Tag Archives: Kurd

Who are the Kurds Without Googling? By Chiman Zebari and Paul Davis


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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.

Syrian Kurds, Turks and Kawa the Blacksmith


Kawa

The recent actions of Turkish forces and their allies have shown their racist intent by treating the people of Afrin as barbarians of old treated those they conquered. Looting, murder and rape are the order of the day. The west has seen a fair share of this type of barbarity. The Spanish conquistadors, Manifest Destiny and the destruction of indigenous people as the US pushed west, any war in Europe, and the rape of Nanking. History has not been kind to the perpetrators of these acts, and they will judge the Turks more harshly, in modern times this should not have been allowed but given the history of the region it should have been expected and stopped. The Turkish Government must be held fully accountable for this tragedy and brought to justice. As a member of NATO Turkey must be held to a higher standard.
The Turks have claimed the purpose of their attack on Afrin is part of the war on terrorism since the Syrian Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its military the YPG controlled Afrin. It is Turkey’s claim that the PYD is wholly part of the Turkish Kurdish group known as the PKK, which has been fighting Turkey for almost 40 years. While the two groups can be considered affiliated politically they are not one monolithic Kurdish movement as the Turks would believe. The PYD and the PKK may believe in the same basic concepts, but they have shown they will apply them differently. The PKK has been in direct conflict with the Turkish military inside of Turkey while the PYD/YPG has never attacked Turkey or its military. Non-the-less Turkey holds to the fantasy that they are one in the same and hopes if they say it often enough the world will believe. The west does not believe and have armed trained and fought with the Syrian Kurds against ISIS since the beginning.
In a widely distributed photo a of statue seen being torn down and defaced, is a statue of Kawa. Kawa has been identified as a Kurdish hero. Kawa is a mythological figure in Kurdish culture. A blacksmith who helped the people of an ancient Mesopotamian kingdom overthrow a cruel king and restore peace and prosperity. This was the beginning of a new day for the Kurds, Newroz in Kurdish, and Newroz is the Kurdish celebration of the new year on March 21th. Kawa is held up as a symbol to the Kurds that fighting for your rights you can overcome adversity.
The attack on Kawa’s statue not only indicates the level of destruction the Turks put Kurds through, but the level of hatred. This is an attack on the Kurdish culture which fits into Turkish history. Following the end of the Ottoman empire and during the establishment of the modern Turkish Republic, Kurdish identity came under attack. For most of the 20th century the Kurdish language was outlawed in Turkey, no books, newspapers, music or celebrations of Kurdish holidays were allowed. Recently these Turkish Jim Crow laws were removed, and Kurdish culture allowed to come into the light. This was a short-lived movement and once again all things Kurd are falling under Turkish censorship. In a country that claims to be democratic one in every three Kurdish politicians are in jail. This includes members of Parliament who have their immunity voted away and charged with supporting terrorism.
The Kurds have proven themselves to be a strong ally of the US and have shed blood for us. They have established the closest thing to a democratic government we have seen in the region. Turkey, once a democratic ally and strongly secular is sliding into a one-man dictatorship basing itself on a desire to reestablish the Ottoman empire, or at least restore lost territory.
Turkey must be brought back to its democratic roots or censured by the west and removed from NATO. Turkey has relied too much and for too long on the blind belief that they must be held in NATO at any cost. The reality is in the new paradigm of the Middle East the Kurds must be protected and allowed to continue their march toward democracy. The world must once again believe that the US will protect its friends. For some parts of Kurdish culture, the road forward is longer then for others, if however, we do not help we will only have one more enemy in the region rather then a strong friend and ally.

History is about to Repeat Itself in Kurdistan


Hitler and Chamberlain

“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.

 

 

Kurd vs. Kurd, Us vs. Them


Kurd on Kurd, Us vs. Them

The world is becoming more divided then it has ever been. Much can be attributed to the modern age shrinking the world. News media and internet access allows for more information as well as misinformation flow. Misinformation and disinformation drive the world today. It is normal human instinct to divide into groups. These groups then distance themselves from the other groups. Our group becomes “us” their group becomes “them.” Sooner or later one group becomes jealous of the other and demands what the other has. This leads to war. War in ancient times would lead to the subjugation or annihilation of one group by the other. As man became more accustomed to dealing with “them” different resolutions came to pass. Paying taxes or tribute was enough to allow “us” to leave “them” alone to continue to grow. More recently we have returned to the violence of us vs. them. When one group is of the opinion that they are more than right, but anointed. The most obvious case is ISIS. It is their determination that they are the sole interpreters of Islam. Anyone or any group that thinks otherwise is to be killed. This is justified by the fact that the violent act is done in the name of virtue. It is in fact altruistic. In his book “Not in God’s Name” Rabbi Jonathan Sacks indeed calls it altruistic evil.

Examples of the us and them problems are evident across the world, not to the extent of the ISIS implementation, but bad. Brexit is an example. The people of the United Kingdom chose to leave the European Union based on an “us vs. them” viewpoint.  While it started out as an economic union, the European Common Market, it became a political union in 1993. By the early 2000’s there were already rumblings of discontent due to the rules and regulations coming out of Brussels. The influx of refugees from Syria and North Africa exacerbated the problem because of the EU’s open borders. This at least was the excuse given as the union began to have growing pains. The fact is that it became “Us vs. Them.”  Europe is a continent not a country. It is filled with different languages and cultures. While everything was going along fine there was no problem. Then came the Euro crisis with Greece, Italy, Portugal and Ireland. This opened up the first cracks and this has brought us to today. There are other examples today of “Us vs. Them.” In the United States we have the Black lives Matter movement pitting black America against the police. An in Iraq we have the problem of Kurds vs. Kurds.

The “Us Kurds vs. the Them Kurds” is not new, we only have to go back the 1990’s to revisit the Kurdish Civil war. KDP vs. PUK. In this time regional powers played the Kurds against themselves. Saddam playing the KDP off of the PUK which had Iran’s backing and Turkey pulling strings to keep the thing alive. Today much of the old animosity remains. While the Kurdish people are at the best time in history to declare independence and have a country, they are forming up against themselves. The old social “Us vs. Them” is coming to once more deny the Kurds a homeland. While there is no doubt that much of the feelings are genuine it also must be considered who has the most to gain from this.

In many cases there are legitimate concerns. While it is easy to argue the limits of a Presidential term it is harder to argue rule of law. There is no constitution for Kurdistan, it’s still in draft. With no law there is really no limit. There is an agreement but all sides seem to maneuverer around that whenever they want.  The Kurds are then facing the dilemma of who is right and who is wrong. But when it is “Us vs. Them” the answer is always easy, we are right and they are wrong. When one side or the other entrenches themselves in righteousness it becomes impossible to extricate yourself from a position, it also becomes easier to be manipulated.

The current crisis between KDP vs. PUK/Goran will not lead to a position that either side actually wants. The outcome should be become a unified country, a single entity, then start from scratch to build a nation. This is difficult, it requires that the past be relegated to the past. Masoud Barzani was never the President of an independent Kurdistan, so the past is forgotten. The KDP, PUK, Goran and the rest were never a sitting body for an independent Kurdistan, so a new government is formed. The other options are to do nothing and maintain the status quo, or move on to violence which is the typical end of an entranced “us vs them” problem. A full out split of us and them into a SW Kurdistan and SE Kurdistan. Ultimately these last options will result in a stronger neighbor absorbing the geographic region and the Kurds just go on fighting each other.

Until the Kurdish people can become one and together “Us,” and relegate Turkey, Iraq, Syria and Iran to the status of “Them” there will not be a chance to become Kurdistan. Until Kurdistan the rest of the arguments amongst the Kurds are meaningless.        

Iran, the Deal and Aylan


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A recent Column of mine, reproduced below, spoke to the impact the Iranian deal will have on the region including Kurdistan. Today I would like to expand on this in light of the death of 3 year old Aylan Kurdi. I think first off we need to restructure the facts. Aylan and his family are Kurds from Kobane and did leave the village. However they left three years ago to go to Turkey after fleeing the fighting. They had lived in Damascus, then Aleppo, before going to Kobane. What this means is that the start of this tragedy is directly related to the Assad regime and its Iranian supporters. Without Iran’s direct support to Damascus it is likely the regime would have fallen and young Aylan would have been born in a time of peace. It has now become likely that the executive agreement President Barrack Obama presented to the US Congress will be enacted, not by congress whose majority rejects it, not by the people of the United States, whose majority reject it but because 34 Democratic Senators will allow the president to have a sustained veto. The fighting will go on as 34 senators allow the release of billions of dollars and remove the sanctions on the largest exporter of terrorism in the world today. There have been and will be many more Aylan’s, not only in Syria or Turkey but in Iraq, Lebanon and Iran. Unless another becomes this visible most will not be seen and the tragedy will go unnoticed. I repost this as a reminder of what is happening and a warning of what will become.

How will the Iran deal impact Kurdistan?

Posted on NRT English 7/22/15

The recent agreement between Iran and the E3/EU+3 will have long term consequences on the region, including Kurdistan. The aspect of stopping Iran’s march to a nuclear weapon aside, the removal of sanctions will allow an increase in Iranian mischief in the region. The world at large has taken little notice of Iran’s brutal treatment of its Kurdish population, and will be even less concerned once commercial trade is reopened.

The immediate impact to Kurdistan will come from the anticipated $150 billion windfall that will come from the immediate release of sanctions.  Iranian President Hassan Rouhani announced the increase of the budget for the IRGC from $6.5 billion to $9 billion and the agreement removes the IRGC and its commanders from the sanctions list. This will allow the IRGC greater capability to arm and control Shia militias in Iraq, and further reduce Iraqi government control of its internal security.

How does this effect Kurdistan? This strengthening of Iranian influence will have a serious impact on the relationship the KRG has with the government in Baghdad. The KRG budget is busted and Kurds across the region are under increasing pressure from ISIS. The strategy of Iran seems to be to maintain chaos in the region in order to justify its military assistance to Shia militants, such as Hamas and Hezbollah, as well as in Iraq. To this end, it is in Iran’s best interest to keep ISIS a threat to the region, in a defensive position, but not defeated. Kurdish Peshmerga forces have shown a great ability to stop and defeat ISIS fighters but are potentially running short of supplies, with Baghdad under increasing influence of Tehran, resupply for the Peshmerga is doubtful.  European nations have lately filled the gap but some of the bigger donors, such as Germany, will soon be looking to reestablish commercial ties with Iran, which may leverage this desire to reduce support for the Kurds.

Beyond the crisis for the Peshmerga, Iraqi Kurdistan is under increasing internal social and political pressure. With a faltering economy and calls on the current leadership to become more democratic, the road is open for Iran to ferment discord. With an influx of money to one of the political parties and a promise of military aid, Iran could weaken and split Kurdistan while keeping attention on the external threat of ISIS. Turkey would also likely join in with an eye to increased ties to the Iranian energy sector and the increase in natural gas from Iran. If Turkey can benefit economically from the removal of sanctions and see a reduction in Kurdish influence, it would solve two problems at once.

Whether or not Iran keeps to its deal to reduce it capability to produce a nuclear device is years down the road. The impact of sanctions relief however is imminent and for Kurdistan potentially dangerous. If the non-nuclear aspects of the agreement were removed, it would benefit the region and Kurdistan

The Almost Constitutional Crisis in Kurdistan


KRG President BRZANI
KRG President BRZANI

Much has been said and written about the current crisis in the Kurdistan region of Iraq that does not entail ISIS. On August 20th the term of office for President Masoud Barzani was supposed to have ended. In fact is was supposed to have ended two years earlier but was extended by the Kurdish Parliament. Because the term of office has ended, and there being no new elections, the question of legitimacy of the presidency is in play. Kurdistan has been called the model that the rest of Iraq should follow. For the last ten years it has seen economic growth and relative peace and stability. There have been rough patches and problems both internally and with the federal government in Baghdad. Currently the region is under tremendous threat from external sources. Both the terrorist group ISIS and Turkish incursions have put tremendous pressure on the Kurds and their government. Battles with the central government over budget sharing and oil sales have left the Kurdistan Regional Government cash strap and unable to pay its own people or army. Today however opposition politicians and a youthful diaspora see the main threat to Kurdistan as whether or not Barzani has a right to remain in office.

There are some areas which must be addressed. First: Barzani called for elections last June. This may have been a political maneuver knowing that it would be next to impossible to achieve. The electoral board did say it would take six months to set up, to date no elections have been scheduled. Second: When submitted to the Kurdistan Consultative Council, part of the Kurdish government’s Ministry of Justice authorized to provide decisions on legal disputes between government agencies, it was determined Barzani could remain in office for two more years. This decision was met with rejection by those Members of Parliament opposed to Barzani. Third: prior to the next election opposition MP’s want to change the constitution to reduce the office of the President to one of little power, only a ceremonial office responsive to Parliament. Last: but assuredly not least, is the burning problem that all of this revolves around constitutional questions, when in fact there is no constitution.  The draft constitution was never ratified as required and its authority is still pending.

From a Western perspective constitutions are the supreme law of the land. Amongst other things constitutions set up the forms of government and delineate the powers of the different branches. Under the draft constitution of the Kurdistan region the office of the president has executive authority and the president is elected by popular vote, with a term of office limited to two four year terms. The parliament is elected buy single person vote of party lists and there is to be a Supreme Court, called the Constitutional Court of Kurdistan in the draft constitution. This last is a serious deficiency as there currently is no court. Under the draft constitution the courts functions are.

Article 95:

The Constitutional Court shall have jurisdiction over the following matters:

First:

Explain the stipulations of the article of the Kurdistan Region’s Constitution.

Second:

1-            Monitor the constitutionality of the laws, based on a request from the President of the Kurdistan Region, the Council of Ministers, ten members of Parliament, or any concerned party.

2-            Decide the legality of decrees, regulations, resolutions and instructions, based on the request of any concerned party.

Many opponents of Barzani are calling for rule of law to be applied while his supporters are saying he is within his legal rights to remain. The Constitutional Court would be the natural venue for resolution, if it existed.

The big questions now are, does the Parliament have the authority to do anything? Does the President have the authority to do anything? Under what authority does the Kurdistan Regional Government exist?  What law rules? Both the parliament and the president are operating under de facto authority which can be extended or removed by the will and whim of political power.

“Kurdistan does not have a constitution and it does not have a high court that is dedicated to its interpretation or looking into such sovereign issues. If this battle became a legal one, there is no mechanism in place to make a final decision on this.”

“It’s the politics that decide what happens to the law, rather than the law deciding what happens to the politics. Everything here is politicized, and this issue is a political one,” said Dlawer Ala’Aldeen, president of the Middle East Research Institute (MERI), a think tank based in Erbil.

I am not putting forth a legal argument for the retention of Barzani nor am I suggesting the Parliament do nothing to move the region forward. I am suggesting that there are a number of very serious issues facing the region that must be dealt with before two branches of government clash over power. First the region must be made physically secure, ISIS must be defeated. Second the economy must be energized so that the people can survive. Next either make peace with the central government or declare independence. The Kurdish people deserve a functioning government. They deserve what was promised them at the end of the war. They deserve freedom.   I would quote the four freedoms from FDR’s 1941 State of the Union Speech, the people must have:

Freedom of speech

Freedom of worship

Freedom from want

Freedom from fear

If an election can be held, hold one. If you want to amend the constitution ratify the draft you have and then amend it, or write a new draft and get that one ratified.

It has been pointed out that all of the opposition parties, not sure how they are opposition since they control 51% of parliament, are opposed to Barzani continuing as president, then why can’t they come together and pass a resolution, or at least put one forward. Please for the sake of the people put politics aside and move forward.

Turkey, PKK and the Kurds


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Why the Kurds Must Move Forward United and Why Turkey is Resisting the Future

By Paul Davis

As many of you know, and for those who don’t I will tell you, I am a long time supporter of Kurdish unity and Kurdish independence. As you can see by my photo and name I am not Kurdish. I am an American, originally from New Jersey, now living in Virginia. My opinions are shaped from a lifetime of studying history and politics and a career in intelligence.. I give this introduction so my readers will understand my positions.

Turkey is a country that has faced great change in the last century from the base of a once great empire through defeat and breakup and resurrection. Kemal Mustafa Ataturk saved Turkey from falling into the trap many of the new nations did after the first world war. Turkey carved out a new and forward moving country whose people enjoyed political and economic freedom and growth. There were of course problems, there always are, but for the better part of the 20th century  the country moved forward. Recently however Turkey is backsliding both politically and socially. This is a period of change that can be documented in almost any society. This is not a good or bad period, just one that happens because societal changes sometimes happen faster than societies can accept. During this time societies look backward toward a time of a better life and greatness. In fact these times were never better and the perceived greatness was never all that great, at least not for the average person.

The Kurdish people have a different perspective on the world, one that produced a history and a society different than that of  conquerors that ruled the Kurds. What they have is a culture shaped by the different societies under which they have lived but a society that has evolved into  its own uniqueness. The Kurdish people are not however immune to the traps of history and are themselves now caught in that period of change. Like Turkey they can move forward or try to move back, the latter never a successful option. What they and the Turks cannot do is remain where they are.

Much of recent Kurdish history is covered in blood and social and political alienation. As stated above Turkey moved forward in the 20th century, but left behind its Kurdish minority. In point of fact, Turkey refused to admit it had a Kurdish minority and moved to forcibly assimilate them into the new Turkey, again history should have told them this is never a good idea. A number of Kurdish political movements grow up, and most died, in this transitory period. The Kurds fought the Turks, the British, the Iranians and the Syrians. These fights resulted in the current group of political parties that for the most part have their own military. These include the KDP. PUK Gorran, PJAK, PYD, the HDP, and to the point of this paper the PKK.

While all  parties evolved from a common base of Kurdish nationalism they have traveled different roads to arrive at where they are today. In Iraq the KDP is the oldest of the major movements and as such tends to be more conservative, based on tribal and familial rule . The PUK which broke from the KDP derives its base philosophy from the political left and is considered a center-left party. Gorran which broke from the PUK is what in today’s world would be considered progressive. While philosophically different they have one thing in common, they are responsible for running a government, providing basic services and protection. They interact with the central government as well as play on an international political stage.

Those Kurdish parties outside of Iraq, with the current exception of HDP, do none of the above.  For the most part these other organizations are ideologically driven insurgencies with  militias. Both the PKK and the YPG (militia of the PYD) have recently fought valiantly against ISIS. But is fighting enough to claim leadership. have any of these parties provided food, clothing, housing or jobs to a general population that they govern.  I have just read some of the most recent writings coming from the PKK and they brought me back to my college days in the 1970’s with the discussions of total freedom and release from servitude. The socialist and anti-capitalist, non-statist world to come. The only thing missing were unicorns and rainbows. These are easy statements for an organization to make that has no actual duties or requirements to the average citizen. The PKK took to the mountains to plan their utopia and there they stay, except to come out and kill.

Turkey on the other hand does have these duties to its citizens, and in the case of its ethnic Kurdish population abandoned them. The continual repression of the Kurds and the suppression of Kurdish ethnic identity caused the existence of the PKK. For the last three decades Turkey and the PKK fought a running battle. Changes on both sides continued. For Turkey the transition was from a militarized democracy to an elected democracy to, for the last decade, a one party rule that mimics democracy. The PKK for its part started out as radicalized Marxists, through a form of pragmatic socialism to what they are today, a bureaucratic insurgency claiming socialist values . The bottom line however is that neither side has much to show for its efforts against the other.

Now to the KRG. The Kurdistan Regional Government in Erbil Iraq is the only internationally recognized body that has any legitimate authority relative to Kurdish interest. They have been legally entitled by the constitution of Iraq. They have been accepted by the international community as the Kurdish entity that speaks for the Kurds. With this power comes responsibility and restrictions. While many will argue that the KRG is not a democracy but an oligarchy it is the closest thing the Kurds in Iraq have to self rule. Is it democratic – a little, is it corrupt – very likely, is it legitimate – yes.

Putting all of this together;

Turkey is a legitimate government, regardless of how far it has traveled toward dictatorship. Dictatorial regimes are legal entities until they piss off the wrong group. This generally takes a long time. We can look to Iran and North Korea as examples of dictatorships that violate international law and continue to function.

The PKK has no international legitimacy, regardless of how much it feels it does through its Ideology and international mindset, it is not a nation and when it commits acts of violence it does so outside of law and international standards. It is not a state and only a state, according to Weber has “ a monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force. ”

The KRG is a legitimate regional government with international standing, regardless of how some citizens feel disenfranchised by the ruling elite. On the domestic and international stage they have the authority to act as any government entity and as a semi-autonomous region they have their own military, the Peshmerga.

Turkey is a legitimate government that currently has lost the moral high ground. The recent attack on Kurdish positions in Iraq and Syria have been conducted under the cover of fighting terrorism. Until very recently the Turkish government would not get involved in the fight against ISIL. In fact they stood by while ISIL attacked its neighbor Iraq and made gains in Syria into territory claimed by the Kurds. Two important things have happened to change Turkish minds. The first is that the Kurds fought back and not only recaptured lost territory but expanded into territory they did not control before. In conjunction they also did what they have not done before, effectively cooperated. The second, and more important thing to happen was the ruling party lost the majority in the  last election and is in jeopardy of  losing control of the government.

The first item, Kurdish victory and cooperation are terrifying to the Turks who have always feared their indigenous Kurdish population’s desire for freedom or, at the least, autonomy. The second is even more frightening to the ruling party elite who are losing control over a citizenry looking for economic growth and political freedom. The ruling party, the AKP, has ruled over what has become a safe and stable country for the last 12 years. With rising expectations and no existential threat the people looked to change.

The two winning parties need to build a coalition in order to form a new government. While neither one likes the other they both have no love of the AKP. The two avenues to follow would be for the two parties to swallow their pride and form a government or if too much time passes for the President to call for new elections. With no change a new election could be more devastating for the AKP and give enough seats for one of the other parties to form a government. What is needed is a crisis to turn the tide.

For the Turkish government the Kurds have always been the go to crisis and this time is no different. Of course this time, as in the past, the PKK gave them an excuse by attacking and killing 2 Turkish police officers then taking credit. Sending jets to attack PKK positions in Iraq, over and over, is not a justifiable or proportionate response. It is however not an unexpected response given the current state of affairs with-in Turkish politics. Recent polls show AKP growing in popularity since the violence started.

The PKK for its part has continued to foment its version of revolution against the Turkish government. Make no mistake the PKK is well armed and funded, but is impotent relative to its founding purpose. I would equate the current state of the PKK with that of the Colombian guerrilla movement The FARC. The PKK has past its zenith and to use an economic term is past the point of  diminishing returns. The best way the Kurds in Turkey are going to achieve their aims today is politically. The recent strong showing of the HPD in the last Turkish election should be an indicator of what can be done.

Both the AKP and the PKK are opposed to an open democratic resolution to the problems faced by Turkey and the Kurds in the region. To be honest the PKK cannot defeat the Turkish military, and it should be obvious, by now, will not wear down Turkish resolve. Equally obvious is the fact that Turkish military action will not defeat the PKK, in fact it makes it stronger.

The Kurdish future, today, lies in the ballot box. The true aims of Kurdish unity and independence can not be won through force of arms. Acknowledging that a lot of what the Kurds have in Northern Iraq was won in battle, it was not just the Kurds in the fight but the world. At the end of the day it was through politics and diplomacy that the KRG rose to the level of legitimacy. The west is not sending troops to fight the Kurds but diplomats to negotiate treaties.

I have not forgotten ISIS or the other factors that have the region in turmoil. As I said in the beginning I am a student of history and will say that ISIS and the rest of those who are walking backwards will eventually disappear into the dustbin of time.  It is important to continue to move forward to separate yourself from the rest. A warning however is that ISIS will not go quickly or quietly and the world needs to unite to defeat this evil.

Should the US Arm the Iraqi Kurds?


NTR

By Paul Davis

I wanted to republish this since the Kurdish leader Masud Barzani is coming to talk to the president

During my recent interview on Kurdish television station NTR. One of the recurring questions was “Why will the US government not supply the Kurdish Peshmerga with weapons?” The short answer of course is that we have supplied small and medium size arms to the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) while they were in direct contact with ISIS and receiving no help from Baghdad. The hard answer is that US policy limits what it can provide to a regional security force without the consent of the central government. Limited to the point of supplying nothing of consequence, noting that would matter. However, should this policy exist in the world today? Reportedly, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) is circulating a letter to Members of Congress urging a bi-partisan bill authorizing the President to provide the KRG with the arms it needs and bypassing Baghdad.

The impact of arming the KRG with heavy weapons, in the short term, will bring them on par with the enemy in front of them, who has superior weapons they have captured from the Iraqi army, US weapons, including advanced M1 tanks. We have seen the Peshmerga fight and defeat ISIS with the help of US airstrikes and the assistance of other Kurdish fighters such as the YPG and PKK. These victories however have been limited in scope but not in impact. Saving the Yazidi minority and pushing ISIS off the Mosul dam are significant achievements, but ISIS still controls a swath of Iraq and portions of Syria as well as now influencing Islamic extremist throughout the region.

The introduction of heavy weapons to the Peshmerga would not allow them to defeat ISIS by themselves but would allow them to secure the Kurdish region and return to building the only success story in Iraq. So why not do it.

We must address the political ramifications first. Baghdad does not want the Kurds stronger than they are currently. Turkey to the north fears any Kurd, having been at war with the Kurdish PKK organization for years. Turkey views weapons to the KRG as weapons to the PKK. The PKK began as an organization dedicated to an independent Kurdish state in what is now SW Turkey. These are our friends.

Failure to provide weapons to the Kurds leaves only the central governments in the region to fend off the terrorist threat. Currently the Iraqi forces have failed in all attempts to dislodge ISIS and most recently have turned to Iran for assistance. Over 3000 Iraqi forces backed up by 20000 Iranian lead Shia militia have so far failed to dislodge ISIS from the town of Tikrit. While fighting ISIS in the Syrian town of Kobane, on the Syrian Turkish border, Syrian Kurdish fighters supported by Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga and US airstrikes did ultimately drive ISIS from the region. This even through Turkey initially denied the Peshmerga safe passage but allowed free crossing for ISIS. These are our friends.

How to support Mr. Royce’s attempt to authorize the transfer of arms over the objection of Baghdad is no small undertaking. There are three options left; first, we don’t and hope that Iraq and the Peshmerga can establish a secure Iraq, second we ignore Baghdad’s protests and just arm the Peshmerga or lastly we accept the inevitable, that Iraq is a failed state and understand we are arming the future army of an independent Kurdistan. This last is the easiest and the hardest.

The US has a lot of capital invested in Iraq, both financial and political. It would be difficult to walk away, but it would be the easiest path. Should we accept the failed state model, then what becomes of Iraq? It splits into three distinct parts. The first is a Shia part that falls under the control of Iran, Then a Sunni part that depends on the assistance of the Sunni world and Kurdistan, which has never had an Iraqi identity and surrounded on all sides by enemies. Non-Arab nation in the Middle East surrounded by enemies is not something we have not seen before.

Congress should authorize the transfer of arms to Kurdistan, or for the President to direct the transfer. The State department should direct its efforts on working with Turkey to step up and become the local peacekeeper. The above snarky comments aside, Turkey is at least, for the time being, a democratic secular nation which does not want to see Iran controlling the region and can use Kurdistan to buffer itself from the worst of sectarian violence in the Arab world. The weapons will come with a price, that is the KRG will need to do a little cleaning up. More open elections and less corruption.

Kurdistan, like Israel, is an oasis in the middle of turmoil and pains in the backside of the US. Both need protection, nurturing and support until their neighbors can join them in peace.

This is not the answer given my interviewer; all I could say was that since they were not a nation we had to work with Baghdad.

Tikrit Has Been Liberated, Now What?


The Iraqi army along with Shi’a militia and in conjunction with Coalition air support liberated the city of Tikrit from the Islamic State (IS). Heralded as a major blow to IS and a morale booster for the Iraqi army (IA). As with all military actions, we need to analyze this for second and third tier effects. Then we need to determine follow-on efforts.

To put this all into perspective, this was the second attempt by the Iraqi government to dislodge IS form Tikrit, the first ending in defeat for the IA. In this last iteration, Baghdad assembled a composite force of regular army and Shi’a militias, mostly backed by Iran, that by estimates numbered between 20,000 and 30,000 fighters. The IS force inside of Tikrit was estimated to be between 200 and 1000 fighters.

Tikrit was recaptured after a month long campaign that at many times bogged down in the complex world of urban warfare. The introduction of Coalition airstrikes and attrition finally won the day for Iraq. As of this writing the Iraqi forces are still mopping up the IS resistance.

The reality of all this is that while coalition air power played a strong role in the final push to end IS hold on Tikrit the majority of the forces on the government side were Shi’ite militia controlled by Iran and supported by Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) advisors and likely combat troops. These forces hold no loyalty to Baghdad and do not fight in the cause of Iraq. On the front page of the Wall Street Journal for April 2d is a picture of what is said to be a member of the Iraqi forces beating an insurgent. There is no way to tell if this is indeed a member of IS, it should be noted that the flag shown in the photo is that of one of the militias, not the Iraqi flag.

Since the beginning of the operation, there have been repeated reports of human rights abuses on Sunni residents, which are being investigated by Amnesty International according to a recent report by AFP. “We are investigating reports that scores of residents have been seized early last month and not heard of since, and that residents’ homes and businesses have been blown up or burned down after having been looted by militias,” said Donatella Rovera, a senior crisis response adviser at Amnesty.

“There have also been reports of summary executions of men who may or may not have been involved in combat but who were killed after having been captured,” she said.

Additional reports indicate wide scale looting by the Shi’a militias. A recent AP report states Iraq Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has ordered the Army to arrest and prosecute anyone found looting abandoned properties. However two-thirds of Baghdad’s presence in Tikrit are the Shi’a militia. While Shi’a religious leaders call for restraint, it is unclear how much influence they will have over the Iranian backed fighters. Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq’s top Shiite cleric, called on security forces and the militias to “preserve and guard citizens’ properties in areas that have been liberated.”   The question now is how these actions will affect the continued fight against IS and what this means in the coming fight for Mosul.

We must understand that while the Iraqi government can pretend that the fight in Tikrit was a government fight to liberate part of the country from an invader, it is in fact a Shia-Sunni fight/civil war. IS is predominantly a Sunni organization built on the foundation of their interpretation of Sunni Islam. Iran’s militias follow the teachings of the Shi’a sect. Now we have a little reported third aspect. Baathist military leaders, from Saddam Hussain’s old party, seem to be in charge of much of the military and security portion of the IS. Putting this altogether we have Sunni’s killing Shi’a and Shi’a killing Sunni and political puppet masters pulling strings.

This combined Shi’a government/Shi’a militia force must now move north through the Sunni provinces of Anbar and Nineveh before attempting to launch an attack on Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq. Based on the disenfranchisement of the Sunni in the past several years and the current Shi’a violence against the Sunni population this does not look like an easy prospect. Sunni tribes with the assistance and insistence of the IS will resist and degrade the force as it moves north. Should it become apparent that the bulk of fighters resisting are Iraqi Sunni tribes the Coalition Air Forces will be reluctant to engage. If this force reaches Mosul it will be far from its supply base, in hostile territory and fighting a well-trained force that likely now will outnumber the Iraqi’s.

Once near Mosul there is of course another force that has shown itself capable of standing up to IS and defeating them, the Peshmerga of the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG). The Peshmerga, designated a regional security force in the Iraq Constitution, are well trained, highly motivated but only moderately armed. Like the IA they were pushed back by the initial IS attacks. Unlike the IA however then regrouped and fought back, regaining what they had lost and helped retrieve some territory not part of the KRG. The Kurds are a secular group and the Peshmerga contain units that are Sunni, Shi’a, Christian and Yezidi. Like the Sunni however, they have been ill-treated and it is not likely they will consent to join in the fight for Mosul without major concession from Baghdad.

After this review of the situation, it is time to look toward to the next step. It is unlikely that the Iraqi force will be able to carry the fight through the Sunni region and mount a successful campaign against Mosul without major support from an outside entity. It is unfortunate that all of the good works the US and the Coalition did to build trust with the Sunni’s after Desert Storm was reversed by the policies of recent Iraqi governments. Shi’a militia activity, as well as actions by government forces to punish the Sunni population, makes it even more unlikely that the Sunni’s will return to support Baghdad anytime soon.

Outside support of the kind needed in a direct fight for Mosul will not come from the US or any Coalition partner. If any support comes, it will come from Iran directly. Even the Iranian supported militias would not be able to shift the balance enough to win the day. Options are therefore limited. Live with the status quo, let Sunni countries such as Saudi Arabia, Jorden and others take the fight to IS in Syria and elsewhere. Let Iraq split amongst its ethnic groups in which case it is likely the Sunni tribes would engage IS on their own or with the help of Sunni governments. Alternatively, in the end hope for some type of diplomatic solution. I mention this last only because I know there are readers who think there is a diplomatic solution to every problem.

The US still has no strategy in its fight against ISIS


With the administration pressed on all sides because of its lack of an effective foreign policy, a group that had been building up in Syria struck with speed and violence that caused a major breakdown in the regional status quo. Military planning requires time and information to produce a strategy that will result in a desired end state. The current US operation against the Islamic terror group ISIS (ISIL, IS, Da’esh) has shown none of the earmarks of a strategy.

What is strategy; it is the ways and means to an end. The end state given is the total destruction of ISIS. So what then are the ways and means, the strategy to accomplish this? The United States announced it would begin forming a coalition that would engage ISIS from the Air and then from the ground. The ground portion would consist of regional forces with the US leading with Air strikes supported by regional and international air forces. The problem is this is not a strategy; it is at best the start of a plan.

The immediate military requirement was to stop the forward momentum in Iraq. This should have been easy. We had air power in the region and we had regional ground forces engaged with the enemy, The Kurdish regional guard, the Peshmerga. The Peshmerga had eyes on the enemy and had up to date intelligence on ISIS locations and movements. What they did not have was sufficient firepower to engage effectively. Therefore, the answer is simply, coordinate targets with the Peshmerga and at the same time resupply them with needed weapons.

With everything so clear and easy why are thousands of Kurds, Yazidi, Arabs and Christians still dying at the hands of ISIS.

The United States and its allies are so tied up in the theoretical world of politics that dogma has replaced critical thinking and while waiting for an epiphany thousands more will die. The US wants to run all weapons through Baghdad, which has refused to support the Peshmerga or share in oil revenues as required by their own constitution. It is not as if the option is the Iraqi army, they are worthless. While being the recipients of US weapons and training they ran at the first sign of a fight and left the weapons and weapon systems behind. So then, give the weapons to the Kurds directly. Baghdad says no and our NATO ally Turkey is against arming Kurds at any time for any reason. Turkey has a legitimate concern since one of the Non-Iraqi Kurdish groups, the PKK, has been at war with Turkey for decades. Turkey has a less then legitimate excuse; they have been supporting ISIS in an attempt to overthrow the Assad regime.

Inside of Syria, we have disparate groups that are fighting not only ISIS, but also the Assad government and each other. The Free Syrian Army (FSA), the group that receives all the press, is an amalgam of rebel groups that began the attempted overthrow of Assad in 2011, during the Arab Spring. The FSA is undisciplined, self-serving and untrained. This may have been different had the west responded to request for assistance from the beginning but it did not and the FSA is so broken and dysfunctional and infiltrated by ISIS and Assad and a number of others that it is not the boots on the ground the US needs. Therefore, whom do we turn to inside of Syria?

Stop me if you have heard this one, the Kurds. The Kurdish militia in Syria known as the YPG has been successfully fighting ISIS for two years. A highly disciplined and committed force they defended Kurds, Arabs and Christians from Assad and ISIL. They sent fighters to Iraq and helped rescue the Yazidi from Mt Sinjar while the west was considering action. The YPG while being Kurdish has also raised units of Arabs, Christians and Yazidi. So what is wrong with the YPG? They have been tied to the PKK.

Now back to the lack of strategy part. As said, a strategy is the ways and means to an end. If the desired end is the destruction of ISIS then there must be boots on the ground. If they are not to be US boots then they will need to be someone’s. The Iraqi army is out they are broken. The FSA is out they are incapable, Regional armies would be good but Turkey Jordan, UAE etc. will not likely commit to invade a neighbor regardless of the security situation. The Kurds are engaged. The strategy then would be to arm and support the Kurds, cooperate and coordinate air attacks. Train them to go beyond guerrilla tactics and stand and protect themselves while destroying the bad guys.

The current action of the US and allied air forces have been to seek out and destroy convoys and attack stationary targets identified as command centers. This is good, this helps. This is not a strategy to achieve the end result of the destruction of ISIS. These are actions that individually cause temporary harm, it is not a strategy designed to achieve the ultimate declared end.

I call on the US and the individual countries involved to engage with the Kurds to fight a common evil. We may not agree with their politics but they are not now, have never been nor will they ever be a threat to the west. In fact, if treated fairly we may find a good true and loyal friend in a region that is not likely to give the west many opportunities at friendship.