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.
So now we have an open and pubic vote on beginning an official impeachment investigation. All republicans voted against, no surprise, but two democrats also voted against, a little surprise. It will be interesting to see how the various committees handle themselves when the hearings are open. Will they call back witnesses who had testified behind closed doors or not? Will they truly allow the republicans to call witnesses or will they throw up roadblocks? How will they handle cross examinations? It is interesting to also note that unlike the Nixon and Clinton impeachment investigations different committees will hold hearings instead of just the judiciary committee.
There is no doubt the house will impeach since all the democratic members of the committees as well as most of the house have already declared Trump guilty. I am sorry, regardless of guilt or innocence of the president there is no way to take these investigations seriously. This has devolved into what the president has called a witch hunt. The hope here is that open and fair hearings can right this ship and show the president broke the law beyond a shadow of a doubt or that there is not enough actual evidence to move forward giving the dems plausible reason to end this.
We can only wait and see.
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.
President Donald Trump is not a great communicator, nor is he a racist, Nazi or wannabe dictator. The tragedies of the last week call on us all to come together as a country and face up to the problems that have led us to the point we find ourselves. When the president of the United States calls for unity and a rejection of hate and bigotry the opposition, regardless of politics, should get behind him. The incessant chatter from the news media and Trump opposition, calling him a racist repeatedly for anything he says or does, does not make it true. When used for political gain I understand, to a point, but when a national tragedy strikes it is time, even for a moment to come together as one people.
Something has happened and continues to happen to our country and society that goes beyond the normal. Is the prevalence of guns to blame on mass shootings or is it mental illness, video games or whatever? The answer is a little bit of all. But a broad look at the country and its past must show that we have had guns and mental illness and racism etc. since the beginning. What has changed? Is the prevalence of violent video games making our youth insensitive to mass killing?
It has been 20 years since Columbine, what have we learned? Apparently, nothing, as we have a hard time learning. Violence against immigrants is also nothing new. In Louisville Kentucky 22 people were killed in religious and race induced rioting, 164 years ago. On Bloody Monday Protestant mobs rioted and attacked German and Irish Catholic neighborhoods causing a migration of citizens out of the city. The Protestant Democrats were bitter rivals of the Know-Nothing Party with a large German and Irish support base.
Did Trumps tweets in the last two and a half years suddenly increase race hatred in the country, of course not. The constant misquotes and opinions passing as news stories have not help but are also not totally to blame for the increase in violence and mass shootings.
We have a societal problem that returns every now and again, but this time we have social media platforms and mass media bias fanning the flames. Increased gun control laws are not the answer since a very tiny fraction of legally owned guns are used in the reported gun violence in the country. Will increased background checks or “red-flag” laws help, maybe. But until we look to the underlying cause we will continue to suffer the consequences. Pointing fingers and backing feel-good laws that will accomplish nothing will not replace taking a long hard HONEST look at the problem.
Time for the politicians to once again learn the difference between what they perceive as reality and how the rest of us see it. Two examples are the hearings before the House Oversight Committee with Michael Cohen and the end of the Trump-Kim summit.
I will not waste a lot of time on the Cohen hearings since it was just a political circus not meant to archive anything other then to push forward an agenda. Nothing new was learned from a full day of statements and political attacks from both side. What we were told is what we knew: Donald Trump spent his life as a real estate developer and had for years attempted to build a hotel in Moscow. It never happened and other then Trump associates saying they tried to get it done is a nothing. Donald Trumps attorney facilitated payments to two blackmailers in order for their stories, true or false, not to tarnish the image of Trump. Since according to Cohen, Trumps personnel money was used this is again a nothing. The rest of the time was spent on rumors and innuendo as well as personnel attacks by the members on Cohen and each other. Paying hush money is not a crime and if it was to enhance the election possibility then it might be a crime except for the fact that it was Trumps personnel money of which there is no limit on use in his own campaign. The only facts that are evident in the hearing are that Cohen is going to jail for perjury and tax evasion. What was gained by this stunt is negligible, those that like Trump, still like him. Those that hate Trump, still hate him, and most everyone else was not tuned in and was not fooled by this Congressional circus.
The other story, one that was buried by the news and through manipulating the timing of the Cohen hearing, was the Trump-Kim summit. It is only front page today because of its perceived failure. This is the story that points out the greater difference and lack of understanding between politicians and the real world. While hoping to achieve the next stage of denuclearization on the Korean peninsula the negotiations ended early because the North Korean leader wanted more then the US was willing to give. The fact that the US then ended the negotiations and left must have come as a shock for Kim who, like the rest of the world, was trained to understand that the West would give into anything just to get a deal. Welcome to true negotiations Mr. Kim. I could make that welcome to most of the politicians and diplomats who have lived in a bubble for years.
Negotiations between people, companies or nations required certain elements. Among these are a give and take with known parameters, a set understanding of the end state and realistic expectations. In this case the North Koreans came with unrealistic expectations of complete sanctions relief while giving only limited movement toward the goal of denuclearization.
The world however has seen in recent years that the US, when negotiating, will accept almost any end state just to have an agreement. The most notable of these is the Joint Comprehensive Plain Of Action, or the Iran Deal. The Iran Deal saw the west give Iran everything it wanted and receiving nothing but empty promises in return. This was apparently the Norths expectation, leaving when it became obvious that there would be no true negotiated end, the US left.
The main stream media immediately called this a diplomatic failure showing Trumps lack of negotiating skill or knowledge of international relationships. Those of us who have been in business, or just life, understand this as reality. When you realize that the negotiation is going no where or that the demands of the person on the other side of the table are more then you are willing to give, you end the negotiation. This is standard when any two people or companies sit down to talk, this is however a sea change in government and diplomatic circles.
This is all part of what Donald Trump has brought to Washington, part of the drain the swamp movement. I fear however, like so many other reform movements, this will run into the wall that is Washington. Conservatives and progressives alike are very resistant to true change. If this change is going to be effective almost all who are a part must be removed, which is highly unlikely.
The hypocrisy of the west knows no bounds. The murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi is a prime example. There is no doubt that the government of Saudi Arabia murdered Khashoggi at their embassy in Turkey, we all accept that as fact. That the world should be outraged is not in question, but that Turkey led the original call for justice is the height of hypocrisy. An opinion piece in Newsweek in September called Erdogan’s Turkey the worlds biggest prison for journalist. While true numbers are hard to come by the estimate is that between one-third and one-half of all journalist imprisoned in the world are sitting in Turkish jail cells.
The murder of Khashoggi was a despicable act, of that there is no question, the reaction however could be said to be excessive when put in the light of other events around the region. The moral outrage from the press and the call for the United States to punish Saudi Arabia is valid, but it has dominated the headlines and has been politicized. The facts are that Khashoggi was a Saudi citizen who engaged in actions that opposed the Saudi government and especially the Royal family, which is a crime in Saudi Arabia. He was technically executed on Saudi territory, inside the embassy, under orders from someone in the Saudi government. While this violates international norms and laws it does not violate Saudi custom of an absolute monarchy. Let’s look at the region.
Staying with Saudi Arabia, criminals can be executed by beheading for crimes that range from murder to adultery and vary from blasphemy to homosexuality. There were 146 executions in Saudi Arabia in 2017 and according to human rights organizations the number rose by over 70% in the first quarter of 2018. The kingdom also imposes other punishments such as stoning and lashes for crimes, all of which violate international norms. The world knows of these barbaric practices and yet continues to ignore them, likely for the sake of oil.
Turkey, once a shining light of democracy in the region, has devolved into a dictatorship where the rule of law is up to the capriciousness of politicians and judges. Based on political beliefs or ethnicity, Turks as well as foreigners are tried and sentenced to long prison terms with no transparency or right to defense. This system has been used to silence and imprison not only journalist but political opponents as well as shut down opposition news papers and news outlets. Foreigners traveling to or transiting through Turkey are subjected to searches of there computers and other electronic devices for anything that may be anti-Turkish and subject to arrest and prosecution if materials are found. While widely publicized in the United States the arrest and detention of US Pastor Andrew Brunson on trumped up charges are just an indicator of how Turkey subverts its laws. Less well know is the case of German journalist Mesale Tolu who was held in detention for months on terrorism charges but was allowed to leave the country in order to leverage the German government. There has been no call from the world or US politicians to punish Turkey.
Iran is without a doubt the worst abuser of human rights in the region if not the world. There is no covering up the crimes, in fact they seem proud of how they treat their citizens. Their interpretation of Islam and sharia law allows them to do so under the guise of religion. There is no free press or even freedom of expression. Recently a young woman in protest stood up and took off her head covering, she has been sentenced to 19 years in jail. Not long ago a 16-year-old was stoned to death for crimes against chastity because she was raped. The war against the Kurds is ongoing, declared terrorist or apostate Kurds are hung every day in Iran, woman are stoned to death and the jails are filled to over capacity by Iranians and foreigners. The jails are filled through the use of closed courts and unknown charges, while the world objects to these actions they are more then willing to allow them to continue in order to do business. There is no outcry for protection of the innocent. While the Trump administration has withdrawn from the Iran deal and reinstated sanctions the rest of the world objects to these actions and continues to deal with Iran.
Iraq has abandoned all pretense of a true legal system and has subverted or ignored its constitution. The highest court in Iraq was to be appointed by the government with apportioned seats so that all of Iraq was included. This has never been done and the court that rules is left over from the Saddam regime. Recent activities have included the illegal attack on Kirkuk and other disputed territories following a legal referendum in the Kurdish region that the central government disapproved. This was preceded by more then a decade of ignoring article 140 of the constitution calling for resolution of the problem. Illegal use of private militias such as the PMF and the suppression of individuals and groups is the norm, and yet the world ignores this in hopes that Iraq can be held together and some how become a functioning democracy.
There are many countries that violate human rights or operate outside of international norms and are ignored by the world, but this must be addressed. The world is getting smaller and cultures are clashing harder. This is not to say there should be a culture war, but moral outrage cannot be a light that is turned on and off for the convenience of governments. Saudi Arabia should be held accountable for the extrajudicial execution of Jamal Khashoggi, it should also be held to account for its barbaric justice system. Turkey and the others as well should be made to address their systems. The UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights should be a key not just a document. It was once said that human history would be much less bloody if we were as upset over the death of millions as we can become over the death of one individual.
So now the process of government is to be slowed by a single unsubstantiated allegation about something that happened almost four decades ago during a drunken High School party. Unless there are additional accusations or some evidence of this being indicative of a continuing pattern of abuse then it must end, and the process allowed to continue.
Having been vetted by the FBI since 1993 with no derogatory findings the allegation cannot be proven, and the man’s character should not be called into question, but will be. If inappropriate behavior doing high school is a bar to government service, then the halls of congress would be empty. This is not to say the accusation is true but given context to life it is of little relevance to the process unless it were part of a pattern. While this is one letter from someone being reported as a left leaning social justice warrior it is counter balanced by a letter signed by 65 woman who knew him when, who say this is not indicative of the person they knew. All we have for evidence is the accuser’s letter supposedly backed up by a therapist note from a session 30 years after the fact and denials from the accused and a friend of his that was implicated.
Should these allegations be investigated, yes, but how? Considering the amount of time that has gone by and lack of any concreate evidence what can be done at this late date. Senator Dianne Feinstein has had the accusatory letter in hand since July, long before the hearings began. Claiming to honor the writers request for anonymity Feinstein did not disclose the letter to anyone other then some staff until after the committee had finished its questioning and was moving toward a vote. I am sure the committee could have designed questions about the incident without revealing names. But the minority decided to wait until the week of the confirmation vote to spring this surprise.
This maneuver is without a doubt designed to confuse and delay the vote as well as an attempt to sway those in the majority and give them reason to not vote for confirmation. Even if this event did happen, and I seriously doubt that it did, it is not as some are saying an automatic disqualifier. If there were a history of drunken sexual assaults over years then yes it would be, but on this there is no evidence.
The court begins its next session in about two weeks, congress must do everything in its is power to ensure for the people that there are nine qualified justices on the bench. All I ask is that everyone PLEASETHINK if there is truly enough here to delay the vote or that disqualifies Brett Kavanaugh from becoming a justice.