Proving yet again that its brutality truly knows no bounds, in a new video, ISIS threatens to behead 21 Kurdish Peshmerga soldiers, members of an elite fighting force who have been instrumental in the campaign against the extremist group. Entitled "Healing the Chest of Those Who Believe," the footage is a disturbing display of an almost ceremonial atmosphere that seems to forewarn of the prisoners' deaths, as the soldiers are shown to be paraded in cages along packed Iraqi streets to the sounds of cheers and jeers from the crowds. As in previous videos, the captives don orange jumpsuits, but this time, ISIS militants interview the victims before the video ends, with the fates of the men uncertain.
The Kirkuk region, in which this footage is supposedly filmed, has long been a contentious area held intermittently and uneasily by Kurdish forces. But with ISIS' growing influence, the city is no longer as solidly within the grasps of the semi-autonomous Iraqi minority as previously thought, and the Peshmerga have fought tirelessly to regain control and beat back the vicious onslaught of the terrorist organization. This latest video, however, is certainly a blow to the Kurdish forces, who have played a key role in Baghdad's campaign against the militants, despite their often contentious relationship with Iraq's central government. But now, it is becoming more apparent than ever that a number of otherwise strained relationships must unite to combat a common enemy, creating alliances amongst rather unexpected parties.
For example, as the Associated Press notes, the Kurds and the Popular Mobilization Forces, a Shiite Arab militia, have joined forces against ISIS despite their rocky relationship. The Peshmerga have long hoped to incorporate the city of Kirkuk as part of their jurisdiction, but this has often met with resistance from local Arabs and Turkmen, who are supported by the Iranian-affiliated militia groups. While the two fighting groups are currently joined against ISIS, it is unclear if their cooperation would devolve into antagonism over land claims.
Another contentious and rather unstable alliance can be found between the Shiite government and the Sunni tribes of Iraq. Like the Kurds, the Sunnis, whose militias were successful in 2006 in driving out al Qaeda, are of paramount importance to the efforts against ISIS, but general mistrust amongst the two sects of Islam has proven rather problematic. Even within the Kurdish forces themselves, there is some level of disagreement when it comes to how best to proceed against ISIS. Despite their highly disciplined and hugely effective military strategies, dissension within their ranks may prove problematic. Different factions of the Kurdish Peshmerga, who hail from Turkey and Syria, have claimed different parts of the region as their own autonomous states, and the Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK) is seen by the United States as a terrorist organization as a result of its violent actions in Turkey.
Of course, the most unlikely bedfellows can be found in the United States and Iran, who have rather begrudgingly recognized the need to work together, though both governments claim that their efforts are by no means coordinated. Despite apparent progress in regard to Iran's nuclear program, there remains little trust between the Iranian and American heads of state, and though both appear to be providing support to the Kurds, neither seems all too eager to support one another.
Now, as the threat of ISIS grows ever more prevalent, especially with the release of this latest video, it seems that further rather inconvenient alliances will have to be formed in order to destroy a common, horrific enemy. The latest video ominously foreshadows the impending death of the 21 fighters in a similar manner to the execution of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians earlier this month. In the video's conclusion, a member of ISIS warns, "To the Peshmerga, you should leave your jobs, or your fate will be like these, either the cage, or under the ground, is what awaits you."
While the video ends before showing any graphic bloodshed, the footage is just as disturbing as the myriad of other short films the terrorist group has released as part of their ongoing campaign. The Peshmerga fighters, who appear entirely defeated and forlorn in the videos, are shown calling for their fellow militiamen to stop assailing ISIS during their short interviews. Biographies are also provided for each of the 21 individuals, one of whom is claimed to be an officer in Iraq's army.
Al Jazeera reports that ISIS speaks to the camera in Kurdish, saying "our war is not with the Kurdish Muslim people but with the infidels and their treacherous agents." But Kurdish President Masoud Barzan has promised swift retribution should any harm befall these fighters. In a recent statement, Barzan said, "If ISIL decides to kill them, they will pay a heavy price."
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