More Violence in Kirkuk

More violence in Kirkuk between Arabs, Kurds and Turkmen. Two dead, 10 injured. Bad news all around.

At least two people died and 10 were wounded today in Kirkuk when Arabs and Turkmen protested Kurdish efforts to control the oil-rich city.

Kurds on Iraq’s U.S.-appointed Governing Council are proposing that a future, federal Iraqi government grant broad autonomy to the northern zone, with Kirkuk as its capital, and a say over other areas with large Kurdish populations.
That plan is bitterly opposed by Turkmens and Arabs in Kirkuk, some 20,000 of whom took to the streets Wednesday, chanting “No to federalism! Kirkuk is Iraqi!.”

This is the aftereffects of Saddam Hussein’s efforts to “Arabize” the Kirkuk region. The city became a powderkeg of ethnic tensions when the “Kurds took Kirkuk”:http://www.back-to-iraq.com/archives/000354.php in April and almost immediately began “Kurdishizing” the area by driving out Arab families that had been settled there. In August, “three Turkmen were killed”:http://www.back-to-iraq.com/archives/000445.php#000445 in ethnic violence in Kirkuk. (If you want to see some of what the Kurds are looking for, I wrote about the proposed constitutions “here”:http://www.back-to-iraq.com/archives/000046.php#000046.)
I’m working on an essay about the political maneuverings among the Kurds, the Iraqi Governing Council and even Turkey, so I’m not going to say much more than this. But, as during the war, some of the most interesting — and far-reaching — events are bubbling in the north while most of the obvious bang-bang action is around Baghdad. While the southern events are important — people are dying, for God’s sake — the Kurds could be the match that lights a larger fire.

Jews for Kurdistan!

At least two American Jews fiercely believe in an independent Kurdistan? Are there more?

Really interesting article here on a Brooklyn woman’s passionate support for an independent Kurdistan. The kicker? Vera Saeedpour is a “feisty, diminutive and devoutly Jewish senior citizen.”
The widow of a Muslim Iranian Kurd who died in 1981, her Jewish identity has had a tremendous impact on her immersion in the Kurdish cause. “How could we as Jews complain about the world being silent when we were persecuted,” she asks, “and ignore what has happened to the Kurds?”
Pretty interesting stuff, and she’s not alone. A friend of mine, who would prefer anonymity, is also passionately pro-Kurdistan and Jewish. And while Saeedpour calls herself an “advocate for justice,” my friend has called himself a “Kurdish activist.” What’s interesting about my friend is that, unlike Saeedpour who has strong personal ties to Kurdish culture (marriage), my friend just developed a passionate interest from books and visits. (He has friends who are Kurdish, of course.)
So I’m putting out a call, as I’d like to see how widespread this phenomenon is. If you’re Jewish and _passionately_ believe that the Kurds should be independent — if you might be considered obsessive on the subject, even — I want to hear from you. I’d also like to find out if this is a common trend in the American Jewish community. Does it grow out of Jews’ general sympathy for social justice? And what about in Israel? Is there much support for an independent Kurdistan there? How does this fit into the context of an independent Palestine? I don’t know the answers to any of these questions and I’m just kind of brainstorming, but if I can find enough Jews who feel like Saeedpour and my friend, that might be a pretty good story.

Utne Announces Press Award Winners

Utne Magazine announces its 2003 Independent Press Award winners.

Utne Magazine announced its 2003 Independent Press Awards winners today, with _The American Prospect, The Onion, Mother Jones_ and _Grist_ picking up some of the top honors.
The American Prospect took top prize for General Excellence, while The Onion took best Cultural/Social Coverage. Utne commented: “America’s funniest newspaper is also one of its sharpest critical voices. Read The Onion for a good laugh and at the same time get real insight into many of the issues, large and small, facing us today.” This is a great move for _The Onion_ out of the humor category and into the social commentary slot, as it seems satire, ala _The Daily Show,_ Al Franken’s Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them, has become the preferred method of cultural and political criticism.
The Nation picked up the prize for best Political Coverage and Grist was picked for best Online Political Coverage. (Back-to-Iraq.com was also nominated for the same category, but congratulations, Grist!)
“The complete list of winners”:http://www.utne.com/pub/2004_121/promo/11017-1.html is truly a rogue’s gallery (I mean that in the most complimentary sense!) of independent and alternative media out there, and I urge everyone to check out some of the winners for themselves. You’ll be delighted, intrigued and hopefully better informed.

Holiday Pledge Drive

We’ve topped $1,000 in donations since the weekend. Thank you all so very much.

The Holiday Pledge Drive (into which the current round of fundraising seems to have evolved) has been a raging success. With the announcment that one donor, Currencia, would match donations that come in between Dec. 20 and Dec. 24 at 5 p.m., people have donated $1,006. And it’s not even Christmas Eve. Most sentimentally for me, one of my childhood friends, Kenneth Buswell was the one that put us over the $1,000 mark. As he so eloquently put it in his donation note: “Keepin’ yo ass alive.” Thanks, man. And thank you _all_ for your generous support.
I’m working on seeing if I can get some comments today from my sources in the PUK regarding “Saddam’s capture on Dec. 14”:http://www.back-to-iraq.com/archives/000495.php, and after that B2I will take a short holiday break. I’ll be in Little Rock, Ark., for the holidays with the family until Saturday. Happy holidays everyone.

Shameless Self-Promotion

OK. This is hilarious. I’ve been nominated for _The Week_ Magazine’s “Media Person of the Year.” Click “here”:http://tinyurl.com/2yfc2 to vote.
What’s silly is that I’m nestled in between Roger Ailes and Ashleigh Banfield. (Hm. Half of that snugglefest wouldn’t be so bad.) What’s sillier is that I’m on a list that includes people such as Jayson Blair (ugh), Howard Dean, Paris Hilton and Jon Stewart.
Amusing.
On a related note, Utne will announce the winners of its 2003 “Independent Press Awards”:http://www.utne.com/uipa tomorrow. I’ve been nominated for the Online Political Reporting. Stiff competition there, though. Wish B2I luck!

WMDs still MIA

Well, the great Iraqi WMD Hunt appears to be winding down.

Well, the great Iraqi WMD Hunt of 2003 appears to be winding down. The Associated Press reports:

Weapons-hunters are spending more time on base, intelligence experts have been reassigned to work on the counterinsurgency, and the man leading a search for chemical, biological and nuclear weapons is thinking of bowing out.

The conventional wisdom is that no one in the electorate cares anymore. Saddam’s been caught! “The war’s going great!”:http://gallup.com/poll/releases/pr031219.asp
But they should care, because — and this will come as no surprise, but I have to say it — this war was fought using the American people’s tax money and their sons and daughters. Since March 20, 548 troops from Coalition countries “have died”:http://lunaville.org/warcasualties/Summary.aspx, at the average rate of 1.6 a day.
Citizens should care because they were lied to. There’s really no polite way to say it, but the White House lied about the threat of Saddam’s WMDs to get the American people to support the war. And it worked. Now, $87 billion and almost 550 dead soldiers later, the hunt is almost played out.
“It’s probably time to call it quits,” said Hans Blix, the former chief U.N. weapons inspector, whose teams were given one-third the time the United States has spent looking for weapons.
“The U.S. and the U.K. are so wedded to the idea that the Iraqis were hiding things that they are not willing to explore the possibility that they’re wrong,” Blix said.
If there’s anything good that came out of the campaign of mass deception, I’d like to think that the American people won’t be fooled twice. Perhaps that realization hit Karl Rove, too, and may be another reason Washington and London chose to believe Col. Muammar al-Qadhafi when he said he would give up his WMDs and allow UN inspectors in. Because the White House couldn’t cry wolf twice, Qadhafi is now a man the West can do business with instead of a lyin’, theivin’, treacherous dictator, like Saddam Hussein.
But perhaps my faith in the common sense of the American people is misplaced. I mean, according to a recent Gallup poll, “53 percent of Americans think Saddam Hussein was personally involved in the 9/11 attacks”:http://gallup.com/poll/releases/pr031219.asp, _up_ 10 points from a similar poll take in September.
The American people were lied to — they should be angry. Instead, they’re still willingly believing lies.

Deal with a Devil

Since we’re dealing with devils in getting Libya to open up its weapons programs to inspectors, why wasn’t the same deal offered to Hussein?

Some thoughts on the Libyan developments of this weekend:

Libya has been working to shed its pariah image for years, but it still hasn’t gone far enough

There’s no doubt Libya has been a bad seed since the 1969 coup brought Col. Muammar Abu Minyar al-Qadhafi to power. His government exported terrorism, revolution and generally rocked the boat wherever possible. But because of the United Nations sanctions imposed in 1992 for the bombing of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988, Libya’s support for terrorism has been waning. In 1999, the sanctions were suspended and on Sept. 12, 2003, they were finally lifted. However, Libya is still a nasty place to live, with massive human rights violations on par with Saddam Hussein’s. Human Rights Watch says

Over the past three decades, Libya’s human rights record has been appalling. It has included the abduction, forced disappearance or assassination of political opponents; torture and mistreatment of detainees; and long-term detention without charge or trial or after grossly unfair trials. Today hundreds of people remain arbitrarily detained, some for over a decade, and there are serious concerns about treatment in detention and the fairness of procedures in several on-going high profile trials before the Peoples’ Courts. Libya has been a closed country for United Nations and non-governmental human rights investigators.

Sound familiar? By the way, today, Dec. 21, 2003 is the 15th anniversary of the Lockerbie attack that killed 270 people. Family members of the victims are not pleased with this deal. President Bush, in his remarks on Friday, made no mention of the bombing. So America gets to overlook a history of terrorism and human rights abuses and Qadhafi likely gets full diplomatic recognition and and end to the economic and diplomatic isolation that many Libyans resented. The unintended consequence will be that Col. Qadhafi just got a new lease on his political life, since this will allow him to crack down on dissent, much of which has been of the Islamist variety.

This leads me to another point:

Pointing to the Iraq war as the driving force in getting Libya to cooperate is just an attempt to claim a success from the debacle that Iraq has become.

British Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon said, “We showed after Saddam Hussein failed to cooperate with the UN that we meant business and Libya, and I hope other countries, will draw that lesson.”

Hm. Have we? And will they? A good chunk of the U.S. military is tied down in Iraq, Afghanistan or otherwise engaged. It’s highly unlikely the U.S. could mount another military campaign to topple a government even if it had good reason to do so. The threat of a Iraq-sized invasion is an empty one and Iran, Sudan, North Korea and, yes, Libya know it.

Instead of fearing the Bush Doctrine of preemptive attacks, “bad guy” countries can see that possessing WMDs is a good way to wring concessions from a superpower they might not have received otherwise. Because the U.S. doesn’t have any other choice. It’s these rogue nations with WMDs that are arguing from a position of strength, not the U.S.

President Bush said on Friday,

We obtained an additional United Nations Security Council Resolution requiring Saddam Hussein to prove that he had disarmed, and when that resolution was defied, we led a coalition to enforce it. All of these actions by the United States and our allies have sent an unmistakable message to regimes that seek or possess weapons of mass destruction. Those weapons do not bring influence or prestige. They bring isolation and otherwise unwelcome consequences. (Emphasis added.)

Some problems with that. No Iraqi weapons of mass destruction have been found. Iraq said it didn’t have them, and damned if Saddam’s regime wasn’t telling the truth this time. The whole world thinks the WMD charge is a MacGuffin. By the way, the resolution Bush mentioned, UNSCR 1441, said:

The Security Council, …

Decides that, in order to begin to comply with its disarmament obligations, in addition to submitting the required biannual declarations, the Government of Iraq shall provide to UNMOVIC, the IAEA, and the Council, not later than 30 days from the date of this resolution, a currently accurate, full, and complete declaration of all aspects of its programmes to develop chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons, ballistic missiles, and other delivery systems such as unmanned aerial vehicles and dispersal systems designed for use on aircraft, including any holdings and precise locations of such weapons, components, sub-components, stocks of agents, and related material and equipment, the locations and work of its research, development and production facilities, as well as all other chemical, biological, and nuclear programmes, including any which it claims are for purposes not related to weapon production or material; …

all of which it appears now Iraq actually did. The government of Iraq said they didn’t have any unconventional weapons and — whaddya know?! — they didn’t.

I was as surprised as anyone. I called the 7,000-page Iraqi declaration that the country was “devoid of weapons of mass destruction” a suicide note, and wondered what the Iraqis were up to. (Note to consistency watchers: Before the war, I believed Saddam possessed some kind of unconventional arsenal, just not one worth going to war over. Some chems, certainly, maybe some biologicals, no nukes — that was my guess. I was wrong.)

Placing the Libyan deal in the context of the Iraq war is what is so infuriating. Actually, it’s this administration’s shifting rationales, attempts to claim successes and cynical of-the-momentism that are really infuriating. I mean, the rationale for invading Iraq right this very minute was to disarm the country of WMDs and remove an imminent threat to the survival of the United States. When that threat (and the arsenal) were proven to be a lie — or a gross incompetence in reading intelligence data — the war became one of liberation. And now the United States makes a deal with an oppressive dictator who killed a lot of innocent civilians — and a fair number of Americans — in a string of terrorist attacks. And claims a failed policy and a quagmire were the reasons for this bit of good news.

Don’t get me wrong: It’s a good thing that Libya has agreed to give up its unconventional weapons programs; any successes in ridding the world of nasty weapons are welcome. But let’s not kid ourselves here. This is a deal with a devil, and the U.S. is making it because it has no other choice; forcible regime change is out of the question because the U.S. doesn’t have the resources. This is a big win for Qadhafi, a smaller win for American and Britain, and a wash for the people of Libya who now have a leader with a softened image, but still a fist of iron.

*UPDATE 12/22* Juan Cole has some “excellent thoughts”:http://www.juancole.com/2003_12_01_juancole_archive.html#107199393231717277 on this issue. George over at Warblogging.com also “weighs in”:http://www.warblogging.com/archives/000780.php, and includes a handy “dictator comparison chart.” And Josh Marshall, again, “finds a real nugget”:http://www.talkingpointsmemo.com/archives/week_2003_12_21.html#002338 in the Pakistan connection to Libya’s WMD programs.