Category Archives: Iraq

Kurds in Iraq say US withdrawal from Syria a mistake

Iraq photoPeshmerga fighters say they captured these ISIL armoured vehicles that were filled with explosives [Jennifer Glasse/Al Jazeera]

by Jennifer Glasse

Mala Qara Village, Iraq – A pair of armoured vehicles parked in a corner of the Peshmerga headquarters in northern Iraq form a stark reminder of the threat the region is facing by ISIL.

“They were full of explosives when we captured them,” Kurdish Peshmerga commander General Sirwan Barzani said, as he discussed the battle his forces fought two years ago against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS).

ISIL fighters came within 25km of Erbil, the capital of the semi-autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq, before the Peshmerga got the upper hand in continuous battles, retaking control of towns in the region from 2014 to 2016.

While ISIL has since been driven from Mosul and other towns and villages in northern Iraq, they are still active in the area, Barzani said.

The current Kurdish-run Peshmerga front line is situated along the high ridge running north from the town of Makhmur, about 65km southwest of Erbil to Gwer, behind which ISIL fighters are hiding in the caves and on cliff faces on steep hills, Barzani said; it is terrain that makes it difficult to dislodge them.

A military operation last year to rid the area of ISIL was only partially successful, Barzani said, blaming constraints placed on his battle plan by Iraqi officials and US and coalition forces.

Barzani says there are other pockets of ISIL fighters to the south and west of the Peshmerga front lines, but the areas are controlled by Iraqi forces, so there is nothing he can do about them.

There is an uneasy cooperation between the Iraqi military and the Kurdish-run Peshmerga. They worked together against their common enemy, ISIL, but relations soured in October 2017 when Iraqi forces backed by Iranian militias retook control of oil-rich Kirkuk and other contested areas that Kurdish forces had held since 2014.

The Iraqi offensive came in the wake of a Kurdish referendum on independence that the Iraqi leadership in Baghdad and much of the rest of world dismissed as illegal.

The US, a long-time ally of the Iraqi Kurds, did nothing to stop the Iraqi military advance.

With the announcement by the Trump administration about the US withdrawal from Syria, Barzani said he is concerned the US will abandon the Syrian Kurds, who have been essential in the fight against ISIL.

US withdrawal
Major General Jabbar Yawar, secretary-general of the Peshmerga ministry, said, “It is very important that the US stays in both Iraq and Syria and keep playing the leadership role in the global coalition against ISIS.”

Yawar denied Iraq’s Peshmerga work with their Syrian counterparts, often called the Rojava Peshmerga named after the Kurdish region in eastern Syria.

“As Peshmerga forces, we have no connection with Rojava or any interference whatsoever. For us, it is the matter of another country, Syria, and we have no hand in any of it,” Yawar said.

He said Iraqi Peshmerga have fought inside Syria only once.

“During the ISIS attack on Kobane we were formally asked to send reinforcements, which we did with the coordination from the coalition forces and the Peshmerga stayed there for a year,” Yawar told Al Jazeera.

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has proposed a so-called “safe zone” inside Syria running east of the Euphrates river to the border.

Barzani said that will force Syria’s Kurdish fighters, who so far have been allied with the United States, to make a deal with Damascus.

“The fighters they will go to [Syrian President Bashar al-Assad], they will have an agreement with him, of course, it’s very clear,” Barzani said.

The US announcement, which came as a surprise to its allies, could undermine any leverage US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) might have had with Assad.

There are no details yet of who will be in charge of the safe zone, but Erdogan has said he will establish it himself if he does not get international support.

‘Fighting for land’
Barzani said Erdogan will use the buffer zone drive Kurds out, as they did in the Syrian Kurdish town of Afrin last March.

“If the fighters belonging to Turkey and the terrorists belonging to Erdogan will be there, they will be fighting for the land. It’s not a safe zone, it’s a warzone,” Barzani said.

Privately, Kurdish politicians said they are concerned any Turkish advance in Syria could cause another influx of refugees into Iraq’s Kurdish region, which currently hosts about 250,000. They note Erdogan’s “security zone” includes all Kurdish areas east of the Euphrates and a US pullout would be considered a defeat in the eyes of Syrian allies Russia and Iran.

The Peshmerga say the most convincing argument for the US to stay is the continued presence of ISIL in the region.

“For us, the Peshmerga, ISIS is not finished. They still carry out terrorist acts especially in areas called disputed territories in Kirkuk, Diyala, Salahaddin, Makhmour and around Mosul. They carry out daily attacks and they have even grown in strength,” Yawar said.

“Even Syrian Democratic Forces SDF say that the US forces should stay. ISIS is still a global terrorist organisation. It may have lost the land and the caliphate, but it still exists and it is dangerous.”

 

 
https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/02/kurds-iraq-withdrawal-syria-mistake-190201120707894.html

Vatican Christmas concert will support refugees in Iraq, Uganda

Refugees photoPope Francis addresses the performer and organizers of the Christmas Concert in
the Vatican’s Clementine Hall, Dec. 14, 2018. Credit: Vatican Media.

By Courtney Grogan

Vatican City, (CNA/EWTN News).- This Christmas it is particularly important to
support refugees and migrants, Pope Francis said Friday, ahead of the Vatican
Christmas Concert fundraiser in support of young refugee education.

“Christmas is always new because it invites us to be reborn in faith, to open
ourselves to hope, to rekindle charity,” Pope Francis said in the Clementine Hall of
the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace.

“This year, in particular, calls us to reflect on the situation of many men, women and
children of our time – migrants, displaced persons, and refugees – marching to
escape wars, miseries caused by social injustice and climate change,” the pope
continued.

Pope Francis stressed his particular concern for the “little ones” among migrants,
who face dangerous situations and “long marches on foot” when they should be
“sitting among the school desks, like their peers.”

“They too need training to be able to work tomorrow and participate as citizens,
aware of the common good,” he commented.

The Holy Father expressed gratitude for the work of two papal charities that support
young refugees in Iraq and Uganda. “Missioni Don Bosco” in Uganda and “Scholas
Occurrentes” in Iraq will both receive proceeds from the Vatican Christmas Concert
taking place in Vatican City’s Paul VI Hall.

“Missioni Don Bosco” is an Italian Catholic charity supporting the education of
disadvantaged youth in developing countries. Their Salesian missionaries in Uganda
aid refugee families from South Sudan. One of their educational projects in the
Palabek refugee camp provides vocational training to 1,500 students, who also
receive one meal a day.

The Pontifical Foundation’s “Scholas Occurrentes” was founded by Bergoglio while
he was Archbishop of Buenos Aires as an initiative to encourage social integration
and the culture of encounter through technology, arts and sports.

On Friday, Pope Francis met with young Iraqi refugees supported by “Scholas
Occurrentes,” and the artists performing in the Christmas concert, and shared his
message on the importance of education and solidarity.

The pope drew a direct link between the Christmas story and the needs of child
refugees today. “When the violent anger of Herod struck the territory of Bethlehem,
the Holy Family of Nazareth experienced the anguish of persecution, and guided by
God, took refuge in Egypt,” he said.

“The little Jesus reminds us that half of the refugees of today, in the world, are
children, innocent victims of human injustices,” he continued.
https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/vatican-christmas-concert-will-support-
refugees-in-iraq-uganda-41097