Sunday, April 05, 2009

The US is failing Iraq's Kurds

The Guardian
Ranj Alaaldin

Tensions between Baghdad and Kurdistan are on the rise. An attack on a Kurdish funeral that killed 30 in the disputed territory of Khanaqin provided a stark reminder to President Obama that all will not be well until the US plays peacemaker between age-old enemies, Arab Baghdad and the Kurdish north.

When Kurdistan's regional president Masoud Barzani visited the UK, his message was simple: democracy, the rule of law and respect for Iraq's constitutional integrity are the order of the day.

Such has been the brutality of Middle East geopolitics for them, that one would expect Iraq's Kurds to be the last to place their trust in law and democracy. Enemies, external and internal, have historically sought their obliteration; they have been victims of genocide and mass expulsion, and have been sacrificed to convenience by western and regional powers, with disastrous consequences.

With the US withdrawal now imminent, a chain of events suggests the Kurds will end up losers once again. They face a post-election resurgent Prime Minister Maliki who seeks greater power for Baghdad and less for Kurdistan, while tensions are increasing over Kirkuk and the distribution of oil. The US still refuses to meddle in Iraq's internal affairs beyond security and stabilisation – despite Maliki's continued use of Iraqi forces to undermine Kurdish authority with, perhaps, the long-term goal of coercing the Kurds into submission over outstanding issues.

The Kurds have supported Iraq since 2003 and carried out everything asked of them by the UN, US and allies. In the north, the Kurds have eliminated terrorist bases; in the south, they have marched the dangerous streets of Arab Iraq to assist with the battle against al-Qaida and the insurgency. Kurdistan has been indispensable in Iraq's fight for stability and the west's wider battle against terrorism.

It is, however, only the crying baby that gets the milk – the Kurds may turn out to be victims of their own goodwill. At the pre-war negotiating table, the political stage – helped by Turkey's refusal to grant access to US forces – was set for them to go all out with their demands: Kirkuk and even independence were there for the taking.

Kurdish compromise has been met with hostility and dithering. Conversely, the Sunnis, who did "cry" and then launch deadly attacks, have been accommodated and rewarded. US appeasement of the Sunnis is based on ensuring they remain a force for stability. For Maliki, the Sunnis, along with the Sadrists, give him a "coalition of the unlikely" that is united in cause – they all seek a recentralised Iraq – but different in ideology.

Kurdistan's pro-federalism ally ISCI's losses in the provincial elections were a wake-up call for the party. The national elections in December might force them to forge necessary alliances elsewhere, to the detriment of the Kurds.

Kurdistan is thus quickly losing her friends. In the US, it is open season for Kurd-bashing. Newsweek and the Washington Post have launched attacks on the lack of transparency and corruption within Kurdistan. The articles repeat previously published commentary and are devoid of analysis. As Iraq's situation improves, the Kurds are gradually being rendered dispensable.

Unlike many parts of the Middle East, in Kurdistan government is held accountable and issues such as transparency and corruption are highlighted in everyday life and within parliamentary debates. In Kurdistan, the rule of law provides for the operation of political parties and women's rights continue to grow stronger. It is Kurdistan that Iraq's Christians flock to for shelter from the attacks they face elsewhere.

Kurdistan is secular, pluralistic, and has a high regional standard for democracy; its democratic shortcomings do not in any case put into disrepute its international standing. Abramoff, Conway, and lobbying Lords show that the US and UK are still blighted by the same problems; centuries of democratic development, rather than decades as in Kurdistan's case, have failed to create an unblemished democratic record.

The question is where next for Kurdistan? The future of Kurdistan in Iraq is intertwined with the future of Iraq's constitution, approved by four out of five Iraqis and validated by the UN. It is support for Iraqi federalism and the framework it provides for Iraq's myriad of ethnic and religious groups to co-exist that preserves Iraq's territorial integrity.

The US, under Obama, has three main options as it prepares to withdraw: first, it can ensure conformity to and implementation of the Iraqi constitution. This requires pushing for implementation of Article 140 to resolve the status of Kirkuk. It requires encouraging Maliki to disband ambitions to recentralise Iraq, since Kurdistan will veto any weakening of its powers. Alternatively, the US can prolong its presence in the country for at least another five years to mediate these issues. Or, finally, the US can take up the invitation to build military bases in Kurdistan.

The US can withdraw from Iraq responsibly and without leaving their most supportive ally, the Kurds, high and dry, as explained by Professor Brendan O'Leary's blueprint for a withdrawal. The Kurds have fought battle after battle, dictatorship after dictatorship, and have come out bruised but still fighting. Kurdistan overcame genocide and emerged as a quasi-state surrounded by brutal authoritarianism but that still nurtured respectable civil and social institutions. Kurdistan is now an internationally recognised federal state. Failing the Kurds equates with failing Iraq and the often dismissed notion of a united Iraq comprised of a united peoples. Betraying the Kurds once again will be abhorrent. But based on the trajectory of the Kurdish struggle in Iraq, it may constitute the opportunity that gives birth to an internationally recognised independent Kurdistan.

To view the article on the Guardian website please click on the link


Anonymous said...

The amricans are failing oridinary kurds by supporting and nourshing two corrupt families who are running Kurdistan as their vineyard in a 50/50 style .

They now no longer believe in peaceful transition of power . Both barzani and talibani under the impression that they should remains president of even one twon forever . The neoptism is rife ex .

1- Barzanis cosin is prime minister of kurdistan local govt since this thing created
2- barzani son is head of securty apparts

3- other son is head of '?presidential' specia forces

4- Talabani son is representative of local govet in Washington sincehe was 20 years of age ???

5- talabani other son is head of an identical special security organisation in ares under their control .

They have stolen astronomical sums of moneies and yet oridinary kurds are struggling to go by daily life .

IS time for chnging this strange democracy ?!

Anonymous said...

Kurdistan: A Gangster State
Free Dr. Kamal Said Qadir!
by Justin Raimondo
Dr. Kamal Said Qadir, also known as Kamal Berzenji, was kidnapped by the agents of the Kurdish Democratic Party's intelligence unit, Parastin, on Oct. 26, 2005, and jailed. His "crime": writing "insulting" articles about Kurdish Democratic Party high mucky-muck and Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) President Massoud Barzani. In short, he committed lese-majeste, i.e., Qadir wounded the dignity of the king. After a "trial" that lasted one hour, he was sentenced to 30 years in prison.

This is what the "liberation" of Iraq has accomplished.

Qadir was born in a small village south of Hawler in southern Kurdistan and immigrated to Austria in 1978, where he studied law at the Vienna Law School. A former university instructor in Sulemani and Hawler, he was forced to flee Kurdistan again – after the "liberation" by the Americans – because he demanded more human rights and democracy in southern Kurdistan. At the time of his kidnapping, he was engaged in research activities in the field of constitutional law at the Faculty of Law in Vienna. He returned in order to set up a human rights monitoring group and to pursue legal action against the Kurdish Democratic Party, promising to reveal the secrets of the Barzani crime family. En route to a meeting with KDP officials in Arbil, he was arrested by KDP intelligence agents. Dr. Qadir was, in other words, lured and entrapped.

Semi-official U.S. protests over his detainment are belied by the news that the Kurds are rounding up their internal political opponents – with the active assistance of U.S. military forces – and stashing them in secret jails. Qadir is now on a hunger strike, and his health is rapidly deteriorating.

The Kurdish authorities – who have launched an ethnic-cleansing campaign against Arabs and are now readying themselves to seize the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, in northern Iraq – were doubtless enraged when Radio Free Europe cited Qadir in this piece about Kurdish corruption:

"Kamal Berzenji wrote in an article published by in December 2002: 'The members of the [Kurdish] security services … try to make a business out of their powers by accusing and arresting anybody whom they think they could blackmail and extract money from.' He says the practice has its roots in Hussein's Ba'athist regime, but was also practiced during the Kurdish civil war in the 1990s. 'One of the reasons [for that war is] business – and profit-making by some Kurdish warlords on both sides. Some of them grew [into] millionaires by confiscating and stealing the property of his fellow Kurdish brothers.'"

It's as if reporters for the Washington Post, the New York Times, and other major media outlets were arrested for reporting on the buying of the Republican congressional caucus by Jack Abramoff & Co. They don't dare do that in America – quite yet – but in Kurdistan, to speak out against the corruption of empire is illegal: that's "democracy," Iraq-style.

What's more, Iraqi Kurdistan has been touted as an island of relative peace and prosperity, ripe for Western investment, and a source of all that "good news" that's supposedly being suppressed by the mainstream media. A massive propaganda campaign – engineered by the GOP-connected public relations firm of Russo, Marsh, and Rogers (RM&R) – has been launched to portray Barzani-land as a model of Iraqi "democracy." According to RM&R:

"'Of all the different groups in Iraq that have a vision for the future, the vision of the Kurds is closest to ours. It's important to recognize that the Kurds are not hostile to the West.' In addition, 'their vision, belief system, and values – they've had a democratic system in place for a while – parallel ours.' No doubt, it's 'a very messy situation over there and the country is trying to figure out its future. The Kurds would like the rest of country to look at the Kurdish region and see it as a model for the rest of the country.'"

Yes, the Kurdish gangster state resembles ours in that our rulers and their cronies shamelessly use the state for their own profit: in both cases, the system is based on bribery and corruption, the only difference being that, in the U.S., we still have something we call the rule of law, although the Bush administration has done everything possible to undermine it. In America, it is still possible to collar at least some of these kleptocrats and bring them to justice. In Kurdistan, however, and throughout Iraq, there is no law – only party militias on the rampage, offing their opponents and wilding in the streets, even going so far as to kill American journalists who expose their crimes.

We aren't exporting democracy at gunpoint – we're imposing the same sort of corruption that infects Washington, except that, over in Iraq, the kleptocrats are not only above the law, they also have the power to clap anyone who denounces them in jail. And it is the U.S. government that has empowered them. Qadir makes this point in his article entitled "The Winner and Loser in Iraq's New Constitution." He avers that the Iraqi constitution – written under the conditions of occupation and incipient civil war – and the civil order it created were necessarily deformed at birth and rendered illegitimate because

"The overthrow of the former Iraqi regime did not occur by Iraqi hands; and that the foreign forces, which had achieved the regime overthrow under the banner of 'Liberation of Iraq' from tyranny and oppression, became itself forces of occupation which does not differ in its behavior, practices, and actions to any other force of occupation in history. Thus, the democratic process which was subsequently forced upon [Iraq by] the forces [of] occupation, carries non-Iraqi fingerprints that increase the doubt amongst the Iraqis to the true impetus behind this process."

Qadir's critique of the Kurdish kleptocracy is particularly sharp on the question of Iraqi "federalism," which he believes is being used as a cover for massive corruption. While acknowledging that the federalist impulse is an expression of the Kurdish desire for self-determination, Qadir points a finger at the Kurdish leadership, writing that they "are not without selfish conflicts and [their] own interests," which are being pursued under the banner of "federalism." "The Kurdish leadership," he writes, "and in particular the leadership of the two main parties, have tired of the sweet taste of power alone" and are now enjoying the "economic privileges" conferred on them by the American victory:

"[Their] power and privileges cannot be maintained without a federalist Kurdish entity which cannot be scrutinized by the federal government of Baghdad. On the other hand, as a sovereign state, the Iraq state will guarantee the Kurdish leadership protestation [editor's note: I think he means protection] from the interferences by the neighboring countries which will prohibit any move towards the establishment of a fully sovereign Kurdish state in the future. In addition, Iraqi Kurdistan has great wealth in natural resource, which the Kurdish leadership wishes to convert into its private and personal property. This cannot be achieved unless the current Kurdish Cartels ruled the Kurdish region itself and alone, as is the case at the moment."

The gangster state of Kurdistan is Abramoff-ism in power. Criminal cartels run the state apparatus, doling out rewards and punishments in a system of bribery and kickbacks – and the occasional gangland-style murder. We are, in short, exporting our own system, albeit with none of the legal and constitutional constraints against the more brazen forms of gangsterism.

The effort to dress up the Kurdish tyranny is just one of the more cynical efforts by the War Party to prettify an abominable abortion as the birth of "democracy" in Iraq. It's no coincidence that RM&R was instrumental in the founding of "Move America Forward," the neocon front group running television ads proclaiming the "news" that WMD have been found in Iraq but the "mainstream media" is suppressing it. In the Bizarro World parallel universe of the War Party, up is down, the president's own admission that the "intelligence" was wrong is discounted, and Kurdistan is a "democratic" utopia "parallel" to ours – where someone can get 30 years in prison for exposing official corruption.

U.S. government officials have promised members of Dr. Qadir's family to investigate his case and report back in two weeks: in the meantime, reports from Amnesty International that he is being tortured – combined with the record of the U.S. military's cooperation with the torturers – is hardly reassuring. The KRG's "Minister of Human Rights," Ihsan Nuri, confirms our worst fears, reportedly telling Awaz Sayd Qadir – the sister of Dr. Qadir – that her brother must "rot and die in jail." In addition, one has to wonder how much pressure the U.S. will bring to bear on their Kurdish clients over the fate of a prominent critic of the American occupation.

Here is a case where protests can make a difference: the torturers and aspiring tyrants of Kurdistan shrink from the spotlight and are paying a pretty penny to cover up their crimes in the raiment of "liberation." Now is the time to get in touch with your congressional representatives and ask why American taxpayers have to protect and subsidize Kurdistan's gangsters. You also need to get in touch with the following KDP offices, depending on where you're located, requesting that your letter be forwarded to President Barzani:

Anonymous said...

Police State
Kurdistan is a veritable police state, where the Asayeesh — the military security — has a house in each neighborhood of the major cities, and where the Parastin "secret police" monitors phone conversations and keeps tabs on who attends Friday prayers. While these security measures are an important part of why Kurdistan has largely kept jihadi and resistance cells from forming within its borders, security measures are often used by the ruling parties as an excuse to crack down on opponents and independent civil organizations, according to these groups. "Our members are regularly thrown in jail for seven or eight months at a time without cause," said Hadi Ali, the Minister of Justice, the token KIU minister in the KDP-dominated Erbil administration. "When they get out I tell them that they are lucky to be alive and to keep quiet."

The KDP and PUK each have their own militias, which are essentially the armies of the local governments. According to the Minister of Justice, the courts in the region are almost completely politicized, with judges often rubber-stamping party decisions. The secret police even have their own judges, he said. During each of Iraq's three elections in the past year, police officers openly campaigned for the ruling parties. Schools, hospitals and other government building carry portraits of the respective party leaders, and access to education, jobs and career advancement is often determined by party affiliation. Demonstrations are banned unless they are party-sponsored. "Kurdistan isn't a civil society, it's a partisan society," says Rebwar Ali, head of the Kurdistan Student's Development Organization. "The presidents of the universities, the university council, the deans and the heads of the departments should all be members of one of the main parties, KDP or PUK. Admissions aren't based on merit, they are based of membership in one of the two parties. Scholarships are only for party members." Big business contracts depend on connections and political affiliations as well, leading to a pandemic of corruption, according to Kurdish businessmen and anti-corruption groups.

The KDP and PUK do include some smaller parties in their governing coalitions and on their electoral lists, especially those composed of ethnic and religious minorities, such as Assyrians Christians and Turkomen. But established opposition parties say that these small parties have either been bought off or wholly invented by the ruling parties, in order to give the appearance of diversity and broad support. "It's the old Middle Eastern mentality — that it's not enough just to win an election, they want to win by 99%," says Salim Kako, an official with the Assyrian Democratic Party. "Everyone has to agree. You are not allowed to have your own opinion."

A Hundred Small Saddams
Sunni-dominated Kurdistan is a tolerant refuge for religious minorities, who are free to worship as they please, these groups say. But the ruling parties keep tight rein over the Muslim religious establishment through the Ministry of Awqaf, an institution that was created by Iraq's British overlords in the 1920s to control mosques, mullahs and what gets said in Friday sermons. The Baathists maintained the Awqaf as a useful tool of coercion, but it was disbanded by the American-appointed Governing Council in 2003 and forbidden by Iraq's new constitution. Yet Ministries of Awqaf still exist in Kurdistan, and are still used to enforce political orthodoxy. "Instead of one big Saddam, we have a hundred small Saddams in Kurdistan," says mullah Ahmed Wahab, a member of the Iraqi parliament for the KIU and the head cleric of mosque in Erbil until he was fired by the Erbil Awqaf on the pretext that he held two jobs.

The media in Kurdistan is extremely partisan and prone to propaganda. There are no independent television stations in the region, and the future is grim for independent radio news, according to Kurda Jamal, head of US-funded Radio Nawa. "Kurdistan isn't suitable ground for a free media," he said. "If America wasn't here and if America wasn't funding us, the parties would move to shut us down."

The lack of protection for free speech and the politicization of the security services and judiciary in Kurdistan were made apparent by the case of Dr. Kamal Said Qadir, a jailed law professor and journalist. Dr. Kamal, who is also an Austrian citizen, criticized Masoud Barzani, who is both the President of Iraqi Kurdistan and the head of the KDP, and other members of the Barzani family, calling them "traitors to the Kurdish issue" in articles published on an opposition website run by Kurdish expatriates. When Dr. Kamal returned to Erbil last October, he was arrested and tried in secret. He was sentenced to 30 years in prison for threatening the security of Kurdistan.

Dr. Kamal's sentence is likely to be drastically reduced after appeal. In an interview, Barzani to TIME that the laws under which he was charged need to be changed. Says Barzani: "Although he has been very aggressive and libelous against me personally I have forgiven him personally for what he has written about me and ask other people whom he has been writing against to forgive him as well." Still, the treatment given to Dr. Kamal sent a clear signal to journalists and government critics. "There are red lines that you cannot cross," said Saman Fawzi Omer, a professor of law at Sulymania University. "You cannot criticize the leading members of the PUK and KDP or this is what happens to you."

Security and Self Rule
For all their abuses, the Kurdish ruling parties still have a great deal of legitimacy among the Kurdish people. That's in part because they deliver what Kurds haven't had for almost as long as anyone can remember: security and self-rule. "There is still more to be done in Kurdistan," said Jamal Salih, 49, a shopkeeper from Halabja, who survived the Iraqi military's gas attack that killed 22 members of his family and about 5,000 other residents of Halabjja in 1988. Though he lives without a pension despite his years as a PUK peshmerga commando, and though he rebuilt his home and his shop without help from the government, he isn't bitter. "The important thing is that we are Kurds being governed by Kurds," he said.

And there are signs of a movement from within the parties to reign in the excesses created by the two-party dominance. In January, the Kurdish parliament announced plans to merge the two administrations. Barzani told TIME that one of the driving forces in merging the administrations was to prevent abuses created by individuals within each party. "The aim was to have some constitutional institutions in the country so that the PUK and the KDP and together with the other parties could become civil society parties, so that law will be the ruler in this country, so that there will be transparency in the region."