Tag Archive: Battle Nation of Kurdistan


October 07, 2017

BAGHDAD (AP) — Thousands of Iraqi Kurdish mourners, Iraqi officials and world dignitaries attended the funeral of Jalal Talabani, the country’s first president in a post-Saddam Hussein Iraq and once a symbol of national unity.

Talabani was laid to rest Friday in Sulaimaniyah, the second-largest city in Iraq’s Kurdish region, after his casket — draped in the Kurdish flag — was flown back from Berlin where he died at a hospital earlier this week.

From the airport in Suleimaniyah, a motorcade carried the casket to a nearby hill for burial. Crowds poured into the streets, following the funeral procession on foot, carrying flags and posters bearing Talabani’s image and the emblem of the political party he founded more than three decades ago, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan.

Many threw flowers on top of the coffin. While Talabani traces his roots to a small village in Iraq’s north, Sulaimaniyah is the seat of his political power. A long-time champion of Kurdish self-rule, Talabani, also established himself as a national statesman after accepting the largely symbolic office of the presidency two years after the 2003 U.S. invasion toppled Saddam.

He held the post from 2005 to 2014, but faded from Iraqi political life after suffering a debilitating stroke in 2012. During his time as president, Talabani was seen as a symbol of unity, a politician able to manage tensions between Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds that in Iraq often erupt into violence.

Talabani’s death in Germany on Tuesday came as Iraq struggles to manage the fallout of a controversial referendum on Kurdish independence spearheaded by his long-time Iraqi Kurdish political rival, Masoud Barzani.

While Barzani was present at the funeral and laid a wreath of white flowers at Talabani’s casket, Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi was not in attendance. Interior Minister Qassim al-Araji came to Sulaimaniyah to pay his respects in al-Abadi’s place.

Also in attendance were Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif; Iraq’s current president and fellow Kurd, Fuad Masum; U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Douglas A. Silliman, and Jan Kubis, the top U.N. envoy in Iraq.

Baghdad, along with neighboring Turkey and Iran, has rejected the Kurdish referendum and is demanding Kurdish leadership do the same. While the vote in non-binding and will not immediately create an independent state, many saw it as a symbolic affirmation of the Iraqi Kurdish dreams for a state of their own.

Iraq’s central government has banned international flights from servicing the Kurdish region’s airports and Turkey and Iran, fearful of their own restive Kurdish minorities, have threatened further punitive measures.

Turkish President Recep Tayyib Erdogan threatened a total blockade and has not ruled out the possibility of military invasion. As Talabani’s coffin arrived at Sulaimaniyah airport, Iraqi state TV hailed the late president as a national leader who would not have approved of the referendum, called by Barzani.

However, Talabani had not made any official statement on the vote and his political party was split on the subject. Iraq’s Kurds have been politically divided for decades. Shortly after securing an autonomous zone in the 1990s with the backing of a U.S.-enforced no-fly zone, Barzani and Talabani’s rival factions — mainly their Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and the Kurdistan Democratic Party — were drawn into a bitter civil war that killed thousands of civilians and fighters on both sides.

Deep distrust remains to this day, but across the political spectrum, the dream of an independent state is a central rallying point. Both the referendum vote and Talabani’s death whipped up nationalist sentiment throughout the Kurdish region.

“Since the beginning of the Kurdish liberation movement until now, it was Mam Jalal who brought us to this point,” said Karim Mohammed, a Sulaimaniyah resident among the crowds gathered to pay their respects, “he always looked after us.”

“Mam Jalal” is Talabani’s Kurdish nickname that translates to Uncle Jalal. The United Nations described Talabani as “a leading voice of moderation, dialogue, mutual understanding and respect in Iraq’s contemporary politics” and a “patriot of unique wisdom and foresight.”

Talabani’s son and the Kurdish region’s deputy prime minister, Qubad Talabani, spoke at the funeral ceremony, saying that his family received condolences from across the Kurdish region. “He was an uncle to all of you. He belonged to all of Kurdistan,” Qubad said in remarks broadcast on local Kurdish television.

Associated Press writer Adnan Ahmed Qader in Sulaimaniyah, Iraq, and Susannah George in Baghdad contributed to this report.

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October 06, 2017

BAGHDAD (AP) — Thousands of mourners gathered in the Iraqi city of Sulaimaniyah to pay their respects to late Kurdish leader and Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, who was to be buried Friday in the town that was the seat of his political power.

Talabani, once a champion of Kurdish self-rule, is being remembered as a national statesman after accepting the largely symbolic office of the presidency two years after the 2003 U.S. invasion toppled Saddam Hussein. He held the post from 2005 to 2014 despite suffering a debilitating stroke in 2012.

His death came at a charged moment in national politics, with Iraq’s Kurdistan region voting by an overwhelming majority to endorse independence in a non-binding referendum held last month. The results were rejected by Iraq’s central government and neighboring Turkey and Iran, who have threatened to take punitive measures against the semi-autonomous Kurdish region in Iraq’s north.

Iraq’s central government closed the airspace over Kurdistan to international flights, and Turkish President Recep Tayyib Erdogan threatened a total blockade. The Turkish leader has not ruled out the possibility of a military invasion either. Ankara and Tehran are afraid their own sizeable Kurdish minorities will follow Iraqi Kurdistan’s example and agitate for self-rule.

With Talabani’s coffin arriving at Sulaimaniyah airport, Iraqi state TV hailed the late president as a national leader who would not have approved of the referendum called by his Kurdish rival and President of the Kurdish region, Masoud Barzani. Barzani and Talabani fought a bitter civil war in the 1990s that left thousands dead.

Talabani’s casket was received at Suleimaniyah airport draped in a Kurdish flag before being moved in a motorcade through the region’s second city. Supporters mobbed the procession, some waving the green flag of Talabani’s Patriotic Union of Kurdistan party.

Talabani’s casket was met at the airport by Iraqi leaders and foreign dignities, including Barzani and Iranian Foreign Minister Jawad Zarif. Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi, mired in the fallout of the Kurdistani referendum, was conspicuously absent. Interior Minister Qassim al-Araji was there in his stead.

October 04, 2017

IRBIL, Iraq (AP) — Flags flew at half-staff across Iraq’s northern autonomous Kurdish region on Wednesday as Iraqi Kurds began observing a week of mourning following the death of the country’s former president, Jalala Talabani, once a symbol of unity.

Talabani’s death at a Berlin hospital on Tuesday afternoon, at the age of 83, came just days after the Iraqi Kurds’ controversial referendum on independence that has angered Baghdad and the region. A longtime Kurdish guerrilla leader, Talabani in 2005 became the head of state of what was supposed to be a new Iraq two years after the country was freed from the rule of Saddam Hussein. He was seen as a unifying elder statesman who could soothe tempers among Iraq’s Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds.

Talabani suffered a stroke in 2012, after which he was moved to Germany for treatment and faded from Iraq’s political life. Sadi Ahmed Pire, a spokesman for the Kurdish party which Talabani headed, said on Wednesday that Talabani’s burial would take place in the city of Sulaimaniyah over the weekend.

Following news of Talabani’s passing, leaders across Iraq and beyond released statements expressing their condolences. Talabani was “a long standing figure in the fight against dictatorship and a sincere partner in building a new democratic Iraq,” Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said in a statement posted to Facebook on Tuesday.

The Kurdish regional president and longtime Talabani rival, Masoud Barzani, described him as a “comrade” in a statement posted to Twitter, also on Tuesday. Barzani also extended his condolences to the Kurdish people and Talabani’s family.

The United Nations described Talabani as “a leading voice of moderation, dialogue, mutual understanding and respect in Iraq’s contemporary politics” and a “patriot of unique wisdom and foresight.” “From the battlefront trenches in the 1980s during the struggle against dictatorship to the halls of power in Baghdad in the past decade, ‘Mam Jalal’ worked for and promoted national rights,” said Jan Kubis, the U.N.’s special representative to Iraq in a written statement late Tuesday night, using Talabani’s Kurdish nickname that translates to Uncle Jalal.

But the Sept. 25 Kurdish referendum reflected how hopes for a unified Iraq have faded over the years. At the time of the vote, Talabani had been out of politics for nearly five years, but his death was a reminder of the country’s frayed sectarian and ethnic ties, now nearly at the point of unravelling.

The Kurds voted overwhelmingly in support of breaking from Iraq to form an independent state, sending tensions spiraling with the central government in Baghdad and with Iraq’s neighbors, who fear similar Kurdish separatist sentiment on their soil.

The referendum vote, which was led by Barzani, is not expected to lead to a Kurdish state anytime soon and has further isolated the small land-locked region. Iraq and its neighbors have rejected the vote, and Baghdad has banned international flights and threatened to take control of the autonomous Kurdish region’s borders.

“I wish I could ask Mam Jalal how to try and control this fire,” said Pire, the spokesman for Talabani’s political party, referring to the escalated tensions with Baghdad and the Kurdish region’s neighbors stoked by the referendum vote.

“He was a singular figure that cannot be replaced,” Pire added, “he was a president for all of Iraq, not just the Kurds.” From Tehran, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani expressed his condolences and said that “Talabani was definitely a distinguished figure,” the semi-official ISNA news agency reported Wednesday.

Rouhani also said that Talabani “had an important role in the national cohesion and unity of Iraq, and strengthened the political process to promote Iraq’s regional and international status.” Talabani joined the Kurdish uprising against the Iraqi government in the 1960. When the revolt collapsed in 1975, he broke off from the Barzani-headed Kurdistan Democratic Party, or KDP, to form the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, or PUK.

Though united in the push for independence, Kurdish politics in Iraq remain to this day dominated by the two families: the Barzanis in Irbil and the Talabanis in Sulaimaniyah. In 1976, Talabani again took up arms against the central government and eventually joined forces with Iran in the Iran-Iraq war. In the late 1980s, Saddam launched the Anfal Campaign, in which more than 50,000 Kurds were killed, many by poison gas attacks.

Associated Press writer Amir Vahdat in Tehran, Iran, contributed to this report.

September 25, 2017

IRBIL, Iraq (AP) — Iraqi Kurds were casting ballots on Monday in Iraq’s Kurdish region and disputed territories on whether to support independence from Baghdad in a historic but non-binding vote that has raised regional tensions and fears of instability.

More than 3 million people are expected to vote across the three provinces that make up the Kurdish autonomous region, as well as residents in disputed territories — areas claimed by both Baghdad and the Kurds, including the oil-rich city of Kirkuk — according to the Independent High Elections and Referendum Commission, the body overseeing the vote.

Lines began forming early in the day at polling stations across Irbil, the Kurdish regional capital. Tahsin Karim was one of the first people to vote in his Irbil neighborhood. “Today we came here to vote in the referendum for the independence of Kurdistan,” he said. “We hope that we can achieve independence.”

The Kurdish region’s president, Masoud Barzani, also voted early on Monday morning at a polling station packed with journalists and cameras. At a press conference in Irbil on the eve of the referendum, Barzani said he believed the vote would be peaceful, though he acknowledged that the path to independence would be “risky.”

“We are ready to pay any price for our independence,” he said. The referendum is being carried out despite mounting opposition from Baghdad and the international community. The United States, a key ally of Iraq’s Kurds, has warned the vote will likely destabilize the region amid the fight with the Islamic State group. The Iraqi central government has also come out strongly against the referendum, demanding on Sunday that all airports and borders crossings in the Kurdish region be handed back to federal government control.

In a televised address from Baghdad on Sunday night, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said that “the referendum is unconstitutional. It threatens Iraq, peaceful coexistence among Iraqis and is a danger to the region.”

“We will take measures to safeguard the nation’s unity and protect all Iraqis,” he added. In a strongly worded statement, Turkey said on Monday that it doesn’t recognize the referendum and declared its results would be “null and void.”

Turkey’s Foreign Ministry called on the international community and especially regional countries not to recognize the vote either and urged Iraq Kurdish leaders to abandon “utopic goals,” accusing them of endangering peace and stability for Iraq and the whole region.

The ministry reiterated that Turkey would take all measures to thwart threats to its national security. On Saturday, Turkey’s parliament met in an extraordinary session to extend a mandate allowing Turkey’s military to send troops over its southern border if developments in Iraq and Syria are perceived as national security threats.

Initial results from the poll are expected on Tuesday, with the official results to be announced later in the week. At his press conference, Barzani also said that while the referendum will be the first step in a long process to negotiate independence, the region’s “partnership” with the Iraqi central government in Baghdad is over.

He detailed the abuses Iraq’s Kurds have faced by Iraqi forces, including killings at the hands of former leader Saddam Hussein’s army that left more than 50,000 Kurds dead. Iraqi Kurds have long dreamed of independence — something the Kurdish people were denied when colonial powers drew the map of the Middle East after World War I. The Kurds form a sizable minority in Turkey, Iran, Syria, and Iraq. In Iraq, they have long been at odds with the Baghdad government over the sharing of oil revenues and the fate of disputed territories like Kirkuk.

The Kurds have been a close American ally for decades, and the first U.S. airstrikes in the campaign against IS were launched to protect Irbil. Kurdish forces later regrouped and played a major role in driving the extremists from much of northern Iraq, including Mosul, the country’s second largest city.

But the U.S. has long been opposed to Kurdish moves toward independence, fearing it could lead to the breakup of Iraq and bring even more instability to an already volatile Middle East. In Baghdad, residents strongly criticized then referendum, saying it would raise sectarian tensions and create an “Israel in Iraq.” An Arabic newspaper headline said “Kurdistan into the unknown,” a reference to the name Kurds use for their region.

“This is a division of Iraq,” said journalist Raad Mohammad while another Baghdad resident, Ali al-Rubayah, described the referendum as a “black day in the history of the Kurds.” Lawyer Tariq al-Zubaydi said the referendum was inappropriate amid the “ongoing threat of terrorism and Islamic State” militants. “The country is going through a difficult period, this requires a coming together of our efforts, he said. “A unified country is better for all.”

Voting was also underway on Monday morning in Kirkuk. The oil-rich city has large Kurdish, Arab, Turkmen and Christian communities and has seen some low-level clashes in the days leading up to Monday’s vote.

“I feel so great and happy, I feel we’ll be free,” said Suad Pirot, a Kirkuk Kurdish resident, after voting. “Nobody will rule us, we will be independent.”

Associated Press writers Ali Abdul-Hassan in Irbil, Iraq, Bram Janssen in Kirkuk, Iraq, and Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey, contributed to this report.

September 17, 2017

BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraq is prepared to intervene militarily if the Kurdish region’s planned independence referendum results in violence, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi told The Associated Press in an exclusive interview Saturday.

If the Iraqi population is “threatened by the use of force outside the law, then we will intervene militarily,” he said. Iraq’s Kurdish region plans to hold the referendum on support for independence from Iraq on Sept. 25 in three governorates that make up their autonomous region, and in disputed areas controlled by Kurdish forces but which are claimed by Baghdad.

“If you challenge the constitution and if you challenge the borders of Iraq and the borders of the region, this is a public invitation to the countries in the region to violate Iraqi borders as well, which is a very dangerous escalation,” al-Abadi said.

The leaders of Iraq’s Kurdish region have said they hope the referendum will push Baghdad to come to the negotiating table and create a path for independence. However, al-Abadi said such negotiations would likely be complicated by the referendum vote.

“It will make it harder and more difficult,” he said, but added, “I will never close the door to negotiations. Negotiations are always possible.” Iraq’s Kurds have come under increasing pressure to call off the vote from regional powers and the United States, a key ally, as well as Baghdad.

In a statement released late Friday night the White House called for the Kurdish region to abandon the referendum “and enter into serious and sustained dialogue with Baghdad.” “Holding the referendum in disputed areas is particularly provocative and destabilizing,” the statement read.

Tensions between Irbil and Baghdad have flared in the lead-up to the Sept. 25 vote. Masoud Barzani, the president of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region, has repeatedly threatened violence if Iraqi troops or Shiite militias attempt to move into disputed territories that are now under the control of Kurdish fighters known as peshmerga, specifically the oil-rich city of Kirkuk.

“It’s chaotic there,” Muhammad Mahdi al-Bayati, a senior leader of Iraq’s mostly Shiite militiamen, known as the Popular Mobilization Forces, said earlier this week, describing Kirkuk in the lead-up to the vote.

Al-Bayati’s forces — sanctioned by Baghdad, but many with close ties to Iran — are deployed around Kirkuk as well as other disputed territories in Iraq’s north. “Everyone is under pressure,” he said, explaining that he feared a rogue group of fighters could trigger larger clashes. “Anything could be the spark that burns it all down.”

Al-Abadi said he is focused on legal responses to the Kurdish referendum on independence. Earlier this week Iraq’s parliament rejected the referendum in a vote boycotted by Kurdish lawmakers. Iraq’s Kurds have long held a dream of statehood. They were brutally oppressed under Saddam Hussein, whose military in the 1980s killed at least 50,000 of them, many with chemical weapons. Iraq’s Kurds established a regional government in 1992 after the U.S. enforced a no-fly zone across the north following the Gulf War.

After the 2003 U.S.-led invasion ousted Saddam, the region secured constitutional recognition of its autonomy, but remained part of the Iraqi state. When asked if he would ever accept an independent Kurdistan, Al-Abadi said, “It’s not up to me, this is a constitutional” matter.

“If (Iraq’s Kurds) want to go along that road, they should work toward amending the constitution,” al-Abadi said. “In that case we have to go all the way through parliament and a referendum to the whole Iraqi people.

“For them to call for only the Kurds to vote, I think this is a hostile move toward the whole of the Iraqi population,” he said. Al-Abadi began his term as prime minister after Mosul had fallen to IS, plunging Iraq into the deepest political and security crisis since the sectarian bloodshed that followed the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.

Over the past three years, Iraqi forces have slowly clawed back territory from the extremist group and al-Abadi has used the battlefield victories to garner public support. In July, Iraqi forces retook Mosul and effectively shattered IS’s self-declared territorial caliphate.

However the military successes have come at great cost. In the fight for Mosul alone between 970 and 1,260 civilians were killed and more than twice as many members of Iraq’s security forces lost their lives, al-Abadi told the AP Saturday.

Despite territorial losses, IS continues to carry out attacks in Iraq. Thursday, an attack claimed by IS at a checkpoint and restaurant in southern Iraq left more than 80 killed and 93 wounded. Years of war have displaced more than 3 million people. Cities, towns and villages retaken from IS lie in ruins and the forces made powerful by the arms and training that flooded Iraq to fight the extremists are now attempting to leverage that influence.

Despite the challenges ahead, al-Abadi repeated a call for Iraqis who fled the country over the past three years, to return home. Some 80,000 Iraqis made the treacherous journey to Europe by sea in 2015 alone, according to the United Nations.

“I’m not going to support forced repatriation into Iraq but I think all of Iraqis, they found it very tough to be in Europe as refugees,” al-Abadi said, explaining he is in “lengthy negotiations” with his counterparts in Europe to aid the return of refugees.

“These are Iraqi people. We don’t want to lose our citizens,” he said.

by Mohamed Mostafa

Sep 12, 2017

Baghdad (IraqiNews.com) The Iraqi parliament voted Tuesday against a planned referendum by Kurdistan Region Government on independence from Iraq, obliging the Iraqi government to take measures to “preserve the unity of Iraq”.

The session was attended by 204 of parliament’s 328 members.

“The Iraqi Constitution had enumerated issues for which a referendum is required, and those do not include the Kurdistan referendum,” parliament speaker Salim al-Jubouri said in a statement by his office. “The inclusion of disputed territories in the referendum is also a violation of the constitution,” the statement added.

The negative vote prompted Kurdish representatives to walk out of the chamber.

Sirwan Sereni, a Kurdish representative from the ruling Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) told Kurdish network Rudaw that the petition which was voted on and approved by the parliament contains “military measures” against the move. He said they “were not consulted with or informed of the petition in the first place, and when a hearing given to the petition “we were not allowed to comment on it.”

Kurdistan Region slated a vote on independence from the central government in Baghdad for September 25th, and has, since then, defied calls from Baghdad to postpone the measure.

Kurdistan gained autonomous governance based on the 2005 constitution, but is still considered a part of Iraq. The region was created in 1970 based on an agreement with the Iraqi government, ending years of conflicts.

Baghdad has maintained that the planned poll was unconstitutional, and a political crisis erupted when Kurds included oil-rich Kirkuk, a disputed territory, as a voting constituency.

Source: Iraqi News.

Link: http://www.iraqinews.com/baghdad-politics/iraqi-parliament-votes-kurdish-independence-referendum/.

September 10, 2017 Sunday

SULAIMANI — Thirteen Arab and Turkmen political parties in the city of Kirkuk issued a statement on Sunday (September 10) expressing their opposition to the referendum on the independence of Kurdistan, just two weeks ahead of the vote.

A plan by Kurdish authorities towards an independent state does not comply with the Iraqi constitution and that risks the country’s unity, the statement read.

The Arab political parties said a recent session held by the Kirkuk Provincial Council to include the city in the independence referendum lacked legal legitimacy as it was boycotted by Arab and Turkmen sides.

“The decision [to include Kirkuk in the referendum] is in the extension of the autocracy that is still being implemented in Kirkuk and surrounding areas since 2003,” the statement continued.

The move to declare a Kurdish independent state will hinder effort to dislodge Islamic State (ISIS) militants, the Arab political parties said, calling on the three Iraqi presidencies not to allow the referendum to take place in Kirkuk.

A total of 22 members of the Kirkuk Provincial Council voted in favor of Kirkuk’s involvement in the referendum. Turkmen and Arab blocs, however, boycotted the session.

The Kurdistan Region declared on June 7 a plan to hold a referendum on the region’s independence this year on September 25. The announcement came following a meeting between the region’s political parties, not including the Gorran and Kurdistan Islamic Group (KIG).

Source: NRT.

Link: http://www.nrttv.com/en/Details.aspx?Jimare=16478.

Fazel Hawramy

August 10, 2017

SULAIMANIYAH, Iraq — The majority of Kurdish parties agreed June 7 to hold a referendum for independence in September. While outside pressure to stop the controversial referendum has been constant, the deadliest blow might, however, come from within. Ordinary Kurds, in particular those in Sulaimaniyah, are angry about the government’s mismanagement of the economy, and many appear ready to express their dissatisfaction in their approach to the referendum.

Over the last two months, Al-Monitor has spoken with several dozen people, primarily in Sulaimaniyah, to gauge their views on the upcoming referendum. Those interviewed include police officers, teachers, peshmerga, shopkeepers, taxi drivers and civil servants, the overwhelming majority of whom reject the referendum outright. They consider it a ploy by the current leadership to distract attention from its failure to efficiently run the government and manage the economy for the last 25 years, since the establishment of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in 1992.

Sulaimaniyah, nestled between several mountain ranges, is the largest province in Iraqi Kurdistan, the other two being Dahuk and Erbil. Sulaimaniyah is home to around 2 million of the region’s total indigenous population of 5.2 million people. The anger and frustration among them is palpable.

“Why should I vote yes in the referendum?” Shaho Mahyaddin, a father of two, asked rhetorically. “After 17 years of being a traffic police officer, what do I have? No electricity. No water. I have no house or investment. I have nothing. The only thing I had was my salary [$980 a month], but over the last two years, they have cut it by more than 30%. How can I feed two children on that amount?”

Reeling from low oil prices, the KRG last year resorted to cutting the salaries of public sector employees — a bloated 1.4 million-person workforce — by up to 65% to counter the economic meltdown. The move had serious adverse effects for the economy, including a decline in purchasing power. Traders in the bazaar, already hit hard by the economic crisis, are now also worried about the possible impact of the upcoming referendum.

“People are buying only essential goods, such as flour and rice, because they are worried about the day after the referendum,” said Dashtawan, an assistant in a shop selling kitchen wares. “This July was the worst month in terms of trading in the bazaar for me, even worse than when Daesh attacked,” referring to the Islamic State offensive in summer 2014. Dashtawan said that with only few exceptions, the majority of the people he knows in the bazaar are angry about the economy and are very likely to vote no at the polls.

“We have had this business since 1953, but it has never been this bad,” said Najat, who has worked in his father’s tea house in Sulaimaniyah’s main bazaar since he was 15. Najat said his business has been in decline for the last three years, since Baghdad and Erbil began having serious disputes.

“I used to sell about 400 teas per day, but now it is around 120,” said Najat, as he poured tea for the only customer in the little tea house. “Despite this, I will vote yes in the referendum, because this is a once-in-a-lifetime chance, and we should not miss it.”

Many civil servants have spent their savings since early 2014, when Baghdad refused to disburse Kurdistan’s share of funding in the national budget, and salaries were cut. With no social security net, many residents are anxious about the negative impact of the referendum. Teachers are one group that has been particularly hit by the financial crisis, with cuts to their salaries of almost 70%.

“I will go to the polls, and I will mark a resolute no,” said Nesar, a primary schoolteacher from Halabja who has taught for 18 years. “The government has slashed my salary of $900 by 65%.” When Al-Monitor asked whether he would vote yes if the government reinstated his salary, he responded, “No, because I have no trust whatsoever in the current leadership.”

It is ironic that under the British and other regimes in Iraq, the people of Sulaimaniyah have always been rebellious, including at the forefront of the independence movements, but 25 years of Kurdish rule have turned them against a referendum for independence. During parliamentary elections in September 1930, the Kurds of Sulaimaniyah called on the British government, which held the League of Nations mandate over Iraq, to allow them to create an independent state as a British protectorate so they would not be at the mercy of an Arab king in Baghdad.

When the Sulaimaniyah Kurds realized the futility of their effort, anger grew toward the British and what the Kurds saw as their betrayal. Rejecting Baghdad Arab rule, they poured into the streets while most of the rest of Kurdistan remained silent. By the end of election day, 14 residents were dead and many more wounded, killed or injured at the hands of British and Iraqi forces.

In the second half of the 20th century, the people of Sulaimaniyah rebelled several more times. Ordinary Kurds were only too happy to name their children after a famous peshmerga commander or a battle that the peshmerga won against the Iraqi army. They have supported the peshmerga with whatever they could, but many are now scratching their heads and looking for answers to what went wrong. These days it is difficult to mention the name of a certain former peshmerga commander turned politician and not elicit a curse from the average Kurd. The people today despise or have no patience for their Kurdish rulers.

“The main problem is the trust between the public and the political elite,” said Abdulbaset Ismail, who fought for four years as a peshmerga commander against the Iraqi army in the 1980s. “We fought to free the Kurds from the yoke of the Iraqi state, but I never thought we would create this mess.”

Ismail, whose nom de guerre in the mountain was Halo Soor, is driving a taxi these days in Erbil and has difficulty making ends meet. He had commanded a unit of 26 peshmerga in the mountains, 24 of whom lost their life fighting the Iraqi army in the pursuit of Kurdish independence.

“Don’t get me wrong. I am all for independence, but not under the banner of these thieves,” Ismail said. Asked if he would vote on Sept. 25, he replied, “I’d rather cut off my index finger than vote in the referendum.”

Source: al-Monitor.

Link: http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2017/08/sulaymaniyah–kurdistan-referendum-independence-iraq.html.

OCTOBER 31, 2017

BEIRUT (Reuters) – With Islamic State near defeat in Syria, Damascus is setting its sights on territory held by Kurdish-led forces including eastern oil fields, risking a new confrontation that could draw the United States in more deeply and complicate Russian diplomacy.

President Bashar al-Assad and his Iranian allies appear to have been emboldened by events in Iraq, where Kurdish authorities have suffered a major blow since regional states mobilized against their independence referendum, analysts say.

Rivalry between the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), supported by the United States, and the Syrian government backed by Iran and Russia is emerging as a fault line with their common enemy – Islamic State – close to collapse in Syria.

Syria’s main Kurdish groups hope for a new phase of negotiations that will shore up their autonomy in northern Syria. Assad’s government, however, is asserting its claim to areas captured by the SDF from the jihadist group, known in Arabic by its enemies as Daesh, in more forceful terms.

On Sunday, Damascus declared Islamic State’s former capital at Raqqa would be considered “occupied” until the Syrian army took control – a challenge to Washington which helped the SDF capture the city in months of fighting.

And the eastern oil fields seized by the SDF in October, including Syria’s largest, will be a target for the government as it tries to recover resources needed for reconstructing areas it controls, according to a Syrian official and a non-Syrian commander in the alliance fighting in support of Assad.

“The message is very clear to the SDF militants and their backers in the coalition, headed by America: the lands they took from Daesh are rightfully the Syrian state‘s,” said the non-Syrian commander, who requested that his name and nationality be withheld.

“Regarding the resources of the Syrian people in the east – oil and so on – we will not allow anyone to continue to control the country’s resources and to create cantons or to think about self government,” added the commander, who is part of a military alliance that includes numerous Iran-backed Shi‘ite militias from across the region.

The Syrian official said the SDF could not keep control of oil resources. “We won’t permit it,” said the official, speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity as he was giving a personal view.

The United States has not spelt out how military support for the SDF will evolve after Islamic State’s defeat, a sensitive point due to the concerns of its NATO ally Turkey.

Ankara regards Syrian Kurdish power as a threat its national security as its forces are fighting Kurdish PKK rebels over the border in Turkey.

The U.S.-led coalition, which has established several military bases in northern Syria, has been helping the SDF shore up control of the recently captured al-Omar oil field in Deir al-Zor province.

“Many people will say that will help them with (political) negotiations, but only if the United States remains with them, otherwise they are going to get clobbered,” said Joshua Landis, an expert on Syria and head of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma.

“I think the Syrian government is going to push on some of these oil wells, in the same way as Iraq just pushed to get Kirkuk oil, and in the same way the Iraqi push is going to embolden the Syrian army,” he said.

KIRKUK “LESSON”

Iraqi Kurds took control of large areas outside their autonomous region during the fight against Islamic State. However, last month’s independence referendum prompted Western opposition and fierce resistance from Baghdad, Ankara and Assad’s Iranian allies, and the Kurdish authorities have since lost much territory to Baghdad, including oil producing areas around the city of Kirkuk.

The Syrian official said this should serve “as a lesson for the Kurds in Syria, so they think about the future”.

Regional sources say the U.S. unwillingness to stop Iraqi government forces, backed by Shi‘ite militias, from recapturing Kirkuk sent an encouraging message to Assad and his Iranian allies to retake the SDF-held oil areas in Syria.

With critical military support from Russia and the Iran-backed militias, Assad has recovered swathes of central and eastern Syria from Islamic State this year, having defeated many anti-Assad rebel factions in western Syria.

The Kurdish YPG militia, the dominant force in the SDF, controls the second largest chunk of Syrian territory – around a quarter of the country. Syrian Kurdish leaders say they are not seeking secession.

The YPG and Damascus have mostly avoided conflict during the Syrian civil war, setting aside historic enmity to fight shared foes. Kurdish-led regions of northern Syria have meanwhile focused on establishing an autonomous government which they aim to safeguard.

Moscow has called for a new “congress” of Syrian groups that may start work on a new constitution. The Russian Foreign Ministry published on Tuesday a list of 33 groups and political parties invited to a meeting in the Black Sea resort of Sochi on Nov. 18.

A Syrian Kurdish official told Reuters the administration in northern Syria had been invited to the congress. Kurdish officials said they discussed their political demands with the Russians as recently as last month.

A senior Kurdish politician said government statements directed at the Kurdish-led regions of northern Syria were contradictory, noting that the Syrian foreign minister had said in September that Kurdish autonomy demands were negotiable.

“One day they say we are willing to negotiate and then someone else denies this or puts out an opposing statement,” Fawza Youssef said in a telephone interview with Reuters. “One of them declares war and the other wants to come negotiate. What is the regime’s strategy? Dialogue or war?”

After the final defeat of Islamic State in Deir al-Zor, “the situation will drive all the political sides and the combatants to start the stage of negotiations”, Youssef said.

The SDF has also pushed into Arab majority areas, including Raqqa and parts of Deir al-Zor, where it is working to establish its model of multi-ethnic local governance.

Analysts believe the Syrian Kurdish groups could use the SDF-held Arab areas as bargaining chips in negotiations with Damascus.

“There is no other option than to negotiate,” Youssef said. “Either a new stage of tensions and attrition will start – which we are 100 percent against – or a stage of dialogue and negotiations will start.”

Additional reporting by Yara Bayoumy in Washington; Writing by Tom Perry; editing by David Stamp

Source: Reuters.

Link: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-syria-kurds-analysis/assad-sets-sights-on-kurdish-areas-risking-new-syria-conflict-idUSKBN1D02CN.

September 23, 2017

ISTANBUL (AP) — The Turkish parliament on Saturday renewed a bill allowing the military to intervene in Iraq and Syria if faced with national security threats — a move seen as a final warning to Iraqi Kurds to call off their Monday independence referendum.

The decree allows Turkey to send troops over its southern border if developments in Iraq or Syria are seen as national security threats. Turkish officials have repeatedly warned the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq to abandon its plans for independence.

Kurds are dispersed across Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran and lack a nation state. Turkey itself has a large ethnic Kurdish population and is battling a Kurdish insurgency on its own territory that it calls separatist.

The bill read in parliament Saturday listed combating Kurdish militants in Syria and Iraq and the Islamic State group as national security requirements for Turkey. It also emphasized the importance of Iraq and Syria’s territorial integrity and said “separatism based on ethnicity” poses a threat to both Turkey and regional stability.

Speaking in parliament, Turkish Defense Minister Nurettin Canikli likened Monday’s vote in northern Iraq to a brick that — if pulled out — could collapse an entire “structure built on sensitive and fragile balances.” The resulting conflict could be global, he warned.

Osman Baydemir, a lawmaker from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party or HDP — the third biggest group in parliament — called the bill “a war mandate” and “a proclamation of enmity towards 40 million Kurds.” A dozen parliamentarians from the party are behind bars for alleged links to terror groups.

The HDP voted against the mandate Saturday. All other parties, including the main opposition Republican People’s Party, voted for it. Earlier Saturday, the Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim called the referendum “a mistake, an adventure.” He said Turkey would take diplomatic, political and economic measures according to “developments on the ground.” He added a cross-border military operation was also an option.

The renewed mandate is a combination of two previous bills that are based on a constitutional article on the “declaration of state of war and authorization to deploy the armed forces.” The Iraq Bill was passed in 2007 to combat outlawed Kurdish militants in northern Iraq to prevent attacks in Turkey. The Kurdistan Workers’ Party or PKK has its headquarters in Iraq’s Qandil mountains. Turkey, the United States and the European Union consider it a terror organization.

The Syria Bill of 2012 was in response to mortar attacks by Syrian government forces on a Turkish border town. The combined bill was passed in 2014 as IS waged a deadly campaign in Kobani, the Syrian Kurdish town on the Turkish border. IS failed to take over the town and the victory strengthened Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units or YPG, who are now a key U.S. ally against IS in Syria. Turkey, however, considers them a terror group.

The mandate has allowed Turkey to launch a cross-border military operation into northern Syria with Syrian opposition forces in August 2016 to clear its border of IS and YPG. Turkey’s air force has also been bombing targets in northern Iraq and Syria.

The Turkish military, meanwhile, said additional units joined this week’s previously unannounced exercises near the Iraqi border. The chief of staff also met his Iraqi counterpart in Ankara to discuss the Kurdish referendum and border security.