Al Qa’ida group threatens Iraqi Kurdistan

Bush threatens Saddam (again), Turky threatens to move into Iraqi Kurdistan (again) and Russia threatened by financial meltdown (again.)

PUK peshmergas.JPG
Peshmergas at their posts in July (© 2002 Christopher Allbritton)

Mulla Sdeeq.JPG 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?

Continue reading “Al Qa’ida group threatens Iraqi Kurdistan”

Much news and catching up… (LONG POST)

Hi all. Sorry for the delay in posting. Not only have we seemed to enter a “phony war” period regarding impending hostilities with Iraq without anything definite happening, but I also needed to take a little break. Be that as it may, there have been some interesting stories to show in the last few days.

Hi all. Sorry for the delay in posting. Not only have we seemed to enter a “phony war” period regarding impending hostilities with Iraq without anything definite happening, but I also needed to take a little break.
Be that as it may, there have been some interesting stories show up in the last few days. First off, United Nations weapons inspectors have gone … back to Iraq. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.) Hans Blix, the chief of the inspectors, holds the fate of Iraq in his hands and he has said he will asses the intent of any delays on the part of the Iraqis as to whether foot-dragging is obfuscation or simple foul-ups. Considering that much of my time in Iraq was characterized by hurrying up and waiting — and I was in friendly territory! — I wonder if the, ah, “flexible” concept of time in societies other than northern European ones will be taken into account. Blix is Swedish after all; I hear they frown on tardiness. At any rate, Iraq has until Dec. 8 to present UNMOVIC with a full accounting of its weapons of mass destruction programs or it will be in “material breach” of UNSCR 1441. We’ll see what happens. (P.S. When the Iraqis fire on Allied aircraft patrolling the no-fly zones in the south and the north, does that constitute a “material breach”? Some in the Bush administration want it to be so. Please note, Operations Northern Watch and Southern Watch have never been sanctioned by the UN and Iraq has never accepted them.)

Continue reading “Much news and catching up… (LONG POST)”

From Ankara to Diyarbakir

More dispatches from the summer. After Aykut Uzan, my fixer, and I left Ankara, we spent a few days in Cappadocia. We arrived in Uchisar, after three hours of driving. Aykut turned off the main highway and onto an older, less well-maintained road. He often swerved wildly to avoid the seemingly endless number of potholes and ditches on what?s left of the ancient Silk Road, which ran from Beijing to Istanbul.

More dispatches from the summer. After Aykut Uzan, my fixer, and I left Ankara, we spent a few days in Cappadocia. We arrived in Uçisar, after three hours of driving. Aykut turned off the main highway and onto an older, less well-maintained road. He often swerved wildly to avoid the seemingly endless number of potholes and ditches on what?s left of the ancient Silk Road, which ran from Beijing to Istanbul.
Suddenly, on our right was the Agzikarahan Caravai, a 13th century hotel and way station for the caravans that carried the spices and fabrics between Istanbul and Beijing. These caravais were built by the Seljuk Turks every 30 to 40 km and followed a strict architectural style. A central courtyard containing a kitchen and a mosque were surrounded by naves and chambers within the thick walls. A distinctive pointed dome was the signal to weary travelers that sanctuary was nearby — but only for one night.
In Uçisar, Many were worried about a looming war, since Cappadocia is one of the top tourist destinations of Turkey. Since Sept. 11, 2001, the region had been suffering as no one was coming to visit. In the middle of summer, we were able to find a room in one of the beautiful rock hotels in town, with the rooms carved directly into the stone of the canyon walls. But after three days of Cappadocia, it was time to move on. And we headed off to Diyarbakir, the flashpoint for much of the war with the Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK) since 1984.
More than 37,000 people died in the civil war that raged across much of southeast Turkey from 1984 to 1998, ending only when Abdullah Ocalan, the party’s leader, was captured and brought to Turkish justice. While in custody, he renounced violence and sought to be a voice of reconciliation between Turks and Kurds. Needless to say, many Turks didn’t believe his jailhouse conversion and many of his old compatriots in the PKK considered him a quisling. He avoided the noose because of Turkey’s attempts to join the European Union. His death sentence was commuted in October.
But Diyarbakir, with its historic basalt walls limning the city like kohl around a Kurdish girl’s eyes, hadn’t changed in the four years since Ocalan’s capture. The streets were oppressive, with the presence of police everywhere. Aykut and I were followed the whole time we were there, and men came sniffing about my hotel, asking the staff about me and what I was doing there. The people who did talk to me veered from the timid and worried to the brave and/or fatalistic. The dominant thought among the residents, who daily live under the heel of police that routinely use armored personnel carriers to keep order, was that even if emergency rule were lifted — which it was in October — nothing would change as the economy was so devastated, there was no hope for the people to make a living. A. Turan Demir, the deputy chairman of HADEP, the Kurdish party in Turkey with its strongest base in Diyarbakir, listed many of the problems of the region in this interview I had with him: destroyed villages, discrimination, intimidation… A list of offenses that neither side can ever fully forgive.
What follows is a collection of notes and emails that I took when I was in Diyarbakir (and which I emailed out after I realized the level of surveillance I was under.) Reading back over the emails and notes, I see that some of it is insensitive, but I think now that the tone masks a level of frustration both with the environment as a New Yorker and with the treatment that many people live under.

From: Christopher Allbritton
Date: Wed Jul 10, 2002 12:37:10 PM America/New_York
Subject: Update...

Hey all?
Popped into the local press office today, just to say hi, and they were expecting me. Creepy. There was a document from Ankara to say that I was coming and to accredit me for Emergency Rule Zone reporting. Now I have TWO press cards from the Turks. I was told I could go ?anywhere? and talk to ?anyone? but I suspect that any visits to HADEP offices will be frowned upon. It?s not a big deal to me, as an American, they would likely send me back to Ankara or Istanbul after confiscating film, but my guide, Aykut, lives in this country. He?s married to a Kurdish woman and has a past involvement with radical leftist movements. He?s left it all behind, but I don?t want my troubles to spill over and cause him or his family grief.
Also, the money situation is not good. My tenant, Theresa, has not made deposits as she said she would. If she doesn?t make some deposits by the end of this week, I?ll have to skip Iraq, head back to Germany and then immediately head back to the states, which would just about kill the purpose of all of this. I?m not pleased, obviously, by this development. Nor will Fabiana be pleased either, I think, but at the moment that?s the least of my worries.
Other than that, all is well. Cappadocia was amazing, with all sorts of otherworldly, “Planet of the Apes”-style rockscapes and houses. Diyarbakir, on the other hand, is hot and oppressive.
I?m glad everyone is doing well, and I can?t wait to see you all again.

And this one I sent out later:
From: Christopher Allbritton
Date: Wed Jul 10, 2002 10:18:04 PM America/New_York
Subject: Lame!

Lamelamelamelamelame!
And thus, I pass judgment on poor, war-torn Diyarbakir. Christ, what a boring town. I thought war-zones were supposed to bring out the decadence in people (Berlin, maybe?) but instead, I get sullenness. Shit, the one bar that looked good, we couldn’t get in. We had not women with us.
Let me repeat that. I got turned away at the door at a bar in Diyarbakir.
Honestly, how lame is that? Finally, we ended up on the roof of out hotel, listening to the Kurdish version of “Mr. Vegas” on a Casio keyboard sing Arabesque songs in the roof restaurant. If it weren’t for the singer, it would have been almost pleasant. Instead, I felt sorry for the people living the apartments right next door to the hotel. Some were out on their balcony “enjoying” the singer.
Hm. Reading back that last paragraph leads me to believe I would be perfect as a colonial governor in, oh, 1895 or so. All that’s lacking is a British accent, old chap. And I’m supposed to be culturally sensitive. Perhaps I’m just damn tired of nothing working right in this country. Today, I had to mail a contract back to the states so we went to the post office. Looking around, there were no envelopes.
“I need to buy an envelope,” I told Aykut.
“You didn’t tell me that,” he said. “You have to buy those somewhere else.”
What kind of post office sells stamps but not envelopes?
I feel sorry for the police people following us. They must be very, very bored. We walk and we eat and occasionally talk to some poor schmuck on the street. We’re not very interesting subjects to tail, I don’t think. Hell, tonight I was hoping our tails would take pity on us and pull up and say, “You look like a couple of guys looking for some fun. Let’s have a friendly drink at the belly dancing palace.” Alas, such things rarely happened in the Cold War, and I doubt they’re going to happen now.
So that’s the score. I’m back in my hotel room (and everything undisturbed, including my own hair I left sticking out of my laptop in case someone came in and opened it. Paranoia can be fun!)
So that’s all. Safe and sound. I may have an appointment with the military governor tomorrow. Or not. Without doubt I will have to drink more tea. Every time I sit down in an office, a porter brings me tea in the little glasses. It’s tasty, but it’s 120 degrees Fahrenheit outside. And the tea is hot. Aykut drinks the stuff like it was water, says it keeps him healthy and quenches his thirst, but I need real water, not hot tea.

[Ed. — I suppose this last sentence could be mistaken for some kind of metaphor about the differences between the rituals of the east with the cool drink of Western rationalism, but I won’t bother since I never intended the lament for water to be anything more than a sign that I was thirsty.]
To be continued…

Erdogan says Turkey won’t help

Just before the U.N. voted on a final shot at disarming Iraq, the leader of the Turkish Justice and Development Party (AKP), Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said Turkey would not help in an attack on neighboring Iraq.

Just before the U.N. voted on a final shot at disarming Iraq, the leader of the Turkish Justice and Development Party (AKP), Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said Turkey would not help in an attack on neighboring Iraq. Erdogan can’t hold the prime minister post of Turkey, but he runs the party and is the most powerful politician in Turkey. If he’s saying that Turkey won’t take part in an operation against Iraq, that represents one of two things:

1) AKP has made a colossal mistake before it ever takes office, and is heading for a confrontation with the military establishment of Turkey. If this is the case, AKP’s days as the ruling party are numbered. The military, while not enthusiastic about a campaign against Iraq, will not endanger its relationship with the United States or with Israel. Incirlik will be used heavily in any air campaign against Iraq. Or…
2) Erdogan is playing a dangerous game at extracting concessions from the United States. The sanctions against Iraq have cost Turkey billions of dollars over the last decade and exacerbated the poverty of southeast Turkey, fueling the ire of the Kurdish Workers Party. I think more likely that Erdogan is trying to squeeze the United States for cash, backing with the IMF for loans and, more significantly, a free hand in northern Iraq against the Kurds. However, if the AKP miscalculates and asks for too much, the military might step in and remove the AKP from power.

Erdogan made his comments yesterday to the Lebanese daily al-Mustaqbal. He also expressed support for the Palestinians and the establishment of an independnet state for them. How comments such as this might affect Turkey’s tight relationship with Israel is unknown.

Turks say out with the old, in with the Allah

As it looked earlier, Turkish voters have given the Justice and Development Party (AKP) a resounding victory with 34.2 percent of the vote out of 99 percent of the votes counted. The Republican People’s Party (CHP) had 19.2 percent of the vote. None of the other political parties appeared to have crossed the 10 percent threshold for gaining seats in Parliament. This means AKP can probably form a government without a coalition partner within two weeks.
All three parties in the current coalition were defeated, and ailing Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit’s party registered barely 1 percent. This was a resounding rejection of the politicians and practices that have governed Turkey for generations.
This is likely a good thing in that sense, but as I mentioned earlier, it remains to be seen if Erdogan’s AKP has truly moderated its Islamic roots and can truly be a “Muslim Democratic” party in the mold of Europe’s Christian Democrats.