Is Obama less supportive of Kurdish rights?

One of the common failings among honourable people is a failure to appreciate how thoroughly dishonourable some other people can be, and how dangerous it is to trust them.
~Thomas Sowell

In Baqi Barzani’s most recent column on KurdNet (25 July 2010), Obama’s administration less supportive of Kurdish rights, I believe he mistakenly portrays what is happening today with Washington’s foreign policy vis-à-vis the Kurds in northern Iraq. I’ll get to that in a minute, but first I want to put this discussion into some context.

In 1973 Mullah Mustafa Barzani said to Jim Hoagland of the Washington Post: ‘I trust America. America is too great a power to betray a small people like the Kurds.’ But betray the Kurds it did. And did it again. And again.

The relationship between Washington and the Kurds has been an abusive and duplicitous one in which the Kurds are kept at bay and become ‘friends’ only when Washington wants to destabilise the government in Baghdad.

Remember the plan cooked up by Henry Kissinger and the Shah of Iran in 1972? Their view was that the Kurds were ‘a card to play’ against Iraq and ‘a uniquely useful tool.’ The Kurds were no longer a useful tool after 1975.

What happened in 1991 after the Persian Gulf War? The US urged the Kurds to rise up against Saddam. And then left them to defend against themselves. The creation of the ‘safe haven’ thereafter was the result of worldwide media pressure on the US and Europe. Not as a result of Washington’s interest in protecting the Kurds.

This is a reflection of long-standing US policy in the region and part of global US policy, which looks out for US interests and US interests only. Washington is in the habit of making promises that it does not keep. Why anyone continues to believe them is beyond comprehension.

So Baqi Barzani begins his column by saying that ‘foreign policies and relations can shift with the rise of new administrations to power.’ This is true to some extent, but I believe that with regards to the Middle East, Israel, oil, and the Kurds there is really no change from one administration to the next. There are shifts in nuances to the policies, but forces in place in Washington do an astounding job at keeping the status quo. If they want you to think the policy has changed, they just lie about it.

AP photo by Kevin Frayer, April 2003

Barzani says that George W. Bush ‘will be extolled for generations to come’ and that Bush’s ‘unrelenting support for Kurdish rights in Iraq’ has put him forever into ‘the hearts and minds of myriad Kurds all over the world.’ Please find me something that truly supports the notion of George W. Bush’s ‘unrelenting support’ of the Kurds in Iraq.

Bush and his administration did not invade Iraq because of any love for the Kurds. The plan to remove Saddam was in place before Bush took office. The attacks of 11 September then provided the perfect cover to go ahead with the invasion. Bush has become an accidental hero.

As Quill Lawrence writes, Bush ‘was hoping to send his troops through Turkey and was willing to make a deal with the Turkish government by which they would be able to send up to 60,000 troops of their own into northern Iraq with the invading force. The Kurds were pretty sure that these troops were not going to be friendly to them.’

Does that sound like the plan of someone with Kurdish rights in mind? Thankfully, on 01 March 2003 the Turkish parliament voted to reject the US plan and did not allow US troops through Turkey.

The Kurds then, whose aspirations of greater autonomy were encouraged by Washington, helped US troops gain control of the northern Kurdish regions, fighting side-by-side with coalition forces.

Less than a year later, Paul Bremer, head of the coalition government in Iraq, ‘told Kurdish leaders brusquely…to forget the past US autonomy policy and get with the unity program.’ The need for Kurdish assistance had ended and the US began pushing Kurdish forces back from Mosul and Kirkuk, focusing on the bigger Iraq picture.

Baqi Barzani refers to as the Obama administration being ‘less supportive of Kurdish rights’ than the Bush administration. While I do not appreciate Obama’s relative silence on the issue of the Kurds, I do not see what is happening now as an intentional decrease in support. It is merely an outcome, albeit a disappointing one, of Washington’s policy of Iraqi unity. Just as what happened with the 2003 invasion was an outcome of policy under Bush.

Obama met with Mesoud Barzani (KRG President) in January of this year in Washington, after which the White House released a rather bland statement: ‘the President extended the US’ good offices to help Iraqis move forward in forging a broad political consensus to resolve outstanding disagreements between the Kurdistan Regional Government and the Government of Iraq, in accordance with the Iraqi constitution and working closely with the UN in these efforts.’

As Marina Ottaway, the Director of the Middle East Programme at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told Deutsche Welle earlier this month: ‘From the point of view of Washington, the Kurds were useful to the US in the days of Saddam Hussein, but now they make things more complicated with the issue of the contentious region of Kirkuk and indeed tensions along the entire order between Kurdistan and Iraq.’  Hence the meaningless statement from the White House.

The KRG has an impressive lobbying machine in Washington. In fact, it has been placed in the ‘top ten’ in terms of money spent on lobbying firms. Is all that spending getting them anywhere? No amount of money is strong enough to sway US decision-making policy in Iraq on any policy of strategic US national importance. Rather, money spent is to build a ‘special relationship’ between Washington and Hewlêr (Erbil).

To increase their lobbying potential, Baqi Barzani suggests the KRG in DC become friendlier with the ‘neoconservative party, republicans and leaders of Jewish and Zionist Christian communities.’ What?!?! Who are the ones now benefitting from the lucrative oil deals? All the neocons from the former Bush administration. Be careful what you wish for, Baqi. Their track record in the Middle East is dark and dubious.

Barzani continues in his column saying that ‘[m]ost Americans commiserate with the Kurdish national struggle.’ I say that most Americans do not even know who the Kurds are, so how can they ‘commiserate’ with the national struggle? Perhaps of the handful of enlightened Americans who know about the situation, most of them empathise with the Kurds. However, if we are to talk about the US government, I do not feel much empathy emanating from Washington.

Obama is pedalling more of the same old, tired policy. It’s not ‘less supportive’, but rather, just packaged a bit differently.

No harmonica lessons for the PKK

Back in February Kurdistan Commentary reported on a US Supreme Court case that involved the PKK. The case went to court later that month and today the Supreme Court upheld a US federal law that bars ‘material support’ to foreign terrorist organisations.

The thrust of the argument was freedom of speech vs. anti-terrorism laws. Free speech lost as the court ruled 6-3 that the government may prohibit all forms of aid to designated terrorist groups, even if the support consists of training and advice about entirely peaceful and legal activities. During arguments in February, Justice Sotomayor wondered whether the material support statute was so vague that ‘teaching these members to play the harmonica would be unlawful.’ Justice Scalia quickly responded that a group of terrorists in a ‘harmonica quartet might tour the [U.S.] and make a lot of money.’ And that was the core of the debate.  And now, it seems, there will be no harmonica lessons for members of the PKK.

Under current U.S. law there is no legal way to aid terrorist organisations, even if the aid is intended to convince the terrorist organisations not to be terrorist organisations anymore, because what if that aid somehow winds up helping them continue to be terrorist organisations? To wit, as Scalia argued, if you teach them to play the harmonica, they will quickly form a quartet, raise money, and fund their terrorist activities.

Kimberly Curtis of the FPA Human Rights blog wrote:

If it is the methods of terrorism that we are so against, then efforts to get terrorist organisations to disarm and pursue their agendas politically should be encouraged. If the pen is to be mightier than the sword, then we must preserve a place for people to talk.

Well, the court has now gone so far in its criminalisation of speech activity that those places for people to talk are quickly evaporating. ‘Aid and assistance’ to terrorist organisations can also be in the form of an op-ed essay written on behalf of a designated terrorist group. What might this mean for bloggers? What happens if you suggest that the PKK has the right to armed struggle against Turkish oppressors? What if you re-publish an interview with Murat Karayilan? Is this ‘material support’?

Three of the Court’s liberal-leaning Justices (Breyer, Ginsburg, Sotomayor) filed a strongly worded dissent, and Justice Stephen Breyer took the somewhat unusual step of reading aloud the dissent from the bench.

Speaking of the aid groups that filed the motion, Breyer said their mission is ‘entirely peaceful and consists only of political speech, including how to petition the U.N.’

‘Not even the serious and deadly problem of international terrorism can require automatic forfeiture of First Amendment rights,’ he added.

Of note is that Elena Kagan, who argued on behalf of the government back in February, is now Obama’s nominee for Supreme Court Justice.

sources:

Grace, Rob. Teaching Terrorists to Play the Harmonica. Foreign Policy Blogs, 26 February 2010.

Center for Constitutional Rights, Arguments on Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project.

Denniston, Lyle. Analysis: Partial U.S. victory on terrorism, 21 June 2010.

The PKK, US Supreme Court, and freedom of speech. Kurdistan Commentary, 19 February 2010.

The PKK, US Supreme Court, and freedom of speech

US Supreme Court

In a case to be heard next week by the US Supreme Court, freedom of speech will be pitted against US anti-terrorism laws. What is unusual about this particular case is that it involves a 79-year-old US human rights activist who is advocating on behalf of the Kurds in Turkey and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK (Partiya Karkerên Kurdistan). The PKK has been branded a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the EU, and the US.

PKK flag

This will be the court’s first encounter with the free speech and association rights of US citizens in the context of terrorism since the September 11 attacks — and its first chance to test the constitutionality of a provision of the USA Patriot Act. Specifically, it will test whether speaking out on behalf of an oppressed foreign minority (the Kurds)—argued to be represented by a group that’s been deemed a terrorist organisation (the PKK)—can result in a long prison term.

Ralph Fertig, soon to turn 80, is the plaintiff in the case called Holder vs. Humanitarian Law Project, which will be heard by the high court on 23 February 2010.

Fertig is retired judge and professor of social work at the University of Southern California who believes the 1st Amendment protects his right to counsel Kurdish leaders to steer away from violence and to take their cause to the United Nations. He is troubled that Kurds can be punished for speaking their own language or displaying their national colours.

Says US Solicitor General, Elena Kagan, ‘Congress has banned a broad range of material support [to terrorists], regardless of whether the support is ostensibly given to assist supposedly lawful activities.’ However, she said that Fertig may ‘act independently to advocate’ for the Kurds, so long as he does not work with Kurdish leaders. It is unclear to which leaders she was referring—political leaders or leaders of the PKK. It is quite possible that Washington views them as one.

Ralph Fertig: 'Fear is manipulated and the tools of the penal system are applied to inhibit people from speaking out.'

What Fertig is challenging in particular is a 1996 ‘material support’ provision in the USA Patriot Act that allows long prison terms for anyone for helps or advocates for terrorist groups in any way. According to US government lawyers, the law not only prevents ‘training’ or ‘assistance’ to terrorists, but also the filing of a legal brief or writing an op-ed essay on behalf of a designated terrorist group.

Since the addition of that provision, Fertig and the Humanitarian Law Project have won a series of rulings that have shielded its members from prosecution. Last year, the US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals declared that the bans on training, service and some kinds of expert advice were unconstitutionally vague. But it upheld the bans on personnel and expert advice derived from scientific or technical knowledge.

Fertig said he could understand an argument against donating money, given the difficulty of controlling its use. But the sweep of the material-support law goes too far, he said.

Georgetown University law professor David Cole, who represents Fertig, says that ‘the court has never upheld a law that criminalises pure speech advocating only lawful, peaceable activity.’ He told the court that the case concerned speech protected by the First Amendment ‘promoting lawful, nonviolent activities,’ including ‘human rights advocacy and peacemaking.’

The Obama administration appealed to the Supreme Court, arguing that recent lower court rulings undercut 'a vital part of the nation's effort to fight international terrorism.' Photo of Elena Kagan.

A friend-of-the-court brief — prepared by Edwin Meese III, the former United States attorney general; John C. Yoo, a former Bush administration lawyer; and others — called the civil liberties critique of the material-support law naïve.

Allowing any sort of contributions to terrorist organisations ‘simply because the donor intends that they be used for ‘peaceful’ purposes directly conflicts with Congress’s determination that no quarantine can effectively isolate ‘good’ activities from the evil of terrorism.’

Given the recent events at Ft. Hood and in the skies over Detroit, and with the current configuration of the Supreme Court, free speech will most likely take a back seat to ‘combating terrorism.’

Asked by The Los Angeles Times what he would do if he lost the Supreme Court case Tuesday, Fertig said this: ‘I would continue to speak for the rights of the Kurds. And if I’m arrested, it would not be the first time.’

Fertig says all he wants to do is teach Kurds the philosophies of non-violent protest he practised as a civil rights activist in the ’60s.

UPDATE: 21 June 2010Supreme Court votes 6-3 to uphold ban on material support.

sources:

Savage, David G. Activist’s case will test U.S. anti-terrorism law. Los Angeles Times, 18 February 2010.

Civil rights activist seeks to prove anti-terrorism law a violation of free speech. Raw Story, 17 February 2010.

Liptak, Adam. Right to Free Speech Collides With Fight Against Terror. New York Times, 10 February 2010.

Holder vs. Humanitarian Law Project. Center for Constitutional Rights.


Obama and Erdoğan in Washington

PM Erdoğan and President Obama at the White House

US President Obama and Turkish Prime Minister Erdoğan spoke briefly yesterday after their private meeting at the White House in Washington, DC.  They made comments and took questions from the press.  The only mention of the Kurds came in the final question to Mr Obama.  Here’s the question and his response:

QUESTION: Mr. President, is there any new and concrete U.S. action plan for disarmament and the elimination of the PKK terror organization in northern Iraq? Thank you, sir.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, what the Prime Minister and I have discussed is coordinating closely in dealing with the problem of the PKK. We have stated before and I have reaffirmed since I came into office that the United States considers PKK a terrorist organization, and that the threat that it poses not only in Turkey but also in Iraq is one that is of deep concern. And as NATO allies, we are bound to help each other defend our territories. More broadly, I think that it is important for us to have a consistent position with respect to terrorism wherever it takes place.

So we discussed how we can coordinate militarily. I will tell you that with respect to the issue of the PKK, I think that the steps that the Prime Minister has taken in being inclusive towards the Kurdish community in Turkey is very helpful, because one of the things we understand is, is that terrorism cannot just be dealt with militarily; there is also social and political components to it that have to be recognized.

With respect to Iraq, I think the degree to which the Kurdish population within Iraq feels effectively represented within the central government in Baghdad, to the extent that we can resolve some long-term pressing issues like Kirkuk, the more I think that Kurds will recognize that their interests are not in supporting any kind of military activity but rather in working through conflicts politically, in a way that allows everybody to be prosperous. And that’s the kind of process that we would encourage.

Okay? Thank you very much, everybody. Happy holidays.

END

On Sunday on his way to Washington Erdoğan told reporters that he was going to ‘follow up on’ US promises to fight their ‘common enemy’, the PKK.  It seems Mr Obama is keen to cooperate; Washington will continue its same stale policies in the region.

Views on new HRW report

Human Rights Watch released a 63-page report today outlining in detail the persecution of Kurds in Syria.  It is a comprehensive account of harassment, arrests, and oppression of the Kurdish population in Syria.  It provides an excellent historical overview as well.

However, for those of us who follow events there, this report ‘Group Denial’ does not provide anything new.  In fact, I’ve written about much of this on my blog…most recently (just ten days ago) with a post about Kurdish politics in Syria.  So we know of the abuses.  We know what the international standards are that Syria ignores.  We hear the silence in the media.

Yes, the report is well-written, revealing, and insightful.  Yes, it is important to keep focusing attention on issues of human rights abuses.  But I am sceptical.  I am cynical.  Do these reports really accomplish anything?

What I find terribly frustrating about reports such as this one is that they make recommendations to the offending government about redressing the wrongs they have committed.  Is Damascus going to actually sit down and ponder HRW’s recommendations?  Absolutely not.

Bashar al-Assad

And I also seriously doubt that Washington will take any recommendations to heart.  The report says that there has been international silence on the Kurdish issue in Syria because other governments are more focused on regional politics.  And I believe that’s the way it will continue.  Washington will look the other way on the Kurdish issues in favour of deals with Damascus over the war on terror, negotiations with Israel, and Syria’s relationship with Iran, just to name a few.  Washington will not press Damascus on the Kurds if it means forfeiting gains on the various geopolitical fronts.

Obama publicly broached the subject of human rights on his recent visit to China.  Will he ever fly Air Force One to Damascus and do the same thing there?  Last August Bashar al-Assad invited Obama to Syria.  Obama had promised a meeting with the Syrian leader in his first year in office.  Is there a US-Syrian summit in the offing that would have the Kurdish issue on the agenda?  Highly doubtful.  Will US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton make a surprise trip to Damascus to rebuke the Syrians for their treatment of the Kurds?  Probably not.

What about Europe?  Well, let’s look at one example.  Back in 2004 Damascus and the EU drew up a partnership agreement.  Many countries in the EU were against signing the agreement at that time citing human rights concerns in Syria.  Between 2004 and 2009 human rights abuses have intensified and Kurds in Syria are worse off than they were before.  So why then did the EU announce last month that it was ready to sign the Syrian-European Partnership Agreement?  What changed?

Al-Assad had said about the agreement, ‘No interference in Syria’s internal affairs will be accepted under any name.’  So it seems the EU has backed off.  But now it is Syria’s turn to snub the Europeans saying it needs more time to consider the agreement’s impact on the Syrian economy.

I want to thank HRW for putting this report together.  It’s not that I don’t appreciate efforts to bring these issues to the table.  No, just the opposite is true.  We need to keep working and do whatever we can to bring attention to the situation there.  So read the report.  Educate yourself.  Tell others about it. Re-tweet it if you see it.  Post it on your blog.  Write an op-ed piece in your local newspaper. Don’t be silent.

Download the full report here from the HRW website.

Obama, Turkey, and the PKK

In less than one month, US President Barack Obama will make an official visit to Turkey.  The visit, arranged during Hillary Clinton’s trip there, is designed to “strengthen and deepen” the ties between the two countries while working together “on behalf of peace, prosperity, and progress.”  As part of his visit, Obama will also address the Turkish parliament in Ankara.

During the previous US administration, US-Turkey relations dipped to low, low levels.  Even in the general public US approval ratings were at 12%. Ankara saw the US as preventing them from “chasing down the PKK.”  Relations, however, improved tremendously in 2007 when the Bush administration began to share intelligence with Ankara on PKK movements in the Kurdistan region of northern Iraq.  Turkey has been bombing the area since December of 2007.

In the last 72 hours alone, four Kurds with the PKK have been killed by Turkish shelling in the area.  The Turkish government says under international law, Turkey enjoys a right to pursue the PKK into northern Iraq to protect its citizens and sovereignty, a right indistinguishable from the United States claim of authority to invade any country that harbours terrorists.  The “if you can do it, then we can do it” argument.

In November 2008 the US, Turkey, and Iraq set up a joint committee to monitor the PKK. The central command centre, established in the Kurdish city of Hewler (Arbil), is designated to eradicate the PKK in northern Iraq.

There are a number of PKK-related initiatives on Obama’s Turkish agenda.  One is designed to get the group “to lay down arms”, reported by Sabah.  Prior to Clinton’s visit to Turkey, US diplomats had meetings with Kurdish politician from different political parties to discuss possible solutions to the Kurdish question.

While Turkey now seems overly enthusiastic with Obama’s prospective visit, the country was downright apathetic over Obama’s election last November.  In fact, the only message sent from Erdoğan noted that “the election result shows there is no longer a black-white problem in the United States.”  This stems partially from Obama’s strong support for recognition of the Armenian massacres of 1915-1917 as a genocide.  Obama has said repeatedly that the Armenian genocide is a “widely documented fact supported by an overwhelming body of historical evidence.”

Erdoğan referred to Obama at that point (early 2008) as “an amateur of politics” and said that Obama may one day have to “choose between 70 million Turks and two million Armenians.”

So fast-forward twelve months or so and Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ali Babacan is saying that he thinks “the new American administration understands Turkey’s sensibilities better today” and strongly suggested the US not interfere.  He also described the US as a “friend and ally.”

What does all the diplomatic double-speak actually mean?  And what is the bottom line for the region’s Kurds?

Photo taken from the now defunct blog Zanetî

Photo taken from the now defunct blog Zanetî

The US needs its airbase at Incirlik (located near Adana).  The military will apply its pressure on the US administration to maintain good relations with the Turks.  More pressure will come from the Turkish lobbying group, the Turkish Coalition of America.  In the end Turkey will continue to have the green light to pursue the PKK in Iraqi Kurdistan.  Obama will embrace Turkey to help him succeed in Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan.  Clinton will seek Turkey’s support in negotiating peace deals between Israel and its Arab neighbours.

In short, the US administration will turn a blind eye to the plight of the Kurds in favour of its regional agenda of reconciliation.  So no help for the Kurds, and if Obama wants Turkish assistance in the region, no mention of the “genocide” either.

Sources:

Butler, D.  Turkish trip intensifies dilemma for Obama.  14 March 2009.  AP

Obama to visit Turkey, says Clinton on damage control visit.  08 March 2009, Brisbane Times.

Obama’s PKK plan. 13 March 2009.  Sabah.

Obama’s Tepid Turkish Welcome.  09 November 2008. Untold Stories: Dispatches from the Pulitzer Cener on Crisis Reporting.

Sassounian, H. Erdogan’s Insulting Words about Obama May Haunt Turkey after the Elections. 31 January 2008.  The California Courier (found at Armeniapedia.org).

Turkish Minister warns Obama against ‘genocide’ recognition.  09 March 2009. The Daily Star.

Obama praises TRT6?

From PUKMedia:

Close sources to the American President Barack Obama mentioned that he considered opening the Kurdish language TRT6 TV channel in Turkey as a positive move towards democracy.   The sources added that the American-Turkish joint cooperation regarding PKK will continue.

At the same time, Obama will discuss making democratic and cultural moves towards the Kurds in Turkey with the Turkish officials. Obama will also protect the democratic increasing and developing and the continuity of the reforms in Turkey, and will watch the democracy, human rights and minorities rights as well.

Here’s a clip (from گــه‌لی کوردســـتان) that mentions it.

Many thanks to Zinar Ala for bringing this to my attention.  He put it up on Avesta.

But I’m wondering who the “sources” are and if this is a plant in the Turkish press to ramp up the accolades on the AKP before the elections.  The PUKMedia site picked up the story from Hürriyet.  I can find no other references to this story anywhere.

Obama must look at Kurdistan

By Baran Mohammed
The Kurdish Globe
22 January 2009

The new US president Barack Obama without doubt faces huge challenges both at home and abroad. From serious and threatening economic and financial crisis in America and in the world to devastating foreign issues Obama will be under pressure to make right and difficult decisions. The enormous hope that has put upon him makes his job even more difficult. According to the surveys more than 80% of the American people one way or other supports him or has optimistic expectations that the new US president will deliver.

The Obama’s administration foreign policy priority without doubt will be on Middle East, and particularly Iraq, Iran and Palestine. Due to the fact that the US presence in Iraq and security agreement between the two states which determines the period for the US military in Iraq makes it Iraq as an urgent issue to be dealt with. The US withdrawal from Iraq is a serious matter and requires somber analysis.

US objective in Iraq

There are two opposing ideas about the reason behind the US occupation of Iraq. Pro US critic mostly argued, and now this argument has long been outdated, that the fundamental rational behind the US decision to go to Iraq was Saddam’s assumed Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) which caused grave danger both for the region and the US global interests, particularly on the issue of safe flow of oil to the industrial centers. Anti-US critics on the other hand argued that Iraq’s rich oil reserves was the main reason for the US occupation of Iraq.

These two arguments to a certain degree have their merits. Surely nobody before the US occupation could have argued that Saddam did not have any WMD due to the fact that Iraq’s authorities’ ailing treatment of UN weapons inspectors. And still nobody today can claim that Iraq’s rich oil reserves have anything to do with the US occupation of Iraq. Oil is indeed a serious commodity and industrialized mainly western countries well being depended on secure and regular flow of oil to feed their growing energy demands.

However, the reasons behind the US move to Iraq has to be contemplated within larger framework in order to understands the rationale and future US policy both in Iraq and in the Middle East.

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union the US remained the single super power to design the world as a result of new conditions left over by the crumple of so called Socialist Bloc. Post-Soviet world was no longer a bipolar world where balance of powers adjusted their position and at least there was a kind of stability in established balances. Following the Soviet crumple the World became a less secure and balance in terms of politics, economics and culture.

As being the only remaining super power of the world and gendarmerie of capitalist bloc it was left to the US to design a new grand policy to shape the world affairs in the 21st century. It was at this period where the concept of ‘New World Order’ and the concept of ‘globalism’ appeared in political lexicon.

Looking in retrospective it can be argued that the following US administrations either under Republicans or Democrats failed to develop and implement grand policies to sort out world affairs according the US global interests. Contrary ensuing period of post-Soviet witnessed multi-polar world where various growing power centers racing with each other to further their political and economic interests. What resulted from this were the growing fault-lines throughout the world and tension between various global and regional forces. From Chine to Japan, from Middle East to Asia, from Balkans to Europe political chaos coupled with economic and financial crisis rippled any prospect of a prosperous and stable world both in politics and economics.

Due to its energy sources and energy corridors both Middle East and Central Asia proved to be strategic regions for the US. It was this strategic consideration that led to the US to enter Middle East and Iraq was an obvious place to initiate a grand Middle East project that was designed by the US. Saddam’s miscalculated decision to occupy Kuwait in the hope to regain its loses during the long and arduous war with Iran provided perfect alibi for the Bush senior administration to capitalize on it, so began the first Gulf war in 1991. The US misguided policy to keep Saddam in power in Iraq for long diminished the credibility of US in the region and allowed time for other regional powers, particularly that of Russia, to maximize its regional policy and time to regain its power that it lost at the early 90s.

When the US finally decided to occupy Iraq as 9/11 gave the way for both domestic and international sympathy for Bush junior administration to go ahead in 2003. Iraq for the US is not solely due to its oil reserves but its strategic position in Middle East. Through Iraq the US aimed to implement and widened its policy in the region. US policy can be summarized as to create US-friendly regimes opened to and integrated with free market economy and transfer the region to consumer societies. Controlling energy sources and corridors would have also provided the US upper hand in world political and economic affairs and a rationale to continue its world supremacy at the expense of other growing economic powers.

Six years following the toppling of Saddam’s regime it seems that the US has long way from its initial policy. It has not yet sorted out Iraqi affairs and for so many analysts it boggled down in Iraq let alone to expanse it policy to other regional countries. It is still to early to argue that the US failed in Iraq, and equally too early to state that the US gave up its intention to transform Middle Eastern and Central Asian societies and regimes for its global interests.

What is clear though for the US to be successful it needs more than a new face to the White House but to seriously work on better alternatives and policies. Iraq again would be a testing ground for the US administration to implement its policy in the region. Success in Iraq would realize long term US global economic interests and at the same time reconstruct the tarnished image of the US.

In that sense Iraq constitute a strategic issue for Obama and Iraq’s destiny will one way or other determines the destiny of both Obama and US future. Looking things from this perspective then arguments whether the US withdraw its troops from Iraq or not became a shallow argument mainly because of the fact that it is not going to be Obama’s decision to withdrawn or not but the general long-term US policy that determines when and how the US will withdrawn from Iraq.

Obama and Kurdistan Region

Since the war on Iraq the Kurds became a major partner and ally of the US in Iraq. The Kurdish political actors’ decision to be part of Coalition force against Saddam and their political steps to remain part of Iraq saved the integrity of Iraq and prevented its division. Despite the Kurds did not opt for independence from Iraq they nonetheless strongly and firmly made their case that an Iraq can be only remained united could only be through federalism and pluralism where unitary strong state cannot be applied any more. In that sense what kept Iraq united and integrated was the Kurdish decision to be part of it.

Iraq’s future still depends on the possible paths that the Kurds may take or not. Growing rift between Maliki’s government and Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) on strategic issues such as oil law, disputed territories, and the issue of power sharing between centre and local governments must be treated as a serious threat for the well being and future of Iraq. In that the blame must be on the shoulder of Maliki government and the governments before who repeatedly failed to resolve the existing problems between the Kurds and the central government.

Obama must understand that the Kurds will not bow to Maliki’s or any other central government to return back to old days where a strong central state running the country from Baghdad. Nor the Kurds will ever give up their gained rights for the sake of Iraq’s unity.

For Iraq to remain united and stable the Kurdish legitimate demands must be respected and as Iraq’s sudden and unexpected disintegration would not serve for the US interests the Obama administration must be more attractive to the genuine Kurdish demands and apply pressure on Central government to come to terms with the KRG.

After all the US did waste all its resources and sacrificed its souls for the sake of another dictatorship in the form of Shiite to rise in Iraq.

For Obama administration reconciliation between Baghdad and Erbil must be more urgent than the issue of troop withdrawal. An early troop withdrawal from Iraq without resettling Iraqi politics in sound foundation may have devastating impact both for Iraq and for the US. The only beneficiaries in such scenario will be Iran and other competing global powers, particularly that of Russia.

Kurdistan region in that sense remains and will be a focal point and strategic issue for the US and deserves much more attention from the new US administration.

The Kurdish political actors must also realize that any hope replaced on individuals will not be realistic and that their policy and actions will definitely determines the likely policy that the Obama administration may take in Iraq and in Kurdistan.

This requires that the Kurds must develop a sound and workable national policy both to safeguard their national interests in Kurdistan and Iraq and this policy should be in adjustment with the US global interests.

Despite the efforts of KRG to stabilize and develop Kurdistan economy there is still a huge task before the KRG to do more. Developing a vivid civil society, less control of party and government apparatus on economy, further connection with free market economies must be priority of the KRG so to be in strong position in international political affairs.

Safety of Kurdistan will be at the end determined by the participation and determines of Kurdish nation and to lead this nation is up to the KRG.

Barack Obama: Yekemîn Serokê Reş ê DYA’yê

Barack Obama: First Black President of the USA

Kurdish views on Obama and McCain

It seems that most Kurds in Northern Iraq would have preferred a McCain victory in the recent US Presidential election. Republicans, according to Aref Abdullah, president of the Kurdish parliament’s foreign affairs committee, “have taken a very clear line on Iraq.”

Conservative Kurds supported US Senator McCain (and have supported Bush) for being tough against Middle Eastern dictators and Arab countries in general.

The 2005 US-backed constitution greatly expanded their autonomy in Iraq. Kurds are fearful of potentially losing these gains under Obama who is seen as ambiguous towards the Kurdish population there. With Obama’s clearly stated preference for focusing on Afghanistan rather than Iraq, some in the region are fearful of outbreaks of violence which could lead to instability in Iraqi Kurdistan.

However, Adnan al-Mufti, speaker of the parliament, does not see a big difference in either candidate. He said of the two, “You don’t change foreign policy by changing the American president. The big change will be in (US) domestic policy.”

For Kurdish-Americans, the situation is the reverse. During a rally before the presidential debate in Nashville, home of the largest Kurdish population in the United States, Kurdish-Americans waved signs reading, “Kurds for Obama-Biden.”

Kurdish-Americans wanted to express their interests in this election and had reason to do so. Many of the countries in the Middle East that are dealt with directly by American leaders have significant Kurdish populations. Kurdish-Americans say that it is important that the next president listens to their concerns. But, of course, these Kurds live in the United States and are affected by the economic downturn as much as anyone else.

“As Kurdish-Americans, this election affects our community both here in the States and in Kurdistan. It is important for us to get our voice heard regardless of which candidate we support,” said a young Kurdish community-member, Rebaz Qaradaghi.

Vice-President Elect Joe Biden helped pass a bill through the Senate last year that would introduce a US foreign policy advocating a decentralized Iraq with more power allocated to the federal states. While this mirrors to some extent what the Iraqis themselves are proposing, McCain strongly criticized Biden’s position. McCain referred to Biden’s proposal as “this cockamamie idea about dividing Iraq into three countries.” In actuality the plan was to maintain Iraq’s unity but create more of a federalist entity. While Biden’s plan and the Iraqi constitution differ perhaps in their understanding of federalism, Kurds in the north of Iraq are warming to the idea of a new Obama-Biden administration. Kurds in Nashville already have. (Belê em dikarin!)

sources:

Kurdish-Americans show their support for Obama ahead of presidential debate in Nashville, Kurdishaspect.com, 02 October 2008.
Kurds prefer McCain but don’t fear Obama
, Kuwait Times, 02 November 2008

KRG congratulates President-elect Obama

From the Middle East Times, 08 November 2008

“The next administration, like the present one, can continue to count on the partnership of the Kurdistan Regional Government to bring progress to Iraq,” the statement said. “The Kurdistan Region remains America’s best friend and ally in support of a democratic, federal Iraq.”

By working side by side with the Iraqi central government, the KRG said it hopes to join the Obama-Biden administration in advancing a strategic dialogue with all parties to reach an understanding on the needs of Iraqi Kurdistan.