Tag Archives: Syria

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.”

My First Month’s Pieces for basnews.net


Is a name enough? Probably not, as in the weeks to come I’m here to give my point of view on what’s happening around us in Kurdistan. However, it might help to know a little about me, and what has bought me to Kurdistan – certainly it’ll give you a start that I didn’t have when I arrived here over two and a half years ago.

I’m an English teacher, currently instructing adults in Erbil, although I’ve only been here for a year. Before that I was in Sulaymaniyah, so I have a limited understanding of both cities – although I’d be the first to admit that I’m less integrated with the local community here. The expat life has a stronger gravity in Erbil, especially in Ainkawa, and I felt more assimilated in the east. Whatever I express here, I ultimately express from a certain point of ignorance, so please feel free to educate me in the comments section below – I’ve been subjected to enough people’s opinions about Kurdistan on The Guardian website (based in the UK) to know that feelings run high when discussing this sensitive part of the world. Things are changing, at a pace that can feel giddying at times, and it’s all the serious journalists can do to keep up – most of us don’t catch every last crumb of news, especially when the headlines are of such importance.

I’m not a complete newcomer though. I’ve been here long enough to learn a little of the language. I learnt that chicken livers are referred to as ‘jigga’ when I attempted to beg a cigarette from a stall holder on Saholaka one evening. I have what we could refer to as taxi Kurdish – I can hold a respectful conversation about my home country, job and marital status, assure the driver that Kurdistan is very nice and direct him to my location. It’s now at a more advanced level than my Russian, and I was doing a great job at not learning that very well for the two years I lived in Ukraine (it was in Kyiv that I read the biography of Gertrude Bell, Desert Queen, without a second thought). I’m now confident enough to cross the shasti alone, rather than cloaking an unsuspecting guide on their dasti rast. Speaking of hands, I’m a great fan of Langa, where second hand clothes shopping is a more spacious affair than the covered market of Suli. I’ve read (most of) Qil Lawrence’s Invisible Nation, the ultimate primer for the region. So, you know – I’m trying and sometimes winning, sometimes being left confused and frustrated. Whatever happens, I’m almost daily amazed.

‘Amazed’ of ‘amazing’ are popular descriptions out of the mouths of Westerners I’ve met, who’ve just recently arrived. Be they backpackers heading east or arriving from Iran with Persian Tales, or people, like me, that came to work with little previous knowledge of the place. When I phoned my mother from Russia to tell her that I’d “accepted a job in Iraq, but in the north, Kurdistan, the safe bit”, she was not convinced. In fact, I think her mind played a trick on her, because the next time I spoke to her she asked, “How are the plans for Kazakhstan coming along?” She plays cards with some other octogenarian friends a couple of times a week, and they of course muttered and tutted about danger. I’m the youngest of four, and us babies tend to get away without worrying our folks so much, and as long as I was happy, my mother was too. At the end of my first year here, my mother celebrated her 80th birthday. And what else does a middle class lady from England want on achieving such a milestone? Why of course, a trip to Iraq, but in the north, Kurdistan, the safe bit. Without hesitation I can honestly say that Kurdistan bought my mother and I closer together. She’s an incredibly open person, very interested in people from across the globe (the joke in our 1980s household was that she wouldn’t be happy if I married a white girl), and from the moment she landed and was whisked away to Akre for Newroz, to the day she departed having just spent two nights on the concrete floor of a house in the Kakayee village of Hawa, she laughed and smiled at the generosity shown and loved her chances to show her appreciation in return. It was uniquely special, and she is constantly curious about life here, and a stanch proponent of the Kurds – and like mother, like son, so am I. I find life tricky sometimes, I feel a little like a fish out of water (although not quite as hot as masgoof), but I’m always grateful to be here; I’ve never been made to feel so welcome in my life, and for that, I will love an entire people.


I push the faders on the mixing deck up to 11 and watch with a childish grin on my face as about 20 youngsters snake around the tent, led in a conga by my friend and fellow volunteer Beebo. Others throw some shapes and bust their moves to Hiya Hiya by Cheb Khaled. It’s the second weekend in a row that the end of the film has signalled the start of a brief rave.

Welcome to the RISE Foundation cinema project at Arbat camp, east of Sulaymaniyah, in the child friendly tent that I’ve nicknamed The Arbat Odeon. On Thursday and Friday afternoons, 3 o’clock sees an orderly queue of children gathered in anticipation of whatever modern or classic animated movie we have available that week; the most popular so far was Madagascar 3 with its in-your-face style and frequent chorus of I Like To Move It, It Move (it should be no surprise that this tune was the genesis of the post-picture party tradition).

So, what’s the benefit of showing young people Arabic-dubbed cartoons twice a week? Admittedly, this might appear to be insignificant, inconsequential and even a waste of funds. But the small cost of implementing this project, in unison with other NGOs working at the site, is worth every last dinar when one considers the joy given to the children and the precious few minutes their parents have to themselves. And over the course of the project, which is nearly self-sustaining, the cost will be a great deal less than $1 per child per month. Other, incidental, benefits have been seen; many of the children are learning English and love to take the opportunity to practice with a native-speaker. We are a large roster of volunteers, and it appears that meeting new adults, being able to trust and play with someone who has come there for that reason, and that reason alone, brings as many smiles as an animated bunch of penguins piloting a flying machine (if you haven’t seen the Madagascar films, you really must. Even though I didn’t understand a word of the dialogue, I loved it). On our first visit, we noticed that the majority of movie-goers were sockless, so we resolved that the following week, handing out 200 pairs of socks and many hats and scarves. At the camp, we are able to pay a small amount to four adult refugees who organise the children and help with the ‘crowd control’ once the film is running. The hope is that eventually this will be their project and we will be able to investigate and implement other ways to help. Our lead helper, Jiyan, is a teacher at the camp school. Housed in the only permanent structure on site, the school is a series of tents within a large agricultural building. Jiyan is invaluable in getting the film project to work; he musters the kids and then, once in front of the screen, he is able to marshall them with just a few words. And whilst he doesn’t join in, he clearly loves the dancing at the end. For him, it’s an opportunity to spend time enjoying the company of his charges, having fun with them, not just teaching. In this tent (loaned to us every week by STEP and UNICEF), he is able to reach out to children who have perhaps abandoned the idea of education. For some young people, damaged by loss and having seen far too much for any life, let alone their short ones, this tent is essential. Run by social workers from The Netherlands, STEP assists not only those at risk, but any youngster who wants support; it’s fair to say that to some extent every individual fleeing Syria is vulnerable.

Now that we have The Arbat Odeon running well, and our organisation is known to both the residents of the camp, and the other NGOs working there, we are starting to consider what we can do next. Already on camps around Erbil, the RISE Foundation is knee-deep in winterisation schemes, building drainage channels and gravelling secondary roads – improving conditions and providing work for some of the people living there, engaging with the community. Unfortunately at Arbat, we cannot begin something like this, as the camp is moving across the road to a permanent settlement with concrete standings and better amenities. The move was meant to take place before winter, but as with a lot of building work, there have been delays. In the first month of the new year, UNHCR assures me that the place will be fit for purpose. We will know what is required when the move has taken place. In the meantime, we have identified another group of people that need assistance. Whilst there are over 3,000 settled in the Arbat camp, the UNHCR estimates that there might be as many as 22,000 urban refugees in Sulaymaniyah. Working with a Kurdish friend of mine, who himself was once a refugee and has experience of running programs that integrate newcomers with their host cities and towns, we aim to establish a weekly event that will allow people from the different communities to come together and share their experiences. We have a strong idea of what we want to do, and I hope in the future I will be able to bring you more good news from a different project. In the meantime, I’d like to thank everyone who has helped, either through the RISE Foundation of some other project. And to those of you celebrating, Happy Christmas!

An Open Letter, just a little ‘hello’, nothing serious



How are you? You’ve asked me to write about what’s happening here so many times, and all I’ve ever given was a couple of lines or a short Skype, I thought I’d fill you in once a week. Truly, my life here is experienced the same as it would be there, but perhaps you might find the details interesting.


The headline is that I’m currently depressed, but this will pass by morning. I’ve just spent $20 on beer in a local bar watching Sunderland be shit, and my insistence on having audible commentary (when the latest cuts from Pit Bull, Rhianna and whoever else could have been playing) went down like a swimming pool’s floater. It turns out that Iraq has many Crystal Palace fans when you deprive the drinkers of a pop hip hop soundtrack.


In other news, the Syria thing looks a bit scary. I shed a tear on the phone with my mother yesterday morning, as we applauded the politicians back in the UK for voting down a bill to ‘strike’ Assad and his alleged chemical weapon bunkers. After 30 hours thought, the irrelevance of the UK is compounded by the fact that Obama will go ahead without us – perhaps, in the long term, this is great for us Brits, but short term it still seems to me that a huge mistake is about to be made. Americans, a Canadian and maybe a Romanian (but she wasn’t explicit) think it’s time to bomb. I just can’t see what would be achieved, other than upgrading conflict to war.


You know Tick, the dog that Lucie saved? Well, she is still awaiting his arrival in Switzerland – Jacob & Cathy, a British couple in Suly, have been trying to get him on the plane to be with Lucie. But, in Kurdish style, it’s not happening. The poor sod has been caged, re-caged and stressed on four occasions so far – fingers crossed he’ll be barking at Milka cows and eating cuckoo clocks within a week.


Not much else to say really. Spent some time repairing the hexacopter today – soldering irons are not difficult, and it seems I have control of the software, even without Tech Support Guru Colin here. I feel like a kid riding his bike when dad lets go for the first time. Should be in the air again within a week, and then I just need to build the new camera housing. This engineering lark – piece of piss (it really isn’t, but one must keep a positive mind.)


Kaka Mahmound, my private client, has been on holiday – he should be back soon, so we can start up with lessons again. I’m looking forward to that. The money helps, but the few hours a week connect me with Kurdistan, something I’ve not really had since moving to Erbil at the start of the year. I’m going to visit Sulaymaniyah next weekend, want to say hello to some people.


Anyway, please leave your news in the comments section, it’ll be good to hear from you.


Love & Respect as ever,




PS I saw this bucket today. Do you want one for your bedside?Image

What I Don’t Know About Syria.


For over two years Syria has been in a state of civil war. This conflict grimly blossomed from the hope sprung from the Arab Spring, from people’s desire for secular, democratic change in government – that’s how I see it at least. I’m not a news journalist, but I have a greater than passing interest in the troubles of my neighbouring countries, and there’s always some shit going on on the national or regional boundaries around me. I don’t pretend to understand the religious and political tensions, decades old, that have somehow flared into this tragedy. For all the talk of Alawites, Shia, Sunni, Salafist, for every mention of Al Qaeda’s Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and the Free Syrian Army (FSA), I get lost in acronyms, and confused by divisions.



Why are the US and the ever-willing coalition about to rain targeted missiles on Assad’s forces with such little, unpublished evidence? Assad’s enemies include ISIS. As far as my troubled mind can see, that means tacit support for Al Qaeda. Obama is going to take the region to the brink, because of a ‘red-line’ he drew after chemical weapons were used in June (most likely by ‘rebels’ for want of a better fucking word). In whose interests, which side in this depressing, senseless, ugly conflict, in whose interests are the use of chemical weapons? Remember, the good guys in the FSA, the faction that is most stable, include that dude filmed eating a ‘regime’ (urgh, the language of propaganda) soldier’s heart. Is it such a leap that the less savoury elements of the guerilla army may see fit to gas a few hundred in order to get the western pricks to bomb and at the same time fill the order books at Lockheed Martin?


The fissures in the US Russian back down of the last 25 years are threatened by this conflict, jawed apart by direct involvement. If you can’t see Israel and Iran and their crackpot cockwand heads of state eyeing up the mother of all battles at the slightest provocation, you’re blind. Iraq will dissolve like cheap sugar in strong tea. The bleed across borders into Turkey, Lebanon, Egypt. It’s grim in my view, but then I’m disposed to think the worst.


I know one thing. If I was in England, I’d be marching. I don’t know if there is anything planned, there hasn’t been the foreplay that Bush & Blair engaged in, there isn’t time to convene a million souls with banners. I hope some of you try – they can’t possibly ignore the will of the people a second time in just over a decade, can they? And if they do, perhaps it’s time for a Western Spring.