25th Anniversary Commemoration of the Halabja Genocide (Washington, DC)

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The Kurdistan Regional Government Representation to the U.S. and the Catholic University of America Columbus School of Law cordially invite you to the 25th Anniversary Commemoration of the Halabja Genocide
On 16 and 17 March 1988, Iraqi government airplanes, under the command of Saddam Hussein, dropped chemical weapons on the town of Halabja. Approximately 5,000 civilians, including women and children, were killed.  The horrific tragedy of Halabja was part of the genocidal Anfal campaign against Kurdistan’s civilians, which included mass summary executions and disappearances and widespread use of chemical weapons. The Anfal campaign also saw the  destruction of some 2,000 villages and of the rural economy and infrastructure. An estimated 180,000 Iraqi Kurds were killed in the campaign between 1987-1989.
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Save the date!
The morning of Friday, March 15th, 2013
  
Event to include panel discussion with genocide expert and survivors
  
At Catholic University of America Columbus School of Law,
Washington, DC
  
3600 John McCormack Road, N.E.Washington, D.C. 20017
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For more information visit: www.krg.org
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Campaigners in UK win a Parliamentary debate on the Kurdish genocide in Iraq

Campaigners win a Parliamentary debate on the Kurdish genocide in Iraq, following more than 27,000 signatures on Government e-petition

kurdishgenocide13th February 2013: It has been announced today that the British Parliament will debate a motion calling for formal recognition of the mass murder of Kurdish people in Iraq as genocide. The news follows a tireless campaign for recognition, supported by more than 27,500 British citizens, who have all signed an e-petition demanding justice for the murdered Kurds.

The debate will take place in the main chamber at 1:30pm on the 28th February. It will be based on a votable motion, the successful end result of which is that Parliament will have recognised the genocide.

The debate itself represents a significant victory for the campaign e-petition, sponsored by Nadhim Zahawi MP, which was launched in March last year in a bid to urge the British Government to debate the mass killings and recognize the truth. The campaign has since been supported throughout the year by the Kurdish community, the Kurdistan Regional Government UK Representation, and British MPs from all political parties, especially those who are members of the highly supportive All Party Parliamentary Group for Kurdistan including Robert Halfon MP, and Meg Munn MP. Together, they recently made a successful presentation to the Business Committee which allocates time for debates in Parliament.

During the presentation, Nadhim Zahawi MP told the Committee that his father was forced to flee Iraq simply because he was Kurdish and he was not willing to join the Baath party. He said that Britain has been heavily involved with the Kurdish people going back to Sykes-Picot, but more recently with Sir John Major who saved the Kurdish people with the no-fly zone and Tony Blair who is seen as the liberator of the Kurds.

Robert Halfon MP said that unless the genocide is recognised internationally, people cannot be brought to justice. Meanwhile, Meg Munn MP said that the debate would have a wider resonance given events in Syria, and Fabian Hamilton MP cited good cross-party support for a debate. Jason McCartney MP, who served as a Royal Air Force officer in the no-fly zone in Zakho, said it would be a fitting tribute to have the debate on the 25th anniversary of the chemical weapons attack on Halabja.

The Kurdistan Regional Government High Representative to the UK, Ms. Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman said:
“The genocide brought unimaginable suffering to our people: families were torn apart, sons and fathers killed en masse or simply buried alive, women and children bombed with poison gas. We believe that this suffering needs to be acknowledged, not just by us Kurds and Iraqis, but by our friends too, so that the victims’ families and the survivors can reach closure and a message is sent out to any other regime oppressing its people or considering using chemical weapons. Imagine how heartened the survivors who are now British citizens would feel to be in the chamber, listening to such a debate.”

Ms. Rahman also told the committee how the Swedish and Norwegian parliaments recently debated the genocide and the Kurdish community is wondering why Britain had not yet done the same.

In January, the British Government issued a response to the e-petition which acknowledged that no group suffered more than the Iraqi Kurds. However, the Government response went on to say that It remains the Governments view that it is not for governments to decide whether a genocide has been committed in this case, as this is a complex legal question.

The debate on the 28th February may encourage the Government to change its position.

—Ends—

For further information, please contact Stephanie Blott or Helen Ayres at KRG@luther.co.uk or call 0207 618 9193.
The Government response to the e-petition: http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/31014
The e-petition can be found here: http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/31014
Campaign website: http://www.justice4genocide.com/index.php

The motion to be debated is as follows:
The 25th anniversary of the Kurdish genocide and its contemporary relevance

That this House formally recognises the Genocide against the people of
Iraqi Kurdistan and encourages governments, the EU and UN to do
likewise; believes that this will enable Kurdish people, many in the
UK, to achieve justice for their considerable loss; further believes
that it would also enable Britain, the home of democracy and freedom,
to send out a message of support for international conventions and
human rights, which is made even more pressing by the slaughter in
Syria and the possible use of chemical arsenals.

Some key facts about the genocide
· The genocide of Kurdish people in Iraq began in the 1960s and continued until the late 1980s.
· In 2006, the International  Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP) estimated there being 270 mass graves in Iraq containing between 10 and 10,000 bodies in each grave.
· An estimated 180,000 Kurdish people were killed between 1987 and 1988 alone during Saddam Hussein’s genocidal campaign called Anfal. The true scale of the killing from the 1960s to 1990 is not yet known.
· In the 1980s, the Kurdish population was also attacked with chemical weapons. During the most vicious assault, Saddam Hussein dropped bombs containing chemical weapons on the Kurdish city of Halabja gassing as many as 5,000 men, women and children to death indiscriminately and leaving tens of thousands of people injured. They died slowly, in unimaginable pain from chemical burns. Of those who survived, many still live with painful injuries and many children are born with birth defects.
· In 1983, 8,000 men and boys of ‘battle age’ from the Kurdish Barzani tribe were rounded up on trucks and vanished. The bodies are now being discovered in mass graves. From then on, men and boys as young as 13 were targeted , driven far away from their homes in trucks and executed en masse. Many victims were tied together, made to stand on the lip of pre-dug graves and shot in the back so they would fall forward into them. Others were made to lie down in pairs, sardine-style, next to mounds of fresh corpses before being killed.  Some, who didn’t die from gun shots were then buried alive.
· Of the total Kurdish victims, an estimated 70% were men, according to Human Rights Watch
· 90% of Kurdish villages and more than 20 small towns and cities were completely destroyed during the campaign to wipe out the Kurdish population in Iraq.
· In 1993, US-based Human Rights Watch launched an extensive investigation into the attack on the Kurds by Saddam Hussein’s regime and concluded that it was genocide.
· In 2005, the court in the Hague established that the chemical bombing in Kurdistan constituted genocide in a landmark case in 2005 – the Frans Van Anraat Trial. During the Appeal, it was later referred to as ‘war crimes’.
· The Iraqi High Tribunal found Sultan Hashim Ahmad, Hussein Rashid al-Tikriti, and Ali Hassan al-Majid (known as Chemical Ali) guilty of genocide in 2007.
· The research institute Swiss Peace recognized the genocide in 2008.
· In 2008 the Iraqi Presidential Council approved Resolution 26 ratifying a parliamentary resolution condemning the crimes of Saddam Hussein’s regime against the Kurds as acts of genocide. This resolution affirmed the previous parliamentary resolution that declared all acts committed against the Kurds in Iraqi-Kurdistan by the former regime were to be considered genocide.
· In March 2010, the Iraqi Supreme Court ruled that the 1988 attacks on the Kurdish population were indeed genocide.

Kurdish issues in the latest HRW World Report

hrw2013reportThis year’s Human Rights Watch World Report details events around the world from 2012. The report assessed progress on human rights during the 2012 year in more than 90 countries.

Kurdistan Commentary has selected issues relating to the Kurds from this massive 665-page report and posted them below. Turkey continues to garner to bulk of the Kurdish-related news in the HRW report, as it has in years past. In the Syria section there is no mention of the Kurds at all. That chapter is focused on abuses taking place in the ongoing civil war in Syria, with no reference to Kurdish regions. The Iran chapter contains minimal information and the Kurdistan section of the Iraq chapter focuses, as in previous HRW World Reports, on freedom of expression and female genital mutilation.

Excerpts below.

Turkey

Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) government maintained economic growth in 2012 despite a slowdown, and a strong focus on developing a leading regional role, but failed to take convincing steps to address the country’s worsening domestic human rights record and democratic deficit. Prosecutors and courts continued to use terrorism laws to prosecute and prolong incarceration of thousands of Kurdish political activists, human rights defenders, students, journalists, and trade unionists. Free speech and media remained restricted, and there were ongoing serious violations of fair trial rights.

Cross-party parliamentary work on a new constitution to uphold the rule of law and fundamental rights continued, although it was unclear at this writing whether the government and opposition would reach a consensus on key issues such as minority rights, fundamental freedoms, and definition of citizenship.

In March, parliament passed legislation to establish a National Human Rights Institution, and in June, an ombudsman institution to examine complaints against public officials at every level. Human rights groups criticized government control of appointments to the national institution’s board and its failure to meet the test of independence from the government that United Nations guidelines recommend.

With the AKP condoning the mass incarceration of Kurdish activists, and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) escalating attacks, 2012 saw a spiraling descent into violence with armed clashes resulting in hundreds of deaths of soldiers and PKK members, significantly higher than recent years. Throughout 2012, the PKK kidnapped security personnel and civilians, including local politicians, one parliamentarian, and teachers, releasing them periodically. A suspected PKK attack in Gaziantep in August left nine civilians dead, including four children. The non-resolution of the Kurdish issue remained the single greatest obstacle to progress on human rights in Turkey.

Freedom of Expression, Association, and Assembly

While there is open debate in Turkey, government policies, laws and the administration of justice continue to lag behind international standards. The government has yet to carry out a comprehensive review of all existing laws that restrict freedom of expression, although a draft reform package was expected in late 2012 at this writing.

The so-called third judicial reform package came into force in July 2012. It ends short-term bans of newspapers and journals, which the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has criticized as censorship. The law suspends investigations, prosecutions, and convictions of speech-related offenses carrying a maximum sentence of five years that were committed before December 31, 2011, provided the offense is not repeated within three years. Critics fear the threat of reinstatement will continue to muzzle debate.

Thousands charged with alleged terrorism offenses remained in prison throughout their trials. Most of those in prison are Kurdish activists and officials of the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) standing trial for alleged links to the Union of Kurdistan Communities (KCK/TM), a body connected with the PKK, and in general the ongoing clampdown on the BDP and Kurdish political activism intensified in 2012 with repeated waves of mass arrests and prolonged imprisonment. The trial of 44 Journalists and media workers (31 in detention) began in Istanbul in September. They are among the many journalists, students, lawyers, trade unionists, and human rights defenders imprisoned and prosecuted for association with the KCK.

There was little progress in the main Diyarbakır KCK trial of 175 defendants. The 108 defendants who have been in custody for up to three-and-a half-years include Human Rights Association Diyarbakir branch head Muharrem Erbey, six serving local BDP mayors, several local BDP council members, and five elected BDP parliamentarians.

The July reform package also introduced and encouraged alternatives to remand imprisonment pending trial. But there were no indications that courts apply this to those already held in prolonged prison detention under terrorism charges. Statistics from the Ministry of Justice from May, the most recent data available, indicated that 8,995 of the 125,000-strong prison population were charged with terrorism offenses, and that half of the 8,995 were awaiting an initial verdict.

Combating Impunity

Great obstacles remain in securing justice for victims of abuses by police, military, and state officials.

In December 2011, a Turkish airforce aerial bombardment killed 34 Kurdish villagers, many of them young people and children, near Uludere, close to the Iraqi-Kurdistan border, as they crossed back into Turkey with smuggled goods. Concerns that there had been an official cover-up were fuelled by repeated statements by the prime minister rejecting calls by media, opposition parties, and families of victims for a full explanation of the incident, lack of a public inquiry, and a protracted criminal investigation that had not concluded at this writing.

Key International Actors

Turkey’s European Union accession negotiations remained stalled. The election of France’s President François Hollande helped to improve French-Turkish relations. In October, the European Commission in its annual progress report voiced strong criticism in most areas relating to human rights, emphasizing the importance of work on a new constitution, and stressing “the Kurdish issue remains a key challenge for Turkey’s democracy.”

The United States government remains an important influence on Turkey, sharing military intelligence on PKK movements in northern Iraq.

In January, a groundbreaking report by the Council of Europe (CoE) commissioner for human rights focused on “long-term, systemic problems in the administration of justice,” and its negative impact on human rights.

In its October review of Turkey, the UN Human Rights Committee recommended reforms including amending the National Human Rights Institution law, introducing comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation, and addressing the vagueness of the definition of terrorism in law and prolonged pretrial detention.

Iran

Death Penalty

In 2011 authorities carried out more than 600 executions, second only to China, according to Amnesty International. Crimes punishable by death include murder, rape, trafficking and possessing drugs, armed robbery, espionage, sodomy, adultery, and apostasy.

Authorities have executed at least 30 people since January 2010 on the charge of moharebeh (“enmity against God”) or “sowing corruption on earth” for their alleged ties to armed groups. As of September 2012, at least 28 Kurdish prisoners were awaiting execution on national security charges, including moharebeh.

Treatment of Minorities

The government restricted cultural and political activities among the country’s Azeri, Kurdish, Arab, and Baluch minorities.

Iraq

In April, Iraq’s parliament passed a law criminalizing human trafficking, but has yet to effectively implement it. The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has not taken steps to implement a 2011 law banning female genital mutilation (FGM).

Freedom of Assembly

Security forces continued to respond to peaceful protests with intimidation, threats, violence, and arrests of protesters. On February 17, hundreds of security forces of the KRG surrounded a peaceful demonstration in Sulaimaniya’s Sara Square. Dozens of men in civilian clothing attacked protesters and made many arrests.

Freedom of Expression

The environment for journalists remained oppressive in 2012. The Iraqi parliament was at this writing considering a number of laws restricting the media and freedom of expression and assembly, including the draft Law on the Freedom of Expression of Opinion, Assembly, and Peaceful Demonstration, and a draft law regulating the organization of political parties that punishes expression “violating public morals” and conveying “immoral messages.” In September, the Federal Supreme Court denied a petition by a local press freedom organization to repeal the Journalists Protection Law on the basis that it fails to offer meaningful protection to journalists and restricts access to information.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) ranked Iraq at the top of its 2012 Impunity Index, which focuses on unsolved journalist murders, and reported that there have been no convictions for murders of journalists since 2003. Iraqi authorities made no arrests for the murder of Hadi al-Mahdi, a journalist critical of the government, killed in September 2011. Another journalist, Zardasht Osman, was abducted and murdered after publishing a satirical article about KRG president Massoud Barzani in 2010. The KRG never released details of the investigation into his death.

Women’s and Girls’ Rights

In June 2011, the KRG parliament passed the Family Violence Bill, which includes provisions criminalizing forced and child marriages; abuse of girls and women; and a total ban on FGM. Implementation of the law is poor, and dozens of girls and practitioners said that they had either undergone or performed FGM since the law was passed. The authorities took no measures to investigate these cases.

To see the entire 665-page report, go to the World Report 2013 page on the HRW website.

The State of My Country, Kurdistan, and My People 2 November 2012

Eastern Kurdistan (Iran): Thousands of prisoners of conscience are being tortured, abused and treated in the most inhumane way possible. Many of whom have been executed in the past such as Shirin Elemhuli and Farzad Kemangar, and many are under threat of execution as I am writing this. Kemangar being merely a teacher with a strong civic conscience and a fearless belief in the unity of the people once said to his students in a letter from prison: “I leave you to the wind and to the sun so that, in the near future, you will sing lessons of love and sincerity to our land”. New reports on executions reach me on a daily basis as well as reports on Kurdish workers on the borders between the Kurdish parts being killed by Iranian military. Furthermore, Kurdish women and children are yet again discriminated against by the anti-female policies of the Iranian state. Imagine living as a young Kurdish woman in the anti Kurdish, anti female, anti youth society of Iran.

Southern Kurdistan (Iraq): Despite having a Kurdish Regional Government (KRG), which deals with the international community as a de facto state, more than merely having autonomy within Iraq, the Kurdish region is always under the threat of the Iraqi regime. Forced displacement of Kurds from the time of Saddam Hussein’s rule are still not reimbursed or even dealt with properly with refugee camps for Kurds within the multicultural city of Kirkuk which if anything should be declared a Kurdish- Arabic- Turcoman city.  Never mind the constant bombardment of Kurdistan by Turkey, as if this land was only a sovereign region ruled by Kurds on paper, never mind the many civilian deaths due to this shelling or the environmental damages done to our precious landscapes of Kurdistan but yet Turkey has the audacity to intervene when murdered Kurdish guerrillas are being sent back to the KRG region for burial?!  Seems Saddam Hussein’s ways just won’t leave the rulers of Iraq and thus also affecting South Kurdistan.

Northern Kurdistan (Turkey): With more than 700 Kurdish prisoners hunger striking for more than 52 days, this if anything should tell you how the Kurds are doing in Turkey. Use of chemical weapons against Kurdish guerrillas, Mass arrests, torture, disappearances, rape, burning of Kurdish forests and crop fields, disturbance during Newroz celebrations, closure of news papers, TV stations, political parties, forced name changes of scientific objects as to erase the Kurdish reference to certain objects, prohibition of use of letters X, W and Q, imprisonment of children under 15 years old and of women above 70 years old for participating in demonstrations etc.  While the Turkish PM acts as saviour of the Palestinians, the Syrians, the Somalis and more or less anybody who is a Muslim, he keeps forgetting that he is treating his own Muslim population which is Kurdish more inhumanely than the world will ever know.

 

Western Kurdistan (Syria): Last but not east, Syria.With news reports of the so called ‘Free Syrian Army’ killing the female YPG commander named Nujin Derik yesterday, I can think of many more suitable names for the FSA. While Turkey is doing its best to intervene and disturb the unstable unity shown between the different Kurdish groups in Syria, the FSA is instead aiming at erasing Kurds, no matter whom, one by one.  Strategic planning by those who do not want to see another free Kurdish region, have disturbed many good projects which the Kurds in Syria had planned and set up such as Kurdish language schools and Kurdish security forces for protection. While the world looks on, the FSA is ruining the historic wealth of Syria, killing any counterpart to their aims, no matter anti-Assad or not and first and fore most EVERYTHING pro-Kurdish, leaving me worried for whatever evil which will replace the current evil in Syria.

Qubad Talabani: It’s Time to Go Back to Kurdistan

Qubad Talabani: It’s Time to Go Back to Kurdistan
By Sîrwan Kajjo
(originally published in the June 2012 issue of
The Kurdish Review, a monthly Kurdish newspaper from Washington, DC. Reprinted here by request of author)

US Representative of Kurdistan Regional Government Qubad Talabani is getting ready to leave his office this year. After 12 years of representing Kurds in several positions, Talabani is expected to be working in the Prime Minister office once he’s back in Erbil. To shed light on this issue and other relevant matters, The Kurdish Review met with Mr. Talabani for this exclusive interview.

Sîrwan Kajjo (L) interviews Qubad Talabani (R)

Kurdish Review: Let’s begin with the continuous dispute between KRG and central government, how do you see the US stance on this crisis?

Qubad Talabani: There is obviously a political dispute within the federal government, and this dispute is a natural dispute between legitimate entities in the country. The United States is no longer in charge of Iraq. Iraq is a sovereign country, so these disputes have to be managed domestically, managed by the governments themselves.  It’s not the United States’ role to have a stance. It’s not for the US to take one side over the other. I think the US is trying to normalize its relation with Iraq. I think what the US wants out of all of this is an outcome that will lead to stability.

KR: There were Kurdish delegations from Turkey, Syria and Iran in Washington DC over the last few weeks to meet with US officials. Did you get to meet and/or Help them?

Qubad: We were pleased to meet all of our delegations in town. The details of the Eastern Kurdistan delegation was less clear to me.  But I was certainly aware and closely following BDP/DTK delegation and Kurdish National Council in Syria’s delegation. We received them here in the office and gave them our advice of the kind of things that people here in Washington are interested in. I’m very happy to see these kinds of delegations coming from other parts on Kurdistan to meet with US government officials, meet with think thanks and educate them on other aspects of Kurdistan that they might not be familiar with. There’s a reasonable understanding in Washington regarding the issues of Iraqi Kurdistan and its complications. But I don’t think the policy community here is fully aware of Kurdish issues of Eastern, Northern and Western Kurdistan. So I believe these meetings are very important.

KR: Did you get any feedback from Washington policy-makers regarding those delegations and their meetings?

Qubad: Yes the feedback, official and nonofficial, that I’ve received was positive. The meetings were timely and people learned a lot from the delegations’ visit in Washington. For example, there is some much analysis on Syria. Very smart people in Washington and London are analyzing the situation as they read, but what makes all that even more unique is actually hearing from people from that region. Having the Kurdish delegation from Syria helped policy makers here to form a clearer vision on the issue. It was a good source of information for Washington.

KR: Rumors being spread in the Kurdish community that New-elect Kurdistan PM Nechirvan Barzani wants you in Kurdistan to hold the post of minister of oil and natural resources in KRG. Is that true?

Qubad: (Laughing)…. That is so far away from the truth. It’s true I’m leaving Washington after serving Kurdistan interests for 12 years in various posts as PUK representative, KRG – Sulaimaniyah Adminstration representative and finally the unified KRG representative. Now my time is running out here. I’m going back to Kurdistan to work for the Prime Minister in his office.

KR: When are you going back?

Qubad: This summer.

KR: Yes, but when precisely?

Qubad: This summer.

KR: Fine, who is going to take over your position?

Qubad: It’s not clear yet.

KR: Do you think KRG representative to UK, Bayan Sami Abdulrahman will succeed you?

Qubad: I have not heard anything formally about that. I think whoever takes over the job, will do it fantastically. Certainly Bayan Xan is more than capable of handling this job. In fact, she’s doing it already in England. I know she’s a great candidate and a great colleague of mine. I have a lot of respect for her. But for everybody’s sake, I think we should wait to see who the nominee is.

KR: During your period of service, how was your relationship with the Iraqi embassy in Washington?

Qubad: I’ve always had a good relationship with the Iraqi embassy. Obviously our work is different. There was some sensitivity in the past, mainly from embassy side. I can’t represent Basra here. I can’t represent Baghdad. My job here is to represent Kurdistan. In fact, we’d like to think that we’re filling a void on behalf of the embassy. So we live together, we work together but we don’t work for each other.

KR: But the embassy has complained about the expansion of your work here! Why is that?

Qubad: Up until recently, we only had six staffers, a couple of part-timers and contactors. We can’t compare our expansion and budget with the embassy. For instance, the embassy has a commercial attaché with a staff, a military attaché with its own staff and several other offices. So there really shouldn’t be any complaints.

KR: By the way, how many people work for your office now?

Qubad: Well so far, we have eight full time positions. We have a Director of Public Affairs, Director of Congressional and Academic Affairs, Director of Cultural and Community Affairs, Director of Political and Diplomatic Affairs, Director for Outreach . There also a couple of administrative positions. Moreover, we always have internships for Kurds and non-Kurds. So it’s quite a full team.

KR: What has Qubad Talabani done in the past 12 years representing the Kurds in the US?

Qubad: Well, it’s a good question. But it’s not for Qubad Talabani to say what I’ve done. With the help of my staff, we’ve been able to turn this office from a one-person office into an institution. I think that’s probably the accomplishment I’m most proud of. Twenty years ago, this office was run from somebody’s basement in Fairfax. Now it’s a true representation. We have this beautiful building that is owned by our government in a prominent location of the city. I would say it’s no less that an embassy in Washington. Of course, forming the American-Kurdish Congressional Caucus for the first time in the history of US Congress, for example, was a testimony of the good work this office’s been doing. Many other groups have been established here in order to promote Kurdish interests in the US.

KR: Many think that you played an imperative role in unifying the “divided” Kurdish community in America, in Washington area specifically. How could you get all these people together?

Qubad: I thank whoever says that. Indeed when I first came here, the community was really divided. Newroz parties were held separately. There was one for PUK, one for KDP, one for KDP-I. Even simple things like demonstrations were done separately. There was still a left over effect of the regrettable conflict in Kurdistan within the community here. But thankfully, that dynamic has changed and things are much better now. There’s one Newroz and everyone goes to it. Whether you’re Northern, Eastern, Southern or Westerner, it doesn’t matter. It was one of my goals when I first came here. I thought was crazy. Newroz is Newroz, it’s not PUK’s or KDP’s. It even went beyond that. Once we had meeting for several groups. Our eastern brothers got angry and left the meeting. And do you know what the challenge was? It was a problem with portraits of political leaders (laughing)… It was about whose picture to hang up at the event!! One party, I won’t mention names, wanted two pictures, one said just one picture is enough. Then things got so complicated… just over pictures. Of course, the experiment of having each person bring one picture became so embarrassing. So everyone eventually came to the understanding that its time to move on. Thankfully , the year after, which was 2005, we had the first new year without pictures. We just had the Kurdish flag.  The community has also been more active in getting involved in policy making in the US. For example, the community was very helpful when we passed a resolution to open the US Consulate in Erbil

KR: What advice would you give to the next KRG representative in Washington?

Qubad: Washington is a unique animal. It’s not like other capitals in the world. Anyone who comes here has to be aware of this. My advice would be for them to not become part of the political divisions here. They should work with all parties, think thanks and other institutions. Our job here is not to take sides.

The other thing that I would like the next representative to work on is our getting closer to the community here. The Kurdish community can strengthen our mission here. One aspect of my years here that I can be somewhat self critical at is my work with the community. While we did engage the youth with some success, I think I could’ve done better in terms of broader community outreach and better engaging the community in our efforts. We have some exceptionally talented and patriotic Kurds here in the US, and they can be a real asset to Kurdistan.

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

Inside Story: Battle for Kurdistan

AlJazeera’s Inside Story, with presenter Laura Kyle, discusses with guests: Makki Nazzal, a political analyst; Noreldin Waisy, a journalist in Irbil and Nasik Kadir, a Sulaimaniyah protest leader.

This episode of Inside Story aired on Wednesday, April 19, 2011.

Death threats and targeted physical attacks on journalists in Iraqi Kurdistan

Reporters Without Borders (RWB) wrote [yesterday] to KRG President Massoud Barzani, voicing deep concern about the deterioration in the situation of journalists there since 17 February. The situation for journalists in Kurdistan has never been great. In November 2010 RWB released a mission report entitled Between Freedom and Abuses: The Media Paradox in Iraqi Kurdistan that explored tense relationships that exist between the government and journalists, saying that there remains a profound lack of understanding between authorities and media professionals, as neither camp seems to accept the role of, or necessity for, the other.

The RWB letter:

HE Massoud Barzani
President of the Kurdistan Regional Government
Office of the President
Erbil

Paris, 28 February 2011

Dear President Barzani,

In a report released on 3 November, Reporters Without Borders said there was more press freedom in Iraqi Kurdistan than in surrounding regions and that the situation had improved considerably in the past 10 years. However we would now like to share with you our deep concern about the deterioration in the situation of journalists in your autonomous region since 17 February.

During the past 10 days, our organization has registered many physical attacks by the security forces on journalists covering the current demonstrations. Many journalists have also told us that they have received explicit death threats. Please find enclosed a list of these incidents, which is not exhaustive.

As president of the autonomous regional government of Iraqi Kurdistan, Reporters Without Borders urges you to do everything in your power to end these media freedom violations and to ensure that the safety of all journalists is guaranteed. We would also like these incidents to be investigated, especially the arson attack on the privately-owned TV station NRT on 20 February.

We thank you in advance for the attention you give to our request.

Sincerely,

Jean-François Julliard
Reporters Without Borders secretary-general

A non-exhaustive list of incidents targeting media personnel during the past 10 days

* 27 February – incidents at Erbil

- Allan Sahebqrran
, a reporter for the newspaper Hawlati, was attacked by men in civilian dress, who slashed his face.

I was outside the headquarters of the Erbil governorate with other journalists,” he said. “People in civilian dress ordered us to leave. At first they said they were police. Then they said they worked for the Asayesh [intelligence services]. We also saw their cards. We were then followed by 12 plainclothes members of the security forces. When we got to the centre of Erbil, they hit me. Some of them filmed what was happening while the others kept on hitting me. I filed a complaint and was able to recover my camera from the Asayesh a bit later but I did not get my mobile phone back. My neck still hurts.”

- Shwan Sidiq, a reporter for Civil Magazine, told Reporters Without Borders that a man in civilian dress prevented him from taking photos of a demonstrator who had been injured in Erbil.

- Garmiyani Hamay Pur, a journalist with the satellite TV station KNN, said KNN cameraman Rahman Nariman was attacked in Kalar by members of the security forces of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), one of the two main parties that form the coalition government. His camera was taken and shots were fired at him.

- Hemn Karim, the editor of Fshar, and Salman Kochari, a reporter for Standard Magazine, told Reporters Without Borders they had received death threats.

* 26 February, a series of incidents, above all at Kalar (100 km south of Sulaymaniyah)

- Garmiyani Hamay Pur, a KNN journalist based in Kalar, told Reporters Without Borders that the security forces banned him from filming. “I was told that the security forces had been ordered to hit journalists who covered the demonstrations. As a result, now only the partisan media can film during marches.

- Kawa Garmiyani, a reporter for the newspaper Awene, was physically attacked by masked gunmen who seized his camera and recorder while covering clashes between police and demonstrators earlier in the day in Kalar.

- Speda TV journalist Sarkawt Salam and a photographer, Sangar Hamid, were attacked by gunmen. “We were attacked without any reason while covering the demonstration,” Salam told Reporters Without Borders.

- Hawlati reporter Soran Ahmed was accosted in Sulaymaniyah by members of the counter-terrorist forces led by Pavel Talabani, the son of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, who heads the other main ruling party in Kurdistan, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). “They confiscated my camera and mobile phone,” he told Reporters Without Borders. “They also took my press card and the card issued by the Union of Journalists.”

- Irfan Ahmed, Anwar Arab, Salam Haji and Nasih Abdulrahim were arrested by security forces while covering a demonstration in Halabja (80 km east of Sulaymaniyah). They were taken to the mayor’s office and were released an hour and a half later.

- Freelance journalist and writer Soran Omar said he had received many threatening SMS messages from different phone numbers after giving an interview on the TV station Payam. “I think even Sulaymaniyah is not a place for independent journalists,” he told Reporters Without Borders. He requested protection from the authorities and contacted the mobile phone company Asia Cell to request the identity of the owners of the SIM cards from which the threats were sent.

- Bestun Jallayi, the Speda TV bureau chief in Kalar, said he received a threatening SMS message in the evening. “Wait for death’s flood,” the SMS said.

- Someone hacked into the Facebook pages of two influential writers and intellectuals, Mariwan Wrya Qani and Aras Fatah, after they voiced support for the demonstrations. The Kurdistanpost.info news website was also blocked.

*25 February, many journalists report receiving death threats

- Niyaz Abdulla, an Erbil-based reporter for Radio Nawa, told Reporters Without Borders she was threatened by security forces while outside the Erbil governorate’s headquarters to cover a demonstration by young people in support of the Sulaymaniyah demonstrators. KDP supporters insulted her and threatened her with violence. When she left, she was followed by plainclothes officers until she found a taxi.

Nowadays there is no point filing a complaint against the security forces,” she said. She also said that security forces confiscated a camera from a journalist working for the newspaper Rudaw.

- Latif Fatih Faraj, a journalist with PUK links who heads the Journalists Union in Kirkuk said: “I had just returned home after taking part in a live KNN programme on the demonstrations in Sulaymaniyah and other cities when I got a phone call. Describing himself as an important politician, the caller said he was going to kill me for criticising the KDP, which is led by Massoud Barzani, the autonomous Kurdistan region’s president. His number? 0770 39 705 98.

The head of the KDP in Kirkuk denied that his party could be responsible for such threats. “So I called the PUK, the Asayesh and the police,” Faraj added. “The police offered to put me under the protection of bodyguards but I refused. My brothers and cousins are with me, to protect me if anything happens to me.”

- Members of a group of journalists based in Erbil were threatened after expressing support for the demonstrations in Sulaymaniyah. One of them, writer and political analyst Salah Mazen, wrote on Facebook: “Someone called me last night and clearly advised me not to participate in the demonstrations organized in Erbil. He said if I wanted to demonstrate, I should just go to Sulaymaniyah. He said, word for word: ‘If you value your life and love your children, stay quietly at home or leave Erbil for Sulaymaniyah.’”

- Shawqi Kanabi, the head of the KNN bureau in Erbil, told Reporters Without Borders he had been warned that the station’s bureau could be attacked if it filmed the demonstrations in Erbil.

- Freelance journalist Barzan Ali Hama was forced to leave Erbil after organizing a petition signed by a number of journalists that urged the region’s parliament to find a solution to the current crisis and to ensure that those responsible for shooting on demonstrators were brought to justice. Several of the signatories, who asked not to be identified, withdrew their support after receiving threats from KDP supporters.

- Kaywan Hawrani, a freelance journalist based in Halabja, has also had to flee. One of his friends said: “Kaywan was one of the organizers of the 23 February demonstration in Halabja during which a policeman was injured. Soon after the demonstration, the police began to arrest the organizers. Kaywan fled the town. The police are looking for him.”

- Meanwhile, a representative of the opposition party Goran said during a special parliamentary session on 23 February that six Peshmergas [Kurdish fighters] who were responsible for the arson attack on the privately-owned TV station NRT on 20 February were currently hospitalised because of the burns they sustained during the attack.

We now know the people who were responsible for this attack but we have obtained no clear response from the interior ministry and intelligence services.” He said. According some rumours, two of the Peshmergas involved were sent to Turkey for treatment because of the gravity of their burns.

* Incidents already mentioned in a previous release

* 21 February

- Ageed Saleem, an NRT reporter in Duhok, said he was threatened by a leading KDP member.

* 20 February

- Criminal raid of Naliya Radio and Television (NRT), a new satellite TV station based in Sulaymaniyah.

- KNN reporter Bryar Namiq was badly injured by police and members of the Asayesh.

- KURDIU reporter Balen Othman was attacked and his camera was destroyed.

- Goran Othman, a journalist with the Islamic Group news website, was attacked.

- Shaswar Mama, an NRT reporter in Raniya, was accosted by members of the security forces.

- KURDIU reporter Mukhlis Ahmed was attacked in Raniya.
- Following its coverage of the previous day’s events in Sulaymaniyah, staff at the newspaper Hawlati received a threatening phone call saying they should evacuate their Erbil office.

* 19 February
Police prevented many journalists from covering protests at the University of Sulaymaniyah.

- Asayesh beat Hawlati reporter Ara Ibrahim using batons.

- Police attacked a KNN TV crew.

- Aras Muhammad, the head of Arasta magazine and Sound Radio, was injured by members of the Asayesh.

- Hardi Salami, a reporter for the satellite TV station Gali Kurdistani, sustained a leg injury.

- Payam reporter Wrya Ahmed sustained injuries to the hands and legs when he was attacked by police.

- The Sulaymaniyah security committee also demanded university academic and intellectual Faruq Rafeeq’s arrest after he said, while taking part in a demonstration in Sulaymaniyah on 17 February: “Massoud Barzani, the president of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, should apologize for the incidents and deaths caused by members of his party. Those who fired the fatal shots and those who gave them their orders should be arrested and brought to justice. And finally, the Peshmergas should leave the city.

* 18 February

- Lutfi Doski, a Duhok-based KNN reporter, was prevented from filming the premises of the Gorran party in Duhok.

- An NRT team was prevented from filming demonstrations.

- Reporters for the newspaper Chatr were forced to delete the photos they had taken of the demonstrations.

- Reporters for the newspaper Hawlati were prevented from filming incidents taking place in Sulaymaniyah.

* 17 February

- Radio Gorran was prevented from broadcasting.

- Police prevented KNN reporters from filming the incidents.

- Shwan Muhammad, the editor of the newspaper Awene, was insulted by Peshmergas.

- Rahman Gharib, the head of the press freedom organization METRO and a reporter for Sumariya News, was attacked.

- KNN programme director Namo Namiq was detained for several hours.

- Radio Nawa reporter Bilal Muhammad was attacked and prevented from covering the incidents.

- Saman Majed and Bwar Jalal, reporters for the PUK’s satellite TV station Gali Kurdistan, were attacked.

- Sherko Salayi, a reporter for CNN in Arabic, was attacked.

- Hemin Abdul Latif, reporter for the Destur news website, was badly injured while photographing demonstrators attacking the local headquarters of the KDP.

- The Erbil headquarters of the KNN TV and radio station were set on fire.

- Ari Muhammad, a photographer with the Metrography agency, was injured.

Who’s the bleeding ulcer?

Michael Rubin

Once again, Michael Rubin is spewing anti-Kurdish vitriol. His latest piece entitled Saddam in Kurdistan is much of the same stuff he’s been writing for many years, though the tone does seem a wee bit harsher.

The website that published the article describes him as ‘a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute [AEI]; senior lecturer at the Naval Postgraduate School’s Center for Civil-Military Relations; and a senior editor of the Middle East Quarterly.’ But a better description comes from investigative journalist Robert Dreyfuss, who often writes for the publication Nation. In February 2010 he wrote this about Rubin: ‘The 2000s produced a panoply of villains, cretins and bunglers on Iraq and the broader Middle East. Truly, however, none of them can hold a candle to the pudgy-faced boy wonder of the American Enterprise Institute, Michael Rubin.’

AEI is a conservative, pro-corporation think-tank based in Washington DC whose neo-con ‘scholars’ and affiliated individuals include the likes of John Bolton, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, Douglas Feith, and Richard Kagan.

In this latest essay he writes that ‘Iraqi Kurdistan was once a shining example of democracy’s potential in Iraq, but today it is freedom’s bleeding ulcer. While ordinary Iraqis have seen their freedoms increase since Saddam Hussein’s fall, the trajectory is the reverse in Iraqi Kurdistan…’

In May of 2010 he wrote a piece published in Rozhnama that said the KRG was ‘a region of Iraq which [is] no longer a beacon of liberty.’

In July of 2009 in the Daily Star he said that while the KRG ‘could once describe itself as a democratic beacon in the region, today such depictions lack credibility. Seventeen years after its first election, Iraqi Kurdistan is at best as democratic as Egypt or Iran, and worst akin to Syria or Tunisia.’

The Washington Post published one of his pieces in April 2009 in which he said, that ‘before Saddam Hussein was ousted, Iraqi Kurdistan was certainly more democratic than the rest of Iraq. But this is no longer the case.’

In January of 2008 in MEI Outlook he stated that ‘Iraq has changed, but Iraqi Kurdistan has not. After Saddam’s fall, many Iraqi Kurds expected that their region would liberalize and democratize. Rather than reform, however, regional politics have ossified. Barzani retains dictatorial control over the Duhok and Erbil governorates, and Talabani likewise dominates Sulaymaniyah. Freed from the shadow of Saddam, however, Iraqi Kurdistan has slid backward.’

And so on, and so on. But Rubin has a track record of misleading claims, says Right Web, a group that tracks militarists’ efforts to influence US foreign policy.

It is clear in the case of the KRG that he has a grudge; a personal vendetta against the leadership of the region. While the KRG deserves criticism in certain areas, Rubin’s diatribes are nothing more than the venomous outpourings of a scorned neocon, desperately seeking revenge. Some have opined that he wasn’t offered a cushy job by the KRG after his year in Slêmanî teaching some ten years ago and this has led to his seething hatred.

Rubin’s track record in the region includes working for a number of groups associated with the US ‘Israel lobby’ (including AEI, as well as the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, and the Middle East Forum), championing the US invasion of Iraq, suggesting the assassination of foreign leaders like Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, reportedly misrepresenting translations of statements by Iranian officials, working at the controversial Pentagon Office of Special Plans, and consulting for the PR firm the Lincoln Group, which was accused of planting propaganda in the Iraqi press.

He whines in his article that ‘[i]n the Middle East, power always trumps principle’ and writes frequently about it. Is this a ‘Middle East’ phenomenon? Hardly. Mr Rubin should look at his own record and at Washington’s record. In Washington’s foreign policy money always trumps human rights. And he is one of the main cheerleaders of that policy.

Rubin’s wrath is not just aimed at the Kurds who run the KRG. He hates the Kurds in Turkey too. He is an outspoken and controversial proponent of hardline US foreign policies and this is manifested in his views on the PKK. Rubin and his AIE colleagues support Turkish generals and the lies that mask the truth and label the oppressed as ‘terrorists.’ As one Kurdish commentator put it: ‘It would seem that the Turkish glasses through which Mr Rubin sees the world have blinded his vision.’

Rubin calls Iraqi Kurdistan ‘freedom’s bleeding ulcer.’ One symptom of a bleeding ulcer is the ‘passing of foul smelling black, tarry stools.’ That describes Rubin’s ‘scholarly’ articles and his regional analyses. Perhaps then it is Rubin who is the bleeding ulcer.

Kurdistan Parliament’s 17-point agreement

The Kurdistan Parliament announced on its official website that all political blocs had signed the 17-point agreement that condemns both the use of force against the protestors in Slêmanî and against the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) headquarters, drawn up during the exceptional Wednesday meeting that continued through to 1.00am this Thursday morning.

While the announcement says ‘all political blocs had signed’, the Gorran Movement, the largest Kurdish opposition group said it had not signed the agreement.

‘Though the 17-point agreement contained important decisions, we did not sign it because the demands of the faction had not been taken into account,’ Kardo Mohammed, the parliamentary head of Gorran told the Sbeiy.com news website.

Mohammed went on to say that the party will disclose its position on the subject in a separate statement. ‘We will discuss it among ourselves and decide on it later,’ he said.

Here are the 17 points:

1. Condemning, prohibiting and criminalising violence and the use of live ammunition against citizens and attacking the governmental and political offices and harming the public and private properties by any party.

2. The immediate withdrawal of all of the moved forces, that were ordered to move 17/02/2011 to Slêmanî or any other city in Kurdistan Region and their return to their previous locations.

3.Freeing all of those who were detained as a result of participating in the demonstrations, and those who committed crimes should be dealt with by the courts and police forces.

4.The government should, according to the laws, compensate all persons, parties and institutions who were harmed as a result of the attacks and violence.

5. Protecting and organising the demonstrations by only the interior forces of police and the civil activities police. The identities of those forces (name, ID cards, and location of work) should be made public and nobody should be allowed to move with their face covered or windows of their cars blackened.

6. The Peshmerga forces should be prohibited from participating in any internal political conflict and should undertake its national functions of protecting the achievements of the people of Kurdistan.

7. It is necessary that the investigation committee established by the government be headed by a member of the Court of Cassation, and recruit professional and independent personality to be its member and should announce the results of its investigations as soon as possible to the public.

8. There were shortcomings in the dealing with the situation by the police and Asayish (Security) forces and those responsible for those shortcomings should be legally followed after the results of the investigations are announced.

9. No demonstrator should be detained for his or her participation without legal proceedings.

10. The decision for moving military forces should not be issued only in the cases of the existence of a foreign danger.

11. Those who burnt down Nalia channel and the Gorran/Change radio and television should be legally followed and sued immediately.

12. For the purpose of general and radical reform, projects should be prepared by the blocs and committees of the parliament with the help of the Council of Ministries and with partnership with the political parties, civil society organisations, university professors, professionals and independent personalities. Those projects should be presented to the Parliament for discussions and their implementation should be followed as soon as possible.

13. The government should immediately issue a host of important and urgent decisions that are needed for improving the living situation of the people and introducing social justice and increasing the political freedoms and rights.

14. Every party should play its role to calm the situation and end the media attacks by the political parties.

15. Calling on the Prime Minister, the Minister of Interior and the Minister of Peshmerga for a hearing in the parliament for clarifications and questioning according to the legal provisions and procedures.

16. Arranging and supporting a national political dialogue among those political parties and bodies that have representatives in the Kurdistan Parliament in order to introduce a political and legal understanding to amend those laws that have political and national dimensions.

17. The establishment of a special committee from all of the blocs in the parliament in order to investigate and start hearings about the demands of the demonstrators.

Meanwhile, in anticipation of tomorrow’s ‘Day of Rage’ protests scheduled throughout Iraq, one of the routes between Slêmanî and Erbil (Hewlêr) has been closed.

Speaking on the security measures, Erbil Governor Nawzad Hadi said: ‘Part of the plan is the prevention of entry from other Iraqi provinces into Erbil’ to stop any ‘undesired incidents’ from taking place.

Ismat Argushi, the director of the regional security agency told AKnews that they have precise intelligence information that ‘terrorists’ are trying to enter the region from across the national borders and from other Iraqi provinces.

Day 7: Peace wall and flowers in Slêmanî

Upwards of 5,000 demonstrators gathered yesterday Slêmanî in a peaceful protest against corruption by the two ruling parties and demanded an investigation into the deaths of three young protesters. In addition to the three deaths, 124 have been wounded and many have been arrested since protests began a week ago.

‘Killing of the civilians was a red line,’ said Nasik Kadir, one of the protesters. Another, 35-year-old Kardo Karim said they will continue ‘demonstrations until officials implement real change.’

Many well-known Kurdish artists, singers and actors came out to Tuesday’s protests wearing white sheets with peace slogans imprinted on them. They positioned themselves in a ‘peace wall’ between the protesters and security forces to deter further violence. Protesters handed out flowers, even to those in the security forces.

Below are some photos from yesterday (from AFP and Destour).

Woman hands out flowers

Security forces with flowers

Wall of Peace

'Peace shirts'

An emotional observer in the crowd

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.

Kurdistan and the Blame Game

An Op-Ed piece submitted by W. Karda

Recently, tension has skyrocketed in Kurdistan region, especially in the city of Silêmanî. The primary reason behind it is because of a call made by the main opposition party, Gorran (Change), for the dissolution of the current government and parliament. This reason, coupled with the latest developments in the region, prompted the locals to protest and shower the KDP HQ with stones. In return they were shot at by the security forces defending the base. This mess has led to all different factions and groups blaming each other for such unfortunate developments in a relatively peaceful region.

If we are to understand the situation, we have to analyze it and look back at what happened; at how and what started it all.

First we have to identify the flaws in the government. It is no secret that inside all the ranks of the government, corruption is rampant. In fact such corruption is apparent in all all aspects of normal daily social life and business, from a simple taxi driver charging double to a grocery store selling rotten vegetables to doctors ripping patients off with high fees. Hence politicians are no exception in such corruption and corrupted mentalities. This has become more of a trend in the local Kurdish community in which pointing a finger to any one segment of society is misleading and utterly false.

Indeed one fact is correct and it is the fact that politicians must be the ones to annihilate such corruption and lead the people towards the right path as they have the responsibility of guiding the people towards a better future. Unfortunately, neither in Kurdistan nor in many other parts of the world is the case like that. Consequently, reform is desperately needed, but the ultimate question is, or rather should be: How should we approach such reforms? Does the need of reforms justify ‘protests,’ which in my eyes, is closer to vandalism? Does it justify stoning every government building and looting shops on the streets and destroying public property simply because the people are ‘angry’!? Should any ‘anger’ in any part of the world be translated into such havoc and mayhem!?

Again, we have to look back and wonder how it all went so wrong. Since the establishment back in 2009 of Gorran, the leading opposition party, the political situation has become tense, and that is mostly due to Gorran’s policies in the region. Gorran itself was founded as a splinter group from the PUK, which had a stronghold in the city of Silêmanî. Its head is Nawshirwan Mustafa, who is an old friend of Jalal Talabani’s, the head of the PUK, the party they both founded back in 1975. Their relationship deteriorated in the late 2000s, which led to Mustafa’s resignation from the PUK and the foundation of the opposition party Gorran. Such opposition prompted the PUK and the KDP to strengthen their alliance in order to safeguard their position in the political hierarchy.

From the time of its establishment, Gorran adopted only one policy to increase its popularity, and that was criticising the government and bashing it non-stop for whatever the government was doing, regardless of considering how such ‘criticism’ would impact society as a whole, its interest and its future.

At the beginning, this method, of course, was understandable for it was a way to increase its popularity amongst the people, especially the youth, who were tired of the high unemployment rate and other problems. But then, in the latest election in Kurdistan, Gorran was able to garner 25 seats out of 111, and effectively became a part of a government they had been bashing for so long.

Expectation rose from parts of the public for words to turn into action, words for reform and such in which Gorran had been preaching for so long. But again, and as usual, Gorran restarted its anti-government rhetoric, this time talking against a government in which they were a part of!

With the latest developments in the region, such call for reform changed to the dissolution of the current government and parliament, a call that started to worry the two ruling parties and its many followers; a move that delighted a people who were made to expect that reform can be achieved only after the total uprooting of the government.

Then we come to what happened on 17 February after a relatively peaceful demonstration in Silêmanî, when a group of mostly young people marched towards Branch 4 of KDP HQ, bombarding it with stones, with virtually no security guards from the city to defend it. This prompted KDP soldiers based inside the building to respond with live ammunition, killing one demonstrator and wounding over 50. Then, everything exploded. Facebook pages were created one after another calling for protests; local media completely focused on the protests and clashes between protesters and the anti-riot police force. The two ruling parties started to come up with some weak statements condemning the stoning and the tension it brought; Gorran sided with the protesters and came up with a list of demands for the government. Locals and NGOs started dividing themselves between the two factions. Ultimately, the situation got out of hand, to such a degree that protests are now spreading throughout the other Kurdish cities like Darbandikhan and Kalar.

So what went wrong and who is to blame for all the chaos? To answer that, we have to analyze the main factions.

Gorran bears the biggest responsibility in the latest developments. It has been campaigning for the removal of the ruling parties, despite the fact that they are extremely popular and were elected in a free election by the people. And the continuous and excessive criticism allowed Gorran to gain some popularity, especially amongst the youth who were the easiest targets to affect. This despite the fact that Gorran has not come up with a single alternative regarding any of the ensuing problems in the region. In fact, Gorran’s financial and political structure should be the subjects of scrutiny, for whilst a lot is known about the ruling party’s policies and objectives for the future, their financial bases, which are deeply rooted in the region and the neighbouring countries, with the background for its prominent members well known in detail, Gorran’s structure is completely shrouded in mystery. While it talks negatively about the economy, they haven’t come up with a single alternative on how to approach reforms aside from destroying the government. In fact, they haven’t come up with any plans, strategies or alternatives regarding any of the issues they’ve objected to. As a political entity with a presence in the parliament, they should have had such plans. Even their financial bases and political affiliations remain a mystery. Wikileaks documents also clarify that the US embassy is yet to know the position of the Kurdish opposition party Gorran. The cable states that ‘Gorran is committed to unseating the PUK (and Talabani) in Sulaimani province but needs financial backing to ensure its long-term viability in the KRG and national politics. Iran could conceivably alleviate Gorran’s financial woes, particularly through its close ties with the Kurdish Jaff tribe, some of whom are Gorran members…’

Then there are the protesters who have been empowered by Gorran with such mentality in which they envision a utopian Kurdistan by overthrowing the government. Such a mentality has made them relentless in their quest and they will use any means possible to achieve their aims. This reason led to the incidents of last Thursday, when they showered the KDP HQ with stones in an extremely uncivilised manner, which ultimately led to all the chaos.

Then there remains the main political parties and how they brought this mess upon themselves. Since 2005 and the adoption of the Iraqi constitution, these two parties have stepped up corruption to such an extent that now almost every business is controlled by them, security forces are controlled by them, and no one knows where all the flow of money goes.

Especially in this recent incident, despite all the stoning by the protesters, it is nothing short of barbaric to shower the crowd with bullets. Not to mention their weak statements and their sluggishness in solving the case in an urgent and smart manner in order to decrease the sudden tension amongst the locals.

So, to point a finger at any one of theses factions alone is completely unrealistic and false; in fact the blame lies with all of them; Gorran for not coming up with clear goals and objectives with a detailed and civilised roadmap on how to achieve them through the concepts of democracy instead of coup-like overthrow of the regime.

The leading parties, for not having formed a well-structured and democratic government in which the rights of each and every individual is respected and guarded with the fruits of the economy for all the people not just certain groups.

The people also must take their share of the blame for following some parties blindly without considering and thinking about the interests of their country as a whole and carrying out protests in an unimaginably uncivilised manner by destroying and looting public properties.

One more important player that should not be forgotten is the media, which has had a very negative impact on all the growing tension. They are divided into two main groups, one is affiliated with the government and denies any wrongdoings from their side and puts all the blame on the opposition and protesters. The other so-called ‘free’ media or press which is not so free and have clearly taken the side of the protesters and show only one side of the picture in a way that whatever the government is doing is wrong, and whatever the opposition-protesters are doing is right. And to add to the tensions, yesterday a newly opened independent TV station was torched in apparent retaliation for showing footage of the protests.

Hence it is very important for all different factions and sides to put their differences aside and work on a reconciliation programme to work hand in hand at this very sensitive moment to come up with quick, but effective solutions in order to restore peace and stability to a region heralded as the only corner of peace and democracy in the Middle East. It is clear that blaming each other at this moment will not result in ‘win’ for some and ‘lose’ for the other. But it will ultimately be a total defeat for all the factions and the most important, for the whole nation, a nation which has built what they have today by immeasurable sacrifices. For if such methods of ‘reforms’ continue, the consequences may be fatal for the entire Kurdish nation. As Stephen R. Covey said: ‘While we are free to choose our actions, we are not free to choose the consequences of our actions.’