Some of my friends have asked me to give an update on the fighting against the Islamic State (IS) in Iraq. Here is a brief summary based on the more consistent news we hear in the Kurdish region and from trusted media news sources.
by Peggy Faw Gish, 6 September, 2014
Each day, much of the focus of news stories in the media of Iraqi Kurdistan is on the progress of the battles being fought with the Islamic State (IS), the assistance from other countries, criticisms of various players in the struggle, and the plight of the estimated 850,000 displaced Iraqis who have come into the Kurdish region of Iraq in the past three months. And, from what is reported, it looks as though, even though IS still holds power in many areas, the Kurdish Peshmerga forces, along with several other international fighting forces, are slowly pushing IS soldiers out of some of their captured areas. The Mosul Dam was taken back from IS on August 18. Today we hear U.S. airstrikes continue around the edges of the city of Mosul, and that Mount Zurtak, overlooking Mosul has been retaken from IS.
You might note from the attached map, that the areas controlled by IS, or where fighting is occurring, are not wide areas, but more narrow strips of territory considered strategic because they control major roads or bridges important for traffic to different regions of the country, oil fields where they are selling oil for income, or particular cities where they initially found support from local Sunni tribes.
So who is fighting here? Along with the U.S., the international forces include the Peoples Protection Units (YPG)–Kurdish fighters from Rojava (Syrian Kurdistan), which shares borders with the Kurdish Region of Iraq. YPG has been fighting IS in Syria for the past two years. In the past month in Iraq, they fought to reclaim the Rabia border crossing on the Syrian border and helped Yazidis stranded on Mount Shangal (Sinjar) to escape through Syria and then re-enter the Kurdish region of Iraq. The PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party), the Turkish Kurdish rebels, labeled by the U.S. in recent years as “terrorists,” have also helped reclaim the Iraqi city of Makhmour, southeast of Mosul, and areas around it, and ironically now find themselves in a position of working indirectly in cooperation with the U.S. Also, Peshmerga leaders say that, since early August, hundreds of Iranian soldiers have crossed the border into Iraq and have been fighting in joint operations against IS around the towns of Jalawla and Khanaqen, close to the Iranian border, but also in Makhmour. Iranian leaders, however, publicly deny that Iran sent any troops to fight in Iraq,
The Pentagon continues to claim that there are no U.S. troops on the ground in Iraq, but Ford Sypher, in his article in the Daily Beast, “Are American Troops Already Fighting on the Front Lines in Iraq” (http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/09/02/are-american-troops-already-fighting-on-the-front-lines-in-iraq.html) says that Kurdish intelligence and military sources told him that German and American Special Operation forces were on the ground fighting with them.
Meanwhile, we hear reports that though there are still Yazidis leaving the Shangal area coming through Syria and back into the Kurdish region of Iraq, there are still hundreds on Mount Shangal. We assume they are in dire condition, since there has not been a U.S. drop of food, water, or medicine since August 13. Some of the Yazidis, who found their way to the Kurdish regions, said they left behind their elderly and infirmed relatives. Many younger Yazidi men had stayed behind or have recently returned to Shangal, forming militias to protect those on the mountain or hoping to liberate the city.
It isn’t only the violence of IS that displaced people here are fleeing. Many people we talked to, from various areas of Iraq, who have been displaced by the violence and come to the Kurdish region, told us that the main reason for their leaving their homes had been to escape the U.S. air strikes on IS controlled areas. Or, they have fled their homes in central and southern Iraq, to escape the Iraqi Military air strikes or battles with IS. On Saturday, airstrikes from the Iraqi Military hit a hospital in the town of Hawija, near Kirkuk, killing seven and wounding 22 patients. Iraqis in these battle areas see the anti-jihadist military intervention also as a major threat to their lives and a cause of the destruction of their communities and the disruption and uprooting of their lives that they will be coping with for years to come.