REUTERS / BEIRUT
The ISIL in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) beheaded seven men and three women in a northern Kurdish area of Syria, a human rights monitoring group said on Wednesday, part of what it described as a campaign to frighten residents resisting the militant group’s advance.
The head of the Syrian Observatory for Human, Rights Rami Abdulrahman, said five anti-ISIL Kurdish fighters, including three women, and four Syrian Arab rebels were detained and beheaded on Tuesday 14 kilometers (8 miles) west of Kobani, a Kurdish town besieged by ISIL near the Turkish border.
He said a Kurdish male civilian was also beheaded. “I don’t know why they were arrested or beheaded. Only the ISIL knows why. They want to scare people,” he said.
Reuters could not independently verify the information.
ISIL fighters have carried out several beheadings of enemy fighters and civilians in Syria and Iraq.
The beheadings are often carried out in public and with a message that any violent or non-violent dissent with not be tolerated.
When fighting Sunni Mulsim tribes in eastern Syria, ISIL have used beheadings to scare local leaders to withdraw from the battlefield. ISIL has also beheaded foreign journalists and an aid worker.
Major tribe joins fight against ISIL
In the meantime, Iraqi Kurdish troops drove ISIL fighters from a strategic border crossing with Syria and won the support of members of a major Sunni tribe, in one of the biggest successes since US forces began bombing the Islamists.
The victory, which could make it harder for militants to operate on both sides of the frontier, was also achieved with help from Kurds from the Syrian side of the frontier, a new sign of cooperation across the border.
Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga fighters took control of the Rabia border crossing in a battle that began before dawn, an Iraqi Kurdish political source said.
“It’s the most important strategic point for crossing,” the source said.
The participation of Sunni tribal fighters in the battle against ISIL could prove as important a development as the advance itself.
Members of the influential Shammar tribe, one of the largest in northwestern Iraq, joined the Kurds in the fighting, a tribal figure said.
“Rabia is completely liberated. All of the Shammar are with the Peshmerga, and there is full cooperation between us,” Abdullah Yawar, a leading member of the tribe, told Reuters.
He said the cooperation was the result of an agreement with the president of Iraq’s Kurdish region after three months of negotiation to join forces against the “common enemy.”
Gaining support from Sunni tribes, many of which either supported or acquiesced in ISIL’s June advance, would be a crucial objective for the Iraqi government and its regional and Western allies in the fight against the insurgents.
Winning over Sunni tribes
Winning over Sunni tribes was a central part of the strategy that helped the US military defeat a precursor of ISIL during the “surge” campaign of 2006-2007. Washington hopes the new Iraqi government can repeat it.
Rabia controls the main highway linking Syria to Mosul, the biggest city in northern Iraq, which ISIL fighters captured in June at the start of a lightning advance through Iraq’s Sunni Muslim north that jolted the Middle East.
Twelve ISIL fighters’ bodies lay on the border at the crossing after the battle, Hemin Hawrami, head of the foreign relations department of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, one of the main Iraqi Kurdish parties, said on Twitter.
Syrian Kurdish fighters said they had also joined the battle: “We are defending Rabia … trying to coordinate action with the Peshmerga against ISIL,” said Saleh Muslim, head of the Syria-based Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD).
If Rabia can be held, its recapture is one of the biggest successes since US-led forces started bombing ISIL targets in Iraq in August.
It is one of two main border crossings between militant-held parts of the two countries, control of which has allowed ISIL to declare a single Caliphate on both sides.
The ability to cross the frontier freely has been a major tactical advantage for ISIL fighters on both sides. Fighters swept from Syria into northern Iraq in June and returned with heavy weapons seized from fleeing Iraqi government troops, which they have used to expand their territory in Syria.
Washington expanded the campaign to Syria last week in an effort to defeat the fighters who have swept through Sunni areas of both countries, killing prisoners, chasing out Kurds and ordering Shi’ites and non-Muslims to convert or die.
The United States hopes the strikes, conducted with help from European allies in Iraq and Arab air forces in Syria, will allow government and Kurdish forces in Iraq, and moderate Sunnis in Syria, to recapture territory.
But a wave of car bomb and mortar bomb attacks in Shi’ite areas of Baghdad, suspected to be the work of ISIL fighters, were a reminder of risks. Iraqi police and medical sources said at least 35 people were killed.
Britain said its Tornado warplanes had launched their first attacks against ISIL in Iraq since parliament approved combat operations last Friday, targeting a heavy weapons position that was endangering Kurdish forces and subsequently attacking an IS armed pick-up truck in the same area.
In Iraq, a coalition of Iraqi army, Shi’ite militia fighters and Kurdish troops known as Peshmerga have been slowly recapturing Sunni villages that had been under ISIL control south of the Kurdish-held oil city of Kirkuk.
Peshmerga liberated two villages 40 km south of Kirkuk from ISIL on Tuesday, an Iraqi security official said.
Peshmerga secretary-general Jabbar Yawar estimated the Iraqi Kurds had now retaken around half the territory they lost when the militants surged north towards the regional capital Arbil in early August, an advance that helped to prompt the US strikes.
Peshmerga fighters, Iraqi army troops and pro-government militia were advancing north from the Peshmerga-held city of Tuz Khurmatu to drive ISIL fighters out of the countryside that surrounds Kirkuk, the official said. He credited US-led air strikes with helping the Peshmerga clear the two villages.
“This area witnessed intense air strikes from US-led strikes and Iraqi air strikes overnight and at dawn,” the official said.
The explosions shook Kirkuk itself: “We felt the ground shaking beneath our feet, and then we heard that there were air strikes outside Kirkuk,” said a policeman in the city.
In addition to aiding the Kurds in the north, US air strikes have targeted fighters west of Baghdad and on its southern outskirts.
“We believe the US air strikes have helped in containing ISIL’s momentum,” said lawmaker Mowaffak al-Rubaie, a former head of Iraq’s advisory security council.
Iraqi officials said US air strikes, along with strikes by Iraq’s own aircraft, had killed dozens of ISIL fighters the previous day south of the capital.
“It appears that 67 (ISIL) militants were killed in Fadiliya,” said an Iraqi security source, referring to a town south of the capital.
The US military said it had conducted 11 air strikes in Syria and the same number in Iraq in the previous 24 hours, on ISIL tanks, artillery, checkpoints and buildings.
ISIL fighters have laid siege to Kobani, a Kurdish city on Syria’s border with Turkey. Sporadic gunfire could be heard from across the frontier, and a shell could be seen exploding in olive groves on the western outskirts of town.
A steady stream of people, mostly men, were crossing the border post back into Syria, apparently to help defend the town.
Ocalan Iso, deputy commander of the Kurdish forces defending the town, told Reuters Kurdish troops had battled ISIL fighters armed with tanks through the night and into Tuesday.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a body that monitors the war with a network on the ground, said US-led strikes had hit ISIL positions west of Kobani.
The Observatory said ISIL now controls 325 out of 354 villages on the rural outskirts of Kobani.