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.

U.S. clashes with PKK/Kadek in north?

U.S. forces reportedly clash with PKK/KADEK Kurdish forces in northern Iraq.

Eyebrows should be raised, but the Turkish foreign minister Abdullah Gul is claiming that American forces have clashed with PKK/KADEK forces in northern Iraq. The BBC reports that U.S. forces exchanged fire with “unknown forces” in the area.

A spokesman for the US 101st Airborne Division, based in Mosul, said the incident took place near Dahuk, about 10 miles (15 kilometers) from the Turkey-Iraq border.
One member of the Iraqi border patrol was killed, he said.
The “unknown forces” were disbursed with the assistance of Apache attack helicopters and a quick reaction force team, he added.

“It is true that clashes took place yesterday,” Gul has said. “Not only U.S. forces but also Kurdish ‘peshmerga’ fighters were involved in engaging the PKK. Some U.S. helicopters were also deployed.”
[UPDATE 1:40 PM EST: Agence France Press is reporting ambiguity in the parties involved, just as BBC did earlier, saying Iraqi border guards came under attack by “unknown forces.” The “Kurdistan Democratic Party”: office in Washington has no comment.]
The “PKK/KADEK”: fought a brutal war with Turkey from 1984-1998, in which upwards of 30,000 civilians in southeast Turkey were killed and entire villages destroyed. In an effort to persuade Turkey to contribute 10,000 troops to Iraq, Washington promised to help crackdown on the Kurdish group, which ended its 5-year cease fire against Turkey in September.
At the time, Qubad Jalal Talabani, the deputy representative for the “Patriotic Union of Kurdistan”: in Washington — which has had sometimes warmer, sometimes cooler relations with the PKK — told me via email:

There is much talk about US-Turkey action towards the PKK, but in reality, the US are already fighting a war on a few fronts (Al-Qaeda, Ansar, Saddam loyalists etc). The last thing would want to do is open another front.
Secondly, the US and the Kurds (Iraqi), are on a very new and different playing field, in terms of the respect that each shows the other. The US would never do such actions with first consulting, and second receiving permission, from us.
Our advice to the US and to Turkey has always been, the PKK are tired, regardless of what some idiots from within them think, the majority of them are ready to lay down their arms and go back to their homes. If the US can pressure Turkey into providing them with an amnesty (a real one!) then this problem will be resolved.

Turkey apparently withdrew its offer of troops Nov. 7 and said, “The government has decided not to implement the (parliamentary) motion to send troops to Iraq,” an unnamed government official was quoted as saying. The next day, Gul warned the U.S. “not to show bias towards Iraqi Kurds.” Tellingly, Gul also

told NTV that the US had reaffirmed its determination to eliminate the PKK threat, but insisted that that Ankara reserved the right of intervention in case of a “threat or attack” coming out of its neighbour’s territory.

The next day, Sunday, we see the U.S. [possibly] attacking PKK/KADEK forces. Gul’s comments can only be seen as a maneuver to get the U.S. to act, [and thus should be looked at skeptically.]
But why? Running through all this is the American desire to have some kind of help — any kind — to help with increasingly successful insurgents in Iraq. Stratfor says a Turkish force is still not out of the question, especially if Washington fields a Shia anti-guerilla force with the help of Iran — Turkey’s old nemesis in Iraq. Is it so out of the question that the action in the north, which runs the risk of alienating a substantial portion of the Kurdish population in Iraq, which is anti-Turk, is a show of good faith by the U.S. in an effort to get Turkey’s civilian government to change its mind? (By all accounts, the Turkish military, unlike Ankara’s civilian government, sees sending troops as a chance to deal with the “Kurdish Problem” once and for all and establish control over northern Iraq.) If, in the future, fighting between PKK/KADEK and U.S. forces is seen, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Turkish troops close behind.

Update to Flag Flap

Update on the Kurdish flag in Kirkuk

A knowledgeable friend who was in Kirkuk a few weeks ago wrote in to tell me that the Kurds — and other political parties such as the Turkoman Front — had been flying their flags since at least the beginning of August. Three days ago, when the Coalition Provisional Authority instructed the flags be taken down, Kurds pelted U.S. soldiers with stones. The CPA soon reversed itself, the reason for the previous entry.
As my friend wrote: “When I was there [in early August], the city was FILLED with Kurdish flags. It is truly unbelievable, and quite beautiful. Every single building had a Kurdistan flag flying. Many walls had Kurdish flags painted on them. Even the lightposts had Kurdish flags painted on them.”
The flagrant flag flying was news to me. I had heard from friends in the area that the Iraqi flag (minus Saddam’s post-1991 Arabic additions) had been flying since the early summer or so. In fact, when I was there in April on the day of Kirkuk’s liberation, there were many old-style Iraqi flags being waved about — in addition to the political parties’ flags. When did the Kurds and others begin putting up their own flags? I don’t know.
Anyway, the decision to let the Kurds wave their banner high in Kirkuk seems to be a reverting to the status quo, although one that I still think is decidedly shaky. Regardless of the validity of the Kurds’ claims on Kirkuk (and I think they’re pretty damn valid), flaunting the Kurdish nature of the city in the face of Turkey and its Turkoman brethren is asking for trouble.
Anyway, this flag lag reveals a source of major frustration for me. My sources communicate too slowly to allow for timeliness. Trying to parse Kurdish and Arabic English-language media over the net is a bit of a fool’s game. In short, there’s no good way to cover Iraq from New York, and I have no way to get to Iraq any time soon.

Mea culpa on Paul Moran

I apologize for the Paul Moran piece last week.

I’d like to apologize about the Paul Moran piece below. I don’t know that Paul Moran was working for Rendon Group at the time of his tragic death and I should not have said or insinuated that he did. I stepped over the line from valid criticism of government and private firms to smearing a man who can’t defend himself, and that was wrong.
A commenter, calling himself Eric Campbell, who was the reporter with Moran at the time of his death, wrote in and said this:

I am the ABC reporter who was working with Paul Moran when he was killed. The immense grief his family is suffering has been compounded by the unending repetition of false claims about him on the internet.
It is probably too late to repair the damage, but in the interests of decency, people should recognise the following:
Paul’s assignment for the ABC in northern Iraq Iraq was as my cameraman. He was not the reporter. It is absurd and wrong to say there was a conflict of interest.
Paul was not working for the Rendon Group at the same time. He was never any employee of the Rendon Group. Like many freelance journalists, he did occasional audio visual production work Rendon and other PR companies.
His work was never propaganda. It was corporate videos, news webs-sites, and in the case of his original work in Kurdistan, production and training work to help the Kurds set up a TV station.
He rightly felt sympathy for the plight of Kurdish civilians after seeing the suffering they had been through under Saddam Hussein. He felt the media should do more to report this, as well as many other issues he felt strongly about such as the plight of refugees and asylum seekers. There is no contradiction between that and his work as a cameraman or reporter for such broadcasters as the BBC and ABC.
He obtained the interview with an Iraqi defector through a contact at the INC he had worked with in Kurdistan. That is not sinister. It is how journalists get stories.
Paul never made any secret about his freelance production work. He simply did it to pay the bills betwen broadcast assignments, like any other freelancer.
He was a man of great integrity who was widely loved. The fact that John Rendon came to his funeral in Adelaide, along with dozens of others from around the world who had worked with him, is simply a reflection of that.
Go ahead and criticise the INC, the CIA, the Pentagon, whoever. But do not make Paul the villain, because he wasn’t.
He took on a risky assignment to work for the ABC during the war Kurdistan because he believed the Kurds were an important part of the story. He was disdainful of journalists who just got news from press briefings, believing they should always go to where the story was. He paid for this with his life.
Eric Campbell

The IP number that showed up with the comment traceroutes back to a machine in Australia, so I’m going to accept that Campbell is the author of this note.
I’d like to extend my apologies to Moran’s family and to his friends. But most of all, to my readers. It was shoddy journalism.
However, I should have made it more clear that I did not consider Paul a “villain” in this. I felt that the most stinging criticism was rightfully aimed at Rendon and the Pentagon. I still consider it questionable for a journalistic enterprise such as ABC to hire someone with ties to a PR firm so closely tied to the Washington power structure, but that should not be read as a criticism of Moran. As Campbell pointed out, he took jobs to pay bills — something every freelancer has to do. Including myself. (Never for a PR firm, but for magazines that don’t contribute to my foreign policy aspirations.)
My sincerest apologies to Moran’s friends and family.

Ethnic violence in Kirkuk

Kurds and Turkomen clash in Kirkuk. Is a wide-ranging ethnic conflict many predicted soon to follow?

Three Turkomen were shot dead in ethnic violence in Kirkuk on Saturday, ending months of relative calm in the Kurdish region of Iraq. It’s unclear exactly what’s happening, but that seems to have been the cap on two days of violence in Kirkuk and Tuz Kharmato to the south, with at least 10 people being killed, some of them at the hands of American troops. The Associated Press reports that in addition to police shootings, artillery or mortar fire “rocked” the city on Saturday.
While a single weekend does not an internecine conflict make, the fallout has reached Ankara, where a “mob” of about 100 Turks attacked the office of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan there. reports that about 23 Turkish police officers and a number of protesters were injured in the melee.
“Kirkuk is Turkish and it will remain Turkish,” shouted the protesters. “Damn Talabani, damn the peshmerga.” (Jalal Talabani is the Secretary-General of the PUK.)
In Kirkuk, the Turkmen representative to the interim Iraqi Governing Council called for the Kirkuk police to be disarmed.
All this is happening as the Middle East Newsline reports that Turkey will contribute 10,000 troops to patrol the Sunni Triangle extending west and north of Baghdad. They will remain under Turkish command and separate from the two international divisions rumored to be en route to Iraq.
This is most alarming. I wrote, during the war, that I felt the Turkomen were crying wolf about the threat to their security in a bid to play Turkey and the United States off one another so as to reign in the Kurds when it came time to establish a government in Kirkuk.

[Salim Otrakchi, a Turkoman spokesman] said the Turkomen were especially worried about Kirkuk because the PUK had promised it would not go into the city with its forces and it did anyway.
At this point, it’s probably a good idea just to tell you that I don’t believe what anyone is telling me at face value. The Kurds, deep in their hearts, really do want an independent Kurdistan and this talk of federalism is the practical side of Kurdish nationalism. If they thought they could get away with it, they would bolt Iraq and never look back, I think. The Turkomen don’t really feel that threatened, but they see the Kurds with their new buddies, the Americans, and worry they’ll be left out of any settlement and development plans in the north. So, they’re trying to play the Turks off the Americans to keep the Kurds in check. And the Turks … Well, actually, I believe them when they say they’re worried about their security. They’re a truly paranoid bunch.

While this may be an isolated incident, as I mentioned, I could also be wrong in my original thoughts on the subject. I watched with dismay as in the days following the capture of Baghdad and Kirkuk as the Kurds drove Arabs from land they felt had been taken from them under Saddam Hussein’s Arabization program. Revenge was being taken and the U.S. wasn’t doing enough to stop it.
Well, now the U.S. has its hands full with the Sunni Triangle and the guerrilla fighters there. Most of Iraqi Kurdistan has had but a sprinkling of American troops with most of the security being provided by Kurdish forces. Perhaps long-simmering tensions are starting to boil over after a brutally hot summer.
I hope not. But — and I apologize for again referring back to myself — as I wrote on Jan. 12, 2003:

Instead of a nice, clean occupation that results in the first Arab democracy — and a network of Army bases from which to project power throughout the region — I predict the United States will have years of guerilla insurgency from nationalistic Iraqis (some of the fiercest nationalism in the Arab world), the dirty job of suppressing Kurdish and Shi’ite independence movements and Sunni power grabs, the problem of al Qai’da slipping across the borders (with the help of Iran and sympathetic Saudis) into the country to stike at American troops and meddling in Iraq’s internal affairs by Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Russia. And don’t forget the resentment in the region that will occur when the United States begins exploiting the Iraqi oil fields for its own purposes. No one will like that, least of all the Iraqis.

So far, it appears only the last prediction hasn’t come to pass. Let’s hope this latest incident isn’t the start of something far worse.

Kurds appoint first woman prefect in Iraq

In some good news from Iraq, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan has appointed Iraq’s first women “governor” since the country’s founding in 1921.

Thank goodness for a little good news from Iraq. Mudira Abu Bakr has been appointed town prefect of the Dukan region near Suleimaniya, making her the first woman “governor” since the founding of modern Iraq in 1921.
“I will work according to my action plan to provide the best public services for the people of the Dukan region and I will do my best to ensure the rule of law,” Abu Bakr told journalists at a ceremony to mark the occasion.
Good for the Kurds. Abu Bakr joins Nasreen Mustafa Sideek Barwari, the minister for reconstruction and development in the Kurdistan Regional Government, in rebuilding Iraqi Kurdistan. The appointment of Abu Bakr and Sideek Barwari’s continued duties is in marked contrast to developments to the south, where conservative religious leaders are encouraging, or even forcing, women to cover up and pull back from the relatively equal status they held under Saddam Hussein’s reign. (“Relative” is the operative word here. They were more or less oppressed equally.)
Interestingly, women attained much of their equal status in the 1980s during the Iran-Iraq war, when the men were sent to the front lines to die and women entered the workforce to replace them — a similar dynamic to what happened in the United States during World War II. After the 1991 Gulf War and the imposition of sanctions, however, jobs disappeared and Saddam began encouraging a religious revival to hold on to power. Women were usually the ones who paid the price, and the _hijab_ became more common as Sunni clerics railed against Western immorality.
But in the north, the Kurds were one their own. When I was there last July and, more recently, during the war, I often saw women working in stores or in businesses and not wearing head scarves. One of the women, an Arab from Baghdad who had moved up to Arbil, worked at the Arbil Towers, the hotel I stayed at, and came out to a Fox News party I attended. The Kurdish _peshemergas_ at the table seemed not to mind (or notice) as she flirted with one of the network’s cameramen.
And Arbil, in the Kurdistan Democratic Party’s territory, is much more conservative than Suleimaniya and the nearby Dukan region, which is controlled by the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. Women _peshmergas_ are unthinkable to the KDP, but on the day of the liberation of Kirkuk, I ran into an all-woman squad of PUK _peshmergas_, fully armed with Kalashnikovs and wearing the yellow green headband of their party. I was surprised when I saw them lounging in the back of a truck, and it must have showed. They looked at me, then smiled and laughed at my expression.
So Abu Bakr’s appointment is good news, indeed. Now let’s hope the rest of the country can see the good that women such as Sideek Barwari and Abu Bakr have done and can do, and learn from their example.
[NOTE: I had a color-blind moment when I wrote this and said the PUK’s color was yellow. It’s green.]

A Farewell to Arms

BAGHDAD — This is the farewell note, both to Iraq and to you, the readers. Tomorrow I will drive to the Jordanian border through Baghdad and thence to Amman.

(From left) Mala Shakhi, PUK member of Parliament, Brig. Gen. Jalal Aziz, myself and Brig. Gen. Rabar Said, pose in front of the command center in Taqtaq the day before Kirkuk fell. (c) 2003 Christopher AllbrittonBAGHDAD — This is the farewell note, both to Iraq and to you, the readers. Tomorrow I will drive to the Jordanian border through Baghdad and thence to Amman.
The war here is winding down, and the long, laborious process of rebuilding has started. Much of the activity in Baghdad involves the U.S. command looking for qualified people to help get the city back on its feet. Water and power still have to be restored. A state economy now lacks the state, so people have no jobs; no one is there to pay them. Kurds, Arabs and Turkomen in Kirkuk are a hair’s breadth away from Yugoslavia-style ethnic clashes. Mosul is still savage, with little order. One reporter who returned from there yesterday described it to me as “like Mogadishu” with the city divvied up into territories for armed gangs and almost no civil authority. There are fewer than 300 American troops for a city of two million peoplel. This has gone almost completely unreported from what the journos in Arbil are hearing from editors back home. No one seems to care about Mosul, they say.
“They [the Americans] have given up on Mosul,” said one reporter, who asked to remain anonymous. “It’s terrifying.” He could have been talking about his editors, too.
At the same time, other cities are calming down — at least during the day. Kirkuk sports traffic lights that work, cops in the street and a bustling street merchant community. At night, however, there is still shooting and thuggery.
All of this will settle down eventually — or explode into civil war — but the question is how long will it take? I think the violence will continue at a low throttle for months, but even that would be a welcome contrast to 35 years of Ba’ath Party systematic terror and three wars since 1980.
Whether Iraqis gets the government they deserve, however, is a different story. Their neighbors don’t wish to see a new American client state in their midst and can be expected to meddle most mischievously. Also, the fractured nature of Iraqi society, thanks the Ba’ath Party’s repression and playing one group off another will take a long time to heal. Free-wheeling democracy is not in the cards for quite a while, if ever, thanks to the majority Shia population and the ethnic divisions in the north. If elections were to be held in the next few months (not likely) they would probably bring to power a government friendly to Iran and hostile to the United States and everyone else in the region. The Kurds would walk out and demand _de facto_ — or even _de jure_ — independence. The United States can not allow this.
Still, many Iraqis are optimistic about the future. “We are happy,” said Hoshang Sadraddin, 22, a Kurd in Arbil. “We want a democratic government, a future. And for all the people in Iraq to live in peace.”
“I look for a better life in the future,” said Jasim Khidhir, 18. “I look forward to success in life, getting an education, that is my dream.”
And in Baghdad, an Arab who wouldn’t give his name smiled at me and said in halting English that he was happy that democracy had come to Iraq. The sentiment was genuine, if a little premature.
We’ll see. The Kurds I’ve talked want the United States to stay “forever” as Assan Ahmen Awla, 30, a taxi driver, told me. America is seen as the Kurds’ insurance against control by Baghdad and Arab violence. The marchers in Baghdad demanding a quick end to American occupation, he said, were incited by Ahmed Chalabi and the INC to stir up trouble against the Americans, so they will leave and the INC can seize complete control. Chalabi, obviously, isn’t popular up here. Neither are Arabs in general.
“I think forever I will chose American troops to keep us away from the Arabs,” said Taha Muhammed Hassan, 30, a fruit vendor. “We know what the Arabs will do if they have control.”
Sentiments like these, as well as threats against Kurds in Tikrit, Baghdad and the southern part of the country are ominous signs, both for a coherent country and a democratic future. Delshad wrote me to tell me his thoughts:
“The heavy heritage of more than three decades of dictatorship and oppression will need many, many years to be overcome and Iraqis to get a better understanding of what is liberation and its limits. And if the Americans keep in their current role [of] being only observers standing aside then things can’t get better!!”
Others suggest democracy isn’t that big a deal to them, that jobs are a priority rather than self-government. “We choose jobs, not democracy,” said Hemin Sultan, 28, a translator.
Given that much of the country is working at subsistence levels, even in the relatively prosperous cities of Iraqi Kurdistan, his opinions are understandable. But I worry that unless the Iraqis demand democracy for themselves the United States won’t give it to them… I believe the White House would prefer a docile Iraq to one that can say no to American interests. But of course, I’m constitutionally inclined to oppose the idea of an American empire based on commercial ties, so I do hope the Iraqis realize that real democracy — unruly, nettlesome and untidy — is in their long-term best interests.
But while the Iraqis have just started a long journey into the future, the journey is coming to an end. B2I has succeeded beyond what I expected or envisioned when I began writing it in September 2002. Through the months, the site has managed to provoke, entertain and — hopefully — enlighten people. It’s garnered some attention and people have said it’s a new form of journalism and that it’s history making.
I don’t know if it’s all that, but I’m certainly flattered by the compliments and the accolades. This was journalism without a net (although it was on the Net.) I’ve stumbled a few times, almost losing my balance, but looking back over the site, I hope it was good enough.
Now I’m going home. The stories that I’d like to do require money and time that I simply no longer have. The looming ethnic conflict in northern Iraq, the role of the Turks, the treatment of women, the fate of the political prisoners and the new government’s faltering first steps are all stories that I would love to pursue, with the style and techniques I’ve developed on the site. I’d also wanted to find Salam Pax.
As for the future of B2I, I’m working on that. The site and listserv will remain up for as long as the server has power, but I’m still undecided on what to do next to push forward the concept of independent, reader-funded journalism. I will use the site and the premium email list to announce anything new, so stop in every now and then to say hello.
I do plan on returning to Iraq in a few months to check in on how things are going. Those dispatches will also be published here and on the listserv. Donors who have donated will continue get premium content and photos whenever the site is active.
A note about donations: I am no longer actively soliciting them. The mission is over — for now. Save your cash or donate it to other indy journalists. It’s important to develop this genre of journalism, and reader contributions are key. We all proved that this kind of endeavor is possible. I may be the first, but I sincerely hope I’m not the last. I believe other independent journalists will soon strike out and cover major events alongside the major media. I hope they break more stories than I did, and challenge their mainstream colleagues to keep up.
A few of those mainstreamers here — most enthusiastically from Fox News, oddly enough — think the ideals that B2I brings to the table are grand and think something like this site could be the future of the craft. They bemoan the top-down editorial control and like the idea of readers’ input in deciding what to cover.
That can wait for a bit, however. For now, I must bid you farewell. I’m disappointed and sad to do so, as I feel like I’m leaving early. The reality of a limited budget is an inconvenient fact of life, however. I hope you all don’t hold it against me.
It’s been a truly fantastic journey and I am sincerely grateful to everyone who donated, read, sent in feedback, argued on the comment boards or wished me well. While truth may be the first casualty in war, I hope I was able to save a small shard of it. But it’s hard to say. Many times since I’ve been here, listening to the claims of Turks, Kurds, Arabs, Turkomen or Assyrians, I’ve thought that there is no such thing as *Truth,* only myths that people tell their children to get them through to the next generation. History doesn’t exist here, at least not in the American sense; the past is never really past and history isn’t something that happened long ago; it’s very much alive and kicking. In this ancient place, a land of empires, gods, gardens, wars, blood and beauty, at the heart of it, you will find only stories. I hope I’ve been able to bring a few of them home to you.