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Kurdish Life

Behind the northern front

Behind the northern front

On the day of the vernal equinox, the Kurdish New Year, Kurds were up in arms, fearing invasion by Turkish troops. They blamed the United States. KurdishMedia.com charged, “It is thus evident that America and Britain have betrayed the Kurds again. Turkish objective is very clear–genocide of the Kurdish people. Just yesterday President Bush said, ‘We will defend our freedom; we will bring freedom to others … Iraq is for Iraqis.’ Thus there is no doubt that Bush’s promises are only lies. The Turkish move would not be made without a green signal from the US. Such a conspiracy against the Kurdistan de facto state will not only reveal a repeated betrayal of the Kurds, but also be a lethal blow to Kurdish aspirations and struggle for independence with consequences remaining for decades. The US has sold the Kurdish issue for accessing Turkish air space.” (3.21.03)

Dr. Rebwar Fatah, a founder of the web site, wrote to Ali Tulbah, associate director of the Outreach office of the White House office of Cabinet Affairs, (excerpts) whose job it has been to persuade Kurds and other Middle Easterners that the U.S. has only the purest motives for its military actions: “Your government does not really care about Kurds. They are using the Kurdish issue to achieve their objectives … The US has allowed the Turkish troops to invade our homeland, Kurdistan … the Kurds have made the road to your ‘war against terror’ much easier … The Kurdish genocide has been very effective to gather the little support that your government has today in your war against Iraq. You have used Halabja and Anfal in your “moral case” to prove that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction. The Kurdish issue has been the backbone of justifying your war against terror and Iraq. However, genocide of the Kurds has not just been effective in promoting the Kurds. Your government has used and abused the Kurdish genocide and Halabja in your case against Iraq–of course without making any reference to the Kurds. You have insulted us by calling us “Saddam’s own people” For example, in reference to Halabja, you have always said, ‘Saddam gassed his own people’ … Mr. Bush misled us, American and Britain have betrayed us again, but there is nothing new in this. Only naive Kurdish politicians believe that America has good intentions towards Kurds … We have only one demand. We demand from your government, if you want us to stay as your partner, force the Turkish troops, the troops of genocide of Kurds in North Kurdistan, back where they came from.” Shortly thereafter the Kurdistan National Congress followed with a press statement headed, “The Turkish army advances its preparations for the occupation of south Kurdistan.”

On March 23rd Reuters reported that U.S. warplanes were bombing near Khanakin where the Iranian opposition group, the Mujahadeen al Khalq, was based. Once again they did so based on PUK claims that the Mujahadeen would support Saddam Hussein against the U.S. military. As senior PUK official Bakhtiar Hekmat Mohammad Karim told Reuters, “The Iraqi regime depends very heavily on these people … U.S. forces should fear them, and potentially they pose a real danger.” Mujahadeen spokesman Ali Safavi denied the charge and said the group was “nobody’s henchmen.” The Mujahadeen were included in the State Department’s list of “foreign terrorist organizations” even though, as Reuters put it, “the Iranian government they are trying to overthrow is itself accused by Washington of sponsoring terrorism.” (3.23.03)

On the following day what Patrick Cockburn described as “the first openly visible sign of the several hundred American troops” landing in Iraqi Kurdistan. Cockburn went on to report: “So far the Kurds–Iraqis themselves and with decades of experience of warfare against Baghdad behind them–are singularly unimpressed by the US and British coalition assault.” He quoted KDP official Hoshyar Zebari as saying “People in Iraq are beginning to think that they are not invincible. There have been no major victories; Umm Qasr and Basra have not fallen as was announced … The impression Iraqis are getting is that there are no Iraqis involved in this campaign, but this is an occupation.” Cockburn termed Zebari’s criticism “somewhat self-serving” insomuch as the Kurds believed that the longer the war the more likely the US would have to “call on them, along with small numbers of US troops, to open a northern front … This would help the Kurds to return to the provinces of Kirkuk and Mosul, from which 300,000 of them were ethnically cleansed by President Saddam, and give them a strong hand to play in a post-war settlement. In a press conference at KDP headquarters Maj. Gen. Henry Osman of the U.S. Marines announced he was there to “synchronize humanitarian support operations, assist in … humanitarian and military activities, and coordinate relief in northern Iraq.” Cockburn suggested another reason: “In reality General Osman is here to prevent the Turks fighting the Kurds and vice versa.” (Kerkuk Kurdistan 3.24.03)

Four days later in the Washington Post C. J. Chivers disclosed that Bani Maqam a post of Iraqi border guards “was unexpectedly abandoned this afternoon by Iraqi soldiers … The Iraqis’ departure opened the road from the Kurdish-controlled zone into Kirkuk, and Kurdish civilians and fighters streamed in behind them … The withdrawal appeared to stop a few miles short of Kirkuk’s outskirts, and for the Kurds the day became both festive and ominous …” Hania Mufti of Human Rights Watch feared the ominous. “Kirkuk is a disaster waiting to happen,” she said. Already there were signs of looting. And the local Kurdish commander warned his fighters “to restrict journalists from reaching this point in the lines, saying the looting that was beginning might embarrass the Kurdish government.” To no avail. Journalists witnessed Kurdish looting. “It seemed as if anything and everything had been deemed worth stealing, even from the meager assortment of junk the Iraqis left behind,” Chivers observed. As for the fleeing Iraqi troops, Jalal Talabani remarked, “They suffered too much, the Iraqi Army. Now they are very afraid. They are afraid to live in their trenches, and now it is raining, and they don’t know where to go.” Said one Kurd, “We have asked the American jets to bomb everything.” (NY Times 3.28.03)

Reuters’ Mike Collett-White traveled with Kurdish fighters to within 15 km of Kirkuk. Commander Mam Rostam said he sent some 300 peshmerga into territory abandoned by Iraqi conscripts noting that “no force had been used to trigger the collapse. But then Iraqi artillery opened fire on Chamchamal. And the US brought in the bombers.” Collett-White reported that there were “no clashes” involved in the collapse of the front facing Chamchamal. But clashes there were aplenty during the offensive against Ansar al Islam Kurds. Reuters reporters in Suleimani said they saw six Humvees “full of (U.S.) soldiers carrying heavy machine guns apparently heading towards Halabja, where a group of radical Islamic fighters [Ansar] are based.” (3.28.03)

Two days later AP reported that Kurdish fighters had taken control of more territory in a ten mile advance toward Kirkuk. According to Brian Murphy, “the U.S. backed Kurdish militia was unchallenged.” Kirkuk and Mosul, he observed, “have come under relentless attack from U.S. warplanes.” Said Farhad Yunus Ahmad, leader of a Kurdish unit near Altun Kupri, the site of an Iraqi controlled bridge, “We cannot move against them unless American planes bomb the positions.” Meanwhile some Kurdish troops attempted to defuse landmines, without protective gear. Frustrated team leader Abdullah Hamza Salim pleaded, “We would welcome the Americans, but they do not come. We face this danger alone.” They had received some mine-clearance training he said, but he “wondered why U.S. experts have not offered help.” Others were engaged in less hazardous work; they were “poking through abandoned Iraqi posts. An apparently disappointed Kamal Aziz Mohammad told Murphy, “They didn’t leave much, but we’ll take what we can.” (AP 3.30.03)

In Ankara, the Turkish government was being informed of what it could not take: “Turkey should not go into northern Iraq unless there is sufficient justification and no better way of dealing with it,” in the words of a U.S. official, who chose to remain anonymous. Kurdish leaders, he said, “have agreed not to try to seize Kirkuk.” Whereupon Prime Minister Erdogan warned that his country “would decide by itself whether and when to send troops into northern Iraq.” (Agence France Presse 3.30.03) Further assurances regarding the aims of Kurdish leaders came from U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, who told the Turkish Foreign Ministry: “Kurdish militias are under the command and control of U.S. forces; they will not move anywhere without U.S. coalition leadership … All parties are obliged … to discourage people from moving in or doing an uprising in Kirkuk, and then sending forces in there.” And Gen. Hilmi Ozkok pledged that Turkey would “coordinate with the US before sending any troops into northern Iraq.” As he spoke, Kurdish fighters were within 15 miles of the city. (AP 3.31.03)

Three days later Kurdish officials were assuring newsmen of a Kurdish underground ready to rise inside Kirkuk when a U.S.-led force attacked from outside. “Where are the Americans?” they asked. The Washington Post had the answer: “U.S. special operations units, with the help of Kurdish fighters, have carried out reconnaissance and target selection behind Iraqi lines. But the most aggressive ground action taken by a joint special operations-Kurdish force was not an assault on Iraqi government units, but on Islamic militants holed up in the far eastern side of the Kurdish area. And so the northern front remains largely an aerial affair.” Islamic militants translates to the Kurds of Ansar al Islam

The Post report described air strikes pounding areas around Mosul and Kirkuk, while Kurds …” sit idly by and wonder if they will ever play a role.” “We have to be there in Baghdad,” Hoshyar Zebari told newsmen. “The Americans need help and we can provide it. But Plan B hasn’t materialized … We are no longer a guerrilla force that does anything it wants. We are behaving as a responsible authority and partner to the Americans.” (WP 4.3.03) Sadly what he perceived as a partner was a keeper. As AP reporter Brian Murphy explained: “With fewer than 2,000 ground troops in the Western-protected Kurdish zone, the United States has relied on air strikes against the lead Iraqi units. The strategy has allowed Kurdish militiamen to advance unchallenged and keeps the U.S. pledge to Turkey to block any independent Kurdish offensive.” (4.4.03)

While U.S. warplanes relentlessly pounded frontline forces near Khazer, Murphy observed: “nearly everything of value” was carried away, even an Iraqi airlines umbrella and a torn stretcher. Further along on the road to Kalak, “thousands of Kurds swarmed the abandoned Iraqi bunkers and barracks in a looting free-for-all that the Kurdish militia made no attempt to control.” (AP 4.3.03) “The Americans decide every battle and how far we can go,” said Shoukrin Nerwey. Farhad Ahmed told the reporter, “You must understand this is all America’s war,” said Farhad Ahmed. “Our leaders have decided to do it America’s way. This means we cannot decide anything on our own.” (AP 4.7.03)

Only a few days earlier, a U.S. warplane had “mistakenly bombed a convoy of U.S. and Kurdish forces during what Kurds called ‘serious fighting.’ The friendly fire killed at least 17 Kurdish fighters and a translator for the British Broadcasting Corp.” (AP 4.7.03) Tragically ironic that Kurds on the way to Kirkuk should have been killed by American firepower, much as were the Islamist Kurds of Ansar. It was a massacre instigated and aided by Kurds. While no sympathy was directed to Ansar, many Kurds were outraged over the bombing of the convoy. On the following day the total of Kurdish dead was hiked to 18 with 45 wounded in the “friendly” fire incident. “How could the Americans mistake Kurdish and Iraqi positions when their planes were flying so low,” said student Paman Yassin. “It’s stupid, many people have had enough of this war. But people are scared … to say the Americans, Christians on Muslim lands, have come to take our oil and stay for a long time.” (AFP 4.8.03)

Meanwhile AFP reported that Kurdish forces “eager” to move against Kirkuk were “being held back from their goal by the US troops operating alongside them.” Barham Salih actually served up this rationale: “The PUK will not move against Kirkuk as Kurds. Should a decision be taken to move, it will be done as the Iraqi opposition and in tandem with the coalition.” (4.8.03)

If some Kurds were having second thoughts, Turks were sick with worry. Prime Minister Erdogan warned that Kurdish control of Mosul and Kirkuk would “constitute grounds for Turkish military intervention.” “Going into northern Iraq is not an objective for us,” he told reporters. “Entering northern Iraq will not be on the agenda as long as Iraq’s territorial integrity is preserved and there is no move aimed at seizing the oil of Mosul and Kirkuk.” A week earlier he had been assured by Secretary of State Powell that the Kurds “would not be allowed to advance ‘beyond a certain line’ around Mosul and Kirkuk.” Erdogan was reassured, or so he said, “I do not believe that they will not keep their word.” (AFP 4.7.03)

According to Reuters, “pressured by the U.S.,” Turkey “backed off from plans to send its forces into northern Iraq.” But in a Washington Post piece on the following day, a senior Turkish official was quoted as saying, “The closer the Kurds get to Kirkuk, the more worried we become.” Turkey also feared that Kurds would “expel” ethnic Turkmen from Kirkuk and Mosul and use the money from oil fields to establish an independent Kurdish state that could precipitate the same demand from Kurds in Turkey. (WP 4.9.03)

Turkmen worried as well. Aydin Bayati, a member of the leadership of the Iraqi Turkmen Front complained that in reports on the war names of Turkmen villages and towns were published in Arabic and Kurdish, that the Coordination Board established in March to discuss delivery of humanitarian aid to the Kurdish cities of Arbil and Dohuk did not include an invitation to them. He further charged that “fictitious Turkmen parties had been founded by the KDP,” that they spoke against the Turkmen Front thereby damaging Turkmen-Kurdish “brotherhood.”

On April 9th when U.S. special ops and Kurdish peshmerga seized a strategic mountaintop near Mosul, Hoshyar Zebari termed the capture, “the crumbling of the northern front.” And in Chamchamal General Hamid Rahim Rostam told Agence France Presse, “It will all be over within the next two days. I think we will enter Kirkuk peacefully. (4.9.03) He was right. On April 10th Kurdish and U.S. forces reached the edge of the Kirkuk oilfields. Already they had routed Iraqi soldiers at Altun Kupri, 20 miles north. Kurdish commander Feridun Janroy said some were wounded. At Dibis, on the western edge of the oilfields, they moved in without a fight. Iraqi soldiers were said to have walked without weapons past clusters of invaders, some shouting “‘Hurray America and Britain,’ some waving at the peshmergas.” At Khanakin, Kurdish peshmerga were greeted by cheers. Mullah Bakhtiyar of the PUK said Kurds took control at midmorning “without resistance.” Oil facilities were “completely intact.” (AP 4.10.03)

Reuters reported on the same day, “The Kurds captured Kirkuk virtually without a fight after Iraqi troops laid down their weapons or fled south towards Tikrit.” B52 bombers did the job. Agence France Press told the same story: “Central Kirkuk falls to Kurdish forces without fighting–witnesses.” (AFP 4.10.03)

On April 10th U.S. airborne and special forces were moving into Kirkuk. Secretary of State Powell revealed that he had “concluded an agreement” to reduce the likelihood of Turkey moving forces into Northern Iraq. “We do not see any armed groups controlling territories, areas or resources in northern Iraq, and any moving in. The United States military will make sure that’s the case. And interviewed on Pakistan TV, Powell said, “We have made it clear to all the various parties who have an interest–Kurdish leaders, Shia leaders, Sunni leaders and to the international community–that the coalition is committed to the territorial integrity of Iraq. We do not want to see it breaking up into two or three different pieces, and we will only support a government in Iraq that is likewise committed to that proposition.” On the issue of who would control Kirkuk, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer told newsmen, “The city will be under American control.” (Jerusalem Post 4.10.03)

On the same day from Ankara Reuters quoted Turkey’s Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul as saying, “Powell gave his word new U.S. forces will be sent to Kirkuk in a few hours to remove the peshmerga who have gone in there.” Agence France Presse disclosed that “Kurdish fighters who seized the oil-rich northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk along with US forces, Thursday will have to leave,” and quoted Rizgarali Hamgan, “governor in exile” of the city, as saying “The peshmergas will never be authorized to remain. They will have to withdraw.” (AFP 4.10.03)

In London PUK official Latif Rashid told newsmen, “The people who entered Kirkuk–I want to put it on the record–are under the control of coalition forces … We are not trying to take over Kirkuk and say ‘Look, this is the capital of free Kurdistan.’ We consider Kirkuk to be an Iraqi town and it should be free, and it should be fair for all the population. We have always considered ourselves to be Iraqis. None of the Kurdish political groups has declared or demanded an independent Kurdistan.” Jalal Talabani announced, “I have ordered all the peshmerga to leave the city by tomorrow morning.” (Reuters 4.10.03)

Reporting from Kirkuk for the London-based Independent, Patrick Cockburn gave this assessment of the situation: “Kurdish leaders claimed that their fighters advanced on the city to stop an orgy of looting that began after the Iraq army withdrew several hours earlier. But the advance appeared to break an agreement with Turkey that Kurdish troops would not capture Kirkuk … Kurdish commanders said they would withdraw their forces and hand over the city to the Allies. But they have already appointed their own governor, and it appears clear they intend to remain in administrative control of the city.”

“There was little sign yesterday that the thousands of soldiers who make up the joint forces of the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan were making much effort to stop the widespread looting. Within the space of five minutes I saw Kurds steal a fire engine, an agricultural thresher and an Iraqi Airways bus. Other vehicles drove past piled with mattresses and chairs stolen from abandoned Iraqi offices and military camps. The Kurdish parties claimed they had coordinated their capture of Kirkuk with the US but there were few American soldiers in evidence on the streets of the city or in the oilfields to the west. In Washington the Pentagon said US special forces were with the Kurdish fighters as they entered the city.” (Independent 4.10.03) On April 11th the U.S. informed Turkey that Kurdish forces had left Kirkuk and would also pull out of Mosul.

A war of words flared up between the KDP and the PUK when it became clear that PUK fighters were at the “forefront of Kirkuk’s capture, topping rivals from the Kurdistan Democratic Party for the honor of taking the historic Kurdish city …” Another war of words broke out in Turkey when Mustafa Ziya of the Iraqi Turkmen Front charged that Kurds were burning and looting government offices “in order to annihilate the Turkmen existence … They want to ensure that Kirkuk’s Turkmen identity cannot be proven,” he said. “We demand that the peshmergas withdraw from Kirkuk as soon as possible.” In fact, thousands of Kurds had followed the peshmerga into Kirkuk to reclaim property. (AFP 4.11.03)

The situation precipitated yet another war of words. Kurdish Media warned that the US government’s promise to allow Turkey to send “military observers” to monitor Iraqi Kurdistan might lead to “anti-US feelings and activities” among the Kurds and went on to charge that the U.S. “has undermined the Kurdish victory in the Kurdish city of Kirkuk. This was a national pride for Kurds, but no more–thanks to the U.S … this US decision has disappointed and frustrated Kurds …” KurdishMedia noted charges such as “‘betrayal by the US,’ and ‘this is the same US of 1975 and 1991,’ and ‘Turkey is still more important than Kurds,’ were being widely exchanged between Kurds.” (Kurdish Media.com 4.11.03)

At the time complaints were being raised against the Kurds. On April 12th the Washington Post in a report captioned “Kurds’ Looting Sweeps Across Liberated Kirkuk,” described conditions as “anarchy” following Iraqi abandonment of the city. While PUK commander Faraidoon Abdul Qadir complained, “America does everything but doesn’t think about the next day. They don’t coordinate with us,” the 2,000 U.S. troops of the 173rd Airborne Brigade “remained largely out of sight in a pair of airports at the city’s edge. (4.12.03)

“I’m liberated now? What’s been liberated? The Kurds came and stole anything they could get their hands on, killed, pulled people out of their cars,” cried Riyadh Mustafa, an Arab resident of Kirkuk. “Get the Kurds out and the Americans in. We want our water and electricity back, cars not to be stolen, for people not to be attacked.” Turkmen Ahmed Abbas told Reuters, “They stole or burned everything we had as soon as they got here. Please get the Americans in here to restore the electricity and water and protect us.” Ali, an Arab driver, chimed, “They stole every car they could get their hands on, and attacked someone from every community, including Kurds. We had electricity all of the time that the Americans were bombing, because they never hit it, but then here come the peshmerga, tearing out the generators and anything else, so that everyone suffers.” (Reuters 4.12.03)

On April 13th Patrick Cockburn reported on the situation in another major city in the north under the caption, “Kurds blamed for chaos in Mosul.” Dr. Ayad Ramadhani, the director of the Republic Hospital told him: “The peshmerga and Kurdish militia were looting the city. It is the civilians, who get their orders from the mosque, who are protecting it.” According to deputy commander of the KDP forces Bertuka Shaways, “after the Iraqi army had fallen apart there was chaos in Mosul, for which he blamed the Americans … He complained that the Americans ‘had said ‘wait, wait,’ and it got later and later, and there was chaos.'” (Independent 4.13.03)

In Kirkuk Jalal Talabani met with resident Kurds, Turkmens, Arabs and Chaldean Assyrians. Kamal Mirawdeli of Kurdistani Newe quoted him as saying that Kirkuk is “a multi-national fraternity. This city must be the symbol of fraternity of peoples of Iraq and of real Iraqi citizenship based on equality.” Talabani went on to declare, “We support the right of Turkmens more than we support the rights of Kurds because the Turkmens have suffered a great injustice. The Iraqi government has not even recognized Turkmens as an ethnic group … We as Kurds have a good relationship with Turkey and we have taken into account Turkey’s concerns while acting in Kirkuk … A number of peshmerga will stay in Kirkuk for the protection of the district at the request of coalition forces. We withdrew a large number yesterday and today we will withdraw the rest.” (4.13.03)

On the following day the Washington Post reported, “Fulfilling a promise intended to keep Turkey from sending troops into northern Iraq, Kurdish militias today largely completed their withdrawal … But Kurds were still very much present in Kirkuk, some of them apparently trying to retake property from Arabs and others staffing an office to hear Arabs’ grievances … most of the uniformed Kurdish peshmerga militiamen who remained inside Kirkuk were serving as security details for Kurdish officials trying to undo some of the damage from two days of looting by Kurds.” Said PUK official Shalaw Askari, “It’s a really serious problem. They’re looting. And there are some reports they are raping women. This kind of thing is not forgotten. I don’t know if we can stop it.” Concerning the U.S. contingent Lt Col. Ken Riddle, commander of the 1st Battalion 63rd Armored Regiment, had this to say: “We’re trying to deter hostile acts, but we are not the police force.” (4.14.03) Hours later Patrick Cockburn reported that “at least eight people were killed in gun battles between Iraqi Kurds and Arab tribes south of Kirkuk” around the town of Hawijah. A leader of the al Obeid tribe charged, “It has been chaos. The Kurds are here to steal, and have killed some of our people while trying to rob them on the road.”

KDP official Fawzil Miran insisted that the Kurds didn’t want to send the peshmerga into Mosul “because of memories of the killing of Arabs by Kurds during a failed military coup in 1959.” The KDP had expected the Americans to move in, but they hadn’t done so “because their troops had gone to secure the oilfields in Kirkuk.” Arabs comprise 70% of Mosul’s population. (Independent 4.15.03)

Meanwhile in the New York Times C. J. Chivers reported, “Kurds are forcing Arabs in outlying villages to move from their homes, leaving entire hamlets nearly abandoned and crowding some families into wheat fields that have become hastily erected camps … For decades, Kurds have complained of abuses against them, including intimidation, expulsions and property seizures. Now, the newly prominent Kurds are indulging in some of Mr. Hussein’s abuses themselves.” Sheik Abdul Karim Hajji a member of the Kurdish parliament told reporters, “We are against, absolutely against, what has happened … Yet one local official for the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, or PUK, the dominant armed Kurdish party near Kirkuk, suggested that a policy of expelling Arabs had the approval of the United States … The official, Salam Kakai, deputy leader of the Patriotic Union’s office in Daquq, which has been issuing signed orders of expulsions to Arab Bedouins in this village, said the same people who had defeated the Iraqi Army had ordered Arabs to relocate … We have an order that the people should go back to their original places, from the PUK leaders, and from the coalition,” he said. “We carry out orders.” Not surprisingly when questioned on the topic, senior PUK officials insisted that there was “no such order.” Chivers didn’t miss the subterfuge and wrote, “It is a message radically different from the one Washington has been hoping would reach Arab ears.” (NYT 4.14.03)

No wonder Associated Press reported on the same day that the U.S. military did not “immediately confirm” that the Kurds had such an agreement. Reporter Brian Murphy disclosed that Masoud Barzani was blaming his “rival-turned partner” for triggering the looting in Kirkuk. “What happened was a violation of what we had agreed upon. There was definitely a decision not to enter Kirkuk with a large force,” he said. (AP 4.14.03)

In an AP report three days later, there was this background: “Years after they were dispossessed under Saddam Hussein, Kurds are taking what they say is rightfully theirs, evicting Iraq Arabs and seizing their homes in northern Iraq … But Arabs claim the Kurds have been taking the law into their own hands … They complained that Kurds claiming to belong to the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan or the Kurdistan Democratic Party … had looted their homes, taken their weapons and fired shots at their houses. Their biggest complaint was the taking of houses–three so far in the neighborhood–by armed men who spray-paint the word ‘girow,’ Kurdish for ‘taken,’ on homes they have occupied.” The PUK’s second in command Barham Salih provided this rationale: “We have always said the right of return for the victims of ethnic cleansing is a sacred right. The return of displaced people has to be done through an orderly process, hopefully, an international process, that will take into consideration the rights of all the communities of Kirkuk.” (AP 4.17.03)

Mosul was another issue. “There is still tension in Mosul, said KDP official Hoshyar Zebari. “Our forces are trying to assist the Americans,” he said, adding that Kurds moved into Mosul “at the request of U.S. forces.” Responding to accusations that Kurds looted and vandalized Mosul, he said the KDP condemned these activities. “We have set up a committee to collect the properties (and) vehicles–to be returned to their owners. (AP 4.17.03) Agence France Presse reported that while “normality” was returning to Kirkuk, in Mosul “unrest was continuing.” In Kirkuk Kurdish fighters pulled out to be replaced by US troops “in line with demands by Turkey. (AFP 4.17.03) One day later the Kurdistan Observer reported that Masoud Barzani had declared on Lebanese TV: “We would like to state that Kirkuk is a Kurdistani city. We have said so and will always say so … This does not imply that Kirkuk should only be for the Kurdish people; Kirkuk should be for the Kurds, Arabs, Turkomans, and Assyrians. It will be for the entire people of Iraq.” (KO 4.18.03) On April 23rd Kurdish leaders assured General Jay Garner, who had come to the region to speak with them, that they would not take reprisals against Arabs. (KO 4.23.03)

Kurds were unnerved when during a press conference in Arbil, Garner spoke of “a democratic Iraq with a central government,” and said nothing of federation. KurdishMedia.com blamed the Kurdish leadership: “The PUK and the KDP have put all their eggs, despite the will of the Kurdish people, into the Iraqization of the Kurdish issue, which will only hatch to be yet another monster central government in Baghdad.” (4.23.03)

On April 26th U.S. troops backed by helicopter gunships began “disarming Kurdish guerrillas” in Mosul. According to Reuters, the guerrillas “refused at first to yield to the American but finally backed down.” “One army captain told a peshmerga commander that if he didn’t tell his men to pull back ‘you will see more firepower than you would dare dream about.” “Our intention is to disarm them,” said Lieut. Colonel Chris Holden of the Army’s 101st Airborne Division. “However, we are not going to back down. We want the peshmerga to leave and we will continue raising the bar on their compliance until they have left the city.” AP reported that these Kurdish “paramilitary forces have been given an ultimatum. Halt armed patrols around Mosul by Monday, or the U.S. army will stop them by force.” (4.27.03)

On the following day KDP commander Bruska Shaways explained: “Mosul as a city is not a Kurd city, there are a large number of Kurds but it is an Arab city. So we don’t want the people to think that our peshmerga are coming here to rule.” But AP’s David Rising was not so sure. “Still, on Saturday, when troops … began trying to forcibly disarm the Kurdish fighters, they refused to yield. The Americans eventually backed down, giving the Kurds until Monday to restrict all armed soldiers to their own compounds,” he reported. He noted as well that since the fall of Mosul “tensions had quickly escalated between Arab residents and the large Kurdish minority. According to Major Brian Pearl of the 101st Airborne Division, abandoned buildings were occupied by both KDP and PUK. “They’re trying to disperse into the sector to establish themselves–that’s what we’re seeing.” “Armed Kurdistan Democratic Party patrols had set up checkpoints and searched cars while the rival Patriotic Union of Kurdistan charged residents 500 Iraqi dinars–about 25 cents–at gunpoint to enter some gas stations, Pearl said. They’ve since agreed to stop … ‘They know the order and the right thing to do but they just tried to push the limits.’ “In a concession to the Kurdish leaders, each was allowed to keep eight armed bodyguards. (AP 4.28.03)

Meanwhile the Kurdish leaders were busy assuring Iraqis that they were Iraqi nationalists first. Jalal Talabani called for rebuilding the Iraqi national army and assured Arab al-Salehi leaders and top officers of the Iraqi army that “the PUK would do its utmost to contribute to the administration of justice and fairness in the Iraqi Society … would consider protecting Iraqi territory as one of its top priorities” (IRNA 4.27.03) Unlike Talabani, whose ambitions lie in Baghdad, Masoud Barzani sent a mixed message on Al Arabiya news. “Like all other nations, the Kurdish nation is fully entitled to self-determination and the establishment of a Kurdish state,” he said. “At the moment, we do not have an agenda different to that of the Iraqi opposition.” (IRNA–Kurdish Media 4.27.03) Two days later the PUK second in command Barham Salih told Associated Press, “We seek a territorially united Iraq, based on a central democracy in which all citizens will be equal, and that will have a representative government which includes all elements of Iraq: Kurds, Arabs, Turkmen and Assyrians.” (AP 4.30.03) Shortly thereafter on his return from Syria, he once more insisted that “Iraq’s Kurds had no separatist ambitions.” (Reuters 4.4.03) On another aspect of separatist ambitions, Mohammad Ajeel al-Yawar, chief of Shammar, the most powerful Arab tribe met with Barzani to work out what was politely termed “an accommodation.” ” ‘Our tribe has always had good relations with the Kurds,’ he said, but “made clear that Shammar–land on the border with Syria–‘is located in Iraq,’ meaning it is not part of Kurdistan.” AFP 5.5.03)

The situation in Iraq was having an impact on Kurds outside Iraq. On May 5th in far off Norway, immigration minister Erna Solberg told Aftenposten, “Now that the war is over in Iraq, I take it for granted that all Iraqis who don’t have residence permission in Norway will leave the country fairly quickly.” An estimated 3,500 Kurds fall into the group, many having sought asylum in Norway. (Kurdistan Observer 5.5.03)

And in yet another indication that not all Iraqi Kurds opposed Saddam Hussein, Shaikh Jaffar Barzinji was indicted (in absentia) by the PUK in a criminal court based on Article 406 of the Iraqi criminal code. Kurdish Media revealed that its “sources in Arbil in the KDP region indicated that Barzinji was still there.” (KurdishMedia.com 5.5.03)

Elsewhere on the northern front sporadic gun battles between Arabs and Kurds continued. On May 7th Agence France Presse reported three killed. “People are taking revenge on each other. Many armed people are in the street and they are taking revenge on each other,” said Ahmed Mohammed, a physician at the local hospital … At one point gunmen were in the hospital threatening to shoot Kurdish patients.” (AFP 5.7.03)

Two days later Paul Watson produced this troubling report for the Los Angeles Times: “US soldiers carried out the first mass eviction of Kurds on Thursday from Arab homes that were seized with the approval of Kurdish guerrilla factions. Hundreds of Kurds pleaded and argued with troops from the 101st Airborne Division sent in to clear out a housing complex built for Iraqi military families. But U.S. troops persuaded around 400 Kurds to leave peacefully … Several Kurdish families said officials from the Kurdistan Democratic Party told them to move into the Arabs houses … Taha Yasin Mohammed, 70, showed a slip of paper stamped by the KDP, with a house number on it. He said the KDP gave him about $4 for transportation Sunday and told him to move to Domiz with his son, daughter-in-law and two of their children from their village 50 miles away. ‘This is Kurdish land and it belongs to the Kurdish government. It has the right to offer to those of us who sacrificed for Kurdistan against Saddam.’ Faizah Ahmad, 47, insisted her family of 10 had nowhere to live if they left Domiz because they had given up a rented home to move. ‘Americans came to liberate us and they did. Now they are going to throw us out,’ he said.” Watson reported that there was “no official count of Arabs driven from their homes. But a random check of more than two weeks along an arc from south of Kirkuk to areas near the Syrian border, found communities totaling more than 13,000 Arabs where villagers said Kurds had stolen their houses.” U.S. Col. Anderson reminded Shawkat Bamarni, the KDP chief in Mosul, “No one has the right to displace other people. There are Kurdish towns all over the place. They can go there and be taken care of.” (L.A. Times 5.9.03)

“We have asked for one of the important posts of president or prime minister,” Talabani declared. “One must be in the hands of a capable Kurd.” Clearly he was referring to himself. Doing his best to act as if he already had the job, he further declared, “The Arab governments must come and see those mass graves and decide what kinds of crimes were committed by Saddam Hussein. And then they must go to the Iraqi people and apologize.” He then proceeded to criticize King Abdullah of Jordan for “his ‘strange’ personal attacks on members of the Iraqi opposition, principally Ahmad Chalabi.” The New York Times report was captioned, “Talabani assails heads of Arab nations for backing Hussein’s rule.” (NYT 5.9.03)

Over the last decade Iraqi Kurdistan has been a virtual Casablanca of spies. “‘On May 8, the Iranians left an office they had in Dohuk at the request of the KDP,’ said Hussein Yazdanpana, secretary of the Union of Kurdistan Revolutionaries.” He went on to say that Iran had been funding “three offices in northern Iraqi towns for seven years. These offices were not representing the Iranian government but carried out spying and surveillance in the region.” Two days later an Iraqi Kurdish Islamist group known as the Kurdish Revolutionary Hezbullah and led by Adham Barzani, a tribal chief related to Masoud Barzani, announced it would disband now that Saddam Hussein was overthrown. (Kurdistan Observer 5.15.03)

In mid May Talabani reacted angrily to a U.S. proposal to control Iraq’s oil “for at least one year.” He told newsmen, “It goes against Iraqi national sovereignty.” (AFP 5.14.03) Even as he touted Iraq’s national sovereignty, for Washington’s ears, behind the scenes, he was doing what the New York Times described as “quietly” pursuing “an autonomous role in Iraqi oil projects.” According to Sabrina Tavernise’s report, “The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, one of the two main Kurdish parties in Iraq, has signed production-sharing contracts with two Turkish companies, Pet Oil and General Energy, to develop and survey oilfields in northeast Iraq, according to Rasheed Khoshnaw, deputy director of the party’s special projects division. In addition, party officials recently agreed to allow an Australian company to do surveying work in eastern Iraq, said Mr. Khoshnaw.” She quoted Barham Salih’s sidestep: “A lot of people have been coming to us with proposals. At this moment in time, we don’t want to make oil an issue.” While another Talabani spokesman in Baghdad said projects had been “put on hold for the time being,” Rasheed Khoshnaw told a different story: “PetOiL representatives would arrive this week for survey work on an oil field on the border with Iran … the Australian project also appears to be moving forward. ‘Their representative told me it’s all signed and read,’ Mr. Khoshnaw said.” (NYT 5.15.03) Yet only hours earlier Jalal Talabani told French public radio, “I think all the agreements signed with the ousted regime will be considered in the future … I used to tell them (the French) not to put all their eggs in the basket of Saddam Hussein.” According to the report, “he did not mention specifically the production-sharing agreements signed in the 1990s by French oil group TotalFinaElf for two major oil fields in southern Iraq–Nahr Ibn Umar and Majnoon.” (AFP 5.16.03)

When on the following day after three people were killed and several injured in shootouts between Arabs and Kurds in Kirkuk, Barzani warned Washington, “If this continues, they will lose the friendship of the Kurdish people. Nothing has been so sensitive to the Kurdish people as the Arabization program.” (Kurdistan Observer 5.17-KurdishMedia 5.19.03) More than 10 people had already been killed in Arab Kurdish clashes in Kirkuk. (Reuters 5.19.03) Ethnic tensions were rising. In Hawijeh where U.S. soldiers were patrolling, 11 were reported dead, 7 of them Kurds. Some two dozen Iraqis were injured. “There are no Fedayeen here, “said Kazim Ali Meri, a taxi driver. “The real problem is the Kurds.” (AP 5.20.03)

Meanwhile Talabani said he was ready to shelter Saddam Hussein’s family. He was quoted by Anadolu news as saying, “For the establishment of a democratic and independent Iraq, we as Iraqi Kurds are ready to do everything in our power and assist in every way … I would like to emphasize one thing here: I am not saying Kurds, I am saying Iraqi Kurds. I especially want to emphasize this point.” (KurdishMedia.com 5.20.03) Alas, in his quest to outdo rival Barzani in Baghdad, the former Kurdish nationalist became an Iraqi nationalist. When hope still lived in this writer’s heart, I wrote that Kurdistan was dying. Thanks to leaders of his ilk, the real Kurdistan is already dead.

When the U.S. submitted a resolution to the UN to do away with economic sanctions on Iraq, both Kurdish parties were “sharply” critical insomuch as it would “take away $4 billion that rightfully belongs to the Kurds.” The U.S. resolution would combine and transfer monies to an internationally monitored Iraqi Development Fund. (NYT 5.21.03)

KDP official Hoshyar Zebari contended that the resolution would put the Kurdish region at a “great disadvantage” removing Kurdish control of Iraqi oil revenues earmarked for the region since 1996. The resolution called for all Iraqi oil monies, with the exception of the 5% for a “compensation fund for Kuwait” to be placed in a Development Fund for Iraq “for the benefit of the Iraqi people.” “They seem to want to put it all in a national pot. This will be a great disadvantage for us … Before 1991 we were the most backward area in Iraq, and now we are the richest place in the country. This is something we want to hold on to.” Moreover he contended that the resolution would give “a subordinate role” to an interim Iraqi administration because “the coalition [the US and UK] is going to run the country and they don’t need partners.” Since 1996 Kurds have received 13 percent of the revenues from the oil for food program. According to Zebari, the Kurds want 25 percent of the revenues.

Meanwhile in Hawija Arabs under siege were “longing for Saddam.” Said Sheikh Ghassan Muzher al Asi, “The Americans believe everything the Kurds tell them, but they don’t listen to the Arabs. If it continues like this there will be more conflict.” When Arabs fearing attacks by Kurds set up checkpoints, the U.S. task force reacted. A U.S. military officer explained to newsmen, “We got intelligence that Arab groups in Hawija, consisting of former Baathists and Fedayees, were setting up illegal checkpoints. So we made a decision to send in troops to stop it.” (Reuters 5.22.03) Doubtless the source of the “intelligence” was the source that would subsequently prompt the U.S. military to arrest Turks in Kirkuk and set off a storm in Ankara-Washington relations.

In Kirkuk 300 delegates were set to choose a 24-member council, which in turn would choose a mayor and deputies in the following week. According to Reuters, “The U.S. military will select a further six ‘independent’ council members from among leading community members.” Kurds were said to be “flocking” back to the city. (5.22.03) Associated Press quoted an Arab mother, Sirwa Suleyman Mohammed. With her infant in her arms, she told reporters, “We are poor. We only have God now.” (5.22.03)

On May 24th elections ended in shouting matches. The council’s ethnic makeup was at issue. Before voting began, five Arab delegates were detained by the U.S. military. According to Associated Press: “The balloting Saturday in Kirkuk took into account the ethnic divide. Thirty nine U.S.-approved electors from each of the city’s main ethnic groups–Kurds, Arabs, ethnic Turks and Christians–voted for six council members from their ethnic group. Six independents were also chosen by 144 delegates from a U.S. approved list of 12 prominent residents. The Kirkuk council is expected to choose a mayor by Tuesday. When the names of the independent delegates were announced Saturday and it was clear that there were no Arabs among them, members of the Arab delegation reacted with outrage. ‘There is no justice–no fairness,’ shouted one Arab member, rising to his feet. ‘That is how democracy works,’ said Maj. Gen. Ray Odierno, commander of the 4th Infantry Division and U.S. military leader in the area. He had earlier ejected two independent delegates from the auditorium for ‘shouting their objections.'” Which prompted independent Emad Abdulah Saatci to praise the proceeding. “During Saddam’s time they would have been killed. This is top democracy,” he said. (AP 5.24.03)

Subsequently only 24 of the 30 elected members of the Kirkuk council were sworn in “after Arab delegates contested the selection of ‘independent’ representatives on the grounds they were mostly Kurds. ‘It is unfair that most of the independents should be Kurds,’ Abderrahman al-Assi was quoted. ‘We had expected him (Odierno) to choose two Kurds, two Arabs and two Turkmens.” To which Odierno responded, “What I learned in democracy is that your candidate does not always win.” The six Kurds who took their seats on the council belong to the KDP and the PUK, three from each party. (AFP 5.24.03)

If the U.S. bias wasn’t sufficiently obvious on May 23rd Washington’s administrator in Baghdad approved the disarming of Shiite and other militias, while allowing Kurds to keep their arms. “Maybe we didn’t fight with the coalition, but we didn’t fight against them,” said Adel Abdul Mahdi, an official of the largest Shiite group, headed by Ayatollah Muhammad Bakr al-Hakim. “We want conditions where all militias are dissolved and we will not accept that other militias will be allowed to stay there with their weapons while we will not be there with ours.” According to the New York Times, the directive ordered that “militias that assisted coalition forces who remain under the supervision of coalition forces” would be authorized “to possess automatic or heavy weapons.” (NYT 5.23.03)

On May 28th a Kurd was chosen mayor-governor of Kirkuk. The election was “supervised” by U.S. forces. Abdul Rahman Mustafa, a lawyer, was sworn in as governor of Kirkuk province and mayor of the capital city. At the swearing in ceremony surrounded by U.S. officers, he said he wanted to seek a solution in the courts to the issue of dispossessed Kurds. PUK official Abdel Karim Hachi said “four Kurdish territories split off from Kirkuk and added to other provinces in order to ensure an Arab majority would ‘demand to be returned to Kirkuk … Soon we, the Kurds, will be a majority of the citizens of Kirkuk province, and we will demand to be rejoined to Kurdistan.'” According to the Financial Times report, “PUK and the KDP officials have said publicly that they would like Kirkuk, and its oil resources, joined to Kurdistan within a federal Iraq. Arab delegates to the 30-member city council complained that US forces had aided Kurds in seeking the top post, and that the election result was a trade-off for help the US received from the PUK and KDP during the war.” One leader of the Arab delegation lamented,: “Our only problem with the outcome is that it was determined in advance by the Americans.”

Turkmens were no happier. “We reject the structure of the council and we will continue our struggle for equal representation of all ethnic groups,” said Sheikh Ghassan Muzher al Asi., “The Kurds now have an effective majority in the council and we want the Americans to reconsider this so that all groups enjoy equality.” Dismissive of their complaints, Major Gen. Raymond Odierno declared: “Establishing a democratic society and economy requires much hard work and the true desire of all parties to work towards a common goal. For the first time in over 30 years you have the freedom to decide the future of Kirkuk.” (Reuters 5.28.03) He wasn’t about to elaborate on the meaning of “you.”

No wonder, one day later in Atlanta, Georgia, Jalal Talabani told CNN “he would not oppose establishment of permanent American military bases” in Iraq. “If there would be a necessity, why not. The Americans have in many places military bases.” Terming Iraq’s “liberation” an “important step,” he went on to say, “I think we will be able to be the model of democracy and prosperity in the Middle East.” He also said the Kurds must be “partners” in a central government.” (CNN 5.29.03

Meanwhile in Mosul, Khasro Goran, a Kurd, was elected deputy governor. “Now we are back in Mosul,” he told newsmen. “We control Senjar and Mosul Provinces. We want to add the other parts of Kurdistan. We have the same economy, language and future, For the rest of Iraq, it’s up to them, but for our part, we will govern ourselves.” His words came straight from his Kurdish heart. Farhad Pirbal, a professor of Kurdish history and literature at Arbil University explained why the Kurdish parties sing a different melody in Washington and Baghdad. “More than 80 percent of the people are for independence. It’s etiquette, like a game. The politicians say what the Americans want to hear.” (NYT 5.24.03)

On June 3rd Kurdish Media.com reported: “The former Kurdish Iraqi health minister, Omed Medhat Mubarak, has surrendered to U.S. occupation forces a few days ago.” He was denied refuge in his hometown of Suleimani after huge protests. He was a medical doctor with a surgery practice in Suleimani in the 1970’s. “His loyalty for the ruling Baath party secured him a ministerial post. The PUK issued his assassination in 1980s but he escaped and some innocent people were killed.” (KM 6.3.03)

On June 6th the Financial Times reported that “High fees charged by Kurdish authorities on trucks crossing from Turkey into northern Iraq halted transport between the two countries last week…. The bottleneck briefly halted food shipments by the United Nations World Food Program and was solved only after UN officials convinced local government officials to lower the fees. Kurdish authorities have long been collecting fees from truckers at a border crossing point at Zakho, averaging $30 a truck. A recent four-fold appreciation in the Kurdish dinar caused the fee to increase to $120-$150. Last Sunday, Turkish truck drivers refused to pay, clogging traffic at the crossing. In spite of the UN Security Council resolution that named the US and UK as occupying powers in Iraq, the US-led Coalition Provisional Administration played little or no role in resolving the dispute, said a UN official in Arbil. ‘They [the Kurds] are running their own affairs here with little or no interference from the coalition,’ he said. After meeting UN officials on Monday, the local government in Dohuk province agreed to lower the fee to $20, payable in dollars. Within days, traffic was ‘back to normal,’ according to the WFP. The border crossing has been a lucrative business for the Kurdish enclave since it gained autonomy under unofficial US protection following the 1991 Gulf war.”

On June 8th Kurdish Media reported from London that Kurdish war crime suspect Jaffar Barzinji was moving to Baghdad from Kirkuk. According to the report, “Barzinji was in Arbil and later in Kirkuk but the Kurdish authorities did not arrest him. In Arbil Barzinji stayed with one of his cousins, who himself was a high ranking member of the Iraqi Baath party and is currently a high ranking member of the Kurdistan Democratic Party. In Kirkuk, Barzinji told the Kurdish weekly Hawlati that the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan had provided him with armed men to protect him. KurdishMedia.com was told that the Kurdish parties try to protect suspected criminals because they know a great deal about ‘secret deals’ between them and the ousted Iraqi regime. ‘If they come down, they will bring the party leaders down with them,’ KurdishMedia.com was told by a legal adviser to one of the Kurdish parties in Arbil, who was visiting Europe.” (6.8.03)

The parties had larger fish to fry. In the short term, they were having trouble paying peshmergas. A PUK official said he hoped they would eventually become “an essential component of the new Iraqi army.” (AFP 6.12.03) In addition the PUK and the KDP decided to “merge their regional administrations in a move intended to give them a united voice.” (Reuters 6.12.03) KDP official Fadel Mirani told reporters, “We are concerned about Baghdad as much as we are concerned about Kurdistan. This will make things easier. Now there will be only one prime minister.” When the parties decided to send only one leader to Baghdad to speak to the U.S. governing authority “on behalf of all Kurds,” Jalal Talabani was chosen for the job. (6.15.03)

On June 20th Hoshyar Zebari told reporters, “I think we’ll give up many of the powers, the privileges and the freedoms we enjoy now as an almost semi-independent entity … for being reintegrated into the new Iraq. There would be one national army, one foreign policy, and one budget. Most of the natural resources would be under the control of the federal government … Our goal is not independence, not separation. This is not on our agenda.” (Reuters 6.20.03)

Only a few weeks earlier Barham Salih said much the same. “No Kurd can dissuade himself of the right to self-determination, but history and geography have been cruel to my people, and we know the possibility of a Kurdish state in Iraq is a very distant one. The tangible thing for us is to work for a federal democracy and be a full-fledged Iraqi citizen,” he told newsmen. (NYT 5.25.03) But when delegates of the Kurdish parliament gathered in Arbil in mid June, the Kurdish leaders “indicated that they expect to keep running a virtually independent Kurdish state in northern Iraq while still collecting a share of the nation’s oil revenues.” Raush Shaways, president of the Kurdistan National Assembly, put it this way, “The Arabs will run their affairs and the Kurds theirs. We will maintain only one state that includes all the Kurdish people. We have our own history and culture which would not be easy to harmonize with other states.” According to John Sullivan, whose report appeared on line in the Kurdistan Observer, “At America’s behest Kurdish officials have dismantled many of their tax collecting schemes; when U.S. eyes are elsewhere they’re still collecting taxes on citizens and have even taken some land without compensation.” They need money “to position themselves for any national elections.” (6.14.03)

“The political parties have grown wealthy, in part on renegade trade across leaking borders with Syria, Iran and Turkey, and have ruled with a strong hand. They held elections only once over the past decade, and are dominated by powerful families, personalities and unilateral decision-making. Critics say the biggest challenge for American forces will be untangling that web. “The society is like a little mosaic of many patronage networks. Kurdish political parties today are not that different from the tribes of the 18th century. You don’t get democracy as an end product. You get patrons delivering chunks of delivered votes.” (NYT 5.25.03)

In one of many Associated Press reports Brian Murphy observed: “The nearly 12 years of Western-protected self rule enjoyed by the Kurds makes them a leading light of democracy in Iraq.” Some challenge this notion. “It’s not a real democracy here as it’s interpreted in America and Europe. It’s not Syria or Iran, mind you, but there are still strict limits on criticizing the leadership,” said Farhad Pinbol, a Kurdish human rights activist and publisher of the literary journal Weran (Courage). His assessments was said to be shared by others as well because the PUK and KDP “control everything in the Kurdish areas from the militia to the lucrative border taxes to the coveted civil servant posts. Portraits of the two patriarchs appear everywhere in a self-glorifying style shared by their archenemy: Saddam…. Their respective domains have the feel of a family enterprise. Relatives or trusted friends hold some of the most influential posts.” Yousef Hama Saleh Mustafa, a professor of psychology at the University of Salahuddin in Arbil put it this way: “You could call them kind of informal royalty.” (AP 4.7.03)

But not all Kurds hold such lofty status. Scott Wilson reporting from Halabja for the Washington Post under the caption, “Kurdish Resistance Fighters Now Have Nothing to Resist,” made these observations regarding the Kurdish peshmerga who, “after years of mountain fighting, are now retiring, serving in city police forces, directing traffic and working in crime prevention. Some have returned to their middle class lives in the professions. According to Wilson, the peshmerga’s future “is being decided in Baghdad where Kurdish party leaders are trying to negotiate a stake in the emerging national government.” According to PUK peshmerga minister Sherdil Hawezy, “Of course now there isn’t a unit left in the Iraqi army. Peshmerga is a holy word here. But there will be no more militias in Kurdistan when this is through.” (WP 5.12.03)

Not all Kurds are pleased with such portends. In a commentary captioned “The case for a Kurdish state: Kurds’ aspiration is a Kurdistan state,” KurdishMedia founder Dr. Rebwar Fatah argued, “The federalism formula is not a viable solution to one of the most explosive and destabilizing problems in the Middle East. This formula is nothing but a defense mechanism for the Kurdish political parties to escape Turkey’s pressure.” (KurdishMedia.com 5.6.03)

On May 24th in the Kurdistan Observer, Dr. Kamal Mirawdeli launched this critique: “Some say it will be a sign of democracy if a prime minister would be a Kurd. Perhaps they do not realize that under Saddam there were two Kurdish deputy presidents: Tahah Muhi al Din Ma’aruf and Taha Yasin Jazrawi … You are Iraqis and can be president or prime minister in Baghdad, then why do you need federation? Why do you need a federal Kurdistan? Why do you mention self-determination? Why use the word Kurdistan? … What do the two Kurdish leaders and parties want? Do they have a Kurdish and Kurdistani national strategy or an Iraqi neutral or negative strategy? … What mandate do they have? Whose views do they represent? Who have they consulted about their plans? What are they doing in Baghdad? … Kurdistan is not Iraq. And Baghdad is not Kurdistan … Do they recognize that by indulgence in this short-term opportunism and inherent tribal rivalry, they may be sacrificing the most important real concrete historical opportunity? Perhaps Mr. Talabani and Mr. Barzani and their parties are very happy with themselves at this moment. They are in Baghdad now.”

The Ghosts of Ansar Al Islam

Not all Kurds were happy. More than a few were sacrificed to the ambitions of others. With the coming of Spring PUK leader Jalal Talabani waxed prophetic. “George W. Bush is another Winston Churchill, a hero who will liberate not only Iraq but the Middle East from dictatorship,” he told reporters. British Prime Minister Tony Blair he called “a symbol of braveness.” Without benefit of tea leaves he predicted, “You will see after one month how everyone will say, Tony you were right, Tony you did best, Tony you were the liberator.” (Guardian 3.22.03)

His remarks raise questions about his judgment and his motives. For one is not without the other. They predicate his contributions to U.S. “intelligence,” in particular his charge that Ansar al Islam, the Islamic Kurds inhabiting territory he sought to control, were a terrorist cell of al Qaeda with connections to Baghdad. Came September 11 and he took advantage of the climate in Washington following the terrorist attacks to rid the region of Kurds whose way of life challenged his ambition and his portrayal of his region of Iraqi Kurdistan as “secular and democratic.” But there is nothing democratic about doing away with people who don’t conform to one’s visions and ambitions.

Lucky for Talabani, his charge was music to the ears of the Bush administration intent not only on invading Iraq but on ridding the world of as many Islamic fundamentalists as possible. So despite the fact that U.S. intelligence knew full well that PUK claims were not substantiated, in the first days of the U.S. invasion, the U.S. obliged Talabani by killing off as many Islamist Kurds as possible with bombs and missile attacks. Here are some details from Reuters: “Since invading Iraq U.S. forces have fired dozens of missiles and a series of air raids on Ansar territory, which consists of about a dozen villages near the border with Iran. Another Islamist group, which held a village surrounded by Ansar territory, has said that at least 45 people had been killed in the first wave of U.S. strikes on Ansar last week … Washington accuses the group, which has several hundred mainly Kurdish fighters, of working to make chemical weapons with help from the al Qaeda network of Osama bin Laden, and of ties to an al Qaeda figure linked to the killing of a U.S. diplomat in Jordan last year.” While the PUK and the Bush administration had their own reasons for the slaughter, they were aided and abetted by many in the U.S. newsmedia who simply parroted their allegations as fact. To make matters worse, their coverage conveyed the impression that members were not Kurds to keep from tarnishing the pervasive image of Iraqi Kurds, simultaneously stressing an Islamic connection to terror and to al Qaeda. And when they could, to Baghdad. And as often as they could, they touted the Iraqi Kurds as U.S. allies.

A few examples: On March 23rd Reuters captioned a report, “Iraq Kurds say take Islamist stronghold with US help.” Six days later AP reported: “Kurdish and U.S. special forces targeted Ansar al-Islam extremists, Islamic militants with alleged ties to al-Qaida terrorists.” (3.29.03) On March 30th the Washington Post disclosed attacks on “Islamic extremists in a remote corner of northern Iraq today, mopping up apparently sizable pockets of Ansar al Islam who retreated before a joint U.S.-Kurdish assault on Friday … The heavy machine-gun assault followed a massive ground advance a day earlier by at least 6,000 Kurdish militiamen allied with the United States. That assault quickly took all of the villages that had been controlled by Ansar, a band of about 700 extremist fighters that the Bush administration says has ties to the al Qaeda terror network … Kurdish officials claimed that 120 Ansar fighters died in Friday’s fighting and that 56 others perished in the six days of U.S. bombing runs and missile strikes that preceded the ground advance. The Kurds reported 20 dead.” Only in the next to last paragraph did the Post allude in passing to “Ansar’s mostly native Kurdish force” on the way to asserting in the same sentence that Ansar “included 100 to 150 Arabs, most of whom arrived in this autonomous corner of Iraq from Afghanistan last year by way of Iran.” (Readers of Kurdish Life may recall that estimates of Ansar’s numbers have ranged far and wide, from 300 to over 1,000.)

On the last day of March, AP disclosed that “officials from the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, one of two parties that share control of an autonomous Kurdish enclave in northern Iraq, say they killed 250 Ansar members.” Shortly thereafter this claim made by Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on CNN’s “Late Edition” is a fine example. Referring to Ansar’s camp in Sargat, he said, “We think that’s probably where the ricin that was found in London came … At least the operatives and maybe some of the formulas came from this site.” [italics ours]

Further detailing operations against Ansar, which began with heavy air strikes a week earlier and ended with a mop-up operation by 100 U.S. special forces and 10,000 local “Kurdish” fighters, C. J. Chivers presented the usual description. “The United States contends that Ansar is a terrorist group that links Al Qaeda and Baghdad, and cited the group’s operations in the largely autonomous Kurdish zone of northern Iraq as one of the justifications for the war against Saddam Hussein.” Ironically in the months to follow, the fraudulent claim, slipped into the President’s address under the skirt of the British, that Iraq tried to purchase raw uranium from Niger, created an uproar. But the fraudulent claims regarding Ansar by Secretary of State Powell in his UN address were never challenged.

At any rate, embedded largely with the PUK, as he has been for months, Chivers would now report: “Kurdish and American soldiers also captured two Islamic fighters alive, including a Palestinian man who appeared to provide further proof the group’s connections to the international jihad,” that Ansar ambushed a column of “Kurdish fighters,” and that Ansar deployed assassins and suicide bombers and mounted raids against “the secular Kurdish authorities” it rejects as “infidel rulers.” From these Kurds he learned that 176 members of Ansar had been killed. From PUK General Mustafa Said Qadir he learned, “They will all be finished because there is no choice. There is just death.” (NYT 3.30.03)

On the following day Associated Press provided these details: “Using air strikes and ground forces, Kurdish soldiers and U.S. troops have cooperated in the past week to dislodge and crush Ansar militants in 18 villages surrounding the Iraqi city of Halabja” and disclosed that “a cache of documents, computer discs and foreign passports belonging to Arab fighters” could “bolster U.S. claims linking Ansar to Al Qaeda.” (3.31.03) While correctly identifying “the several hundred mainly Kurdish fighters of Ansar al Islam” Reuters went on to quote a U.S. special forces commander “who refused to be identified” as saying, “There were things that we found that to my mind confirmed that this site was used for chemical and biological production, he said, refusing to elaborate.” (4.1.03)

PUK second in command Barham Salih claimed, “What we’ve discovered in Biyara is a very sophisticated operation.” As a measure of this sophistication he cited phone books with numbers of “alleged” Islamic activists in the U.S. and Europe, a telephone number of a Kuwaiti cleric, a letter from Yemen’s minister of religion, passports and identity papers indicating that “up to 150 were foreigners, including Yemenis, Turks, Palestinians, Pakistanis, Algerians and Iranians.” (AP 3.31.03)

But compare these reports with two dispatches from Agence France Press, one of which dealt with two Ansar members who surrendered: “Two Kurdish prisoners belonging to an alleged al-Qaeda linked group in northern Iraq, targeted by US-backed Kurdish forces late last month, are anything but the crazed Taliban-style fighters portrayed by Washington … I am a Kurd, all Kurds hate Saddam Hussein, he destroyed my family,” said one … Both know nothing about any support to the group from Saddam … and did not see any of the Arab or other foreign Islamist fighters that according to the United States and PUK came over here from Afghanistan.” (AFP 4.9.03) In the second report AFP noted that Ansar’s “appearance coincided with the September 11 attacks on the United States. It established rigid Islamic rules in the area under its control, and launched a fierce campaign against the PUK …” Moreover AFP noted the disparity in numbers of Ansar members “put by some at 300 men and by others at 1,000.” (AFP 4.9.03)

In mid June Sharon Wasman of the Washington Post provided one explanation for the nature of U.S. intelligence sources, quoting a U.S. army officer “who declined to give his name” as saying, “When we receive information from people on the street, they know what the buzzwords are to get U.S. soldiers’ attention. They know ‘al Qaeda,’ they know ‘Saddam Fedayeen.” (WP 6.16.03) Ansar might well have extended traditional Middle Eastern hospitality to a handful of fleeing Afghanis, Palestinians, whoever sought refuge, as has always been the case in the Kurdish mountains. But that didn’t render them a cell of al-Qaida. Nor were they linked to Saddam Hussein. Yet the lairs of liars managed to do away with them.

By late June, Associated Press reported that Biyara and Khormal had been cleansed of Islamists, “The men have shaved, the women have relaxed their dress and the shops have begun selling beer … tourists have returned.” So did the PUK. But even that wasn’t enough. Fearful lest U.S. attention and PUK control diminish, Barham Salih told reporters, “We are intercepting reports that elements of Ansar al-Islam are becoming active again.” (6.25.03) The ghosts of Ansar will be revisited again and again to rid the region of so-called “Islamic extremists.” The last thing Washington wants are Muslims determined to carry their religion beyond the mosque. That right is reserved for fundamentalist Christians.

COPYRIGHT 2003 Kurdish Library

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