Monday, August 18, 2008

Oh! Those Kurds!

What You Need to Know to Follow the Kirkuk Controversy

I'll post on the Iraqi bloggers' take on Kirkuk in a bit (if I can). But first...

Remember those days of optimism at the beginning of 2005, only a few weeks before the first unfettered national elections in an Arab country? Back then, the greatest danger was thought to be a war between the Iraqi Kurds and Arabs over secession centered around Kirkuk.

Everyone thought that elections would stabilize things in Iraq to allow the issue of Kurdistan indepenced to move to the front of the stove. I wrote about it here. In The New Yorker, George Packer predicted that the war for Kirkuk would be the "next Iraqi war". Well, the elections didn't stablize things (in the short run), as the great Kurd blogger, Kurdo, predicted.

Well, the most inarguable proof that Arab Iraq is finally beginning to get its act together, is that the status of Kurdistan and Kirkuk have been able to return to prominence among Iraq's issues. The Sunni Insurgency collapsed. Al Qaeda is beginning to return to the butt-hole of the planet (the Afghanistan/Pakistan borderlands) from which they originally scattered. And the two-bit racketeering Sadrist bullies are being thoroughly thrashed by Shi'a-Sunni-Kurdish unity government.

So, it is actually a good thing IMO that Iraqis can fight over whether Kirkuk is Arab or Kurdish (as though someone could pick it up and take it somewhere). It is *could be* a good thing that Iraqi Arabs feel cocky enough to think the Kurds need them more than they need the Kurds (it has been the opposite for the last 5 years).

Here are Kurd/Kirkuk issues as far as I can tell:

1) As George Packer explained:

"The process of emptying out the Kirkuk citadel was the climax of a forty-year campaign known to Iraqis as Arabization. Beginning in 1963, and continuing up to the eve of the American invasion last year, the Baathist regime in Baghdad deported tens of thousands of Kurds—some Kurdish sources put the number at three hundred thousand—from Kirkuk and the surrounding region, forced other ethnic minorities from their houses, and imported similar numbers of Arabs to Kirkuk from the south."

2) He also said:

"According to the 1957 census, conducted before Arabization began, the city was
forty per cent Turkoman and thirty-five per cent Kurdish."

3) But even if the Turkomen had slightly outnumbered the Kurds in 1957, it doesn't necessarily mean that Kirkuk was not historically and traditionally a Kurdish city. At the Middle East Forum, Nouri Talabany, lays out "The Kurdish Case":

"Writing of the ethnic composition of the city, the Ottoman encyclopedist Shamsadin Sami, author of the Qamus al-A'lam, found that, 'Three quarters of the inhabitants of Kirkuk are Kurds and the rest are Turkomans, Arabs, and others. Seven hundred and sixty Jews and 460 Chaldeans also reside in the city.'
"By long-standing tradition, the Kurds, Turkomans, Chaldeans, and Jews have had their own cemeteries. The Arabs, being a minority, buried their dead in the Turkoman cemeteries. However, in 1991, Saddam Hussein's government created special cemeteries for Arab settlers and banned Arab Shi‘ites from taking their dead back to Najaf for burial in order to bolster the Arab claim to the city. The Baathist regime subsequently began to rewrite Kurdish tombstone inscriptions with Arabic in order to retroactively alter the demography."

4) Throughout 2005 til now, the Kurds have been receiving Arab refugees from the rest of Iraq. While Sulemanya was not a popular destination for Iraqi Arabs while Saddam had cut it off from Iraq's power grid (allowing more Iraqi Arab cities to not have to go without electricity). But with Iraqi Arabs in Baghdad murdering each other for superficial sectarian affiliations, Arabs in Anbar being murdered by their friends the Sunni Arab insurgency and Al Qaeda in Iraq, and Arabs in Basra being murdered by racketeering followers the "firey nationalist cleric" Muqtada al Sadr, the relatively safe lands of the relatively liberal Kurds had become very appealing.

You might ask how the Kurds did it? With the rest of Iraq in a no-holds-barred bloodletting, how is it that northeastern Iraq has not had a suicide bombing since 2005? How is it that women doctors have always been able to practice their profession at all, let alone wearing jeans to work? This is how: No one immigrates to Iraqi Kurdistan without a current resident vouching for them. If the immigrant gets into trouble, both the immigrant and the resident could be evicted from the region. This is the case for Kurds as well as Arabs, but obviously Kurds are more likely to have contacts in Kurdistan than Arabs.

But Arab Iraqis want what they want (that's human nature). They say Iraq is Iraq, and they should be able to live where they want. Screw the uppity Kurds.

5) Arab Iraqi bloggers, who --four years ago-- were outraged that the Kurds would consider dividing Iraq are now feeling schadenfreude at seeing the borders of Iraqi Kurdistan violated by Turkey.
(I consider this response akin to a child being happy that his dad has lost his job, because now his parents won't be able to afford a divorce)

6) It has recently become politically incorrect among Kurds to spell Kirkuk the way I have been doing. Many Kurds consider the spelling to be a Turkish plot. The Kurdish way is "Kerkuk".

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Did Mookie Call It Quits?

Who me?
The Wall Street Journal says Mookie "packs it in".

Good news out of Iraq is becoming almost a daily event: In just the past week, we learned that U.S. combat fatalities (five) dropped in July to a low for the war, that key leaders of al Qaeda in Iraq have fled to the Pakistani hinterland, that troop deployments will soon be cut to 12 months from 15, and that Washington and Baghdad are close to concluding a status-of-forces agreement.
Now this: Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr plans to announce Friday that he will disarm his Mahdi Army, which was raining mortars on Baghdad's Green Zone as recently as April. Coupled with the near-total defeat of al Qaeda in Iraq, this means the U.S. no longer faces any significant organized military foe in the country. It also marks a major setback for Iran, which had used the Mahdi Army as one of its primary vehicles for extending its influence in Iraq.

Chris Allbritton says "Not So Fast".

Mookie "seemed to be more clarifying earlier instructions to his people than issuing new ones. He will still maintain secret cells to attack U.S. troops, for instance."

Then he speculates, "and does the Journal really want a kinder, gentler

Maybe the story is B.S. and maybe it ain't. But despite Allbritton's sarcastic tone, I say you win by winning. If Mookie thinks he has to talk in soft wimpering tones, its better news than if he felt secure to use the retarded bluster we all know so well.

Re-examining the Victory In Iraq

Major-General Barney White-Spunner confers with Sadr's deputy

That's what it's time to call it. Victory. All the doom-merchants over the last 5 years can shine the butts of Petraeus, Maliki, the Iraqi Army, and the "Sons of Iraq".

  • AQI is running back to Afghanistan (from where their leaders and founders originally fled starting in 2002),
  • Saddam's Orphans (following their daddy's neck-stretching) have decided to make an accomodation with the future,
  • -
  • and Sadr has decided to work on his degree at the Quds Bible College.
    (although Sen Obama thinks Muqtada-Man-Of-Peace "stood down")

Soon most of the Americans in Iraq will pull up stakes and start smushing Civilization's enemies in Pakistan/Afghanistan. (Are you an American who voted in 2006 to "bring the troops home"? Not gonna happen, whoever is elected President. Not 'til the job is done.)

As everyone holds their breath until the US & Iraqi elections, I'm still interested in how we got here. Which makes this story so interesting to me:

Secret deal kept British Army out of battle for Basra

"A secret deal between Britain and the notorious al-Mahdi militia prevented British Forces from coming to the aid of their US and Iraqi allies for nearly a week during the battle for Basra this year..."

The details are at the end:

"US officials knew of the discussions, which continued until March this year. They facilitated the peaceful exit of British troops from a palace compound in Basra last September in return for the release of a number of prisoners. The arrangement fell apart on March 25 when Mr al-Maliki ordered his surprise assault on Basra, catching both the Americans and British off-guard. The Americans responded by flying in reinforcements, providing air cover and offering the logistical and other support needed for the Iraqis to win. The British were partly handicapped because their commander, Major-General Barney White-Spunner, was away on a skiing holiday when the attack began. When Brigadier Julian Free, his deputy, arrived to discuss the situation with Mr al-Maliki at the presidential palace in Basra, he was made to wait outside. The first British troops only entered the city on March 31. "

Here are some quotes:

"A spokesman for the MoD said that the reason why troops were not sent immediately into Basra was because there was “no structure in place” in the city for units to go back in to start mentoring the Iraqi troops.

"Colonel Imad, who heads the 2nd Battalion, 1st Brigade, 1st Iraqi Army Division, the most experienced division, commanded one of the quick-reaction battalions summoned to assist British-trained local forces, who faltered from the outset because of inexperience and lack of support. He said: 'Without the support of the Americans we would not have accomplished the mission because the British Forces had done nothing there...I do not trust the British Forces. They did not want to lose any soldiers for the mission. ' "

"Lieutenant-Colonel Chuck Western, a senior US Marine advising the Iraqi Army... 'I was not happy. Everybody just assumed that because this deal was cut nobody was going in. Cutting a deal with the bad guys is generally not a good idea.' He emphasised, however, that he was not being critical of the British military, which he described as first-rate.

"Captain Eric Whyne, another US Marine officer who took part in the battle, said that he was astounded that “a coalition force would make a pact with essentially their enemy and promise not to go into their area so as not to get attacked”. He alleged that “some horrific atrocities” were committed by the militia in Basra during the British watch.

"A senior British defence source agreed that the battle for Basra had been damaging to Britain’s reputation in Iraq. “Maliki, and the Americans, felt the British were morally impugned by the deal they had reached with the militia. The British were accused of trying to find the line of least resistance in dealing with the Shia militia,” said the source. “You can accuse the Americans of many things, such as hamfistedness, but you can’t accuse them of not addressing a situation when it arises. While we had a strategy of evasion, the Americans just went in and addressed the problem.

I don't really blame the British for biding their time from 2003 through 2006. They didn't have enough troops to pacify Basrah all on their own and if they took a lot of casualties they wouldn't have been there at all by 2007. But the rules had definitely changed in 2007. As pressure from AQI and the insurgency collapsed, it was time to stop cutting bait and start fishing. But to honor a "deal" with Sadr as the Iraqi government moved in to bust Iran's goons suggests that the British military leadership had seriously lost their way. A good analogy would be an undercover cop who comes to identify with the racketteers he's supposed to be busting, or Col. Nicholson in The Bridge Over the River Kwai.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Life Goes On in Iraq

Throughout Iraq, and even in the Iraqi blogosphere, life goes on. In a recent blog entry, Sami (Skies) writes about a summer evening spent talking with neighbors in a garden and the jokes they told each other:
Today I went outside at about 9:45 pm and found my neighbours all sitting in a small garden. I joined them and the fun started. At first we started complaining at the hot whether. Then a neighbour showed me a video in his mobile of a fat drunk lady dancing in a very funny way. Then another neighbour came to tell us 2 jokes that really made us laugh from our hearts. Then we started talking about Baghdad and that it is much better than before a year. Two men started telling us about the old Baghdad.
Shaggy takes a break from the plantation and visits Karbala:
Two things surprised me about the place. There seems to be quite some wealth there, there are plenty of shops there and some of them actually look quite nice and clean. After touring the outlying area of the mosque we went to a new fast food restaurant flashier than anything in Baghdad today. It was a tad weird to see someone roll out a prayer mat and to begin praying in the middle of the restaurant though.

The other thing that I noticed there, is the surprising amount of women there. About three quarters of the people on the street were women. All wearing that black gown from their head to the ground but without covering their faces. Some girls don't do their eyebrows at all and that always startles when I look at one. One of my cousins tells me there are hot chicks there, and somehow he actually checks them out even though they're wearing black from head to toe. He must have some well-trained eye to do that.
Caesar of Pentra, a favorite of the IBC crew, informs us that he is now using his break after exams to hit the gym and try to add a few more pounds of muscle. At the same time, he has started to grow a beard (but not a "fanatical bastard" beard). On the comments page, diet and exercise are the main topics (you know that Iraq is stabilizing when pumping iron and steroids are the major themes), and Caesar tells us exactly what he's been doing:
Concernig Legs, I'm doing the "leg press" work-outs and I'm pushing about 100 to 120 kgs on 4 sets, each set consists of 8 to 6 tries. They are very helpful for my thighs and legs.
I'm pretty sure that Caesar is exercising for fun and not to help him score with the ladies, right?

Iraqi Translator reports on the opening of a KFC in Fallujah (check out the photo in the blog entry). Okay, as Iraqi Translator points out, it's not a real KFC franchise, of course. Some enterprising Fallujan resteraunteur lifted the Colonel's likeness and put it on a big sign above his fast-food joint, where he probably sells chicken and whatever else people want to eat (without the Colonel's secret recipe, however).

As I type this, Marshmallow is probably already married.

Najma is currently traveling in Turkey with her family.

Morbid Smile is finishing her Master's dissertation here in the U.S. and will soon return to Iraq. With violence in Iraq at its lowest level since 2003, we hope that Iraq becomes a place where Sami and Shaggy and Najma and others can look forward to long, productive, and happy futures.


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