Curious numbers in Ninevah

BAGHDAD — Ninevah province, home to the mixed city of Mosul and the besieged city of Tal ‘Afar, is seeing some _very_ strange numbers. I’ve done back of the Excel envelope calculations and have found this:
* In the January election, which was boycotted by Sunnis, there were 165,934 votes cast, according to the “Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq”:http://ieciraq.org/English/Home.htm.
* In October, according to “AP’s preliminary results”:http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20051017/ap_on_re_mi_ea/iraq_vote_results, there were 419,804 votes cast in Ninevah, an increase of 253,870 votes, or +152.99 percent.
* The number of people voting *for* the constitution in Ninevah, according to the AP, was 326,774 (78 percent), with 90,065 voting *against* it (21 percent). Less than 1 percent, or 2,965 votes, was disqualified.
By way of comparison, Tamim province, home to the disputed city of Kirkuk, saw 542,000 votes cast — an increase of 35.2 percent over January — with 341,611 voting “yes” (63 percent) and 195,725 voting “no” (36 percent). You mean we’re supposed to believe that in Tamim, which is also a mixed province but which has had a steady stream of Kurds moving in for the last two-and-a-half years, had *more than twice as many no votes as Ninevah?* And with the Kurds already pretty much owning Kirkuk? Color me skeptical.
What’s truly eyebrow-raising is that the number of constitutional “yes” votes — 326,774 — is more than the total increase in votes over January’s turnout. That suggests that not only did all of the Sunnis in Ninevah province, who largely boycotted the January elections turn out, but that they _all voted for the constitution._ That’s a very strange idea to me, as I’ve not met a single Sunni who voted for it here in Baghdad.
Ninevah is home to Mosul, a mixed city of about 2 million Arabs, Turkomans and Kurds, as well as Tal’Afar, the mostly Turkoman city of 500,000 that U.S. and Iraqi forces stormed last month. Anecdotal reports are that a) Sunni Arabs have come out in droves, mainly to vote down the constitution, and b) the constitution was very unpopular in Tal’Afar because of military actions there.
Now, several possibilities spring to mind: Sunni Arabs in the north really _love_ the idea of the new national charter, but I find this unlikely, to say the least. In fact, I only suggest it for the giggle factor. Another possibility is that the vote was blatantly fixed. A third possibility is that the Kurds moved thousands of people into Mosul to skew the vote. Oddly enough, I heard Sunnis making just this charge in the run-up to the Saturday’s referendum. A third possibility is a combination of the last two. The vote was rigged _and_ the Kurds moved people in.
Now, contrasting points that prove I don’t know what I’m talking about, suggested by colleagues:
# Mosul is an Iraqi Islamic Party stronghold. The IIP called on its supporters to vote “yes” after a deal last week to open up the constitution to early amendments. This split the Sunni opposition to the charter.
# The Sunnis simply don’t make up 20 percent of Iraq. There hasn’t been a reliable census in years and not only do the Sunnis not make up 42 percent of Iraq as Saleh Mutlaq, a member of the National Dialogue Council, claims, but they’re much fewer than the 20 percent most people assume.
# Ninevah and Mosul aren’t Sunni strongholds. It’s conventional wisdom, but maybe that’s wrong.
# Mosul was a lot more violent in January, keeping the vote there down. Perhaps now, with less violence, more Kurds — perhaps half of the total increase — were able to come out and vote.
# The Turkomans aren’t a factor. Money quote from cynical colleague: “There are more Turkoman parties than there are Turkomans.”
# The AP numbers are so preliminary, they’re flat-out wrong.
The possibility exists that all of these possibilities have played into the dynamic in Ninevah, leading to wild numbers, and I’ve not been able to reach a stringer in Mosul yet to get more information. But if these numbers hold, there’s something very, very rotten in the north.
(Hat tip to various commenters who alerted me to the numbers here.)

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Shellings and kidnappings

Today was a bad one. Another friend was kidnapped last night, and this morning a mortar shell hit our compound. Thankfully, my friend was released after a day — but he was very lucky. (More details to come tomorrow after he leaves the country.) The mortar caused no real damage, hamdillah, but hit a house near one of the hotels in the compound. The explosion, in size and intensity, sounded exactly like the car bomb that hit the Karma hotel back in May.

Staying here is becoming increasingly untenable. There’s talk of TIME moving me up north for a couple of months, which would be a welcome change, to be honest. I’ve not been able to get out of the compound, and after the kidnapping, I’m disinclined to even make the attempt. The bottom line is I can’t work like this and I’m getting more and more frustrated, as I’ve mentioned. Hopefully, by moving to the north for a little while, my work will improve and so will my state of mind.

More as the situation develops, but things are changing here in Baghdad — for the worse.

UPDATE 2321 +0300 And now a large car bomb with many casualties — in first reports — has just gone off down the street from our compound.

Suicide Attacks in Arbil kill dozens

PUK_hq.jpg
An exterior view shows a destroyed wall in the office of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan in the town of Arbil, some 400 km north of Iraqi capital Baghdad on Sunday. REUTERS/Namir Noor-Eldin

Two suicide bombers attacked the offices of the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan in Arbil, the seat of the Iraqi Kurdistan parliament, today, killing dozens and wounding more than 200.
Reports vary as to the number of dead, with some reports putting the number at 56, others 70 and still others at 100 or more. This is the worst bombing since the August “attack on the shrine of Imam Ali in Najaf”:http://www.back-to-iraq.com/archives/000451.php#000451, which killed more than 100 people, including Ayatollah Mohammad Baqir al-Hakim, a key Shi’a cleric and then-head of SCIRI.
Among the dead are:

  • Sami Abdulrahman, Deputy Prime Minister KRG, politbureau Secretary, KDP
  • Shawkat Shekh Yezdin, Coordination Minister, KRG, Central Committee Member, KDP
  • Sa’d Abdulla, politbureau Member, Head of Branch 2, KDP
  • Mehmmod Halo, Deputy Finance Minister, KDP
  • Akram Mentik, Governor of Arbil, KDP
  • Mehdi Khoshnaw, Deputy Governor of Arbil, KDP
  • Ahmad Rojbeyani, Head of Administration of the City of Arbil, KDP
  • Neriman Abdul-Hamid, Head of Police in Arbil
  • Shakhewan Abbas, Leadership Member, PUK
  • Khasro Shera, Leadership Member, PUK

At a news conference in Sofia, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari, a Kurd, blamed the attacks on the al Qaeda network or its allies.
sami.jpg
Sami Abdulrahman, KDP deputy prime minister, in his offices in Arbil in July 2002. Christopher Allbritton ® 2002
“It was an attack by terrorists, al Qaeda and Ansar al-Islam,” he said. Several senior Kurdish officials have been targeted in assassination attempts in recent years, with the Kurds accusing Ansar as the culprit. Today’s attack has the hallmarks of Ansar, who killed Australian cameraman Paul Moran on March 22, 2003 at a roadside checkpoint near Suleimaniya. PUK Deputy Prime Minister Barhim Salih has also been narrowly escaped assassination.
Peter Galbraith, a former U.S. ambassador and expert on the Kurds, said the attacks would strengthen the hand of separatist Kurdish groups who want to break away from Iraq. He — and I — consider this a very bad idea. “It is too early to predict the fallout, but the bombings will strengthen those in the Kurdish movement who want to insulate Kurdistan physically and politically from the rest of Iraq,” Galbraith said.
The attacks came on Eid al-Adha, or the Feast of the Sacrifice, which is one of the holiest and most joyful holidays in the Islamic calendar. The suicide bombers apparently were able to get past security into the party headquarters because of lax security on the holiday.
On a personal note, I knew Sami Abdulraham. I met him in July 2002, and was intensely impressed with him. He was a hero to many in the KDP for his unwavering loyalty to the Barzani clan — first to the founder of the KDP, Mustafa Barzani, and then to his son, Massoud Barzani. He treated me with grace and hospitality, letting me have “drafts of the proposed constitutions for a Federal Republic of Iraq.”:http://www.back-to-iraq.com/archives/000046.php#000046 He had written most of the drafts himself, hopeful even then for the future of his country and his people. I still have my last interview with him on tape. I considered him a friend.
Several members of Abdulrahman’s family were also killed, including a young member named Saleh, who was considered a rising star. A few family members have already been buried in Duhok in keeping with tradtion.
To all the Kurds and other Iraqis who have felt this loss, my sympathies to you all.
On a more critical note, what can be done to secure Iraq from this violence? Yesterday, 17 people, including three American GIs, died in three separate attacks. A car bomb in Mosul, mortars in Baghdad and an roadside bomb in Kirkuk. The insurgency or terrorists or whatever you want to call these killers are not confined to the “Sunni Triangle” as the Bush administration keeps insisting. The number of dead GIs for the month of January alone is 41, making it the second deadliest month of the occupation since President Bush declared Iraq a “Mission Accomplished” with the end of major combat operations on May 1. Wasn’t the “capture of Saddam Hussein”:http://www.back-to-iraq.com/archives/000495.php#000495 supposed to end — or at least blunt — the attacks?
Some may consider that a cheap shot in light of today’s death toll, but a hard question remains: Why are soldiers and civilians dying in numbers greater than ever while the White House continues to insist “we’re making progress” against these killers? Iraqi Kurdistan is considered the safest part of Iraq, patrolled by _peshmergas_ and building on the burgeoning civil society the Kurds built in the last decade. What country can be considered secure when the safest part is attacked like this?

Uh-oh…

U.S. troops raided the KDP offices in Kirkuk Saturday night, seizing AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenades. The Americans also arrested a senior KDP leader. A PUK office also was raided.
The raids are connected to the “recent ethnic violence”:http://www.back-to-iraq.com/archives/000637.php between Turkmen, Arabs and Kurds in Kirkuk that has left almost 20 people dead since “August”:http://www.back-to-iraq.com/archives/000445.php#000445. Six have been killed since last week.
“We are disappointed by this,” said Mohammad Sabir, chief PUK representative in Washington when I contacted him this afternoon. “We are very close to the U.S. but I don’t know [the reason for] the raid. Maybe some Turkmen or Arabs gave them information that the PUK had many weapons. I don’t know, really.”
He added that the PUK was working to clear up any misunderstanding.
The KDP representative in D.C., Farhad Barzani, said he knew nothing about the raid and couldn’t comment.
The “Kurdistan Democratic Party”:http://www.kdp.pp.se/ and the “Patriotic Union of Kurdistan”:http://www.puk.org are the two main Kurdish parties in Iraq and have been pushing for a federal system guaranteeing Kurds “significant autonomy”:http://www.back-to-iraq.com/archives/000046.php#000046 since last year. Arabs, Turkmen and surrounding countries have all expressed alarm and displeasure over the idea of significant Kurdish autonomy.

Turkomen to be trained by Egypt

_TurkishPress.com_ reports that members of the Iraqi Turkmen Front will be trained by Egypt as part of the new Iraqi Army instead of Turkey.

Turkmen and Arabs have grown closer in the wake of the Kurds’ recent attempts to establish an ethnic-based federation in Iraq. The two ethnic groups have assumed a common stance, with both arguing that Kirkuk is an Iraqi city after the Kurdish groups revealed their ambition to include the oil-rich city within their territories.
The Turkmen are waiting for the support of the Arab world. Last week Iraqi Turkmen Front (ITF) head Faruk Abdullah held a series of meetings with Arab League Secretary-General Amr Musa and Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmet Mahir. Sources say that Musa and Mahir’s stances were a relief to the ITF, and can be summarized as follows:
“Iraq’s territorial integrity will be protected. We can’t allow one group to dominate another. Kirkuk is an Iraqi city. It can’t be left to the domination of one ethnic group. Egypt will do its utmost to protect both Iraq’s territorial integrity and the rights of every ethnic group in the country.”

While the Turks might seem an obvious choice to train the Turkmen, thanks to their historic ties to the Turkmen, ITF spokesman Ahmed Muratli says that “Turkey is now out of the picture. The U.S. signed training agreements with Jordan and Egypt, not Turkey.” Kurdish leaders Jalal Talabani and Massoud Barzani have also expressed opposition to the Turks providing training, despite (or perhaps because of) its proximity and its NATO ties.
A Turkmen-Arab alliance should be expected as the third largest ethnic group in Iraq finds common cause with the largest (Arabs) in the wake of Kurdish attempts to add Kirkuk to their possessions in the post-Saddam Iraq. Both Arabs and Turkmen have argued that Kirkuk is an Iraqi city and not Kurdish. Violence in that city last week left at least two people dead and more injured when _peshmergas_ fired into a demonstration of “Arabs and Turkmen protesting the Kurds’ proposed plans for Iraqi federalism.”:http://b2i2.thestonecutters.net/archives/000637.php

Kurds will Keep autonomy

The Bush administration has decided the “Kurds can keep their special status”:http://www.nytimes.com/2004/01/05/international/middleeast/05KURD.html in Iraq, because the accelerated timetable for handing over sovereignty by June 30 is too quick to solve the problem.

“Once we struck the Nov. 15 agreement, there was a realization that it was best not to touch too heavily on the status quo,” said an administration official. “The big issue of federalism in the Kurdish context will have to wait for the Iraqis to resolve. For us to try to resolve it in a month or two is simply too much to attempt.”

Indeed, this will be a thorny issue. There is widespread fear that a loose federation — what the Kurds are demanding — could lead to independence for Iraqi Kurdistan, triggering instability throughout the region. Turkey is constantly making growling noises that the Iraqis Kurds should be kept on a tight leash in Baghdad through a centralized government.
This decision basically formalizes the current status quo, with the Kurds having their own government that is more or less independent of Baghdad. They currently have control over their borders with Syria, Iran and Turkey, their own security forces with the _peshmergas_ and substantial ability to collect taxes and other revenues. Where Kirkuk fits into all this is unclear, but the Kurds want it. As Massoud Barzani, head of the Kurdistan Democratic Party “said:”:http://www.krg.org/docs/mb-federalism-kurdistan-dec03.asp

The existing [self-rule] situation of the Kurds is their legitimate right and it is based on the right to self-determination, which is part of international law. After 12 years of self-rule, without the control of the Baghdad government, the Kurds will not accept less than their existing situation. They aspire for the inclusion of the other Kurdish areas in the Kurdistan region, which, before the liberation of Iraq, were subject to the policy of demographic change by the [former] central authority.
Those who are interested in the issue of a united Iraq, should know very well that it would be difficult for them to convince the Kurdish people after all these tragedies, ordeals and displacement policies to remain deprived from their rights in Iraq. This makes it essential that the brother Arabs respect the Kurdish decision and would not be hesitant regarding [the fulfilment of] any right of the Kurdish rights in Iraq. By this I mean that there are now some Iraqi and foreign sides that, to some extent, point to the federalism of governorates, which is rejected by the Kurds, because the Kurdish people have not been struggling throughout history for separating the Kurdish governorates from each other. They have struggled for the safeguarding of Kurdistan’s historical borders and not dismantling it. The Kurds’ achievements in 1970 [when their political movement signed the 11 March 1970 agreement with the Iraqi government, recognizing an autonomous status for the Kurds to be proclaimed within four years], were far more than federalism of the governorates, which is called for now.
The Iraqi issue should not be settled separately from the Kurdish issue, because the Kurdish people, who have a cause, consider that federalism is the best solution for their issue. Therefore, all future [Iraqi] governments should avoid the fatal errors that successive Iraqi governments in Baghdad have committed, and not neglect the will of the Kurdish people, because it is a will which is generated from an endless strength. The Kurdish people will not allow its will, which is inseparable from the will of the Kurdistan parliament, to be neglected.

As for the Americans to just kind of pass this issue off on the Iraqis, it’s worrisome, but not really surprising. The Americans originally planned to rapidly reintegrate Iraqi Kurdistan into the new Iraq, but the post-war chaos and the CPA’s struggles to establish itself quickly caused that plan to be jettisoned. The _peshmergas_ were exempted from the general order to disarm Iraqi militia. And after the CPA asked them to dismantle checkpoints between their territory and the rest of Iraq, the Kurds were then asked to re-establish them when the security situation failed to stabilize.
As Barzani said, this is _the_ issue that will literally make or break a new Iraq, and the wrong moves made in the heat of the moment could lead to the splintering of the country, civil war or a regional conflict involving Turkey and Iran. It really needs to be handled delicately, and the Americans — as the dominant power in the region — need to be deeply involved. (In the same way the Americans should be involved in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.) Nationalism runs deep in Iraq, Kurdish and otherwise, and I’m not convinced that events and the passions of a Kurdish populace won’t get out of hand, despite the best intentions of politicians.
Still, maybe this will work out OK. But don’t forget the Turkomen and the Arabs of Kirkuk. They will protest loudly about this, and probably violently. The Kurds will have to be on their best behavior to prove to the Turks to the north and the Sunni Muslims to the south that they can be trusted to respect their rights in areas under Kurdish control. No, Kurds don’t have their rights respected in Turkey to the degree that “Turkomen are protected in Iraq”:http://www.back-to-iraq.com/archives/000360.php#000360 — even now. Yes, it’s a double standard. But it’s a standard that has to be met if the Iraq is to stay unified.
Boy, this just delayed my essay on the Kurds.

More Violence in Kirkuk

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.