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.

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.’

Armed attack on Nalia (NRT) TV; station destroyed by fire

Nalia (NRT) office building after the attack.

At 2.30am today (20 February), approximately 50 armed men raided the privately-owned Nalia Radio & TV (NRT) station in Slêmanî, located in a gated community called ‘German Village.’ The attackers opened fire on the station’s guards, injuring one before entering the three-story building. The gunmen then fired on Nalia’s broadcasting equipment and torched the building, destroying everything inside.

NRT is the Kurdistan region’s first private, independent television station. It opened just three days before the attack. It was the only station to air footage of shots fired at demonstrators on the first day of the protests, according to an NRT statement.

The owner of the station, Shaswar Abdulwahid, says that he had received a number of threats from senior politicians in the city and was asked to stop broadcasting. NRT reported the threats and later he was reassured by many, including the KRG PM, Barham Salih, and PUK deputy secretary-general, Kosrat Rasul, not to worry and to continue broadcasting.

According to Twana Osman, the General Manager of NRT, the ‘attack is not only against NRT. It is a crime against the general public of Kurdistan and their right to know exactly what is happening.’ He added that this is ‘a dangerous attempt to hide the truth, keep the public ignorant and obstruct and intimidate independent media.’

The regionally-based Metro Centre to Defend Journalists said of the attack, “[t]his is a dark day for journalists in Iraqi Kurdistan. We condemn the vicious attack on Nalia TV. It seems the attack had been planned, given that the gunmen fired on all of the station’s broadcasting equipment and then set the building on fire. We call for an independent committee to be formed to investigate the incident and bring those responsible to justice.’

Gutted interior of Nalia (NRT) TV station

Hiwa Osman from the Institute for War & Peace Reporting says that the ‘destruction of the station comes at a time when all the other satellite TV channels are unable to provide a balanced coverage’ of the ongoing demonstrations in Slêmanî and other cities.

At least one of the gunmen was wounded, as bloodstains and a trail of blood were left behind at the scene.

Nalia has vowed to resume broadcasting as quickly as possible.