Blog Archive

Blog Archive – September, 2017

A Risky Referendum for Kurdistan Is Underway in Iraq

September 25, 2017

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

At least the combative and haughty Israeli prime minister was forthright: he supports a free and independent Kurdistan. Today's vote by Iraqi Kurdish parties to secede from Iraq may well push the country into another war, a civil war. (Doubtless nothing would please Israel more.)The referendum is opposed by neighboring powers, but most significantly by the central government in Baghdad. It is a far more serious move that the well publicized October 1st Catalonian vote in Spain, also more perilous than Middle East watchers let on. Why the Iraqi referendum is receiving so little scrutiny, I don’t know.

Our revered English language “fake-news” establishment (e.g. The NYTimes and The Guardian among them) is underplaying the significance of a Kurdistan secession, also denying American and British endorsement for it. In reality the US and UK are totally with Israel in promoting and supporting north Iraq’s independence. Iran’s and Turkey’s opposition is well known; Syria would also be in that camp although no one publicly listens to Syria these days. (Remember that US troops are closely collaborating with Syrian Kurdish forces in opposition to Damascus.)

Reading the buried articles on Iraqi Kurdish national aspirations, one would gather it’s a scheme conceived after the 2003 US invasion, advanced only by Kurdish leaders. This is nonsense.

Although the British divided the large, strategic area occupied mainly by Kurdish-speaking people among Syria, Iraq, Iran and Turkey with their Sykes-Picot “Agreement” during World War I (part of the dissolution of the Turkish Empire), more recent plans by the imperial powers and Israel involve reconfiguring the modern Middle East into smaller and smaller pieces, starting with Iraqi Kurdistan. (Talk of Iraq’s division into three parts arose in 1991; similar scenarios are applied to Syria today.)

Public discussion of an independent Kurdistan has been ongoing since the launch of the US-led war on Iraq. Yes, Washington’s war on Iraq began not with the 2003 invasion but in 1991, with what’s called the Persian Gulf War (as if it was confined to that area). The ongoing assault included the murderous, destabilizing and destructive embargo war that continued from 1990 to 2003).

As for the Kurds, readers will recall images of tens of thousands of besieged families fleeing into the mountains ostensibly pursued by Saddam’s army. Without delay, humanitarian-motivated (sic) western powers rushed to the Kurds’ aid, using the opportunity of diversionary assaults in pursuit of Saddam and the Baathists, to essentially occupy the three Kurdish governates on behalf of that besieged minority. With Kurdish leaders’ wholehearted complicity, occupation was easily secured by a band of CIA agents, a low profile US military contingent working with an Israeli team, protected by the insipid northern “no-fly zone” (blessed, I believe, by the United Nations Security Council). The Kurdish region has remained semi-autonomous since then, sanctioned by a clause in the US-framed Iraqi constitution granting Kurds a degree of autonomy. Day by day, year by year, those three Kurdish governates have enjoyed protection, economic development, including a thriving tourist industry, freedom from any sanctions, and at liberty to sell oil from its territory directly to foreign companies; and all unquestioned thanks to its benevolent international image in human rights reports and the press.

During these 26 years, tensions between the central government and the KRG (Kurdish regional government) in Erbil have steadily heightened. Neither US occupiers nor other influential forces in Iraq have attempted to lessen the crisis. American Kurdish experts led by the intrepid former US diplomat Peter Galbraith have consistently argued for an independent Kurdistan.

Then there’s Kirkuk: Iraq’s major city in the north lies outside that semi-autonomous Kurdish region. Until 1991 Kirkuk was overwhelmingly inhabited by Iraqi Turkmen people. Kirkuk and smaller nearby cities (e.g. Tel Afar) have been Turkmen’s homeland for centuries, an area profoundly and unquestionably Iraqi in loyalty. You’d never know this from western press accounts which characterize Kirkuk simply as a center of oil deposits. I say Kirkuk was a largely Turkmen city because this has changed; since 1991 Iraqi Kurds have been steadfastly engaged driving Turkmen from their towns while repopulating them with Kurdish families. Although no mass killings of Turkmen have occurred as far as I am aware, there has been a major ethnic cleansing underway, transforming Kirkuk from a major Turkmen society into a Kurdish one. All this has been in preparation for the inclusion of Kirkuk into the anticipated autonomous Kurdistan, a process known and condoned by US, Israeli and the UK policy makers.

With the coming referendum, although the three regions (minus Kirkuk) enjoyed a marked degree of independence, despite successive Baghdad government attempts to limit this, Kirkuk now becomes the additional prize and a noted target in the coming referendum.

Baghdad opposes the referendum as strongly as Madrid rejects Catalonia’s independence vote. In recent weeks Madrid has taken startlingly firm action to thwart the regional vote. Baghdad’s position is as uncompromising; a federal court has declared the referendum illegal according to the Iraqi constitution, and Baghdad declared its readiness to use military action, at least to hold Kirkuk. Don’t believe news reports that the US and its allies oppose this referendum. Note the absence of any diplomatic effort by Washington to help reach a compromise and avoid another period of strife there.

All Iraqis must be feeling very nervous tonight.  

 

[ A Risky Referendum for Kurdistan Is Underway in Iraq ]

Looking to Leave Your Homeland? Think Again.

September 10, 2017

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

So you dream of leaving your class-infected, corrupt, and poor homeland oligarchy for America’s legendary freedoms? All the glamour and freedoms generated by Hollywood is irresistible, I know. Today however, in the wake of a new US administration, the ugliness which our tranquil college campuses, Hollywood creations, and Silicon Valley innovations had obscured, is exposed for all to witness. If you want an American reality check, follow civil rights attorney John Whitehead.

I really don’t like being a downer; better to avoid reality and watch gritty college football, American Idol, Mad Men, or Ellen DeGeneres. Or take up meditation or organic food. For sure.  

Somewhere at the back of my consciousness I had been aware that the USA is a police state. I didn’t let it bother me though; it didn’t seem to interfere with my life agenda.

Perhaps I’m like millions of other immigrants who slide into an economy needing my talents and naivety, along with a fine education acquired elsewhere. No one needed to instruct me about surviving; it was evident: keep your head down (and uncovered), your mouth shut (about abuses you witness), work your butt off, and you may slip below the radar and pass as white. (I didn’t give the price of white privilege much thought, namely my ethnic pride and the challenge all the family faces holding to slivers of our heritage.) Notwithstanding my doctorate from U. London, my quoted academic papers and invitations to international conferences, I remained oblivious to inequities in US society. The police state seemed to operate only in sleazy corners of the underworld.

My career shift to journalism focusing on the Arab lands and my fellow Arab and Muslim peoples changed all that. Witnessing first hand the deceit and murderousness US embargo on Iraq championed by America’s free media, I matured.

I recall a NY gathering in the mid-90s, when those of us challenging US policies complained about newly threatened civil liberties. In response to our alarm, an African American colleague remarked: “Ah, now you feel it. We have been living with this police terror for more than 400 years, since our arrival as slaves here. Now it’s reaching you (non-Blacks); now you too taste it.” He had no sympathy for our anxiety.

Reality sunk in when individuals distanced themselves from me; next, I knew I was being watched; then opponents of my journalistic reports shunned me. (Forget about the professors I’d worked with; they’d slithered away long before).  

Following the 9/11 attacks, the US police state ballooned and restraints lifted on how police/FBI and the courts treated ‘suspects’. In this phase the targets were Muslim residents, and Muslim visitors. From the start of this period to the present white citizens largely ignored the interrogations, jailings and deportations of Muslim residents. Even civil rights attorneys were scared to defend Muslim suspects. (There is no record of the fate of thousands of affected families; only in recent years, commendable investigative work has revealed that many terror suspects were in fact victims of government ‘sting’ operations.)

Today, under the Trump administration, the sweep has broadened; police are more aggressively targeting undocumented workers, bold white journalists, and non-violent demonstrators. Their invasion is more penetrating thanks to enhanced (digitized) state surveillance tools. I shudder when I read attorney Whitehead’s Sept 7th “What Country Is This?” and share a few passages for you to ponder.

Whitehead writes: “Our freedoms—especially the Fourth Amendment—are being choked out by a prevailing view among government bureaucrats that they have the right to search, seize, strip, scan, shoot, spy on, probe, pat down, taser, and arrest any individual at any time and for the slightest provocation.

“Forced cavity searches, forced colonoscopies, forced blood draws, forced breath-alcohol tests, forced DNA extractions, forced eye scans, forced inclusion in biometric databases: just a few ways in which Americans are being forced to accept that we have no control over our bodies, our lives and our property, especially when it comes to interactions with the government.

“Worse, on a daily basis, Americans are being made to relinquish the most intimate details of who we are—our biological makeup, our genetic blueprints, and our biometrics (facial characteristics and structure, fingerprints, iris scans, etc.)—in order to clear the nearly insurmountable hurdle that increasingly defines life in the United States: we are now guilty until proven innocent.

“Such is life in America today that individuals are being threatened with arrest and carted off to jail for the least hint of noncompliance, homes are being raided by police under the slightest pretext, property is being seized on the slightest hint of suspicious activity, and roadside police stops have devolved into government-sanctioned exercises in humiliation and degradation with a complete disregard for privacy and human dignity.

“Consider, for example, what happened to Utah nurse Alex Wubbels after a police detective demanded to take blood from a badly injured, unconscious patient without a warrant. Wubbels refused, citing hospital policy that requires police to either have a warrant or permission from the patient in order to draw blood. The detective had neither. Irate, the detective threatened to have Wubbels arrested if she didn’t comply. Wubbels respectfully stood her ground only to be …while hospital police looked on.

“Michael Chorosky didn’t have an advocate like Wubbels … Chorosky was surrounded by police, strapped to a gurney and then had his blood forcibly drawn after refusing to submit to a breathalyzer test. “What country is this? What country is this?” cried Chorosky during the forced blood draw.

What country is this indeed?... forced blood draws are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the indignities and abuses being heaped on Americans in the so-called name of “national security.”

“Forced cavity searches, forced colonoscopies and forced roadside strip searches are also becoming par for the course in an age in which police are taught to have no respect for the citizenry’s bodily integrity whether or not a person has done anything wrong.

“David Eckert was forced to undergo an anal cavity search, three enemas, and a colonoscopy after allegedly failing to yield to a stop sign at a Wal-Mart parking lot. Cops…suspected Eckert was carrying drugs because his “posture [was] erect” and “he kept his legs together.” No drugs were found.

“During a routine traffic stop, Leila Tarantino was subjected to two roadside strip searches in plain view of passing traffic, while her two small children waited inside her car. During the second strip search, presumably in an effort to ferret out drugs, a female officer “forcibly removed” a tampon from Tarantino. No contraband or anything illegal was found.

“Thirty-eight-year-old Angel Dobbs and her 24-year-old niece, Ashley, were pulled over by a Texas state trooper on July 13, 2012, allegedly for flicking cigarette butts out of the car window. Insisting that he smelled marijuana, the trooper proceeded to interrogate… “Despite the fact that both women denied smoking or possessing any marijuana, the police officer then called in a female trooper, who carried out a roadside cavity search, sticking her fingers into the older woman’s anus and vagina, then.. on the younger woman… No marijuana was found."

These few examples from Whitehead’s review reflect common US police behavior. More frightening when we consider that this is the nation (like Israel) where many governments worldwide send their police for training.

[ Looking to Leave Your Homeland? Think Again. ]


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