Archive for the ‘Trump administration and Kurdish independence’ 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 Plays Chess, We Play Checkers

October 17, 2017

Iran Plays Chess, We Play Checkers, FrontPage MagazineKenneth R. Timmerman, October 17, 2017

I am not dissing the new Iran strategy the President rolled out on Friday, far from it. My Iranian dissident friends drew much encouragement from the President’s willingness to take an all fronts approach against the Iranian regime, not just focus on its nuclear weapons program. The fact that he mentioned the regime’s dreadful record of human rights abuses and political repression was significant.

But does it really mean the U.S. is finally ready to provide material support to a pro-freedom coalition in Iran to spark a popular uprising against the regime?

Don’t hold your breath. The Deep State would never abide by it.

Barzani himself has made bad moves. He has recklessly endangered his Queen (Kirkuk), while not defending his King (Erbil). And while doing so, he has tweaked the nose of his only committed ally, the United States, and alienated his local rivals, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan of former Iraqi president, Jalal Talabani, who died on October 3.

Barzani appears to have realized he has overstepped with his ill-timed and poorly-prepared referendum, and has agreed to cede the K-1 airbase and other positions south of Kirkuk to Iranian-backed Iraqi government forces south of Kirkuk.

It’s time for the United States to face facts and recognize that an independent, united Iraq ceased to exist several years ago, and that the only way for us to check Iranian domination of the region is to support a united, independent and democratic Kurdistan, with U.S. military bases in Kirkuk and Erbil.

To get there will require a great deal of hands-on diplomacy, because Barzani has shown himself to be reckless, unreliable and undemocratic. We need to working the ground, aligning the players.

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And the Kurds pay the price for our mistakes.

The Iranian-backed attack in Iraqi Kurdistan is nothing short of disastrous for the United States, for U.S. interests and U.S. allies in the region, and for American prestige.

It’s a hockey-style power play by Iranian Revolutionary Guards Quds Force commander Qassem Suleymani, and a direct challenge to President Trump, coming just hours after the President announced a new get tough policy on Iran.

A U.S. ally in Baghdad is attacking another U.S. ally in Kurdistan using U.S. weapons, including M1-A2 Abrams tanks, paid for with U.S. taxpayer dollars. And they are doing so under the watchful eyes of U.S. and coalition drones and fighter jets, which continue to control the skies over Iraq.

How in the world did we get here?

Even Democrats should be ready to admit by now that the American withdrawal from the Middle East under Obama and the Iran nuclear deal have emboldened the Iranian regime, while removing much of the hard-won leverage over Iran that sanctions had won for us.

Today, if we want to get tough on Iran, we can no longer call on our European allies to shut down Iran’s access to the international financial system. We can no longer impose gargantuan fines on a French or a German bank to punish them for violating those sanctions and to deter them from doing it again.

Today, our main leverage over Iran is military. We can bomb their forces in Iraq. We can intercept their ships. Eventually, we could take out their nuclear weapons production facilities.

If that sounds an awful lot like war, it’s because it is.

As Thomas Jefferson reportedly said in relation to the Barbary Pirates, an earlier jihadi Muslim confederacy that declared war on America: sanctions are the only option between appeasement and war. Obama just removed sanctions. QED.

But the Trump administration is not without blame.

The President instructed his national security team to take a fresh look at our overall strategy toward the Islamic State of Iran early in his presidency. To show how serious the administration was, national security advisor Michael Flynn “put Iran on notice” in an on-record briefing on Feb. 1.

And then, something happened. Rather than continue the “get tough” policy by decertifying the Iran nuclear deal, imposing new sanctions and other measures as Flynn was recommending, the President fired Flynn and other hard-line advisors, and everything turned to mush.

I am not dissing the new Iran strategy the President rolled out on Friday, far from it. My Iranian dissident friends drew much encouragement from the President’s willingness to take an all fronts approach against the Iranian regime, not just focus on its nuclear weapons program. The fact that he mentioned the regime’s dreadful record of human rights abuses and political repression was significant.

But does it really mean the U.S. is finally ready to provide material support to a pro-freedom coalition in Iran to spark a popular uprising against the regime?

Don’t hold your breath. The Deep State would never abide by it.

But Qassem Suleymani wasn’t going to wait to find out. Perhaps assuming – correctly – that the U.S. President was leaning out over his skis, he decided to act decisively to test the President’s resolve.

Want to get tough on the Iranian regime, Mr. President? Then bomb the Iranian-backed militias attacking our Kurdish allies in Northern Iraq and send U.S. special forces to capture Maj. Gen. Qassem Suleymani, a war criminal who has the blood of more than a thousand U.S. soldiers on his hands. (Watch a video of how Iran killed our soldiers in Iraq here).

Because that’s what Suleymani is daring you to do. And he’s betting, you won’t lift a finger to help the Kurds or to threaten him in any way.

In Middle East parlance, that makes Suleymani – not Donald Trump – the strong horse, the one to be feared and respected.

To be fair to Suleymani, he has been advancing his pieces like a brilliant chess player, springing his trap on us at precisely the moment when it would cause us the most damage.

First, in 2014 as ISIS was preparing its assault on Mosul and the Assyrian Christian and Kurdish regions of Northern Iraq, he instructed his puppet, then Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, to order the Iraqi army to withdraw from Mosul ahead of the ISIS advance.

That left Mosul defenseless and accounts for why ISIS was able to take over the city in a matter of hours without a fight.

Maliki fled briefly to Iran after his role in the abandon of Mosul was revealed in the Iraqi media, and was soon replaced by Qassem Suleymani’s new front man, Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi.

Same puppet-master, new puppet.

Next, he recruited 100,000 Iraqi Shiite fighters into the Hasht-e Shahbi militia, known in English as the Popular Mobilization Units, or PMU. They might be Iraqis, but they are owned by Qassem Suleymani and his Quds Force.

When the U.S. decided to rearm the Iraqi military to join the fight against ISIS, Suleymani positioned PMU units to fill the vacuum when ISIS left.

As I learned in July while on a reporting mission to northern Iraq, the PMU faced off with the Kurdish peshmerga all across the Nineveh Plain and was already threatening to confront them in Kirkuk.

As the U.S.-backed Iraqi army drove ISIS out of Iraq, Suleymani’s PMU raced to the border with Syria, opening a land bridge for Iran into Syria and Lebanon, putting Iran on Israel’s northern border directly for the first time.

Today, Suleymani and his strategy ally, Turkish president Erdogan, want to jerk the leash of Iraqi Kurdish president Massoud Barzani to make him realize who really calls the shots in the region.

Guess what: for all of Donald Trump’s welcome bravoura, it’s not the United States.

One immediate goal both the Turks and Iranians share is to eliminate safe havens in Iraqi Kurdistan for the PKK and PJAK, Turkish and Iranian Kurdish dissident groups. Both have reiterated that demand in recent days.

Beyond that, they want to make Barzani kneel as a vassal to his suzerain, and abandon all hopes for Kurdish independence. That can only happen if the United States drops its support for the KRG.

Barzani himself has made bad moves. He has recklessly endangered his Queen (Kirkuk), while not defending his King (Erbil). And while doing so, he has tweaked the nose of his only committed ally, the United States, and alienated his local rivals, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan of former Iraqi president, Jalal Talabani, who died on October 3.

Barzani appears to have realized he has overstepped with his ill-timed and poorly-prepared referendum, and has agreed to cede the K-1 airbase and other positions south of Kirkuk to Iranian-backed Iraqi government forces south of Kirkuk.

So far, the Pentagon is pretending that nothing is happening, just a bit of maneuvering among friends.

This is not just embarrassing, it is dangerous, wrong-headed, and will lead to total disaster. We’ve already lost Iraq, thanks to Obama’s withdrawal in 2011. Now we are about to lose the last ally on the ground that we have, the Kurds.

It’s time for the United States to face facts and recognize that an independent, united Iraq ceased to exist several years ago, and that the only way for us to check Iranian domination of the region is to support a united, independent and democratic Kurdistan, with U.S. military bases in Kirkuk and Erbil.

To get there will require a great deal of hands-on diplomacy, because Barzani has shown himself to be reckless, unreliable and undemocratic. We need to working the ground, aligning the players.

We need to be playing chess, not checkers.

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.