Al Qa’ida group threatens Iraqi Kurdistan
Peshmergas at their posts in July (© 2002 Christopher Allbritton)
The Christian Science Monitor has a terrific article on the troubles that Ansar al-Islam is giving to the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan on the Shinirwe Front, on the border between Iraqi Kurdistan and Iran. While I was there in July, I interviewed Mullah Sdeek (left), deputy chairman of the Islamic Movement, which controls one of the territories abutting ‘s. “We have been working as a mediator between  and the government to try to change their idea and to convince them to come down to the negotiating table,” Sdeek said at the time. Well, that hasn’t been working. Since the recent capture of ‘s leader, Mullah Krekar, in the Netherlands after his dismissal from Tehran, the group has threatened to capture foreigners such as U.N. and human rights workers as bargaining chips to win the release of Krekar. Note: This group bargains hard; it beheaded 42 PUK peshmergas it captured in October of last year and made all the inhabitants — including the children — of the small village of Kheli Hama watch. (By the way, an Iraqi Kurd was arrested in Kabul for plotting to kill the Afghan president and defense minister. This is likely the work of Ansar al-Islam, so these guys aren’t sitting around.)
The full interview with Mullah Sdeek can be read here.
Map courtesy of the Christian Science Monitor
From the Dept. of Hypocrisy:
So let me get this straight: After a congressional inquiry looks into whether the FBI and CIA are to be faulted for not following leads of a possible money trail between the Saudi government and two of the 9/11 hijackers, the Bush administration cautions against jumping to conclusions. But when it comes to going to war in Iraq and killing lots of people, based on a lot of “might possess”, “could use” or “possibly hand over to terrorists” various forms of weapons of mass destruction, we’re supposed to just, I don’t know, take Bush’s word for it?
“While you have an ongoing investigation, it’s important not to rush to judgment,” said National Security Council spokesman Sean McCormack during a visit by President Bush to Romania.
So why has Bush threatened Saddam again with war if he doesn’t cooperate with the United Nations inspectors and meet the United States’ expectations of his weapons programs if it’s important not to rush to judgment? Oh, right. The Saudis are American allies — who won’t let the United States use the bases, meddle in Qatari affairs and are doing everything possible to thwart U.S. aims in the Gulf. And lets not forget the ties of the Bin Laden family to the Saudi royals, and their support for Wahhabism. Even Russian President Vladimir Putin has said, “We should not forget about those who finance terrorism.” He went on to remind Bush that 15 of the the 19 hijackers in the 9/11 attacks were Saudis.
Iraq, for its part, accused Bush of “trying to lure his NATO allies into war” on the eve of the resumption of weapons inspectors. (And, if you believe it, the opposition group Iraqi National Alliance met with Iraqi veep Izzat Ibrahim in Baghdad (!) to talk about the introduction of a new constitution that would guarantee pluralism and other freedoms, including freedom of the press. Since Saddam has violated most of the agreements he’s reached in some way, I’m extraordinarily skeptical of this report. Most likely any new constitution won’t be worth the paper its written on.)
Turks Clamping Down
In other news, the Turks are stepping up their plans to take control of Iraqi Kurdistan in the event of a large stream of refugees into southeast Turkey in the event of war. Turkey says it plans to move up to 60 miles into northern Iraq and seal the border after setting up a system of 18 refugee camps — 12 of them in Iraq. Iraqi refugees would only be allowed to cross the border after the 12 Iraqi camps have been filled up. Human rights groups, however, fear the plan is more likely designed to keep a lid on Kurdish aspirations for autonomy. I’ve written about this here, here and here.
What’s Russia’s Game?
Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov the war on terrorism should focus on countries that harbor terrorists, not Iraq. Presumably, this is only a slightly veiled reference to Chechnya, where Islamic militants have been fighting a bloody war with Moscow since 1998. The United States has called for a political solution, while it pursues a military formula against its own enemies.
Russia fears very serious consequences of a war in Iraq, with the bullseye on its state energy sector — one of the few aspects of the Russian economy doing well. Stratfor (subscription required) reports the economy as such:
The economy and political system are rife with organized crime and corruption, and capital flight reaches a staggering $20 billion or so per year, according to international law enforcement agencies. The nation also faces growing threats from Islamic radicals and militants, who have demonstrated an ability to strike in the very heart of Moscow itself.
The fallout of an Iraqi war range from bad to catastrophic and Moscow’s options range from wielding its veto on the security council in the event of arms inspectors reporting back that Iraq is stonewalling to staging a coup in Baghdad to preempt Washington’s preemption. Stratfor reports this effort is ongoing, and time will tell whether they are successful. The goal would be to remove Saddam via a coup before Washington could send in the Marines, and set up an equally pro-Russian/pro-U.S. government that would protect Russia’s energy interests in the country. A competing plan would have Russian military intelligence agents (GRU) taking a more radical tack, setting up a strictly pro-Russian government. Given the Russian’s former track record in setting up friendly governments on its southern periphery (Afghanistan? December 1979? Hello?), this seems a plan fraught with peril, especially since the United States would look on such developments as less than favorable to its own strategic interests.
Why would Putin put Russia on such a collision course with the United States? Because if the United States should gain control of the Iraqi oil industry, Russia’s budget could be wrecked and the country could suffer a catastrophic economic meltdown. The economy is already teetering on a knife edge, and it will be very difficult for the Russians to weather first an oil price spike — since they’re already at full capacity and couldn’t increase to take advantage of the spike — and assuming increased oil supply drives the world prices down, the country would be at a serious disadvantage in finding new customers for its (now much cheaper) oil. And as mentioned before, the energy sector is about the only aspect of the Russian economy that’s doing well. If that fails because of an America-Iraqi war that transpires on Putin’s watch, he could be vulnerable to charges that he sold out the country to the Americans and let a traditional ally (Iraq) down. Combined with an impotent plan for dealing with Islamic extremists out of Chechnya, an imploding economy and further humiliation at the hands of the United States, Putin’s days could be numbered.
Putin may have embarked on the course to preempt Washington because he has no other choice.