Some emails from the front and what the hell is happening with the opposition?

Over the weekend, I heard from a couple of friends in the region about goings on there. The first is from a journalist buddy based in Iraqi Kurdistan working for a major newsmagazine. (I don’t want to scotch his access, so I won’t print his name.) The second is from Aykut Uzun, my driver, translator and fixer when we were being tailed by the Turkish police south of Diyarbakir.
The journo-buddy tells me that I’m “not missing much so far.” Also, the Kurds are overwhelmingly pro-war. “Talk to the Kurds about the reckless geopolitical games W is playing and you are met with a blank stare and a story about Halabja.”

iraqmap.jpg

Over the weekend, I heard from a couple of friends in the region about goings on there. The first is from a journalist buddy based in Iraqi Kurdistan working for a major newsmagazine. (I don’t want to scotch his access, so I won’t print his name.) The second is from Aykut Uzun, my driver, translator and fixer when we were being tailed by the Turkish police south of Diyarbakir.
My journo buddy tells me that I’m “not missing much so far.” Also, the Kurds are overwhelmingly pro-war. “Talk to the Kurds about the reckless geopolitical games W is playing and you are met with a blank stare and a story about Halabja,” he writes. “Ask the KDP, PUK or INC about the same thing and you get a lecture about the nefarious interests of the French.”
He also provides good logistical information and some alarming news. The Syrian and Turkish borders are closed right now, which I knew, but the route through Iran is open — for freakishly huge bribes. (He mentions $5,000.) There’s also a rumor that Turkey is about to open the border, but that is, as yet, just a rumor.
Aykut in Ankara is more pessimistic. He works mostly as a tour guide, for which he got a four-year degree and it’s usually good money, since tourism is the biggest industry in Turkey. Not now.
“Due to this fuc…g war, tourism business is very bad in Turkey now,” he writes. “So I can’t say that personally I am doing well.” He does mention the rumor that Turkey will open the border, but it may be only for five days. Then he comes to the Turkish preparations for war and America’s deal-making.
“I don’t give any chance to the possibility of Turkey’s rejection of U.S. troops,” he writes. (Well, it looks like he’s right. Monday may see the deal consummated.) “If she [Turkey] doesn’t allow, the economic program that has been continued with IMF after the last crisis in 2001 will be damaged very badly. As everybody knows, the U.S. is very efficient [he means influential] with the IMF, and Turkey needs the help of it.”

It seems Turkey is about to overestimate U.S. patience, but still I believe U.S. needs Turkey for this war. The other possibilities are much more expensive and difficult… Some analysts claim that U.S. can do the operation without Turkey, but this would cost 40 or 50 billion dollars more to her. So you see we are fair. We want half of this… Turkey is driving such a hard bargain, because we took a big lesson [I think he means “loss”] from the first Gulf War. U.S. had promised us to reimburse our losses which would occur after the war. You are the one who knows Turkey’s losses. You talked with the people in southeast Turkey. Now the Turkish government wants a “written agreement.”

After he wrote this email, the Turks and Americans seemed close to an agreement that would give Turkey $5 billion grants and $10 million in loans, with a bridge loan immediately available to help pump the Turkish economy once the shooting starts.
It’s worth noting that the cash figures mentioned in the Times story are less than were being reported earlier this week. And the story never comes out and says a deal for Iraqi Kurdistan is in the works, but considering the quotes from Turkish Foreign Minister Yasar Yakis, it’s pretty obvious that’s what’s happening.
“A Kurdistan should not be set up,” Yakis said. The Times also heavily reports Turkish concerns regarding Iraqi Kurdistan. Two concerns were that U.S. weapons don’t fall into Kurdish hands and that Turkish troops be under Turkish command (This is a big one, and contradicts reports from earlier this week that Turkish troops would be under American command.)
Things are quickly getting nasty in Iraqi Kurdistan.

“No one wants another fight, of course,” Hoshiyar Zebari, spokesman for the Kurdish Democratic Party, one of the two main Kurdish political groups, told reporters in Arbil on Sunday.
“But if there’s a forced incursion, done under the pretext of ‘I’m going to give you forced aid’, then believe me there will be uncontrolled clashes,” he said.
“And it will be bad for the image of the United States, Britain and other countries who want to help Iraq, to see two of their allies, Turkey and Kurdistan, at each other’s throats.”
In Tehran, Iranian Kurd parliamentarians also voiced concern about Turkish intentions in Iraq and accused Ankara of seeking to control Kirkuk and Mosul, once part of the Ottoman empire.
The 22-strong Iranian Kurdish parliamentary faction wrote to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, European Union leaders and Iranian President Mohammad Khatami.
“Who in the world does not know that Turks have a desire for Kirkuk oil and annexation of Kirkuk and Mosul to their soil?” the letters said. “Authorizing a Turkish military presence in Iraqi Kurdistan means authorizing genocide and termination of Iraq’s territorial integrity.”

And as things get nastier in Kurdistan, Iraqi National Congress frontman Ahmed Chalabi is getting increasingly bitter over what looks to be a rapidly decreasing role for himself and his organization.
Two weeks ago, the White House said Chalabi will be leader of a transitional coalition government that will take over from Gen. Tommy Franks when the shooting stops. However, the Washington Post reported a few days ago that “Once security was established and weapons of mass destruction were located and disabled, a U.S. administrator would run the civilian government and direct reconstruction and humanitarian aid.” Chalabi is, predictably, distressed by this turn of events. In an op-ed for Daily Telegraph, he wrote, “The leadership and governance of Iraq is, without exception, an exclusive right of the Iraqi people … There must be no gap in the sovereignty over Iraq by Iraqis. We reject notions of foreign military government or United Nations administration for Iraq.”
He continues and writes that his transitional government should assume sovereignty “the moment” Saddam is removed, but admitted that his government would be willing to work with the U.S. military to establish order, secure the border, etc. He dismisses the idea of Iraq as an Arab Yugoslavia as a “myth” borne of the “convenient preconception that fits the Western image of unruly and warring tribes.”
“There is no record in the history of our land of a Shia village attacking a Sunni village or an Arab quarter attacking a Kurdish quarter,” he writes. (Yes, but there is a lot on record about Kurds attacking other Kurds when the PUK and the KDP warred over smuggling tariffs in 1995-96.)
It should be noted that the Guardian story reports him as angry over the installation of a military governor, presumably Franks. If the Iraqi opposition objects to a military governor post-Saddam, they likely will be even less happy with a U.S. civilian administrator as a further step to be taken before the country is handed over to the INC.
Ayatollah Mohammad Baqir al-Hakim, leader of the Iran-backed Supreme Council of Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), who recently ordered 5,000 SCIRI troops into Iraqi Kurdistan, said Iraqis would resist, perhaps violently, any attempt to impose a government on them.
“If the Americans do this, they will discover this is a mistake,” Hakim said.
So what’s the White House’s game? Why are these “plans” and “blueprints” getting leaked especially when the media reports of the plans are sending the Iraqi opposition into a grand mal tizzy?
The Iraqi opposition, divided as it is, doesn’t appear qualified enough to run a taco stand, much less run a country that’s been devastated by two, coming up on three, wars and 12 years of sanctions since 1980. And that’s pretty much been the State Department’s objection to the Iraqi opposition all along. Furthermore, Chalabi is distrusted by the Department of State, the CIA and most of the rest of the foreign policy establishment. He seems a bit too eager, for someone convicted in Jordan of financial fraud and sentenced to 22 years of hard labor, to get his hands on the levers of power — and the purse strings — of oil-rich Iraq. But the civilian hawks running the war planning, such as Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle, are big-time backers of Chalabi. Could the leaking of the rebuilding ideas be part of the ongoing war between Colin Powell at State and Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz at the DoD and Perle at the Defense Policy Board? Since the administration of Iraq would, presumably, fall to the State Department after the military is done with it, perhaps the goal may be to discredit the INC — and Chalabi in particular — so that State, which never wanted this headache to begin with, can have a freer hand in running the place without having to deal with the INC.

U.S. to conquered Iraqis: Pay up

You know, every night I go to sleep thinking that the events of the day had pissed me off to such an extent that there was no way I could get more disgruntled at the venality of the Bush administration. And every morning I get up, read the newspapers and wires and I’m inevitably proven wrong.
The White House has said Iraq’s oil wealth will be used to pay for its own reconstruction following a U.S. invasion.
That’s cold, man.

You know, every night I go to sleep thinking that the events of the day had pissed me off to such an extent that there was no way I could get more disgruntled at the venality of the Bush administration. And every morning I get up, read the newspapers and wires and I’m inevitably proven wrong.
The White House has said Iraq’s oil wealth will be used to pay for its own reconstruction following a U.S. invasion.
“Iraq, unlike Afghanistan, is a rather wealthy country,” said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer. “Iraq has tremendous resources that belong to the Iraqi people. And so there are a variety (of) means that Iraq has to be able to shoulder much of the burden for their own reconstruction.”
Iraq has tremendous resources that belong to the Iraqi people. Yes, and why should the Iraqis be forced, in effect, to pay for the bombs that will soon rain down upon their heads? And this nugget from Fleischer: “It is, of course, the intention of the United States government to make certain the people of Iraq are not the victims in a war that would have been started by their leaders.”
I stand, mouth agape, at the audacity of the emphasized quote. Last time I checked, Bush was arguing for “pre-emptive defense,” which sure sounds like a rationale for starting a war.
But I digress. “Fleischer also pointed out that once Iraq is disarmed and Saddam is out of office, there will be no reason to continue to impose economic sanctions on Baghdad and trade will be reopened with Iraq.”
What he actually said was, “Once sanctions are lifted from Iraq, that provides a lot more means for the rebuilding and the reconstruction of Iraq.”
This is a exactly what the Iraqi opposition does not want. As Feisal al-Istrabadi, a founding member of the Iraqi Forum for Democracy said last Monday at Columbia, the U.N. should not lift the sanctions but instead suspend them. The ultimate lifting of the sanctions is the incentive for Iraq to truly democratize.
Note that Fleischer didn’t say “suspend;” he said “lifted.” And the give and take of the press conference yesterday, at which all of this came about, leaves one with the impression that the White House is all about lifting the sanctions as opposed to suspending them. This is a crucial point, obviously, because the sanctions allow for the United Nations to manage the finances of Iraq as a trust. While Saddam has managed to squirrel away billions, by and large the national budget is not fully controlled by his government.
Istrabadi wants to avoid making the provisional government, presumably headed by financier Ahmed Chalabi, “provisional” in the Iraqi sense of the word — i.e., in power for years and years. (Since 1968, the constitutions governing Iraq have been provisional constitutions and not permanent. Thus, there is no permanent rule of law.) By lifting the sanctions immediately, you grant a temporary government access to billions in oil revenues, presumably to do with what they will.
“You cannot hand over the purse strings of Iraq,” Istrabadi warned. “Saddam did not immediately rule by fear. He co-opted the elite during the 1960s and ?70s by drowning them in cash.”
So let’s look at the smoke signals from Washington and other places:

  1. Chalabi is in Iraq and prepared to declare a provisional government in Erbil;
  2. The Kurds (and others) are under the impression that there will be no democracy immediately forthcoming; (Peter W. Galbrait has his thoughts on this subject here. He basically blames the Turks);
  3. Fleischer’s advocacy for lifting the sanctions, in order to get the Iraqi oil wells online quickly so that Iraq can pay for its own reconstruction, will deliver the funds precisely to the people with a shady history financial history and a high stake in remaning in power since they’ve been in the political wilderness for 20+ years (in the case of Chalabi.)

Fleischer deftly sidestepped just this question of oil money and Iraqi governments in this exchange:

Q If the Iraqi people are going to largely be responsible for paying for their own reconstruction, will they be given a lot of freedom, in terms of how that reconstruction is going to be carried out? Or are we going to kind of guide them and tell them what needs to be done?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think what’s going to emerge will be a government of the Iraqi people that comes from both inside Iraq and outside Iraq. There are no shortage of people who are dedicated to a different route for Iraq. And I think also one of the great issues that will be seen — if this does come to war — is how, when people have the ability to be free, they exercise that right to be free. The Iraqi people have lived under tyranny and under dictatorship. And as the nations of East Europe have shown us just recently, when the yolk of dictatorship is removed, people’s God-given rights to freedom emerge. And the President believes that that will be the case in Iraq.

Fleischer’s dodge and the previous points add up a weak puppet government easily controlled, dependent upon the United States and democractic in name only. Hardly the beacon of freedom to the rest of the Middle East that the White House claims Iraq can become. But then, a beacon of freedom and self-determination doesn’t fit neatly with the administration’s plans for the region.

U.S. extends betrayal of Kurds to entire Iraqi people; no democracy.

Truth may be the first casualty of war, but in this case, democracy seems to be the second. The Bush administration seems intent on stamping out nascent Iraqi democracy in the interest of stability, giving the lie to the statement that the United States will liberate the people of Iraq. Why is this war being fought again?


Kurdish men buy ice creams in the Mazi supermarket in Dohuk. The supermarket was opened two years ago and is seen as a testiment to Iraqi Kurdistan’s independence. (Photo by Andrew Testa)

Northern Iraq is getting a bit crowded. About 5,000 Iraqi opposition troops, backed by Iran, have entered the PUK’s territory in Iraqi Kurdistan ostensibly to secure the border when war breaks across the region. Its real purpose, however, may be to repel attacks by the People’s Mujahideen Organization (MKO), an anti-Iranian group based in Iraq and strongly backed by Saddam Hussein. The Iranian troops are part of Ayatollah Sayed Mohammed Baqir Al-Hakim’s Badr brigade, which is made up of Shi’ites opposed to Saddam Hussein. Hakim is the head of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), a mainly Shia Muslim group that fought in the failed 1991 uprising against Baghdad in southern Iraq. More recently, SCIRI has taken part in talks between the Iraqi opposition and the U.S.. According to the Web site for the SCIRI, “Hakim has an historical and warm relation with the Kurdish Movements in Iraq since his father gave a religious decree (Fatwa) which forbade the Iraqi army from fighting against the Kurds in Iraq. A mutual agreement as been signed by SCIRI with the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) headed by Jalal Talabani to work against Saddam’s regime. A similar agreement was signed with the Kurdish [sic] Democratic Party (KDP) headed by Masood Barzani several years ago.”
This might be true, but one of the reasons the United States didn’t support the 1991 Iraqi intifada that started in Basra was because it was mainly a Shi’ite movement with heavy backing by Iran. (The opposition in the north was, of course, an effort led by the Kurds, who had been waiting for an opportunity to rebel since the 1990 invasion of Kuwait.) Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, alarmed at the prospect of Iranian influence expanding to their borders and figuring a weakened Saddam was preferable to the ayatollahs, agreed with the United States that no support to the mainly Shi’ite rebels would be given.
How the Badr brigade fits into the political and military intrigues of Iraqi Kurdistan remains to be seen. Not only does the region play host to the PUK and the KDP, but also to various Islamic parties, Ansar al-Islam, U.S. special forces, several thousand Turkish troops (with more soon to come) the MKO and now the Badr brigade. I honestly don’t know what’s going to happen, but it can’t be good for U.S. planning.
Or perhaps it doesn’t care. One of the biggest stories yet to be carried by the mainstream American press is the apparent abandonment of democracy in Iraq post-Saddam. Kanan Makiya, author of “Republic of Fear: The Politics of Modern Iraq” and a leading Iraqi dissident, penned a savage criticism of the Bush administration’s plans to replace Saddam and his cronies not with democratic government but with American generals and soldiers where Ba’ath functionaries once sat. “The plan, as dictated to the Iraqi opposition in Ankara last week by a United States-led delegation, further envisages the appointment by the U.S. of an unknown number of Iraqi quislings palatable to the Arab countries of the Gulf and Saudi Arabia as a council of advisers to this military government.”
“We Iraqis hoped and said to our Arab and Middle Eastern brethren, over and over again, that American mistakes of the past did not have to be repeated in the future,” writes Makiya. “Were we wrong? Are the enemies of a democratic Iraq, the ‘anti-imperialists’ and ‘anti-Zionists’ of the Arab world, the supporters of ‘armed struggle’, and the upholders of the politics of blaming everything on the U.S. who are dictating the agenda of the anti-war movement in Europe and the U.S., are all of these people to be proved right?”
Most ominously:

We, the democratic Iraqi opposition, are the natural friends and allies of the United States. We share its values and long-term goals of peace, stability, freedom and democracy for Iraq. We are here in Iraqi Kurdistan 40 miles from Saddam’s troops and a few days away from a conference to plan our next move, a conference that some key administration officials have done everything in their power to postpone.
None the less, after weeks of effort in Tehran and northern Iraq, we have prevailed. The meeting will take place. It will discuss a detailed plan for the creation of an Iraqi leadership, one that is in a position to assume power at the appropriate time and in the appropriate place. We will be opposed no doubt by an American delegation if it chooses to attend. Whether or not they do join us in the coming few days in northern Iraq, we will fight their attempts to marginalise and shunt aside the men and women who have invested whole lifetimes, and suffered greatly, fighting Saddam Hussein. (Emphasis added.)

But unless the opposition can seize the oilfields from the American governors, they stand little chance of success in wresting the destiny of their country away from their new masters because they’ll have no money. There is no budget in the State Department for the Iraqi opposition groups next year.
“We don’t feel it’s necessary to fund it any longer,” said Christopher Burnham, assistant secretary for resource management.
In fact, the war has not been budgeted at all! No one seems to know very much at all about what the war will cost, what will come after Saddam and how to manage the damn place after the shooting dies down a bit.
“Conquerors always call themselves liberators,” said Sami Abdul-Rahman, deputy prime minister of the Kurdish administration, in a reference to Mr. Bush’s speech last week in which he said U.S. troops were going to liberate Iraq.
Mr. Abdul-Rahman said the U.S. had reneged on earlier promises to promote democratic change in Iraq. “It is very disappointing,” he said. “In every Iraqi ministry they are just going to remove one or two officials and replace them with American military officers.”
Last summer, I interviewed Mr. Abdul-Rahman. He gave me the copies of the two Kurdish constitutions the Kurdistan regional government had drafted. At the time, he could not have been more gracious and hopeful, assuring me, the skeptical reporter, of America’s good intentions. The irony should be obvious.
The cynicism should be as well. Tony Blair made what many felt was the clearest moral case this weekend for removing Saddam, for “liberating” the Iraqi people. In his State of the Union address in January, Bush said, “I have a message for the brave and oppressed people of Iraq: Your enemy is not surrounding your country, your enemy is ruling your country. And the day he and his regime are removed from power will be the day of your liberation.”
By not supporting a democratic Iraq, by appointing a controversial figure such as Ahmed Chalabi as provisional leader, by inviting Turks to occupy Iraqi Kurdistan and promoting some gauzy ill-thought-out vision of a democratic Middle East imposed by force of arms, the Big Idea idealism, which never rested comfortably on the shoulders of a president who detests complexity, comes off as callow, cynical and … what are the words? Oh, yes: “Absolute bullshit.” The ideas and principles upon which the United States was founded — “liberty,” “freedom,” “justice for all” — and for which we allegedly fought and won two world wars and the Cold War, have become mere words, talking points and awkwardly mouthed slogans used to make a case for a war that no one except for a small junta in Washington wants.
People in the pro-war camp often scoff at the “peaceniks” and “appeasers” of the ant-war crowd, calling them na�ve and saying they are consigning the Iraqis to oppression if they are opposed the war. But who are really the na�ve ones, I wonder, if the hawks believe this is a war of liberation?
(By the way, readers can find a piece I wrote back in November on the mixed signals given by the United States regarding democracy in Iraq here.)

Chirac infected by Bush’s madness

French President Jacques Chirac’s outburst at the petit-European countries angling for EU admission reeks of Bush’s arrogance. Has the whole world gone topsy turvey?

chirac_bush1.jpg
Not speaking the same language: Relations between the United States and European “allies” such as France have become increasingly bitter — and personal.

France lashed out at EU-applicants for siding with the United States over Iraq, indicating that a dispute over national interests and security has become personal and is edging into the realm of a slapfest in a playground sandbox between the the class bully (Bush) and the transfer student (Chirac.)

Mr Chirac, whose support for enlargement is, as French officials admit, as shallow as his empathy for Chancellor Gerhard Schröder of Germany, called the candidate countries “childish” after they had signed two declarations that supported US policy over Iraq.
It was also “dangerous, reckless, not very well-behaved”. The candidate countries, he said, “had missed a great opportunity to shut up”. He warned their entry to the EU depended on member states ratifying the accession treaties.

Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz, the Polish foreign minister, expressed his government’s position: “We respect the right by France to present its opinion. We expect the same for our side.”
The applicant countries, which include nations such as Poland, Czech Republic, Bulgaria and Romania, are in a bit of a tight spot because they also want to join NATO as well as the EU and, as the article points out, they need U.S. Congressional approval to do so. With U.S. representatives calling for a boycott of French products and the Pentagon pulling out troops to punish German ‘treachery,’ it would seem they know where their bread is buttered, and the bread is not a croissant.
Correct me if I’m wrong here, but I thought one of the key points of the EU was to formulate a common foreign policy to go along with a common agricultural policy, monetary policy, etc. If Poland, Czech Republic and other applicant nations are pursuing their own foreign policy with the idea of protecting their unique national interests — not that there’s anything wrong with that — doesn’t that kind of, you know, undermine the whole idea of the EU as a single political unit? Many Germans I know would roll their eyes at the naïvité of this question. Probably a lot of French people would to. Anyway, this whole row just shows you how un-united “Europe” still is.
And another thing, why does it seem we’re already at war with Europe as a prelude to war with Iraq? Was this part of the plan? A friend of mine offered this unique theory, tongue planted firmly in cheek: “We always knew the Republicans hated the U.N., so it’s no surprise they want to trash it. But do they hate NATO, too, because Bill Clinton used it in Kosovo so well? It’s almost like they want to pick up the china sets that Clinton ate off and smash them, just because Clinton used them.”
Of course, I don’t believe that, but hell, it makes as much sense as anything else as to why Team Bush has allowed this situation to spin so madly, stupidly out of control.

Why Iraq?

The United States’ invasion and occupation of Iraq is not just about oil, colonialism or empire building. But neither is it not about those things either. I’ve tried to map out what I believe is the administration’s thinking based on reports, research and balance-of-power analysis.

A few days ago, I mentioned I would publish my thoughts on the real reasons for the Bush administration’s drive to attack Iraq. My apologies for the delay. I’m a one-man operation here and sometimes I have to do other stuff, like sleep.
There are several theories floating around about the need to attack Iraq, some coming from the White House and others coming from various sources. The most common argument for attacking Iraq, that given by the administration, is a mish-mash of worries about weapons of mass destruction, disregard for U.N. Security Council resolutions, ties to al Qa’ida and Saddam’s wickedness. Of these reasons, the WMD rationale seems to have gained the most traction in the minds of many Americans. This is hardly surprising, as the White House has been relentlessly on message regarding Saddam’s weapons programs until recently, when Osama bin Laden (remember him?) conveniently popped up to exhort Muslims to defend their Iraqi brothers through martydom operations against Western interests worldwide if the United States assaults Baghdad.
Despite bin Laden’s sneering references to Saddam as a “socialist” and an “apostate,” the White House lept upon the tape as proof that Saddam and bin Laden were playing footsie when the West wasn’t looking. White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said bin Laden’s reference to “our mujahideen brothers” inside Iraq and his appeal to Muslims to prepare for jihad suggested a “strong statement of alliance” between Iraq and al Qa’ida.

Continue reading “Why Iraq?”