KRG Is In Serious Trouble! What Is Next?

Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has failed to get it right in so many ways. The oil portfolio is a fiasco, the services sector is failing, civil servants are getting more and more frustrated due to months of unpaid salary, and above all the gap between the government and the people is widening incrementally. KRG is headed to an inevitable fall if left to its own device. It has become a self destructing machine fueled by lack of will, lack of cooperation, lack of trust, and lack of interest in serving the public. If KRG fails, yet another US/West propped up democracy fails.

After the fall of Saddam Hussein as a result of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003, Kurdistan became the symbol of success, a poster child for what the US hoped the rest of Iraq would become. Because Kurdistan had its own autonomous government prior to 2003, the region was quicker to get organized and get on its feet. Kurdistan was light-years ahead of the rest of Iraq, by all standards, including peace. US and Coalition troops used to be sent up north for a quick in-country R&R.

KRG was also quick in finding ways to get the most out of Iraq.They hired US and UK-Based think tanks and consultancy groups to aid them and guide them through the process of writing the new Iraqi Constitution. Kurds were able to secure significant rights and protections under the new constitution including provisions that include the sale of oil through the Iraqi Government pipelines.

Kurdish ambitions didn’t stop there, some in the KRG thought they could sell Kurdish oil on the international market without going through Baghdad. This action angered Baghdad and as punishment Baghdad stopped paying Kurdistan’s share of the budget. Baghdad argued that Kurdistan was in essence stealing Iraqi money by illicitly selling the national oil.

At the same time Kurdistan was going through a war of words with Baghdad, the Kurdish president elect Massoud Barzani was going through a personal fight with the then Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki. Barzani decided it is time for Kurds to turn Kurdistan into a second Dubai, and made public his intentions to declare an independent Kurdistan. This move further angered Baghdad and made relations worse.

It was about this time when Mosul fell to ISIS and the band of terrorists  marched towards Erbil, the capital of Kurdistan Region, almost with no resistance from Kurdish Peshmerga forces. The threat to the diplomats stationed in Erbil was real and the United States decided to launch airstrikes to keep ISIS from advancing any further.

While the fight against ISIS was at its peak, the term of Mr. Barzani’s presidency ran out and he was supposed to surrender his seat to the next person through an election. With the help of the coalition forces Barzani managed to get approval from all Kurdish parties to stay on as President and Commander In Chief of the Peshmerga Forces for another two years, although in reality there isn’t one Peshmerga force that answers to his orders.

Then as the fighting with ISIS was heating up, the calls to return to Baghdad for all sorts of negotiations was met with resistance from KRG. Kurdish PM Nichervan Barzani (Massoud Barzani’s nephew and son in-law) along with his Deputy PM Qubad Talabani (Jalal Talabani’s younger son) made many public statements accusing Iraq of withholding Kurdish share of the budget. At the same time the two comforted the Kurdish population that they were better off cutting all ties with Baghdad since the latter didn’t have any money to offer Kurdistan, per PM Barzani.

During its glory days, the KRG had signed many deals with international oil companies, one of which is Dana Gas. When KRG was not able to deliver on the contract, Dana Gas took KRG’s Ministry of Natural Resources to court in London. KRG lost to Dana Gas and was ordered to pay millions of dollars in fines over the course of many years. KRG was now broke and massively in debt. Even though  the company and UK courts announced the court proceedings and the outcomes of the trials, KRG blatantly lied to the people and denied the loss in statements made to the public.

KRG stopped paying its employees, one month passed, two months passed, three months passed and no salary was paid. Almost 80 percent of the population in Iraq and Kurdistan are government employees. Even school teachers and university professors are paid by the government since most schools are public. KRG mishandled the salary fiasco by first ignoring the public and not explaining why they were not paying their employees. Then once they realized that they had to talk to the public, they began telling lies.

People were angry, the lack of money affected all sectors, there was no money to be circulated. Shop owners felt it, cab drivers felt it, barbers and tailors felt the drastic decrease in their business. KRG kept silent for the most part. The gap of trust between the government and the public that had happily elected them to office years earlier grew. Officials were publicly mocked. Their prior statements were turned into casual every day jokes.

The Party of Change, called Goran, which is led by Noushirwan Mostafa and is a splinter of the PUK. Goran has (or had if you ask the KDP)  the seat of the speaker of the Kurdish Parliament. Goran was one of the most outspoken parties when it came to the issue of Massoud Barzani’s presidency term. Goran wanted Barzani to relinquish power and for the constitution to be implemented. This was an odd position by Goran since they had a strategic alliance agreement with the party Barzani led, the KDP.  Goran’s position angered Barzani, as a result, one morning as the speaker of the Parliament was returning to his office in Erbil after spending the weekend in Suleimany, security forces loyal to KDP stopped the convey of the Speaker and denied him entry to Erbil the capital. He was sent back to Suleimany and has not been able to head a session of the Parliament for over a year now. KDP is working aggressively to replace him and has announced a unilateral end to the strategic agreement with the party.

ISIS has served as a very useful tool for the Iraqi Kurdish politicians and political party leaders. With monetary assistance pouring in for the war against ISIS, many of the political parties benefit from the assistance delivered in the form of cash in US dollars.

To make a very long and painful story short, the Kurdish Parliament is defunct, the Kurdish Regional Government is defunct, the economy is as bad as it can be, winter is approaching, schools are in session and teachers and university professors have promised to boycott classrooms, internal displaced people (IDP) from the liberated areas of Iraq are leaving Kurdistan and returning home taking with them the rent they were giving to the local real estate market as well as the cash benefits they were receiving as compensation, political parties are at an impasse, The Kurdish Front in Baghdad was just marred by the expulsion of Hoshyar Zebari from his post as the Iraqi Minister of Finance due to allegations of corruption, and people have lost complete trust in their politicians and have had enough of their empty promises.

The only thing that is still functioning is the Peshmerga Force and that is thanks to the generous contribution of US tax payers to fund  the war against ISIS.

We might be witnessing the end of the cabinet of the KRG. Yet the question remains, what is next?

Stay tuned…

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15 Years Later…Never Forget

15 Years have passed since that dreadful morning when I was sitting at my desk in my cubicle on the production floor of a manufacturing facility in Logan, Utah when my coworker Cody came in and told me what he had just heard on the radio on his way in. “A plane has crashed into World Trade Center in New York” he said. We immediately tuned into NPR, our media platform of choice at the time. Shortly after more people came in and gathered around the radio receiver. We listened as the news of a second plain crashing into the second tower was announced. Time froze, not a word was spoken by any  of us, we were all looking at each other with horror. We all had the same question; What the hell just happened?
That day my life, along with the lives of millions of Americans and other nationalities in the US and around the world changed forever. I grew up in a country, Iraq, where I had lived through two wars, chemical attacks, destruction of villages, mass burial of humans alive, firing squads, secret police, relatives execution over a certain political view, a bloody uprising, and a mass exodus. Yet I can say with all certainty that the attack on the Twin Towers on September 11th, 2001 was a turning point in many aspects of my personal and professional life.
Earlier today my son, who wasn’t born at the time of the aggression, asked me if the event was in fact as big as he hears about it once every year. It really hit me that there is a generation that’s coming to age, that can’t grasp the magnitude of the event, simply because of the time that has passed. I explained what 9/11 meant for me personally.
9/11 is one single event in the lives of millions of people on this planet in which the mention of the name brings back a certain memory and/or reaction to the news of it happening. Most of us remember exactly what we were doing when we first heard about it. Most of us remember the days and nights that followed. Most of us remember the weeks, months and years that passed and how it all changed after that one single event.
For the sake of us, all of us humans, and generations to come, we should never forget.

August 31st 1996, Historical Facts

To a large number of Iraqi Kurds, and some Arabs as well, August 31st 1996 marks a turning point in their lives, myself included. Because that day has such a historical, political, and emotional wight in today’s politics, I wanted to present some historical facts away from political and emotional biases.

From 1993 to August 31st, 1996 I served as the personal interpreter for Mr. Kosret Rasoul Ali the second Kurdish Prime Minister in the history of Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). Mr. Ali was and still is a member of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK).  In 1993 the CIA established a presence in Northern Iraq and the mission was headed by Bob Baer. I was the POC between the Agency’s presence and my boss’s office.

At the time the Kurdistan Parliament was shared “fifty/fifty” as it was common to refer to the power distribution between Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP)  MPs and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan MPs. The Speaker of the Parliament was KDP and his Deputy was PUK. The Prime Minister was from the PUK, his Deputy was from the KDP. The Ministers were also equally distributed. The 50/50 phenomenon was so absurd that a local poet charged the political parties of equally distributing the number of prostitutes as well.

One of the main items that was shared as well, was the revenues from collection of customs and tariffs at the main international border crossing, mainly the Iraq/Turkey and Iraq/Iran border crossings. By geographic distribution of areas of sympathy and party affiliation, KDP controlled the region near and around the Iraq/Turkey crossing. PUK on the other hand was more influential in the region near the Iraq/Iran border. However, the revenue from the Turkish border point was much higher than the Iran border. This led to KDP taking control of the revenues and placing obstacles in front of the flow of revenue to the coffers of the KRG.

At the time Iraq (including Kurdistan Region) was under an embargo from the international community due to the sanctions imposed as punishment for occupying Kuwait. Kurdistan was under a second embargo from Saddam’s government in Baghdad as punishment for the upraising that followed the occupation of Kuwait. Kurdistan was suffering from the effects of two embargoes and the many pleas by the KRG to the UN and international community to ease sanction on Kurdistan region were ignored.

By refusing to hand the full revenue from the Turkish border (called Ibrahim Khalil) to the KRG, KDP created an even more difficult condition. The PUK tried to resolve the issues through negotiations directly or indirectly with the KDP. PUK asked the representatives of many European countries as well as the CIA presence to put pressure on KDP. Nothing worked. Tensions rose between  the two sides and fighting broke out between the two political parties. PUK’s forces were able to push KDP completely out of the capital Erbil (aka Arbil) including their MPs and Ministers. KDP’s territory was limited to Duhok province, which included the Ibrahim Khalil crossing and to about 50 miles east of Erbil, in the city of Pirmam, where the KDP Headquarters and the residence of Massoud Barzani and his family were.

The internal fighting (brakuzhi in Kurdish, meaning killing of brothers) did not stay limited to PUK and KDP. Shortly after the PUK-KDP war broke out, the internal politics were at play and many of the smaller political parties had to take side. KDP had deep pockets, however PUK was controlling the physical seat of the government. Many clashes broke out between warring factions. Many were killed in a bitter civil war.

KDP made a few unsuccessful military attempts to return to Erbil by force. PUK forces showed resilience in keeping KDP forces at a safe distance from their prized possession, the capital.

Around early August of 1996 Dr. Ahmed Chalabi, the head of the Iraqi National Congress (INC), gave an alarming warning to PUK leadership. He warned that KDP is in negotiation with Saddam’s government and seeking military assistance from Baghdad to return to Erbil. Chalabi was the head of the Iraqi opposition, anti-Saddam Hussein, body that was created by Washington and was funded by US-Taxpayers. INC served as an umbrella organization for all the different Arab, Kurdish, Turkomen, Assyrian opposition groups. The Headquarters of INC was initially in Pirmam, but later moved to Erbil when Chalabi was no longer welcome by the KDP.

Chalabi was alarmed because if KDP in fact signed any agreement with Baghdad to return to Erbil, the INC’s offices and their members would be in danger of being attacked. I was in many meetings with foreign dignitaries, diplomats and intelligence services when PUK shared the information regarding a possible KDP-Baghdad alliance to bring KDP back into Erbil. And the response PUK received most of the time was something like “yeah, but you in the PUK are also allowing Iranians to come into Kurdistan.” CIA agents were very direct in telling Mr. Ali that DC is very concerned with PUK’s close ties to Iran. They had given the same message to Mr. Jalal Talabani the General Secretary of the PUK, and Dr. Ahmed Chalabi.

Towards the end of August 1996, intelligence from the south indicated that Iraqi military units were on the move towards the north, via Mosul going up to the north to Duhok and around Erbil to the east to Pirmam. PUK shared the intelligence with meant intelligence services and senior diplomats of the West in the region. Mr. Talabani himself didn’t believe that the coalition forces who were protecting the Kurdish safe haven north of the 36 parallel would allow Iraqi military to cross that line.

On the eve of August 31st, 1996 there was no doubt that the intelligence was accurate and that KDP was amassing forces joined by Iraqi infantry around Mosul on the west of  Erbil and from Pirmam on the east of Erbil as well. During that night I was personally on the phone relaying information from the front-line hour by hour, then half hour by half hour, then every 15 minutes, then almost every minute to the CIA office up on the hill in Pirmam. I was conveying information that was coming in to the PUK’s headquarters. The hope was that Washington would take some action to prevent the Iraqi military supported- KDP attack on Erbil. The answer I was got from the station was that “Washington is informed.”

Needless to say I didn’t get any sleep that night. By dawn I moved the satellite (Inmarsat) phone [no cell phones back then] to Mr. Ali’s residence in order to convey the messages more directly. He asked me to call the agency station and ask them if US jets were going to be engaged to stop the Iraqis who were violating the safe haven lines. By now the answer had changed to “awaiting a response from Washington.” There was a last conversation between me and the agency folks before my boss asked me to disconnect the phone, details of which I will not disclose. But there was still no promise of any action by US or coalition forces. Mr. Ali geared up and prepared for a battle to defend Erbil.

Shortly after 7 am Iraqi artillery began shelling the outskirts of Erbil first then targeted specific offices, such as the PUK HQ and the parliament. I was excused since I was not an armed Peshmerga [Kurdish Freedom Fighter]. By the time I reached my parent’s home, scared for my life, KDP forces had entered many sections of Erbil. Iraqi tanks rolled in with KDP forces. I heard tanks in my neighborhood, and I realized a new era had dawned on Kurdistan.

In the aftermath of the events of August 31, 1996 KDP had gained full control of Erbil and its surrounding. Thousands of PUK affiliates, sympathizers, and followers were either killed, arrested (and their homes looted), or were forced into hiding or leaving Erbil. I hid in Erbil first, but later managed to escape to Turkey and immigrated to the US eventually. The INC took a major blow. Many of their members in Erbil were arrested by the Iraqi forces and their offices were ransacked. The agency base in Pirmam had pulled out and returned to Turkey, where their main office was. The United States was forced to evacuate a large number of Kurds and Arabs who worked for INC or for NGO’s for fear of being arrested by Saddam’s forces. There was a major airlift to the Island of Guam where the evacuees were further processed as asylum and transported to various cities in the US.

 

PUK Knocks On Baghdad’s Door As It Sees KDP Opening The Door For Turkey

PUK-UN Meeting in Baghdad
PUK Delegation Meets UN Representation In Baghdad
Barzani-Erdogan
Massoud Barzani Meets Erdogan

 

PUK’s delegation met with the Iraqi Prime Minister Haydar Al Abadi, and were able to get assurances from PM Abadi that Iraqi Kurds have the right of self determination and that they have the right to hold a referendum on the nature of future relations between Baghdad and Iraqi Kurds.

The official statements from the PUK delegation show that the party is truly worried about the Turko-KDP alliance. They call the recent political maneuvers by both sides, i.e. Turkey and KDP,  “ambiguous posturing”. PUK’s main spokesperson and member of the delegation that visited Baghdad Sadi Ahmed Pira said in an interview with the local Rudaw media outlet that the PUK is concerned that there are deals being reached and signed behind the scenes and that the Kurdish people will end up paying the price. Mr. Pira said Kurds have been bitten from that [snake] hole once before and it would be foolish to be bitten once again from the same hole.

PUK’s delegation also wants “to see Iraqi issues, including issues between Baghdad and the Kurdistan regional Government, to be solved within Iraq”. PUK believes that that KDP’s alliance with Turkey has given Turkey free range in Kurdistan to meddle in Iraqi internal affairs. PUK’s Pira went as far as accusing KDP of considering Ankara their capital, not Baghdad

For over a year now, the KDP has been preparing the ground for a popular vote on the future of Kurdistan Region and the possibility of declaring independence from Iraq.  KDP’s leader Mr. Barzani has promised the people of Kurdistan that he will announce a free Kurdistan if the results of the referendum show that they are in favor of a free Kurdistan. PUK on the other hand has been reluctant to buy into this KDP project, calling it a political stunt and an effort to take people’s minds off of the illegitimate presidency of Mr. Barzani and other issues related to the now defunct Parliament. PUK maintains that they are for holding the referendum in the near future, however they don’t believe that this is the right time to announce an independent Kurdistan.

KDP has used PUK’s  alleged anti-independence position to gain people’s support. They have saturated the media and mobilized a low-tone campaign creating the “for” and “against” camps. PUK has failed to send a counter message, until the recent statements by the delegation in Baghdad, to clarify their true position on the referendum and independence. As it stands, many of the less educated and less critical-minded slice of the Kurdish society truly believe that the KDP is working towards the establishment of an independent Kurdistan and that the PUK is strongly against such an idea.

 

 

 

Baghdad and Erbil Have Began a War of Words Over Mosul

As of yesterday, Baghdad and Erbil have exchanged contradictory and provocative statements regarding the participation of the Kurdish Peshmerga Forces in the liberation of Mousl. Baghdad’s statements indicate that Peshmerga will not be included in the campaign to liberate Mosul. Furthermore the official statements demand that Kurdish forces withdraw from the areas they have already liberated from ISIS and hand them over to Iraq.

Erbil, the regional capital of Kurdistan Regional Government,  on the other hand has issued statements comforting the Kurdish population in Mosul that Kurdish forces are an integral part of the plan to liberate Mosul from ISIS and that Baghdad’s statements are contradictory to what military planners have agreed to with the anti-ISIS Coalition Forces.

In a statement by Mr. Sadi Ahmed Pire of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan on August 20th, 2016, he confirmed the participation of Peshmerga Forces and alluded to the fact the inclusion of some other groups [such as the Shiite militia called al Hashd al Sha’bi, the Popular Mobilization Corps (PMC)] is in question.

Kurds have long asked for PMC’s to be kept out of Mosul for fear of backlash from the Sunni Arab tribes and ultimately the failure of the liberation campaign.

Mosul Liberation May Come Too Soon

Over a year ago I wrote about the liberation of Mosul from ISIS, and at the time all indications were that the operation was not going to be an easy one. There was also no known timetable. Today, some changes have taken place, but the reality is that the operations for liberating Mosul may come even before all the meant parties are ready for it. If so, the region may face another tragedy in the form of waves of immigrants and a blood bath unlike any we have seen in this bloody war. Is anyone ready?

All indications are the terrorist organization called the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), locally known as Daish, is weakening and their forces are in retreat in many places both in Iraq and across the border in Syria. Part of this decline in their forces my be due to the fact that their popularity, yes they had some in Mosul, is waning and the Coalition Forces have managed to target and neutralize many of ISIS’s top leadership.

Just this week Iraqi Kurdish forces liberated key villages and townships around Mosul and have freed many civilians from the rule of ISIS. Across the border in Manbij, Kurdish forces also scored major victories over fleeing ISIS forces and liberated the strategic town.

If these small scale, but important operations continue, then the anti-ISIS forces may have to speed up the process and move up their planned operations in order to prevent a resurgence of ISIS.

But, the issues at hand are plenty and they are not as simple as marching through the city and liberating it section by section. For instance all sides agree that there is no post-ISIS plan for; first how the city will be administered, and secondly who will be in charge in the city. The Shiites Arabs, the majority Sunni Arab, the second majority Kurds, the Christians, the Yazidis, and the Turkmen all are going to ask for a fair share in governing the city. But there is no definition of what is fair share yet.

Past experience has shown that there will be a large number of internally displaced people (IDPs as UN likes to label them). To date there is no agreement on how the safety of these thousands of IDPs will be guaranteed, where will they be moved to, and who will pay for their needs. The United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) has had no luck negotiating a settlement with Baghdad or Erbil. Both capitals are looking for monetary compensation and a profit. There is major concern that most of the IDP will end up in Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) territory, by virtue of geographic proximity, however if the funds from donor nations are sent via Baghdad, the latter holds on to the money like it has in many instances in the past.

The composition of the force that is going to be sent into Mosul to liberated it is also of great concern to the locals and many observers. ISIS in Iraq was mainly a bi-product of the sectarian practices of the Shiite central government of Maliki. The majority Arab Sunni population in Mosul welcomed ISIS because they had had enough of targeted Shiite attacks on their existence. There is a major risk in allowing the Shiite Popular Mobilization Corps (PMC) to participate in the liberation of Mosul. Introducing this Shiite element into the equation will certainly result in massive reprisal and revenge killings in Mosul, it will also stoke pro-ISIS sentiments once again.

Kurds are also concerned that the PMC will refuse to retreat from Mosul once the city is liberated and they are no longer needed. PMCs have constantly clashed with Kurdish Peshmerga near Kirkuk and have tried but failed to take territory from Peshmerga forces.

If the Sunni Turkey decide to practically engage in the operations, this will push the Shiite Iran to try and balance the distribution of power by sending its troops in under the guise of PMC members.

We may indeed witness a humanitarian, political, and military disaster by failing to account for the history that is in play while we think about liberating one of the most diverse and most influential cities of Iraq.

Many of my friends who work in this field warn of a repetition of political failure similar to that of Post-Saddam Hussein when United States had no prepared plan to control and govern Iraq. Liberating Mosul from ISIS will be as big an event as liberating Iraq from Saddam Hussein. Let’s not botch the post liberation period by going in unprepared.

I am back!

Dear valued readers,

I apologize for the long disappearance. I had some changes in my personal and professional life. However I am back and I am fully committed to writing about MENA Issues. I will focus more closely on Iraq and the Kurdish issues.

I look forward to writing.

 

The 25th anniversary of the popular uprising is Not celebrated. Why?

The 5th of March marks the beginning of the popular Kurdish uprising against the government of Saddam Hussein in 1991 after the first Persian Gulf War, Desert Storm. This year the Iraqi Kurdistan region was to celebrate the 25th anniversary, however the fear of yet another popular uprising against the very political parties that the first uprising brought about, has prevented the region from celebration.

The past 25 years witnessed many political changes in the region. It began with the forced withdrawal of the Iraqi administration from three of the four provinces in the north to below the UN designated 36 Parallel no-fly zone creating a safe haven for Kurds. As a result of the power vacuum, the Kurdish political parties agreed to hold the first ever “free” elections in the entire Middle East backed by western allies. The result was an elected parliament which then led to the forming of the first Kurdish regional administration called the Kurdistan Regional Government. A pseudo-autonomous region that was for the most part functioning properly.

The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) was a model for democracy in the Middle East, and was advertised as such for many years. The geographical region of northern Iraq became the hub of activities of almost all of the Iraqi Arab and Kurdish opposition groups that were working to oust the government of Saddam, as well as many of the Intelligence Services from around the world. KRG managed to survive the harshest economic conditions under a double embargo, one imposed by the international community on all of Iraq, including the very region they were touting as model of democracy, and the second one a blockade by the central government of Baghdad on Kurdistan as punishment for holding free elections and establishing their own government. During  those years of financial hardship civil servants received their salaries on regular bases, which was once a month.

The success story was shot lived and the two major Kurdish factions, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) went to war with each other over the revenues collected from customs at the international borders. KDP was taking the lionshare of the customs from the Turkish border crossing of Ibrahim Khalil. PUK wasn’t getting even half of KDP’s share from its many border crossings with Iran [Geographically, the regions that border Turkey are KDP sympathizers and those with Iran are mostly PUK sympathizers]. Each side was accusing the other of not depositing the revenues in government coffers but rather using the money to strengthen their own political parties. A long and unnecessary civil war broke out and many young men lost their lives and the KRG lost its credibility with the international community. KRG was split into two administrations, one governing Suleimany and the regions around Kirkuk [PUK], the other governing the capital Erbil and Duhok [KDP].

Then came the 2003 Operation Iraqi Freedom which brought all of Iraq together, including the warring Kurds. USA and its allies forced the different opposition groups to sit at the negotiation tables with the promise of financial support to help stand up a new government. The smell of dollars tamed the wildest of warriors and they all became veteran policy makers and diplomats over night. The Kurds promised working in unity and held new elections with a promise to work together again towards a truly democratic and free Kurdistan Region. The same old faces were re-elected and a new Parliament and KRG version 3.0 was introduced. Infused with USA dollars, KRG looked golden and began working on reconstruction projects under the watchful eyes of the few USG monitors who were trying to make sure that the US Tax-payer funded, Halliburton supervised, projects were kosher. All of Iraq was doing a very good job while the Americans were still watching. Then the Americans pulled out.

KRG, no different than the rest of Iraq and the ME, had no long term plans. They didn’t know how to run the economy. They padded the records of government offices with thousand upon thousands of ghost employees. Employees who only existed on paper to ensure a monthly salary. Each political party is guilty of employing their sympathizers, essentially buying voters and ensuring success in future elections. Any and all industry, manufacturing and services, agriculture related industries were left without workers. The same worker who would bust his/her ass off on a field of barley could kick back at home and get a salary as a ghost worker as long as he/she agreed to stay loyal to a certain group. It seems as though the only long-term financial well being plan that the KRG had was the sale of oil independent of Baghdad. A plan that alienated the Kurdish parties from Baghdad and led to a decision by Baghdad to stop sending KRG’s share of the Iraqi annual budget.

As if that internal tension wasn’t enough, the birth of the Islamic State (IS) in Syria and its crossing over to Iraq, and especially to Mosul and Kirkuk the neighbors of KRG to the west and South, made maters worse for KRG. IS began attacking KRG territory threatening to take over the capital of KRG, Erbil, where many international diplomatic missions including the US Consulate, were present. The US reluctantly became involved as did many European countries with more will and commitment. Then came the wave of Syrian refugees and internally displaced people (IDP) adding to the financial burden of the KRG. The international community helped with the cost of war by pumping in cash as well as weapons, ammo and personnel. The UN helped with the refugee and IDP crisis. However the KRG was still struggling to pay its employees on time. By summer of 2015, KRG was behind at least two months worth of salaries.

While in the middle of this crisis, the presidency term of the elected Kurdistan Region’s President expired and another political showdown began. People, common people, on the streets and on social media called for a new election. While the international community represented by the US and several European allies advised the Kurdish Parliament in a closed session that they should refrain from holding elections at a time when there is an active war against IS. The decision to continue with the existing and now somewhat illegitimate head of the region, on top of a broke KRG, created additional tension between several political parties.

KRG had not seen its worst days just yet. By the end of 2015, the Ministry of Natural Resources lost a legal case to a United Arab Emirates oil and gas company called Dana Gas. A court in the UK ruled that the KRG owed Dana Gas millions of dollars of fines for failing to stick to the terms of a contract. Something the KRG denied at the time of the ruling with an official statement to the public.

And, the price of oil dropped globally. US was pressuring Saudi Arabia and other OPEC countries to keep producing oil to saturate the market in order to deprive IS of its profit from selling Syrian oil they were producing from the oil fields they had occupied. This drop in oil prices hurt the KRG as well. Making matters even worse for the KRG. Official KRG statements were abundant, however they failed to tell the public the truth. While one statement put the blame squarely on the drop of oil prices, another statement clarified that the reason for the financial hardship was the central government of Iraq; accusing Baghdad of withholding KRG’s budget. The war of words was waged on all TV, social media, and  in the halls of the Iraqi Parliament. One angle of KRG’s statements addressed the delay in salary payments to its employees, which is roughly 90 percent of the population. However even those statements failed to tell the truth. While one statement promised a full month’s payment in two weeks, another statement told the story of yet another delay for an unknown length of time.

By January 2016 pressure was mounting on KRG as they were behind four months. The public began questioning the wealth of the politicians, the mansions they owned, the convoy of high-end cars they were using, the private jet trips overseas and the international bank accounts and investments they had allover the world. The crisis became personal. Basic necessities were hard to buy without any income. Most people lived from month to month. Most people didn’t have any savings.

Under mounting pressure from the public and the international community, the KRG admitted to making mistakes and promised reform. The first austerity measure came as a slap on the face of the public that they owed so many months worth of salaries to. The KRG restructured the pay-plan and the poorest got hit the hardest. There were drastic cuts of 60 to 75 percent per employee/household. They spared the Peshmerga and the security forces from the cuts; KRG needed to ensure that the battlefront against IS were not evicted and the cities stayed safe enough to prevent a complete breakdown of peace and security.

By February’s end almost all but a very small slice of employees were paid the new salary. The public felt the pain and humiliation of being lied to for so long and the miserly payment of one month’s salary that couldn’t even pay for the basic necessities since the price of goods were still as high as they were at the time of prosperity. By March, with the anniversary of the 1991 uprising looming in the near horizon, and at a time when emotions get really high around the Kurdish New Year of Newroz, there was talk of an uprising against those who were installed after the 1991 uprising. KRG was rightfully fearful of a popular movement that would oust them the same way they forced a much bigger government out. As of early March, additional security forces were dispatched to the major cities, and especially the capital. The presence of armed personnel with their machine guns on every major intersection in Erbil on March 4th and 5th was a clear sign of the level of seriousness of the situation. The absence of any official 25th anniversary celebration can only mean one thing; the KRG is hoping to avoid the mention of such an anniversary for fear of fanning the flames of the public hate. As of the writing of this article peace prevails, yet salaries remain unpaid.

 

 

 

Boots on the Ground or Birds in the Sky?

Growing up in the Middle East, I always equated courage to defend one’s self with the ability and willingness to take matters into your own hands and confronting such matters head on, even if it meant ending up hurt. If you were in a neighborhood fight, you were expected to confront your opponent face to face; and if you had resorted to using slingshots to throw rocks at your enemy, then you were condemned to the title of “coward.” Probably not the smartest way to handle issues, but that is what the culture teaches and respects. I am not the only one who thinks this way, and this principle applies to an individual, a group, a tribe, or a country.

Ever-since the ISIS crisis broke out in Syria and Iraq, the US administration has been consistent on one thing, the refusal to put combat boots on the ground. The “no boots on the ground” phrase became so absurd that political pundits and late-night talk show hosts suggested sending troops that wear sneakers or running shoes. The Obama administration relied heavily on the use of drones in the anti-ISIS campaign. The results have been limited and okay at best.

Regardless of how the air-campaign shapes out, the image of the US military has been reduced to that of the street bully who throws rocks from afar. That is not a good place to be in as a super power, especially in the Middle East. Russia knows this fact very well, and despite their failures in Afghanistan in the 70s, they have shown that they stand by their allies in times of need and are willing to, in fact, put boots on the ground.

I am not a big fan of president Putin, not his leadership style anyways. But let’s be honest, he has managed to corner President Obama, encouraging further inaction on behalf of this administration that is on its way out. No matter what the US does in Syria and Iraq now, it has to coordinate with the Russians and the Iranians.  US coordinates with other nations, regional and international, but the coordination with Russia and Iran are forced on the US and they don’t fall under the framework of alliance or coalition. The coordination efforts will mainly focus on avoiding hitting each other as each side works to further their own conflicting and apposing agenda.

Besides the risk of losing the Middle East to Russia and other regional powers, the US is risking its reputation as a super power. Superpowers don’t throw rocks from a distance, they get their hands dirty. They arrive at the arena with gloves, they throw punches, they strategize; long term and short term, they stand by their friends, and above all they keep their promises.

Kurdistan Regional Government Issues A Statement Addressing the Current Immigration Crisis

On September 3rd, 2015, the press office of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) issued a statement to address the recent migrant crisis facing the Middle East and Europe. In the statement KRG places the responsibility of protecting Kurds squarely on the governments of Europe and other developed countries. While failing to address the root causes of this wave of migration, the statement asks Kurdish citizens to stay in their own country and to avoid the treacherous and uncertain trip to other countries.

The KRG statement refers to the now popular and shocking image of the dead body of three year old Alan Kurdi, aka Aylan Kurdi that washed up on the shores of a popular Turkish resort beach in Bodrum, when the rubber boat he and his family members were using to cross the Mediterranean sea, capsized a day earlier. KRG reminds its citizens of the unforeseen and often tragic end to the story of many immigrants seeking betterment of their living conditions.

Aylan Kurdi aylan kurdi2

Waves of political and economic refugees have been arriving in Europe in the past several weeks in unprecedented numbers. Most of the immigrants originate from Syria and Iraq. The Iraqi refugees are mostly Yezidi and Christian Kurds, yet there are many other migrants among them that are from the semi-normal regions of Iraqi Kurdistan, including the capital city of Arbil.

Iraqi Kurdish immigrants don’t necessarily fit the definition of political refugees, since their individual lives are not threatened by the ongoing conflict with ISIS. I would categorize the Iraqi Kurdish refugees as economic refugees who are taking advantage of the “relaxed” refugee processes in Europe due to the ISIS conflict.

This is not the first time the region has seen such an exodus of the young and old alike. In the mid-90s the same was true but at a slower and more difficult pace. The reasons for leaving then were not different from the reasons of today. Political instability and uncertainty, and lack of money. These were the two factors twenty years ago, and are the same two factors “forcing” people of otherwise very well established status to think of leaving the Kurdish region.

The current political instability is multi-pronged, and not all of it can be blamed on the KRG or the different political factions.

First, there is the issue of ISIS. The presence of a vicious enemy capable of attacking and destroying just several miles away from the center of each and every major Kurdish city has created an uneasy living atmosphere among the population. This conflict has also strained the resources of the KRG and as a result there is less money to be circulated in the market. Hence less business opportunities, bad economic conditions.

Second issue is the issue of divisions within the KRG and the failure of political parties representing the population in functioning as expected. Allegiance comes first in Kurdish politics, but it is allegiance to political parties, not to constituency. The parliament is a much divided entity. Case in point the recent presidential crisis. The Kurdish Parliament failed miserably in arriving at a solution that would ensure the continuity of the government. While there are several entities within the factions represented in the Parliament who are sincerely trying to solve the pending presidential issue, some other entities have resisted reaching agreement due to pressure from the neighboring countries, from where they receive their support and orders.

Third is the issue of salaries, or the lack there of. KRG is behind three months in giving its employees their deserved salaries. While the rest of Iraq, including ISIS controlled city of Mosul, received its salary from the central government of Baghdad, KRG struggled in securing its employee salaries from the capital. This goes back to the issue of oil. When KRG negotiated the sale of hydrocarbon independent of the Iraqi Ministry of Oil, Baghdad retaliated by withholding KRG’s share of petrodollars that they would have otherwise received had they not negotiated independently.

When there is no salary, there is no money to spend. The markets have come to a complete stop. Only food and clothing items are sold, the very basic essentials.

Fourth is the issue of Arab immigrants. The flood of internally displaced persons (IDP) from the conflict zones with ISIS, and with the majority Shiite government, including from the capital Baghdad, has created collective anxiety among Iraqi Kurds. Arbil in particular has become a safe haven for Iraqi Sunni Arabs fleeing the heavy hand of the Shiite government in Baghdad. These Arab IDPs don’t get settled in camps, they move into neighborhoods, they rent or buy homes, they take over sections of little towns, occupy whole wings of hotels. As Iraqi citizens, they are free to purchase land and build homes. They can own businesses, and own stores. And they do, in large numbers. Despite many many calls from the average Kurdish citizen for the KRG to intervene and “do something about it”, the KRG has not stepped in. There are references to the process by which Israel allegedly took Palestine, house by house, land lot by land lot, in many conversations among the population. The anxiety is over the systematic Arabization of the Kurdish north, similar to the Arabization efforts by the Saddam Hussein Regime of the majority Kurdish city of Kirkuk. Take for example the Kurdish mountainous summer resort of Shaqlawa; Kurds now mockingly call it “Shaqluja”, an amalgamation of the city names Shaqlawa and Fallujah, the latter being the name of the Sunni city where most of the sunni IDPs have moved in from. This is a result of the taking over by IDPs of most of the resort town.

While the image of Aylan Kurdi , continues to be circulated around the world on traditional media and social networking sites, more migrants are using the same route he and his family took. The wave is not going to stop, unless the causes are addressed.

Unlike the KRG press office, I don’t think it is the sole responsibility of European and other developed countries to ensure the safety of Kurds and the migrants. I believe it is the moral responsibility of the international community to address the issue from its root. Uprooting ISIS is a good start. A sincere effort by the US and its allies can bring an end to ISIS, as a state. We can discuss the uprooting of the ideology behind ISIS and groups like it when the immigrants and refugees return to their homes.

Kurdish Peshmerga Successfully End Operations Around Kirkuk

This evening, local Kirkuk time, the Peshmerga forces in around Kirkuk ended a major attack on ISIS positions with verifiable success. The operation that began a little over 24 hours earlier was a planned push by the Peshmerga to liberate key positions that were deemed essential to the safety of Kirkuk residents and the stability of the situation in city.

The operations were led by the field commander, Deputy Chairman of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, and the Deputy President of the Kurdistan Region, Mr. Kosret Rasoul Ali; known locally as Kak Kosret [Kak being the honorary Kurdish title indicating the status of an older brother]. In the interest of disclosure, I worked for Kak Kosret as his interpreter and Media Office Director in mid-90s, when he was the Prime Minster of the Kurdistan Regional Government.

Kurds reported major accomplishments, capturing swaths of land and creating a major buffer zone between the city and ISIS locations. They report that for the first time in Kurdish combat history military helicopters were used in the operation.

The timing of this military operation is significant when taking into account the political situation in Iraqi Kurdistan. The region is witnessing major political negotiations between the political parties in the parliament. They are trying to come to a solution, agreeable to all sides, on who will be the next president of the Kurdistan Region.

Earlier this month the already once extended term of the current president Mr. Massoud Barzani legally ended. Members of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, Barzani’s political faction, within the parliament as well as some other parliamentarians desired an extension to Barzani’s presidency, citing the abnormal security situation in Kurdistan in light of continued threat from ISIS.

This sentiment was echoed by outsiders, friends of the Kurds, at a Parliamentary session last week. The US Ambassador, Deputy Special Presidential Envoy to the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL, and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Iraq and Iran, at the U.S. Department of State, Mr. Brett McGurk as well as the United Kingdom Ambassador to Iraq, a longtime acquaintance of mine, Mr. Frank Baker and other members of the UN and international community attended a session of the Kurdish parliament meeting. They all urged a continuity of Mr. Barzani’s presidency for security reasons.

The meetings of the parliament and the different groups within the parliament, outside of the parliament, have become a daily event. People are placing bets on Facebook whether the following day there will be a meeting of three, four, or five groups of the parliament. The situation is no joking matter though. While the post of the presidency may be viewed by some as one of symbolic status, the gap it leaves if kept empty, will create division among the Kurdish parties. A situation that will inevitably effect the anti-ISIS efforts.

This recent military operation may indicate that at least at the top, between the KDP President Mr. Barzani, and PUK Deputy President Mr. Ali, there is a semblance of normalcy in relations that allowed for the latter to spend time on the front lines with ISIS.

Kak Kosret Kirkuk
Kosret Rasoul Ali [sitting with arms crossed] with his field commanders and Mr. Mohammed Haji Mahmoud of the Kurdistan Socialist Party [in blue shirt] at an undisclosed location near Kirkuk.
Kak Kosret la Kirkuk.
Mr. Ali with his field commanders near Kirkuk today.
Kurdish helicopter
Kurdish forces utilized helicopters in the combat with ISIS.

Did Saddam Hussein Plan The Destruction of Iraq?

Looking at the events of today’s Iraq, I often remember a quote by the ousted Iraqi president Saddam Hussein. I do wonder if he had a vision of what Iraq would be like after he was gone, or did he in fact plant such mechanism and means by which his quote has become a reality.

I grew up in the city of Arbil in the Iraqi Kurdistan, and lived there for 25 of the 27 years of my life before immigrating to the US as a political refugee. The other two years I spent them in Bangor, North Wales where my late father went to school for his post graduate degree in English language.

For those familiar with the city of Arbil, the historical circular citadel is at the center of the city and the urban sprawl has expanded out in every direction around the citadel in a circular fashion covering the vast planes. The area around the citadel was and still is the center of commerce, the Bazaar and most of the older businesses are still huddled around the citadel. For me as well as many generations before and after me, a late afternoon cruise or walk around the citadel was and will always be the ultimate relaxation trip after a long day’s work. The citadel has a wall bracing the bottom sand berm or hill of its foundation, the wall is about seven feet high. Then the hill gradually inclined to meet the buildings that formed the citadel.

During the many years that Saddam Hussein was in power, there were many signs and posts placed on top of the wall. Many of the signs were messages glorifying the “knight of the Arab World”, Saddam Hussein. One particular billboard used to give me a lot of anxiety. It was a quote from Hussein that read “whoever inherits this country, will inherit a land without humans.” I often wondered if this was just one of his many ramblings and show of false sense of power and immortality. But I couldn’t dismiss the fact that he was a lunatic and he had showed what he was capable of, especially with occupying Kuwait and using chemical weapons on us Kurds.

Today, I watch the footage of news on TV, see video clips on-line, and read about atrocities of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and other groups in Iraq and wonder. Did Saddam plan it that far out? Did he really know that he had planted the seeds of hatred among the different Iraqi population, and was he sure the dark seeds will come to fruition some day after he is gone? Did he have such a powerful brainwashing mechanism that his cronies would carry out the ugliest and most brutal plans of destruction long after he was no longer in power? Is ISIS a product of Saddam’s mechanism that he utilizes to rid this country of people, at least any useful people who might be able to lead and take the country into unity and prosperity?

Iraq has never been so fractured, the people have not been this alienated from each other, and the future has never been so vague. Not during the eight years of war with Iran in the eighties, not after Operation Desert Storm, not even during and after Operation Iraqi Freedom. The country is on track to become a model of disintegration for a country that was glued together by fear.

Saddam carried out the scorched earth policies in the Kurdish and Shiite regions for many years. His military leveled 95 percent of all villages, cut down thousands of trees in the Kurdish mountains, and drained the marshes in the south. All for the purpose of depriving groups opposing his regime any and all means of shelter. All the groups active today on the Iraqi arena are acting according to similar mentality. ISIS is ruling by destruction. Today’s frail yet thuggish Iraqi army only knows the language of destruction. The Shiite Popular Mobilization Units know nothing but destruction. Iraq’s top politicians lead by fear and threat of further destruction; and Kurds threaten secession from the union.

Did Saddam have a premonition? Did he plan it, or did he just get lucky on this quote? Only time will tell.

By the way, after the 1991 uprising, the billboard was painted over with a Kurdish slogan that read “Kirkuk is the Jerusalem of Kurdistan.” A quote by Jalal Talabani, the Leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, and the former president of the new Iraqi Government.

Genocide No More

April is the month in which many nations and people commemorate acts of genocide committed against them on the bases of ethnic, religious and/or political differences. Kurds, Jews, Cambodians, and Armenians all share this fateful month to reminisce the calamities that came upon their past generations.  On April 14, Iraqi Kurds commemorated the Anfal genocide campaign. Jews all over the world commemorated the horrors of the Holocaust on April 15/16, Cambodians commemorated their Killing Fields on the 17th. Armenians commemorate the 100th anniversary of the first documented genocide of the 20th century on April 24th.

As we humans commemorate past mad collective actions, other parts of the world are boiling with ethnic, racial, and religious hatred at alarming levels.

The 20th century witnessed many wide scale genocides, some gained more notoriety than others, leaving us wonder if the 21st century is going to be any better. Although this young century hasn’t witnessed large scale genocide campaigns, there have been many small scale ethnic cleansing acts by irregular groups and forces. With most of the Middle East on the edge of sectarian wars, conditions are ripe for a wide scale genocide to crown this century. Unless we make peace with our ugly past, acknowledge the mistakes of our ancestors, and shun all kinds of genocidal acts, we are bound to witness more acts of violence aimed at wiping out certain groups of humans based on perceived differences.

Defining Genocide:

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines genocide as the deliberate killing of people who belong to a particular racial, political, or cultural group.

And the United Nations defines genocide and ethnic cleansing in Articles II of the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide as the mass expulsion or killing of members of an unwanted ethnic or religious group in a society.

Background:

History tells us that on or about April 24, 1915 the first group of intellectuals and community leaders of Armenian descent, about 200 total, were expelled from the capital of the Ottoman Empire, Constantinople. The discrimination against Armenians was based on ethnic as well as religious differences. The Ottoman Empire was the guardian of the Muslim world and it subjugated all other religious minorities, including the Christian Armenians. The systematic prosecution continued until the fall of the Ottoman Empire and its replacement with the present Republic of Turkey in 1923. By then the reported two million strong Armenian population in Turkey had shrunk to almost zero. Half of the population had become victims of the oppressive Ottoman rule and lost their lives, and the rest were able to, or were forced to, leave the lands ruled by the Ottomans.

To date, only several countries have recognized the blatant acts of ethnic cleansing of Armenians as genocide. The world’s only super power, the United States, is not one of them. When the issue was put before the House of Representatives in 1975, President Ford was concerned that such a recognition would affect the strategic relations with US’s strongest ally in the region at the time, Turkey.

Genocide Chronicles:

Since the years of genocide against the Armenians, humanity has been witness to many similar shameful acts. Some were planned out and implemented by governments and superpowers, and some were the actions of groups against smaller or less powerful groups. Nevertheless, the definition of genocide can be applied to all of them regardless of their source and the scale of the atrocities.

The Jewish Holocaust  (1941 – 1945) 

Holocaust Children Victims
Holocaust Children Victims

One of the largest campaigns of ethnic cleansing and genocide in the history is the Nazi-German led Holocaust to wipe out the existence and identity of the Jewish population in the world. In this campaign, it is estimated total of 6 million Jews were killed, including close to a million children. The Holocaust is the most known and the most studied act of genocide in the world, due to its horrific scale and the number of accomplices, close to 500,00 individuals are believed to have been directly involved in the planning and execution of this act of genocide.

Khmer Rouge Killing Fields Genocide (1975 – 1979) 

On April 17, Cambodians commemorate the genocide that is known worldwide as the Khmer Rouge Killing Fields. During the rule of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, close to a million Cambodians were killed. The mass killing were considered part of an organized government campaign. The communist Khmer Rouge led government in essence arrested and killed anyone suspected of ties of allegiance to the former government. A United Nations sponsored investigation estimates the number of civilians killed as a result of Khmer Rouge’s policies, which included starvation, deprivation from health services, and denial of employment opportunities, close to seven million.

The Anfal Campaign  (1986 – 1988) 

Children victims of Anfal campaign
Children victims of Anfal campaign

Named after a verse from the Muslim holy book of Qur’an, the government of Saddam Hussein and his ruling Baath Party set out on an ethnic cleansing campaign to wipe out the Kurdish population in northern Iraq. This state sponsored campaign included arrest of adult and young men, killing them in groups, and burying them in mass graves. Close to 90 percent of all villages in northern Iraq were leveled to ground. Children and women were placed in camps, the women frequently sexually raped and sometimes sold as prostitutes. The campaign reached its peak when the government used chemical gas against the town of Halabja and killed 5000 civilians. It is estimated 500,000 civilians were killed in this campaign.

Bosnian Genocide  (1992 – 1995) 

Children victims of the Serbian Genocide
Children victims of the Serbian Genocide

The Bosnian Genocide is in reference to the systematic and targeted killing of the Bosniak, meaning the Muslim Bosnians, by Bosnian Serb forces during the Bosnian war. An estimated 8 to 8.5 thousand Bosnian men and boys were killed and close to 3000 civilians were forcefully removed from their homes and the regions they had lived in for generations. This genocide was mostly religious based, with an ethnic influence.

Rwandan Genocide (1994) 

Children victims of Rawandan genocide
Children victims of Rawandan genocide

The mass murder of members of the Tutsi tribe as well as some moderates from the Hutu tribe committed by the majority Hutu in a period of about 100 days. An estimated 500,000 to 1,000,000 Rwandans lost their lives as a result of this mass ethnic cleansing. This genocide was the byproduct of the Rwandan Civil War between the Hutu led government and the Rwandan Patriotic Front, mainly Tutsi, that began in 1990.

Darfur Genocide (2003) 

Children Victims of Darfur Genocide
Children Victims of Darfur Genocide

The Darfur genocide was carried out by the Sudanese government against the non-Arab population in Sudan. In February 2003 the Sudan Liberation Army and the Justice and Equality Movement began taking action against the government of Sudan as a result of the alleged oppression by the Sudanese government of non-Arabs in the Darfur region. The Sudanese military and the Janjaweed militia made up of Arab tribal fighters responded with an ethnic cleansing camping of non-Arabs resulting in the death of hundreds of thousands of civilians.

Yazidi and Christian Genocide (2014 – Present) 

Yazidi child victim of the ISIS ethnic cleansing
Yazidi child victim of the ISIS ethnic cleansing

In June of 2014, the world had a rude awakening to a new genocide aimed at terminating the ethnic Yazidi Kurds and converting Assyrian/Chaldean Christians to Islam or face death. The Islamic State in Iraq and Sham (ISIS or ISIL) had expanded its territory, crossed the border from Syria to Iraq, and had occupies the second largest city in Iraq, Mosul. On the Western side of the city of Mosul lie the town of Sinjar and Mount Sinjar, home to the Kurdish Yazidi minority that practice a form of Zoroastrian religion known as Zardashti, named after their prophet Zardasht. The region also houses a large number of Iraqi Christians who have been inhabitants of this region for thousands of years. ISIS applied the zero tolerance policy towards the Yazidis and began killing hundreds to thousands of them; forcing children, women and old men and women to flee to Mount Sinjar for refuge. Those who failed to escape in time, were subjected to slavery, rape, and death. The cleansing campaign against the Yazidi Kurds was the fiercest and a priority because to ISIS the Yazidi were the true infidels who were idol worshipers. Then ISIS turned its attention to Christians and offered them three options: conversion to Islam, pay tax, or death. Many Christians managed to buy back temporary safety paying the levied taxes, leaving their homes and belonging at the mercy of looting ISIS thugs, and left for safer places under the control of the Kurdistan Regional Government.

ISIS continues to target Christians and Yazidis, as well as Shiites living in the territories they presently control and the new places they occupy on regular bases.

Outlook

It is hard not to sound like an alarmist, when all the signs point to a future that holds more genocidal action. For example in Iraq the levels of hatred among the many different ethnic and religious groups are at their highest. The rift between Shiite and Sunni Arab groups are only getting wider and deeper. Kurds and Arabs are fighting it out on daily basis on college campuses, social media, and Satellite TV channels. Yazidi Kurds accusing other Kurds of failure to protect them. Christian Iraqis feel betrayed by the rest of the Christian world for standing by as they were ousted from their ancestral homes and lands. The introduction of the Iran-backed Popular Mobilization Front to the Iraqi mess frightened and angered Kurds as well as more of the Sunni-Arab population, Christians and other minorities. In Iraq, all the above constitute indicators for a possible collective action of one group against one more of the other groups in the form of a genocide. The possibility of such events is magnified by the absence of a unifying message from the central government. The Iraqi government itself is so divided it is incapable of delivering a message of unity.

Saudi Arabia and Iran are fighting proxy wars all over the Middle East, Yemen is the latest battlefront. Egypt is executing Muslim Brotherhood members right and left. Turkey is fighting for its past glory, at times acting like a rebellious teenager on the world stage.

In Africa, the Somali militant group al-Shabaab has been consistent in committing genocide, albeit on relatively smaller but more effective scale, against Kenyan civilians. The recent attack on a college campus in Garissa, Kenya prompted the Kenyan government to request the closure of the largest refugee camp in the world, Dadab, which is used to house Somali refugees. Al-Shabaab has a strong base of sympathizers in the camp and has managed to pull recruits from the young men living in the camp.

In Nigeria, Boko Haram is waging a war against the Christian majority, kidnapping and enslaving women based on their religious affiliations.

Pope Francis, possibly inadvertently, angered the Turks by referring to the Armenian ethnic cleansing as a genocide. Turkey, a country that has denied that the killing of Armenians was a genocide, and has failed to make peace with its past to allow for wounds to heal, recalled its Ambassador to the Vatican and requested an explanation for Pope’s remarks. In Turkey also, the neo-Ottomans angered the secular Turks and other non-Muslim Turkish minorities by allowing Islamic Friday sermon and Qur’an recitation at the Hagia Sophia mosque in Istanbul for the first time in 85 years.

There are other hot spots around the world, such as Ukraine, but since my focus is on the Middle East and North Africa region I will suffice by mentioning it for the record.

Conclusion

The human race has the obligation to condemn and ban all acts of genocide. Wars are inevitable, it has been proven throughout history. However genocide should not be an inevitable part of wars. Treaties and agreements won’t stop rogue states and groups from committing genocide.  Countries should reconcile with their past to enable the affected countries and peoples to get closure. Perpetrators should be dealt with in the harshest way possible, to show that we as humans have evolved and we no longer have an appetite for such barbaric acts. The United Nation’s should dedicate a day to anti-genocide. A day in which school children all over the world are reminded of the horrors of such group actions against groups that are different from them. May be by being more upfront with ourselves and our future generations, by talking about what we as humans have allowed to happen in the past, we can have a chance to stop future genocidal acts.

By: Imad A Farhadi

 

Suicide Attack on US Consulate in Arbil

In the afternoon, local time, of Friday 4/17/2015 a suicide bomber attempted to enter the premises of the US Consulate in Arbil, Iraq. Local guards of the consulate opened fire on the vehicle and managed to prevent it from entry, at which point it is believed the suicide bomber detonated the load.

As of the writing of this newsflash, five civilians have been declared dead and several others have been reported as inured. No consulate staff were injured in the terrorist attack.

US Consulate - Arbil

Introduction to Kurdish Political Parties: History, Ideology and Goals

I will be writing a few articles on some of the more known and more active Kurdish political parties. I will try to give you the reader an overview of each of the parties, their political structure, leadership, where they stand on national, regional and international issues. Their alliances and the shifting of these alliances with time. I will also include the names of some of the members that have been on the Kurdish and Iraqi political scene for some time.

As always, I welcome your feedback, questions, things I should cover in future articles. Please send feedback either through this forum, the blog, on LinkedIn, on my page on Facebook, or on Twitter.

I will begin this series with the first known politically organized party in Kurdistan and that is the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), from which the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) splintered and became the second largest party in the region.

The Flag of KDP.
The Flag of KDP.

Name: Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP)

Name in Kurdish: Parti Demokrati Kurdistan (PDK)

Leader: Massoud Barzani. Barzani is the second oldest son of the founder Mullah Mostafa Barzani.

Massoud Barzani

KDP Leader and President of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region Massoud Barzani.

Party Structure: The party is led by a “voted” leader. The structure of the party below the leader is hierarchical. The party consist of the Political Bureau, whose members are elected by party members. Administratively the party has four main branches, called “Liq”, in each of the main provinces of Duhok, Arbil, Suleimany and Kirkuk. Under each branch are several regional representative offices called “Nowcha.”Each regional office has a number committee offices called “Komita”.

KDP has its own Peshmerga force as well as its own intelligence service. This intelligence service is called Parastin, which translates to “protection” and its main duty is to protect the political party from outsiders including other Kurdish political factions.

The KDP also has a robust student’s union for the young members and it is called the Kurdistan Students Union. The union is very active in most of the high schools and college levels. Many of the KDP’s younger cadre have risen from the ranks of this union.

Area of Activity: The KDP is an Iraqi Kurdistan based political party, however it attracts followers and sympathizers from the other parts of Kurdistan. It is worth noting that parties with similar name exist in Iran, where it is known as KDP-I for Iran as well as in Syria, where it is known KDP Rojawa, or west for the western part of Kurdistan. The KDP has a presence in Lebanon as well.

History: The more widely circulated history of the KDP suggests that the party was founded by Mullah Mostafa Barzani in 1946. However there is a second track of history that records the founder of the party to be a politician by the name of Hamza Abdullah. Regardless of who the actual founder was, the Iraqi Kurdistan KDP originated from the city of Mahabad in Iranian Kurdistan. The party then spread, or was sent, to the west of the border and established itself in the Iraqi Kurdish region.

Ideology: The party started out as a Kurdish nationalist movement. However, many of the tier one members of the party were communist and as such the party always had a communist flavor to it. Mullah Mostafa Barzani was the equalizer, and his presence in the party ensured that the group doesn’t lose sight of its nationalist goals of establishing an autonomous Kurdistan. Although, Mostafa Barzani himself fled to Russia and lived there under the communist rule for the better part of the 50s. In 1961 Barzani returned to Iraq and the so called “Shorish” or revolution was reignited in September of that year.

KDP’s ideology today attracts more of the traditionalists, the ones who value family ties and believe in the rule of family. Most of the KDP followers believe the Barzani family are the righteous custodians of the KDP and the Kurdish revolution. This has created a point of contention among members of other political parties that claim to believe in the democratic process of selecting leaders through elections. While there are large numbers of intellectuals and members of the academia within the ranks of the KDP, the running believe among the more moderate Kurds is that the party is too outdated for the Kurdish society and is mainly for older people.

The historical stigma associated with the KDP is the failure of the Kurdish revolution in 1974. Many Kurds blame the inability or incapability of the KDP leadership, and their lack of understanding of international politics, for the demise of the “Shorish”. The fall of the revolution resulted in civilians leaving the major cities and heading to the mountains, where they took refuge for the purpose of re-organizing and continuing the revolution. However, soon after, in 1975, and as a result of regional conspiracies, Barzani was forced to declare an end to the revolution. Iraq’s central government and the government of Shah of Iran had reached an agreement in Algiers, and they both collaborated on destroying the Kurdish movement. In return, Iraq officially gave large swathes of Iraqi land to Iran as gift.

In 1974 and 1975 the largest wave of Kurdish refugees, who were displaced as a result of the fall of this revolution, came to the US and settled mostly in Nashville, Tennessee, Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and Washington, DC.

Where the KDP stands on regional and international issues?

During the bloody eight yearlong Iraq-Iran war, KDP was largely based in Iran and had very little activity in the Iraqi Kurdistan. KDP’s leaders and members were mostly in refugee camps in Iran or elsewhere around the world. The fact that members of the Barzani family were no longer launching attacks on Iraqi government posts did not stop the central government from targeting extended members of the Barzani family. Many Barzanis, from the village of Barzan in Duhok province, became victims of the notorious Anfal campaign. The campaign, which many call a genocide, was not specifically targeted at the Barzani tribe, however their men and young boys were not spared from being killed and their bodies dumped in mass graves. Barzani women and children were forced into camps under the watchful eyes of Iraqi Baathist thugs. Many women were sexually abused or used as free labor.

During the first Gulf War and the uprising that followed, the KDP had limited activity, mostly due to its small number of fighters and their physical location inside Iran. Massoud Barzani was quoted to show embarrassment at the ineffectiveness of his Peshmerga in some of the battles against the Iraqi military when the latter unleashed its wounded army on Kurds to quell the uprising of 1991.

KDP was able to gain popularity among Kurdish population, building on the reputation of the late Mullah Mostafa Barzani. The party was able to attract an impressive number of followers by the time the first democratic parliamentary elections in Iraq’s history took place in 1992. KDP was able to get equal votes, by some accounts more votes, to its extremely popular rival the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan.

Besides his political duty as the leader of the KDP, Massoud Barzani also serves as the elected president of the Kurdistan region.

KDP’s role in the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has been very effective in supplying the government with a cadre of politicians that are both loyal to the Barzani family and to the government itself. The current Prime Minister of the KRG is Nichervan Barzani, who is the nephew of the current leader Massoud Barzani. Nichervan Barzani is also married to Massoud Barzani’s daughter.

Hoshyar Zebari is another very well educated and extremely smart politician within the KDP. Zebari is Massoud Barzani’s maternal uncle, however his own political savviness has enabled him to be the face of the party on the international arena. Zebari also served as the Foreign Minister of the Republic of Iraq after the ouster of Saddam Hussein’s government. Zebari currently serves as the Minister of Finance and the Deputy Prime Minister in Haider Abadi’s government.

KDP has always sought to keep US forces in Iraq. Officially the party’s policy has been complete and unfettered cooperation with the USA. However there is strong evidence that at the very top the party is very cautious in dealings with USA due to the historical involvement of United States in the Algiers agreement, as well as the unpredictability of US policies in the region.

KDP’s second line of defense is Turkey. It is believed that Turkey supports the KDP and the two sides consider each other vital strategic allies in the region. This relation goes back to the 1990s when the two sides collaborated on the sale of Iraqi oil on international markets, despite the embargo and international blockade on Iraq. At present day, most of the areas directly under the rule of the KDP, namely Duhok and Arbil, are major hubs for Turkish investment firms and construction companies. In the past KDP, along with other Iraqi Kurdish parties, sided with the government of Turkey against the Kurdistan Workers Party, known in Kurdish as Parti Krekarani Kurdistan (PKK).

KDP’s position against the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (ISIS) has been very clear since day one of the conflict. KDP recognizes ISIS as an existential threat to the party and to the people of Kurdistan and the region as a whole. As such, KDP dedicated all of its forces and resources to prevent ISIS from spreading to Kurdistan. KDP has also worked very closely with the coalition forces, led by the USA, in the fight against ISIS.

By: Imad A Farhadi.

Lootings in Tikrit, why did they take place? And how they might affect Mosul operations?

The long anticipated liberation of Saddam Hussein’s birthplace, Tikrit, from the occupying forces of the self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (ISIS) came to a very anti-climactic end. The scenes of looting that were aired on local and international TV channels came only one day after the glamour shots of Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi triumphantly touring the streets of Tikrit holding the flag of his country. While looting is nothing new to Iraqis, this one might have been planned and could have dire repercussions for the supposed upcoming end of April operations to liberate Mosul.

Prime Minister Abadi faced many challenges in the highly publicized operation to liberate Tikrit. The expectations were set high for his government and Tikrit was in fact a test run, although not a dry run, for what is expected to be a much tougher battle in Mosul. Abadi had one chance of proving that he and his military were capable of fighting ISIS and retaking land from the terrorist group, albeit with outside help. He even faced a dilemma in selecting who he should take help from. On the one hand his Shiite constituency was keen on trying the Iran angle, as opposed to US support. Abadi himself might have leaned towards asking the US and its allies for help, if it wasn’t for what would have been a shaming campaign by the former Prime Minister’s, Nouri Al Maliki, camp. You see Maliki is still very much on the political scene, pulling strings behind the curtain.

To Abadi’s disappointment, the performance of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard (IRGC) backed Popular Mobilization Front was dismal at best. Two weeks into the operations, Abadi’s top military men were on TV giving all kinds of justifications for why they had not yet freed Tikrit. One of the reasons, ironically, was that they did not want to have mass civilian casualties or damage to the residential neighborhoods. I say ironically because Tikrit was almost empty of civilians by the time the operations had begun, and the liberating forces later looted the homes that they supposedly were concerned with protecting from damage. Again, two weeks into the operation, Abadi gave a pause to the operations. The next thing we heard was that US air support had become part of the plan to free Tikrit. Indeed allied air power was used to bomb ISIS inside Tikrit, and only then did the Iraqi army enter the city and “freed” it.

Looting has always been part and parcel of wars in the Middle East. Looting took place when Turkish Ottoman Empire armies swept across the plains of Mesopotamia. Looting took place when the Mongols ransacked and pillaged Baghdad. Looting took place when Iraqi military occupied Iranian border towns during the eight yearlong Iraq-Iran war. Looting happened when the same Iraqi military bulldozed Kurdish villages during the years long Anfal campaign aimed at wiping out the Kurdish population in Iraq. And we all remember that looting happened when the mighty fifth largest army of the world at the time rolled into Kuwait and systematically looted the tiny Arab country next door. More recent memories of looting were broadcasted on satellite TV channels after the US military entered Baghdad and ousted the regime of Saddam Hussein.

But even then, there is evidence that Abadi did not condone such action and had no knowledge that his forces, or other elements operating under the guise of his forces, were going to loot homes, businesses, and government offices. The Prime Minister was swift in denouncing the backward act and took immediate action, as far as we can tell. There are credible indications that there was an attempt by some who are considered to be loyal to Maliki who were behind the looting. Maliki is doing everything in his power to shame and discredit the new government, the one that he was forced out of. And his thugs are very loyal, because they get paid handsomely. Maliki is the richest man in Iraq and he still has the power to move chess pieces.

Abadi’s government and military would have recognized the downside of looting the town of Tikrit. Although the military consists mostly of Shiite soldiers, they had to have realized their next assignment was going to be Mosul and it would have been better for them to win the hearts and minds of the Sunni population than to further alienate them. As it stands, and as result of the damage to the image of Iraqi soldiers, ISIS has the upper hand in recruiting more Sunnis in the battle for Mosul. If the Sunnis in Mosul, who are the majority, were somewhat accepting of the idea of returning to become part of Iraq before, they might be apprehensive of letting Shiite led Iraqi military come loot their homes.

Liberating Mosul was already a much more difficult challenge for the Iraqi, Kurdish and allied forces fighting ISIS. And the looting just made that task even more difficult. Unless Abadi has plans to recruit a rogue army and promises them the loot after they kick ISIS out of Mosul. In that instance, the collective madness of a barbaric looting army might win and in fact show ISIS the door out of Mosul.

As of the writing of this article, Prime Minister Abadi paid a visit to the Kurdistan region and met with Massoud Barzani, the president of the Kurdistan Region. The two discussed the next phase of actions against ISIS, the liberation of Mosul. The two sides have agreed to incorporate Kurdish Peshmerga forces in that fight.

The Distribution of Powers in the Middle East – Infographics

Who is who? And who backs who? And who’s fighting who in the Middle East? These are some of the most common questions I get from friends and followers of my blog posts. Even professionals and members of the academia who have been working on the ME issues sometimes lose track of how one group’s or one country’s alliance with one another or with the rest of the countries change.

I am no different than any of the people who study and analyze the ME. The ME powers shift as often as the seasons do. Not understanding how groups align themselves with the shifting sands, no pun intended, might cause dire political backlash.

A while ago I embarked on a project to map out the alliances to present them in the form of a graph. For me it is always easier to see a graph than to read a 1000 words. Although a graphical representation of a political climate might not be the best way to understand the region, nevertheless I gave it a shot.

I tried a myriad of infographics templates to make my presentation look fancy. But I quickly realized that even the best infographic template fails to pretty the ugly fact of the ME power grab. I then settled for the most basic representation and it sort of worked, see the attached graphs (PP and PDF).   ME Power Distro      ME Power Distro

I have to put a disclaimer here. This is by no means a comprehensive, water-tight, solid, everlasting representation of powers in the ME. In fact I don’t think such a representation can be created due to several factors:

  1. The alliances and allegiances change frequently.
  2. Some of these countries try very hard to distance themselves from the groups and countries they side with to avoid domestic problems.
  3. The region is one of the most unstable regions politically and as such presents continued surprises.

The chart is the result of my personal observation of events, reading thousands of media and news articles, scouring US Department of State open source reports, and from talking to locals and politically connected individuals on the ground in the US, Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

As always, I welcome your feedback.

Imad A Farhadi

Kurdish Women Fighters, Why Do They Join The YPG?

Earlier today I commented on an article when I shared it with my contacts on LinkedIn. Later I realized that the comment was truncated and my message did not get through the way I intended it.

I decided to write a little more and share here.

The Time.com website published an article by Newsha Tavakolian titled Meet the Women Taking the Battle to ISIS. Read more at http://time.com/3767133/meet-the-women-taking-the-battle-to-isis/

The focus of this article is the Kurdish women who join the Parti Krekarani Kurdistan (PKK) and Yakenin Parastina Gel (YPG) and as a result become part of the fighting force against the ruthless thugs of the self-proclaimed Islamic State in Iraq and Sham (ISIS). The article reminded me of the times when men from my part of Kurdistan, northern Iraq, were joining the PKK and I started wondering what attracts young men and women to a group that continues to practice communism long after the ideology was abandoned by the peoples believed in it the longest.

The issue of young men and women leaving home to join the PKK or YPG has been a controversial one for some time mostly due to the young age at which they are recruited into the groups. In the early 90s, Iraqi Kurdistan came face to face with a dilemma that tore the social fabric into pieces. Young men were disappearing from cities and villages to join the PKK. Parents rose against PKK and demanded their sons back. Some of the young men returned and told their recruitment stories.

Simply put, at the time PKK was the most attractive group by which one could have advanced the Kurdish cause. On top of that, the young men were also attracted to the communist ideology of the group. In a region that had witnessed great social injustices at the hands of religious institutions, mainly applying Islam, the PKK offered an alternative that was both liberating and rewarding. The liberation came in the form of ability to say “no” to the one and only ideology that was acceptable by the standards of the society, Islam. That is besides the secular ideologies of the ruling parties, such as the Arab Baath Party in both Syria and Iraq, and the Kamalist/Ataurkist parties in Turkey. Also, being a member of the PKK, an organization that was fighting for a free Kurdistan, gave these men extreme self-satisfaction.

I am sure today’s female PKK recruits are attracted to some of the same qualities and rewards that the young men were attracted to in the early 90s. Although it is very hard for many in the West to accept that communism still has pull in any part of the world, the communist ideology offers the Kurdish women a chance to break away from the chains of a society that remains to be mostly driven by men. Even the secular Kurdish groups like Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran (KDP-I) or the Toiler’s/Socialist Parties don’t offer anything near the freedom PKK female members have. There have always been women in the Kurdish liberation movement, as actual fighters or back up support cooking and doing laundry for the men warriors. But PKK gives its female members equal status to men.

PKK is the one political/military organization in that region that “allows” for women to practice military exercises at the same level as their men comrades do. The organization has battalions formed of women only. No man leader at the helm. The Free Syrian Army certainly has women in its ranks, but in comparison, the duties, freedom of actions, potential of rising through the ranks and the upward mobility of female PKK members are by far more promising than that of the FSA.

It is worth mentioning that the lyrics of the Kurdish national anthem offers a glimpse into the role of women in the Kurdish struggle for liberty and freedom. Loosely translated, a verse in the lyrics says “to this day, nowhere in the history of other nations, have the bosoms of women become shields to protect against bullets.”

Parti Krekarani Kurdistan (PKK) means Kurdistan Worker’s Party.

Yakenin Parastina Gel (YPG) means The People’s Protection Units.

Saudi Arabia’s Military Involvement in Yemen, Possibly an Outcome of US Policies in the Region

Saudi Arabia resisted the urge and need to get involved in Yemen for months, but the decision to launch an all-out air campaign, to be potentially followed by a military incursion on the ground, may be a sign of the Kingdom’s inability to decipher Washington’s signals. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) has been as concerned as Israel is about the spread of Iranian clout in the region, and has finally decided it had enough. This Saudi decision to take military action carries the risk of involvement in an open-ended campaign that might spill over inward and agitate its own Shiite population.

Saudi Arabia has been accused on various levels and by many, including the some in the US, of supporting the Sunni terrorist organization that calls itself the Islamic State in Iraq and Sham, ISIS or ISIL. The Kingdom is hardly the only state carrying the badge of accusation, United Arab Emirates, Turkey and Qatar are all subjects of the same allegation. At the root of these allegations is the historic Sunni-Shiite rivalry and struggle for power in the region. United States was lately accused of the same thing, by non-other than a Shiite military commander on the ground in Iraq. The allegation of US’s support of ISIS stemmed from an air bombing on an Iraqi military base in Anbar province on March 11.

The US has showed frustration with Iran’s involvement in the affairs of Iraq, but has not done much to curtail Iran’s military activities. To many outside observers, including the KSA, United States and Iran are allies in the war against ISIS. And the fact that Secretary Kerry continues meeting with Iranian negotiators on the nuclear deal is not lost on the Kingdom. Obama Administration’s continued boasting about the successes on the nuclear negotiations front must cause the Royals of the Kingdom to lose sleep at night. With the White House so desperate for a signature achievement, after the failures of the Affordable Care Act, and the backtracking on the immigration reforms, they seem to be willing to make concessions to Iran. It would be counterproductive for the US negotiators to mention Iran’s activities in Iraq to the other party at the negotiating table. It has been made clear by many speakers on behalf of the Obama administration that the issues, Nuclear talks vs the anti-ISIS campaign, are two separate matters.

Now going back to the KSA and looking at the situation from their point of view, they have many reasons to have doubts about the US’s true commitment to peace in the region, the events of the past several years, and the inactions of this administration give the KSA enough reason to go it alone and form its own alliance with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).

Consider the following missed opportunities:

  • The Arab Spring, Egyptians ended up in a much worse situation than they were before. US supported the Muslim Brotherhood government until the Egyptians themselves revolted against them. Egypt is on the right track now, but no thanks to US’s involvement.
  • The Arab Spring, Libya. US did get involved, but the country still became a hotbed for terrorists. The limited and halfhearted involvement cost the US the lives of a top Diplomat in the country and two brave soldiers. Never mind the political embarrassment. United States wasn’t even able to protect its own assets in that country.
  • The Arab Spring, Syria. Probably the biggest blunder of US Foreign Policy under this administration. After getting involved in Libya, the US had cold feet and lost interest in the messy Arab Spring which at this point had turned into the Arab Fall. The administration stood by as the regime of Bashar Al-Assad wiped out entire villages, leveled sections of major cities, and barrel bombed the hell out of its civilians. The international pressure forced the US hand and it decided to send military assistance, in the form of weapons and ammunition, to the Syrian Free Army. As soon as this news spread, the signature black flag of Jihad was shown in the hands of Jihadis in Syria on many news reports. The US was no longer able to determine who the friendly force in Syria was, and as such the military assistance was put on hold.
  • The Rise of Al-Maliki in Iraq. The US missed another opportunity to make thing better in Iraq. As if it had learned nothing from the many years of being in that country, and had no responsibility to protect what was achieved there with the blood and sweat of many young men and woman of this country. The administration had made good on the promise of pulling all American troops out of Iraq by the self-declared deadline, and was not ready to get back in the game. Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki embarked on an anti-Sunni campaign. He issued arrest warrants for Sunni members of his own cabinet, bullied and sidelined the Sunni parliamentarians, picked a lengthy and personal fight with the president of the Kurdistan Region and fired Sunni officers from the military. Maliki sent Iraqi troops loyal to him, the new Iraqi Military that we helped build and equipped with Humvees and Strikers, to quell what he thought was a threat from the Sunni Arab tribes.
  • Turkey, the once upon a time ally, takes a precarious position. United States had a strong ally in the Middle East and it failed to keep that relation in good standing. America alienated the Turkish government and population by making statements that hit Turkey’s nerve in a very wrong way. US diplomats accused the country of not aiding the US effort in training anti-Assad groups, when in fact United States was not fully committed to such an endeavor. Then US began accusing the country, whether rightfully or wrongfully, of allowing ISIS sympathizers to cross the Turkish-Syrian border to join the organization. I can’t say for sure that the US offered support in sharing intelligence or providing technical expertise to aid the Turks in protecting the porous international border. The tension between Turkey and the US was so tense and Americans became unpopular a few young Turkish nationalists decided to take action by attacking three US sailors in Istanbul on November 12, 2014. Turkey has gradually distanced itself from the US and its policies in the region, and has created its own sphere of power.
  • Israel, no longer consider the US an ally. With personal disagreements between President Barack Obama and the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu bleeding into the foreign policies of the two countries, Israel is no longer considering the US a reliable ally. As a result Iran feels more emboldened and Tel-Aviv anxiety has risen over “progress” in nuclear talks. Israel cannot be sure of its long term security.
  • In a different part of the world, Ukraine, US’s failed diplomacy was unable to stop the Putin project of annexing Crimea to Russia. United States promised Ukraine’s government support, but stood by almost helplessly as the region was officially pulled into the arms of Moscow.

Saudi Arabia must have thought long and hard about getting involved in Yemen, and they must be truly worried in order to embark on such a mission. The Kingdom has several internal components that can make this move a very challenging endeavor.

  • Saudi and Yemeni citizens identify with each other almost as one people divided by man-made borders. More than half of KSA’s working class are of Yemeni decent. The people that run the country from the ground level, the shop owners in the bazaars, the managers of businesses owned by Saudi locals, even employees at the Kingdom’s security forces are of Yemeni decent. Any mistake in the execution of this military operation in Yemen could very well result in internal Saudi issues of uncontrollable proportions.
  • The Kingdom’s oil rich Eastern Province is home to the monarchy’s largest Shiite population. This is the slice of the Saudi society that has always been treated as second class citizens. The Saudi Shiites have always felt they were cheated out of the oil revenues that keep the country on the list of top oil producing countries in the world. They also relate more strongly with other Shiites in the region than with the Kingdom’s Sunni ruling family.
  • Saudi Arabia has been fighting Al-Qaeda’s most lethal brand, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), for years from across the border. The KSA’s Mabahith, the country’s top security and intelligence agency, has been quietly involved in the counter-terrorism efforts in Yemen with the help of United States. This military intervention might put the Kingdom face to face with elements of AQAP as the two fight the rising tide of the Huthi/Shiite power. KSA and AQAP are both Sunni and they both want the Huthi rebels to be subdued. Also, the US intelligence collection efforts have been limited by the withdrawal of the diplomatic mission in Yemen as a result of the recent escalation.

The Kingdom has formed an alliance, fashioned after US military interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq. So far Egypt, Jordan, Sudan, Morocco and Pakistan (I know!) have joined the alliance. This Friday, most of the sermons in mosques around the kingdom were focused on the Huthi operations and Iran’s support to the Shiite militia in Yemen. Even Turkey’s Erdogan publicly accused Iran of supporting the Huthis in Yemen. Erdogan said Turkey supported the Saudi-led alliance to fight the Huthis, and suggested his country might provide logistical support for the alliance. Erdogan’s statements were met with strong words of rejection from Iran.

Saudi Arabia’s military intervention in Yemen has been labeled an act of aggression by Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Russia. Iran’s Deputy Chairman of parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Committee Mansour Haghighatpour told Iranian news agencies that Yemen is going to become Saudi Arabia’s quagmire. A possible heads-up that his country might openly assist the Huthi rebels in order to prolong Saudi Arabia’s pain. Recently the Shiite group and the Iranian government agreed to open an air bridge between Yemen and Iran, a convenient conduit for transporting arms and military personnel. As of the writing of this post, the word on the streets in Iraq is that Major General Qasem Soleimani was pulled from Tikrit operations and is on his way to Yemen to organize and assist the Huthis.

Only time will tell the scope and success of Saudi Arabia’s military adventure in Yemen. Whatever the outcome, the Saudis have decided they need to take action to protect their national interest. There must have been a moment of realization in Riyadh that they needed to do something, and they couldn’t afford to wait for Washington to lead the way.

While Under Attack in Mosul, ISIS Attacks Kirkuk

As of 3 am local time, suicide bombers and some elements of ISIS have attacked police alstations and other government offices inside the city of Kirkuk. Fighting is still ongoing at the time of this writing. There is a curfew in the city until further notice. Counter terrorism groups have arrived in the city and there is fierce fighting and confrontation in several locations.