Go Barnaby go!

Australian politics…

Our deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce bangs one of his staffers, knocks her up, wrecks his marriage, hides the affair, re-employs the staffer in other MPs’ offices, blames “whisper campaign” when the story comes out, calls it a private matter, gets our prime minister Malcolm Turnbull to investigate it, and has Turnbull say there is nothing wrong with anything that happened.


Joyce is the leader of conservative National Party which is the coalition partner to Turnbull’s Liberal Party, and the government has a thin majority in the parliament. If this is how the government thinks they will retain the power at the next election, they are fools who take us for fools.

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Talking Turkey the fun way

The former US ambassador to Turkey Robert Pearson has some advice for policymakers before Rex Tillerson and James Mattis’s visits to Ankara next week.

The title of Pearson’s open letter, “US-Turkey cooperation remains vital for Syria”, is the kind that puts fear into the hearts of Kurds and their friends, as it suggests the US should sell out its reliable partners in Syria for that all-important NATO ally.

The body of the letter is anything but … The text and the recommendations are a recipe for placing a leash on the barking “shame, blame, and claim” dog Turkey.

The parts of the letter read like proof that there can be hilarity in diplomacy. For example, the link to the sentence “Turkey is investing heavily in the development of its own national weapons” takes you not to a 100-page tome detailing Turkish ambitions, but a 2-sentence long, 1-min read Reuters report from August 2016!

In the same spirit, I will try to make sense for you what Pearson’s recommendations may mean [in brackets]:

1- State that the security of Turkey is as important to us as the security of every other NATO ally, but underline that our NATO commitment requires Ankara’s partnership. In that respect, the U.S. offers to assist Turkey in preventing all cross-border transfers of personnel, arms and materiel to aid the insurgency in southeast Turkey. Further Turkish armed incursions against Kurds in Syria will render these offers null and void.

[Tell Turkey we care about her as we care about all our wives, but the marriage cannot continue if she is not committed. Tell them we don’t let any arms transfer to the PKK, but if Turkey continues attacking the YPG, we will arm the PKK.]

2- Restate the clear U.S. priority, based on our experience in Afghanistan in the 1980s and Iraq in the 2000s, to prevent ISIS and al-Qaeda resurgence in Syria and the region. Tell Ankara that any U.S. movement on the Kurdish issue requires Turkish movement on the ISIS issue.

[Remind Turkey that we armed the mujahideen against the Soviets and placed the boots on the ground in Iraq. We can do the same again. If you want us to stop helping Kurds, you stop helping ISIS]

3- Restate that an acceptable settlement for Syria within the U.N. process is our priority—the United States rejects the failing Sochi process engineered by Russia and Iran. Remind the Turks that the Sochi process puts no pressure whatsoever on Bashar Assad and thus far has legitimized his continued despotic rule.

[Tell them, “stop cheating on us with Russia, you wretched whore! You are giving comfort to our enemy in Damascus”]

4- State that the Kurds have a right of self-defense and a role in the determination of Syria’s postwar future. Repeat that the Jan. 14 characterization of a “border defense force” comprised of SDF fighters was inaccurate, but make clear that the Kurds cannot be left helpless before Assad, ISIS and Al Qaeda (or Turkey).

[Tell them that the Kurds are the new kid on the block. That time we called the kid’s powers “kosher,” we were wrong; it is “halal”. And if anyone touches that kid, we’ll be on them (even if it is you).

5- Offer centers of joint cooperation (observation posts, intelligence centers, and joint patrols) along the Turkish-Syrian border to help seal the border. In exchange, the Turks will not invade Kurdish-controlled territory east of the Euphrates.

[Invite them out for a walk along the Turkish-Syrian border so that they can see for themselves no one is invading the other side, not even across the Euphrates river!]

6- If Turkey agrees to cooperate on the points above, the United States will withdraw American forces to east of the Euphrates.

[Tell them if they behave themselves, we will watch them from across that river.]

7- Bring high-level experts from the Departments of State and Defense as well as the CIA to provide a detailed brief on the long-term threats to Syria and Turkey posed by Russia and Iran covering the following points:

[Tell them we are worried about the Russkies and the mullahs, and so should be Turkey because we know better.]

And so on. Read and smile.

On the “shadowy attackers”

Associated Press report on the recent events in Deir Ezzour.

For the US the endgame is clear: to prevent re-emergence of ISIS in Syria. What is murky, however, is the “shadowy attacker” in the Deir Ezzour area that apparently neither Russia nor the Assad regime has control over.

The US killed 100 of this allegedly unkown force 2 days ago as they approached the gas field controlled by its local allies, namely the SDF. Russia and the regime condemned the bombing but not so much as to suggest that the attackers were Syrian soldiers advised and assisted by Russian special forces.

Hassan Hassan suggested that the attackers were local Arab tribesmen unhappy about the SDF’s control of the area. They could also be ex-ISIS jihadis who were turned and re-armed by the Syrian government.

There are also fresh sporadic reports that US and SDF have launched a counterattack on this shadowy group in a strip of regime-controlled territory in the east of the Euphrates river in Deir Ezzour. The pontoon bridge built by Russia last year has been destroyed, presumably by the Americans, to prevent reinforcements from reaching to the east bank.

It seems US and SDF want all regime-backed forces to go back to the west of the Euphrates river, which is the demarcation line between the US and Russia-backed forces.

On Human Rights Watch report

War is a dirty business and truth is the first casualty.

Back in August 2017, Iraqi security forces launched an offensive to retake the city of Tal Afar which is located in the north of the country. Kurdistan Regional Government forces did not take part in the operation, as was the case in the Mosul battle. Instead, they secured the lines in the north of the city to prevent ISIS jihadis escaping into Kurdistan.

The battle of Tal Afar was not a drawn-out affair as expected; ISIS lines quickly collapsed. In the 10-day battle, 2000 jihadis were killed. That is about 200 jihadis killed per day! For that to happen, either the city must have been completely flattened by the Coalition-Iraq carpet bombing, which was not the case, or the Iraqi army executed all men at arms-bearing age caught alive in the city.


Reports also emerged at the time that about 150 ISIS jihadis, including foreign fighters, were captured, either trying to escape through the KRG lines or surrendering to the peshmerga’s Asayish (internal security) wing. This was the highest number of ISIS jihadis caught by the KRG forces in a single incident that made it to the mainstream news. And it inevitably raised the question of what to do with them.

If every ISIS suspect was kept in custody for trial and punishment, the Iraqi and KRG justice systems would collapse under the sheer number of tens of thousands who were captured in the combat zone. And we did not see the images of tens of thousands of ISIS suspects being held in jails. So what happened to them?

The rumours circulating throughout the war against ISIS in Iraq (and in Syria) can be summarised thus: 1- Foreign fighters were executed to prevent them returning to the West where they can commit terrorism, 2- Local high-level ISIS operatives who were captured alive were held for interrogation and trial, some of whom were found guilty and executed, and 3- Local low-level elements were either turned to fight for the government or were released back to their families following ransoms and sponsorships that they would no longer engage in armed insurrection.

Now, however, we have a Human Rights Watch report on the specific instance of 100+ ISIS jihadis who were captured by the KRG during the battle of Tal Afar. The report details allegations of how they were taken into custody, where they were held, and where they were executed and buried. The evidence is too thin to justify the charges of war crimes, but it is compelling enough to warrant further investigation, which the HRW calls for.

War crime is not something Kurds are known for, even against Saddam’s army during the genocidal Anfal campaign of 1986-88. The HRW did a lot of credit to itself by meticulously documenting Iraq’s crimes against the Kurds at the time, including the Halabja gas attack. No independent observer ever charged the Iraqi Kurds of any criminal wrong-doing during and for this period.

War crime is what ISIS did during their short tenure in Syria and Iraq, especially after the capture of Mosul and Tikrit. War crime is what Turkey did during the 30-year civil war on Kurds, as recently as last year in Cizre and Sirnak. War crime is what the fascist Assad regime is known for, what the FSA jihadi rebels gleefully displayed, and what Iraq’s sectarian security forces did, in the combat zone of Tal-Afar, where 2000 were killed in 10 days.

As Kurds, we like to think we set the best standards in the region; in the way we conduct the war and prosecute the prisoners. We are supposed to be the beacon of civility in the sea of barbarism. If these allegations are true -it’s too early for that yet- then that beacon will not have been extinguished but dimmed somewhat.

Fortunately, the HRW report also acknowledges that this might be a local incident carried out by local commanders in the following terms:

“About 20 days after the last executions, Nadim’s Asayish friends told him that a very senior security officer made a high-level visit to the Asayish office in Zummar, he said. He said that several senior local Asayish officers have not been seen in Zummar since the meeting, and his contacts in the Asayish have told him they have been detained. Human Rights Watch has not been able to verify if any officers were punished, and for what.”

The areas where the alleged executions and burials of ISIS jihadis took place is now under Iraqi government’s control. The area is also subject to seasonal flooding. Baghdad may well use this opportunity to discredit Erbil, while hiding its own war crimes in Tal Afar, but that is no reason why the bodies should not be exhumed and further investigation should not be carried out.

I should state without equivocation and prevarication that I am with the Human Rights Watch in this matter. The fate of this group did cross my mind at the time of their capture/surrender, but that they might be executed did not. If this is what the HRW alleges happened then the matter should be investigated straightaway before the evidence washes away.

That is the only way to ensure that truth does not also remain buried as the last casualty of war.

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On Tabqa and Raqqa

Tabqa airbase liberation2 2017-03-26

Several days ago, following a brilliant surprise air and water borne raid, US-backed Kurdish YPG-led Syrian Democratic forces (SDF) landed to the south of Tabqa Dam, securing it before Islamic State (ISIS) jihadis could cause any damage to the structure. Now SDF has taken Tabqa airbase too.

Long-term observers of the war in Syria will agree that the fall of Tabqa airbase to ISIS in August of 2014 was one of the more infamous episodes of the war. The Assad regime had just lost Raqqa city and had withdrawn to the surrounded airbase—their last holding in the entire province. There were over a thousand soldiers trapped in the base with dozens of aircraft, tanks and artillery—not enough to stop the ISIS juggernaut.

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From Kobani to Raqqa

Remember the jihadi selfie at the gate of Kobani? How times have changed! This is me writing on 16 November 2014 when the battle was raging on inside Kobani:

“There is still a long way to go in this battle. Once the Kurdish Stalingrad is completely liberated, the YPG and allied forces will begin to expel ISIS from nearby villages and the country side until the entire Kobani canton is also freed from medieval barbarian invaders. This war will not end until the forces representing life, liberty and modernity march into Raqqa, and destroy the forces representing medievalism, death and darkness in their place of origin.”

raqqa kobani