By Paul Davis and Chiman Zebari
Today the world is holding its breath to see the response of the United State to an anemic attack by Iran on Iraqi bases housing Americans. The Islamic Republic launched around 15 missiles at targets in Iraq, some of which were shot down most of which missed the target. The attack was in response to the killing by the US of an Iranian terrorist and commander of an Iranian terrorist group.
Some say the Iranians missed their targets on purpose in order to avoid a major retaliation by the US. The Iranian FARS news network at one point said up to 80 Americans had been killed. The US is saying no casualties. While there may have been no US casualties there were Iraqis injured. So, what is next.
This is also being called a face-saving device so that the Iranian leadership, playing to a domestic audience, can show that they took decisive action to retaliate for the US actions. The operation was called the “Martyr Soleimani.”
The fact is that the death of Soleimani was a major blow to the Iranian ability to continue to export the Islamic revolution. The technical capabilities of Iran have increased in the last few years but the war fighting capabilities are far short of what they need to engage in any protracted war. This however will not fully deter the actions of Iran since there war model has been to use proxy forces to carry out limited attacks on selected targets.
The belief that this is a one-off operation does not track. The anger in the Islamic Republics leadership is very strong and revenge in their history. The President in his statement announced additional sanctions on Iran and justified the strike that took out Soleimani. The foreign minister of Iran told the world that this missile strike was proportional and served it purpose. This is difficult to believe since Iran has been attacking anyone or any country it sees as an enemy for 40 years. What may be considered is that Iran may not launch attacks by its forces from Iranian soil again. The standard Iranian tactic is to use proxy forces which gives them deniability.
The President also said that it appears that Iran is standing down, not sure what that means, in fact the next day there was an attack on the Green Zone in Baghdad. I expect to see a lull, which means back to normal, and then a spike in attacks in Syria and Lebanon as well as a potential Hamas or Hizballah attack on Israel. The Iranian dominated Iraqi militias will continue to act independently of the Iraqi government and under the control of Iran.
It should also be pointed out that the missile attacks were aimed at bases in Sunni and Kurdish areas. This tracks from past IRGC controlled attacks by the PMF militias. Soleimani’s main objective has been to spread the Islamic revolution, increase Iranian hegemony and remove the US (west) from the region. This last is important to understand, Iran sees little to no difference between the US and other western nations yet will continue to manipulate those western nations for trade.
Short of all out war with Iran the US needs to adjust it position in the region in order to continue a US presence as well as be prepared to defend US interests and allies. Based on the resolution of the Iraqi Parliament to seek to have all US forces leave one solution would be to move the US embassy from Baghdad to Erbil and ask the Kurds to hold another referendum on independence, and this time back them up fully. Kurds as we have mentioned previously are the only true allies the Americans have in the region. A truly free and independent Kurdistan would be a game changer. Removing US forces from Iraq would be a financial blow to Iraq and a political blow to Iran and Turkey.
With Soleimani out of the way Iran does not have a replacement of his caliper. Much of the control and personal contacts may begin to weaken and allow for the different actors to operate on their own. Beside the Kurds, the Sunni in Iraq have been victims of the Iranian control of Iraq. It is within their power to vote for autonomy and break away from Baghdad. What has stopped this in the past was not Iran but the US which maintains a one Iraq doctrine.
While so many are saying this is going to lead to World War III I would reiterate that the Iranian are in no condition to wage an actual war. As for terrorist attacks Iran and the IRGC are the leading exporter and planners of terrorism already. The Iranian government is facing a dilemma with a shift in the way the American government is reacting, holding Tehran accountable for the actions of its proxies, and the widespread protest in Iran and Iraq. This is in fact the perfect time to apply maximum pressure. The only thing that is working in Iran’s favor is the US House pushing a new War Powers Act exclusively to stop any action by the US in the event it is needed.
We need to build a strong coalition that will truly isolate Iran and end the regimes reign of terror. It is time for the majority of the government to understand that to do nothing now will result in a greater loss of national security then what they can understand in their current state.
The current crises in Washington is the decision by the president to pull US forces out of Syria and thereby ending the protection we have afforded to our Kurdish allies. In the middle of the arguments the president daughter in law, Lara Trump, made a statement in support of the president that said the average American had to Google the Kurds to find out who they were. This set off a firestorm of criticism justified or not. The main problem with the statement for many is that it is basically true. Even those who know the Kurds do not fully understand who or what they are. In order to educate we think it time to produce a Kurdish primer, or at least one about the current Kurds.
To begin the Kurds are an ethnic group not a race and have occupied the area commonly referred to as Kurdistan for over a millennium. They share no common history or culture with those surrounding them other than through interactions with their neighbors. As the region was incorporated into the Ottoman Empire, they became subjects of the Caliph but, like most throughout the empire, maintained their identity. Like many groups there were fissures and differences which can be seen today most glaringly in the different dialects of spoken Kurdish, some argue different languages. Throughout this time Kurdish culture remained intact. Following the end of the First World War the Kurds were divided up amongst three separate countries, Turkey, Iraq and Syria, while a portion remained in Persia or todays Iran. The Kurds have fought for a separate country ever since. As the Kurds became more independent, they began to develop separate political philosophies and parties.
To put into context the Kurds are not a monolithic group but like all other people in the world hold different political views and opinions. They have shown however they are different then their neighbors by allowing for different philosophies and different ethnicities to coexist in the Kurdish region.
The Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) is the oldest of the modern Kurdish political movements. Founded in 1946 as a Pan-Kurdish party in Iran it was instrumental in the creation of an independent but short-lived Kurdistan known as the Mahabad Republic. When the Soviet Union removed its backing the tow leaders Qazi Muhammad and Mustafa Barzani had a final falling out and Barzani established the Iraqi brand of the KDP.
The KDP was mostly operated as a tribal entity and existed by the strong will and stronger hand of Barzani. The back and forth relationship between the KDP and the various governments in Baghdad led to a revolt in 1974 in which the Kurds did not fare well. Results of the revolt on the Kurds led to the establishment of a second party in 1975, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). Despite personal difference between Barzani and the leader of the PUK, Jalal Talabani, another difference was philosophical. The KDP was more tribal and center right while the PUK held a more socialist left drift. This split was so severe that it led to a brief but violent civil war between the two parties with the KDP looking to Baghdad for help and the PUK turning to Iran.
While the KDP and PUK never fully reconciled the actions of Saddam Hussain in his attacks of the Kurds killing hundreds of thousands did push the two sides together in the face of a common enemy. The Persian Gulf war allowed for a greater sense of autonomy until once again Saddam launched attacks on the Kurds as well as Sunni Arabs. After the US led invasion in which the Kurds play an important role an autonomous Kurdish region was set up and then enshrined into the Iraqi constitution.
The newly established Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) now sits in its capitol Erbil and is the acknowledge government for the Kurdish Region of Iraq. There are a dozen different political parties represented in the Kurdish parliament for the KDP and PUK to Gorran (Change), New Generation, as well as the Communist party and the Kurdistan Islamic Group as well as others.
We have spent some time on the Iraqi Kurds since they are the best known to the American audience. We now turn to the Turkish Kurds who as a population represent the largest group of Kurds in the Region.
While Iraq treated its Kurdish population as second class citizens the Turks refused to even admit that the Kurds were a separate ethnic group. Denying the use of the Kurdish language or celebration of Kurdish culture the Turk went so far as to rename them Mountain Turks. While the Iraqi Kurds evolved the Turkish Kurds responded to their oppression by the formation of the Kurdistan Workers Party or PKK. The PKK grow from the revolutionary youth movement begun in the 1960 and was organized in 1974 as a Marxist-Leninist student movement. Moving through clashes with both police and right-wing organization it became a full-blown armed insurrection based on Kurdish nationalism and desiring a Pan-Kurdish nation. The PKK has gone through some evolutionary changes but remains basically an armed revolutionary group based in the Qandil Mountains of Iraq moving between attacking Turkish outpost and working for a peace agreement. This has been on going for 30 years. On the political side there have been a number of parties that have been associated with the PKK. The current party is the Peoples Democratic Party (HDP). HDP has had success in elections even winning a large number of seats in the Parliament in the 2015 general election. The ruling party under the current President Erdogan canceled the results and held new elections which reduced the win. Following which leaders of HDP in parliament were striped of their seats and some imprisoned under the claim of being or supporting terrorist. Most recently several mayors of towns in the Kurdish region were removed and replaced with Turks.
The PKK was chased around the region and at one time were in Syria until Turkey forced the Syrian government to get them to leave. Before leaving they establish a Syrian branch of the PKK which became the Democratic Union Party or PYD. This has allowed Turkey to claim the PYD as a terrorist organization and part of the PKK. While calling for autonomy of the Kurdish regions in Syria the PYD has learned the Lesions of the PKK and have mostly cooperated with the Syrian government until the time of the Syrian civil war. The PYD used the disarray in Syria to establish an autonomous government but did not engage in the war against the Assad regime itself. It has rejected Kurdish nationalism and maintains a Kurdish-Syrian identity. Like many parties in the region it maintains an armed force called the Peoples Protection Unit of YPG and an affiliated Women’s Protection Unit or YPJ. Today the Turkish government is unable to separate the PYD from the PKK in its operations which has led to the current violence. It is difficult also for some in the west to make the distinction because of a similar socialist ideology.
Another which Turkey claim’s is affiliated with PKK, is the Iranian Kurdish group the Kurdistan Free Life Party or PJAK. PJAK started out as a civil rights movement in the Kurdish region of Iran and moved to a violence when attacked by Iranian forces. Pushed out of Iran they set up in the Qandil mountains in Iraq and came under the influence there of the PKK. While adopting socialist ideology it is not known has much the PKK can influence PJAK away from its desire to maintain Persian roots.
Most Kurdish parties in Iran are outright communist or very left. Also, most are breakaways form other parties with the oldest being the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran.
Not all parties are mentioned is this article and much of the history has been severely modified, but as Lara Trump said it can be Googled. This brought us to a conclusion that the average is not up to date on geography, or the Middle East. We can point out so many television shows interviews where the average American on the street when asked about the past and present US presidents are clueless so we are not shocked about Lara’s statement as so many Kurds are. Education plays a big part in this case. The only thing that unites most Kurds is a call for a homeland. We are speaking of upwards of 40 million people without a nation. To dismiss any attempt to achieve autonomy is to ignore history. Regardless of what happens the Kurds, will continue to fight for independence within their respective regions. While it is unlikely that a united Kurdistan can be achieved it is possible to create separate Kurdish states that can work in confederation with each other. Giving in to Turkey will not stop the desire of the Kurds to be free. It is time that the United State, Unite Kingdom and other countries stand up for Kurds, those who claimed Kurds are their allies, those who used Kurds to push the Islamic State (ISIS) out of Iraq, and defeated them in Syria. Kurds shed blood for the world, it is time for everyone to step in and support the establishment of an Independent Kurdistan. President Trump made many harsh statements in the past a few days about the Kurds, first he mentioned that they are no angels, and then he said they got paid a lot of money. This angered Kurds tremendously. As president Masud Barzani replied to his statment, “Kurdish Blood is more valuable than money and weapons.
Chiman Zebari is a Kurdish American author, and human rights activist. She was an analyst for the US Intelligence Community. She has also worked for the US government in other capacities and was a broadcaster for Voice of America.
Paul Davis is a retired Military-Political analyst for the US Army as well as a civilian analyst in the US Intelligence Community with a concentration on the middle east with an emphasis on the Kurds. He is currently an Adjunct Professor at the Institute of World Politics in Washington DC.
With the announcement that John Bolton is going to replace H.R. McMaster as the National Security Advisor a rash of reporting has come out condemning the former UN Ambassador as a hot head and a war monger. His early rejection of the JCPOA (the Iran Deal) as bad for the world and his pronouncement that the US has a legitimate right to attack North Korean to end its ability to threaten the world with nuclear war. In an article in the Atlantic his statement on North Korea was called a radical idea and that it risks the “most destructive war in living memory.” These types of melodramatic declarations do nothing to help an informed decision. I would say the most destructive war in living memory was World War II. It must be pointed out that WWII began because democracies failed to confront dictatorships in a timely manner.
When the Obama administration was making its argument for the Iran deal the president told the nation there were two options, diplomacy or war. There of course many options in any scenario, and presenting only the extremes is a treacherous path to take. Let us look at a potential third alternative, diplomacy with the threat of war. We have tried diplomacy with North Korea for over 25 years we no success. If Kim Jung-un is of the opinion that it will always be diplomacy followed by sanction relief, followed by jettisoning what ever agreement you came to and carrying on your nuclear program until next time, diplomacy will not work.
In the case of Iran we negotiated away all leverage and financed Iran’s terrorist proxies. Kim can see the results of the JCPOA and how toothless the enforcement provisions are. Why then should North Korea negotiate in earnest? Presently the answer is John Bolton. With Bolton advising the president and Mike Pompeo at State, both hawks, the North Korean calculus must change. Hawk by the way does not mean go to war over everything but stand firm on principles and work for the best but never shy away from a credible threat of war. This is what Bolton brings to the table, not a crazy man but a firm man. If he can bring fear to the other side so be it. I suggest reading about the Cuban Missile Crisis, perhaps Bolton can chair EXCOMM.
“APPEASEMNET” Giving into someone in order to avoid potential conflict”
As my readers know I like to connect current events with their historical forbearers. It has always amazed me how many people can recite George Santayana warning that “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” and how few live its caution. Today in Kurdistan we are witnessing a repeat of history which bought the world to a great war and in the end introduced us to the atomic age.
Following the devastation of World War I most of the world was exhausted and did everything to never have a major war again. The war to end all war was not, and the mechanisms set up to prevent the next war failed. They failed because the participants refused to accept the fact that there are times when force must be used to stop a greater violence.
The League of Nations and its member states set up high ideals and moved forward with great expectations, but when faced with actual crisis that revolved around its main charter it proved incompetent. The attempts at resolving the problems through diplomacy or attempts to bring the parties to the table were an absolute failure. The inability to resolve the Japanize invasion of Manchuria, or the Italian assault on Abyssinia (today Ethiopia) as well as both the league and the great powers to respond to German rearmament, and the reoccupation of the Rhineland and Europe conceding the Sudetenland, all in the hopes of evading war. One action of the league that may have been considered a success was the resolution of the Mosul question, rejecting Turkey’s claim to the province of Mosul as historic Turkish territory and awarding Mosul to Iraq under a British mandate for 25 years to ensure the autonomous rights of the Kurds. The intent however did end as failure.
The result of all this was that the aggressor nations of Germany, Italy, Japan, and the Soviet Union saw the weakness of the world and exploited it. The League of Nations was toothless without the British or French military and the leaders of those nations were still so traumatized by the last war that a military option to any problem was just not considered.
Today we see much the same happening in the Middle East. Aggressor nations have been testing the west and finding it war weary, attempting to extract itself from current confrontations while avoiding new ones. While viable diplomatic solutions are advanced, with no threat of war they are simple rejected. When they are successful, such as a ceasefire in Syria, it is temporary and used to rest and rearm the combatants.
Iran is currently the most dangerous aggressor by far. Its direct use of its military through the IRGC and indirect use by proxies including Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces, Hezbollah and Hamas. These forces have given Iran control of Iraq and Lebanon as well as much of Syria. This control gives Iran a land bridge from Iran to the Mediterranean. It has effective control of Iraq and Lebanon and Syria.
How could this happen? Let us continue the lessons from history. Consider the disputed territories in Iraq as the Rhineland/Sudetenland of the 1930’s. Germany marched into the Rhineland to diplomatic outrage but no action and then used diplomacy to take the Sudetenland without Czechoslovakia’s input or presence. These last are examples of the west failing to stop aggression in the hopes of stopping aggression. When Iraq, under the direction of Iran, violently seized Kirkuk and the other disputed territories from the KRG without warning, the west allowed it in the hope of ending aggression.
Following failed diplomacy and a worthless embargo of Japan the Japanized attacked Pearl Harbor with the intent of reducing the US military and removing its power from the Pacific. Japan had shown itself to be ruthless in its military conquests prior to Dec 7th ,1941 and continued it brutality up until the end of the war. The Iraqi PMF has shown itself to be brutal with the mass slaughter of Sunni civilians following its occupation of cities such as Fallujah. This has continued even into the disputed territories. The US can stop this by extending military protection. Recently however the PMF have declared the US military as the new targets and the leader of Sadr’s militia, Abdullatif al-Amidi, has called on the Iraqi parliament to force the removal of all US forces from Iraq.
In the end this will result in an eventual all out war in the Middle East. This war will not be confined to the current areas. As we have seen, Saudi Arabi has been pulled into the battle in Yemen and is under attack by forces trained and supplied by Iran. The leadership of Iran has also said that the next war will result in the destruction of Israel. Russia has already staked out its claim in Syria and Turkey is drifting rapidly into dictatorship set on recovering at least part of the Ottoman Empire (Mussolini was intent on reestablishing the Roman Empire.)
It is always hoped that war can be avoided but history has shown us that diplomacy works best when both side understand that there is a military option available and that the other side is willing to use it.
The recent advances made by North Korean nuclear capabilities force the thought that they may have had advanced help. The one nation they have been dealing with is Iran. It is known that Iranian ballistic missiles have shown a close similarity to North Korea’s. What is the relationship then between the two countries nuclear development. Under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, known as the Iran Deal, Iran was to end its research and development of nuclear weapons for 15 years. There is by treaty and understanding to be any outside research, but have the Iranian found a way around this.
North Korea has been cut off from the rest of the world for many years, regardless of economic support from China and Russia. The speed at which it has advanced from a small nuclear detonation to position of a probable thermos-nuclear device is astounding. If in fact they have also managed to miniaturize it to be a warhead on an ICBM is of even greater concern. Based on the speed of advancement it is not unlikely that they had outside help.
While several countries could advise North Korea, such as China, Russia, India, or even Pakistan, these countries have no reason to do so. In fact, the opposite is true and none would be safe with a nuclear North Korea. Iran on the other hand has every reason to covertly aid the North Korean regime. It would have all the research it needs whenever it wishes to end the Iran deal and move toward development and deployment of a weapon. The current belief is that it would take Iran over a year to reach a breakout point but this assumes that they would start from the point they had been at the signing of the accord.
This is a major problem that must be confronted. While all attention is directed at North Korea, which it should be, Iran is setting the stage to become a nuclear threat in the Middle East. German Chancellor Merkel has said that the JCPOA could act as a guide to denuclearizing Korea the opposite is true. Iran has taken every opportunity to evade the spirit of the Iran deal and it should only be followed as a cautionary tale.
As we move forward attempting to handle a crisis with diplomacy we are edging the world closer to nuclear war. Repeatedly in history mankind has refused to see danger and ignored the signs that a major problem was on the horizon, until it is too late, and millions die. Decisive action can stop North Korea and Iran and must be taken for the sake of peace.
Yesterday North Korea launched a missile that was capable of carrying a nuclear war head that flew over Japan. This is not the first time NK has violated Japanese sovereignty but it is potentially the most dangerous. To be certain this was not a test but a message. The message is that NK can and will attack its enemies with nuclear weapons. The world is outraged and terrified, except apparently Russia, which has said it was US and South Korean actions that forced NK to launch this missile. This of course was some of the same logic that certain parties used in the past to explain the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the US made them do it.
We are moving down a path that the world has seen before, and has never learned from. Kim Jung-Un is a ruthless dictator with no moral compass or sense of the world. He is testing the US and regional powers to see how far he can go. He will continue to push until he is convinced of his invincibility. At this point the world will pay a terrible price for its restraint. It is just a question as to which country he will fire a nuke.
We have seen this with Hitler and Stalin and more recently with Kaddafi, Saddam Hussain, and Assad. In each case the world waited until the need for force was required to end aggression and millions died. The argument has always been the same, use diplomacy, use sanctions and wait them out, use of force will only beget force and war. The reality is that the longer you wait to stop someone like Kim the more devastating the war will be, and war is his aim. He has deluding himself into believing the world will always back down and he will always get whatever he wants. There is no one to tell him differently and his life to date has shown he will always get what he wants.
War is terrible, and nuclear war devastating. I do not want war but the way we are going I don’t see a way out of it short of a preemptive strike and the removal of this dictator. In the end, it will be the least deadly path. History however has shown that we will not take that path and there will be another devastating war that could have been avoided.
With the North Korean launch of an ICBM with the capability to reach the US, the specter of war has crept into the news media. Of course, much discussion revolves around President Trump and the fear that he invokes in a large segment of the left. What history teaches us however is that the direction Trump is taking us is one in which the potential for war should be reduced. I will add one caveat, what history has taught was based on interactions between rational actors, Kim Jong-Un may not fit that profile.
Much has been written about the ideals of continuing diplomatic avenues or increasing sanctions against North Korea, these have been the responses since the Clinton administration, and have resulted in various degrees of failure. I have read that there are no real options other than containment and sanctions. Many analysts insist that there is no viable military option because that will lead to a war where millions are killed. Kim Jong-Un, they say, is only developing nuclear weapons to protect his regime and will not use them since he must know it is suicide.
I must respectfully disagree with many of these analyst, the North Korean military exist, in the mind of the leadership, for one reason and one reason only, to reunite the Korean peninsula under Pyongyang. This has been true since the beginning under Kim Il-sung, Kim Jong-un’s grandfather. In the third generation of the Kim dynasty the desire is strong to fulfill that pledge. North Korea does not however have a leader with a world view and whose only true military experience has come from an obsession with playing video games. In other words, he does not see using his military or nuclear weapons as a problem. It is a means to an end and will bring him glory and victory.
Ending the existence of nuclear weapons, or at least restricting the number of countries that possess them has been the desire of most of the world since 1945. This desire has failed and resulted in several countries joining the nuclear club. In no case has any country that desired a nuclear weapon been stopped from achieving that aim through diplomacy. What has been effective was stopping the use of these weapons through a concept known as Mutually Assured Destruction or MAD. Once a nuclear exchange was initiated the response would be immediate and total. What made this effective was not the possibility of a destructive response but its assurance.
In recent history, especially in the last eight years, this assurance has been missing and it is causing the Trump administration to face the facts that not just the threat of war but military action is likely to be needed with North Korea. The world is facing the return of a peace through strength doctrine. When President Obama took the military option off the table or severely limited its use it sent a message to the world that anti-American actions would not always be followed by military actions and that diplomatic punishment was of little consequence.
In the last 5 months Trump has responded to a Syrian Chemical attack with a missile attack on the airfield that launched it, shot down a Syrian plan that had attacked our allies, run freedom of navigation drills through the south china sea and moved more military equipment to South Korea. The question remains if these and other activity are sufficient to convince the other side that US doctrine has changed. North Korea will never be convinced since their leadership lives in a bubble, assured of their invincibility. The countries that must be convinced are South Korea and Japan who will face the most devastation in the event of war, and China and Russia who have the most to lose in the event of North Korea being defeated and absorbed into a single Korea under Seoul.
This can be done given enough time and support from the American people and the international community. The center of this new doctrine comes not from old political thinking but from the infusion of business and nontraditional thinkers. This is not the first-time new ways of addressing old problems has come from nontraditional sources. Returning to the concept of MAD it was best explained in mid 1960s works by Dr. Thomas Schelling, an economics professor from Harvard and Yale. In his book Arms and Influence Dr. Schelling showed that in the realm of international diplomacy there is always a military component, unlike traditional belief that the use of military was diplomacy by other means we now learned that there is a coercive part. This last was referred to as the diplomacy if violence. The existence of a strong military by itself was sufficient to bring a just resolution to a problem. The only drawback to this is that the other side must have no doubt you will in fact use your military if needed. This is the part that has been a blockage to effective diplomacy for the US in recent years, there was a lot of doubt and in some cases absolute belief that no military action would take place.
President Trump is now caught in a period of changing doctrine and getting the world to accept and understand there is a change. In the case of North Korea, we don’t know how much time we have where the threat of military force to coerce a decision will be effective, or will we get to a point that we must compel an end. If forced to use the military many will die, Seoul will be devastated as will Tokyo, and China will be forced to move to stop a unified Korea to avoid a democratic western nation on its border.
The world is a dangerous place, made more dangerous when indecisive ideologs are running foreign policy. With a President who is less experienced in diplomacy and more in standing up for principles we have a chance of making the world safer by making war a probable outcome of the bullying tactics that have unfortunately been successful in the recent past.