photo: Eddy van Wessel

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Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The Kurds in the cyber warfare against ISIS

A friend sends you the link to a National Geographic video about the Kurdish Peshmerga fighting the Islamic State (ISIS), but when you try to watch it, you find it has been removed from YouTube.


You post a picture about Kurdish fighters who battle ISIS in Syria on Facebook, and find it gets removed. The same can happen on Twitter.


That is the fallout of the ISIS war that is not only fought on the battlefield, but also on the Internet. Because of the endless stream of propaganda ISIS is posting and its use of social media both as a recruitment tool and for communication between its members, social media companies are blocking ISIS content and accounts.


For that reason, ISIS sympathisers are hard to follow on Twitter, as their accounts get closed constantly, and ISIS movies are now mainly found through organisations following the group for research purposes and posting them on their own sites, away from the blocking policies of YouTube and others.
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Lack of Kurdish unity endangers future disputed territories

Unity between the Kurdish parties is essential for the future of the disputed areas, says Nasreddin Saeed, the minister heading the General Board for Kurdistani Areas Outside the Kurdistan Region. These are generally known as the disputed areas that both the Kurds and Baghdad claim.

Saeed warns that Sinjar, the disputed Iraqi province that was for the most part liberated from the Islamic group ISIS in December, could fall apart.

Sinjar (or Shingal) was until the occupation by ISIS in August 2014 administrated mainly by Baghdad. Here ISIS murdered almost 2,000 members of the Yezidi population and kidnapped over 6,000 when it overran the area.

After the liberation, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has put in its own local government and police, but forces that were involved in the liberation have not yet left. Amongst them are not only Peshmerga troops of the main Iraqi Kurdish parties KDP and PUK, but also fighters of the Turkish Kurdish PKK and some Yezidi militias.

Saeed sees this as a major obstacle why Yezidis are hardly returning home to Sinjar – whilst in a comparable situation in Ramadi inhabitants have -- stressing that “after liberating the place, the forces should go and leave it to the people. Because of them, people are afraid of a new conflict.”
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Saturday, April 16, 2016

Don’t make refugees completely dependent on aid

“Many people here don’t even have money to buy bread,” the manager of the camp at the outskirts of Ainkawa, the Christian neighbourhood of Erbil, told me, as some inhabitants forced themselves into his office to see who had come to visit and what she had brought for them.


The camp with its caravans holds Christians who fled for ISIS from Mosul and the Christian towns and villages near to it, many of whom have been stuck here for over eighteen months waiting to be able to return.


In the beginning their camp was one of the best supplied in the region, as NGO’s and a local church were happy to look after the inhabitants and brought them what they needed.


But when I visited the camp recently, most of that was past. The former NGO darlings no longer had anyone regularly supplying them, apart from the food aid offered by the UN-organisation UNHCR, next to a bit of money collected during church service. 
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Nineveh ready to build peace, activists tell Duhok Forum

The time of talking is past, was the message from a forum held in Duhok, with participants complaining that all conferences held since 2003 on reconciliation did not prevent the rise of the Islamic State (ISIS).

“We have to do it together, and we have to do it ourselves,” was the mood at the International Forum on Recovery, Stabilization and Peace in Nineveh, that brought together activists, scholars, politicians and students at the recently opened American University of Duhok.

“Why do we need international organisations to build peace? We have to put words into actions,” as one of the participants, a young Sunni woman from Mosul, said.
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Sunday, March 27, 2016

Cutting Iraq’s excessive fat is not enough

Iraq is like a fat man who desperately needs to lose weight - was the image the Iraqi minister of Oil, Adil Abdulmahdi painted during the recent Sulaimani Forum of the American University (AUIS).

It was an image that stuck, in relation to what the economic world calls the Dutch disease, or how a country that earns big on oil, neglects to work on incentives to build a strong private sector. A disease that has brought Iraq into serious problems when the oil prices went down to an all-time low.

The fat is made up by the 7 million employees of the Iraqi state, gone up from a mere 850,000 in 2004, said the Iraqi minister. “Fat people have less energy and more health problems. If we do not get rid of this fat, we will go down a bad road.”

He was calling for major reforms, repeating what has been said by many: that now is the correct moment to do so. Meaning that if the painful task of cutting government jobs is not conducted at a time that the state is suffering from budget deficits, it will never happen once the oil price goes up again and the need for reform becomes less pressing. Read more here

Sulaimani Forum unites leaders on ISIS threat -- but not its causes

At the Sulaimani Forum when US columnist Thomas Friedman made a comparison between the Islamic State (ISIS) and presidential candidate Donald Trump – to illustrate how propaganda can successfully energize large crowds -- he connected two main subjects that had been engaging many of guests and participants at the annual meeting in the Kurdish city.

“They both validate grievances,” Friedman said about the two, speaking to a packed hall at the American University of Iraq, Sulaimani (AUIS), which organised and hosted the two-day conference on “ISIS and beyond.”

Earlier, panelists had already decided that the next American president will be Hillary Clinton, because Trump is “too racist and too authoritarian.”

Friedman was the guest of honor at the conference and featured prominently in a live TV-interview conducted by AUIS chairman and politician Barham Salih during dinner at the Shari Jwan hotel, the most prominent hotel in Sulaimani, Kurdistan’s second city.
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ISIS’ chemical weapons: a mix of Saddam, Assad and the West

The recent capture of one of the main ISIS operatives on its chemical weapons program has not only provided the Americans with details about ISIS’ production and storage of chemicals for warfare, but also once and for all confirmed that the radical group actually has such a program.

Up till now, some twenty chemical attacks by ISIS have been reported in Iraq and Syria, but only a few have been independently confirmed as such.

The Islamic group is suspected to have deployed two kinds of chemical weapons up till now: crude chlorine and mustard agent, and mostly the latter.

According to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, it used mustard gas on three fronts in August 2015: in an attack on the city of Marea in the Syrian Aleppo province and in two attacks in Iraq, on the Makhmour front near the Kurdish capital of Erbil.

Recently, an attack has been reported on the village of Taza, near Kirkuk, hitting mainly civilians who sustained skin burns and breathing problems.

The question is: where did ISIS get these chemicals from? Read more here