Exodus from last Daesh enclave overwhelms Syria force

A fighter from the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) gives bread to children near the village of Baghouz, Deir Al Zor province, Syria on February 20, 2019. (REUTERS/Rodi Said/File Photo)
Updated 24 February 2019
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Exodus from last Daesh enclave overwhelms Syria force

  • Around 46,000 people, including a large number of foreigners, have streamed out of Daesh’s shrinking territory since early December
  • Daesh militants have lost all but a tiny patch of land in the village of Baghouz near the Iraqi border

OMAR OIL FIELD, Syria: US-backed Syrian forces warned on Sunday they were struggling to cope with an outpouring of foreigners from Daesh’s imploding reign, urging governments to take responsibility for their citizens.

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have evacuated nearly 5,000 men, women and children from the militant redoubt since Wednesday, moving closer to retaking the last sliver of territory under Daesh control.

“The numbers of foreign fighters and their relatives that we are holding is increasing drastically,” Kurdish foreign affairs official Abdel Karim Omar told AFP.

“Our current infrastructure can’t handle the mass influx,” he said.

Syria’s Kurds have repeatedly called on foreign countries to repatriate their citizens, but most have been reluctant to allow battle-hardened militants and their relatives back home due to security concerns.

But more than four years after Daesh declared a cross-border proto-state, the militants have lost all but a tiny patch of land in the village of Baghouz near the Iraqi border.

After years of fighting Daesh, Syria’s Kurds say they hold hundreds of suspected Daesh fighters and their relatives.

“As thousands of foreigners flee Daesh’s crumbling caliphate, the burden which is already too heavy for us to handle is getting even heavier,” SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali said on Twitter late Saturday.

“This will remain as the biggest challenge awaiting us unless governments take action and fulfill their responsibilities for their citizens,” he said.

No evacuations were reported from the enclave on Saturday, but the two batches that left on Wednesday and Friday included Europeans, Iraqis and nationals of former Soviet countries, according to the SDF.

Around 46,000 people, including a large number of foreigners, have streamed out of Daesh’s shrinking territory since early December, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitor.

While civilians are trucked north to Kurdish-run camps for the displaced, suspected militants are sent to SDF-controlled prisons.

Omar said SDF “detention centers can’t accommodate all the fighters” coming out of the last Daesh pocket.

The evacuation of men, women and children has put a strain on Kurdish-run camps for the displaced, especially the Al Hol camp, which now shelters more than 40,000 people.

“There is a lot of pressure on us, especially in Al Hol, where in addition to the relatives of IS fighters you have a large displaced population,” Omar said.

On Thursday, nearly 2,500 evacuees arrived at Al Hol, compounding already dire conditions inside the crammed settlement, the UN’s humanitarian coordination office OCHA said.

“Thousands more are expected in coming hours/days at Al-Hol camp, putting a further strain on basic services,” it tweeted Friday.

“This sudden influx presents huge challenges to the response — additional tents, non-food items, water and sanitation and health supplies are urgently needed.”

The International Rescue Committee on Friday said 69 people, mostly children, had died on the way to Al-Hol, or shortly after arriving in past weeks.

The battle for Baghouz is now the only live front in Syria’s war, which has killed more than 360,000 people and displaced millions since 2011.

The SDF say they are trying to evacuate remaining civilians through a corridor before pressing on with a battle to crush the militants unless holdout fighters surrender.

Some 2,000 people are believed to remain inside Baghouz, including foreigners, according to the US-backed force.

Many European countries are now confronted with the dilemma of whether to bring back their citizens who traveled to join the group and prosecute them at home, or bar them from entry over security concerns.

On Friday, the family of Shamima Begum, 19, said it would challenge the British government’s decision to revoke her citizenship.

Begum, who traveled to Syria in 2015 aged just 15, faced being left stateless after Britain revoked her citizenship, and Bangladesh, where her parents are from, said it did not want her.

On Thursday, the father of Hoda Muthana, 24, sued to bring her home after President Donald Trump’s administration declared she was not a US citizen.


Turkey’s Erdogan croons on campaign trail

Updated 14 min 19 sec ago
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Turkey’s Erdogan croons on campaign trail

  • Erdogan has deployed theme songs played on speakers at rallies in past elections
  • Music has always been a powerful tool in Turkish politics

ISTANBUL: In a decade and a half in power, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has often turned to oratory skills that are the envy of his foes to rouse supporters with speeches, poems and stories.
Now the Turkish leader is picking up the microphone to sing, complete with hand gestures, to rally supporters of his ruling AKP party for March 31 local elections.
Music has always been a powerful tool in Turkish politics, but with Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP), it has now become one more way to galvanize his support base before a potentially tricky vote.
With Turkey in recession and inflation in double digits, the AKP is turning up the nationalist rhetoric to try to win over voters hurt by high living costs.
“I get goose bumps when I listen to the songs everyday,” said Ilknur Can, at an Erdogan rally in Istanbul’s Kasimpasa district, where the president grew up.
“I really understand, through this music, what patriotism is,” she added.
Erdogan’s critics say he has eroded rights by cracking down on dissent at home.
But for supporters, his electoral style taps into their image of Erdogan as the strong leader Turkey needs who speaks for them.
In this month’s municipal elections, the AKP will likely remain the largest party even if some experts say it could win by a smaller percentage of the vote.

Music is everywhere in Turkey, blaring out in taxis, shops and restaurants. Political events also have regular, and often extremely loud music.
The Turkish leader has deployed theme songs played on speakers at rallies in past elections, which have kept him in power since 2003.
But in the upcoming polls, it is Erdogan himself who is singing at almost every rally.
“Nereden nereye geldi Turkiye” (“From where Turkey came to where we are now“) Erdogan crooned from the stage at a recent event.
The song repeats a line from his election campaign tune about how far Turkey has developed under his rule.
“He already has an organic connection with his grassroots, but these songs are a new strategy to widen support,” associate professor Dogan Gurpinar, of Istanbul Technical University, said.
Political events have also been the subject of songs.
After a failed 2016 coup against Erdogan, one song had the lyrics: “Democracy took a blow and the nation was puzzled... the commander-in-chief gave the order: Take to the squares.”
That was a reference to Erdogan’s call during the coup attempt for loyalists to take to the streets.
Another song entitled “Dombra” chants the president’s name, drawing cheers from party faithful.
“I am over the moon whenever I listen to Nereden Nereye,” said supporter Ayse Duru, as she sang along to Erdogan’s recent campaign song.

The composer of Erdogan’s latest campaign tune and performer of it when the president himself isn’t singing it is Turkish pop singer Altan Cetin.
“It was not hard for me to write (the AKP song) and put it into a project. Believe me, it can sometimes be even more difficult to do a pop song,” he told AFP in his studio in Istanbul.
Cetin said that it took almost a month to finish.
“Our president uses every instrument of politics very successfully and very professionally,” he said.
In Europe, it is rare for a candidate to sing at election rallies.
But in the United States, former president Barack Obama sometimes sang on the campaign trail, and in 1992, Bill Clinton famously played the saxophone before an audience — helping to cement his popularity with young voters.
Late Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez also often broke into song at rallies and speeches, rousing supporters with the national anthem or folksongs.
Cetin said that music was “like a glue” for people that “brings them closer.”
“Music is about synchronization. It creates a sincerity, a unity and a power with everyone who feels it.”

Cetin said that he wrote what he had “lived through” in Turkey, saying he was happy to see the country’s leader singing his music.
“A president accompanying a song with a microphone in his hand in a rally is a source of pride for the song’s composer,” he said.
Gurpinar, of the Istanbul Technical University, said that music was the most direct way to reach people.
“Turkey is a country that looks for tools to reach out to the masses more easily compared to other Western states,” he said.
Compared to the AKP, the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) often struggles to establish similar bonds with its old school, left-leaning, protest song repertoire, Gurpinar said.
However the CHP is now also trying to attract more voters with modern songs — one is a rap tune by two young amateur musicians.
“It can have power only when the music and candidate merge,” CHP’s Istanbul candidate Ekrem Imamoglu told AFP when asked about music’s role.
But he said that positive expressions like music should replace heated rhetoric.
“I wish we would see and feel such nice things in politics,” he said. “We are happy with our songs. Honestly, I didn’t listen to the others.”