Monday, July 29, 2013

Russia-US rivalry in Syria and Kurdish autonomy

Last year, Russia and China vetoed a UN security council resolution to impose economic sanctions on Syria because it failed to yield to peace plans. The US ambassador Susan E. Rice called it a “dark day” because “we have missed yet another critical opportunity to work together”. The United States was a very keen on removing Mr. Assad and the resolution included some severe punishments including sanctioning on the Syrian government under the UN's Chapter Seven which allows for external military intervention in the country to enforce Security Council demands.

Russia saw the sanctions as opening the door for military intervention and therefore could not accept it. The United States saw this reality and therefore in August that year, according to a Reuters report, US President Barack Obama signed a “secret” order to support Syrian rebels bring Assad down. According to the report, the United States was collaborating with a secret command center operated by Turkey in Adana city, about 60 miles from the Syrian border.

Now that the fighting between the Assad regime and rebels is in it third year, the US has abandoned its plans for a sanction under UN Charter's Chapter 7 which allow for direct military intervention knowing that such a UN resolution will not easily be accepted by Russia to whom Bashar Assad has been a long time ally and Russian weapons buyer. But almost a year after it first authorized secret support for Syrian rebels, it officially announced support alongside 10 other countries including Saudi Arabia, for the Syrian rebels taking the Russian-US one step up. Russia on the other hand announced support for Syria's Kurds who are currently in a severe fight with the Jabhat al-Nusra (JN), Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) – both of these groups are al Qaeda affiliates -, and the al-Faruk Brigade, which is part of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) but joined hands with the other two groups to fight the Kurdish forces called the YPG (Poeple's Defense Units) supported by the PYD (Democratic Union Party) that's believed to be an off-shoot of the Leninist-Marxist PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party). The YPG is trying to impose Kurdish control over the Kurdish territories in Syria as the preliminary stage for autonomy or self-administration which the US opposes.

The past week witnessed, and continues to see more, intensified fighting between JN/ISIS on the one hand and the YPG and the Jabhat Akrad one the other. Jahat Akrad was part of the FSA but defected to fight on the YPG side against the JN/ISIS after the Kurds reported attacks by the JB/ISIS on the Kurdish residents.

US and Russian rhetoric on the clashes between the two sides is already polarized with Russia condemning the attacks by the JN/ISIS and showing support for the Kurds, while the US State Department said it watched the developments and was concerned that the violence could spill over to some of the neighboring countries in the region. The US State Department also voiced concern over plans by the PYD to establish a Kurdish administration in the Kurdish areas until the war in the country is over.

According to reports, dozens have been killed in the clashes, mostly from the JN/ISIS, and the Kurdish YPG forces have made swift advances in the mostly Kurdish populated areas around Sere Kaniye (Ras al-Ain) city and Gre Spi (Tal Abyad).

Russia directly showed support for the Kurdish people and the YPG fight against the al-Qaeda affiliates. The Russian foreign Ministry was also very specific in describing the actions of the JN/ISIS who “ started to kill innocent people by cutting off their heads,”a statement by the foreign ministry said, “Kurds had to free Abu Musab in exchange for an agreement to release hostages.”

"Moscow strongly condemns the atrocities of international terrorists in northeastern Syria and the excesses and abuses perpetrated by extremists against a peaceful Kurdish population which is not involved in the ongoing political and military conflict in Syria,"

According to Koshan Zamani, a Kurdish political activist and observer, the reason for Russia's support for the Kurds is obvious: “[The existence of] al-Qaeda has never served, and never will serve, Russia. They have a history of conflict and war. Besides, the Kurds were a neutral force in Syria and this served the extension of Bashar Assad's regime, and by extension the supremacy of Russia in the area.”

Russia is also trying to enlist Kurds for the Geneva II peace conference. On June 2, a delegation from the Supreme Kurdish Council (SKC), a body that unites Kurdish parties from Syria,went on an official visit to Syria to meet Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov in Moscow (source) in order to get help from Russia for a place for Syrian Kurds in the peace conference.

Alan Semo, a PYD member has told al-Monitor that Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has promised them that “without you [the Kurds], there will not be any meeting in Geneva,”

Acording to Ahmed Suleiman, a spokesman of the Supreme Kurdish Council, “Russia respects the Kurdish people in Syria and recognizes that the Kurds are following a legitimate struggle. The existence of the Kurdish people is denied and in the new Syrian constitution, the rights of Kurds must be recognized.”

The United States, Turkey's long time ally on the other hand does not support a Kurdish autonomy in Syria and is not happy about Kurdish control in northeast of Syria along the Turkish border and YPG gains on the JN/ISIS despite their knowledge of al-Qaeda fighters being among the ranks of the Jihadi Islamist groups. Al-Nusra and ISIS are publicly affiliated with the al-Qaeda.

In a statement posted on the US State Department website, US State Dept spokesperson Jen Psaki said "We’re very concerned by press reports indicating that the Kurdish Democratic Union might declare an independent Kurdish region in Syria. Such a declaration is highly provocative, as it will certainly exasperate tensions between Arabs and Kurds and give excuse for extremists to exploit the situation. So we’re also watching that and we’re concerned about that as well."

But she had nothing to say about the ISIS (technically al-Qaeda) and Kurdish clashes other than "We continue to follow reports that Syrian Kurds are fighting ISIS in the Raqqah province. We’ve been very clear about our concerns over the regional instability calls by the crisis in Syria and the propensity for spillover violence. We’re obviously watching events on the ground all across Syria very closely."

Zamani told Kurdish Observer the United States does not support Kurds in Syria because the US is more interested in the “bigger interests”. “No matter how much bloodshed there is in Syria, they [US] still prefer one [unified] country to a Kurdish opposition group who are a minority in the country as compared to the Sunni and Alevite Arabs. Therefore, the US is not ready to support Kurds. The US has long been in disagreement with the Kurdish interests because Kurds are a minority in the Middle East. The US wants to see a stable Middle East, any claims of human rights and any such things are merely slogans and will not see US support if they are not in he interest of the United States”

According to Zamani, Syria has long been the ground for Russian-US rivalry. Russia is represented by the Bashar Assad regime, and the United States is represented by the rebel groups. But why has the United States not taken military action to resolve the issue? Is it because it fears that Russia will back Mr Assad even in a US-Syria conflict? Koshan Zamani says “no”

The thing is United States is not sure about the future of Syria. Chances are the Islamists will accede to power and the US is not ready to leave Syria for Islamists... if the US wants to remove Assad militarily, they can do it easily and Russia will hand it over to them. But the change in regime will not benefit the US and Israel”


Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Kurdish fighters went to Syria to fight Assad but "were used by al-Nusra and ISIS to fight Kurdish militias"

Scores of young Kurdish fighters from Iraqi Kurdistan, Sulaimaniyah province, went to Syria to fight the Assad regime recently as the fighting between the Assad forces and rebels intensified. However they found themselves fighting a different force, one of their own ethnic group and language, the YPG (People's Protection Units), this is according to an interview by the Sterk TV with three young Kurdish fighters who claimed they laid down their weapons when coming in contact with Kurdish-speaking forces on the confrontation lines. The fighters are in YPG detention now.

All the Kurdish fighters crossed into Syria through Turkey using their Iraqi passports. One of the three fighters appearing in the video says he entered Syria through Tal Abyad where he joined the Faruk Brigade and was given a gun and sent to the battle ground.

"They told us that the TV report that there was a battle near Tal Tamar between the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and the Assad regime.  It was about 12 midnight we went to this village near Tal Tamar where we stayed in a room until morning, about 7 or 8 am when there was gunfire. There we found out they were Kurds and we laid down our weapons because we came here to fight Bashar Assad not Kurds"

Another one of the young men says "we came here to liberate the Syrian people form Bashar Assad regime including the Kurds who are part of Syria.. But when we came here they [al-Nusra and ISIS] did not tell us where you are, Ras al-Ain…. there are Kurds, they said there were Bashar Assad regime [forces]. And when we went they told us that we were going to fight against Bashar Assad forces. It was about 12 midnight when we went there to fight, I called on my Kurdish friends in Kurdish and they [al-Nusra and ISIS] told me 'don't speak Kurdish"

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Jihadist from Iraqi Kurdistan Region captured by the YPG Kurdish fighters in Syria

A Kurdish Jihadist fighter, believed to be one of dozens who have infiltrated into Syria through Turkey ostensibly to fight against the Assad regime, has been captured by the Kurdish armed group YPG (People's Protection Units) that's close to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). 

The young man identifies himself as Mohammed Ali Sadiq from Sharazur area, Sulaimaniyah province. Media outlets close to the PKK said the man was captured in fights between the Jihadist al-Nusra Front and the YPG over territorial conflicts in Sare Kaniye (Ras al--Ain).

YPG, a secular nationalist Kurdish group, has been in a deadly fight with the Jihadist groups that include al-Nusra, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), and according to YPG reports some Syria Kurdish groups as well. YPG sources claim that up to 100 al-Nusra Jihadists have so far been killed and many captured. The group also reported 15 deaths among its ranks.

YPG is fighting for Kurdish control over the Kurdish areas of Syria and ultimately an autonomous region similar to that in the Iraqi Kurdistan Region.
The Kurdish Jihadist captured by the YPG says in the video posted on Youtube that he was "deceived" because he was told that he would be fighting the Assad regime but he found himself fighting Kurdish forces. 

YPG and PKK social media outlets said the Kurdish Jihadists were recruited in Halabja area, in Sulaimaniyah province, by some clerics and operatives of the Islamic Movement of Kurdistan (IMK) and the Kurdistan Islamic Group (KIG) - two political Islamist groups in Kurdistan Region. Media outlets close to the two parties have not said anything about it.

"In return for any young man going [to Syria], the clerics and [IMK and KIG] officials will receive gifts and money from the MIT (Turkish intelligence agency) and the al-Qaeda organization" one PKK page called PKK Fans in the South [PKK Fans in Iraqi Kurdistan] accuses the two parties. 

Firat News Agency, close to the PKK, says the man is one 87 Jihadists from Kurdistan Region of Iraq who have ben recruited to fight in Syria.

The Jihadists says in the video "Until we arrived here I thought everybody fought Bashar Assad, but when we arrived I realized that there were so many different groups and that they made us fight against Kurds" He also says that the al-Nusra Front did not trust the Kurdish Jihadists and only used them in any way they wanted.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Ex-Presidential candidate attacked by suspected KDP agents in Erbil

Suspected agents loyal to the ruling Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) in civilian attire attacked ex-Presidential candidate Kamal Said Qadir on Friday in downtown Erbil, the capital of Iraq's Kurdistan Region, where he was planning to hold a protest gathering to talk to the public about the extension of Kurdish President Massoud Barzani's office for another two years as his time as President accelerated towards expiration after two full terms.

The news of the protest gathering was circulated on the media earlier this week and as Sayed Qadir headed to his destination, boxes of tomatoes and eggs already awaited him. He was first pelted with tomatoes and eggs then according to reports civilian dressed men suspected to be Parastin (Protection) agents - the intelligence police established by the KDP - physically attacked him breaking his head.

There were reports that the same men who attacked Sayed Qadir also attacked anybody with a camera photographing, or videoing the scene. Bayan Press reported that their reporter on the field said before the incident took place there were policemen in the area but they left just before the attack.

The Bayan Press reporter has also said the men took Sayed Qadir, after beating him up, in addition to another senior citizen who had dared to say "Why are you doing this to this man?" One single photo surfaced on the online news outlets and social media networks showing Kamal Said Qadir covered in egg whites and blood.

Abdulkhaliq Talaat, Erbil police chief, has told the media that people attacked him because he may have shown no respect for the conservative people of the city as they observed the holy Muslim month of Ramadan. "He came to the place drunk. There were some Syrian [Kurdish] egg-sellers and tomato-sellers there and people attacked him" Talaat has told Bayan Press, "Police were not around when he was attacked. It is true that there are police [patrols] downtown, but they were away from that area. We later took him to hospital"

Bas, a weekly newspaper that's close to the KDP, reported on its website that more than 100 people attacked Sayed Qadir and pelted whim with tomatoes, eggs and yoghurt, too. The newspaper says "eyewitnesses say that Kamal Said Qadir has uttered inappropriate words about the people of Erbil and God" and according to Rudaw, another news outlet close to the KDP, the police chief has said Kamal Said Qadir "was drunk and said in appropriate words on Islam", a news outlet run by the Kurdistan Islamic Union (KIU) which is also an opposition party, did not mention anything about Kamal Said Qadir uttering any words degrading or blasphemous to the Muslim faith and the fasting people of the city. Kurdiu goes on to allege that there were even policemen near the scene of the attack but they did not do anything and just looked on.

Kamal Said Qadir later told Rudaw - the video of which was posted on youtube - in hospital that he was actually fasting. "for your information, I was fasting," he told the reporter. "I just broke my fast, the doctors know this, they gave me a piece of cooky when it was 7:30 pm [time to brake the fasting in Erbil area] so I can break my fasting. This is a tactic used by all the dictatorships, they accuse someone of something that is completely baseless. What is the excuse for me to say blasphemous words in front of Machko Cafe where I suggested for the gathering? does that make any sense?… trust me I have never in my whole life…." and they do not let him finish his words but I am assuming he was going to say "I have never drunk in my whole life"
Kamal Said Qadir After Being Released 
From Hospital

Kamal Said Qadir was the first one to register with the electoral commission to run for the president post. He later dropped out due to financial and administrative issues. The elections were later put off for two years after the parliament passed laws that would extend Barzani's presidency for two years.

Mr. Barzani has been in office for eight years as President of Kurdistan Region. His KDP tried to have Barzani elected as President for another four year term causing an outrage among the opposition parties. In the following deadlock the KDP and their ally Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), who form the majority of the parliament, extended Barzani's office for another two years to give the political parties more time to agree on an amended Presidential Law and a draft Constitution before next presidential elections are held.

related articles: Barzani's not running for office statement only positive with great suspicion at best? 

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Barzani's not running for presidency statement only positive with great suspicion at best?

In a written address to the people of Kurdistan on Tuesday, President of Kurdistan Region Massoud Barzani implied for the first time that he will not run for office in the next Presidential elections the date of which is yet to be determined after the current term of parliament and Barzani's office were extended by the parliament for another two years.

Barzani's address comes after a period of silence as the political parties in Kurdistan, Barzani's own KDP and their ally PUK on the one hand, and the opposition parties, Gorran, IUK, KIG on the other were, and still are, locked in a heated debate over the legality of the parliament extension of the life of the current term of parliament, and the presidential term allegedly to give the political factions more time to settle the questions of whether the current presidential elections allows Barzani to run for a third term in office or not, and the question of amending the Kurdistan Constitution bill which was passed by the majority vote, KDP+PUK, in 2009.

The opposition parties accuse the KDP and PUK who have had what they call the "strategic agreement" since 2007 to rule the semi-autonomous region together, entering the elections as allies rather than rivals, of trying to keep Barzani in office for another four years without any regard for the Presidential Law which states the President can run for two terms of four years. Barzani has already served two terms in office. 

On May 5, Barzani said in an online statement that he never asked his party and their ally to try to guarantee a third term for him. That he never asked to be President but was nominated by his own party and was elected by the people of Kuridstan. But he did not explicitly say that he would not run for a third term if the KDP and PUK faction in parliament found a loop in the Presidential Law or passed new legislation allowing him  third term.
In Tuesday address, however, for the first time he implied that he will hand over his office to the "new elected president" after the parliament finds a consensus on the mechanism to amend the Kurdistan Constitution draft and the Presidential Law in on year. 

"As of now, I call on the presidency of the next parliamentary term, under the light of the letter I sent to the current term of the parliament on 12/6/2013, to immediately find in its initial meetings, after the 21/9/2013 elections [are held], a mechanism whereby in less than a year it will reach a consensus on amending the Constitution bill and the mechanism of how to elect the President of the Region. Then elections be held for a new President for the Region so we hand over the trust we hold [presidential office] to any person who wins the confidence of the people of Kurdistan." a Kurdish language version of the address posted on the Presidential website said in one paragraph.

At first look, this sounds positive that he has committed himself to handing over powers to a new President which normally means someone else not himself, but I find it not so positive when looking at the politics of Kurdistan in general and the KDP politics in particular and that's why I am saying he implied not said.

According to the address. the election of a new president is dependent on the parliament's ability to find a consensus on how to amend the Constitution bill and the mechanism of electing the president, whether through a direct vote by the people, or a two third of the parliament. The direct vote is KDP's preference and this is how Barzani was elected twice, while the two-third vote of parliament is the PUK's and is also supported by the opposition parties. The Iraqi President, Jalal Talabani - PUK leader - was elected  by a two-third parliamentary vote in the Iraqi parliament with the support of the KDP, and according to the "strategic agreement" between the KDP and PUK the President of Kurdistan would have to elected by the same mechanism by which the president of Iraq is elected, this was part of the power-sharing deal between the two parties according to documents (Kurdish and Arabic) leaked by Nawshirwan Mustafa, leader of the main opposition party Gorran who was a former PUK leadership member. 

Going back to why the President's address is not so positive. It is not that I don't trust Barzani for his words, but because I do not trust his party. Last time Barzani said he did not ask anyone to extend his office or find a way for him to remain in office for a third term, the KDP demanded that the Kurdistan Constitution bill be put to vote which deepened the crisis. The passage of the bill was interpreted by the opposition parties as giving the President a lot of powers and that it would turn the political system into a presidential one rather than a parliamentary one which currently is. And the opposition parties know well that the KDP is the strongest party in the Kurdistan Region and may well dominate the Presidency frost or quite the next few terms at least and the many powers the president would have could be used against the opposition parties in favor of the ruling party. 

The opposition was now left between the rock and the hard place. To accept a third term for Barzani or the Constitution bill being put to vote which would for sure be passed by a majority of 50+1 considering the size of the KDP and their ally PUK's fan base. The KDP has been cleverly manipulating the political arena of Kurdistan by raising a crisis whenever it is under pressure. Whenever it feels the press of the opposition parties for what wants to do, it raises another bigger crisis so that the opposition will accept the previous demands. In this case it was the Constitution draft. As the opposition parties resisted, the KDP - through by the KDP-led alliance in the parliament - introduced a second crisis on June 30: the extension of the parliament and the presidency for another two years . The two bills were passed the same day without paying any heed to the opposition MPs outrage and protests. 

Barzani was abroad when the parliament extended the life of the parliament and the presidency. Media source said Barzani would have his own observations on the two laws upon his return hence the written address on Tuesday.

Now, as I said earlier, it is not that I do not trust Barzani for his words, but his KDP.  Now that Barzani has said he will hand over power to the new elected president after the parliament has found consensus on how to elect the president or what to amend in the constitution in time frame no longer than one year, I am afraid that the KDP will introduce more crises so the day never comes when the parliament agrees on such mechanisms and this will give Barzani more time to remain in office until the issues are settled. 

The paragraph in Barzani's address sure sounds positive when poising for a while on the words "handing over" and a "new president", but stings when going over the words "consensus on the constitution [draft] and the mechanism on how to elect the President". Barzani cleverly cleverly introduces the one year time frame so that he is not accused of wanting to prolong his office yet there is no guarantee that the parliament will ever find a consensus on the Constitution draft and on the mechanism on how to elect the President that's if no more political crises do not come forth to hinder the talks on these two main issues. 

If there is no guarantee the Parliament will settle those issue, and if there is no guarantee in Barzani's address itself that he will not accept running for a third term or remaining in office longer than the one year time frame, then what is the solution? Sardar Aziz, a Kurdish author and visiting lecturer at the University College Cork Ireland, also an observer and commentator on the Kurdish politics, believes that only public pressure on Barzani can guarantee an end to his office. He has said in an article posted on Malmo Kurd website that some of what Barzani has said can only be viewed as positive with "great suspicion".

And what has got Barzani to utter those lines, according to Aziz, "is the result of the efforts of the opposition [parties], and public protests. The President will have to be held to account for these: not running for office gain, returning the Constitution [to parliament for amendment], setting his temporary office to a less than a year timeframe, provided that this is not dependent on compromises on the constitution. In that time period, Barzani's extension should expire if he succeeds, or fails, to get a consensus on the constitution,"

Sardar Aziz article

Barzani's May statement

Barzani's July address