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Syrian Kurdish Fighters, not Obama, Rescue Yazidis Stranded on Sinjar Mountain

President Obama may be dismissive of the Islamic State (IS) terrorist army, calling them flippantly in a New Yorker interview the equivalent a “JV team putting Lakers uniforms which doesn’t make them the equivalent of Kobe Bryant”. Anything for this President President to avoid calling  IS, what it is, a powerful international  force of barbarous  Salafist Jihadis. A veritable terrorist Army who now control a Caliphate covering a broad swatch of Syria and northern Iraq equipped with hundreds of millions of US and Russian arms captured from fleeing Assad and Iraqi soldiers. All financed with billions in loot and war booty from their blitz-like rampage. IS is currently engaged in ethnic cleansing of  Nineveh province.

It is conducting a patent Islamic genocide campaign dispossessing and ousting Christians and  Kurdish speaking Yazidis. Yazidis whose ancient Mesopotamian faith preceded Islam.  

Hundreds of thousands have fled into the sanctuary of  Iraqi Kurdistan.  The Kurdish regional Government (KRG) defended by tough peshmerga forces equipped with ancient Russian weapons from the regime of the late Saddam Hussein. As a result of the IS rampage, a combined humanitarian and military crisis occurred in August 2nd with the fall of Sinjar, Iraq and the flight of  tens of thousands of Yazidis. The rapid advance of IS in both Syria and Iraq was evident to most observers; the exception being the National Security Staff in the West Wing of the White House. They were deflected by the turmoil of establishing a new government in Baghdad, opposed by Shiite autocrat and PM,  Nouri al-Maliki who had deprived the Kurdish regional Government of their fair shares in oil revenues and modern US  supplied arms and weapons.  In June the President sent in 300 military coordinators and planners, since ramped up to an estimated 800 contingent.  US diplomats in the ‘green zone’ in Baghdad and some in Erbil have been flow out to Jordan.

The blame game between the U.S. broke out with sudden capture  by IS of Iraq’s second largest city Mosul in mid-June threatening the Iraqi Kurdistan and Peshmerga force. The flimsy excuse offered by President Obama for ordering the limited air assault against advancing IS forces was the threat to US several hundred military coordinators and diplomats in Erbil, the KRG capital.  Add to that  the humanitarian crisis caused by the flight of more than 45,000 Yazidis to Sinjar Mountain cut off from possible sanctuary in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Watch this WSJ report with Intelligence Journalist Siobhan Gorman on why the US Intelligence community underestimated the sudden rise of IS:

 The Presidential order of August 7th initiating limited air strikes against IS forces only dented their progress  after capturing  the  strategic Mosul Dam astride the Tigris River. The IS blitzkrieg  came within 30 miles of Erbil, the modern capital of the Iraqi Kurdistan.  Humanitarian air drops of water and food by both the US and U.K. to the cowering Yazidi tens of thousands of refugees on the arid 3,000 foot mountain, only provided a brief respite. IS forces seized hundreds of Yazidi women as sex slaves or buried them alive  as  they are considered infidel polytheists and alleged ‘devil worshippers”  under Islamist doctrine.  Iraqi Peshmerga fighters were engaged in pushback of IS forces and recapture of towns along their long frontier with the terrorist Caliphate forces.  It was left to Syrian Kurdish Peshmerga in adjacent Rojava- their homeland – to come to the rescue of the Yazidis.  By August 7th, the same day the President announced  the limited air operations and humanitarian air drops Sinjar Mountain, the Syrian Kurdish Peshmerga successfully opened a secure path for Yazidis to come down off the mountain and enter the adjacent area of Syria to safety an  eventual re-entry into  adjacent KRG.

An AP report, “Syrian Kurdish Fighters Rescuing Stranded Yazidis”, reveals the successful humanitarian corridor created by these Rojava  Kurdish Peshmerga fighters without US and UN assistance.  Note these excerpts:

While the U.S. and Iraqi militaries struggle to aid the starving members of Iraq’s Yazidi minority with supply drops from the air, the Syrian Kurds took it on themselves to rescue them. The move underlined how they — like Iraqi Kurds — are using the region’s conflicts to establish their own rule.

For the past few days, fighters have been rescuing Yazidis from the mountain, transporting them into Syrian territory to give them first aid, food and water, and returning some to Iraq via a pontoon bridge.

The desperate condition of these stranded Yazidis was described:

“The (Kurdish fighters) opened a path for us. If they had not, we would still be stranded on the mountain,” said Ismail Rashu, 22, in the Newroz camp in the Syrian Kurdish town of Malikiya some 20 miles from the Iraqi border. Families had filled the battered, dusty tents here and new arrivals sat in the shade of rocks, sleeping on blue plastic sheets. Camp officials estimated that at least 2,000 families sought shelter there on Sunday evening.

Nearby, an exhausted woman rocked a baby to sleep. Another sobbed that she abandoned her elderly uncle in their village of Zouraba; he was too weak to walk, too heavy to carry.

Many said they hadn’t eaten for days on the mountain; their lips were cracked from dehydration and heat, their feet swollen and blackened from walking. Some elderly, disabled and young children were left behind. Others were still walking to where Syrian Kurds were rescuing them, they said.

We are thankful, from our heads to the sky, to the last day on earth,” said Naji Hassan, a Yazidi at the Tigris river border crossing, where thousands of rescued Yazidis were heading back into Iraq on Sunday.

The U.N. estimated around 50,000 Yazidis fled to the mountain. But by Sunday, Kurdish officials said at least 45,000 had crossed through the safe passage, leaving thousands more behind and suggesting the number of stranded was higher.

The Syrian Peshmerga swung into action:

Syrian Kurdish officials said soon after Yazidis fled their villages, they began fighting to create a safe passage. They clashed with Islamic State fighters upon entering Iraq, losing at least 9 fighters, but by Aug. 7 had secured a safe valley passage, cramming Yazidis into jeeps, trucks and cars to bring them some 25 miles away. Some of the ill were even rushed to hospital.

“We answered their cries for help. They were in danger and we opened a safe passage for them into safety,” said military official Omar Ali. “We saw that we had to help them and protect them; they are Kurds and part of our nation.”

The AP report noted that autonomy that Syrian Kurds established in Syria that allowed them to undertake this rescue of the Yazidis after the KRG Peshmerga retreated:

In saving Yazidis, Syrian Kurds were also demonstrating their own ambitions for independence as Syria’s civil war rages on.

They announced their autonomous area of Rojava in January, and rule several far northeastern Kurdish areas of Syria. Government forces stationed in the area were redeployed over two years ago to battle rebels seeking Assad’s overthrow, Syrian Kurdish officials said.

But in entering Iraq, the Syrian fighters are also challenging their Iraqi Kurdish rivals. They say they entered after the Iraqi Kurdish fighting force, called the peshmerga, fled Yazidi villages after short battles with Islamic militants. The peshmerga say they were outgunned by the militants.

The gratitude of the Yazidis for the action of the Syrian Kurdish fighters:

For now, with the peshmerga gone and state aid ineffective, the Yazidis who survived the mountaintop ordeal were counting on the Syrian Kurdish fighters. Covered in dust among crowds at the Tigris crossing, Hassan said without the fighters all would have been lost.

“Were it not for them, no Yazidi would be saved,” he said.

If the West is serious about blunting, if not rolling back the IS Jihad blitzkrieg, it must rapidly equip and train both Iraqi and Syrian Kurdish peshmerga with basic small arms, mortars and grenades, as well advanced weapons.  The irony is that desperately needed  weaponry would be used to destroy US weapons and munitions abandoned by regular Syrian and  Iraqi Shiite forces that were slaughtered or fled in panic acquired during the IS rampage.  There is an immediate source that could be drawn immediately less than 601 miles away from Kurdistan, the U.S. War Reserve stockpile in Israel. All it takes is for President Obama to authorize the Pentagon to make those draw downs and undertake  emergency airlifts to  equip and train those tough  Peshmerga fighters on the frontlines in both Syria and Iraq.

What did Sir Winston Churchill say about U.S. lend lease efforts prior to our entry into WWII in a radio broadcast on February 9, 1941:  “Give us the tools to finish the Job”.

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared on the New English Review. The featured image is of a Syrian Kurdish Peshmerga fighter in Derika, Syria’s Refugee Camp. August 10, 2014 Source: AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed.

Iraq on Brink of Disintegration: ISIS Blitzkrieg threatens Baghdad – Kurds Seize Kirkuk

The ISIS Jihad  blitzkrieg seized the oil-rich Northern Iraqi City of Mosul Wednesday, while the Iraqi Army fled. This leaving  nearly half a million civilians, Assyrian Christians among them,  to flee to rural areas of the province of Biblical Nineveh. ISIS is the Salafist –Jihadist Al Qaeda terrorist army, the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham,the Levant.

ISIS has looted nearly a half billion in cash and tons of gold bullion making the terrorist army perhaps the largest well funded Al Qaeda affiliate.  Add to that the significant oil fields and Iraq’s largest refinery in Mosul, the ISIS literally may have the fuel to follow through with their threat to attack Baghdad. Mosul  was festooned with the decapitated heads of  Iraqi policemen. This despite Prime Minister Nouri al- Maliki putting on a brave face calling upon his parliament to declare a state of national emergency. Now he has to rely on the loyalty of the US trained Iraqi army and militia from his Shia base to defend the capital.

Meanwhile, the Kurdish Regional Government  (KRG) in Irbil dispatched its peshmerga forces to take over what they couldn’t do by plebiscite, the oil rich city of Kirkuk.  A Kirkuk that the Kurds consider as “their equivalent of Jerusalem”.  Now, as one report cited, just a mound of dirt separates Kurdish peshmerga from ISIS jihadi.

At risk is the future of this artificial country created by the British from the Mesopotamian Mandate of the League of Nations following WWI.   Ironically the US surge strategy of General Petreaus nearly a decade ago used nation building and bribery to defeat the al Qaeda forces in the Anbar provinces and Mosul.  Given current developments the  refusal of the Al Maliki government to negotiate a status of forces agreement with may have contributed to this looming debacle.  That choice was up to Maliki.  Because of these missteps we have looming a possible  Sunni Caliphate stretching across neighboring Syria deep into Iraq.  Today the picture gets even murkier as Iran announced dispatch of battalions of its  Quds Force to bolster the defense of Nouri al-Maliki’s beleaguered capitol.  This episode may rival the legendary history of the  sweep of the first Grand Jihad over 14 centuries ago. The Washington Post in a report today on these rapidly deteriorating developments in Iraq quoted President Obama saying:

“I don’t rule out anything, because we do have a stake in making sure that these jihadists are not getting a permanent foothold in either Iraq or Syria,” Obama told reporters after a White House meeting with visiting Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

“I think it’s fair to say that . . . there will be some short-term, immediate things that need to be done militarily, and our national security team is looking at all the options,” he said. “But this should be also a wake-up call for the Iraqi government” about the need for political accommodation between the country’s Shiite Muslim majority and the Sunni minority, he added.

ISIS loots Mosul Central bank

The International Business Time(IBT)  wrote of how much booty the ISIS secured in the capture of Iraq’s second largest city, Mosul Seized: Jihadis Loot $429m from City’s Central Bank to Make Isis World’s Richest Terror ForceThe IBT reported:

Nineveh governor Atheel al-Nujaifi confirmed Kurdish television reports that Isis militants had stolen millions from numerous banks across Mosul. A large quantity of gold bullion is also believed to have been stolen.

Following the siege of the country’s second city, the bounty collected by the group has left it richer than al-Qaeda itself and as wealthy as small nations such as Tonga, Kiribati, the Marshall Islands and the Falkland Islands.

The financial assets that ISIS  now possesses are likely to worsen the Iraqi government’s struggle to defeat the insurgency, which is aimed at creating an Islamic state across the Syrian-Iraqi border.

[…]

They also seized considerable amounts of US-supplied military hardware. Photos have already emerged of Isis parading captured Humvees in neighboring Syria where they are also waging war against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

What  is really worrisome is that the vast treasury that ISIS has seized that will enable them to  pay on average $600 a month to attract  thousands of  foreign jihadis, especially those in the West.

Just yesterday, ISIS forward elements seized Tikrit the ancestral home town of the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, putting it less than 95 miles from Baghdad. ISIS has also surrounded the city of Samarra less than 70 miles from the nation’s capital.

http://www.ekurd.net/mismas/articles/misc2012/11/kirkuk754.jpg

Kurdish peshmerga troops in Kirkuk. Source: ekurd.net.

Kurdish Peshmerga Seize Kirkuk

The autonomous KRG Peshmerga forces went into action today seizing a virtually defenseless Kirkuk. The KRG had been thwarted by the Al Maliki government from conducting a plebiscite to take back this resource rich original part of the Kurdish homeland.    The Guardian’s report conveys the sense of how rapidly Iraqi forces had abandoned the defenseless city,  Kurdish Peshmerga seize a chaotic victory in Kirkuk:

Capturing the city and its huge oil reserves, just outside the area controlled by the KRG, is a huge achievement. Yet victory looks far from glorious or orderly.

[…]

On Thursday Kurdish officials said they had stepped in to protect the city after government troops fled before advancing rebels from the Sunni jihadi group Isis.

Locals alleged that weaponry inside the K1 base had been seized by Kurdish Peshmerga forces belonging to both the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), the two main political forces in the KRG. But in the confusion of Iraq’s deepening crisis it is hard to be quite certain.

[…]

“There are no security concerns at this moment and the situation is calm in the city,” said Dler Samad, the Kirkuk governor’s press officer. The governor, Dr Najmadin Karim, had visited Peshmerga forces near Hawija, just 3km away from ISIS units. But a minister responsible for regional security forces survived a bomb blast as he drove into Kirkuk.

Chaldean Archbishop Emil Shimoun Nona of Mosul, Iraq. Sourcs CNS Church in Need Service.

The ISIS threat to Christians in Nineveh

We have written extensively of the flight of the beleaguered  Assyrian Christians. A report by Nina Shea in the National Review On-line depicted the crisis that this ancient Christian community faces  in the midst of  the ISIS jihadist onslaught, The Cleansing of Iraq’s Christians Is Entering Its End Game.  Shea wrote:

Mosul’s panic-stricken Christians, along with many others, are now fleeing en masse to the rural Nineveh Plain, according to the Vatican publication Fides. The border crossings into Kurdistan, too, are jammed with the cars of the estimated 150,000 desperate escapees.

[…]

Since 2003, Iraq’s Christian community has suffered intense religious persecution on top of the effects of the conflict and, as a result, it has shrunk by well over 50 percent. Mosul, the site of ancient Nineveh of the Assyrians, who converted to Christianity in the first century, has become the home of many Christians who remained. Considered by Christians the place of last resort inside Iraq, Mosul and the surrounding Nineveh Plain has been home to many Christian refugees driven out of Baghdad and Basra.

ISIS on the march

Sources: The Institute for the Study of War, The Long War Journal. The Washington Post. Published on June 11, 2014, 9:37 p.m. For a larger view click on the map.

Who do you pin the blame on?

Earlier we  noted the failure of the Maliki government to conclude a status of forces agreement when the remaining US forces left three years ago. This was just as the civil war in Syria arose in bloody earnest that spawned ISIS’ terrorist Jihad in the region.  The Wall Street Journal cited Sen. McCain and  House Speaker John Boehner laying blame on Obama, while the Chairmen of the House and Senate Armed Service Committees, Republican Rep. Buck McKeon and  Democrat Sen.Carl Levin held differing views:

Several top Republican congressional leaders Thursday blamed President Obama for what they called policy failures leading to the collapse of Iraqi armed forces and the fall of major Iraqi cities to the control of Islamist militants.

[…]

“Now they’ve taken control of Mosul, they’re 100 miles from Baghdad. And what’s the president doing? Taking a nap,” Mr. Boehner said.

Mr. McCain said the administration’s decision to leave in 2011 was politically motivated.

“The trouble is, as the events of this week show, what the Americans left behind was an Iraqi state that was not able to stand on its own,” he said. “What we built is now coming apart.”

He said the U.S. must “take immediate action” to head off the militants’ advance, and reconsider the decision by Mr. Obama to wind down the U.S. presence in Afghanistan in 2016.

[…]

Rep. Buck McKeon (R., Calif.), who heads the House Armed Services Committee, told reporters that he opposed airstrikes and any additional involvement by the U.S. in a crisis that has seen Sunni militants and Kurdish military units make incursions around the country. Iraq’s government had a chance to sign a status-of-forces agreement with the U.S. but didn’t, Mr. McKeon said.

“We lost a lot of blood, a lot of treasure there and gave them an opportunity and they wouldn’t sign the agreement,” Mr. McKeon said, adding that any assistance would add another strain to the military when officials are trying to slim down budgets. “They all take money, they all take resources, they all put people at risk.”

Sen. Carl Levin (D., Mich.), chairman of the Senate armed services panel, blamed Iraq’s government for not doing enough to unify the country and stave off sectarian violence. He also questioned whether U.S. airstrikes would be effective given that Iraqi security forces, he said, have “melted away” in some places.

“While all options should be considered, the problem in Iraq hasn’t been so much a lack of direct U.S. military involvement, but a lack of reconciliation on the part of Iraqi leaders,” Mr. Levin said.

Fred Kaplan in Slate had views close to that of McKeon and Levin in an article, “If jihadists control Iraq, blame Nouri al-Maliki, not the United States”.  Kaplan is the author of The Insurgents and the Edward R. Murrow press fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. After reviewing the success of General Petreaus’ surge in the western provinces and Mosul, Kaplan concludes about the current debacle:

Maliki has his own political problems. His party won a plurality of votes in the recent election, but not enough to declare victory…. The threat from ISIS—and it’s now a dire threat—might move some factions to strengthen the nation’s leader, or it might move more to abandon all confidence in Maliki and turn to someone else.

One hope for Iraq is that ISIS might have gone one rampage too far. While stomping through Mosul, some of their militiamen stormed the Turkish consulate and kidnapped Turkish diplomats. Under international law, that amounts to an attack on Turkey, and it’s unlikely that the Turks will simply shrug. Iran, which has emerged as Maliki’s main ally, has no interest in seeing Sunnis regain power in Baghdad. A strange alliance among all three may come to life to beat back this equally strange insurgency.

With news today that Iran is sending battalions of its elite Quds Force to fight in Iraq, Kaplan’s views appear like grasping a thin reed. Supplying more US military aid and perhaps air resources by the Obama Administration may not even put a dent into the ISIS Jihadist blitzkrieg poised to possibly conduct a siege on the capital.  Iraq is for all intents and purposes a failed state. The world and we in America will pay for its possible demise with a spike in both oil and gas prices. Time for us to bolster the independence of Kurdistan and let the Shia provinces become veritable client states of Iran, while a Jihadist  Sunni Emirate arises. Saudi Arabia will doubtless consider its options with  the failure of Iraq further endangering the Gulf region and its oil fields. Could a regional war of global proportions be in the offing?

Will the US Embassy in Baghdad be evacuating before being overwhelmed? Stay tuned for developments.

RELATED ARTICLES:

Jihadist behind takeover of Mosul released from U.S. custody in 2009
Iraq Isis Crisis: Medieval Sharia Law Imposed on Millions in Nineveh Province
Obama: “The World Is Less Violent Than It Has Ever Been”
Decapitated heads of policemen and soldiers line the streets of Mosul as ISIS imposes Sharia

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared on The New English Review.