SYRIA and IRAQ NEWS
IRAQ NEWS: ISLAMIC STATE DRIVEN FROM AMERLI AND SURROUNDING VILLAGES FOLLOWING US AIRSTRIKES – BUT IS IT BE ENOUGH IN THE LONG RUN?
TIMELINE – 1st SEPTEMBER 2014 13.35 GMT – UPDATED 15.08 GMT:
After more than 2 months, the siege of the Turkman town of Amerli was broken by Iraqi and Kurdish forces on Sunday who advanced into most of the residential area.
For all that time, the resident Turkmen, the real heroes of this victory, had held out against Islamic State fighters, eventually running out of food and water but at last the situation coming to international attention.
The Iraqi Air Force had been taking out residents, particularly the sick, elderly and women and children, for weeks in dangerous operations to reduce the numbers inside the town vulnerable to Islamic State attack and persecution, leaving just 12 to 15,000 inside.
Yesterday, Sunday, after a series of US airstrikes on Saturday and again on Sunday morning, the Iraqi Army accompanied by Shia militia and Kurdish Peshmerga launched a dawn attack and managed to get through, following a partial withdrawal by the Islamic State.
This video was shot inside Amerli after the breakthrough, HERE:
The UK’s Royal Air Force (RAF) also dropped 14 tons of food and water on Amerli on Saturday night using Hercules helicopters, with Australia and France making similar runs. Australia has also signalled its willingness to send its Super-Hornet jets is support of airstrikes.
US airstrikes near Amerli hit 3 Islamic State (IS) Humvee patrol vehicles, a tank, another armed vehicle and a checkpoint. A further strike on Sunday damaged another IS tank near Amerli and destroyed an armed vehicle near Mosul Dam. As of yesterday, Sunday, this brings the total of US strikes against IS in Iraq to 120.
Pentagon estimates suggest that the US has spent more than $500 million in the last 75 days (almost $7 million a day) to try and counter the Islamic State threat. As well as the airstrikes from the USS George HW Bush aircraft carrier based in the Persian Gulf, up to 60 surveillance flights are undertaken every day using both aircraft and drones.
Ironically, unconfirmed reports suggest that the first fighters to get inside Amerli were from the Kataib Hezbollah, a special forces militia from America’s old foe, Iran. Many of the Shia militias now fighting against the Islamic State, were also responsible for killing numerous American soldiers after the US occupied Iraq in 2003.
The Iraqi Army has also said today, Monday, that its forces have taken “effective control” of nearby Suleiman Beg after battling their way through booby-trapped houses, while the UN has delivered a further 90 tons of aid to Amerli.
The Turkmen of Amerli, who are also Shiite, will welcome the Shia militia but Sunni residents of the liberated towns and villages will remain nervous of revenge attacks, especially following the killing of over 70 Sunni men in a mosque by Shia militia last week.
The BBC has a comprehensive video report, HERE:
Elsewhere in Iraq, on Sunday night an Islamic State Humvee packed with explosives was rammed into a construction site housing Iraqi security personnel in the western city of Ramadi, killing at least 37, while the Iraqi Air Force continues to drop barrel-bombs on IS-held Fallujah.
The RAF has also delivered 9 tons of small arms ammunition to Kurdish fighters (probably from Albania) and Germany has also agreed to supply the Kurds with 8,000 G3 Assault Rifles, 8,000 G36 Assault Rifles, 40 MG3 machine guns, 8000 P1 pistols, 30 “Milan” Anti-tank missile launchers with 500 missiles, 200 rocket-propelled grenades, 40 heavy bazookas, 10,000 hand grenades, 100 signal pistols.
(EDITOR: It does make you wonder about Europe’s reluctance to arm the Opposition in Syria compared with the “over-eagerness” here!)
Clearly there is a coalition of the willing to confront the Islamic State, but air strikes will not be enough to eliminate them as troops on the ground will be required to remove them from large urban centres such as Mosul. Al Jazeera has a good report, here:
IRAQ NEWS: THOUSANDS OF OLD AND SICK STILL TRAPPED ON MOUNT SINJAR WITHOUT SHELTER OR AID, AS TOTAL DISPLACED IN IRAQ EXCEEDS 1.8 MILLION:
Although the rescue of thousands of Yezidi from the top of Mount Sinjar appears to have been a humanitarian success story, apparently hundreds, if not several thousand, of elderly and sick Yezidi remain on top of the mountain, still threatened by the Islamic State.
Satellite images taken on August 21st and reports from Yezidi still on the mountain suggest there is still a humanitarian crisis unfolding. There has not been a US aid drop since 13th August when US special forces reported that things “were not as dire” as first indicated.
Estimates suggest that 4 to 5,000 remain on the mountain, 2,000 of whom probably do not want to leave anyway, but the others have few supplies, no proper shelter and are still threatened by the Islamic State fighters.
Typical of those remaining, according to the Guardian, is Sulaiman, a 58-year old Yazidi, who fled up Mount Sinjar’s southern slopes with his elderly mother and aunt.
Afflicted with diabetes and heart problems, he has been without his prescription medication since he fled his home on 3rd August.
He spoke with the Guardian via a mobile phone recharged through the battery of a water tanker brought in by Kurdish Peshmerga fighters.
“The scene of starving kids as well as elderly people is really heartbreaking, and I can assure you that many kids have died on the mountain for lack of food and water”.
With his family, Abu Sulaiman drove from his home to the southern slope, but had to abandon their car. Seven men carried him up the mountain on a stretcher.
His wife, sons and daughters and their families have managed to escape into Iraqi Kurdistan, “but I’m still here with the old members of the family,” aided by his young nephew.
Only about 50 people a day are now trickling down the northern slopes of Mount Sinjar into Syria and then on back into Iraq. It’s a 30-hour journey – on foot, with minimal provisions and families had to make a heart-wrenching calculation.
“Not all members of the family can stand such a strenuous trip,” said one Yezidi woman. “The decision was to break up into two groups, some of us to remain with the old parents at the mountain and others to march to the checkpoint to find shelter in Kurdistan and to bring the entire family later on.”
Nevertheless, some of the able-bodied remaining on the mountain to look after those less fortunate, make nightly forays down the southern slopes to attack the Islamic State – until their ammunition runs out. You can read more in the Guardian, HERE:
Several hundred Yezidi men who are undertaking training with the Kurdish militias to help them fight the Islamic State, have now been joined by hundreds of young Turkmen.
Very interesting article from an educated woman now trapped under the veil in Mosul and living in fear, waiting to escape, HERE:
The number of displaced persons in Iraq, driven from their homes by the Islamic State advance, has now exceeded 1.8 million according to the latest figures released by the UN:
The Institute for the Study of War has an updated illustrative situation report for Iraq, here:
MORE NEWS FOLLOWS SHORTLY ….
MONSTROUS ISLAMIC STATE SLAUGHTERS HUNDREDS OF ASSAD TROOPS HELD AS “PRISONERS OF WAR”:
TIMELINE – 29th AUGUST 2014 13.12 GMT – UPDATED 15.00 GMT:
In the latest news from Syria, the monstrous Islamic State has claimed, backing it with terrifying video, that it has executed “250″ of Assad’s troops who fled from Tabqa Airbase in Raqqa province.
Reports emerging since last weekend’s capture of Tabqa suggest that 200 of Assad’s troops were killed along with 346 Islamic State fighters in the final 3 day battle and another 700 members of the Syrian Army escaped.
Some of those 700 made it to Ithriya, an Assad checkpoint in Hama province halfway between the cities of Raqqah and Hama, but it was soon overrun by Islamic State forces and more of Assad’s fleeing troops were captured in the countryside.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) says that according to its sources 3 groups of Government soldiers were executed in separate locations and gives a total of 160.
Whatever the number, the interrogation of these men and their subsequent execution as prisoners is a “war crime”. In this video one Syrian soldier is interrogated, abused and mocked, (English translation above), HERE:
This man presumably, and those behind him, were then marched out into the desert wearing nothing but their underpants and killed, some shot, others mutilated with knives.
In this video the prisoners are seen being made to respond to Islamic State chants and noises made suggesting the Islamists, who apparently find this funny, are “just herding sheep”, (English sub-titles) HERE:
In a video too horrible to show (and subsequently taken down by YouTube), well over a hundred men are lined up in a very long row in the desert not far from the brick factory in Raqqah and executed.
(EDITOR: I am no lover of the Assad regime, but no-one deserves to die like this. The Islamic State will have to be stopped – they are a threat to decency and humanity on this planet. How they can justify this in the name of religion – or any God – is beyond me.)
The Syrian State media has made no mention of the execution of its troops, though it will be widely seen and read on the Internet further fuelling a rising resistance in the Alawite community, from whom most of the victims will have come, towards President Assad and his policies.
Just how far this descent into madness and complete unfeeling has gone is exemplified by the “testimony” of 2 young British Jihadists in Syria who spoke by Skype to CNN.
In the interview, the 2 masked men, with only their eyes visible, using the names Abu Anwar and Amu Bakr, “praise” the killing of the US journalist James Foley.
Asked if he would be ready to kill a Western captive, Anwar said: “I would be more than honoured to partake in an execution like this. I hope God gives me the chance to do such a thing as the brother did with James Foley. Whether it be on someone like James Foley, or a soldier of Bashar [the Syrian dictator] or a soldier of America, my hands are ready to do this blessed act.”
Anwar called the killing of James Foley a “direct and justified response to the crimes of the United States against the Islamic State”.
The other Islamic State fighter, Bakr, said that he was prepared to return to the West to continue his Jihadist battle. “If there’s no other chance than to come back and try to stop you, then I will have to do that,” he said. “I’m ready to take that step to come back if your armies, if your countries, do not stop attacking us.”
The pair also attacked the Moslem Council of Great Britain which has tried to stop young Islamic men from becoming Jihadists, describing the largest Moslem organisation in the UK as “apostates”. You can watch the video and read the entire CNN Syria news article HERE:
The Islamic State is now reported to have 14,241 foreign fighters from 24 countries according to latest estimates.
Other sources say that the Islamic State has now declared a new “province” stretching across the Sykes-Picot boundary of Syria and Iraq, to be known as “Euphrates Province”.
Additionally, the so-called “caliph” of the Islamic State, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, is said to have degreed that $1200 will be given to every Jihadist fighter that marries, together with a fully furnished house. (EDITOR: Trying to “populate” his evil state, no doubt)
According to other pictures on the Internet, the Islamic State gained considerable stores of sophisticated weapons and ammunition from their capture of the Tabqa airbas, despite heavy casualties.
ASSAD REGIME DRIVEN OUT OF QUNEITRA TOWN NEAR GOLAN HEIGHTS, BUT AL-NUSRA ALSO HOLD UN PEACEKEEPERS AFTER REGIME TROOPS FLEE:
In the Quneitra province of Syria, adjacent to the border with Israel, where a combination of more moderate fighters opposed to the Assad regime, plus the Al-Qaeda affiliated Al-Nusra Front, took control of the Syrian Government’s frontier crossing on Wednesday, the Opposition in latest reports today, Friday, claim to have gone on and driven out Assad’s troops from Quneitra town.
Opposition fighters of the Syrian Revolutionary Front can be seen, manning the border crossing, (Arabic only) HERE:
Since the last war with Israel, Syria has never re-populated the town of Quneitra after the Israeli Defence Force overran it before handing it back, though it has remained a substantial Syrian military garrison. Not any more it seems. The Opposition can be seen “mopping up resistance” in Quneitra, HERE:
Opposition fighters also captured the villages of Tal Kroum and Rawadi with fighting still reported around Jaba which the regime have hit with airstrikes. The Opposition can be seen firing at the Syrian Army outpost on top of the hill above Tal Kroum, HERE:
As many as 50 of Assad’s troops are reported killed in the fighting, with another 13 said to have fled to the “safety” of the protection of the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF)peacekeeping force along the Golan Heights border with Israel.
It is this action which may have led the Al-Nusra Front fighters to seize 43 of the UN peacekeepers from Fiji yesterday, Thursday, taking their weapons.
A further group of between 75 and 81 UN peacekeepers from the Philippines are also trapped in 2 locations in the demilitarised zone, having refused to part with their guns and saying they will defend themselves.
UN peacekeepers have been held prisoner by Opposition fighters twice before on the Golan and eventually released without harm. Negotiations are already underway to free the latest batch.
WHILE OBAMA SAYS HE “HASN’T GOT A STRATEGY YET” IN SYRIA AND IRAQ, KURDS AND IRAQI TROOPS MAKE PROGRESS:
Elsewhere in Syria, on the edge of the Opposition-held Jobar district in Damascus, fierce fighting has been reported in the last 48 hours with Opposition fighters claiming to have destroyed a number of pro-Assad militia in this tunnel-explosion, HERE:
Fighting on the frontline in Jobar can be seen, HERE: while the regime has retaliated by hitting the suburb with as many as 19 airstrikes in the last 24 hours.
In Aleppo clashes are reported between the Opposition and the Syrian Army near Aleppo Central prison and the Bustan Al-Basha neighbourhood and 3 civilians were killed and 2 wounded after a regime barrel-bomb demolished 2 houses in the Al-Qqtanh district.
Aleppo’s civil defence volunteers in their white hats continue to an amazing job in terrible circumstances. This volunteer recalls the rescue of the tiny baby found alive in the rubble after more than 12 hours, here:
In Hama province in central Syria, Assad still seems to be in serious trouble after an Opposition rocket hit a garage on the Hama military airbase setting off loud explosions and Army vehicles on fire.
Opposition sources say that Brigadier-General Ibrahim Nasif with several other soldiers at Hama military airbase has successfully defected from the Syrian Army but at the same time there are also reports that 22 of Assad’s troops have been executed by the regime for attempting to flee from the frontline near Morek.
Ahead of a meeting yesterday, Thursday, with his security chiefs at the White House to consider action in Syria and Iraq, President Obama admitted that, “We don’t have a strategy yet.”
However, he did go on to say, “I don’t think there’s a situation where we have to choose between Assad or the kinds of people who carry on the incredible violence that we’ve been seeing there,” in a reference to the Islamic State.
Obama seems to be seeking a regional approach to solving problems in Syria and Iraq and has sent his Secretary of State, John Kerry, to talk to Middle East allies such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
(EDITOR: I liked this alternative response from @drdeandre shouting “Where Are You Obama?” crystalising the frustration we all feel, HERE: )
With an election looming early in 2015, the UK’s Prime Minister also does not want to “nail his colours to the mast” it seems and commit to military involvement, a British Government spokesman saying, “There’s been no request for us to deliver air strikes and this is not something under discussion at the moment”.
Very interesting article about Iran’s manipulation of Assad and how the time may be approaching when they will work to “dump” the Assad family altogether, HERE:
In Iraq, reports say the Kurdish Peshmerga fighters have recaptured Zumar, west of Mosul, from the Islamic State and also the strategic Batma Mountain between Ayn-Zala and Zumar. However, the Islamic State fighters set fire to 3 oil wells at Ayn-Zala before retreating.
The Iraqi Army is also claiming that it has recaptured a number of villages north of Al-Adhaim as they try to battle their way through to the besieged Turkman town of Amerli (scroll down – see below).
In the recaptured town of Gwer, tensions remain high between the Kurds who retook it and the Arab population who live there and may have previously supported the Islamic State. Al jazeera has a video report, HERE:
The awful Islamic State have also captured a number of Kurdish fighters, parading them on video in orange jumpsuits and beheading one of them infront of Mosul mosque.
Entitled “A Message in Blood” the video promised more such killings if the Kurds persisted in helping the United States attack them. The BBC has a report, HERE:
To learn more about the Kurds, watch this, HERE:
Lastly, a picture of hope perhaps?:
SYRIA NEWS: OPPOSITION RETAKE CONTROL OF ASSAD BORDER CROSSING TO ISRAEL AND PUT REGIME UNDER PRESSURE ACROSS HAMA PROVINCE:
TIMELINE – 27th AUGUST 2014 14.10 GMT – UPDATED 21.10 GMT:
Earlier today, Wednesday, Opposition fighters in Quneitra province, advancing from Qahtaniyah, south-west of Quneitra city, have taken the border crossing between Syria and Israel on the Golan Heights.
The Opposition side, which included units of the Al-Nusra Front, lost 4 men in the fighting while killing 20 of the Assad regime’s troops.
After 6 Stray mortar shells landed in Israel “moderately wounding” an Israeli Defence Force officer during the clashes, Israel retaliated with 2 confirmed direct hits on Syrian Army positions said to be the source of the fire.
The Opposition had briefly held this crossing before in June 2014 before it was recaptured by the Syrian Army.
Video footage shows sight of the current attack on the frontier post, HERE: Fighting continues at nearby Juba and a hill overlooking it.
The Assad regime, having lost the Tabqa airbase in Raqqah province to the Islamic State last weekend, also seems to be in trouble in Hama province.
Despite sending in 500 troops from its elite “Desert Hawks” brigade, who were trained by the Iranians and responsible for recapturing Observatory Hill 45 in Latakia province, the Syrian Government has made no headway.
In fact some unconfirmed reports suggest that 200 of the “Desert Hawks” have already been killed.
In contrast the latest information from the Opposition side says that the Al-Nusra Front (ANF) has sent in 1,500 fighters of its own to reinforce the current fronts around Helfaia and Mhardeh in Hama province, destroying an Assad tank and a rocket launcher and killing 13 Government soldiers.
The capture of Mhardeh would further strengthen the Opposition assault on Hama city to the south-east and nearby Hama Military Airport which they continue to pound with Grad rockets making it largely inoperable. Local sources say the Opposition are within 600 metres of Mhardeh and that they hit it with more than 100 shells on Sunday.
Hama Military Airport is considered vital to the Assad regime for the production and distribution of barrel-bombs and for conducting bombing raids throughout Syria.
The regime has tried to stir up reaction by pointing out that Mhardeh is largely a Christian town, but ANF has issued instructions to treat the resident population well, its track-record at its previous capture of Christian Ma’aloula in Damascus province holding it in good stead.
The Opposition is also reported to be continuing its shelling on Wednesday of the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine to the north-west of Hama city and to have captured 9 Shabiha (Assad armed militia) at Kafr Al-Toun nearby. in addition a further 10 regime troops are reported killed on the Morek frontline.
Once again, with all this successful Opposition activity in central Hama province, the Alawites in Latakia province, which borders it, are getting nervous. You can read more, HERE:
SYRIA NEWS: ASSAD PINPOINT BOMBS ISLAMIC STATE IN DEIR EZ-ZOUR, BUT US DENIES HELPING, WHILE JIHADISTS DEMAND $6.6 MILLION FOR FEMALE US AID WORKER:
In Aleppo province east of Aleppo city, the Islamic State is shelling the Quwaires airbase with US GPS enhanced howitzers captured from the Army in Iraq, HERE:
More shelling with tanks on Islamic State positions at Ihtaimlat village, due north of Aleppo city, HERE:
Near Damascus, the Al-Nusra Front has captured a total of 5 regime checkpoints or barriers near Zabadani, killing 20 of Assad’s troops in the process.
In the Harasta district, Opposition fighters shelled the Ministry of Irrigation, HERE:
Near Damascus International Airport the Opposition say they have killed Abu al Fadl Al- Abbas, a pro-Assad militia commander.
In Deir Ez-Zour province, a number of tribal leaders issued a video pledging allegiance to the Islamic State on Sunday, in return for the Jihadists forgiveness of the Shaitat tribe who had rebelled against them. So far the Islamic State are reported to have killed 700 of the Shaitat tribe in retribution for “disobedience” and another 1800 are missing.
The Islamic State has apparently deemed the Shaitat as “hostile apostates” (despite the fact they are, like the Jihadists, nominally Sunni) designating Sheitat villages as a “military zone” and seizing, property, personal belongings, livestock, as well as demolishing houses as a punishment. You can read more, HERE:
Yesterday, Tuesday, the Assad regime carried out 12 pinpoint airstrikes on Islamic State (IS) positions across Deir Ez-Zour province hitting a training camp and “destroying arms and ammunition stores” according to Syrian state media.
At least 7 Jihadists were killed in the raids, the first time the Syrian government has carried out such intense attacks in the province on IS positions.
Some sources said the US government has provided the Assad regime with IS location and intelligence data via Iraqi and Russian intermediaries, but the US has today, Wednesday, denied this.
The US is however gathering intelligence data on the Islamic State in Syria for itself, US drones overflying the country after President Obama gave permission for such covert activity on Monday.
Obama is said to yet to be “making up his mind” on whether to strike IS targets inside Syria as well as Iraq, though military sources are indicating that it is “only a matter of time”.
There are also reports that the Syrian Government has asked Moscow to help it with airstrikes against the Islamic State, just to complicate the matter further, and Russia is apparently “considering this request”.
Members of the Alawite community, from which President Assad comes, are said to be angry at the lack of Syrian state media coverage of the fall of the Tabqa airbase in Raqqah province, where hundreds are said to have been killed, especially after videos appeared on Islamic State associated websites showing at least 7 Assad soldiers being executed. Many more are still thought to be in IS captivity. You can read more from Reuters Syria news.
Nervousness in the United States about the whole Syria/Iraq scenario has also been compounded by the confirmation that another American Jihadist, Douglas McAuthur McCain, of San Diego, California, has killed fighting for the Islamic State.
He was killed in fighting against moderate Opposition brigades in Aleppo province, along with 3 other foreign Jihadists. Rifling through his clothes afterwards, the Opposition fighters found $800 and his US passport. You can read more about his background in NBC Syria news.
Peter Theo Curtis, a journalist held by the Al-Nusra Front for 2 years, is now back in the United States (scroll down – see below) but it is reported from Israel that the Islamic State are now demanding a ransom of $6.6 million for the release of a 26 year-old US female humanitarian aid worker, as yet unidentified at the request of her family.
The BBC interviewed a Pentagon official on the subject, HERE:
At the UN today, Wednesday, the Commission charged with looking at human rights abuse in Syria issued a report damning both the Islamic State and the Assad regime, the former for “executions, beheadings and floggings”, and the latter for its use of barrel-bombs and using “chlorine gas on villagers 8 times over a 10 day period in April of this year”, among many other abhorrent acts. The detail of the report is, (pdf) HERE:
In Turkey, the press is reporting that the Netherlands, who along with Germany and the US are manning NATO Patriot missile emplacements near the border with Syria, is to end its support of the project, set up nearly 2 years ago, next January. The Netherlands, while acknowledging that it is still necessary, says it no longer has the resources to continue.
And lastly, a good news story for Syria. A young Syrian woman, who got stuck in Nottingham in the UK while studying English at the outbreak of fighting in Syria has just been reunited with her Father.
Her Father had been arrested by the Assad regime and the family never thought they would see him again, assuming that after 18 months that he must be dead. In fact, he had escaped to Sweden, thinking that his daughter Doaa, aged 20, was dead as well.
The Red Cross Missing Persons Bureau has united them by telephone and Doaa is flying to Sweden soon. The BBC has the video report, HERE:
IRAQ NEWS: WHILE ISLAMIC STATE USE CAPTURED ARTILLERY, A COALITION FROM BOTH WEST AND MIDDLE EAST ALLIES AGAINST THEM:
In Iraq, as in Syria, the Islamic State are using captured M198 US-made howitzers in their assault on the Baiji oil refinery west of Mosul, which has still not fallen completely into their hands.
The Jihadists have also been displaying Iraqi Army Pandur 8×8 BTR-4E armoured personnel carriers, originally made in Austria and supplied to the Iraqi Army by Ukraine.
On the other side of the coin, 9 countries have now agreed to send weapons and equipment to the Peshmerga forces in Kurdistan, including for the first time Germany which normally does not get involved in such requests, this time sending 4000 bulletproof vests, 200 radios and 680 night vision devices.
The UK is sending a further £10 million worth of aid to Iraq on top of £13 million already donated.
On the ground, US airstrikes have targeted today, Wednesday, the Bashiqa area north of Mosul destroying 2 armed Islamic State vehicles and damaging another near Erbil, bringing the US total to 98 attacks.
North of the besieged Turkman town of Amerli, Shia militia have been gathering in large numbers to try and break through the Islamic State (IS) lines and the Iraqi Air Force has struck IS positions with rocket fire and bombs, carrying out 9 strikes on Tuesday.
12,000 people are thought to be still trapped in Amerli with little food or water and no electricity, the only way in or out via helicopter. Reports from the US say that the Government there is still considering whether to implement air strikes near Amerli and arrange aid drops.
The UK and Australia may also be considering entering into the attacks against the Islamic State, with British Royal Air Force (RAF) jets on standby in Cyprus and already carrying out surveillance, and RAAF Super Hornet strike fighter jets on standby at their base at Amberley near Brisbane.
The Australian Government says that around 60 Australians are thought to have joined the fighting in Syria and Iraq, with as many as 15 already killed.
In northern Iraq, the Iran has sent its 81st division, including tanks and helicopters across the common frontier and also agreed to supply the Peshmerga with weapons.
In Kirkuk, the Iraqi Police and the Kurdish Peshmerga are working together in an uneasy alliance to monitor everyone who comes and goes following a series of deadly bomb explosions within the city.
Some residents think that the Islamic State already has militants within the city hiding among the Arab community. Al Jazeera has a video report from Kirkuk, here:
The Institute for the Study of War also has an illustrative update, here:
SYRIA NEWS: ASSAD’S TROOPS FLEE AS ISLAMIC STATE SEIZES TABQA AIRBASE, ENTIRELY WIPING OUT REGIME PRESENCE ACROSS RAQQAH PROVINCE:
TIMELINE – 25th AUGUST 2014 12.59 GMT – UPDATED 14.16 GMT:
After weeks of on/off fighting, the Islamic State captured the Tabqa airbase 25 miles west of Raqqah city in northern Syria on Sunday.
Launching their 4th attack since Tuesday, the Islamic State first overran a Syrian Army barrier at the village of Ojaili, capturing a Syria Army tank and its crew, and then assaulted the airbase again on Saturday night, breaking through in the early hours of yesterday, Sunday.
Casualties were heavy on both sides with sources saying as many as 346 Islamic State fighters had been killed in the assaults and 170 Syrian Army soldiers, with possibly another 150 of Assad’s troops captured.
Two dozen vehicles with Syrian Army personnel fled the base at the last minute, arriving at Ithriya half-way between Raqqah and Homs later on Sunday. Syrian state TV acknowledged the fall of the base, saying optimistically that its troops “are successfully reassembling after evacuating the airport”.
This is a significant defeat for the Syrian Government having invested enormous numbers of men and resources in defending the base, flying in extra troops only last Friday.
According to reports, in capturing the base the Islamic State have seized both ground to air missile launchers (ManPads) and Wympel R-3 similar to AIM-9 Sidewinder air to air missiles and pictures appeared on the Internet of Jihadists swarming over MIG jets, though it is not known whether or not these are airworthy.
There were “celebrations” in Raqqah city after the announcement of the capture of Tabqa airbase, the last Assad military presence in the whole of Raqqah province, and following a gruesome IS tradition, a number of heads from the bodies of senior Syrian Army officers appeared on the railings at Raim roundabout.
The Syrian Air Force struck the roundabout area shortly after, killing 16 and wounding many others. Attempting to stop the advance on the airbase, the Assad regime had earlier hit the National Hospital at Tabqa in another air attack.
Al-Mayadeen TV has broadcast shots of the Tabqa base before it fell with jet aircraft and a Gazelle attack helicopter flying in the background, (Arabic only) HERE:
The Opposition advance in Hama province continues with Opposition fighters first taking over the “railway barrier” between Mahardeh and Helfaia north-west of Hama city and the “Hleyot barrier”, and then the “Abu Ubaidah barrier” on the outskirts of Mahardeh itself, seizing a tank and many weapons in the process.
There is also an unconfirmed report that the Opposition have also taken over Marhardah Dam due north of Marhardeh city.
The current battles are for the power plant east of the Dam and for the eastern side of Marhardeh. The regime has hit Opposition positions in Helfaia with missiles, including an unconfirmed chlorine gas attack on Saturday night.
At Qomhana, just a few miles north of Hama city, the Opposition have additionally taken the “Madajin/poultry barrier” while the regime has struck back with barrel-bombs.
After bombing it to rubble, the Syrian Army has once again retaken the Tameco Pharmaceutical factory site on the eastern side of Damascus, (SANA TV appearing to have stolen the BBC’s “News Music”!) HERE: while at Zabadani Opposition forces are reported to have destroyed another T-72 tank and killed a number of regime troops.
Between Mlieha and Deir Asafeer in Eastern Ghouta the Islamic Front have taken the Al-Tabbakh farms but fighting is ongoing, HERE:
In the northern part of Aleppo province, a combined force of Opposition fighters and Kurdish militia has retaken 3 villages north-east of Mare from the Islamic State, while in Aleppo city itself, the Opposition are shelling the Army School of Wisdom to the south-west and this morning, Monday, are attempting to secure a position at the foot of Mount Mazzan.
In Daraa province the Opposition had a setback when a regime force ambushed their fighters on the road between Al Harra and Zimrin, north of Inkhil, killing 32, the gruesome pictures widely shown on Syrian state TV.
But in Homs province the Opposition destroyed several military vehicles and killed Assad’s soldiers in the Houla area.
There is also a report that the Islamic State has pulled back all its men (for unknown reasons) from positions in Homs province, handing them over to the Al-Nusra Front.
SYRIA NEWS: AS ANOTHER US JOURNALIST IS RELEASED UNHARMED, MORE DETAILS EMERGE OF FAILED FOLEY RESCUE ATTEMPT AND HIS MURDERER:
Yesterday, Sunday, following the appalling James Foley murder last week, an American hostage, Peter Theo Curtis, was released unharmed after 22 months in captivity. Curtis was handed over to UN representatives by the Al-Nusra Front at Al-Rafid village in the Golan Heights.
Curtis is an author and journalist who has published books under the name of Theo Padnos.
He apparently changed his name legally to Peter Theo Curtis after he published a memoir called “Undercover Muslim: A Journey into Yemen.”
The name change made it easier to travel in the Muslim world, according to his family.
Both the US government and Qatar, who negotiated the release, have denied that money was involved in the journalist’s release, but Al Nusra, by implication, may have received weapons from the Qataris in exchange.
While the exchange was taking place a Catholic Memorial Mass was held for James Foley in his home town, Rochester, New Hampshire in the US.
Al Jazeera has a video report on the above events, HERE:
While the UK Government talks of tougher controls on potential Jihadists going in and out of the UK, its Intelligence Services are, it is claimed, very near to revealing the name of the suspected killer with an English accent, of James Foley.
Unconfirmed reports from outside the UK, say that the most likely suspect is Abdel Majed Bary, a former South London DJ and rapper known as “L Jinny”, who recently posted a picture of himself on the Internet holding a severed head in one hand and an assault rifle in the other.
It is suggested that not only have the security services used voice recognition techniques and careful analysis of the background to the Foley video to identify the suspected murderer, but also compared the vein distribution on his hands to previously known photographs.
That is his father is Abdel Abdul Bary, who is wanted by the United States on terrorism charges for his alleged role in the 1998 bombing attacks on the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, may or may not be significant.
According to Syrian Opposition sources, who had spoken to witnesses near Raqqah, the attempted US special forces raid to rescue James Foley and other hostages (scroll down – see earlier reports below). took place on July 3rd 2014.
US Delta force commandos arrived in Black Hawk helicopters just after midnight at the town of Akrishi not far from Raqqah, having already destroyed an anti-aircraft unit to the south of the city.
The informants say the commandos blocked the main road to Raqqa after they landed and moved towards a makeshift jail believed to hold Foley and other hostages. Not finding them there they attacked the Islamic State base which the Jihadists had named “Bin Laden”, setting it on fire and killing all the Islamic fighters inside.
The raid failed, according to the same sources, because US agents had been asking for information about the hostages in the Turkish city of Antakya, just 20 miles north of the Syrian border and this fact had been passed on to the Islamic State, causing them to move their prisoners to another location.
Local villagers who later reported events, said that they heard the noise of aircraft and gunfire but did not know more than that at the time.
According to reports from the United State following the murder of James Foley, the US may well be considering the targeting of individual Islamic State leaders in Syria, but as always, nothing is certain. One report from Iraq claimed that a US reconnaissance flight crossed into Syria at the weekend near Al-Bukamel.
Trying to grab centre stage, Assad’s Foreign Minister, Walid Muallem, who hasn’t been seen in public since a heart operation in Beirut earlier this year, claimed at a press conference that “Syria was the centre of the international coalition to fight Islamic State”.
“Syria is ready to cooperate and coordinate on the regional and international level in the war on terror,” Muallem said but the same time warned the US that they must work with the Syrian government before launching any air strikes on its territory. “Anything outside this is considered aggression,” he added.
Commenting on the attempted Foley rescue, Muallem said, “If it is confirmed and this military operation did take place and failed, I say if there were prior coordination then the possibility of its failure would have been very low”.
The problem of the Islamic State may well get worse before it gets better. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), another 320 fighters from more moderate Opposition brigades joined to the Islamic State yesterday, Sunday, after pledging allegiance to the “caliphate” at Al Bab, an IS stronghold, in Aleppo province.
IRAQ DISSOLVES INTO SECTARIAN IN-FIGHTING, WHILE ISLAMIC STATE ACCUSED OF MASSACRE OF 670 AT MOSUL PRISON:
In Iraq, the potential of another Islamic State (IS) massacre in the town of Amerli north of Baghdad (scroll down to see earlier report) has come to the attention of the United Nations. Iraqi Army units are said to be both north and south of the town of 20,000, but it is still surrounded by Islamic State fighters.
Kurdish Peshmerga fighters are also in the area. The majority Turkman population of the town are Shia and would be seen as “apostates” by IS, threatened with “conversion or death”. Clashes near Amerli are seen, HERE:
The BBC has a report from the Amerli frontline, HERE:
In the Kurdistan region of Iraq car bombs went off in both the capital Erbil and Kirkuk, killing and injuring dozens over the weekend and another has gone off in a Shia Mosque in Baghdad, as well as others in the cities of Karbala and Al-Hillah, south of the capital today, Monday.
While the Kurdistan bombs may well have been planted by the Islamic State, the bombs further south in Shia areas are likely to be in retaliation for more than 70 Sunni men machined gunned in a mosque last Friday (see below) by a Shia militia force.
There appears no end in sight to sectarian and religious strife in Iraq.
This interesting report on the Shia militia is worth reading in the Guardian Iraq news.
Navi Pillay, the outgoing UN Human Rights Commissioner, has also said that witnesses have come forward, who, pretending to be dead at the time, were present at a massacre at the prison in Mosul when it was taken over by the Islamic State.
According to their reports, after Islamic State militants took over the Badush prison in Mosul on July 10th they loaded 1,000 to 1,500 prisoners into trucks and took them to a vacant area for screening. Sunni inmates were taken away again but the gunmen yelled insults at the remaining prisoners, lined them up in four rows, ordered them to kneel and opened fire.
An estimated 670 from the prison were murdered in this way, both a “war crime” and a “crime against humanity”, says Pillay who has called for a special meeting of the UN Human Rights Council to take the matter further.
US Central Command (CENTCOM), has said that so far it has carried out 96 attacks on Islamic State (IS) targets in Iraq, 62 of them around the Mosul Dam, the latest strikes taking out 2 armed vehicles and a IS machine-gun emplacement that was firing on Iraqi troops.
USA REVEALS FAILED FOLEY RESCUE ATTEMPT AND ISLAMIC STATE DEMAND FOR $132 MILLION RANSOM RELEASE FEE:
TIMELINE – 22nd AUGUST 2014 12.57 GMT – UPDATED 17.26 GMT:
The United States has revealed that it attempted an operation earlier this summer to rescue James Foley and other hostages but although the US special forces fought their way into the designated location, no prisoners were found.
Two dozen soldiers from a mixed team from Delta Force and other specialist military agencies were dropped by helicopter on Syrian territory and engaged in fighting with members of the Islamic State, some of whom were killed.
One soldier from the US team was injured and one of the aircraft that took them away afterwards was shot at. They were not sure if they the hostages had been moved hours before or days.
The location of the secret operation is variously given as “near an oil refinery” and the Ukayrishah district of Raqqah city, the Islamic State stronghold in Syria.
The Boston Global Post, who employed James Foley, have released, with the permission of his family, the text of an email they received a week before the American journalist was executed.
The email stated that it was “a message to the American government and their sheep like citizens”. It went on to say, “You were given many chances to negotiate the release of your people via cash transactions as other governments have accepted” or to exchange prisoners for “Muslims currently in your detention.”
“Now you return to bomb the Muslims of Iraq once again”, the email continued, “This time resorting to Arial attacks and ‘proxy armies’, all the while cowardly shying away from a face-to-face confrontation!”
The email ended with a statement that Foley “will be executed as a DIRECT result of your transgressions towards us!”
According to the Global Post, the Foley family “was not ‘given many chances to negotiate’ for Jim’s release”.
After hearing nothing for more than a year after Foley’s capture, they received a message on the 26th November 2013 asking for money – $132 million no less, or the release of unspecified prisoners held by the US. The FBI helped the Foleys craft a response calling for mercy in regard to their son but they heard nothing more.
President Obama commenting on the brutal killing of James Foley said, “No just god would stand for what they did yesterday and every single day …. ISIS has no place in the 21st century,” and called on America’s allies to help defeat a “cancer so it does not spread.” You can hear Obama’s full statement, HERE:
A spokesman for the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, called Foley’s murder “barbaric” and Laurent Fabius, the French Foreign Minister, said it exposed ISIS as the “caliphate of barbarism”.
John Kerry, Obama’s Secretary of State for Defence was more blunt saying that “ISIS must be destroyed”, a view echoed by General John R. Allen, a senior military officer who has led US forces in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
Allen said in an article, “IS must be destroyed and we must move quickly to pressure its entire “nervous system,” break it up, and destroy its pieces”.
General Allen’s “bottom line” is “The president deserves great credit in attacking IS. It was the gravest of decisions for him.
But a comprehensive American and international response now — NOW — is vital to the destruction of this threat.
The execution of James Foley is an act we should not forgive nor should we forget, it embodies and brings home to us all what this group represents.
The Islamic State is an entity beyond the pale of humanity and it must be eradicated. If we delay now, we will pay later”.
You can read the whole article, HERE:
In a press conference yesterday, Thursday, US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel said the United States was “keeping its options open” and would not commit to attacking Islamic State bases in Syria.
General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, sitting beside Hagel said that while it is possible to “contain” the Islamic State in the short run, a broader international effort will be required to eventually defeat it.
“Can they be defeated without addressing that part of their organization which resides in Syria?”, he was asked. “The answer is no. That will have to be addressed on both sides of what is essentially at this point a nonexistent border. And that will come when we have a coalition in the region that takes on the task of defeating ISIS over time. ISIS will only truly be defeated when it’s rejected by the 20 million disenfranchised Sunni that happen to reside between Damascus and Baghdad.”
General Dempsey however is well known for being opposed to US direct action in Syria because of the threat to American airmen by Syria’s air defences. There are now suggestions that the West will have to have direct (“over or under the counter”) talks with President Assad. Al Jazeera has a video report, HERE:
IN UK MUCH SPECULATION ON IDENTITY OF JAMES FOLEY’S KILLER, WHILE ANOTHER TOWN OF 20,000 UNDER THREAT OF ISLAMIC STATE ANNIHILATION:
In the UK there has been much speculation as to the identity of the masked Islamic State fighter speaking with a British accent in the Foley video. Voice analysts say he is either from London or the south-east of England.
MI5 and MI6, the British intelligence agencies, are trawling through their lists of suspects. A former French hostage in Syria, Didier François, who was held with Foley and others, plus other sources, have suggested that the British man in the video is known as “John”.
Apparently 3 British Jihadists were allocated by the Islamic State to look after foreign hostages and the were referred to as “The Beatles”, “John, Paul and Ringo”, a play perhaps on their British origins and the “beetle blackness” of their garb and manner.
Other analysts have suggested that as the actual killing of Foley is not shown in the video, it’s a compilation of various frames apparently, the Jihadist in the video is not the actual killer and the small knife he holds (scroll down – see earlier report) is not the one he uses.
(EDITOR: Either way it is difficult to understand why anyone with a shred of humanity can behave like or be involved in this in any way.)
The last word on the Islamic State’s murder of Foley goes to President Obama:
“People like this ultimately fail. They fail, because the future is won by those who build and not destroy and the world is shaped by people like Jim Foley, and the overwhelming majority of humanity who are appalled by those who killed him.”
On the ground military action against the Islamic State continues, with 6 US airstrikes on Islamic State personnel and their vehicles in the region of the Mosul Dam, bringing to 90, the number of US airstrikes in Iraq in the last week, two-thirds of them near the Dam.
Al Jazeera has a good video report from the Dam earlier in the week, HERE:
Kurdish Peshmerga forces have since removed 250 explosive devices from the area near the Dam and are still combing the shoreline of the 40 mile lake along the route of the Tigris river. You can read more detail of the Mosul Dam operation, HERE:
Boosted by their success at the Dam, Kurdish and Iraqi forces, backed by the Iraqi Air Force, are advancing on 2 towns held by the Islamic State near the border with Iran and Kurdistan, Jalawla and Saadiya, both around 115 kilometres (70 miles) north-east of Baghdad.
Jalawla was taken by the Islamic State more than a week ago but the Kurdish Peshmerga are said to have now penetrated the eastern side with loss of life of both sides.
110 kilometres north of Badhdad is the Turkman majority town of Amerli, a settlement of 20,000 that has been fighting off the Islamic State for 70 days now.
No electricity, and running out of water and food, they are relying on irregular helicopter flights from the Iraqi Army to bring in supplies and fly out 30 or so people at a time when conditions allow.
All the towns and villages around have already fallen to the Islamic State, but Amerli by mobilising everyone, including grandmothers and children is desperately holding on.
Iraqi forces are trying to fight a way through to the town but it is by no means certain that they will make it in time. You can read more at the BBC’s Iraq news.
Latest reports emerging from Iraq this morning, Friday, say that Shia militia, perpetuating the sectarian violence that has torn Iraq apart since 2003, have opened fire inside a Sunni mosque in or near Baquba in Diyala province, killing between 30 and 73 at the latest count.
Fighter jets have are also being reported as hitting Islamic State targets in Salahaddin province. More details awaited.
WHILE ISLAMIC STATE KIDNAPS 4 MORE HOSTAGES INCLUDING 2 WOMEN, YEZIDI QUINTUPLETS BORN IN NORTH-EAST SYRIA:
Following on from the James Foley killing in Syria, the Islamic State are reported to have kidnapped 4 more hostages in Aleppo in the last week, taking the total number of Western hostages they hold to 20.
The last victims include 2 Italian women, a Dane and a Japanese man. All those held are believed to be journalists, photographers or aid workers and reports suggest they have all been transferred to Raqqah.
Apart from anything else, this has turned into a lucrative business for the Islamic State. In the last 6 months 10 hostages, including a Dane, 3 French nationals and 2 Spaniards, have been released after lengthy negotiations involving demands for ransom money. The US and the UK have however been resilient so far in not paying ransoms.
Lord Dannatt, Britain’s former military Chief of Staff, has suggested that Britain and the West may have to come to some arrangement with Syria’s President in order to deal effectively with the Islamic State, but the UK’s Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond, has since said that working with Assad to fight Islamists “would poison what we are trying to achieve”.
“We may very well find that we are fighting, on some occasions, the same people that he is but that doesn’t make us his ally,” Hammond said.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) yesterday, Thursday, published new figures claiming that the death toll in Syria was now more than 180,215, 58,805 (32.6%) of those being civilians, including 9,428 children and 6,036 women.
49,699 (27.6%) of the Assad armed Opposition have been killed, including the Islamic State and 66,365 (36.8%) from the pro regime forces – 40,438 from the military, and 25,927 members of a pro-regime militia.
561 members of Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement have been recorded killed and 1,854 from Shia and other non-Syrian militia. The total also included 2,931 unidentified people whose details could not be verified.
To more than confirm SOHR’s estimates, Navi Pillay, the UN’s outgoing Human Rights Commissioner today, Friday, said the UN records show 191,369 deaths in Syria since 2011, almost doubling their last published figure a year ago.
Pillay, a South African, wrapping up her 6 year stint as the UN’s Human Rights chief, lashed out at the UN Security Council saying it “lacked resolve in ending crises” and that the dwindling global interest in Syria was “scandalous”.
“It is scandalous that the predicament of the injured, displaced, the detained, and the relatives of all those who have been killed or are missing is no longer attracting much attention,” she said.
“I deeply regret that, given the onset of so many other armed conflicts in this period of global destabilisation, the fighting in Syria and its dreadful impact on millions of civilians has dropped off the international radar,” adding,“The killers, destroyers and torturers in Syria have been empowered and emboldened by the international paralysis.”
“There have been serious allegations that war crimes and crimes against humanity have been committed time and time again with total impunity” but the deadlocked UN Security Council had failed to refer the case of Syria to the International Criminal Court “where it clearly belongs,” Pillay said in her concluding remarks.
On the ground in Syria, the battle by the Islamic State (IS) for control of the Tabqa airbase in Raqqah province has continued, but with reports of very heavy casualties on both sides. Unconfirmed reports give deaths on the IS side anywhere between 30 and 150, while the Jihadists are claiming that they have killed 300 pro-Assad troops and militia.
IS also claims that they have killed the Tabqa base commander, Brigadier General Ali Sarhan. The Assad regime apparently flew in reinforcements to the base last night, but the Islamists also pounded it with dozens of Grad missiles. More information awaited in what is a very volatile situation.
In Hama province, Opposition fighters have repelled an an attack by members of Assad’s National Defence Force at Tel Sharaya, killing 15 of them, and north-east of Hama city, members of the Al-Nusra Front have taken over the village of Al-Rahjan.
In Damascus province, it is reported that there is heavy fighting once again at the Tameco Pharmaceutical factory in Mlieha, including the Opposition claimed death of Major General Adnan Omran, Assad’s Chief of Staff for Air Defence.
In Hasakah province clashes continue between the Islamic State (IS) and the Kurdish militia, the YPG, with reports that IS has driven the Kurds out of Jazaa in the north-east, killing a large number of Kurdish fighters, including some of their female ones according to gruesome photos published on the Internet.
Lest we forget, yesterday, August 21st was the 1 Year anniversary of the hideous Assad sarin gas attack on Opposition areas near Damascus, killing as many as 1400, including 400 children. As Human Rights Watch (HRW) points out, despite Assad’s “declared” chemical weapons stock being destroyed, the victims of his attacks have yet to receive justice, HERE:
Lastly, in a sign of hope for the persecuted Yezidi community and in stark contrast to their bloodthirsty killing by the Islamic State, a 27 year old Syrian Yezidi woman, having fled from the Islamic State Jihadists approaching her home in Iraq, has given birth last week to quintuplets by caesarian section at a hospital in Kurdish-controlled Qamishli – 2 boys and 3 girls.
Tamam, who hails from Qamishli, had married a Iraqi man last year and moved to be with him in Mosul. When the Islamic State fighters approached they first fled to safety in Sinjar and then fled again, spending 2 days walking to the Syrian border. The babies were born 2 months premature but they and the mother are all doing well and receiving practical support from the UNHCR.
IN APPALLING “MESSAGE TO AMERICA” ISLAMIC STATE BEHEADS US JOURNALIST AND BAITS USA TO ATTACK IN SYRIA:
TIMELINE – 20th AUGUST 2014 12.56 GMT – UPDATED 19.46 GMT:
On Monday, the Islamic State issued a video threatening to attack American targets worldwide if the US did not stop its airstrikes in Iraq.
Part of the video, which showed a photograph of an American who was beheaded in Iraq sometime after the US occupation of Iraq in 2003 and carried the chilling message “We will drown all of you in blood”, can be seen, HERE:
Yesterday the Islamic State carried out that threat by posting a video of the bloodthirsty and grisly execution of the American journalist James Foley, who was captured by militants in the Idlib province of Syria on November 22nd 2012.
In the 5 minute propaganda video entitled “A Message to America” and too awful to show here, Foley, aged 40, is seen kneeling in the desert wearing an orange jumpsuit and making a statement, presumably prepared by his captors, blaming the US Government for his death.
He then goes on to say, “I wish I had more time, I wish I could have the hope of freedom and seeing my family once again, but that ship has sailed.”
His masked executioner standing next to him, who speaks with a British accent, then warns the US, “You are no longer fighting an insurgency. We are an Islamic Army and a state that has been accepted by a large number of Muslims worldwide.
So any attempt by you Obama to deny the Muslims their rights of living in safety under the Islamic caliphate will result in the bloodshed of your people.”
The militant is then seen sawing at Foley’s neck, the video goes blank and then Foley’s body appears lying on the ground.
At the end of the video, another American journalist captured a year ago near the Syrian/Turkish border, Steven Sotloff, is shown, also wearing an orange jumpsuit, with the warning that “his fate depends on President Obama’s next move”.
As Charles Lister, a commentator of Middle East affairs, has observed, it almost sounds like a taunt of Obama to strike the Islamic State in Syria.
Audio extracts from the Islamic State video can be heard, HERE:
Diane Foley, Jame’s Mother, issued a statement saying, “We have never been prouder of our son, Jim. He gave his life trying to expose the world to the suffering of the Syrian people.
We implore the kidnappers to spare the lives of the remaining hostages. Like Jim, they are innocents. They have no control over American government policy in Iraq, Syria or anywhere in the world”.
James Foley was an experienced war journalist who had previously been held by pro-Gaddafi fighters in Libya for 40 days.
He can be heard talking about his work in this interview with the BBC when he was in London to help raise money for Anton Hammerl, a fellow photo-journalist who was killed in Libya in 2011, HERE:
British Prime Minister, David Cameron, describing the the execution as “shocking and depraved”, cut his holiday in south-west England short to return to London to discuss the news, especially the involvement of a British national as executioner.
Around 400 to 500 British men, mainly of Asian origin, are thought to be fighting for the Islamic State. Comment from the US Government is expected later.
President Hollande of France has called for an international conference to discuss ways for nations to form a united front against the Islamic State.
Writing in Le Monde he said, “We can no longer keep to the traditional debate of intervention or non-intervention. We have to come up with a global strategy to fight this group”.
COMBINED KURDISH/IRAQI FORCE EVENTUALLY RECAPTURES MOSUL DAM BUT IRAQIS FORCED TO RETREAT FROM ATTEMPT AT TIKRIT:
President Obama’s broadcast announcement on Monday that the “Mosul Dam” had been recaptured was somewhat premature as fighting continued yesterday, Tuesday, and is still reported in the dam area in the hills to the south-west, today, Wednesday.
Although the Kurdish Peshmerga and Iraqi Army Special Forces captured the eastern side of the dam by Monday, their advance to the western side was hampered by booby-trapped buildings, mines and roadside IED explosive devices left by the Islamic State, most of which have now been removed. Al Jazeera reports that Iraqi explosive experts removed more than 150 devices from the Dam area, which is littered with destroyed Islamic State vehicles, HERE:
Over the last 3 days up to yesterday, the US reports 35 airstrikes against the Islamic State, hitting 90+ targets.
Obama said on Monday, “We will continue to pursue a long-term strategy to turn the tide against ISIL by supporting the new Iraqi government and working with key partners in the region”.
His comments on the murder of James Foley are awaited.
Sky News has an interesting video of 3 men captured by the Kurdish Peshmerga who are suspected Islamic State (IS) fighters. All claim not to know each other or have met IS commanders, but one of them clearly appears in an IS video, HERE:
The UN has launched plans to help support 500,000 people who have fled mainly into Kurdish territory ahead of the Islamic State advance.
One man, Khalof Khodede, has described how he “played dead” under the fallen bodies of his friends when the Islamic State entered his Yezidi village, Kocho, and executed 80 of his male compatriots.
Threatened with death if the Yezidi refused to convert to Islam, all said “yes” out of fear, until the Sheikh in the village, upholding his faith, said “no”.
They were then all taken out into the desert and shot, with hundreds of others, including women and children, disappearing. You can read more in Reuters Iraq news.
Following the appointment of new prime minister designate in Iraq after Al-Maliki finally admitted defeat in his attempt to retain power, Kurdish Ministers have rejoined the Iraqi Government in a rare show of unity. They will need all the support they can get.
The Iraqi Army launched an attempt at dawn on Tuesday to recapture the city of Tikrit but after hours of fierce fighting fell back by late afternoon, with reports of at least 100 Shia militia dead. According to information received, they never even got beyond the suburbs of the city, though other Shia militia are reported to have destroyed the grave with rocket-propelled grenades of their old adversary (Sunni) Saddam Husein, Iraq’s former dictator.
Other sources say that the Islamic State in putting up heavy resistance in Tikrit, captured 30 Iraqi Army soldiers and destroyed 25 Army vehicles.
It appears that the US intervention in Iraq to save the Yezidi may well have been prompted by representatives of a small Yezidi community of 300 families in Lincoln, Nebraska in the US who travelled to Washington and reduced US Government officials to tears with the desperate appeals and calls for help that they were getting from Mount Sinjar. You can read more, HERE:
It may well be that the Iraqi Army and the Kurds may not be able to defeat the Islamic State on their own and that the US and other powerful nations will have to reconsider their policy of minimum involvement.
Paul Rogers in this article predicts that even the very cautious President Obama may be forced to act, HERE:
Courtesy of the Institute for the Study of War, the latest illustrated situation report, here:
REPORTS SAY THAT MORE THAN 6,000 RECRUITS JOINED ISLAMIC STATE IN JULY, WHILE US AUTHORITIES BAN ALL COMMERCIAL FLIGHTS OVER SYRIA:
Terrifyingly, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights based in London, now estimates that the Islamic State has 50,000 fighters in Syria, their territorial gains and the establishment of a “caliphate” apparently attracting around 6,300 recruits to their training camps in Aleppo and Raqqah provinces in July alone.
Nearly 5,000 of these are Syrians, 800 of whom have fought previously for the Al Nusra Front or other Opposition brigades. The other 1300 fighters are from Arab, European, Caucasian, East Asian and Chinese origins as well as Kurdish fighters, 200 of whom have fought previously with other brigades, the other 1,100 entering through Turkey. For many, the Islamic State (IS) with both vast amounts of money and equipment appears to be the army to be with.
Typically, IS pays its fighters $400 a month, plus housing and heating and car fuel allowances, with extra for those with a wife (s) and children.
(EDITOR: If this correct and true, then the moderate Opposition will be depleted and the Islamic State will continue to grow, unless the West decides to do something urgent and serious about this awful threat to the rest of the civilised world)
On the ground in Syria, the Islamic State failed to take over the Tabqa airbase in Raqqah province last night, Tuesday, despite a suicide bomber detonating a truck near the entrance yesterday, but has taken control of a number of important barriers protecting the base.
They also continue to pound it with mortars and shells, while the Assad regime fires long range Grad missiles from other parts of Syria to try and deter IS from getting any nearer. Rockets fired from within the base hit the Alexandria district of Tabqa town.
This afternoon, Wednesday, there are unconfirmed reports that IS have shot down a MIG at the base. This video shows some of the fighting, (Arabic only) HERE:
Pictures have appeared on the Internet of 2 more men “crucified” at the main roundabout at the entrance to Raqqah city, apparently for planting explosive devices designed to hurt the Islamic State.
In Hama province, the more moderate Opposition brigades have continued their campaign against Assad’s forces, a car-bomb hitting a gathering of troops in Um Khurayzah in the desert east of Hama city and taking an important barrier near Qmhana, just to the north-west of the regional capital.
Opposition fighters in Hama province have also stormed the village of Qubaybat Abu al Huda which is near the pro-Assad village of Maan, north-east of Hama city and targeted a regime tank inside the School of Veterinary Medicine in a battle on the north-western approaches to Hama, reported 2 days ago, HERE:
Opposition sources say that the Assad regime additionally executed 3 pilots at Hama airbase for “disobeying orders”, named as Colonel Nawfal Diop from Latakia, Brigadier Ahmed Ghanem from Latakia, and Colonel Sami Rizk from Sweida. (EDITOR: Odd, if confirmed, as the regime can hardly afford to be losing pilots)
In Aleppo heavy fighting was reported yesterday at Bureij on the edge of the Sheikh Najjar industrial city north-east of the city between the Islamic Front and Government troops and there are additionally reports that the Islamic State have destroyed both a tower and radar inside the Quwaires airbase. The Islamic State are also said to be attacking the regime at Deir Ez-Zour airport.
In Damascus province, Hezbollah is reporting that they killed the Islamic State commander in charge of training suicide bombers to mount car-bomb attacks in Lebanon, plus 3 other Jihadists, while in Eastern Ghouta the Opposition are claiming that they have shot down another regime plane that was bombing their residential areas.
Once again near Damascus Opposition fighters have attacked and taken a barrier and buildings at the “Management of Military Vehicles” facility.
In Daraa, the Opposition report a new chemicals attack of some kind by Assad, HERE: and HERE: , while a huge aid convoy was allowed into Opposition-controlled areas of Daraa province escorted by fighters, HERE:
There may be some truth in an earlier report that a regime plane was downed by the Opposition using a heat-seeking missile as the US Federal Aviation Administration has now banned all commercial flights from overflying Syria after a report released yesterday, Tuesday, by the Small Arms Survey, a Swiss-based research organization, in which it says that there are now more than 300 anti-aircraft systems, including shoulder-held ManPads, in the hands of Opposition groups.
Syrian refugees driven back across the border to Assad’s control from Arsal in Lebanon after their camps were shelled and set on fire now find themselves between “ a rock and a hard place”. If they stay in Syria they are in danger and have nothing, if they return to Lebanon the UN says they are not refugees if they can return to Syria and “deactivates” them from the UNHCR refugee programme.
Volunteers like Mohamed, run themselves ragged raising funds for essential aid for food, rent and medical treatment. You can read more, HERE:
Lastly, we can always rely on the good people of Kafranbel in Idlib province to keep a sense of focus: