Well, the long-awaited "other shoe" is finally dropping. It is clear that Washington has given Turkey a green light to crush the revolutionary Kurds—in Turkey, Syria and Iraq alike—as the price of Ankara's cooperation against ISIS. And it's also pretty clear that crushing the Kurds is far more of a priority for Ankara than fighting ISIS. The New York Times writes: "Turkey's new airstrikes...against the Islamic State...came alongside an equally intense barrage on Kurdish militants in Iraq, whose Syrian affiliates are also fighting the Islamic State." Equally intense or far more intense? Media accounts have few specifics of ISIS targets hit by the Turkish strikes. But Haaretz reports: "Turkish fighter jets launched their heaviest assault on Kurdish militants in northern Iraq overnight since airstrikes began last week... The F-16 jets hit six targets in Iraq and were scrambled from an air base in Turkey's southeastern province of Diyarbakir... Turkey began bombing PKK camps in northern Iraq last Friday in what government officials have said was a response to a series of killings of police officers and soldiers blamed on the Kurdish militant group."
A German leftist politician who had faced threats for his work in support of refugees and immigrants escaped unhurt after a bomb placed under his car exploded outside his home July 27. The attack, targeting Michael Richter of Die Linke party, came in the the eastern German city of Freital, near Dresden. Richter and the leftist party are known for their work in support of refugees and immigrants. Die Linke parliamentary group released a statement saying: "The perpetrator or perpetrators have to be swiftly identified and punished. The rule of law cannot stand idly by the increasing violence against refugees and against people like Michael Richter, who take a stand for the well-being of refugees." Martin Bialluch, spokesman for Die Linke, told the Kurdish news agency Rudaw: "We have no proof about the perpetrators yet, but Michael Richter was often threatened for his work, by far right or racist groups."
Tunisia's parliament on July 25 voted to approve a new anti-terror law despite strong criticism from NGOs and human rights groups. The law, which replaces 2003 legislation passed under the dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, was adopted following a June attack in Sousse and a March attack on Tunisia's national museum, both claimed by the Islamic State. The adoption of the law came after three days of parliamentary debate and a vote of 174-0 with 10 abstentions. Though the law has been hailed by some as a great step towards making the country safer, Human Rights Watch claims that it will "open the way to prosecuting political dissent as terrorism, give judges overly broad powers and curtail lawyers' ability to provide an effective defense." Part of the concern for the bill, advocacy groups say, comes from the law's vague definition of terrorist crimes and its failure to provide enough protection for the rights of defendants. Leftist opposition members also contend that the law does not distinguish between acts of terror and protests.
News reports today have Turkey finally intervening in Syria and Iraq against ISIS. The USA Today headline is typical: "Turkey expands anti-Islamic State campaign." However, the specifics about the targeting indicate that anti-ISIS Kurdish forces are actually being hit. BBC News reports that the Kurdish-led People's Protection Units (YPG) say Turkish tanks shelled their fighters at the border villages of Zormikhar and Til Findire, near Kobani in northern Syria. Daily Sabah quotes an anonymous Turkish official denying the claims: "The ongoing military operation seeks to neutralize imminent threats to Turkey's national security and continues to target the self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) in Syria and the PKK in Iraq... PYD, along with others, remains outside the scope of the current military effort." This strikes us as a disingenuous statement, as the Democratic Union Party (PYD) is the civil and political entity that runs the Kurdish autonomous zone in northern Syria (in alliance with other formations), while the YPG is its military arm. So the Kurdish self-defense forces could be coming under attack, and this statement would still be (very narrowly) correct. A BBC News account also notes that the intervention comes as the US and Turkey have announced that they are working together on military plans to create an "Islamic State-free zone" in Syria's north—in other words, the long-anticipated buffer zone that is really aimed at destroying the Kurdish autonomous zone and amounts to a de facto Turkish annexation of Syrian territory. The "IS-free zome" (perhaps better dubbed a "PYD-free zone") is reportedly to extend 68 miles (109 kilometers) west of the Euphrates River.
News that Turkey has agreed to allow US warplanes to launch raids against ISIS forces in Syria from Incirlik Air Base comes one day after a border skirmish in which a Turkish solider was killed by presumed ISIS fire from the Syrian side and Turkish forces responded with tank shells. Turkey is also reported to have scrambled fighter jets to the border after the clash, which took place at the border town of Çobanbey, Kilis province. (Reuters, CBC, Daily Sabah, July 23) Since the border incident, Turkey has also launched mass sweeps, arresting more than 290—but targeting supporters of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) as well as ISIS. One death is also reported in the sweeps—a militant of the armed left faction Revolutionary People's Liberation Party-Front (DHKP-C), who apparently resisted arrest in a raid in Istanbul. Mainstream Turkish sources provided no breakdown as to how many of the detained were jihadists as opposed to radical leftists, but pro-PKK sources reported at least 60 of their followers among the detained. Some of the raids on PKK followers and sympathizers were in Suruç—the border town which was four days ago the scene of an ISIS suicide attack that left some 30 dead at a meeting called by leftist parties to organize solidarity for the anti-ISIS resistance in northern Syria. (Hurriyet Daily News, ANF, July 24)
The Pentagon announced July 22 that Muhsin al-Fadhli, a longtime al-Qaeda operative from Kuwait, was killed on two weeks earlier "in a kinetic strike" while "traveling in a vehicle near Sarmada, Syria." Al-Fadhli was a leader of al-Qaeda's so-called "Khorasan Group," a cadre of veteran militants now based in Syria. The Khorasan Group has been "plotting external attacks against the United States and its allies," Navy Capt. Jeff Davis said in a statement. The statement acknowledged that al-Fadhli survived air-strikes on Khorasan Group targets in September 2014. According to US officials, the Khorasan Group is made up of operatives from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Chechnya and North Africa who were ordered to Syria by al-Qaeda "emir" Ayman al-Zawahiri. Among al-Fadhli's missions was reportedly the failed effort to reconcile the Qaeda affiliate Nusra Front with ISIS. (Long War Journal, July 22)
Presumed Boko Haram militants killed more than 20 people in a double suicide attack in northern Cameroon on July 22—executed by two teenage girls, both under the age of 15. The attacks targeted a market and an adjoining neighborhood in Maroua, capital of the Far Northern Region. (See map) That same day, 42 lost their lives in a series of blasts at two bus stations in Gombe, northeast Nigeria. A new five-nation force—from Nigeria, Niger, Chad, Cameroon and Benin—is due for deployment to fight Boko Haram by month's end. Boko Harams has been calling itself Islamic State West Africa (ISWA) since affiliating with the ISIS franchise earlier this year. (The Guardian, July 23; Long War Journal, July 22)
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