Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Release of pro-Jihadi Kurdish Cleric by Norway elicits mixed reactions in Kurdistan

Erbil – On January 25th, Mala Krekar or Najmaddin Faraj if we go by his real name, a former Islamist-Jihadi from Kurdistan whose group of fighters was in a bloody conflict with the more secular groups before he fled to Norway in early 2000s, was released by Norwegian authorities after completing a 34 month jail term.

The news of Krekar's release traveled fast back to Kurdistan and with it came a whirlwind of mixed reactions from the different political parties of the region: both joyful and threatening ones.

The welcome-home kind of reactions

Islamic groups were quick to welcome the news including the Kurdistan Islamic Union (KIU) which is known as a peaceful, anti-violence Islamic party in Kurdistan, Komal (or the Islamic Group) another Islamic group that is seen a degree less moderate than the former, but still a civilian group taking part in the political game in Kurdistan, and the Islamic Movement of Kurdistan (IMK) which is the most conservative of all the Islamic parties in the region and is also like the mother group among whose ranks Mr. Krekar was an active leader before the group broke up after which he established his own called Ansarul Islam. 

The KIU‘s Politburo member Omar Mohammed said: “We hope that he benefited from his imprisonment, that he looks at it as a life experience, so he can better serve" it is not clear what he meant by "better serve" or whom and what to serve as most of the time Krekar was the IMK, or when he had his own group, he was in conflict with the Kurdish parties militarily. 

He continued, “His fault was that the way he thought and preached was to a great extent harsh, especially when he was with Ansarul Islam. We hope that Mamosta [in reference to Krekar, the word in Kurdish means teacher, but is used for a spiritual leader, a religious leader, or any person of great abilities, a master] can use his abilities in literature, rhetoric and influencing [others] to better serve.”

IMK said Krekar was a fellow citizen and had the right to return to Kurdistan. Abdullah Warty, a member of the IMK leadership said “a new page should be opened with people like him.”

Komal was probably the happiest of all the Islamic groups with Mohammed Hakeem, Komal spokesman, saying “in case he returns [to Kurdistan] and decides to work in our ranks, we will be happy to accept him.” Komal was also an armed group once that was established after the break-up of IMK. Their militants were subjected to disarmament after the 2003 war on Iraq with US warplanes and rockets destroying their bases in Sulaymaniyah province. They are now engaged in the political process in Kurdistan with a minister in the KRG cabinet.

You-filthy-terrorist kind of voices

The most vehemently opposing faction on the ground is the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), a secular social democrat party whose Peshmarga militia was in a bloody conflict with Mala Krekar’s group before he fled the country to Norway in 2002.

Ata Sarawi a leader with PUK, and brother of one of the Peshmargas killed by Ansarul Islam militants when they were at war with the PUK, said “No party should dare welcome him back. We are going to treat him like a Daesh (the Arabic acronym for ISIS or ISIL, which is now known as Islamic State or IS). We will not be silent, neither as PUK, nor as the families of the Kheli Hama martyrs, about anyone who brings a man killer into this country” referring to the death of 43 PUK Peshmargas in one surprise attack by Ansarul Islam in 2001. The men were brutally killed with many of them by beheading. Later PUK said the bodies of most of the fallen Peshmargas were also disfigured by Ansarul Islam.

Sarawi said all of the families of the Kheli Hama massacre were ready to file lawsuits against Krekar as soon as he sets foot on Kurdish ground. 

Another PUK official, Lateef Sheikh Omar, says “If Mala Krekar, or anybody else, is involved in a lawsuit, they will have to be immediately handed over to the security forces and sent to court... The court will decide, with political consensus. It is not up to anybody, or and party, to grant him forgiveness. This is PUK’s principle”

So is he a dangerous man to return to Kurdistan?

Well, you should first read something about the latest developments in Kurdistan. Calm and prosperity was disrupted in August last year when ISIS militants turned their barrels on Kurdistan following a lightning fast land grab in the northern and western parts of Iraq’s mainly Sunni populated areas. 

Since then, over 800 Kurdish soldiers have died in the battle pushing back ISIS from the territories they took in the first attack. In the ranks of the ISIS fighters were hundreds of foreigners lured by Jihadi ideology, but also around a couple hundred Kurds from Kurdistan Region itself. This group of young Islamists were radicalized either in mosques by hard-line preachers (and patterns show they mainly came from areas where Krekar had influence before going to Norway), or online. Now the security forces claim that the number of Jihadists from Kurdistan who joined ISIS could be a lot higher. And in the latest video released by ISIS, a Kurdish-speaking fighter dressed in Kurdish clothes beheaded a captured Peshmarga fighter after he delivered threatening messages to US President Barack Obama, France, Belgium, as well as the Kurdish President Massoud Barzani.

Now, ISIS may not be that big a threat to Kurdistan as it appeared to be last year. Peshmarga forces are gaining ground against the Jihadists ever since the US-coalition airplanes started bombing ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Last week Peshmarga forces pushed deep into ISIS held territories recapturing some 600 square kilometers in an operation west of Mosul (the ISIS stronghold in Iraq) in which ISIS sent about 14 suicide car bombers to break the lines of the Kurdish solders all of which were taken out either by the coalition warplanes or the Peshmarga who used their newly received MILAN anti-tank rockets from Germany with brutal effectiveness. Officials said over 200 ISIS militants had been killed in the operation, and they said that they were so close to Mosul now that they could shell the center of Mosul with artillery fire - and had actually done so to destroy ISIS positions before Barzani ordered the Peshmarga to stop shelling ISIS positions in Mosul for fear of civilian casualties and that ISIS could use that as a propaganda tool arguing Peshmarga are targeting civilian populations, attracting more recruits from the city.

In this video, Kurdish Peshmarga Forces blow up ISIS suicide bombers, and destroy ISIS armored vehicles with their new anti-tank weapons. 

The real deal is that there are hundreds of Kurdish militants in the ranks of ISIS, and there may be hundreds more inside Kurdistan Region who all look up to Mala Krekar, and his return to Kurdistan in addition to some influential Jihadi speeches, could encourage many pro-Jihadi young men, and awaken a sleeping generation of Jihadi-minded fellas inside Kurdistan. 

According to Kurdish media outlets, ISIS had posted a message on social media pages "welcoming back Mala Krekar" but refrained from commenting on what the group thought about Krekar before he opens his mouth. "We are not going to say anything before he speaks and we find out what he thinks about the Caliphate and the US-Peshmarga alliance"

Mala Krekar is known to have said he is against the idea of young Kurds joining the war in Syria to wage Jihad. "It is better for them to stay in Kurdistan and learn Islamic sciences" his brother once quoted him as saying. He has also claimed that Krekar supports the creation of a Kurdish state. 

As for the question: Is he going to return to Kurdistan or stay in Norway? it is not clear what his plans are yet. 

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Video of Peshmarga forces taking out ISIS suicide car bombs

Erbil - A new video released yesterday by Kurdistan Region's Ministry of Peshmarga shows how Kurdish Peshmarga forces take out Islamic State (also known as ISIS and ISIL) suicide car bombs.

Kurdish forces launched a major offensive on January 21-22 west of  ISIS stronghold of Mosul, inflicting the heaviest defeat on the group since they took territories in Iraq and pushed deep into Kurdish territories last year.

Kurdish forces said they had retaken some 600 square kilometers which included two townships and a handful villages. Fighting continued into Friday. Most important of all is the capture of an area that looks on the road which links Mosul to Talafar (a major town and ISIS stronghold), Shingal (also know as Sinjar) and Syria, cutting off route for resupply.

The release of the video is the second of its kind that directly show ISIS elements destroyed by Peshmarga. Another was released earlier this month by Kurdistan TV that showed how the Kurdish forces chased and killed ISIS militants in a retaliatory operation following the ISIS surprise attack on the town of Gwer where 24 Kurdish soldiers died.

In this video, Peshmarga forces appear to have armored US made Humvees they either acquired when the Iraqi Army fled Mosul, or captured from ISIS. They also have some tanks - at least two tanks that appear to be Russian made T-55s appear in the video.

Peshmarga officials said the bodies of at least 200 ISIS militants were found on the battlefields. They also said ISIS sent 14 suicide car bombs to break into the lines of the Peshmarga forces of which 3 were destroyed by the coalition planes and the rest taken out by the Peshmarga forces who now use their newly received anti-tank weapons with brutal effectiveness.

In the video, at least 3 suicide car bombs trying to ram into the ranks of the Peshmarga forces are blown up by the Peshmarga with German made MILAN anti-tanks.

One armored vehicle that advances on Peshmarga forces is struck with two rockets. Two militants are seen abandoning their vehicle, trying to escape. Then, another armored vehicle approaches to help the two militants but the Peshmarga blow it up with a MILAN rocket.


Wednesday, January 7, 2015

What takes my time

It has been quite a while since I last posted an article on this blog. I am in love with this blog, because it is the first I started, it archives my works, and has a good readership throughout the world, and finally it helps me keep busy.

But there's been a lot going on lately which kept me away for quite some time. First of all, I quit my job as a journalist. Second, I went to the US for my graduate studies in English and Communication. Third, I have been working an average of 10 hours per day since I returned from the US early 2014, and more recently I have involved in literary writing more than commentary and analysis. I am currently working on a book. Creative nonfiction, also I am working on another blog trying to introduce Kurdish literature to the world. my new blog is www.kurdishbookshelf.blogspot.com

but that does not mean I am quitting this blog. I want to keep working on this blog, I just need some time to take care of some other distractions and come back with a clear mind. meanwhile, if you have any appetite for learning about Kurdish literature, you can follow me on my new blog which I have just started.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Interfaith marriage shows how sectarian divide in Iraq is unprecedented

There are many gauges to determine why the current sectarian divide between Sunnis and Shias in Iraq is unprecedented, but one of them strikes me and makes this pretty clear: the record low intermarriage between Shias and Sunnis.

If some 50 years ago an Iraqi Sunni and Shia couple - whether Kurd, Arab, or Turkmen - decided to get married, nobody would have even known that it was an intermarriage between the two sects. This is because it was totally normal and such occasions.

Today, however, these rare occasions, like the recent marriage of a Sunni girl to a Shia man, seem to make headlines as an act of bravery, interfaith tolerance, and patriotism as well. 

Mohammed Hares Yousef (25) and his bride Reem (20) both were among the families who fled the northern city of Mosul after it fell to the militants of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) -  now known as only Islamic State or IS - in a lightening fast offensive that routed Iraqi Army in June. 

The couple got married in a ceremony in Baghdad's al-Saeedea neighborhood on Monday. According to the reprots, and Iraqi MP Ahlam al-Husseini also attended the wedding ceremony. 

The story made headlines across not only Iraqi media, but also Arab countries as "Shia man and Sunni woman challenge ISIS with their marriage in Baghdad". Arab media outlets also wrote that with the intermarriage the couple wanted to "stand in the face of the violence that threatens to tear Iraq apart"

"... I challenge sorrow, I challenge terrorism.." they quote the young groom as saying. 

I know this is supposed to be a good sign that Iraqis are fighting sectarianism, but I am afraid it can be seen in more than one way. I believe it means the divide between Sunni and Shias is beyond bridging with all the fighting and bloodshed going on in the country since 2003. 

The tensions between Sunnis and Shia in Iraq started when the Baath regime held power in Iraq and it peaked under Saddam Hussein in the 1980 when he banned Shia religious rites in public and started to jail Shia leaders. Shia soldiers rebelled against the Iraqi Army in 1991 after Saddam Hussein ordered the invasion of Kuwait and much of the army was damaged by the coalition forces in the first Gulf War. Saddam Hussein clamped down on the Shia with an iron fist. 

But even then intermarriage was a lot more common than the years after 2003. According to unofficial figures from a judge from Baghdad in an article published in 2009, with the title: Life Goes On: Mixed Sunni-Shi’ah Marriages in Iraq roughly 50% of marriages in Baghdad before 2003 that the judge signed on were intermarriages. 

The judge says that an estimated 40 percent from that figure dropped with the 2003 war that toppled Saddam which still left a good percentage of intermarriages. But why do intermarriages make headlines these days? I believe because they have dropped even more dramatically since the 2009 article, and that's exactly why they make headlines. 

Some of the online media outlets that ran the story from Lebanon, Yemen, Egypt, Iraq, UAE, Saudi Arabia,  as well as USA and UK based Arabic language media outlets:
  1. http://www.afakmasria.com/vglcxpqo.2bq0025acsa82.,.html
  2. http://www.albayan.ae/one-world/arabs/2014-09-03-1.2194538
  3. http://arabic.cnn.com/middleeast/2014/09/03/arabic-papers
  4. http://www.ishtartv.com/viewarticle,55914.html
  5. http://alkhabarpress.com/%D8%A8%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B5%D9%88%D8%B1-%D8%AD%D9%81%D9%84-%D8%B2%D9%81%D8%A7%D9%81-%D8%B4%D8%A7%D8%A8-%D8%B4%D9%8A%D8%B9%D9%8A-%D9%88%D9%81%D8%AA%D8%A7%D8%A9-%D8%B3%D9%86%D9%8A%D8%A9-%D9%81%D9%8A/
  6. http://xendan.org/dreja.aspx?=hewal&jmara=6875&Jor=2
  7. http://www.alweeam.com.sa/289028/%D8%B4%D9%8A%D8%B9%D9%8A-%D9%88%D8%B3%D9%86%D9%8A%D8%A9-%D9%8A%D8%AA%D8%AD%D8%AF%D9%8A%D8%A7%D9%86-%D8%AF%D8%A7%D8%B9%D8%B4-%D9%88%D9%8A%D8%AA%D8%B2%D9%88%D8%AC%D8%A7%D9%86-%D9%81%D9%8A/
  8. http://www.alarab.co.uk/?id=32157
  9. http://shabwaahpress.net/news/19954/

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Friendly relations and then some

This Article was originally published by Kurdistan Tribune. Here is the Link.  @RaberYAziz

I was a junior undergrad student in 2007 when a journalist from a Dutch radio station who worked on a report about Kurds and Kurdistan asked me as a Kurd what I thought about an independent Kurdish state. My answer was as follows: having a Kurdish state without the blessings of the neighboring countries, even if the whole world recognizes it, is like sitting in a room with no windows, doors or exits. That Kurdistan – and I mean both the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, and the greater Kurdistan as well – is a landlocked enclave and all of its interactions and trade with the outside world had to be either through airspaces, or across the soils of Turkey, Syria, Iraq or Iran. I told the journalist that an independent Kurdish state was the dream of every Kurd. However, I didn’t want us to rush into a declaration of independence without first building friendly relations with the neighboring nations through mutual understanding and interests.

 For a long time after the Kurdistan Region gained self-rule in northern Iraq, the neighboring countries were not happy with this. They all tried to meddle in its internal affairs, and maybe still do. Saddam Hussein was a permanent threat and there was the Turkish military’s continued transgression on its soil ostensibly to attack the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). But, in 2004, Kurdistan Region was officially recognized by the Iraqi Constitution which made it irreversible. Saddam Hussein was gone, but Turkish officials still referred to Kurdistan as “Northern Iraq” and continued denying a Kurdistan Region and the Kurdish identity.

With the Justice and Development Party (AKP) coming to power in Turkey, that Turkish attitude changed too. Kurdish classes are now offered and a state-run Kurdish language TV is operational, Recep Teyyip Erdogan has tried to introduce more reforms, which are not huge but better than nothing. And Turkey is a major trade partner of the Kurdistan Region today. Erdogan officially invited the President of the Kurdistan Region, Massoud Barzani, to Diyarbakir, the largest predominantly Kurdish city in Turkey, where they spoke about friendly relations and “Turkish-Kurdish brotherhood.”

It was a historical moment to see Barzani in Diyarbakir. No one should deny that – not even those who looked at the intertwined politics that Barzani needed Erdogan’s support in his own ambitions to push oil deals with the neighboring country without going back to Baghdad, or that Erdogan needed Barzani to gain votes from the Kurdish southeast of the country as parliamentary elections are expected to be held in March. Barzani was received by Erdogan as more than just an ally to his AKP party in the Middle East. He was received as an equal counterpart and that has its significance.

Also, Erdogan for the first time referred to the Kurdistan Region of Iraq as “Iraqi Kurdistan” which I am not suggesting, as some enthusiasts have suggested, it is a sign that Kurdistan is on the right track towards becoming a fully independent country. Rather, the denial policy practiced by the Turkish governments in the past is gradually vanishing and friendly relations are becoming stronger and stronger. It is for that very reason that Turkish hardline nationalists now call Erdogan a traitor. Some have gone so far as accusing Erdogan of splitting Turkey and helping Kurds establish the Greater Kurdistan.

After six years, I still hold the same view that an independent Kurdistan, without friendly relations with its neighbors, is unimaginable because Kurdistan is surrounded by those countries that can literally impose sanctions on it and cut it off from the rest of the world if they so wished. However, I would like to add one more line to it now: besides friendly relations with neighboring countries, Kurdish leaders and their fans need to overcome their own denial attitudes towards other Kurdish leaders, parties and factions.

In the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, Erbil is recognized by its leaders as the capital of the Kurdistan Region, and of the greater Kurdistan. In Turkey’s Kurdistan, and in particular by the PKK and its sympathizers, Diyarbakir is. The Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) in Iraq describes Barzani as the supreme leader of the Kurdish nation, PKK and its sympathizers give Abdullah Ocalan the same titles, while many Iranian Kurds constantly refer to Qasemlu, leader of the KDP-Iran who was assassinated by Iranian intelligence in Austria, as the leader of the Kurds despite his being dead.

While Barzani’s KDP media, in addition to the Turkish media close to Erdogan’s AKP party, praised both leaders and their friendly relations and achievements, the PKK media, and the PKK sympathizer Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) of Turkey harshly criticized Barzani for refuting the PKK-affiliate Democratic Union Party (PYD)’s recent interim administration in Syria. An object of criticism by the BDP leaders was also the fact that Barzani responded to Erdogan’s call to visit Diyarbakir when hundreds of the city’s sons are still in jail on charges of working with the PKK, while he turned down an invitation from the BDP to participate in the Nawroz (Kurdish New Year) celebrations in Diyarbakir.

At the heart of the competition is the Barzani-Ocalan rivalry.

Everybody is partly to blame for this rivalry and lack of unity among Kurds. The PYD/PKK accuse Barzani and his KDP party of family rule and having a monopoly of power, politics and trade in Kurdistan, yet they are doing the same in Syria. I know that the PYD is the most popular force on the ground in Syria, and I know that as the first power there it has the right to be the one dominating politics and administration. But they have no excuse for marginalizing all other Kurdish parties that seem to disagree with the PYD, however small – at least not until elections are held to see which party has a popular base and deserves to be called a political party and deserves to be part of the administration and how much power each party should have. The same is true of the KDP and Barzani as well. Barzani has done everything in his power to put pressure on the PYD in Syria, from blocking the border crossings and banning Saleh Muslim, the PYD leader, from entering Kurdistan, to adopting political attitudes that show enmity for the PYD, including refuting the recent interim administration announced by the PYD to carve out a Kurdish region in Syria.

One more issue is that, in his recent visit, Barzani failed to consider the frustration it would cause to the BDP/PKK and other independent Kurdish leaders in the country – that they would feel marginalized and excluded. Erdogan and his government did not take PKK and its jailed leader Abdullah Ocalan for granted, so why should Barzani do that? Erdogan accepted Ocalan as an interlocutor in the peace process and has been holding talks and striking deals with them, so why shouldn’t Barzani do the same? This is not to suggest that he has never tried to hold talks with Turkey’s Kurdish leaders, rather Barzani – as an iconic Kurdish leader – should try harder to bring all Kurdish leaders together especially in compliance with his own ambitions to become the supreme leader of the Kurds everywhere.

The BDP is a popular party and its views should matter a lot to Barzani. It garnered about 2.8 million votes in the Turkish parliamentary elections in 2011, which is more than twice the votes Barzani’s KDP received in the Kurdistan Region elections this year. I am not forgetting the number of Kurdish voters in Kurdistan of Iraq and Turkey and therefore this should not mean that they are more popular than Barzani in the Kurdish world, but it should certainly mean that they are a popular force with massive support and a huge fan base in Turkey and the Kurdish world. This should testify that the BDP leaders should not be taken for granted, nor should the PKK. Just a few days ago 20,000 Kurds marched in Germany calling on the German government to reconsider its ban on the PKK.

What angered the Kurdish leaders of Turkey was that Barzani’s visit seemed to send the message that Erdogan and Barzani can bring about peace in the region without going back to the BDP or PKK. This may not have been the intention of Barzani, but it certainly did send this message and this was clear from the BDP and PKK leaders’ reactions.

Salahattin Demirtas said that “those who say they went to Diyarbakir to deliver some messages to the Kurdish people should respect the sacrifices of this land (Diyarbakir) they have stepped on. “ He also said, in what appeared to be a response to Barzani’s comment that he wouldn’t be able to go and speak in Turkey some 15 years ago but is now able to do so thanks to Erdogan: “If children and mothers of Diyarbakir had not turned each and every neighborhood of the city into an uprising and resistance field, nobody would be able today to deliver any messages here. Everybody should know on what soil they stand before speaking”

Here is why Demirtas and other BDP and PKK leaders are frustrated: Barzani went to Turkey and talked about Turkish-Kurdish brotherhood when the BDP and PKK leaders were sidelined, when the BDP/PKK still strongly disapprove of Erdogan’s reform packages and are highly dissatisfied with it and want to press for more. But the Barzani visit seems to legitimize what Erdogan has given so far. How would Barzani feel if Turkey’s Kurdish leaders visited the disputed city of Kirkuk in Iraq and talked about Arab-Kurdish brotherhood and said that it was time for peace and, whether intentionally or unintentionally, sent the message that what is there for Kurds in the city is enough and they should be content with what they have? I know that I would be angry if a Kurd from Turkey, Syria or Iran told me that Iraqi Kurds should stop whining about Kirkuk, move on and be content with what is already there. I know that we Kurds are one nation, but we did not all fight as one nation for Kirkuk, only Iraqi Kurds did and therefore it is not up to Turkey’s Kurds or Iranian Kurds to decide what’s best for Kirkuk, it is up to us Iraqi Kurds.

As long as we are looking at having Kurdistan regions with autonomous powers within their states rather than one independent Kurdistan, I think the same is true for Turkey’s Kurds, and Syria’s Kurds. They know better what is best for them and only they should have the right to decide that because, in the same way, only they fought for Kurdish rights in Turkey and not the whole of the Kurdish nation as one. One might say Mustafa Barzani, Massoud Barzani’s father, fought alongside Qazi Mohammed during the Mahabad Republic in 1946. But I am not talking about that long ago, I am talking about recent years, and besides, when Barzani joined Qazi Mohammed, the Kurdish regions in the four countries had not become as distinctive as they are today and Kurds still strived for one independent Kurdistan state rather than Kurdistan regions with autonomous powers.

I see Barzani’s recent Turkey visit as a positive event for Kurds in general, and the Kurdistan Region in particular. Kurds need to build friendly relations with Turks, Arabs and Persians if they ever want to have their own independent state. However, Kurdish leaders and their supporters should stop denying each other because they do not agree. Differences are not bad, they are just differences. And a supreme Kurdish leader is a matter of relativity as long as there is not an independent Greater Kurdistan where polls can be held to determine this.