U.S. hangs Kurds out to dry — again

These years: 1975. 1988. 1991. 1995. And now 2003.

Those dates will be burned in the collective memory of Iraq’s Kurdish population, which, for the past 12 years, has built a nascent democracy in the very face of Saddam’s tyranny. But now, it seems, that the experiment will be strangled in the crib because the United States is negotiating with Turkey to occupy the Kurdish area in northern Iraq.

The plan, which is being negotiated in closed-door meetings in Ankara, the Turkish capital, is being bitterly resisted by at least some leaders of Iraq’s Kurdish groups, who fear that Turkey’s leaders may be trying to realize a historic desire to dominate the region in a post-Saddam Hussein Iraq. The Kurdish officials say they fear a military intervention by the Turks could also prompt Iran to cross the border and try to seize sections of eastern Iraq.
American diplomats and senior military commanders, led by President Bush’s special envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad, are said to be encouraging the Kurdish leaders to accept the Turkish proposal. While Washington has strongly supported the autonomous Kurdish region in Iraq over the past 12 years, it is eager to secure the permission of Turkey’s leaders to use Turkey’s bases for a possible attack on Iraq. (Emphasis added.)

This is a betrayal on the level of the Algiers Accord in 1975, when Secretary of State Henry Kissenger pulled the rug out from the under the Kurds who were fighting Saddam with the help of the Shah of Iran. On the level of Halabja, when Saddam gassed that Kurdish village (among others in his brutal al Anfal campaign) and killed 5,000 men, women and children in less than 20 minutes and the United States (and the rest of the world) stood by.

Hameda Farag, 46, a victim of 1988 Halabja attack, photographed in Halabja's single hospital. It was near sunset when she smelled something odd. "I didn't know it was a chemical attack until I fled to Iran," she said. She was pregnant at the time and lost the child. Since then, she has had three miscarriages and now can no longer have children. At the time, the world didn't care. The United States still doesn't. ®2002 Christopher
Hameda Farag, 46, a victim of 1988 Halabja attack, photographed in Halabja’s single hospital. It was near sunset when she smelled something odd. “I didn’t know it was a chemical attack until I fled to Iran,” she said. She was pregnant at the time and lost the child. Since then, she has had three miscarriages and now can no longer have children. At the time, the world didn’t care. The United States still doesn’t. ®2002 Christopher

Turkey has been driving a hard bargain to allow the United States to use its bases for this invasion. Back in December, it even asked for 10 percent of Iraqi oil annually. And back in October, I wrote about the Kurdish plans for autonomy within a post-Saddam Iraq here and here. (If you’d like to see a copy of the proposed Kurdish constitutions given to me by Dept. Prime Minister Sami Abdul Rahman, click here and here.) The official word is that the Turks’ role will be extremely limited, with a few thousand troops confined to the northern regions near the Iraqi-Turkish border. They would be under American command and limited to humanitarian duties.

However, the Times story quotes a Turkish official — it doesn’t say if the official is with the military or the civilian government — as saying the deployment would far exceed the numbers talked about with the Americans. And Turkish prime minister, Abdullah Gul, suggested that the Turkish Army’s role would go beyond humanitarian concerns to protecting Turkish interests in the region.

“Turkey is going to position herself in that region in order to prevent any possible massacres, or the establishment of a new state,” Gul told Turkish reporters.

This isn’t fair. I met several of the men and women working to create a democracy, flawed as it is, in Iraqi Kurdistan, and I can’t even imagine the disappointment that this news must have generated. Adding insult to injury, the Americans intend to seize the oil-rich cities of Kirkuk and Mosul for themselves, to prevent the Iraqis from sabotaging the oil production facilities there and the Kurds from seizing them for themselves. (Kirkuk is the proposed capital of an envisioned Kurdish autonomous region.) Turkey has long coveted both Kirkuk and Mosul, having lost them to the young Kingdom of Iraq in 1926.

I worried about just this development back in October, and said America was sending mixed signals to the peoples of the region. As I wrote back then,

Kurds certainly think a democracy is in the cards, what with their proposed constitution and all. Fowzi Hariri, the smooth, British-educated deputy head of the KDP Bureau of International Relations, told me in July that “We want Baghdad.” I didn’t know what he meant by that, but he went on to explain that the Kurds want the chance to hold the office of chief executive in a Federal Republic of Iraq. “We want a direct say in government,” he continued. “Whenever we have relied on other systems or people, we have ended up with a dictatorship.”
That was a thinly veiled barb at the on-again, off-again support from the United States. My suspicion is that we’re at it again, telling the Kurds they will have a place at the table in order to lure them into committing to a fight against Saddam while we tell the Kuwaitis, Turks and Syrians that a messy, unpredictable democratic Iraq is “not in the cards,” as the Kuwaiti said to Kristof. And when the hammer hits the anvil, I think we’ll hang the Kurds out to dry.

Sometimes it sucks to be right.

Qatar’s links to al Qa’ida, and back to the coup…

Qatar royal family linked to al Qa’ida. United States response kind of, what’s the word? Oh, yes. “Non-existent.” But then again, we need that air base there to attack Iraq. Priorities, people!

06qaed.jpgCareful readers will remember I wrote about the alleged Qatar coup attempt back in October, here, here and here. The story was that members of the military aligned with Islamic fundamentalists attempted a coup in the vital Persian Gulf country on Oct. 12. It was put down with the help of U.S. troops there, and the State Department and the Qataris denied anything happened. In my last entry on this, I said I couldn’t confirm anything and that I — reluctantly — must concede that they were rumors.
Now, possibly not so! Hesiod, over at Counterspin Central, picked up on an interesting nugget in the New York Times‘ coverage of Colin Powell’s speech before the U.N. on Wednesday. In his speech, Powell made a lot of noise in tying al Qa’ida to Baghdad through the person of Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi (right), the one-legged man believed responsible for masterminding the assassination of American diplomat Laurence Foley last October. But, as Hesiod points out, the Times buried the real story:

Mr. Powell withheld some critical details today, like the discovery by the intelligence agencies that a member of the royal family in Qatar, an important ally providing air bases and a command headquarters for the American military, operated a safe house for Mr. Zarqawi when he transited the country going in and out of Afghanistan.
The Qatari royal family member was Abdul Karim al-Thani, the coalition official said. The official added that Mr. al-Thani provided Qatari passports and more than $1 million in a special bank account to finance the network.
Mr. al-Thani, who has no government position, is, according to officials in the gulf, a deeply religious member of the royal family who has provided charitable support for militant causes for years and has denied knowing that his contributions went toward terrorist operations.
Private support from prominent Qataris to Al Qaeda is a sensitive issue that is said to infuriate George J. Tenet, the director of central intelligence. After the Sept. 11 attacks, another senior Qaeda operative, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who may have been the principal planner of the assault on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, was said by Saudi intelligence officials to have spent two weeks in late 2001 hiding in Qatar, with the help of prominent patrons, after he escaped from Kuwait.
But with Qatar providing the United States military with its most significant air operations center for action against Iraq [the al Udeid Air Base — Ed.], the Pentagon has cautioned against a strong diplomatic response from Washington, American and coalition officials say.

Sure makes those coup reports a lot more interesting, now doesn’t it? And it makes a lot more sense that Qatar and the United States would both deny that anything happened. But this is part of Washington’s game. Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and now Qatar have known ties to Islamic extremists that have had a direct hand in attacking United States interests and nothing is done because we need these countries to attack Iraq. (Or Afghanistan, in the case of Pakistan. I have less problem with going easy on Gen. Musharraf since he’s in a delicate spot and we don’t want Pakistan’s nukes falling into the hands of Islamo-Fascists.) It’s almost as if the War on Terror is an irritating distraction from the War on Iraq. And that’s exactly backward, as far as the American people are concerned.
(As an aside, the Times article notes that by revealing that Zarqawi is a walking dead man now, as Baghdad has constantly denied links to al Qa’ida. “A half hour after Powell mentioned his name, I’ll wager he disappears or is killed,” said a coalition official, recalling the death in Baghdad in 2001 of the Palestinian terrorist Abu Nidal, after intelligence reports suggested than he might be activating his own terrorist network.” As Hesiod asks, if the United States could have had Zarqawi killed earlier by mentioning him, why didn’t it? As with Ansar al-Islam, it’s convenient for the White House to let threats linger as long as they serve the goal of invading Iraq.)
George over at Warblogging has an excellent entry on why Iraq is the wrong war at the wrong time. With the the national threat level about to go to “orange” later today amid fears of a mid-February attack by al Qa’ida that could rival Sept. 11, 2001, why is Washington ignoring real links between supposed allies and terror groups and instead focusing on tenuous ties between our enemies? This is why.

101st “Screaming Eagles” en route to Gulf

101st Airborne and the USS Kittyhawk are en route to the Gulf. That’s will mean 20,000 more troops and Navy aircraft totaling 250.

screaming eaglesCNN reported this morning that the 101st Airborne Division, the “Screaming Eagles,” got the order to pack it up and head to the Persian Gulf.
Based in Fort Campbell, Ky., the 101st is the Army’s air assault division, comprised of 20,000 troops and 300 AH-64 Apache attack helicopters. It’s capable of operating on its own up to 150 km inside enemy territory. The 101st will probably be some of the first troops to enter Iraq, reprising a role they performed in Desert Storm when they fired some of the the first shots in the 1991 offensive. They can be expected to drop in on oil fields and suspected chemical or biological weapons sites.
Considered one of the finest military units in the the world — they were among the first troops to hit the ground at Normandy in 1944 — the 101st will also be joined in the deployment by the aircraft carrier, the USS Kittyhawk, from Japan, bringing the total number of carriers in the region to five. The addition of the Kittyhawk brings the Navy’s firepower up to 250 fighter aircraft in the Gulf.
The deployment of the 101st should convince anyone still doubting the determination of the Bush administration to remove Saddam Hussein by force that this will happen and it will happen soon. I stand by my latest prediction of March 1 as the start of hostilities.