Carriers in motion to Gulf

Cry ‘havoc’ and let slip the dogs of war — around Jan. 1.

In Stratfor’s War Diary (subscription required), it’s being reported that the carrier USS Constellation will set sail for the Gulf later this week and will arrive in December. The USS Harry S. Truman is also due in late December or early January. These two carriers will relieve the USS Abraham Lincoln and the USS George Washington, which are currently stationed in the Gulf and the Mediterranean, respectively. However, if the Lincoln stays in the Gulf and the Washington moves there, that would give the United States four carriers by the beginning of 2003.
Also moving is the USS Kitty Hawk, which left Japan a few days ago, mission unknown. A British carrier is also on the move, apparently. Stratfor predicts an attack soon after the first of the year.
This seems likely since France seems to be weakening in the United Nations and Russia might be more likely to support a hard resolution after the Chechen hostage situation in the Nord-Ost theatre. Britain is with the United States, obviously, and China says it won’t veto a resolution. Bottom line: The U.S. will get its resolution.
Cry ‘havoc’ around the first of the year, me thinks. The dogs will be loos’d

Qatar denies coup attempt

Qatar denies rumors of an attempted coup and I, regretfully, eat crow.

Well, hell. Qatar has denied the reports of an attempted coup on Oct. 12, calling the rumor “nonsense.”
This is a tough call for me to make, especially after I blew it up as big as I did. But I’m not on the ground there, and I only have Stratfor and ArabicNews.com to go by. While both can be pretty reliable, the State Department has said there’s nothing to it and now Qatar says the same thing. For what it’s worth, I will say that it’s possible that something went down and both the U.S. and Qatar have vested interests in preserving the image of a happy, pacific partnership.
However, just because something is possible doesn’t mean it happened. I have to say until another source comes forward, it looks like rumors of a Qatari coup were just that — rumors. I regret compounding the error by publishing it. I will do better next time.

Happy birthday, Turkey

Happy 79th Birthday, Turkey!

Happy 79th birthday, Turkey! You look weeks younger!
Mustafa Kemal Atatürk founded by the modern Turkish state Oct. 29, 79 years ago. For all of Turkey’s problems today, no one should underestimate the determination and accomplishment of Atatürk. In the face of hostile enemies, a skeptical world and a collection of peoples with no reason to band together, he forged a modern and Western-facing nation out of the ashes of the Ottoman Empire. Regardless of how people view the modern Turkey, it’s a damn sight better than what might have been had he failed. And for that I tip my hat to Father Turk.
I also think that were he alive today, he would have brought the same energy, determination (and, frankly, authoritarianism) to the problems of the Republic. But he’s not, and Turkey needs to step out of the great man’s shadow and move on. Atatürk was able to accomplish what he did because he didn’t worry about the democratic process. And his approach was exactly right for what was needed at the time. But today, Turkey must embrace a full democracy and remove the military from the decision making process. The slogan that adorns the steps leading up to Atatürk’s mausoleum in Ankara should be amended. Instead of “Sovereignty rests with the Nation,” it should instead derive from the people — all of them, Turks and Kurds alike. His admonition to the army to protect the nation from all enemies foreign and domestic should come with the appendix the people are not the enemy; they are citizens.
I’d like to think that Atatürk would recognize this. Turkey no longer needs a Great Man. It needs a great people.

I have competition!

In which i find that i have competition and I demolish him.

Not that I particularly relish competition, seeing as I’m a natural monopolist at heart, but it seems there’s a site called IraqJournal.org that has a lot of reporting from Baghdad coordinated by Jeremy Scahill.
I point to this site in a spirit of “we’re all journalists, check it out!” but I gotta be honest. I think Mr. Scahill and his team are pretty biased. First of all, they’re based in Baghdad, which means they’re there with the permission of Saddam’s regime. It’s unlikely they’re going to report on things that make the Iraqis look bad. Secondly, his bio has a couple of telling quotes (emphasis added):

  • “He primarily covers international stories, focusing on the ugly face of US foreign policy.”
  • “He spent more than a month in Iraq (May-June 2002) where he reported on the ongoing suffering there caused by the US-led sanctions and continuous bombing.”

Now, I don’t want to take away from Mr. Scahill’s accomplishments. As his bio says, he’s the youngest person to ever win the George Polk Award for Foreign Reporting, (He’s 28). And living in Iraq as a Westerner is hard.
But the coverage is overwhelmingly sympathetic to Saddam. Two stories on the prison amnesty fairly brim with admiration. The implication is, “See? He’s not so bad!” Reports that political prisoners and those accused of spying for Israel and the United States were not released or — worse — “disappeared,” are breezily dismissed. He trashes John Burns’ (NY Times) account of many prisoners thanking Bush for their liberty by saying:

Many prisoners thanked Bush? Is he kidding? “Many” implies that thousands must have been rushing up to Burns (on the day of their “liberation” back into “Saddam’s Iraq”) to make sure that The Times relayed their message back to the Oval Office (which is currently threatening to destroy Iraq). Even if Burns had managed to hunt down that handful of Iraqis who do have affection for the US president, none of them would have been stupid enough on that day, when they had just hit “freedom,” to come out swinging at Saddam and praising Bush to an American reporter. And “many” is a flat-out fairytale.

Now, I have no idea if “many” or “a few” or “every goddamned one of ’em!” thanked Bush for their freedom, but it’s clear from Scahill’s wording that he doesn’t either. There are no quotes from recently released prisoners backing up his claims and his reportage is peppered with “would have”s and “could have”s. In short, he’s assuming.
In another story, running under the headline “Bush Corleone,” Scahill makes the claim that “These days most UN officials here, while deriding the infamous Iraqi bureaucracy, speak of deep collaboration with the government in attempting to deal with the devastating impact of the US-led sanctions.”
That?s simply not true. When I was in Iraqi Kurdistan, Mike Parker of the Mine Advisory Group, which helps locate and cleanse the massive minefields laid during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War, told me that 12 expatriates and UN workers had been killed in the four years he had been working in Suleimanya. They were killed by car bombs, snipers and other mayhem. He also traveled with an armed escort and after I met him for dinner, refused to let me return to my hotel without my own armed escort. Mike isn?t with the United Nations, but foreigners there are only safe when they cooperate with Saddam, and that includes talking to the press — especially in Baghdad.
OK. So perhaps I’m being hard on Scahill and his team. After all, they’re on the ground doing work and I’m still in New York. But is it really so hard to say, as one of my friends did recently, “Saddam is a bad guy and a monstrous tyrant, but now is not the time to go after him.” Why are some people on the left unable to take this at least intellectually honest approach? Because it would mean the United States has a point?
So here?s my bottom line: I desperately want to be in Scahill’s position and I have a lot of respect for him that he’s managed to get himself there and do reporting. His site looks nice, too, and I guess I’ll link to it. But — and this is a big but — reporting propaganda, regardless of where it comes from doesn’t serve the most important people journalists should be thinking about: their readers. Also: I oppose the seemingly inevitable war in Iraq not because I think Saddam is a swell chap or because I think everything the United States does is in quest of yummy oil. He?s not and not everything the U.S. does is evil. I oppose it because it’s geostrategically dangerous, because it violates many aspects of established international practices and laws and it shows a shockingly shortsighted vision of foreign policy. From various reports, it seems the United States will hang the Kurds out to dry, and that?s not fair. War with Iraq will also distract us from the important task of containing Al Qaeda and alienate our allies making everything the United States does harder. So, yes, I?m opposed to the war, but not at the expense of truth, the famous first casualty.
But if I was assured that the United States had the backing and blessing of the United Nations, that there was proof of Iraq?s evil machinations to inflict serious and immediate harm and the Kurds were protected by a solid commitment to democracy, then hell, I don?t think I could oppose taking out Saddam.
At least I?m honest.

Turkey and Iraqi Kurds headed for confrontation

Northern Iraq is a powederkeg waiting to explode, and the Kurds and Turks seem set on a confrontation.

In an item from ArabicNews.com, “Turkish officials” tell the daily newspaper Bousta that there will be no Kurdish state in northern Iraq.

In a telephone call with the Turkish daily Bousta, the Turkish officials indicated in its Saturday’s issue that Washington gave guarantees to Ankara that a (Kurdish) state will not be established, stressing that it is impossible that the US will sacrifice its good relations with Turkey for the sake of founding an independent Kurdish state in the after- Saddam phase.

This is almost assuredly true, since the United States needs Turkey a lot more than it needs the Kurds, and it’s been telling the Kuwaitis not to worry, that there will be no democracy in a post-Saddam Iraq.
And yet the Kurds, bless them, persist in moving forward with their constitution, a charter that is almost guaranteed to get them invaded by Turkey. A meeting of 35 Kurdish parties, called for by the chairman of the Kurdistani Democratic Socialist Party, Muhammad Haji Mahmoud, convened yesterday in the town of Kuwisinjaq. While all Kurdish parties, including the Islamist parties such as Islamic Movement and Islamic Union, are expected to attend, the Turkomen parties weren’t invited, an ominous omission.
For not only will the Turks (and Syrians and Iranians) look upon Kurdish jostling for federalism in Iraq with alarm, Turkey could use the exclusion of the Turkomen as an excuse to intervene, especially since Ankara has recently been referring to Kirkuk, the proposed capital of a Kurdish entity in the north, as a “Turkomen” city. (Which isn’t true at all. The Kurds have a longer claim to it than the Turkomen.)
Ala Talabani, a spokesperson for the PUK in Suleimanya, emailed me today and told me that the Kurds are doing everything they can to reassure Turkey. “Turkey, they are nervous, but parties here are doing theire best to make them understand that we are not looking for Independency; we will remain a part of Iraq,” she wrote. [Ed. I cleaned up her English a little.] “Remember that they have an election (coming up.) After that, their position will be clear.”
But what that position may be, no one knows. The ruling coalition of ailing Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit will almost assuredly be removed come Nov. 3, and a party with roots in political Islam, Justice and Development, is polling at 30 percent, far ahead of other parties. This means Turkey could be looking at a Prime Minister Abdullah Gul, a top Justice and Development party leader. Remember, in 1997 the Turkish military staged a “soft coup” to remove an Islamist ruling coalition when it strayed too far from the embrace of the West and chummied up with Iran and Libya.
I think a Justice and Development-led government would be even more hardline on the question of the Kurds. Any civilian government in Turkey must kowtow to the military establishment, which views both political Islam and Kurdish separatism with equal contempt. In order to protect its position, Justice and Devlopment won’t do anything to piss off the generals in Ankara. Also, the Islamists, despite their rhetoric, are cool to the idea of the European Union and its demands that Turkey temper its persecution of its ethnic minorities. Since the EU snubbed Turkey in its latest round of talks, an Islamist-led Turkey would have little reason to accommodate Europe — or the Kurds.
So the stage is set for chaos in northern Iraq, apres Saddam. And the only people who will be able to bring the parties to heel will be the United States. The question is, will it?