyond repair. We almost lost the cheese-rolling because of this ridiculous notion of mass-media, better we roll-up check points on the constituency boundaries, issue ID cards and keep the filthy hoards at bay. Outsiders, and I’ve done wide-ranging research, bring absolutely nothing, and history proves me right.

I could labour this point, probably already have, but as a resident of both Stroud and Iraqi Kurdistan, I want to appeal to our community here. I’ve seen, in the last four years, the effect of the complicated war in Syria, and subsequently Iraq. People that have sought sanctuary anywhere away from the conflict.

For some, that sanctuary is in the Kurdistan region of Iraq, where hundreds of thousands are living in camps where they survive. There is no thought of a future, and hope is a scare commodity. In temperatures nearing 50C this summer, resource-heavy air coolers were at best discouraged, at worst banned – both water and electricity hungry, they are wasteful in a region short on both.

Iraq hosts 4 million refugees and internally displaced people. Rather than the numbers, it’s best to look at the language. A refugee is someone much more than a migrant. I’m a migrant. Despite what friends and acquaintances may say, I’m not actively fleeing something. In fact, I’m a lifestyle migrant, living in Iraq because it, on the whole, suits me – I’m enjoying a career change I would have found far more difficult in the UK, and I’m learning about another culture, doing my best to assimilate and bring the best of my upbringing to a strange country without imposing what I think is right.

However, it was my choice. Those people boarding trains in Budapest? They don’t see a choice. They survived perilous trips across the Mediterranean, ploughing life savings into the pockets of unscrupulous traffickers, all for a little hope. Look to Turkey, where millions are already camped, Lebanon where the population is almost half refugees. Jordan which has accepted refugees for years, where the second largest city is essentially a tent encampment. These people don’t have the means to go any further, and if they could, they would.

People move because they are scared, and Europe is the safest, closest place to come. They want a future for their children, and are willing to risk the lives of them to get here. And guess what? If they’re spending $5,000 per person to risk this, they know how to make money. For all the people that believe that these hopeless people are seeking light in Europe merely to hit the non-existent benefits gravy train, give them an opportunity to shine.

And it’s about time The London Problem was challenged. For too long lattes and mochas have been the drink of Stroud High Street – it’s time for glasses of sweet chai and refreshing icy ayran to offer an alternative. The tasty Thai noodles of the Farmers’ Market must go up in a head-to-head-everyone-wins battle against freshly prepared tabouleh and babaganoosh.

So I propose the Stroud district welcomes its fair share of Syrian and Iraqi refugees. I’ve done the maths, and it’s terrifying.

Let’s go crazy and say the UK takes in 100,000 refugees. Hold the ‘paper still, I felt your shudder. Let’s say combined districts with a population of 15 million are for some reason unable to take refugees. So 100,000 divided by 50 million is a satisfying 0.002

Stroud’s population is about 115,000 as I said up top. 0.002 x 115,000 = 230

These figures are the absolute most absurd I could reasonably come up with.

To be humans, to care and to respond to a crisis none of us can, or would ever hope to, imagine, we need to find room for 230 people.

Sorry, not find room. We need to welcome 230 people, learn from them, support them and enrich our society – oh and feel good. Because this is the stuff of life.

Let’s make Stroud a beacon of hope, acceptance and fearlessness.

Rojava: Political Structure Obscured By Headlines


In recent weeks, as the world has watched the siege of Kobani enter its third month, the narrative followed by the media has centred on the sensational elements.

Glossy magazines have run articles praising the bravery of The Female Fighters Of The YPJ.

Stories of foreign fighters who have joined the People’s Protection Units (YPG) and the Women’s Protection Units (YPJ) abound . As new recruits to the cause join daily, the press is beginning to question the motivation of some soldiers, incorrectly identifying two British fighters as mercenaries. None of the ‘Lions’ are receiving payment, but they do get advice on what to bring; a minimum of $5,000 to purchase weapons, armour and supplies.

The fetishisation of the Kurdish women defending Rojava from the Islamic State has been depressing. I don’t question their heroism, in fact I’m deeply impressed by all with the courage to fight an enemy that has struck fear into supposedly stronger forces. Their resolve has remained intact, although reports suggesting that as much as 80% of Kobani is under Kurdish control appear to be wildly inaccurate. Refugees on the border claim the opposite is true. They say that the only area held by the Kurds is the highway to Turkey, which IS will not attack for fear of finally snapping the patience of the Ankara government.

The Marie Claire article that did the most to highlight the women battling IS in Rojava was hastily, and to their credit, publicly amended shortly after publication. Of the 12 women profiled, two were girls of just 12 and 14 years old. Naturally this caused something of an outcry, with accusations that the magazine was, if not celebrating, tacitly condoning the use of child soldiers.

Fewer commentators have tackled the way the article patronises women, the implication being that gender has an effect on the desire to protect your home and family. It’s certainly not as overtly misogynistic as Greg Gutfeld, the Fox News presenter who ridiculed UAE pilot Major Mariam al-Mansouri. Perhaps we should be thankful that the editor chose not to illustrate the article with the cultural appropriation of Peshmerga clothes, for which retailer H&M was forced to apologise in October. H&M claim the style and timing of release of the belted khaki jumpsuit was a coincidence.

But the Marie Claire article doesn’t ask about the politics of the women – there is not a single enquiry about what the Democratic Union Party (PYD) or even the Turkish Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) stand for, merely the compulsory references to the 30 year struggle in Turkey and the identification of the PKK as a terrorist organisation. Without that, all the article exists for is to highlight that women fight, just like men (there is no mention of the fact that Kurdish women have been involved in armed resistance for decades). By reducing the role of women in the struggle in Rojava to just a military one, Marie Claire misses the true quest for equality happening in the region. A light shone, however briefly, on the fact that the three cantons are run by two elected leaders – a man and a woman – would have been apposite. Quotas in local government insist on 40% of positions being filled by women. This commitment to women’s liberation has been adopted in Rojava from core principles of the PKK and PJAK in Iran.

On the whole the world’s press still prefers to illustrate the women of the cantons with a fighter in fatigues holding an AK-47, rather than a 30 year-old engineering graduate marshalling decrepit oil fields. That a genuine attempt at social gender equality is receiving little attention is incomprehensible, especially in this region.

Elsewhere in the world, where women have been involved on the front lines for years, media speculation is less intense. A Canadian soldier, Captain Ashley Collette was awarded the Medal of Military Valour for her leadership of an all male platoon whilst in Afghanistan, and nine other countries, including Germany, permit women in all combat units. In Israel, single and married women without children are required to undertake mandatory military service, and are able to serve in light combat roles.

One such soldier is Gill Rosenberg. The 31 year-old served for two years in the Israeli Defence Force when she emigrated to the country in 2006. She travelled to Syria via Erbil airport last month, joining the expanding ranks of international fighters within the YPG and YPJ.

She followed Jordan Matson and Brian Wilson who generated headlines as the first Americans to sign up with the YPG, and Matson especially has maintained a high-profile as the face of the social media recruitment campaign, The Lions of Rojava. The Guardian reported last week that two British men, Jamie Read and James Hughes have travelled to Syria as mercenaries, a claim flatly denied by Graham Penrose who knows the men.

“They are volunteers and brave men like Jordan Matson and Joshua Bell, whose conscience has motivated them to apply their skills to assist innocent people who have been left to their own devices in the face of terror from IS and to report their experiences so that Western European audiences can understand the imperative of assisting the Kurdish nation resist IS,” he wrote in a Facebook post.

Joshua Bell comes with a superficially interesting back story. A former contestant on the Discovery Channel’s Naked & Afraid programme, Bell is an ex-Marine, serving as a sniper with the YPG. Colourful characters one and all, and risking their lives for a cause that many would feel is not their battle.

Of course this is awesome copy – but it feels thin, and as I say, superficial. What would be fascinating is a glimpse into the personal motivations of the recruits. Do we want to know, above and beyond the slogans (“Better to live one day as a lion, than 1,000 as a lamb” and “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing”), the ‘why’? For example, how do the right-wing politics of America chime with the decidedly left-wing principles at play in the PYD?

And what of those politics? Rarely reported, and with the focus squarely on the fight against the encroaching Jihadis, what does the Western media care for the type of autonomy that Rojava and its people wish to carve in a post civil war Syria? The head of the PYD, Salih Muslim, has been around the world canvassing support and weapons for the struggle, and yet the Kurdish Supreme Committee’s plans for elections in the next two months are mostly left unreported, and even in longer pieces about the cantons, little in the way of ideology is addressed. It appears that interest is focused only on the conflict, and not what comes after (or even during). Surely there must be an appetite for the political system developing in Rojava? No? Just me?

John Cantlie, British Journalist Held by Daesh, Reports From Kobani


Islamic State have released a new video of British hostage John Cantlie, who has become the English speaking mouthpiece of the organization after over two years in captivity.

Cantlie has been the presenter of a series of news-style reports over recent weeks. Filmed wearing an orange tunic, he has delivered propaganda pieces direct to camera, in a series entitled Lend Me Your Ears. Episode 5, released Sunday 26th October, claims that hostages have been waterboarded, and in previous episodes he has spoken of being abandoned by his government.

Until the video from inside Kobani, released 27th October, it was difficult to ascertain if the Lend Me Your Ears series was shot in one sitting – current events in the fight against IS are not mentioned.

Now, however, Cantlie directly references news reports from the BBC on the 17th October, and is wearing a much fuller beard than that seen in the videos, which remains uniform throughout the five episodes of Lend Me Your Ears, suggesting that they were indeed shot at one time.

The Kobani video opens with footage from a remote controlled multi-rotor helicopter, surveying the damage done to the city, before it cuts to Cantlie.

He opens, “We are here inside the so-called PKK safe zone that is now controlled by the Islamic State.

“Despite continual US air strikes which have so far cost nearly half a billion dollars in total, the mujahideen have pushed deep into the heart of the city. They now control the eastern and southern sectors.

“The western media, and I can’t see any of them here, have been saying that the Islamic State are on the retreat. In the last 48 hours, hundreds of Islamic State militants have been reportedly killed in air strikes according to the IB Times on the 16th October. ‘We know we’ve killed several hundred of them,’ said John Kirby the Pentagon official. The Islamic State is retreating from the city of Kobani, said the BBC on October 17th, while Patrick Cockburn said in The Independent that despite suffering serious losses, the Islamic State was continuing its assault on the city.”

He also mentions the arrival of Peshmerga, dating the video to within the last seven days, “Kobani is now being reinforced by Iraqi Kurds who are coming in through Turkey while the mujahideen are being resupplied by the hopeless United States air force, who parachuted two crates of weapons and ammunition straight into the outstretched arms of the mujahideen.”

Cantlie then addresses the lack of on the ground reports leaving Kobani, “Without any safe access, there are no journalists here in the city, so the media are getting their information from Kurdish commanders and White House press secretaries, neither of whom have the slightest intention of telling the truth about what’s happening here on the ground.”

However, this is contradicted by a report on NBC from Iraqi Kurdish journalist Shirwan Qasim. Qasim spent three days in Kobani last week, where he reported that whilst Kurdish fighters are in good spirits, there are no safe areas in the city.

Kobani is, Qasim says, a ‘ghost town’ of just several hundred people.

Cantlie appears to confirm this, but claims the city is in the hands of Islamic State militants.

“The battle for Kobani is coming to an end, the mujahideen are just mopping up now, street to street and building to building; you can occasionally hear sporadic gunfire in the background as a result of those operations.”

He finishes his piece with a flourish of propaganda now expected from the Islamic State media machine, “Urban warfare is about as nasty and tough as it gets, and it’s something of a specialty of the mujahideen.”

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