Archive for the ‘Kurds and human rights’ category

Western Powers Must Protect Kurds, Urges Iraqi Jew Who Was Escorted to Freedom by Masoud Barzani

November 6, 2017

Western Powers Must Protect Kurds, Urges Iraqi Jew Who Was Escorted to Freedom by Masoud Barzani, AlgemeinerBen Cohen, November 6, 2017

(Israel has been the only nation to support Kurdish independence. Please see also, Hypocrisy: A state for the Palestinians but not for the Kurds or Catalonia. America, which has armed and relied upon Kurdish fighters in opposing the Islamic State and other Islamic terror groups in Iraq and elsewhere, has not. America’s failure to do so is among the very few matters on which I disagree with President Trump’s foreign policy. –DM)

A young Masoud Barzani fighting with the Kurdish peshmerga. Photo: File.

For the last forty-seven years, Jamil “Jimmy” Ezra has marked a special, deeply private anniversary on September 1 with a ray of hope in his heart. For it was on that day in 1970 that Ezra – accompanied by his brother and sister – drove in a jeep to the Iraqi border with Iran with Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani and his assistant at the wheel.

Ezra and his siblings were among more than 2,000 Iraqi Jews who were helped by Kurdish Peshmerga to escape from the Ba’athist regime during the 1970s. These were dark days in Iraq, where the remnant of a Jewish community that had only recently numbered 150,000 was convulsed with fear following the public hanging in Baghdad in 1969 of 14 people, nine of them Jews, on trumped-up charges of spying for Israel. Ezra remembers the time with the same deep emotion that grounds his present fears about what the future now holds for his Kurdish rescuers.

“My heart breaks for the 30 million Kurds, divided between Iraq and Turkey, Syria and Iran, and abused and suffering,” Ezra told The Algemeiner on Monday.

Ezra will be speaking about his experiences with Masoud Barzani – son of the legendary Mullah Mustafa Barzani and, until last week, the president of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) – at downtown Manhattan’s prestigious Center for Jewish History on Tuesday night, during a special two-part series on the Kurds sponsored by the American Sephardi Federation. It is a story that began when Ezra was a boy of 17 in Baghdad, living with his aunt and uncle, and still grieving from the sudden death of his father from a heart attack on the very same day in July 1968 that Saddam Hussein and his Ba’athist comrades seized power.

“One day in 1970, my brother Farid was walking in the street when he was stopped for an ID check,” Ezra recalled. “He had a permit exempting him from serving in the army, and on every page it was written in red, yahudi, yahudi, yahudi (Jew).”

Farid was arrested and imprisoned on a spying charge. His voice breaking, Ezra recalled how his brother was beaten and tortured by his jailers until he suffered a nervous breakdown. Farid was then transferred to a prison for the criminally insane.

“In the hot summer, the prisoners would all run outside to drink the unfiltered river water that was brought in by a truck in the morning — they would fight over the dirty water,” Ezra said. “My aunt would send me with food and clean water for my brother, and he would beg me to take him away.”

At this point, Ezra said, he and his sister Gilda decided that it was time to leave Iraq. He ventured north to Iraqi Kurdistan, then enjoying a measure of autonomy under an agreement with Baghdad that was soon reneged upon by Saddam Hussein. Arriving in the Kurdish town of Haj Omran on the Iranian border, he came across an Iraqi Jewish family he knew who were taken across the border into Iran that same night. Ezra, meanwhile, was given a mattress in a room where he bedded down with ten Kurds. “I told them about how the Jews were suffering,” he said.  “They promised to take me to Mustafa Barzani the following day.”

The next morning, Barzani’s aides hatched a plan that involved Ezra and another Jewish family returning to Baghdad to collect their relatives, after which they would travel to a meeting point back in northern Iraq. “That was on Monday; on the Thursday, back in Baghdad, I woke up my brother Farid, who was suffering badly from his trauma in prison, and I told him, ‘Come on, you and me and Gilda are going on a short vacation,’” he said.

Had they been stopped and discovered at one of the many security checkpoints along the way, certain imprisonment in a Ba’athist jail would have awaited — and, indeed, the family was pulled over by a soldier. “Luckily, the guy was an idiot,” Ezra remembered. “He couldn’t understand why my brother had an exemption permit from the army, so our driver kept explaining, ‘He’s not well, he’s well.’ Eventually, the soldier said, ‘Ok, ok, you can go.’”

Arriving at the meeting point agreed with Barzani’s advisers, Ezra remembered that a high-level Kurdish intelligence official “came out and started briefing us.”

To maintain secrecy around Kurdish assistance to escaping Iraqi Jews, the official instructed Ezra and those with him to personally approach Masoud Barzani, who would be sitting in a cafe at an agreed time, and pretend they had a brother imprisoned by Kurdish forces. “We had to act,” Ezra said. “We had to beg and plead in front of Masoud.”

Following this ruse, the Ezra siblings got into a jeep alongside  Masoud. At the border with Iran, Masoud got out and bade his farewells. “We had a gift for Masoud and his adviser,” Ezra said. “It was a Parker 21 pen, that was a big deal back then. We wanted them to take it, but they refused and refused. They said, ‘We are doing this because we care and we want to help you.’”

“They never took any money, any gifts, unlike the smugglers who would rob the Iraqi Jews they were supposed to be helping,” Ezra continued.

After crossing into Iran on September 1, the Ezras survived a long and arduous journey to Tehran, where they stayed at the aptly-named Hotel Sinai — then full of escaped Iraqi Jews in transit with the Jewish Agency’s assistance. “On October 2, we arrived in America,” Ezra said. “We came to New York.” Many other Iraqi Jews who escaped around the same time went to Israel, as well as the UK, Canada and other countries.

Ezra’s thoughts over the last month have been dominated by the fate of the Kurds, whose 93 percent vote in favor of independence in the September 25 referendum resulted in an Iranian-backed onslaught involving Iraqi government forces and the Shia Hashd al-Shaabi paramilitary group. More than 50 percent of the territory liberated from ISIS by the Kurds has been lost, including the historic city of Kirkuk, while Kurdish political leaders have been painted into a corner as they try to maintain as much autonomy from Baghdad as feasible.

“I follow the news of the Kurds, I pray for them,” Ezra said. “I know their history, how they were divided between four countries after World War One. America has betrayed them, Britain and France have betrayed them. Israel tried to help, but they were limited by the Americans dictating to them how much they could do.”

Ezra wants American Jews to urge their legislators to protect the Kurds, a long-standing American ally. “What happened to the Jews could still happen to them,” Ezra said, casting an eye on Saddam Hussein’s infamous attempts to obliterate the Kurds with chemical weapons attacks in the late 1980s.

“Measures need to be taken to prevent that,” he said. “This should be an emergency for the UN Security Council. The issue of the Kurds has to be kept alive every day of the year.”

Iran has given US ‘slap in the face’ with Kirkuk: expert

October 19, 2017

Iran has given US ‘slap in the face’ with Kirkuk: expert, RudawRebaz Ali, October 17, 2017

Iran has delivered the US a “slap in the face” by backing Hashd al-Shaabi’s march on Kirkuk within just 60 hours of US President Donald Trump’s speech, says Michael Pregent.

Speaking to Rudaw’s Rebaz Ali on Monday as events were unfurling in Kirkuk, Pregent expressed frustration over Washington’s stance on the Kurds, believing Washington is too close to the ruling Dawa party of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and former prime minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Answering questions from the media later in the day, Trump refused to take sides, simply stating “We don’t like the fact that they’re clashing. We’re not taking sides, but we don’t like the fact that their clashing.”

A Middle East analyst, Pregent is a former intelligence officer for the US Departments of Defense and State. He embedded as an advisor to the Peshmerga in Mosul in 2005-2006

Rudaw: Why is the US so silent on the situation happening in Kirkuk and Hashd al-Shaabi using American weapons against Peshmerga?

Michael Pregent: We’re surprised. We issued an order, not an order but a warning to Baghdad not to use military force against Kurdish positions in and around Kirkuk. Secretary Mattis said that, the president gave a very strong speech on Friday designating the Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization and the Hashd al-Shaabi are commanded by IRGC affiliates, Revolutionary Guard Corps affiliates. We pay money to the Iraqi Ministry of Interior and they’re shifting American resources and equipment to these Iranian-led militias. We had a statement today that the Baghdad spokesman said Qassem Soleimani is an advisor to the Hashd al-Shaabi.

We are watching. I know we’re watching. The DoD (Department of Defense) is aware, the Pentagon’s aware and we’re going to see the results tomorrow morning in DC of what happened in the last six hours and through the night. We’re likely to see that this is exactly what the United States cannot allow. But more importantly, this just shows that we’re losing leverage with Baghdad. If you warn Baghdad and they do it anyway, it’s because Tehran is telling them to do it and they are okay with it, they agree. But this is an opportunity now for the United States, especially after the president’s speech, where he was very tough on Iran, to do something because this is testing American resolve by a Qassem Soleimani-led force moving against our allies, allies we’ve had since the Gulf War, even before that, moving against our allies less than 60 hours after the president designated them a terrorist group*.

So tomorrow, Washington DC will wake up and see what happens and everybody hopefully holds their positions tonight, the Iraqi security forces stop, the Hashd al-Shaabi are declared an illegal military, an illegal militia and moved out. But tomorrow, veterans of the Iraq war, myself and others, veterans in Congress that I speak to will be making our voices as loud as we can for the US to do something. This is, as an American who fought with the Peshmerga, to see this is… uh… I don’t have any words. So, we’ll see what happens tomorrow.

We just saw a statement from the Pentagon asking both sides to be calm and to restrain from using violence, but in fact, it’s the Hashd al-Shaabi who started attacking the Peshmerga and they started the violence that the Pentagon is talking about. What do you think about that?

Well, I saw the statement and the language I didn’t like was ‘we urge both sides to stop, yet we still condemn the Kurdish referendum’. That language actually gives Tehran, Baghdad, and Ankara a green light to do these types of actions. The United States needs to have a strong statement. The vote was a democratic vote. The vote was not an illegal vote. It should not be met with force. It should not be met with violence. I don’t believe that that was crafted by Mattis. I believe it was crafted by the DoD communications department, because the language is not Mattis-like. The language is very Brett McGurk-like… and [it’s a problem].

So people like yourself, the veterans, how do you think they’re going to respond to this? You fought against this in Iraq for years and now you see this happening. This must be frustrating for you and people like yourself. What do you think you need to do? 

Well, the thing we’ve been fighting for for two years is the designation of the Revolutionary Guard corps as a terrorist organization and the decertification of the Iran deal. We got that Friday. That needs to mean something. Our Sunni regional allies heard the president’s message. It was very strong. This should restore confidence in our regional allies.

Pillar number one is to neutralize the Revolutionary Guard Corps’ destabilizing activities across the region. The Kirkuk operation is a destabilizing activity. You can’t give a tough speech and then allow Iran less than 60 hours later to move against an ally. So I would hope that veterans are upset as well, civilians alike.

The Kurdish people are built for western democracy support. They’re built for democratic support. They’re tolerant, they’re accepting, and I find it ironic that the United Nations and other non-government organizations choose to operate out of Kurdistan in order to help Iraqis throughout. When there’s instability in Baghdad, when ISIS invaded Iraq, people go to Kurdistan. Why do they go to Kurdistan? Because it’s an accepting region, it takes care of its own security. It’s an ally of the West. There’s problems, yes, but let’s talk about the problems. We don’t use military action to solve them.

We saw the speech by the president on Iran, but now we see that Qassem Soleimani has been going around in Iraq, meeting with the prime minister and ordering the Hashd al-Shaabi and other militias against the Kurdish Peshmerga, as you said, less than 60 hours after the president’s speech. What does that say about the US involvement in Iraq? Do you think after this or tomorrow, are we going to see less support for the government of Iraq and Prime Minister Abadi from the US government, after what they have seen in the last couple of days, the Iraqis dealing with Qassem Soleimani and the IRGC?

Well, this shows the president that the Iranians didn’t take him seriously. They heard the speech and they’re scoffing at it. This is a slap in the face to a US president by conducting these types of activities after this speech.

Baghdad is part of this, so Baghdad is doing the same thing. I don’t know what’s going on behind closed doors, but I do know that Secretary Mattis issued a statement and Abadi promised the United States he would not conduct an offensive operation against the Kurds. That operation is ongoing now. I truly believe that even if Abadi didn’t want to do it, the Iranians could still make this happen. The Quds force commander on the ground, I don’t know his name, but he actually told KDP officials and PUK officials, “Listen, either work with us or we can bring the whole Iraqi army here.”

So this is an Iranian commander telling Kurdish political parties that we can tell the Iraqi army what to do, we can tell the Iraqi government what to do. And I think that everybody believes that, because we’re seeing it. We’re witnessing it.

So you said this is a slap in the face for President Trump. How do you think President Trump would react to this slap in the face? Do you think that he’s going to accept it?

I don’t think President Trump knows he’s been slapped in the face. The president needs to know who the Kurds are. The president needs to know that the Kurds have been our strongest US ally in Iraq. That the Kurds have helped us fight ISIS, they helped us decimate al-Qaeda. They’ve protected Sunnis, Christians, Shiite nationalists from reprisal attacks from Shia militias as civilians fled to Kurdistan after the violence in Baghdad in 2005-06.

I was actually in Duhok and a family came up to me and said, ‘We can’t talk to you in Baghdad, and thank you, because we’ll get targeted, but thank you for being here.’ I didn’t know who they were. I said ‘Where are you from?’ They said, ‘We’re from Sadr city.’ So that means something.

But I think the president needs to know who the Kurds are and I don’t think he does. [Secretary James] Mattis does, H.R. McMaster does, I don’t think [Rex] Tillerson does. And I think Brett McGurk knows exactly who the Kurds are, but he’s already picked sides. And that’s not coming from me necessarily. That’s coming from everybody I’ve talked to on the ground in Iraq, from Sunni nationalists, Kurdish nationalists, Shiite nationalists, they say the biggest problem is the US government is listening more to the Dawa party than they are to anybody else in Iraq.

What’s happening now is all going on in front of the US government’s eyes. They see how Prime Minister Abadi and the government of Iraq have been declining calls for negotiation from the KRG in order to avoid violence. There has been a blockade, international flights have been banned. And the KRG have been trying to do everything to start negotiations in order to avoid violence, but Prime Minister Abadi and the government in Iraq have declined that. What do you think the United States should do? Why have they been so silent against this?

I think the biggest problem is we’ve given the Iraq portfolio to a man from the Department of State – to Brett McGurk. Now Brett McGurk told DC, Baghdad, Tehran, and Ankara that he could stop the Kurdish people from voting, that the US had enough leverage with the Kurds to get them to stop. Last night, he probably told DC that he had enough leverage with Baghdad to get Baghdad to stop, to not go into Kirkuk. Either that, or he’s signaled some sort of green light.

I’m frustrated by this, because this does not bode well for the relationships we’ve established with Kurds. The Peshmerga that I know, I’ve known for almost 12 years now, and I don’t ever want to put a time limit on a friendship or an alliance. And I think this is a moment where the United States… you know we got the strong statement on Iran, we got a designation of the IRGC, we’re talking about their destabilizing activities. This is what it looks like less than 60 hours after the speech. This is a provocation. This is a slap in the face.

How do you envision the future relationship between the US and the Kurdish government after what’s happening now? A lot of people believe that they have been betrayed by the US government.

Well if this continues and Baghdad conducts a military operation like they have against ISIS-held territory, if you start seeing mortars and artillery like we’re seeing tonight in – what’s the name of the city?

Tuz.

Yes. We’re seeing that now. I would hope that this gets taken care of tomorrow, that this stops. But our relationship with Kurdistan – basically, every US soldier that has ever worked with a Peshmerga is now looking to our US government, saying ‘Don’t do this to this ally of ours, you can’t do it.’ I don’t even have the words for this.

* On Friday, President Trump authorized sanctions on the IRGC for its support of terrorism, but stopped short of designating the force a terror organization.

United States may act pragmatically but should eventually stand with the Kurds

October 3, 2017

United States may act pragmatically but should eventually stand with the Kurds, Center for Security Policy, Luis Fleischman, October 3, 2017

(Please see also, Hypocrisy: A state for the Palestinians but not for the Kurds or Catalonia. — DM)

The U.S should stick to principles. We must act pragmatically, but we must also view the Kurds as our allies. We owe them and should not betray them. Members of Congress have spoken out on the issue; the Administration should do the same.

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On September 25th, Iraqi Kurds voted in a referendum for independence from the Iraqi state.

The plebiscite reflects the aspirations of the Kurdish people for self-determination. Though non-binding, 93% of the voters supported the referendum, revealing the strength of the Kurdish will for independence.

Historically, countries in the Middle East have denied sovereignty to non-Arab and non-Muslim groups in favor of Arab or Islamic hegemony throughout the region. Therefore, the idea of creating minority states has always been met with resistance and even violence.

In the Arab world, there are substantial non-Arab minorities, such as the Kurds, and non-Muslim minorities, such as Christian Arabs. Some of these minorities were integrated into their respective countries, but others were legally discriminated against or oppressed in some way or another. The only minority group to successfully achieve self-determination were the Jews, and Israel therefore remains a symbol of indignation to the much larger Arab and Muslim majority countries in the region.

This attitude has been encapsulated by the Palestinian Authority’s reaction to Kurdish secession in Iraq. Despite its own aspirations for self-determination, the PA has declared opposition to Kurdish independence because “Kurdish independence would be a poisoned sword against the Arabs,” according to Saeb Erekat, a senior adviser to the PA. Again, the Palestinians seem to hold onto this old Pan-Arabic, Pan-Islamic view that sovereignty of minorities is not to be tolerated.

Although they are Muslim, the Kurds have retained a distinct language and culture, and have viewed themselves historically as a separate non-Arab group with a unique tradition. About 25 million Kurds live in Iraq, Syria, Iran and Turkey altogether.

In Syria, the Kurds have been discriminated against systematically; they lack Syrian citizenship and are entitled neither to medical care nor even bank accounts. In Iraq, they were subjected to coerced Arabization and under Saddam Hussein gassed thousands of Kurds and expelled many hundreds of thousands more.

In Iran, Kurds have been coerced into cultural assimilation and many of their political and intellectual leaders have been executed. Thus, when the Kurds approved the referendum in Iraq, the large Kurdish population in Iran was jubilant. leaving the Iranian government uneasy.

After the Kurds approved the referendum, Turkey threatened to cut off their oil pipeline to the region. The Iraqi government also made threats aimed at boycotting and making the Kurds’ lives increasingly difficult. Even worse perhaps, Iraq joined forces with Iran, aiming to secure Iraqi control over border crossings from Kurdish-controlled areas.

Although Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has told the Kurds that the U.S would not recognize the referendum, calling it ‘illegitimate”, the coalition of Iraq, Iran and Turkey against the Kurds should be strongly repudiated. The U.S can try to mediate in the negotiations in order to pacify tensions between the Kurds and their neighbors, but should also strongly oppose measures against the Kurds.

The Kurds have been an invaluable tool in the fight against ISIS; for that reason, have proved to be one of most reliable allies we have in the Middle East.

Moreover, Iran continues to be a rogue state that carries out destabilizing activities in the Middle East and elsewhere. If the Kurdish referendum promotes Kurdish dissidence in Iran, this should be a welcoming development in itself.

In addition, for the government of Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi in Iraq to use Iran as recourse against the Kurds, it is an evidence of how unreliable the Iraqi government is. Iran has established Shiite sectarian rule in Iraq and made way for the Sunni alienation that eventually gave rise to ISIS. The U.S must remain determined in its message that alliances with Iran are not to be tolerated.

Curiously, a news analysis published by the New York Times criticized the Kurdish leadership as monarchical, non-democratic, dynastic, and therefore unworthy of self-governance.  These assertions are clearly untenable, given the fact that the governments of those neighboring countries that reject Kurdish independence are also patently undemocratic, yet their legitimacy is not questioned. The Times, which enthusiastically champions Palestinian self- determination, forgets that the Palestinian Authority (PA) is a corrupt and oppressive kleptocracy– not much better than a monarchical dynasty. Furthermore, there are very few examples in history where countries that gained independence immediately established a democratic government.

The U.S should stick to principles. We must act pragmatically, but we must also view the Kurds as our allies. We owe them and should not betray them. Members of Congress have spoken out on the issue; the Administration should do the same.

Washington’s despicable hypocrisy towards the Kurds

September 27, 2017

Washington’s despicable hypocrisy towards the Kurds, PJ Media,  David P. Goldman, September 25, 2017

There are 40 million Kurds living in Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria, and the question of Kurdish statehood can’t be untangled from the regional mess by a referendum. There is good reason to counsel the Kurds to exercise patience and careful statecraft in clearing this minefield. But it is utterly disgusting to ignore their national aspirations. Washington has reasons of state to manage the regional crisis artfully, and to ask the Kurds to be patient. But why are we so beholden to the doomed and destructive regimes of Iran, Syria, Turkey and Iraq that we cannot extend a hand of friendship to the Kurds? Their path to statehood may be tortuous and prolonged, but America should offer our counsel and support. If we do not, the rest of the Muslim world will smile grimly and exploit our moral cowardice.

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At Asia Times today, I explain why the entire world (excepting Israel) have lined up against the Kurds:

Except for the State of Israel and the Kingdom of Jordan, there isn’t one state in Western Asia that is viable inside its present borders at a 20-year horizon. All the powers with interests in the region want to kick the problem down the road, and that is why the whole world (excepting Israel) wants to abort an independence referendum to be held by Iraq’s eight million Kurds on Sept. 25.

I just want to add that our foreign policy elite is a pack of hypocritical, yellow-bellied, two-faced, fork-tongued, lying polecats who wouldn’t acknowledge the truth if it were tattooed on their ophidian foreheads.

Since September 11, 2001, we’ve been told that America has to ally with moderate Muslims against “extremism.” There are in fact moderate Muslims in the world. The Kurds are “moderate Muslims.” The Kurds do not persecute nonbelievers. They don’t hate Jews and Christians. They don’t forbid women to leave the house without a male relative; in fact, their militias are the only effective fighting force in the world that includes women in front-line combat units. They protect Iraqi Christians against ISIS, and Iraq’s Christians in turn support Kurdish independence. They have excellent and long-standing relations with the State of Israel. Jewish life is flourishing in the Kurdish Autonomous Region in the north of Iraq.

Most of all, Kurdish fighters are the spearhead of American-backed ground forces fighting ISIS in Syria and Iraq. They do not only act the way we say we want Muslims to act, protecting Christians and Jews and promoting the equality of women. They shed blood for what they believe in.

The Kurds are everything that George W. Bush and Barack Obama told us we should find in the Islamic world, and more. They want nothing but friendship with the United States of America. And we have thrown them under the bus. There isn’t an Appalachian outhouse that stinks worse than our foreign policy Establishment.

Why have we thrown them under the bus? Because we’re afraid of unsettling “extremists,” that is, the radical jihadists who have been killing Americans for decades. Kurdish independence would below up the artificial state of Iraq, which turned into an Iranian satrapy under majority Shi’ite rule as arranged by George W. Bush, Condoleezza Rice and the nation-builders of the Republican Establishment. It would destabilize Turkey, where Kurds of military age will outnumber Turks a generation from now. Turkish President Erdogan wants to restore Ottoman glory and the prospect of losing the Kurdish-majority Southeast drives him crazy. Turkey, notionally the Southeast flank of NATO, has already turned its back on the West, and lined up with Russia and China.

Thanks in small part to our bungling and in large part to Iran’s predation, the whole of Western Asia is unstable. Syria and Iraq look like the kind of scene from a Quentin Tarantino film where everyone has a gun trained on everyone else. The one island of stability in the whole miserable landscape, Iraqi Kurdistan, becomes a threat to the momentary stability of the region.

There are 40 million Kurds living in Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria, and the question of Kurdish statehood can’t be untangled from the regional mess by a referendum. There is good reason to counsel the Kurds to exercise patience and careful statecraft in clearing this minefield. But it is utterly disgusting to ignore their national aspirations. Washington has reasons of state to manage the regional crisis artfully, and to ask the Kurds to be patient. But why are we so beholden to the doomed and destructive regimes of Iran, Syria, Turkey and Iraq that we cannot extend a hand of friendship to the Kurds? Their path to statehood may be tortuous and prolonged, but America should offer our counsel and support. If we do not, the rest of the Muslim world will smile grimly and exploit our moral cowardice.