Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The Kurds: Between Iraq and a hard place

Earlier this month, American forces in Iraq raided an Iranian facility in the Kurdish city of Irbil. Documents and computer files seized in that raid indicate that the facility was being used by members of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in an operation to provide money and weapons to various Shia militia groups in Iraq. The weapons include advanced improvised explosive devices, mortars, newer generation rocket propelled grenades and shoulder-fired surface to air missiles. The advanced IED’s have already killed American troops, and mortars allegedly traceable to Iran have been used in attacks on Sunni areas of Baghdad.

Is the IRGC operating in Kurdish northern Iraq? Of course they are - they’ve been there since at least 1991. Soon after the Iraqi defeat in Kuwait, IRGC officers conducted clandestine and covert operations in the southern Shia area and the northern Kurdish area, and have been active there ever since.

The raid earlier this month on the Iranian facility causes problems for the Kurdish Regional Government and its autonomous region in northern Iraq. Since the Iranians claim that the facility was an Iranian consulate that had been in operation in the Kurdish enclave for years, it created a diplomatic incident. Having served in northern Iraq, including Irbil, and observing Iranian operations, I am skeptical that the facility was, in fact, a consulate. Since the raid, Iraqi foreign minister Hoshyar Zebari, himself a Kurd, has demanded that the United States release the five “consular officials.”

The incident highlights the conflict the Kurds face. They are part of Iraq, but are not Arabs like 80 percent of the population. For almost the entire period that the Baath Party ruled Iraq, they were the target of a genocidal campaign aimed at eradicating their separate identity. During that time, the Kurds – at times out of necessity – developed a close relationship with the Iranians. When Saddam Hussein’s forces attacked the Kurdish village of Halabja with chemical weapons, when the Iraqi army killed thousands of Kurds in the Anfal campaign, the Iranians became the Kurds’ only ally. Iran provided refuge to hundreds of thousands of Kurds, creating a bond that is hard to break and hard to ignore. When no one else seemed to care about their plight, Iran opened its borders to them.

Now that Saddam is gone and the Kurds have established an autonomous region in the north, the Iranians are exploiting that past relationship. After the fall of Baghdad in 2003, the Iranians greatly expanded their presence in the Kurdish north as well as with their fellow Shia Muslims in the south.

The Iranian presence is not a good thing for the American efforts in Iraq. It also presents problems for the Kurds, easily America’s best allies among the Iraqis. The Kurds are balancing their close relationship with America against their close relationship with the Iranians. When more raids like the one in Irbil occur in the future – and they will, given new orders to U.S. forces to no longer “catch and release” Iranian operatives, but to capture and kill them – the Kurds will have to decide which relationship means more. You can’t have it both ways. Just like the Iraqi government of Nuri al-Maliki, they have to decide if they are with us or with the Iranians.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Ankara bridles at Baghdad's handoff of key oil file to Kurdish authorities

Agence France Presse

ANKARA: Turkey angrily called on Baghdad Monday to retract an apparent decision making the Kurdish authorities in northern Iraq Turkey's sole interlocutors for contract renewals of Turkish firms that ship petroleum products to Iraq. State Minister for Foreign Trade Kursad Tuzmen accused Iraq's central government of breaching bilateral agreements and warned that failure to rectify the situation would force Ankara "to revise certain policies" vis-a-vis its neighbor.

"A unilateral decision such as this points to a change of policy ... We expect an explanation," Tuzmen told reporters in televised remarks. "We expect Iraq to stand by its signature. If it complies with the agreements, the problem will be resolved. ... Our patience has limits. Iraq's failure to comply with the agreements will lead us to revise certain policies."

Ankara became aware of the decision on January 11 through letters sent by the Iraqi state oil marketing agency SOMO to Turkish companies, referring them exclusively to the Kurdish regional government for any contract renewals.

Ankara's attempts since to contact SOMO officials to obtain confirmation and explanations have failed, Tuzmen said.

"Our only interlocutor is the central government," he said, calling on Baghdad to display "serious statesmanship."

Although the issue appears purely economic and bureaucratic, it has political connotations for Turkey: Ankara fears that Kurdish control of northern Iraqi oil resources will boost what it suspects are Kurdish ambitions to break away from Baghdad and, in turn, fan separatism among Turkish Kurds.

The controversy follows stern Turkish warnings to the Iraqi Kurds over the ethnically volatile, oil-rich northern city of Kirkuk, which Kurdish leaders want to annex.

Turkey imports Iraqi oil, which it refines and sends back to Iraq by tanker trucks.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Turkey’s Threats and Kurdish Constitutional Rights

Kurdishaspect.com - by Ardalan Hardi

The unrealistic approach of Turkey’s meddling in the Kurdish city of Kirkuk and Ankara’s threats on implementing Article 140 of the Iraqi constitution have created a political quagmire in President Bush’s foreign policy in the Middle East region. It is clear that there’s nothing Ankara can do to stop the Kirkuk referendum. Yet Turkish government continues with its warnings and threats to further destabilize the region and derail the recent success of the Kurdish government in Iraq.

Turkey continually uses excuses like (PKK) Kurdistan Workers' Party or the Turks who are Iraqi citizens as a reason to legitimize its interference in Iraq’s affairs. Turkey now claims it acts to protect the Turkomen community in Kirkuk, but what Ankara’s government chooses to overlook is that the Turks that live in Iraq are Iraqi citizens not Turkish. Turkey has no legal grounds to tell the sovereign nation of Iraq how to deal with their citizens. Consider this, the U.S. has a large population of Mexicans that chose to leave their country of origin and live in U,S, By doing so, they gave up their rights as a Mexican citizen. Does Mexico then have a right to tell the U.S, government how to deal with its Mexican population when it comes to constitutional rights? The answer to that is very obvious.

Turks, Arabs, Kurds, and all other minorities in Iraq have to abide by and uphold the laws of the state. That law is the constitution that was voted in by the electorate of Iraq when they went to the polls on October 15 2005 and it was approved by a wide margin nationwide. That constitution includes the implementation of article 140. Article 140 of the Iraqi constitution indicates how to normalize the situation in the city of Kirkuk followed by a referendum on the fate of the province. Turkey has no legal grounds to create more obstacles or intervene in Iraq’s sovereignty.

The Bush administration already has their hands full with the current sectarian violence in the middle of Iraq. Turkey is adding to that problem. Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gül has been quoted saying “Iraq is a different country, but this does not mean we will remain aloof to the fate of our relatives there.” Mr. Gül, if this is not just propaganda to keep Iraq in a state of disarray, then why was the Turkish State so aloof when Turkmen of Kirkuk were suffering under Saddam regime in the 1980s? Furthermore, Mr. Gul, how would you feel if President Bashar al-Assad of Syria decided to interfere on behalf of their relatives in Adana, Mersin and Iskenderun towns of Turkey that are ethnically divided between Turks and Sunni Arabs.

Last week Turkish Prime Minster Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened Iraq and said “Turkey will not sit idle if the Iraqi Kurds have control over the oil-rich city of Kirkuk.” That brought strong criticism by a Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) spokesman who said "we have heard for some time meaningless statements by some Turkish officials with their implied threats and we want to remind them that the Ottoman empire had fallen a long time ago and Iraq is not part of Turkey," told Voice of Iraq.

In my opinion, all these threats and warnings, in addition to wanting destabilizing of the Kurdish achievements in Iraq, Erdogan is trying to please the chauvinist nationalist and the military power to secure the presidential post in Turkey. The threats and changes in Erdogan’s views from the beginning of his term until now are directly tied to the upcoming election in Turkey.

No matter, what happens in Iraq with regards to article 140 it is up to the Iraqi people to decide on the future of Kirkuk and not Mr. Gul, Mr. Erdogan or the Turkish State.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

The only friends Turks have in this world is the Kurds


Participating in the conference called "Turkey Seeks for its Peace", famous writer Yaşar Kemal said: "Turks only have a single nation to call a 'friend'. Since the Malazgirt War, Kurds and the best friends of Turks."

"The only friend a Turk has is a Kurd"

Giving a speech in a conference called "Turkey Seeks for its Peace" in Ankara, famous writer Yaşar Kemal said: "Turks have a single friend and it is not a secret: since Malazgirt War, Kurds and Turks are each other's best friend."

Stating that Turkey is full of racists who are hiding behind "nationalism" Kemal said: "For the last 25 yearsi there is a "light war" going on in the Southeast Anatolia. There had been many cease fire decisions but for some reason the war does not seem to end. This war has broken Turkey's belly. We have become a country who fights with its own people. More and more we lose dignity in the eyes of foreign nations. No one grant us right any more. We called guerillas 'terrorists' and hoped things would change. Those who went up to the mountains to fight for their rights were in fact university students or graduates."

Friday, January 12, 2007

Turkish fiery statements rejected- Kurdistan spokesman

VOI - by Chiman Salh

Arbil – Iraq's Kurdistan presidency spokesman rejected on Friday statements recently made by Turkish officials on Kirkuk calling such statements "meaningless."

"We for a while have heard of meaningless statements by some Turkish officials that implied threats and we want to remind them of that the Ottoman empire had fallen a long time ago and Iraq is not part of Turkey," the spokesman said in a statement received by the independent news agency Voices of Iraq (VOI).

The Kurdish statements came in reply to what the Kurds saw as threats made by the Turkish Prime Minster Recep Tayyip Erdogan when he indicated last week that Turkey will no sit idle if the Iraqi Kurds controlled over the oil rich city of Kirkuk.

Erdogan said in a Turkish parliament session that efforts are under way to change the demography of Kirkuk population and Turkey will not tolerate such attempts.These endeavors, the Turkish Premier remarked, may lead to a situation harmer than civil war in Iraq and may affect the region as a whole.

The oil-rich-Kirkuk, 250 km northeast of Baghdad, is a mixed city of Kurds, Arabs and Turkmans.

Iraq's Kurdistan statement urged Turkey to assist Iraq and not to interfere in its internal affairs.