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The Intervention

October 16th, 2014 No comments
Military interventions are not theoretical war games or 'surgical' in any way. They affect the lives of real people. Each scenario should be based on its merits, rather than merely on the oversimplified failures of the past. ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

Military interventions are not theoretical war games or ‘surgical’ in any way. They affect the lives of real people. Each scenario should be vetted on its own merits, rather than merely on the oversimplified failures of the past. Bombing is a horrific act but then IS is a horrific force. ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

Murşitpinar- Another quick blog entry with some images from Kobane and environs and recent days. The media narrative on the siege has shifted from predictions of the city’s imminent fall to IS being on the back foot in the battle thanks to a sharp uptick in coalition bombing. Although on the surface this is a fight between the harshest kind of Islamists engaged in offensive jihad to eradicate those they deem unbelievers–in this case the Kurds of the secular, leftist PYD-YPG/YPJ–the struggle for Kobane is primarily a battle of ethnic identity politics, at least as many Kurds I spoke with see it.

For lightly buried in the takfiri salafism of IS, particularly I suspect the older members with genuine military experience, is an Arab ethnocentrism despite the modicum of ethnic diversity of IS’s commanders. Then there are the Turkish troops and border gendarmes who are content to watch all this go on from a barely safe distance. Understandably Turkey does not want to be drawn in, at least not under conditions upon which Ankara is not the actor setting them.

There are those who are opposed to the very concept of military intervention in wars far from home based on their ideological principles or because they reflexively distrust the specific crowd that advocates for military solutions to humanitarian crises. What should have been done to rescue Kobane? The best policy may be that such cases be looked at individually rather than the flawed policies of those that came before. Part of why these situations are deemed failures is when people conduct post-mortems on them and find that once the world took its eyes off supporting state/institution-building and reconstruction, the place rapidly devolves into chaos. See: Libya.

What will happen in Syrian Kurdistan–if it is not overrun by IS–will be determined by the post-intervention steps that are far more difficult than demolishing concrete block structures from many thousands of feet in the air. But for now, the Kurds are cheering.

An errant mortar lands on Turkish soil in a battle between IS and the YPG. ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

An errant mortar lands on Turkish soil in a battle between IS and the YPG. This shows just how much Turkey has taken a hands-off approach to the war at their doorstep. They refuse to be goaded into the war despite what some might consider provocations at there feet.  ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

A coalition air strike hit western Kobane in the late afternoon of October 15. ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

A coalition air strike hit western Kobane in the late afternoon of October 15. ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

After being repeatedly intimidated by Turkish security forces, journalists were forced to flee to safer ground. Here a TV reporter prepares for a live stand up far from the action. ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

After being repeatedly intimidated by Turkish security forces, journalists were forced to flee to safer ground. Here a TV reporter prepares for a live stand up far from the action. ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

Ambulances are a far too common sight on these Orwellian road trips. ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

Ambulances are a far too common sight on these Orwellian road trips. ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

The Siege

October 14th, 2014 No comments
Turkish tank position on a hill overlooking Kobane, Syria. ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

Turkish tank position on a hill overlooking Kobane, Syria. On this day the air was filled with a thick haze but the pungent black plumes were still very much visible form the city’s embattled skyline. ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

Murşitpinar- Don’t have time to crunch out much text today as I’m firing off a few reports from the past few days for a client but I wanted to post some more images of the siege of Kobane. While it has fallen down the headline mast a bit what with people back home being enthralled by the Ebola drama that has breeched the West from West Africa, the war here is still ongoing.

The Islamic State is not letting up on their target of this now desolate Kurdish-majority town as the YPG/YPJ fighters hang on for dear life. US-led bombings continue but Turkey’s position toward the PYD’s militia has not fundamentally changed. Meanwhile there are competing narratives over the Incirlik basing use agreement as Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu insists Turkey has not made such an agreement, thereby contradicting an earlier statement by Susan Rice.

The predictions a week ago that the city would fall have so far not panned out as cynics warned. It may indeed fall but for IS their predictions of celebrating Eid in their hoped for killing fields of the YPG have fallen well short.

Suruç, once a quiet agricultural district famed for its pomegranate orchards, is now overwhelmed by the influx of civilians fleeing the siege of Kobane. ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

Suruç, once a quiet agricultural district famed for its pomegranate orchards, is now overwhelmed by the influx of civilians fleeing the siege of Kobane. ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

Refugee tents here are being erected by the dozen to cope with the crisis. ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

Refugee tents here are being erected by the dozen to cope with the crisis. There is something not right with the world when we know how to create such environments so quickly and efficiently. Too many wars. ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

The hastily made grave of a YPG guerrilla in Suruç, killed while defending the city from a much better armed Islamic State onslaught. ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

The hastily made grave of a YPG guerrilla in Suruç, killed while defending the city from a much better armed Islamic State onslaught. ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

Nothing to see here. Turkish security forces at times seemed like they were playing a cat and mouse game with journalists and civilian activists alike, dispersing us from one hilltop to the next. ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

Nothing to see here. Turkish security forces at times seemed like they were playing a cat and mouse game with journalists and civilian activists alike, dispersing us from one hilltop to the next. I’ve read that some people believe that Kobane is being over emphasized by the media at the expense at the rest of Syria’s civil war. They refer to this site as “the hill of shame.” Yet these same naysayers would say shame on the world if nobody at all came to cover it. Some people just like to take diametrically opposing positions for the sport of argumentation it sometimes seems to me. ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

The Border

October 13th, 2014 No comments
The foreign intervention in Kobane is very asymmetric. ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

The foreign intervention in Kobane is very asymmetric without coordination from fighter jets and YPG commanders on the ground for targeting purposes (unless there is backchannel coordination we on the outside are somehow unaware of).. ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

Murşitpinar- Things have been hectic here in recent days and I don’t have time to write much text for TWD but wanted to put up a few images that might otherwise go unseen. The battle for Kobane is nothing short of brutal and it is happening in front of local and global media outlets which makes it that much more frustrating that the international community cannot stop something it can see in real time. Syria is the most dangerous place on earth for journalists and here in Turkey we have found a bit of a safe haven.

Much of what we see from the war is via youtube and after I went to Idlib Governorate in early 2012 I didn’t return once the hostage taking metastisized later that year. I nearly went to Rojava (PYD-controlled Syrian Kurdistan) last year but backed after I decided the risk wasn’t worth the reward in that particular crossing. Warfare so close to the relative security of Turkey has made for a kind of perverse theater but it has at least put the Islamic State in view of the public for the first time not through their own visual propaganda.

A photo from my twitter feed was picked up by BBC News

A Blackberry photo from my twitter feed was picked up by BBC News

Syrians discuss the aftermath of a coalition air attack on Kobane. ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

Syrians discuss the aftermath of a coalition air attack on Kobane. ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

Kurds from all over have descended upon southern Turkey's border with the PYD-YPG 'canton' of Kobane but can do nothing to aid in its defense. ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

Kurds from all over have descended upon southern Turkey’s border with the PYD-YPG ‘canton’ of Kobane but can do nothing to aid in its defense but only observe due to an ever-tightening Turkish blockade. ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

Turkish Tanks Moving Outside Siege of Kobane Syria from Derek Flood on Vimeo.

A Syrian man prays while explosions and air strikes rock neaby Kobane. ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

A Syrian man prays while explosions and air strikes rock neaby Kobane and Turkish tanks sit in the background. ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

Categories: Middle East, Syria, Turkey Tags:

From Gaziantep

October 9th, 2014 No comments
The Sirvani mosque near Gaziantep's castle. ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

The Sirvani mosque dating back to the Mamluk dynasty lights up at dusk near Gaziantep’s hilltop castle. A moment where I realize why I fell in love with this region to begin with. It’s deep history is far more enriching that the day to day politics that often consume us. ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

Gaziantep- It is being reported that four people have been killed in clashes between Turkish ethno-nationalists and Kurds here tonight according to CNN Turk. I was just outside the main government hospital while going to an all-night bakery and didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary. It’s shameful that the civil war in Syria is awakening ethnic tensions here. Earlier today I was talking to the receptionist at the hotel about how luckily there wasn’t a curfew here as had been imposed in other cities this week. That could change.

I arrived in Gaziantep in the middle of the night to make my way to the somewhat Orwellian media circus adjacent the siege of Kobane. I assumed most journos are basing themselves in Sanliurfa though I met a French TV correspondent that was on my flight telling me she and her crew are staying here. The Kobane crisis is pathetic on so many levels. The YPG, the PYD’s military wing has their backs against the wall with the wall being a barbed wire border fence backed by Turkish tanks. Turkey refuses to step in a rescue the PKK-aligned YPG (or Syrian wing of the PKK if you prefer) because that would save a sister organization that the Turkish forces have formally been at war with on and off since 1984.

After 30 years of guerrilla war in southeastern Anatolia, Ankara may prefer to let IS come right up to its border rather than help the enemy it knows. To the Turks, both movements are unpalatable and the only options were complicated highly politicized ones that suit their agenda for which those under siege in Kobane do not have time. Even if American aerial bombardments can stave off the IS advance as it purportedly brings in reinforcements from Raqqa, there is for the time being no way, at least that I know of, for the YPG to be resupplied with munitions, not to mention food and potable water.

A world away from touristed western Turkey, Gazaintep's streets are eerily quiet after sundown. ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

A world away from touristed western Turkey, Gazaintep’s streets are eerily quiet after sundown. Last night I got chased by a pack of feral dogs at 3am as soon as I stepped out of the hotel looking for food. No such vibe in the seaside town of Marmaris where I’d just come from. This is not a party town. ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

The Kemalism is first became acquainted with here in Turkey in the 1990s just feels as if its in overall decline in the Erdogan AKP era of today. ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

The Kemalism is first became acquainted with here in Turkey in the 1990s just feels as if its in overall decline in the Erdogan AKP era of today. ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

Categories: Turkey Tags: ,

Enter the Fabled City

January 5th, 2014 No comments
The magnificent ruins of a cathedral in the ancient Armenian city of Ani. Ani was devastated by an earthquake in 1319 A.D. from which it never recovered. This image is from one of my earliest journeys in the historically contested lands of the east. ©1999 Derek Henry Flood

The magnificent ruins of a cathedral in the ancient Armenian city of Ani. Ani was devastated by an earthquake in 1319 A.D. from which it never recovered. This image is from one of my earliest journeys in the historically contested lands of the east. I had a young Turkish conscript as my official escort through the site along Turkey’s tense border with Armenia. He acted as a minder who told what photos I could and could not take in this sensitive military zone. At the time there was an urban myth bubbling on the Turkish youth hostel circuit about a clueless Japanese tourist being shot from an Armenian guard tower for pointing his camera toward its position. The story may have been bollocks but it did the trick of making me extra cautious where I pointed my lens.  ©1999 Derek Henry Flood

New York- The other day I picked up The History of Armenia by Simon Payaslian somewhat at random off the bookshelf mainly to get some regional context for Georgian history during the Menshevik period and subsequent Bolshevik takeover shortly thereafter. Reading about Transcaucasia as a buffer zone between the Ottoman empire and the Russian imperial empire and the folding in of Western Armenia to the Turks, I recalled my visit to the medieval Armenian ruins of Ani today located in Turkey’s Kars Province abutting the border of the modern Armenian republic along the Akhurian River. I went to Ani and a number of other fascinating ancient sites around eastern Turkey while I killed time waiting for my Iranian visa to be processed back in Ankara.

It was at this time that I conceived the idea of the “Fabled City,” a photography project explore the lesser known interconnectivity of the ancient world in order to promote a healthy form of post-Cold War globalism in the present day. This idea died in an instant as I stood stunned in the ashes of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. But I still have many of the images lying around as a kind of pre-9/11 detritus of memory. I thought I’d scan a couple of the prints and share them.

The frescoed dome of the Church of St. Gregory of Tigran Honents at Ani, Turkey. ©1999 Derek Henry Flood

The frescoed dome of the Church of St. Gregory of Tigran Honents at Ani, Turkey. ©1999 Derek Henry Flood

Sunset ioverlooking the Ishak Pasha Palace n Doğubeyazıt, Ağrı Province, Turkey along the iranian border. A splendid view. ©1999 Derek Henry Flood

Sunset ioverlooking the Ottoman-era Ishak Pasha Palace n Doğubeyazıt, Ağrı Province, Turkey along the iranian border. A splendid view. ©1999 Derek Henry Flood

Pakistani army soldiers parked in front of the hulking bastions of the Derawar Fort in the searingly hot Cholistan Desert in Punjab. ©2000 Derek Henry Flood

Pakistani army soldiers parked in front of the hulking bastions of the Derawar Fort in the searingly hot Cholistan Desert in Punjab. The fort was built by the nawab of Bahawalpur in the 1700s. In the post-9/11 era, Bahawalpur may have gained notoriety for being the base of the Sunni Deobandi sectarian group Jaish-e-Muhammed but when I visited there I was far more enthralled by the city’s proximity to southern Punjab’s historic sites. How times change perspective. ©2000 Derek Henry Flood

A movie theatre in Peshawar, Pakistan with South Asian-style hand painted film posters. The poster on the far left depicts Russell Crowe in Ridley Scott's Gladiator which was still a fairly recent release at that time. In the centre appears to be a Planet of the Apes poster. ©2000 Derek Henry Flood

A movie theatre in Peshawar, Pakistan with South Asian-style hand painted film posters. The poster on the far left depicts Russell Crowe in Ridley Scott’s Gladiator which was still a fairly recent release at that time. In the centre appears to be a Planet of the Apes poster. While the 9/11 plot was partially brewing next door in Afghanistan, Peshawar at this time was free of suicide bombs and was well open to the intrepid tourist or wandering student. ©2000 Derek Henry Flood

In the town of Darra Adam Khel in what was then known as the Northwest Frontier Province, Craig "Bones" Martin, an hilarious Australian adventurer fires off a Kalashnikov into a nearby hillside in what was a kind of bizarre tourist attraction. ©2000 Derek Henry Flood

In the town of Darra Adam Khel in what was then known as the Northwest Frontier Province, Craig “Bones” Martin, an hilarious Australian adventurer fires off a Kalashnikov into a nearby hillside in what was a kind of bizarre tourist attraction. Darra is famous for its indigenous smalls arms manufacturing but when foreigners show up, the local men of the Adam Khel clan of the Afridi tribe of Pashtuns insisted on us firing a time tested authentic Soviet model. The boy in the foreground was running to scoop up the empty bullet casings  the sell them back to the gun shops to be refashioned. ©2000 Derek Henry Flood 

The Road Somewhat Less Traveled As Seen Through an iPod.

August 10th, 2013 No comments
Crossing the Iraq-Turkey border involved no less than six different vehicles from taxis, the mini vans to full size buses. Each one came decked out with its own motif. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

Crossing the Iraq-Turkey border involved no less than six different vehicles from taxis, the mini vans to full size buses. Each one came decked out with its own motif. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

Barcelona- In terms of collecting images from around the world as a photographer in the last 15 years, beyond the vast adjustment from analog to digital there has been the management of multiple devices that collect images digitally. Aside from having a professional grade camera to capture moments in war zones hither and yon, there becomes the question of how to manage  these other random images that collect on mobile phones. To add to the mess I have an iPod that takes photos and uploads them to my laptop with much more ease than my relatively ancient Blackberry. With some down time here in my most trusted EU port city with its own bitter linguistic separatism and autonomous region flag flying not that different than Iraqi Kurdistan in the most simple analogous terms, I’m posting some random road and air images that stacked up on the mobile devices that now line both my front pockets.

This driver gave me the full white knuckle experience taking curves as fast as possible while looking over at me-and apparent;y not on the road-and screaming "Kurdistan! Good?" He was getting on my nerves so much I repeatedly answered his rabid ethno-patriotism in Arabic. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

This driver gave me the full white knuckle experience taking curves as fast as possible while looking over at me-and apparently not on the road-and screaming “Kurdistan! Good?” He was getting on my nerves so much I repeatedly answered his rabid ethno-patriotism in Arabic. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

Though Ankara has been against Kurdish nationalism since the birth of the modern Turkish republic, Turkish interests in a stable Kurdish administered northern Iraq seems appetizing when compared to the takfiri chaos in central Iraq. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

Though Ankara has been against Kurdish nationalism since the birth of the modern Turkish republic, Turkish interests in a stable Kurdish administered northern Iraq seems appetizing when compared to the takfiri chaos in central Iraq. Iraqi Kurdistan has become a serious market for Turkish corporations like Beko, the white goods powerhouse. In northern Iraq, Turkish pragmatism has prevailed in the name of huge profits. However, Ankara still seeks to stem the creation of a similar Kurdish self-governing region in neighboring Syria despite the success of the “Barzani model.”©2013 Derek Henry Flood

No unnecessarily arduous Middle Eastern road would be complete without lots of stops to talk to random guys like this. Everyone is working a hustle of some form or another to make it worth their while. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

No unnecessarily arduous Middle Eastern road trip would be complete without lots of stops to talk to random guys like this about God knows what. Everyone is working a hustle of some form or another to make it worth their while.  Simply ferrying passengers back and forth doesn’t cut it in this entire region. Marlboro Reds and tea are the smuggler’s choice items. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

China's Great Wall Motors is making a dent in what had traditionally been a Japanese-dominated truck market. These still aren't as common as Toyota but I did see a good many of them on Iraq's roadways. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

China’s Great Wall Motors is making a dent in what had traditionally been a Japanese-dominated truck market. These still aren’t as common as Toyota but I did see a good many of them on Iraq’s roadways. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

A Turkish Jandarma (Gendarmerie) hard car and a host of lookie loos inspect a jackknifed Turkish big rig that was transporting bottled water to Iraq. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

A Turkish Jandarma (Gendarmerie) hard car and a host of lookie loos inspect a jack-knifed Turkish big rig outside Silopi that was transporting bottled water to Iraq…and didn’t quite make it ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

It isn't just Turkish trucking enterprises making their way into Iraq. In the choked queue at Habur-Ibrahim Khalil I spotted a cluster of transporters from Slovenia, Serbia, Bosnia and Bulgaria. Wherever there's money to be made...©2013 Derek Henry Flood

It isn’t just Turkish trucking enterprises making their way into Iraq. In the choked queue at Habur-Ibrahim Khalil I spotted a cluster of transporters from Slovenia, Serbia, Bosnia and Bulgaria. Wherever there’s money to be made…©2013 Derek Henry Flood

"Don't call it Kurdistan! It is Turkey! Kurdistan is in Iraq!" Taking off from Mardin airport-which is really considered to be in Kiziltepe by locals-and soaring over long contested territory. As PKK-Ankar peace talks fail to come to an accord with the PKK leadership s hoped for time frame, renewed insurgency may be just around the corner in the land below. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

“Don’t call it Kurdistan! It is Turkey! Kurdistan is in Iraq!” Taking off from Mardin airport-which is really considered to be in Kiziltepe by locals-and soaring over long contested territory. As PKK-Ankara peace talks fail to come to an accord with the PKK leadership’s pressed for time frame, renewed insurgency may be just around the corner in the land below. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

At journey's end, Istanbul Atatürk Airport. For those curious about obscure passports and equally obscure airlines (from a Western perspective), this place can set the imagination alight. Here a sanctioned Iranian Mahan Air Airbus A300 taxis for takeoff back to the Islamic Republic. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

At journey’s end, Istanbul Atatürk Airport. For those curious about obscure passports and equally obscure airlines (from a Western perspective), this place can set the imagination alight. Here a sanctioned Iranian Mahan Air Airbus A300 taxis for takeoff back to the Islamic Republic. Originally made for the Lufthansa fleet in 1987, Mahan acquired this jet from Kyrgyz Airways in 2009. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

Twenty Long Years

July 29th, 2013 No comments
An Ikhwan (Muslim Brotherhood) rally in the square across from my hotel in Diyarbakir. The speakers expressed outrage at the putsch in Cairo that ended the short lived presidency of Mohammed Morsi and expressed solidarity with the suffering Muslims of S Syria, Iraq, Kashmir and Bahrain. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

An Ikhwan (Muslim Brotherhood) rally in the square across from my hotel in Diyarbakir. The speakers expressed outrage at the putsch in Cairo that ended the short lived presidency of Mohammed Morsi and expressed solidarity with the suffering Muslims of Syria, Iraq, Kashmir and even the Shia of far away Bahrain. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

Diyarbakir- Though I try not to get overly personal with TWD’s posts as it’s more of a news/analysis site, I’ve just arrived in southeastern Turkey (northern Kurdistan to some) and this marks twenty years of my travels in the Middle East. In the summer of 1993 I traveled to Israel/Palestine to be a volunteer worker on a grueling archaeological dig not too far south of the Lebanese border. Lo and behold A short, hot war broke out that summer two decades ago called either the Seven Day War or Operation Accountability depending on whom one asks (as is everything in this zone).

Here I am twenty long years later with both Syria and Iraq just to the south at war and the PKK resurgent in Turkey while in peace talks with the Erdogan government drag onat the same time. The eponymous province of which Diyarbakir is the administrative center is not without occasional political violence either.  In this area there is so much going on seemingly at all times whether in terms in broad brush geopolitics or furious insurgencies being clumsily batted back by traditional military institutions employing awful scorched earth tactics that it just keeps calling me back.

Importantly, at least to me, is that I feel privileged to be here at all after all this time. I’ve met journalists over the years who are no longer still alive to tell these stories. I still think about them.

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The Muslim Brotherhood had a post-Iftaar rally in the square across the street from my hotel. Speakers fired up the crowd about the unjust nature in which Mohammed Morsi was recently deposed in Cairo. This to me symbolizes how much Turkey has changed in the era of the AKP government ruling in Ankara. I couldn’t have imagined this in the 1990s when I first started coming here where it was all about Ataturk and the Ikhwan was spoken of in hushed tones. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

Street scene, downtown Diyarbakir. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

Street scene, downtown Diyarbakir. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

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Çorba (lentil soup) and Vişne Nektarı (Cherry nectar juice)-my two staples in Turkey. Lentil soup is to Turkey what Dal Makhani is to India-available everywhere, cheap, and nourishing. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

Ten Years On, Militant Salafism and Millenarian Shi’ism Conflating Iraq and Syria Wars

July 23rd, 2013 No comments
Humvee-web

On the road outside Nasiriyah following an American Humvee, May 2003. The gulf in understanding between Iraqis and their newly arrived American interlopers was visibly evident in the differences in driving styles and bizarre hand gestures made toward locals by the U.S. soldiers. From the very beginning, the Office of Special Plans ambitious Iraq project appeared doomed, at least in my personal observations. ©2003 Derek Henry Flood

New York- I have a new article out on how the ongoing war in Syria is helping stoke sectarian tensions in Iraq that are manifesting themselves in the form of daily suicide bombings, shootings, and dual massive AQ jailbreaks. My article examines how the unrelenting carnage in Syria has not only taken the place of Iraq in the global media spotlight, but is also directly fueling renewed conflict in Iraq itself. The Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), sometimes referred to as al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) has now added “ash-Sham” (“the Levant”-i.e. Syria and perhaps they’re including Lebanon as well). So the ISI is now the ISIS. Sunni Salafism has only expanded in Syria as the fractious umbrella of the Free Syrian Army is simply a much less efficient fighting force than their jihadi counterparts.

Screen shot 2013-07-23 at 2.36.27 PM At the same time, Hezbollah from Lebanon and Shia groups from Iraq are officially sending in fighters to both the front line in places like al-Qusayr and to protect Shia holy places like the shrine of Sayyida Zaynab on the outskirts of Damascus and When the Sayyida Zainab site is perceived as threatened, it makes for a an easily rallying call for Shia on either side of Syria to mobilize to protect and defend not only the religious pilgrimage site, but also the Assad regime that controls the territory such a site rests on.

Both Salafi-jihadis and more Qom-oriented activist Shia have been working to unite Syria and Iraq as a single battleground. Though there are important schisms within the Shia perspective such as Najaf vs. Qom and creating a Sunni Islamic state within borders of a finite post-colonial nation-state vs. an idealized borderless caliphate, it cannot be denied or played down that the wars in Syria and Iraq are now inextricably linked. And Lebanon has been drawn in in full view in terms of sub-state or non-state groups protecting what the believe are their interests in Syria.

Najaf Iraq 2003 from Derek Flood on Vimeo.

This is not at all to suggest there aren’t very local contexts underlying the individual decisions of specific militant movements on when to act and how to pursue their goals. Within the two respective wars there has been for some time been speculation about whether the more dominant phenomena is competition between groups or cooperation between them based on clearly drawn ideological lines. But when one goes to the trouble (or risk) of taking an on the ground look, the old adage tends to ring true that the situations are neither black nor white.

A pre-World War II atlas map of Iraq from my personnel collection. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

A pre-World War II atlas map of Iraq from my personnal collection. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

Many Western analysts believe in taking stands based on what stands for empirical data in what are quite confusing battle fronts in reality and then sticking by said positions, perhaps engaging in a passive-agressive tête-à-tête via social media rather than admit they made need to adjust their stance in the face of a new ground reality. Iraq and Syria are deeply complex places plagued by schism upon schism whether in the realms of theology or politics. These dynamics are fluid and will remain so with even the most nimble global shuttle diplomat having neither the knowledge nor the resources to quell them. The United States may have pulled nearly all of its troops out of Iraq in December 2011 but the war is far from over.

Najaf poster-web

Outside the shrine of Imam Ali in Najaf, a young Shia hoists a poster of Imam Hussein cradling his infant son on a white horse during the battle of Karbala in 680 A.D. ©2003 Derek Henry Flood

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Groups from all over Iraq (and Iran) came to celebrate Mawlid un-Nabi (the Prophet’s birthday). Each one seemed to have a megaphone rocking chant leader urging his followers to pious elation. ©2003 Derek Henry Flood

iraqi boys play atop a destroyed Soviet BTR armored personnel carrier on the road between Nasiriyah and Najaf. ©2003 Derek Henry Flood

iraqi boys play atop a destroyed Soviet BTR armored personnel carrier on the road between Nasiriyah and Najaf. I sometimes reflect back and wonder what became of the people I photographed a decade ago. I fear to think what may have happened to some of them. ©2003 Derek Henry Flood