Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Winning the War Against ISIS Comes First


I originally wrote this for KurdBuzz 

Erbil - Last week, some teachers in Sulaimani, Kurdistan’s second largest city went on strike in protest against KRG’s failure to keep its promises to deliver salaries.The teachers have not received three months’ salaries, December 2014, January and February 2015, due to ongoing disputes between Baghdad and Erbil over Kurdish oil exports. Last week the Kurdistan regional Government PM Nechirvan Barzani and a KRG delegation accompanying him visited Baghdad to talk with Iraqi PM Hayder al-Abbadi over the issues. They returned empty handed.

It is still not clear who’s to blame for the issues as both KRG and Baghdad accuse each other of not sticking to agreed protocol earlier this year. According to the agreement, Erbil is supposed to export 550,000 barrels of oil per day in return for a 17% share of the Iraqi budget. Baghdad said Erbil exported only around 300,000 bpd. Kurds said Baghdad wanted to create problems and that they did not send money because Iraq had gone bankrupt.

However, many of the teachers on strike complained that it was not only because there was no money that they were on strike, but also because they were tired with KRG promises that were never kept. Some were also very angry because the KRG Prime Minister had said teachers (who form the largest bloc of government employees in Kurdistan) needed to be more patient and understand the situation when there’s no transparency about the agreements between Baghdad and Erbil and many other things in this region. People never have a good understanding of what is going on, is the KRG doing the right thing so they put their weight behind it, or is it playing some sort of game at the expense of its people?

Some of the mixed reactions I heard from the teachers on local channels were as follows:
·         “It is not about money… they never keep their promises, they play with our feelings”
·         “How can I wait when the landlord does not wait on me for the rentals”
·         And another said that she could not wait because her children needed food and other stuff

What followed was very disturbing to me. I wanted to see KRG officials on TV apologizing for the inconvenience caused, and to try to explain why the teachers needed to wait a little longer: I wanted to see what was their plan to solve the issue as soon as possible. Yet, there was a barrage of reports and shows on media outlets loyal to the KRG Prime Minister and his political party, about how inconvenient, unpatriotic, and betraying it was on the part of the teacher s to go on strike while Kurdistan is facing the threat of a “terrorist state”, namely the Islamic State (also known as IS, ISIS and ISIL)

Headlines of a string of reports on such TVs were like this:
  • Kurdistan "intellectuals" protest against the teachers on strike (And there are some people described as writers, authors, poets, and all that!).
  • Only part of the schools in Sulaimani teachers on strike.
  • Many schools in Sulaimani still running normally. And of course most cunning of all was the following·
  •  Peshmarga protest against the strike in schools.
 Of course they interviewed “Peshmarga” fighters who appeared in different parts of Kurdistan who railed against the strike as something treacherous. One of them complained that they too had not received salaries for two months and yet still continued fighting on the frontline against ISIS. Another said he was fighting to protect Kurdistan and its people including the teachers and yet the teachers failed to take care of his children and deprived them of education.

There’s no doubt that these are very valid whether as statements, or complaints from the Peshmarga who deserve everything good. It is not that which bothers me, and probably the majority of the teachers who went on strike; it is the fact that KRG and its loyal media treated the strikes and protests as merely very selfish and form materialistic vs patriotic and all that kind of perspective. They did not want to acknowledge that it is the KRG not trying to listen to and understand people’s concerns, in addition to the false promises, which angers people. What is more, such a response from the government and its loyal media only shows that the KRG really has no idea if this situation is ever going to be solved. Literally. They have no alternative plans.

My wife is a teacher, although she has not gone on strike. I am a university instructor, which is government employee, too. I am not on strike, and I don’t plan to, not because I buy the KRG excuses, but partially because I am also working outside the public sector circle to provide for my family, so I can wait. And more importantly because I believe if teachers go on strike, if the education sector is paralyzed, it is only the poor, the less well-off who will be affected, not the rich, and definitely not the families and children of the officials and “intellectuals” who accuse the teachers of betraying Kurdistan. Because their children are not attending public schools, they are attending the private schools that will never go on strike as they get huge amounts of money from the families of the wealthy students and never have to look at the government for sustainability.

I know that the KRG is working hard on several different levels of challenges: solving the issues with Baghdad, working for Kurdish independence, and fighting and defeating ISIS. But maybe it is time for the KRG to make some compromises ONLY FOR NOW until the fight against ISIS is over because it is not only the people who need their salaries so badly, but also the KRG which is at war, and we all know that war is incredibly costly. Not just because it is costly, but also because we desperately need weapons and military supplies – which we don’t have now – to better equip our brave Peshmarga fighters so fewer lives are lost in the war. So many Peshmarga fighters die sometimes because they do not have military equipment as simple as helmets. They do not have night visions. Therefore, I believe it is time to make some compromises. Resolving the issue of oil exports with Baghdad can wait for some time longer. Winning the war and protecting Kurdistan and its people is a priority.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Will the US Continue Handling the Kurdish Aspirations the Hammering Way?

I wrote this article originally for BasNews, here is the link to the article.

Erbil - Kurds greatly appreciate the airstrikes by the US and coalition warplanes against the extremist group Islamic State. The strikes have played a key role in the Kurdish pushback to recapture areas they lost to the group also known as IS, ISIL and ISIS. But they have also been complaining recently that the US promised delivery of heavy weapons of which few have made their way into the Kurdistan Region that has become the forefront of the fight against ISIS while at the same time a bastion of peace for refugees as well as internally displaced people from other parts of Iraq. All this, despite an economic crisis that began last year when the Iraqi government cut off Kurdistan’s share of the Iraqi budget. 

There seems to be one main reason why the US is not so willing to directly arm the Kurds as it is in helping the Iraqi army: the weapons given to Kurds could be used later for Kurdish independence against Baghdad, and the US does not want to be blamed for “creating” a Kurdish state in the Middle East only to destabilize the region as the conspiracy theory goes. And while exploiting the weapons for independence may well be the reason why Kurds want the weapons so badly, there are several other reasons why they are losing patience. 

First of all, they are losing many lives on the battlefield (over 1000 Kurdish Peshmerga fighters have been killed) against IS because of a lack of sufficient military equipment as simple as body armor, helmets, and night vision, let alone heavy weapons they need to counterbalance the large number of heavy weaponry IS took (estimated at 1,700 pieces including tanks, Humvees, MRAPs, artillery, etc) from the three Iraqi army divisions that ran away in the face of an IS offensive in June last year. Not a single day of foggy weather passes easily in Kurdistan without thousands of families struggling to go to sleep because of fear of a possible large scale, surprise attack by IS who use suicide fighters with explosive vests, as well as car bombs which they have learned to armor in a way that only planes, or direct hits from a tank or other heavy weapons like anti-tank MILAN rocket systems, which Peshmerga forces received from Germany, could stop. Members of these families are on the frontline and when it is foggy enough to make IS movement invisible, the planes aren’t able to help, and the tanks and MILANs are few, and also face the same visibility issue in such weathers. The Peshmerga are left to a IS special combo of ferocious man-vehicle bombs who are only too eager to blow themselves, and their bomb-laden cars, up in the middle of a group of Kurdish fighters. Moreover, the US and coalition airstrikes will not be there forever, in which case IS has to be fought and defeated on the ground where heavy weapons are needed. 

Second, there’s a strong sense of betrayal among Kurds who never killed Americans, or ever think they will. Yet, the US heavily supports Baghdad where the Shiite dominated government – let alone the Shia militias the Iraqi government supports and arms – don’t like Americans very much, or maybe at all. Some Iraqi Shia officials have also gone so far as accusing the coalition forces of dropping weapons, ammo and military supplies to IS militants. 

And third, when the US spends billions of dollars training the Iraqi army, which has a bloody history in Kurdish memory no matter how hard Baghdad or Washington tries to paint a different picture, and when it tries very hard to keep Iraq united, it is only really frustrating at best – Kurds are fighting ISIS on a nearly 1000 km long frontline and received only 25 MRAPs from the US (of course apart from light weapons and ammo), and insulting at worst, especially to the countless Kurdish families whose loved ones died fighting for independence over the past decades against the Iraqi Army and successive Iraqi governments. So, many Kurds could now ask: Did we fight Iraq for over half a century only to see that our dream of independence, which never before has seemed so within reach, is being rolled back by the US when even some high profile Iraqi leaders, one way or another, have come to terms with the idea? 

Iraqi Prime Minister Hayder al-Abbadi reportedly said at the Munich Security Conference recently held in Germany that he believed it was up to the Kurds to choose whether or not to stay as part of Iraq. And an Iraqi lawmaker, Mishaan Jubouri, a Sunni who is known for his anti-Kurd comments, told NRT TV – a Kurdish news channel – that he supports Kurdish independence, although he supports a Kurdish state that does not include the oil-rich Kirkuk province, and that his support for a Kurdish state is rooted in his beliefs that Kurds are like cancer in Iraq, that they are working on “weakening Iraq” so they get stronger and that Iraq will only rest when Kurds are no longer part of. Also, Iraqi lawmaker Abdulsalam al-Maliki, a Shia from the former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s party, also known for their anti-Kurds comments, recently called on Nechirvan Barzani, Prime Minister of the Kurdistan regional Government (KRG) to hold a referendum to secede from Iraq and “drop their Iraqi citizenship.” Similarly of course, al-Maliki sees the Kurds as a kind of cancer in Iraq and that Iraq can only enjoy peace when Kurds separate. And Ayad Allawi, a secular Shia leader who won the most seats in the parliamentary elections 9 years ago beating Nouri al-Maliki before Maliki forged an alliance in the parliament to claim the largest bloc, is well known for his position regarding a Kurdish state which can be put simply like this: In principle, I support a Kurdish state. Kurds deserve to have their own state; my only concern is that it is not the right time now. All of these voices stand in stark contrast with the nationalist Arab rhetoric of, say, a few decades ago, or even with that of the early years after the US war in Iraq in 2003 when speaking on not only Kurdish independence, but also of a more decentralized Iraq, was a taboo among Sunni and Shia Arab politicians alike. 

Besides, the more the US – or any other nation – pushes on Kurds to disown aspirations for independence, the more attractive the idea becomes. Successive Iraqi governments used all types of intimidation from revoking their Iraqi citizenship, expelling, forced resettlement (also true in the case of Syrian Kurds) to clamping down on them militarily, and using chemical weapons against them. Only a total genocide could remove the Kurdish dream of independence altogether. That’s exactly the kind of realization former Iraq dictator Saddam Hussein must have had when he ordered the Anfal Operations – a series of military operations that killed as many as 182,000 Kurds, flattened some 4,000 villages, and forced rural populations into urban settlements to control them, but to no avail. 

It is simple. You can’t impose on Kurds (or almost any people) what they don’t want, and history supports this claim. Kurds are known for their stubbornness, and perhaps it is only this stubbornness that has kept the people as distinct from other neighboring peoples as they can be despite decades of harsh assimilation policies by the Middle Eastern countries. The word “stubborn” in Kurdish is a compound word that, when translated word for word, becomes “hard-skulled” in English. Iraqi Arabs have jokes and sayings about this stubbornness of Kurds. And internally, Kurds have different jokes about the degree of “hard-skulledness” of Kurds from different tribes and areas. One joke is roughly as follows: A man was hammering a nail on a wall as hard as he could, but the nail wouldn’t make a dent. When he looked at the other side of the wall, a Khoshnaw (member of a Kurdish tribe of the same name) was leaning against the wall with his head right against the opposite side of where the man was trying to hammer the nail. The lesson: you cannot penetrate Kurdish skulls (i.e. mentality) the hammering (forceful) way, at least not with the dream of independence. 

More important than US officials realizing that when Kurds talk about independence there’s nothing that can dissuade them to keep Iraq together, is realizing that the US should not worry about the outcome of arming the Kurds. Because, the weapons will never be used against the US and American people unlike what has happened in other places where the US supported certain groups with weapons: for example in Afghanistan, Syria, and Iraq’s non-Kurdish parts (a lot of the weapons given to Iraq end up in pro-Iranian Shia militia hands who see no difference between the US and IS – remember the comment by Iraqi MPs that US drops weapons for IS). Also, it would be false to say that in the event of an emerging Kurdish state – that the US “carved out” a Kurdish state from Arab, Turkish, or Persian lands, like the WWII superpowers are accused of “creating” a country for Jews. Unlike the case of Israel, there’s a whole century of armed struggle behind today’s Kurdish aspirations for independence. And what lands Kurds claim are actually overwhelmingly Kurdish-populated lands in addition to some disputed land still with a majority Kurdish population that underwent an Arabization policy under Saddam Hussein, especially around the oil-rich Kirkuk province, plus more and more Iraqi leaders are beginning to realize that they cannot, and should not oppose Kurdish independence. Today or tomorrow, the Kurds will always be pushing for independence. Therefore the US should not treat Kurdish concerns the hammering way.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Kurdish Peshmarga's death toll hits 999 since ISIS began offensive on Kurdistan last year

Erbil - The number of Kurdish Peshmarga fighters who were killed in battles with the Islamic State (IS, ISIS, or ISIL) has hit 999 with another 4596 injured in the fighting that started in August last year.

Jabar Yawar, spokesman for the KRG Ministry of Peshmarga disclosed the number in a press conference on Wednesday following a brutal ISIS attack on the oil-rich city of Kirkuk in an attempt to grab more land and to deal a quick blow to the Peshmarga forces to repair its image as the "unstoppable" jihadi force. ISIS had been losing ground on several fronts in Iraq including around their stronghold of Mosul, Kirkuk, Diyala province as well as Anbar.

It is not clear how many ISIS militants have been killed by the Peshmarga forces, because they never report on the number of their dead fighters and most of the time they do not leave behind bodies if they can recover them before pulling back. Massoud Barzanin, President of Kurdistan Region has said recently that "no less than 3000" have been killed by Peshmarga.

ISIS captured territories in Iraq's mainly Sunni Arab populated areas in a lightening fast offensive in June last year after three divisions of the Iraqi Army ran away in the face of the extremist group leaving heavy weaponry in the hands of the extremist group.

At first, the group did not appear to be interested in attacking Kurdistan, and Kurdish officials did not want to engage ISIS in the Arab populated areas for fear of igniting an ethnic conflict between Arabs and Kurds. The Sunni Arab population had long been complaining of marginalization by the Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, therefore many Sunnis welcomed ISIS, or did not resist when the Army fled.

However, Kurdish Peshmarga forces, who were now filling the gap created by the absence of the Iraqi Army in contested areas between Baghdad and Erbil that Kurds claim to be historically part of Kurdistan and has a mixed population of Kurds, Arabs, Turkmen, Christians and other minority groups. ISIS began its surprise attack with the newly captured heavy weapons and armored vehicles in August pushing deep  into Kurdish territories taking key towns like Sinjar, Zummar, makhmour, Gwer (only 25 km from capital Erbil), and dozens of villages.

The Peshmarga fought, as it seemed, a helpless war because what they had was old Russian made AK-47s, BKC machine guns, anti-aircraft machine guns, and RPG rocket propellers which proved ineffective against the armored US-made Humvees and MRAPs and long range artillery, howitzer and mortars. So, they pulled back in what they described tactical retreats to avoid heavy casualties.

On August 8 American warplanes began bombing ISIS destroying their armored vehicles and artillery positions. With that, Kurdish forces started to reorganize and put up a better fight as the air support boosted morale.

Kurdish forces have been making gains against ISIS ever since, especially after they received MILAN anti-tank weapons from Germany. The weapons system has proved to be very effective against ISIS armored vehicles, and especially against ISIS suicide car bombs which they also armor so nothing can stop them.

http://rudaw.net/sorani/kurdistan/0402201510

http://nrttv.com/home/2015/02/03/%D8%A8%D8%A7%D8%B1%D8%B2%D8%A7%D9%86%DB%8C-%DA%98%D9%85%D8%A7%D8%B1%DB%95%DB%8C-%D9%83%D9%88%DA%98%D8%B1%D8%A7%D9%88%D8%A7%D9%86%DB%8C-%D8%AF%D8%A7%D8%B9%D8%B4-%D9%84%DB%95-3-%D9%87%DB%95%D8%B2%D8%A7%D8%B1-%D9%83%DB%95%D9%85%D8%AA%D8%B1-%D9%86%DB%8C%DB%95

Monday, February 2, 2015

Peshmarga who intercepted ISIS tanker bomb by ramming his tank into it

Erbil - When Islamic State (also know as ISIL and ISIS) forces send a huge, heavily armored tanker bomb with a suicide driver in it to break the lines of Peshmarga forces who can't seem to stop it despite hitting it with whatever weapons they have, what other choice is left for the crew of a Kurdish tank other than intercepting it by crashing into it?

This is the story of a brave group of three Peshmarga fighters - tank crew -, with a focus on the driver, who participated in the late January offensive on ISIS forces that resulted in the capture of some 600 square kilometers with over 200 ISIS militants around Mosul dam. In the two day battle, ISIS sent some 14 car bombs with suicide drivers behind the wheels. They have learned to armor their vehicles in a way that only direct hits from the heavy shells fired from a tank, or rockets fired from a warplane could destroy it. Or otherwise the anti-tank rocket propellers called MILAN of which Germany has delivered about a few dozens to the Peshmarga forces recently. Their tanker bombs are especially deadly as they load it with explosives and fill the tanker up with highly flammable fuel.

Jamal Mohammed, tank driver, on his tank on the battlefield. 
But sometimes the coalition warplanes, that have been effectively helping Kurdish forces on the ground to push back ISIS, are not there to help destroy those armored vehicle bombs. Bad weather, for example, is only one reason. And Kurds do not have a lot of tanks that can be deployed to many different fronts, besides, they are not accurate shooters especially for a moving object. And the MILANs are simply not enough for the 1000 plus kilometers of front-line between Peshmarga and ISIS in Iraq.

This is where the heroism of soldiers like Jamal Mohammed (tank driver), Mulazm Sarwan, and Aziz Ismael, the canon crew, comes into play to save the lives of some 200 brothers in arms.
An ISIS tanker bomb that has been armored
  
Peshmarga forces had dealt a heavy blow to ISIS in the large scale offensive on January 21 and 21, in the north west of Mosul city, the stronghold of ISIS in Iraq, where Jamal was deployed. They had just captured a village called Tal Khudr. "The Peshmarga fighters were taking a break to eat something in preparation of another offensive to capture more grounds" says Jamal in an interview with Xendan network - a Kurdish news and media outlet - "I was in the tank on the frontline. There was a hill lying ahead and we did not see what was behind."

All of a sudden, a tanker bomb appeared."

"As it approached, the Peshmarga fired on it with every weapon they had [Ak-47s, RPG rocket propellers, light and heavy anti-aircraft machine guns] but nothing affected it... The tank was not loaded at that moment, and it would have been too late before we could load it and fire. So, together with my two comrades we decided to intercept it with the tank before it reached the gathering of Peshmarga fighters"

The tank surviving the explosion
There were some 35 shells inside the tank. The explosion of which could tear not only human beings, but also the tank itself, into thousands of pieces. But Jamal and his crew had made their decision.
"The tanker bomb was coming down a narrow path. I turned the tank and headed straight at it. It did try to maneuver... but I was able to ram the tank into it, causing it to explode. Fire was all around me. I lowered and tried to cover my head when I realized my head was on fire...[moments later] I jumped out of the tank.. My friends were also safe, and the tank was still working... I thought to myself that may be ISIS will attack again, therefore I got into the tank again, turned it around and headed back to the line of Peshmarga forces."

Family of Jamal Anxious for his life

Jamal's family had been in contact with him via cellphone, but when the mobile ran out of battery, they worried. Mohammed Saleh, Jamal's half-paralyzed father, says what hurt him most was Jamal's two sons had heard some news that their father may have died in battle.

"They are little children, but they had felt something was going on. They came to me and asked 'Grandpa, is it true that Daesh (using the common Arabic acronym for ISIS) has beheaded dad?'" and that's when he says he couldn't hold it anymore and burst into tears.

The tank after the explosion of the tanker bomb
Ready for death

Asked if he felt any fear when he was driving fast at the tanker bomb in those tense seconds, his answer is an unwavering "no"

"I looked at the tank with a fixed gaze that I remember the details of it. It had a grey color, and so heavily armored that the entire windshield was covered. I saw only one person in it [the driver]. I said the Shahada [testimony of Islamic faith], I thought that was the end for me and my friends, that's why when I stood on my feet after the explosion, I could not believe I was still alive"

Many Westerners have condemned alongside ISIS, Muslims and Islam itself, while in the same breath praising Kurds for their fight against the extremists, not realizing - or perhaps forgetting - that Kurds are predominantly Muslims too. They say their testimony of Islamic faith every day, pray five times per day, fast a month in the year,  pay Zakat - form of tax but paid to the poor - and if can, also visit Mecca - the five pillars of Islam. But Kurds refuse the harsh brand of Islam the extremist group ISIS is desperately trying to impose on everybody; Muslims and non-Muslims alike. For centuries, Muslim Kurds have coexisted with followers of other faiths in this region; Christians, Shiites, Kakayis, Ezidis, and Zoroastrians. There were also many Jews in Kurdistan Region who lived peacefully with their Muslim Kurd neighbors before they were all expelled from Iraq by the Iraqi government in 1949, after Israel proclaimed a Jewish state in 1948. The Jewish neighborhood still stands as it was, in the middle of the capital of Kurdistan Region Erbil. 
Jamal at home with his head showing traces of burns.

Moreover, since ISIS pushed into Iraqi territories in June last year, Kurdistan Region - despite its issues with Baghdad resulting in depriving Kurdistan of its budget share since early 2014 - has sheltered some 1.5 million refugees and IDPs (internally displaced people) among them dozens of thousands of Christians who fled Mosul city, thousands of Ezidis, and hundreds of thousands of Arabs - the figure is roughly one fifth of Kurdistan's population. 


Ready to repeat what I did

Jamal ended up with burns to the head, a deaf ear caused by the sound of the explosion, and other injuries which were treated in Duhok hospital after he was transferred there. He is resting at home to recover. But he says he is ready to repeat what he did "tens of more times to stop ISIS advance... When ISIS wants to invade our land, take our honor, this calls for our resistance"

Jamal is not the only Peshmarga in his family. Five other brothers of Jamal are also Peshmarga and are on the frontlines.

"I am so proud of them" says Jamal's father. "My son has been able to save the lives of a group of Peshmarga"



Saturday, January 31, 2015

Video surfaces for the first time of bodies of ISIS militants in one of Mosul's hospitals

Erbil - A video has surfaced for the first  time that allegedly shows bodies of dead Islamic State (IS, also know as ISIL and ISIS) fighters in one of the hospitals of Mosul city, the ISIS stronghold in Iraq.

The video was sent by an anonymous source to Zagros TV, a Kurdish satellite channel. It is not clear in which battle the militants were killed. What appears in the video is dozens of bodies piled up in a room in black nylon bags.

The sources has told Zagros that ISIS forces bring many dead fighters to the hospitals every day.

ISIS have been in conflict with the Kurdish Peshmarga forces around Mosul city since August last year.

Yesterday, ISIS launched a large scale offensive against the Kurdish forces on a vast area stretching from Kirkuk province in eastern Iraq to the west of Mosul city in Nineveh province, taking advantage of fogy weather. They were repelled by the Kurdish fighters with reports of dozens of militants killed.



and many more injured.