Barzani letter to Bush urges ‘pressure on Turkey’

And nothing has changed…

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C O N F I D E N T I A L BAGHDAD 002474

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/26/2017

TAGS: PREL IZ TU

Barzani and Bush

SUBJECT: LETTER TO PRESIDENT BUSH FROM KURDISH REGIONAL GOVERNMENT PRESIDENT BARZANI

Classified By: Deputy Political Counselor Charles O. Blaha, reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).

¶1. (C) The following is the text of a letter that was hand-delivered to Ambassador Crocker for transmittal to the President on June 19, 2007. A copy of the letter was transmitted electronically and the original will be pouched.

 

¶2. (C) BEGIN TEXT:

Dear Mr. President, Allow me this opportunity to wish you good health and success in these challenging times. The current situation in our region is indeed unique and fraught with difficulties, but be rest assured that we will continue with our undeterred efforts to overcome these challenges and fully support the new Iraq on the path towards democracy and federalism. Kurdistan already enjoys such an experience in democracy, stability and relative security. However, it is a well known fact that the status of Kurdistan is confronted with further threats from external interventions.

We in Kurdistan are strong advocates of establishing good and friendly relations with our neighbors. We denounce any form of violence and aggression against Turkey and respect her legitimate concerns. However, Ankara’s more recent policies towards Kurdistan region and its new democratic experience are antagonistic and unjustifiable. In fact the very existence of any form of Kurdish identity and entity is perceived by the Turks as a threat to their national security.

Turkey is seeking to employ various reasons to legitimize here intervention in Kurdistan region, one particular pretext being the existence of PKK. With regard to this matter we have stated explicitly that we are prepared to support a political and peaceful solution.

Furthermore, we have expressed our readiness to dispatch our delegations to Ankara to conduct serious dialogue; the Turkish side were always reluctant to accept our initiatives and refused any form of direct contact. Military option can not be a viable one since such operations have failed in the past and will not succeed in the future.

At the present time, the build-up of Turkish troops on our borders has exasperated the situation and has created anxiety amongst our communities nearby, specially with constant shelling of border settlements by Turkish artillery.

Witnessing the political contest in Turkey and the ever increasing pressure of the military on the civilian administration, the threat of a full scale military incursion becomes more evident.

Today Kurdistan is the only secure, stable region and successful model of post liberation Iraq. Should Turkey pursue its goals and embark on a military operation and violate territorial integrity of Iraq that already endures from a highly volatile situation, it will only give this region’s conflict a new and alarming dimension with incalculable damages. Therefore, Mr. President, I strongly urge you to exert all forms of pressure on Turkey to prevent their military adventure, violations of Iraq’s sovereignty and animosity towards people of Kurdistan.

Yours sincerely,

Masoud Barzani. END TEXT.

CROCKER

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From Wikileaks

Amnesty International Urges Restraint in Kurdistan

From Amnesty International:

Restraint urged in Iraq’s Kurdistan Region following more protester deaths
21 February 2011

Amnesty International has called on the Kurdistan regional government to rein-in militias affiliated to political parties who killed two protestors on Sunday, as anti-government demonstrations continue in the north of Iraq.

A 17-year-old boy, Serkho Mohammed, was shot dead yesterday as hundreds of demonstrators clashed with government security forces and armed militia belonging to the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) in the city of Sulaimaniya.

A second protester died in hospital today after being shot during the protests, which also left at least 30 people injured. Others were apparently arrested.

“These killings add fuel to an already volatile situation in Sulaimaniya and represent a very worrying, as well as tragic, development,” said Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International’s director for the Middle East and North Africa.

“It is imperative that the authorities step in and prevent further killings and other abuses, and bring the KDP militia under control and accountable under the law.”

Security forces reportedly opened fired and used tear gas on protesters trying to reach the KDP building, apparently in order to burn it down.

Armed KDP militia have killed three people in Sulaimaniya, including a 15-year-old boy, since protests began outside the party’s main offices on 17 February. The protestors have been calling for an end to corruption.

“The Kurdish authorities must order an immediate independent investigation into these killings and those who perpetrated them must be brought to justice if, as it appears, the killings were unlawful,” said Malcolm Smart.

Since the protests started on 17 February, several buildings of the opposition Goran (Change) party and the headquarters of a newly established TV and radio station have reportedly set on fire.

The KDP and another Kurdish party jointly hold power as the government of Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdistan region.

“The two political parties that jointly rule Iraq’s three Kurdish provinces continue to operate armed militia which act almost as a law unto themselves and have been permitted to commit human rights abuses with impunity,” said Malcolm Smart.

A ‘day of rage’ has been organised for 25 February across Iraq where coordinated demonstrations are expected to take place calling for reforms, including an end to corruption.

More updates on the demonstrations in Kurdistan

More updates from W. Karda. Click on photos to see more of them at Rawaz Rauf’s facebook page.

- The 25th of February has been set as the date for a mass protest throughout the whole of Iraq under the banner No to robbery and corruption.

- Some media outlets have started to write ‘Freedom Square’ instead of ‘Bar Darky Sara Square’, naming it after the famous Egyptian ‘Tahrir (Freedom) Square.’

- Another political party, PCDK, has blamed both PUK and KDP for what happened on Thursday, and demanded they ‘re-check their wrong policies.’

- The protesters have come up with a statement of seven points, which includes (Withdrawal of the Zeravani army and courting those who shot at the crowd on Thursday). They say that the government has only 24 hours to implement these points or else they will resume protests. More here and here.

- A shootout started in Darbandikhan city, which was the result of a fight between college students and police. This led to large-scale protests in the city as well in which protesters are chanting “We are all Rezhwan”. It is reported than in Kalar people are on the move as well to stage a demonstration.

- Another Gorran HQ was set ablaze, this time in Shaqlawa, a resort town in Hawlêr.

- Nawshirwan Mustafa, head of Gorran, refuted the claims that he had fled the country and said he is in Silemani, he stated that ‘[i]t is normal for anyone to travel, right now the president (Massud Barzani) is out of the country and nobody says he has fled.’ He also stated ‘We have said before that those channels (media) are based on (lies) and (money), their lies are starting to appear and the people are about to take their money away from them as well.’

- It is reported that, opposite to what was claimed earlier, no arrest warrant has been issued for Faruq Rafiq.

- Gorran finally revealed its formal position by stating ‘We are inline with the people’s demands and requests (the seven issued points).’ They have also come up with their own statement in which they demand five points from the government including: Forming an investigation team, charging those who shot at people, withdrawal of the army from the city, freeing all those who were arrested and are kept in jail, and listening to protesters and fulfilling their demands.

- Earlier today, it was reported that this night all of the political parties will gather to discuss the latest developments with the Islamic Union spearheading the call for such negotiations. But still, there is no news such a meeting has taken place. Awene reported that this Monday, all sides will meet in order to calm the situation and re-stabilize the region.

- Tomorrow protests will be held in both Sweden and London in support of the protests of Silemani.

- Students from the University of Silemani have stated that they will not enter classrooms until their demands are met.

Protests and violence continue in Slêmanî

Updates for Saturday, 19 February (submitted by W. Karda):

- Based on Lvin, the shootout in February 17th which resulted in dozens of civilian victims was committed under the order of Fadhil Mirani, a high official in the KDP. Fadhil Mirani had ordered Branch 4 security not to spare anyone, even if the shooting resulted in killing civilians. See this link.

- In the protests of yesterday, February 18, 25 protesters were arrested and were delivered to Ma’askar Salam Prison.

- In a press conference, Nechirvan Barzani didn’t condemn the shooting and justified it by saying ‘If the protesters had come and killed our members, would that be right? This is something that must be investigated.’ He also states: ‘We demand the government to investigate this issue and we think that wrong was done upon us, an investigation must be carried out and the guilty (amongst protesters) must be brought to the court, this is our request.’ Surprisingly, he didn’t utter a single word about those who shot at the crowd and killed and wounded dozens..!

- Dr. Barham Salih, the Prime Minister of Kurdistan region has announced that they have formed an investigation team. He said: ‘This team (committee) will investigate what happened in front of Branch 4 on Thursday. After the investigations, whoever is found guilty of the chaos will be revealed on TV and be brought to court and dealt with.’ He too, again, didn’t talk at all about bringing those who shot at the people to justice.

- It is planned that on Sunday, February 20th, a group of Kurds in Stockholm in Sweden to arrange a demonstration to protest against the killing of civilians and the allowance of a massive army into the city of Silemani.

- Yesterday, some groups in the University of Silemani announced they are preparing themselves to demonstrate the next day (today) protesting the massive influx of Zeravani army into the city, the shooters to be brought to justice and Barzani himself to apologize to the people of Silemani. It is not yet clear if the protest by the students took place today or not.

- The students of College of Arts in Khanaqin had planned to wear black today for the same aforementioned reasons.

- The father of one of the victims has complained that the name of his son is nowhere to be found. While many media outlets showed the photo of a young boy wearing a red shirt and blue jeans whose head was bleeding and identified him as Rezhwan Ali, the only death so far announced. But actually, Rezhwan was wearing a black jeans and the boy in the photo is Zmnako Rzgar, who, according to his father, is in a very unstable health condition and in intensive care. Doctors say ‘his brain has stopped working but his heart is still beating.’ Zmnako is 16. More here.

- Yesterday, a group under the name of Khopishandarani Khorsk demanded to carry out another demonstration the next day (today) in Silemani in Bar Darky Sara Square, then march to Mawlawi Street, and from there to Branch 4.

- The protest took place today with Farouq Rafiq, a well-known intellectual was among the crowd, who demanded that the KDP army, Zeravani forces, to withdraw from the city and also for the shooters and head of Branch 4 to be brought to court for killing and wounding civilians. It is said that he has also stated that ‘Bardarky Sara square is our Freedom Square, we will not move away until our demands are met.’

- Thousands of protesters gathered today for the same aforementioned reasons. They were chanting ‘What do you want Silemani, the withdrawal of Zeravani’, ‘Silemani doesn’t fear the forces of Zeravani,’ and ‘In raining and hailing, Slemani has high morale.’ Riot police are trying to block their way by using electrified batons and also water pumps from firefighter vehicles. Many shops are closed and the situation seems extremely tense.

- A confrontation took place between demonstrators and riot police, protesters forced some police to flee after showering them with rocks. Protesters destroyed a firefighter vehicle after it ran out of water, in exchange riot police pushed back by using force and arrested some of them.

- Protest continues, they are chanting ‘Zeravani get out’ and ‘Down with Barzani.

- Things just got out of hand, in a very urgent news by local media, riot police started to shoot at the crowd to disperse them, so far one is wounded.

- Shooting continues, the protesters have run into the streets and ambulances are rushing to scene. Tension is sky high.

- Hawlati reports that although the crowd has dispersed, police are chasing after them street by street and is shooting at them.

- Protest continues. Protesters are burning wood and tiers on the streets so that firefighters turn their attention away from them, shooting also continues.

- A huge force has entered the Emergency Hospital to arrest the wounded protesters. So far, 10 protesters are wounded and 2 riot police.

- DPK is on high alert in Garmyan and has filled its bases and HQs with dozens of soldiers.

- The building of the Student Union, a KDP-sponsored student organization, was just set ablaze by protesters in Silemani.

- Talabani just reached Silemani and is planning to hold an immediate emergency meeting.

- A force, wearing civilian clothing, has started shooting at protesters.

- Chaos abounds..! Division amongst police.! Security forces and riot police started fighting each other and directed their guns at each other after a group of them refused to hit the protesters and tried to stop the other ones from hitting the civilians.

- Zeravani forces have spread throughout Bazian, a town very close to Silemani.

- Protester numbers is increasing with an extremely heavy military presence throughout the city.

- Security forces are taking photo of the protesters, most likely to identify them later and arrest them.  See more here.

-More photos can be viewed here.

News roundup and analysis from Kurdistan

Many thanks to W. Karda for sending this to Kurdistan Commentary…

Tank on the street as part of heavy military presence in the city

The mentality of the Silemani people is that while they don’t like the ruling parties, they excessively hate the KDP, and especially its leader, Massud Barzani. This reason alongside what has been going on in the Arab countries, plus all the pumping and fueling by Gorran for days now, revolutionary sentiments in the people were extremely high in order to do something, and the most vulnerable are the youth. Looking at the bits and pieces of videos we have, it is clear that the vast majority of the protestors in front of (Branch 4) of KDP HQ were younger than 18.

Their method of protesting was incredibly uncivilized, throwing stones and shouting as if it was some sort of fun party. But nonetheless, nothing justifies showering the whole population with bullets, killing several and wounding dozens. They could’ve at least thrown some smoke gas, tear gas, rubber bullets. Hell, even flash bangs. But to use live ammunition on the sons of your own nation simply because they were throwing stones is barbaric at best.

This is not only widened the gap between the people and the ruling parties, or between the ruling parties and Gorran, but in fact it drifted apart the ruling parties between themselves. KDP was quick to accuse PUK, who have control over security in Silemani, that they didn’t do enough to protect the KDP HQ and hence forced their security guards to open fire in order to save themselves. This, in fact, is correct. PUK hardly sent any security force riot police to defend the HQ. Due to that, KDP’s (Zeravani) army, a highly professional, well-equipped, large force was sent to safeguard KDP areas in Silemani. Last night it was reported that the PUK forces, led by Kosrat Rasul, clashed with the Zeravani police in Bazian. But this morning reports say that the city is crawling with KDP forces, especially near (Branch 4), and it is reported than even more soldiers are near (Bakrajo), the gateway into Silemani, ready to come into the city if things go wrong. And Kosrat’s army has surrounded the city.

Today will be critical and will decide what may happen in the coming days, if things are calm today, then the situation will calm. But based on articles and reports, it doesn’t seem like that. Hawlati just reported that protesters have gathered again near (Branch 4) to resume demonstrations, Gorran is pouring more fuel onto the fire and have stated that those who shot at the crowd yesterday must be brought to justice. The KRG office in London was infiltrated by protesters in demand of DPK’s army leaving Silemani and also demanded justice on those who shot at the crowd. Many people have gathered near Gorran HQ in Silemani as a way to shield it after reports appeared claiming that the DPK is planning to overtake it after Gorran’s HQ in Hawler, Duhok and Soran were set ablaze and were looted. Also waves of arrests seem to be in motion. This morning at 10.45, an activist (Azhi Jamal) was arrested in his home and his laptop was confiscated.

An article just now from Hawlati reported that Dr.Barham Salih and Kosrat Rasul didn’t allow entry to any of the KDP forces and they have said (Silemani doesn’t need any more forces). It also states that PUK is currently negotiating with Gorran, and later today, PUK will have a meeting with DPK in (Salahdin resort). So there are conflicting reports about KDP’s existence in Silemani.

Things are still tense, more and more facebook pages are being made and it seems like today is a deciding factor, if protesters go out full force, which I doubt, it will wreck havoc in the entire region and will lead to more bloodshed. But if things calm down a bit and the political parties reach a conclusion, especially Gorran, which seems to have backed down a bit, then things will get normal after some time. We only have to wait and see and hope for the best.

It seems like the situation has calmed down a bit on the streets, as expected. But still the major headlines of today are:

- Inline with my expectations, Awene newspaper expects that the relation between the three main parties will normalize after the aforementioned meetings. Hawlati states that right now, the meeting is ongoing. Until the final decision is issued, the DPK security forces will remain on the borders of Silemani.

- Rudaw.net reports that last night, Mala Bakhtiar from PUK met with Gorran officials to calm the situation. Today, Gorran gave a statement demanding extensive meetings with the two parties in less than 48 hours. The statement in which Gorran accuses both parties and their security forces harshly can be found here.

- In another statement, both PUK and DPK have demanded the government investigate yesterday’s incidents and to find out who were behind the protests. (This is quite strange, because PUK and DPK ARE the government, so basically they are asking themselves to carry such investigations).

- In Garmyan province, PUK and DPK have tightened the security in fears of riot, especially in Kalar city.

- Nechirvan Barzani too blamed the PUK and Silemany security for not guarding their base yesterday.

- A group by the name of (Chatri Azadi) meaning (Freedom Umbrella) took control over KRG office in London for more that 45 minutes, you can read a detailed article about this here.

- According to Awene newspaper, the head of healthcare refused to give accurate statistics and names of the victims of yesterday “Because of security reasons.” Although Awene gives the numbers; 57 wounded, 30 of them by bullets, out of those 30, 24 of them were hit in their legs or hands and 6 in their abdomens, two of them at are at an extremely dangerous and life threatening positions. The 30 people wounded by bullets have undergone surgery, the health of 70% of these is unstable.

- Dr. Kamal Said Qadir, A Kurdish activist living in Austria, has pressed charges against Massud Barzani in a European court under charges of shooting at innocent people.

- Another Gorran department was burned in (Bna Slawa), making it fourth after Hawler, Duhok and Soran. Based on Awene website, six Gorran HQs in Hawler and Duhok governorates are being held by DPK security. Gorran members are still not allowed to return to these buildings.

- Over 50 organizations and leading figures have made a statement asking for reconciliation and dialogue amongst all sides. The statement can be found in Kurdish here.

- Movement of both cars and pedestrians were forbidden in front of (Branch 4), with an extremely heavy military presence in front of it. Especially from the evening, the whole city streets are filled with military tanks and vehicles, which has worried the locals.

- This dusk, small scale protests resumed, but in a very recent Hawlati news, local security has dispersed the protesters even journalists by using fire fighter’s water pumps and have even arrested a score of the protesters in Mawlawi street.

- Some photos from yesterday can be found here.

- In a press conference in Hawler, Nechirvan Barzani stated that they do not point any fingers in yesterday’s incident and that they had warned Silemani security forces several days earlier about such attack but “Silemani security forces didn’t have any reaction during the incident.”

-Meanwhile, Fadhil Mirani, a top official in KDP stated “We do not assault anyone but do not accept assaults from anyone as well, that is why whoever attack our bases (HQs) we will cut their hands.”

- Lvin states that one full bus of arrested protesters has been taken to (Ma’askar Salam prison), but the head of the prison has not taken those arrested simply because the arresters didn’t have any statement from the court. But the prison chief is under a lot of pressure to take the arrested people.

- Some intellectuals from Australia have strongly condemned the “Silemani massacre” and have stated that the president again proved that he is the head of militia party and whenever he wants, he orders to commit such massacres. Full report here.

- A group of graduated students from college and institutions have said that if the government do not listen to them, they will set themselves on fire.

For whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee, Sardasht Osman.

Sardasht Osman

Does anyone really believe the findings of the Sardasht Osman murder investigation? It doesn’t seem so. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said the report lacks credibility and it was ‘dismayed by the deficient inquiry.’ Reporters without Borders called the inquiry ‘unconvincing.’ A group of Kurdish journalists meeting in Suleimania with the Metro Centre press freedom group called the inquiry ‘disappointing.’ They are, without a doubt, being polite in their public statements.

Sardasht’s brother, Bakr Osman, condemned the findings calling them ‘baseless.’ In a statement issued in Hewlêr (Erbil), Bakr and other family members expressed their resentment and called for an independent inquiry.

On 04 May of this year unidentified gunmen approached Osman on the university campus where he was a final-year English student, beat him and dragged him into a white passenger van. He was found shot to death in Mosul two days later. His body was dumped outside the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) headquarters. He had two bullet wounds through the mouth, a symbolic punishment for someone who has spoken out.

Osman, 23, was a student at the University of Salahaddin- Hewlêr, a reporter for Ashtiname and a regular contributor to independent news Websites Sbei, Awene, Hawlati, and Lvinpress. He would have graduated in June.

Family members grieve at Sardasht Osman's funeral

Shortly after his death, Osman’s brother Beshdar told CPJ that he was convinced that Sardasht was killed because of a critical article he wrote in the independent daily Ashtiname in April about a high-ranking KRG official. ‘In the last few months my brother received a number of phone threats, demanding that he stop meddling in government affairs,’ said the brother back in May.

Osman also penned a satirical Web-based piece for the Kurdistan Post, I am in love with Massoud Barzani’s daughter, in which he envisioned himself as Barzani’s son-in-law with all the luxurious trappings and benefits that go along with being part of the ruling family. For example, he wrote that he ‘would hire a couple Italian doctors to treat [my diabetic mother] in the comfort of her own house. For my uncles, I would open few offices and departments and they, along with all my nieces and nephews would become high generals, officers, and commanders.’

Criticism of the government’s actions or its ruling elite is not tolerated, however. Reporters Without Borders believes that the KDP (Kurdistan Democratic Party) and PUK, the two ruling parties that control Kurdistan, have reached a ‘tacit strategic accord’ to restrict the freedom of journalists as much as possible. ‘Anything goes for the KDP and the PUK as far as muzzling the press is concerned,’ the press freedom organisation said.

So now, after a 5-month investigation, the special committee released a meager 430-word (words!) report claiming that terrorists are to blame. See English version of report here.

After the special committee, headed up by the KRG’s Interior Minister, Karim Sinjari, ‘collected and analyzed different information from various sources’, they ‘learned’ that Hisham Mahmood Ismail, a 28-year-old Kurdish mechanic from Mosul, was involved in the abduction of Sardasht Osman. Ismail is allegedly a member of Ansar al-Islam, a radical Islamist group. So under the supervision of the committee and supposedly through the authority of the court, the Asayish in coordination with the local police near Mosul, arrested Ismail and turned him over to the investigation committee. The 430-word report says that ‘after interrogating the arrested suspect, he confessed that he was involved in the crime.’

Karim Sinjari, head of the special committee that investigated Osman's murder

‘After interrogating the arrested suspect…he confessed.’ Possible translation: the alleged suspect was beaten and tortured and eventually forced to sign a confession. Arrest warrants have apparently been issued for other suspects, who will surely ‘confess’ as Ismail did.

Ansar al-Islam, formerly based mainly in the mountains around Halabja, has been fighting against the Kurdish authorities in the Kurdistan region, and against the Iraqi government and US forces outside the Kurdistan region since its formation in 2001. It has carried out numerous armed and suicide attacks, including kidnapping, torture and killing of civilians, as well as killing members of security forces after capture.

Until early 2008 the KRG held hundreds of detainees without charge or trial on suspicion of belonging to or sympathising with Islamist groups, in particular Ansar al-Islam. By September 2008 the majority of these had been ‘pardoned’ and released. However, scores have remained in detention in prisons controlled by the Asayish, the KRG’s main security agency.

On 25 May, The International Press Institute published an open letter signed by eighteen foreign correspondents, who called on Massoud Barzani and Jalal Talabani to launch an independent investigation into the murder of Sardasht Osman. The corresponsdents, who have long covered the region, include Chris Kutschera, Quil Lawrence and Martin Woollacott. The 18 also called for a public commitment from the KRG to Articles V and VI of the Kurdish Press Law of 2008 calling for severe punishment of anyone, including the security forces, who attacks members of the press.

The correspondents received a response from Karim Zibari on behalf of the office of President Barzani. ‘We are confident that no shred of evidence will be overlooked and take very seriously the importance of sending a clear message that the intimidation of any citizen of the Kurdistan Region will not be tolerated.’ Zibari also wrote that it was ‘extremely unfortunate that the tragic death of this young Kurdish student has been exploited for the personal political gain of a few.’

The correspondents wrote back on 31 May that they ‘anxiously await the findings of an independent investigation designed to uncover the culprits and prevent further intimidation of journalists in Iraqi Kurdistan.’

Protest in June. Demonstrator holds up photo of Sardasht Osman.

Well, the ‘findings’ have been announced but do little to ‘uncover the culprits’. The special committee, lacking any shred of independence, claims that Ansar al-Islam is back, operating in the middle of Hewlêr. It defies logic and reeks of a cover-up. Ansar al-Islam is a convenient scapegoat.

The murder of Sardasht Osman is only the latest in a string of violent, often deadly attacks against Kurdish journalists. Last year, Kurdish journalist for Lvin Magazine Soran Mama Hama was murdered in front of his house in Kirkuk after he had written articles that offended government officials. On 20 April 2010, regional security forces attacked at least 16 Kurdish journalists reporting on student demonstrations in Suleimania. Some were beaten severely by police, and others had their cameras taken and their photographs destroyed. On 28 April, police interrogated the editor of the journal Hawlati, Kamal Rauf, for five hours after he published information on the absence of public services in a Kurdish village. Another editor, Fuad Sadiq, lost his job for criticising Prime Minister Barham Salih. Hakim Qubadi Jali Zada, a Kurdish jurist and poet, was dismissed as a judge in Suleimania for writing an article in the newspaper Hawal that disparaged aspects of the judicial system.

Sadly, Sardasht Osman will probably not be the last victim of the government’s suppression of the freedom of the press. He knew he was in imminent danger for his writings, as do many journalists. But he courageously persevered, fully expecting his tragic end.

In a piece entitled ‘I heard the first ring of my death’ Sardasht Osman wrote the following (excerpt):

In the last few days I was told for the first time that there isn’t much left of your life. To put it in their own words I have no permission to breathe in this city but I fear neither death nor torture. I am waiting for … my killers. I pray that they grant me a tragic death, which deserves my tragic life…. I want them to understand that what scares us is not death but the continuation of such days for our next generation…. The tragedy is the authorities don’t care about the death of the generations…. Whatever happens I will not leave this city, and I will wait for my own death. I know this is the first bell ring for my death but at the end it will become a ring bell for the youth in my society.

Read the complete version of I heard the first ring of my death.

Sources:

Reporter abducted, slain in northern Iraq. Committee to Protect Journalists, 06 May 2010.

Investigation of Kurdish journalist’s murder lacks credibility. Committee to Protect Journalists, 15 September 2010.

Veteran journalists seek justice in Iraqi Kurdistan. Committee to Protect Journalists, 17 May 2010.

Iraqi Kurdistan: Parties in ruling coalition agree to gag the press. KurdMedia, 6 May 2010

Cockburn, Patrick Cockburn and Terri Judd. Iraq: the most dangerous place on earth for journalists. The Independent, 14 June 2010.

I am in love with Massoud Barzani’s daughter, a poem that kills. KurdMedia, 10 May 2010.

Kurdistan President’s Office Responds to Press Freedom Criticism by Famed Correspondents. International Press Institute, 08 June 2010.

Abdul-Rahman, Frman and Sirwan Gharib. Campaigning for Media Rights in Iraqi Kurdistan. Institute for War & Peace Reporting, 23 June 2010.

Amnesty International Report: New order, same abuses. Kurdistan Commentary, 16 September 2010.

Sardasht Osman debate on Al Jazeera’s Inside Iraq

Al Jazeera English. Inside Iraq’s latest program was a debate on the killing of the Kurdish student journalist, Sardasht Osman.

Debate participants:

Hiwa Osman, the Iraq country director for Institute War and Peace Reporting, son of Kurdish politician Mahmoud Osman and former media advisor to Iraqi president Jalal Talabani.

Houzan Mahmoud, a London-based activist with the Organisations of Women’s Freedom in Iraq.

‘Kak’ Masud, says Davutoğlu

Masud Barzani and Ahmet Davutoğlu

What has been the most important aspect of KRG President Masud Barzani’s trip to Turkey?  Discussions about trade?  Talks centred on security issues?  Economic integration?

For me, the most important and most interesting has been the language component and some of the other symbolism at the meetings and press conferences.

Not only did Davutoğlu address President Barzani as Kak Masud, but also each other’s remarks were translated to and from Kurdish and Turkish (Zaman Online: Davutoğlu’nun sözleri de Kürtçeye çevrildi. Kaynaklar, Dışişleri Bakanlığı’ndaki bir basın toplantısında ilk kez Kürtçe konuşulduğunu aktardı). ‘Kak’ is a Kurdish honorific used when addressing other men, respectful yet implying a certain warmth.

When Barzani met with Davutoğlu and later with Erdoğan, there was always a Turkish flag.  No other flag.  Apparently the Kurdish delegation wanted both the Iraqi flag and the Kurdish flag to stand alongside the Turkish one.  The Turks said no way.

After his meeting with Barzani, Selahattin Demirtaş, co-chair of the BDP, was asked about the ‘missing’ Kurdish flag.  His response was ‘I don’t know whether it has been done on purpose or not, but all diplomatic means should have been implemented.’

Barham Salih and the upcoming KRG elections

Dr Barham Salih

Dr Barham Salih

One of Iraq’s two deputy prime ministers, Barham Salih, is expected to resign within days to lead the main Kurdish bloc in elections in the autonomous Kurdish region.  Salih, born in 1960, is one of two deputies for Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, a member of the country’s Shiite Arab majority.  Salih is deputy for the Kurds and Rafa al-Essawi for the Sunni Arabs.

The Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) of Kurdish regional president Mesûd Barzanî and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, in which Salih is a leading figure, have agreed to appoint Barham Salih as Prime Minister of the KRG if their coalition list wins the upcoming Kurdistan elections.  The news was relayed by Fu’ad Ma’sum, the head of the Kurdish bloc in the Parliament.

The Kurdish Alliance (KDP and PUK) is strongly expected to win in the upcoming elections on 25 July.  If Salih becomes KRG Prime Minister, he would replace Nêçîrvan Barzanî, Mesûd Barzanî’s nephew.

Salih has been seen by Western diplomats as one of the most progressive and professional members of the Iraqi government, in which he has been a central part of a recent push to attract foreign investment to the war-torn country.

Salih was elected to the Iraqi National Assembly in December 2005 as part of the Kurdistan Alliance list. Salih also chairs a committee on oil and energy policy.  He was Prime Minister of the PUK region of Iraqi Kurdistan from 2001-2004. While working as an engineering consultant, he also served as spokesman for the PUK in London and later in Washington.

Dr Salih has a Twitter site and frequently ‘tweets’ about his activities.

Sources:

Iraq deputy PM to quit to take up Kurdish role, AlArab Online, 06 June 2009

Deputy PM to quit to take up Kurdish region role, The Jordan Times, 07 June 2009

Campaigning has begun

KRG President Masud Barzani will soon announce a date for the parliamentary elections

KRG President Masud Barzani will soon announce a date for the parliamentary elections

Campaigning has begun. Some forty-two political parties and dozens of candidates kicked off the beginning of the campaign ahead of the Kurdish parliamentary elections in the three provinces of Duhok, Irbil, and Suleimaniyeh. They will be vying for 111 seats.

While there has been talk of holding the elections on 19 May, KRG President Masud Barzani will not declare the official date of the election until a special session of parliament in a few days. According to sources from the high electoral commission, the election will be held in early June.

Elections were held in 14 of Iraq’s 18 provinces on 31 January, but it was left to the Kurdish parliament to set a date for polls in the northern Kurdish provinces that form the Kurdistan Regional Government.

Of the 111 seats, certain allocations have been made:

  • Turkomen: 5 seats
  • Armenian: 1 seat
  • Christian minorities (Chaldean and Assyrian): 5 seats
  • Women: 33 seats

Four candidates are running for the single Armenian seat in the legislature and three parties are competing for five Turkomen seats.

At yesterday’s close of registration, 42 political blocs had registered for parliamentary elections. Head of the Independent High Electoral Commission in the KRG, Ali Qadir, said in a press conference yesterday that of the 42 registered political entities 22 of them are participating for the first time, while 20 others have participated in previous elections.

Some 2.5 million of the region’s estimated 4 million Kurds are eligible to vote. About 84 polling centres have been set up for the elections.

sources:

42 Political entities registered to stand for Kurdistan Parliament elections, 28 April 2009, PUKmedia, Pukmedia.com.

42 political entities take part in parliament elections, 28 April 2009, KurdSat.

Campaigning For Kurdish Parliamentary Elections Begins, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 29 April 2009.

Registration for parliamentary polls in Kurdistan ends, Aswat al-Iraq, 28 April 2009.

Tomlinson, Hugh. Kurdish parliament amends election law. MEED Middle East Business Intelligence, 25 March 2009.

‘The new Iraq is based upon the principle of consensus’

A transcript of The LA Times’ interview with Kurdistan President Massoud Barzani.

By Ned Parker
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

In Sunday’s paper, The Times interviewed Kurdistan region’s President Massoud Barzani about the growing rift between the Kurds and Prime Minister Nouri Maliki. Below is a transcript of most of the interview.

Barzani, whose late father led multiple revolts against Baghdad in the 20th century, discusses the Kurds’ differences with Maliki and his own conviction that the prime minister is drifting toward authoritarian rule. Barzani reviews in details his differences with Maliki over the the Iraqi army’s current direction and a pending oil and gas law. Other topics discussed include disputed territories like Kirkuk, and a recent confrontation between Maliki’s body guards and Kurdish security forces at the Iraqi parliament, that ended with Maliki’s guards calling in an Iraqi army unit to seize control of the parliament building. The interview was conducted Saturday at Barzani’s offices in Salahuddin, outside Irbil.

Barzani is asked about his expectations for Prime Minister Nouri Maliki’s coming visit to Kurdistan.

barzani1Barzani: “I think it will be his fourth visit to the region as PM. Although the time has not been set for the visit, but of course when he does come, there are five specific issues and the issues which have been set forth that will be discussed, and they will be the key topics to be discussed with him.

“The first one will be the file of the security and the military. The second one would be partnership in government –- in other words our partnership in government. The third one is the economical one, which covers oil and gas as well. The other file would be the disputed regions. And finally the foreign affairs or foreign politics.”

Barzani is asked about disagreements between Maliki and his partners in the government, including the Kurds. Have those disputes centered about concerns that the Prime Minister is trying to rule by himself and is there any progress in resolving these questions.

Barzani:“What I mentioned earlier. One of the issues that will be discussed and one of the key files is partnership in administration. Which is based on the rule by consensus among the key groups as well as commitment to the constitutional principles and what has been laid out in the constitution. Indeed, it is a big issue in Iraq.”

Barzani is asked to describe the prime minister’s policies.

Barzani:“We certainly have expressed our views very openly and clearly and we also have expressed our views in official correspondence with the prime minister. We have expressed that we have reservations on certain issues and they have also been made public. What we have geared, what we have aimed, is to resolve these issues through direct contact, and obviously adhering to the constitution that has laid the groundwork for such issues.”

Barzani is asked about comments he made in November on the Al Hurra satellite television channel that the Iraqi government ignores the Kurdish role whenever possible in every area and that the government wants to return to a one-party system and a totalitarian authority. He is asked to elaborate on what he meant.

Barzani:“It was earlier in November when I was interviewed by al Hurra. After that interview I visited Baghdad actually … I stayed there for a couple of weeks. We had meetings and we presented our views and certain notes that I had mentioned earlier and the committees [that] were formed were as a result of those notes, as a result of the concerns that we had expressed openly and sometimes in private, so these committees were agreed. We had a chain of meetings – of key groups al Dawa, the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, KDP [Kurdistan Democratic Party], PUK [Patriotic Union of Kurdistan] and Islamic Party of Iraq as key components or political groups, or government to government, or KRG with federal government.

“So these committees were formed in order to handle these issues, in order to resolve these pending issues which are detrimental. This is what we are proceeding with right now… The formation of the new Iraq is based upon the principle of consensus. These key groups must adhere to the constitution, to the roadmap that has been laid, as well as the principle of consensus because no single party has won elections and has come to power by absolute majority. This is through consensus and we all have to adhere. If one particular group diverts or moves away from this line and principle of consensus, obviously it creates such problems which have been [seen] more recently. We would fully support issues to be handled and to be resolved through the constitution and dialogue. This is how we’ve proceeded and this is what we are doing right now.”

Barzani is asked if any of these new committees have made progress.

Barzani:“There has been some progress within certain committees, but maybe not that significant or tangible due to the fact that there were was full concentration by all parties on the security agreement or SOFA. Everybody was concerned with that. As of now the committees have begun their work in earnest.”

Barzani is asked if there has been any progress on the oil law.

Barzani:“As far as we are concerned, there is a foregone conclusion on how the oil law should be drafted, but unfortunately it seems that Baghdad is dragging its feet and not wanting an amicable solution to it. In real essence, the problems or blame are being laid at the doorsteps of the Kurds at a time when the state has no oil policy and the ministry is a failed ministry with a failed policy. And at the same time, they do not want to see any development in this field in Kurdistan as well and [are] blaming the Kurds for the failures in Baghdad. And quite contrary to that the problem is not with the Kurdistan region.

“Over the past three years, there has been a budget of eight billion dollars allocated for the [rehabilitation] of the oil industry sector in order to increase the production level, and when you look at it the production it has perhaps even decreased, rather than increased. That’s what the Iraqi public has to be told. What was the reason and why [was] this budget that was allocated was not properly spent and what actually has happened to that budget and why has the oil production not met the required production level.

Barzani is asked why the money hasn’t been spent properly.

Barzani:“This is what we ought to know as well, to know the reason for it, the Iraqi public need to know about it.”

Barzani is asked if the reason is corruption in the oil ministry.

Barzani:“I can’t prejudge that. I cannot say. It’s a very important issue, that the Iraqi people need to be aware of and they need to be informed.”

Barzani is asked if he feels that elements within the government or parties are trying to blame the Kurds about the oil law to distract the Iraqi public from larger political issues.

Barzani:“Until very recently, yes indeed, it was the case to blame the Kurds for any mishaps or lack of developments, whether it was [in] the prime ministry or any particular ministry where they face obstacles or problems. And they were trying to blame the Kurds for any lack of developments, which was not the case, although things have moved on a little bit now. It has improved but until very recently that [was] the case having the Kurds as a scapegoat for every misfortune.”

[Asked about the negotiations on the oil law, Barzani speaks about an agreement to start shipping Kurdish oil through the Iraqi oil pipeline to Turkey, following a visit by Iraqi Oil Minister Hussein Shahristani to Kurdistan in November]

“We have all agreed in principle in the constitution that oil and gas belongs to all Iraqi people and should be distributed equally and this 100,000 barrels can be part of this greater Iraqi oil production level in order to be distributed as per agreements we have reached.”

Barzani is asked about his previous comments that Kurds have been marginalized in the Iraqi army

Barzani:“The very beginning after the new developments in post 2003, when there were efforts to reform and rebuild the Iraqi army, it seems that people were hesitant to join the army – neither the Sunnis nor the Shiite Arabs were joining the Iraqi army. The very first steps were taken by the Kurdish side. The very first three divisions were actually formed by Kurdish units and elements. Thereafter other people gradually joined in and volunteered to join the army. Like oil and other resources, the military is for all Iraqi people and there has to be a balance of all elements of Iraqi society to participate in the army. And of course the military should and must have its own regulations and [foundations] that it has been set up on.

“Under normal circumstances, it is very natural to move around officers and units of various types and elements to various parts of the country. Of course, looking at the situation in Iraq, it is not a normal situation. It is an abnormal situation at the moment. And in more recent times, we have witnessed there has been a deliberate attitude to marginalize and to oppose the Kurdish participation [in the army]. And there seems to be a unilateral move in order to create an army that would be more responsible to an individual, which is more alarming. First and foremost, the military should not be engaged in politics, Furthermore the military should not be engaged in settling internal disputes of this group and that group.”

“I believe there are 16 divisions right now in the Iraqi army. Normally the heads of divisions have to be nominated and for the parliament to approve the nomination. But I challenge [to find] any single division head of the army that has been nominated and approved by the parliament. They have been approved on personal will [decrees], and of course this is something which is not tolerated. This is not an army … we were hoping to create.

“We have been very flexible and we have tolerated this because we feel that we should discuss these matters and give this [newly formed] committee a chance in order to review the situation and come up with some kind of solutions [that can] be implemented. This is why we did not want to make a big deal out of it, until a final solution has been put forward and discussed and agreed [upon]. We hope that this would lead to a balanced participation in this important military. Either that [solution] has to be implemented… or [it] would be unacceptable to go in [a] direction that would be extremely difficult for us to tolerate. This is not a problem for us only as Kurds, but I believe this is a problem for all Iraqis.”

Barzani is asked about cases of the army being used for politics or to resolve internal disputes between Iraqi groups

Barzani:“One of the examples is the issue of Khanaqin. And it was on the agenda to follow the same line in other areas [of sending Iraqi troops against peshmerga forces]. Once we realized that this was the case, obviously the program was foiled.

“Very recently there was a dispute between the bodyguards of the prime minister and the security of the parliament, when the prime minister was visiting the parliament. Immediately, the military was called, the military surrounded the parliament, and actually occupied the parliament. That’s another example. This is quite a major event. What else can [we] expect.”

Barzani is asked about in which other provinces had there been plans before the Khanaqin confrontation to send Iraqi troops to evict Kurdish forces.

Barzani:“Kirkuk, Mosul [provinces] as far as southern areas were concerned I’m not too sure, too aware.”

Barzani is asked how Kurds in the military have been marginalized.

Barzani:“They have been either transferred to other units out of the region or they have been sent back to the ministry of defense”.

Barzani is asked about whether Maliki is the individual he is referring to as the person who is trying to direct the Iraqi army alone.

Barzani:“The prime minister has been the [commander in chief] of the armed forces. That doesn’t mean the [commander in chief] of the armed forces has the authority to do whatever he likes. The office of the [commander in chief] of the armed forces is doing things all by itself and not coordinating or working with the ministry of defense or the chief of staff nor with other various departments of the armed forces.

“And of course, why should we blame the situation only on one person, of course other institutions are to be blamed, such as the presidency council, the parliament itself and the council of ministers. How can they tolerate this? I think they should have a say in this matter as well.”

Barzani is asked about allegations made by Maliki at a November 20 press conference that Kurdish forces had been involved in illegal arrests and tortures?

Barzani:“First I think it was a big mistake for him to make such a statement and unfortunately he had gone against the grain of this solid traditional relationship that we had with him and his group in the past. Perhaps there are two reasons for that kind of attitude. First perhaps he may well have been misinformed by groups or individuals who were actually trying to create some kind of animosity. The second reason may well have been to attract and to gain some support of some chauvinistic elements and individuals. But adopting that position he did not calculate … who exactly he would be losing.”

Barzani is asked if the two have spoken since Maliki’s press conference.

Barzani:“We have expressed our official view in the response. The letter. After that letter that was sent out to him, I have not met with him nor spoken to him. I had visited Baghdad for a couple of hours when President Bush was visiting Baghdad, but it was not for a meeting with the prime minister.”

Barzani is asked about times when he backed Maliki when others wanted to force the prime minister from office.

Barzani:“You are right. It was in April 2007. When we felt there was a serious effort to remove him from his seat. We felt what was behind it, was not well intended. It was people of sinister intention with a sinister agenda, It was not for the benefit of Iraq in general and neither for the Kurds in particular. Toward the end of April 2007, the 26th or 27th of April, there was a gathering of various Iraqi groups under the auspices of various intelligence groups of regional countries, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi, Turkey and the Emirates. I think there were six countries in total, who had organized this gathering of certain Iraqi groups and the whole idea was to undermine the situation, and we were alarmed by this. This is why we fully supported [Maliki's] position because we felt this was first and foremost against Iraq. It was a very direct and sinister intervention in Iraqi affairs though intelligence apparatuses of these countries. We felt alarmed by it and this is why we moved on it and we supported obviously the PM. We felt it was against the Iraqi people, against Iraq and against the Kurdish people. That led to this four-party coalition, which was later extended to five [a consultative body grouping Barzani, the Iraqi presidency council and Maliki].”

Barzani is asked about a plot to topple Maliki last spring during his military campaign in Basra, and if he rallied to Maliki’s side then as well.

Barzani:“When he embarked on this operation, I phoned him … I told him I fully support you in every way and if need be I can dispatch military units to help you with this operation. Indeed, we were serious in our intervention and sincerity.”

Again Barzani is asked there was an effort to unseat Maliki by some groups during the Basra military campaign.

Barzani:“Indeed that was the case. There were intentions to unseat him, but the way to remove him and the [motives] behind the removal were not well intended. Still I am not for any such measures to unseat him, or to even remove any single government official or police officer from his position through the sinister efforts of regional intelligence apparatuses. I don’t support that.”

Barzani is asked if he feels Maliki has forgotten what the Kurds have done for him and the way the Kurds have been a good partner for Iraq.

Barzani:“Unfortunately, he seems to have forgotten it. Not only recently but even the relations we had in the 1980s and what we had offered him then. We had very close contact and provided support for his group, the Dawa party.”

Barzani is asked why Maliki has forgotten the past.

Barzani:“We want to know. It is also a surprise for us. In Arabic there is a saying that absolute authority could lead to an individual losing insight or bearing. In other words, his character would be lost in absolute authority.”

Barzani is asked if he is saying this is what has happened to Maliki.

Barzani:Unfortunately, we are disappointed. This is the reality. It is a very sad reality. We are disappointed. My expectations were that even in my absence somebody like Maliki would be defending the rights of the Kurds in any gathering or platforms. I never expected that he would be opposing the rights of the Kurdish people nor he would be opposing the existence of peshmerga units or peshmergas or Kurds within the Iraqi army and he would be marginalizing them. Unfortunately, this is what is happening and we are disappointed by that. To elaborate on the earlier [point], one gets lost in absolute authority. You become too authoritarian, you lose yourself.”

Barzani is asked to describe his last conversation with Maliki.

Barzani:“On a personal level he is a good close friend of mine. And in fact, when I get to see him, I tell him far more face to face rather than what I say publicly. So I’m very open and very frank with him. In the media, I try to consider his situation and not to be so rigid.”

Barzani is asked to describe their recent conversations.

Barzani:“Just to conclude on that, we have this dispute. It is very clear. We have identified the areas. These committees have been formed upon agreement of all parties concerned and we are waiting for the outcome of their work. We don’t want to exacerbate the situation further. We certainly want to concentrate on the work of the committees. Hopefully they will come out with some agreements which will be amicable, pragmatic and practical.”

Barzani is asked whether there is a solution for Kirkuk through the UN beyond the referendum called for in the Iraqi constitution’s article 140. The UN has advocated alternative ideas, including Iraqi political factions coming to a consensus on what areas might be annexed to Iraqi Kurdistan.

Barzani:“The reason we had agreed as the Kurdistan region to remain within the state of Iraq is so long as Iraq is in possession of such a constitution and so long as they adhere to this constitution. The disputed areas are far more important than has been given credit. It is historical issue for us and if you look at the more recent history of the Kurdish confrontations or movements against successive and various Iraqi regimes [they] were all over these disputed areas. There were aggressions against the Kurds and unfortunately there has been a lot of unfortunate and unkind treatment of the Kurds historically on this issue. Article 140 is a constitutional article and it has given a roadmap for a solution to the issue.

“We cannot afford to lose time and to come back to new proposals every day. The constitution is very clear. The constitution was voted by 80 percent or more of the Iraqi population. The constitution is a package. One cannot be selective in taking a part of it out … Therefore it should be comprehensive. There has to be efforts to fully implement the constitution. Those who oppose any article of the constitution should have opposed voting for it in the referendum [on the constitution in 2005]. Now that it has been voted for, therefore, it has to be respected. And you cannot be selective and you cannot allow individuals or groups to take a part of it out and to stand against it and to support other parts of the constitution… No alternative to article 140 would be acceptable.”

Barzani is asked does this mean he thinks there has to be a referendum on the disputed territories.

Barzani:“Normalization, census and referendum. Whatever the people decide then it should be respected.”

Barzani is asked about a recent comment by Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih that there were attempts to take political and social problems in Baghdad to provoke an Arab-Kurdish conflict.

Barzani:“As far as full-scale and all-out Arab-Kurdish conflict, this is impossible because we will not tolerate and we will not accept such a conflict between the two communities, the two people. Throughout our history, we have not had any animosity or any move against the Arabs as a people, and we will never do that, and the Arab people in its entirety, the majority of it have been sympathetic to us and in support of us, the dispute is with the political forces.

“But if an individual or the head of a tribe or clan tries to enter such a conflict and turn the conflict into a Kurdish-Arab conflict then he will be confronted by all people and I think he will be the loser. If he tries to drag the entire Arab population to this, I think he will fail. It has not crossed our minds to settle problems through violence. We strongly believe in the constitution, we believe in dialogue, if somebody or individual groups consider using force, then of course, we have the capabilities to stand against it…

“In the last few years almost 2,000 Kurds have been killed in Mosul. … We have not responded in the same manner and we have not reacted in any act of vengeance, but of course everything will have its limits.”

Barzani is asked if he thinks Maliki can really change his behavior, via the committees set up to broker compromise.

Barzani:“I think we have discussed a lot about the prime minister so we want to go on.”

Barzani is asked about a meeting in December of major political leaders in northern Iraq that some media reports described as a meeting to plot Maliki’s ouster. The gathering included Barzani, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and vice presidents Tariq Hashimi and Adel Abdul Mehdi.

Barzani:“In fact, the gathering was purely social because of the feast [the Muslim holiday Eid al Adha] that had taken place, so we gathered there. Issues of all aspects, in general issues were discussed. On the issue that you mentioned, under no circumstances, this was discussed replacing him… There was no discussion about replacing him. Discussions were only in general terms about reconciliation and political reforms that should take place and to also activate the committees that have been set up.”

Barzani is asked again whether there have been any discussions at all among senior Iraqi leaders about replacing Maliki.

Barzani:“There hasn’t been any discussion on his removal at all in the meeting in Dokan [Sulaymaniya]… That was the last meeting [of Iraq's senior political leaders] in Dokan.”

Barzani is asked whether Iraqi Kurdistan will always remain part of Iraq.

Barzani:“So long as Iraq is in possession of such a constitution and adheres to such a constitution, Kurdistan will be part of Iraq.”

Barzani is asked what the Kurds would do then if Iraq does not remain loyal to the constitution.

Barzani:“That’s the bridge we will have to cross when we come [to] it. Even in the preamble of the constitution, it says very clearly adhtrence to this constitution is a precondition to preserving the unity of Iraq. For sure, we will not accept an Iraq ruled by dictatorship.”

Barzani is asked if he is optimistic about the country’s future and challenges facing the country in the coming years.

Barzani:“In our position, one always has to be optimistic. Terrorism, and secular disputes and confrontations and of course rule of the state, the culture of democracy has to be promoted and deeply rooted.”

original story can be found at: http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-fgw-transcript12-2009jan12,0,2173247.story

Proxy Wars in Kurdistan?

Last month Iraqi Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani went to Tehran to meet with top-level Iranian leaders. On the agenda was PJAK, The Party for a Free Life in Kurdistan. Barzani has also met with Turkish envoys to discuss the PKK, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party. PJAK is an Iranian offshoot of the PKK and is based in Iraqi Kurdistan, often fighting across Iraq-Iran borders with Iran’s Revolutionary Guards. The outlawed PKK, founded by its now imprisoned leader, Abdullah Öcalan, also operates from areas inside Iraqi Kurdistan.

One question that often crops up is whether or not PJAK is funded by the United States to fight Iran. Proxy wars are nothing new. One example is the US support of the mujahideen in Afghanistan to fight the Soviets. So it’s not totally far-fetched to think they’d be messing around in northern Iraq, funding a militant separatist group to stir things up in Iran. In fact, it sounds very much like what the US would do.

Seymour Hersh wrote in a New Yorker piece (Preparing the Battlefield, 07 July 2008) that the US Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) was behind the support of PJAK. He also states that “JSOC’s operations in Iran are believed to be modelled on a program that has, with some success, used surrogates to target the Taliban leadership in the tribal territories of Waziristan, along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.”

But the situation is rapidly changing. PJAK attacks along the Iranian border have been decreasing considerably over the past year. And last week PJAK announced it was halting all operations in Iran and would begin fighting the Turkish military. A couple days ago Hürriyet announced an agreement between the Turkish government and the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) in northern Iraq. According to the agreement Barzani (KRG president) will cut links between Europe and the PKK, and allow the “deployment of special Turkish forces to a number of strategic points in northern Iraq, in addition to the Kurdish Peshmerga forces, in order to cut logistic, political and military support to the PKK.” If implemented the outcome would see Turkish recognition of the Barzani administration and Turkey would open an embassy in Arbil (Hewler).

With tensions rising within Iraq itself between Kurds and Arabs, particularly over control of Kirkuk, perhaps Barzani is hedging his bets with the Turks to maintain some sense of stability in his fledging autonomous region.

Sources:

Preparing the Battlefield, New Yorker, Seymour Hersh, 07 July 2008
PJAK attatcks along Iran borders decline, PressTV online, 10 November 2008
Barzani discusses security, PJAK threat in Tehran talks, 24 October 2008
Turkey, Kurdish administration in N.Iraq agree on PKK fight plan, Hürriyet Daily News online, 13 November 2008

Kurdistan Is a Model for Iraq

From the Wall Street Journal

12 November 2008


Kurdistan is a Model for Iraq
Our path to a secular, federal democracy is inspired by the U.S.

by Masoud Barzani

Iraq’s Kurds have consistently been America’s closest allies in Iraq. Our Peshmerga forces fought alongside the U.S. military to liberate the country, suffering more casualties than any other U.S. ally.

And while some Iraqi politicians have challenged the U.S.-Iraq security agreement, Iraq’s Kurdish leaders have endorsed the pact as essential for U.S. combat troops to continue fighting terrorists in Iraq.

The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) is committed to a federal, democratic Iraq that is at peace with its neighbors.

We have benefited enormously from the service and sacrifices of America’s armed forces and their families, and we are deeply grateful. We are also proud to have shared in such sacrifices; my brother was among those severely wounded during the liberation of Iraq.

Last year, following a U.S. request, we deployed Kurdish troops to Baghdad. These troops played a decisive role in the success of the surge. Last month I once again visited Baghdad to meet with the leadership of the federal government. We stressed our commitment to developing an Iraqi state that abides by its constitution and that is based upon a federal model with clearly delineated powers for its regions.

In spite of all this, some commentators now suggest that the Kurds are causing problems by insisting on territorial demands and proceeding with the development of Kurdistan’s oil resources. These allegations are troubling. We are proceeding entirely in accord with the Iraqi constitution, implementing provisions that were brokered by the U.S.

In the constitutional negotiations that took place in the summer of 2005, two issues were critical to us: first, that the Kurdistan Region has the right to develop the oil on its territory, and second, that there be a fair process to determine the administrative borders of Iraq’s Kurdistan Region — thus resolving once and for all the issue of “disputed” territories.

Unfortunately, ever since the discovery of oil in Iraq in the 1920s, successive Iraqi governments have sought to keep oil out of Kurdish hands, blocking exploration and development of fields in Kurdistan. Saddam Hussein’s government went even further, using Iraqi oil revenues to finance the military campaigns that destroyed more than 4,500 Kurdish villages and to pay for the poison gas used to kill thousands of Kurdish civilians.

The Kurdish leadership agreed to a U.S.-sponsored compromise in 2005 in which the central government would have the authority to manage existing oil fields, but new fields would fall under the exclusive jurisdiction of the regions. Since then, the KRG has taken the lead with Baghdad in negotiations on a hydrocarbon law that is faithful to Iraq’s constitution and is conducive to modernizing Iraq’s oil infrastructure and substantially increasing its oil production.

We have awarded contracts for foreign oil companies (including some American ones) to explore our territory. In so doing, Kurdistan is not threatening the unity of Iraq. It is simply implementing the constitution.

The “disputed territories” have a tragic history. Since the 1950s, Iraqi regimes encouraged Arabs to settle in Kirkuk and other predominantly Kurdish and Turkmen areas. Saddam Hussein accelerated this process by engaging in ethnic cleansing, expelling or killing Kurds and Turkmen, or by requiring nationality corrections (in which non-Arabs are forced to declare themselves to be Arabs) and by moving Arabs into Kurdish homes.

The dispute between Baghdad and the Kurds over Kirkuk has lasted more than 80 years and has often been violent. All sides have now agreed to a formula to resolve the problem, to bring justice to Kirkuk, and to correct the crimes against Kurds committed by Saddam Hussein’s regime. Iraq’s constitution requires that a referendum be held in disputed territories to determine if their populations want to join the Kurdistan Region. Conducting a plebiscite is not easy, but it is preferable to another 80 years of conflict.

If the pro-Kurdistan side should lose the referendum in Kirkuk, I promise that Kurdistan will respect that result. And if they win, I promise that we will do everything in our power to ensure outsized representation of Kirkuk’s Turkmen, Arabs and Christians both on the local level and in the parliament and government of the Kurdistan Region.

Regional stability cannot come from resolving internal disputes alone. That is why expanding and deepening our ties with Turkey is my top priority.

My meeting last month in Baghdad with the Turkish special envoy to Iraq was a historic and positive development. There should be further direct contacts between the KRG and Turkey, as well as multilateral contacts that involve the U.S. We are eager to work with Turkey to seek increased peace and prosperity in the region.

I am proud that the Kurdistan Region is both a model and gateway for the rest of Iraq. Our difficult path to a secular, federal democracy is very much inspired by the U.S. And so we look forward to working with the Obama-Biden administration to support and defend our hard-fought successes in Iraq, and to remain proud of what the Kurdistan region is today: a thriving civil society in the heart of the Middle East. When we insist on strict compliance with our country’s constitution, we are only following America’s great example.

Mr. Barzani is the president of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.