STAND’s Weekly News Briefs are compiled weekly by members of the STAND Education Task Force.
This week’s news brief focuses on Iraq, Burma, and Yemen. Fighting to gain power over the city of Mosul has increased, with Iraqi and Kurdish forces sweeping in on the now ISIS-controlled city. Ethnic violence continues in Burma as we see a disturbing continuation of sexual violence against Rohingya women. Yemen has been deemed “on the brink of the abyss” by WHO, while sectarian violence remains a major issue in Pakistan.
Middle East and North Africa
Mosul, a city in Northern Iraq notable for its Grand Mosque and its strategically-important dam, is one of the last ISIS-controlled cities in the country. Mosul had been under the Islamic State’s control since 2014, until a battle to retake the city erupted broke out in August 2016, concluding in October.
On August 14, 2,500 Kurdish troops called peshmerga marched from Iraqi Kurdistan across Nineveh province and attacked Mosul from the north and the east. The Battle for Mosul has continued to rage on. Now, Western-supported Iraqi and Kurdish troops encircle Mosul as ISIS struggles to retain its grasp on the city. A map of who controls which areas can be found here.
Violence and fatalities are at an all time high. On November 7, NBC reported, “hundreds of civilians slowly poured out of Mosul on foot. Women and children held white flags made of scraps of dishtowels, torn clothing and pillowcases.” Though the Iraqi government refuses to release the official death toll, an American volunteer medic said he treated 44 casualties on November 4 before he stopped counting. While Mosul’s ethnically and religiously diverse population had historically attended some of the region’s best universities and worked in influential research centers, these facilities have been shut down since ISIS took control of the city.
The world continues to watch the situation unfold. The power struggle for this city will have significant consequences: either ISIS will keep its oil-rich stronghold, or Iraq could take back one of its crucial cities.
CW: sexual violence
Many reports in the past month have claimed that the risk of genocide of the Rohingya is increasing. The Muslim minority group, known as the “most oppressed minority group in the world,” is facing the systematic annihilation of their culture and population through forced removal, control of reproduction, and sexual violence.
Tensions between the Rohingya and Buddhist Nationalists have existed since British colonial times. However, a reignition of communal violence in 2012 and 2013 began the targeted removal of Rohingya from northern Rakhine State, which sparked the southeast asian migration crisis. The ethnic cleansing has continued into late 2016 as Burmese border guard officials have ordered over 2,000 villagers to abandon their homes, leaving many to live in rice paddies alongside cattle.
Beyond the obvious desire of the Buddhist nationalists to remove Rohingya to create a “Buddhist Burman state,” many petroleum companies such as Royal Dutch Shell Company (simply known as Shell in the US) stand to benefit from the removal of the Rohingya because northern Rakhine State (the only state in Burma home to a majority Rohingya population) is rich in petroleum. Chinese and Saudi Arabian firms have also benefitted from their removal, which allowed them to create the Sino-Burmese pipeline, the first overland route for oil and gas shipments between Saudi and China.
In addition to seizure of land, the Rohingya have also suffered from population control. As previously reported by STAND, the Ma Ba Tha Movement, an extremist Buddhist Nationalist movement led by monks, helped propose a bill to the former Burmese junta government limiting Rohingya reprodction to two children. Many human rights groups, including Human Rights Watch, called for the Burmese government to reject the bill, which Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy ultimately discarded after its election this past year. The State Sangha Maha Nayaka Commission, the governing body on Buddhist affairs, also unilaterally rejected this proposition for inflaming racial and religious tensions.
Population is but one way Buddhist Nationalists have sought to control the Rohingya. The use of sexual violence, namely rape, has been consistently used by Burmese military forces in Rakhine State. This sexual violence has deep historical precedent; in 1967, the Burmese government launched Anti-Chinese riots that resulted in the systematic rape of Chinese women in order to “Burmanize” the population. The United Nations recognized rape as a war crime in 2002.
The use of rape to control and Burmanize the population has continued in the military’s treatment of the Rohingya. In 2013, thirteen women reported their prolonged rape by Burmese military forces, which they perceived as retribution for Rohingya men accused of raping a Buddhist Burmese woman earlier that year. In 2016, this trend has continued. The Burma Human Rights Network recently released a report stating that they were extremely concerned about the ten reported rapes of Rohingya women at the hands of the Burmese military.
The international community and parties to the conflict in Yemen seem to be at a standstill, unsure about how to move forward with a resolution to the violence that has killed thousands of civilians and thrown a fragile country into a divisive and brutal civil war. A 72-hour ceasefire issued in late October was seen as one of the last chances to secure a long-standing peace, but rapidly fell apart with airstrikes and violent clashes. Both sides accused the other of ceasefire violations. In the meantime, civilians continue to suffer the brunt of the violence. On October 29, in the embattled western city of Taiz, 17 civilians were killed in a Saudi air strike. The Saudi-led coalition continues to bolster Hadi’s forces after they intervened last year to prevent a Houthi takeover of Yemen.
Regional involvement has defined the civil war, as Saudi Arabia and their allies help arm and support forces loyal to Hadi. There has also been evidence of Iranian support for the Houthi rebels. In rebel-held Hudaydah, dozens of inmates and rebels were killed as an airstrike hit a building used as a prison. The situation in the country remains bleak for millions who have been displaced, and the violence and fighting continues to escalate. The World Health Organization (WHO) called Yemen “on the brink of the abyss,” pointing to rife malnutrition, sparse access to aid for over 2 million Yemenis, and the full-functioning of only half of all medical facilities in the country.
Sectarian violence remains a major security and humanitarian issue in Pakistan, especially as regional tensions and the presence of radical terrorist organizations like ISIS remain. The focus for many is on the minority Shia population that makes up approximately 15% of the population. They are viewed by radical Sunni groups as “heretics,” and as a result have been extremely vulnerable to violence. Attempts on the part of the government to protect the community have fallen short as acts of terrorism and militancy continue to rack the country and threaten civilians. On October 30, an attack on a Shia shrine in Karachi left five dead, including a British tourist. Lashkar-i-Jhangvi al-Alami, a terrorist organization, has claimed responsibility for the attack. However, it is not just the Shia community that’s at risk for violence, as Sufi Muslims have also suffered from violent attacks. An attack on a remote Sufi shrine in Pakistan left at least 52 dead and over 100 wounded, with ISIS claiming responsibility. This underscores the vulnerability of religious minorities in Pakistan, and the importance of pushing the Pakistani government to extend more protection to them. The government must also end the years of discrimination and violence that many Sufi and Shia, notably Hazara, have faced or are in danger of facing.
Ana Delgado is STAND’s Middle East and North Africa Coordinator, focusing mainly on Syria. She is a junior at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, majoring in Political Science and Peace, War, and Defense.
Mary Marston is STAND’s Southeast Asia Education Coordinator, focusing mostly on Burma. She is a senior at American University.
Jason Qu is STAND’s Emerging Conflicts Coordinator, focusing today on Yemen and Pakistan. He is a junior at Bronx High School of Science.