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Islamic State Fighters fleeing Iraq leave Carnage behind causing major damage to local economies

Qayyarah's airbase was a key installation for the Iraqi air force before it was captured by IS in June 2014

ISIS group members with their flag. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

– by Kawa Omar

As Islamic State fighters are being routed from cities and towns across Syria and Iraq, they increasingly leave behind carnage, which is causing major damage to local economies and devastating people they already have traumatized.

This week a VOA reporter visited a town that was held by IS until last week, when Iraqi forces pushed the fighters out. The oil-rich town of Qayyarah, 60 kilometers south of Mosul, was under IS rule for more than two years. IS militants made certain that Qayyarah’s infrastructure was damaged before they were defeated. Houses were partially or fully destroyed. Oil wells were set ablaze, causing major damage to the economy and the environment. At least 10 oil fields were burned down, local sources said.

“IS targeted oil fields knowing it was people’s money,” said Hussein Jasim, a resident of Qayyarah, referring to the Iraqi economy.

The city’s military base also was wiped out, according to Iraqi military officials.

“The base is not usable now,” said Colonel Karim Radwan, an Iraqi military officer who led the offensive against IS there. “IS bombed the infrastructure of the base.”

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Qayyarah’s airbase was a key installation for the Iraqi air force before it was captured by IS in June 2014. The base also was used for several years by U.S. forces after the U.S. intervention in 2003.

Radwan said it will take a long time and a large investment to repair the airfield.

Residents said they lived under IS extortion and suffer psychologically from IS occupation.

“We paid them a lot of money,” said resident Jasim. “We either had to pay them or get slaughtered.”

Many residents say widespread destruction in the town means they will not return home anytime soon, despite IS fighters having been cleared out. Many of the residents have fled to the Kurdish region of Iraq or nearby areas under the control of the Iraqi government.

“I fled with my family as the [Iraqi] forces were liberating [Qayyarah],” said Wahid Khalaf, another resident.

He and his children walked for seven hours to reach safety, “taking many dangerous routes,” Khalaf told VOA.

Another resident who refused to be identified said thousands of families were devastated due to IS terror activities in the town. “These families have no homes or anything. They have nowhere to go,” he said, pointing to fleeing residents crammed in the back of a truck.

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IS’s intention is to inflict lasting suffering after it is pushed from towns, analysts say.

“This is exactly what IS wants,” said Hamid Majeed, an Iraqi political analyst. “They want to show people that their lives would be even more miserable after they [IS] no longer control their territories.” (VOA)


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  • Kabir Chaudhary

    Not for long. They have already lost control in some parts of Syria and Iraq because of US coalition airstrikes, Turkish military intervention in Jarablus and a strong resistance from US-led rebel forces.

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Civilians Who Fled Afrin Suffer from Dire Humanitarian Conditions

People sit in a truck with their belongings in the north east of Afrin, Syria, March 15, 2018. VOA

Thousands of civilians who fled the city of Afrin are enduring dire conditions after they reached Syrian-controlled areas south of the Afrin district.

“More than 2,000 people reached the towns of Nubl and Zahraa from Afrin in the past 24 hours, raising the number of total civilians in the two towns to 16,000. Many are suffering from tragic conditions,” according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights website.

Turkish media announced the control of Afrin on Sunday, after the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) withdrew from the city and thousands of civilians were evacuated — 59 days after the launch of Operation Olive Branch, the Turkish military operation in Afrin.

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The Observatory said Nubl and Zahraa were struggling to provide shelter and food for the large numbers of displaced people pouring into the towns.

Sumama Al-Ashkar, a journalist in Nubl and Zahraa, told VOA that people were residing in houses, mosques, schools, public halls and warehouses.

“The civilians in Nubl and Zahraa are able to get some aid and services, but those who went to Tal Rifat in northern Aleppo are struggling to survive,” he said.

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The U.S. State Department issued a statement on Monday expressing deep concern about reports coming from the predominantly Kurdish city in the past 48 hours.

“It appears the majority of the population of the city … evacuated under threat of attack from Turkish military forces and Turkish-backed opposition forces. This adds to the already concerning humanitarian situation in the area, with United Nations agencies reporting a displaced population in or from Afrin district in the hundreds of thousands, who now require immediate shelter and other assistance to meet basic needs,” the statement said.

Turkey-backed Free Syrian Army soldiers walk in city center of Afrin, northwestern Syria, March 18, 2018. VOA

Destruction and looting

A number of reports circulated in the media said Turkish-backed forces were destroying and looting public and private properties after they entered the city.

The Afrin media center said once the Turkish-backed fighters reached the town center, they destroyed a statue placed in the center of the city that represents Kurdish cultural figure Kawa the Ironsmith.

“Kawa the Ironsmith is a major historical symbol for the Kurdish people, as it is linked to the most important Middle Eastern holiday, the Nawruz,” Afrin Media Center said.

Footage coming from Afrin also showed Turkish-backed fighters pillaging homes, shops and military sites amidst chaos. They were seen carrying food, electronic devices, civilian cars, farmers’ tractors and livestock.

Members of the Syrian opposition condemned the looting and destruction of the city and called for holding the looters responsible for their acts.

The General Military Staff of the Syrian Interim Government, an alternative government of the Syrian opposition, issued a statement Monday calling for the Turkey-backed Syrian rebels to protect civilians and their properties, and to respect religious and ethnic installations in Afrin.

Turkish soldiers, positioned in the city center of Afrin, northwestern Syria, March 19, 2018, a day after they took the control of the area. VOA

In a comment to CNN, Ibrahim Kalin, a spokesman for Erdogan, did not deny the reports of looting but said the actions were committed by some groups who disobeyed their commanders. He said reports were being investigated.

Guerilla war

On Sunday, Kurdish leader Saleh Muslim told ANF, the Kurdish News Agency, that the fight in Afrin entered a new phase, where the YPG and the Women’s Protection Units (YPJ) will continue to resist in the district.

Muslim added that the civilians had to leave the city for their own protection and vowed to step up the fight.

“The existence of civilians in the city will impose a challenge for our fighters. Our enemy kills civilians and strikes hospitals, and since the Turkish offensive started, civilians were targeted. Now, the war will continue in a different way after civilians left the city,” Muslim said.

A number of humanitarian organizations and civil society groups working north and east of Syria, including the Kurdish Red Crescent, issued a joint statement calling on the international community to act.

“We plea to the international community to intervene immediately to stop these attacks and let the refugees return to their homes, protect their possessions and civil rights, and deliver aid to thousands of people [who] fled this war,” the statement said Monday. VOA