Kurdistan Independence Referendum and Why It Matters so Much in the Fight Against Radical Islam

Iraqi Kurdish students attend the first day of the new school year in Erbil, the capital of the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq. (Photo: SAFIN HAMED / AFP / Getty Images)

Clarion Project, by Jennifer Breedon, April 19, 2017:

The recent rejuvenated referendum on Kurdistan Independence will likely draw a few questions from people. Namely (1) What does “Statehood” mean and what is required to gain it? (2) Why does an independent Kurdistan really matter? And (3) Is it really helpful to have another independent government in the Middle East in an already volatile area?

What does “Statehood” mean and what is required to gain it?

Becoming a state provides autonomy and self-determination that allow a government to aid their people, provide security to their region, build infrastructure, among many other things. Even autonomous regions within a state are subject to the official national government decisions and therefore cannot enter into alliances with potential allies. In this situation, it matters for the United States because the modern Kurds and the Kurdish government in Northern Iraq are extremely pro-America and pro-democratic freedoms.  In an age where the Middle East is constantly laced with sectarian violence, the Kurds are a secular governing force that rejects extremism. However, since it is merely an “autonomous” region of Iraq, they are subject to alliances of the Iraqi government and cannot be a strength of secular democratic governance that is so desperately needed throughout the Middle East.

The Montevideo Convention of 1933 outlined the four main requirement of statehood. Those are: a permanent population, a defined territory, a government, the capacity to enter into foreign relations with other states. However, meeting the Montevideo requirements doesn’t automatically gain independent statehood today. That requires recognition by the international community (and recently done via the United Nations).

The Kurdish region was officially recognized as semiautonomous in the 2005 Iraqi constitution following the U.S. invasion of Iraq and fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime. Today, that region and the territories closest to it have become the only safe zone for refugees and IDPs fleeing from the wrath of ISIL in Iraq.

Why does an independent Kurdistan state really matter?

When I was meeting with Kurdish government officials in January this year, I asked this very question to Dr. Dindar Zebari, a top official in the Kurdish Democratic Party.

Dr Zebari: “…you cannot have a success story within a failure story [Iraq]. Sectarian violence in the Middle East-and especially Iraq-will continue. There is a problem and that’s religious engagement in government and it holds all of humanity back: the case of Shia vs. Sunni. Yazidi, Christian and other minority communities will be under religious extremist governments because the ethnic cleansing under these governments will never stop. Kurdistan has been successful as an accepting autonomous region and our government has never and will never turn away minorities. Our constitution is based on individual human rights and not religious identity.

JB: What makes Kurdistan as a state unique in this region?

Dr. Zebari: We are unique in that we already have self-determination and friendly relations with many other governments. The only forces that have EQUALLY protected all the religious minorities since ISIS began their violence, are the Peshmerga forces. We have already delivered more for the rights of minorities and protecting from ISIS than many other independent states in this region even though we aren’t yet a recognized nation-state.

According to the CIA World Factbookthere has been voluntary relocation of many Christian families to northern Iraq” since the rise of ISIS. An article in the Council for Foreign Relations noted in 2015 that, “even while asserting their autonomy, Iraqi Kurds are still considered by policymakers as the ‘glue’ that holds [Iraq] together amid sectarian tensions between Sunni and Shia Arabs.

Today, almost all the U.N. refugee areas for ISIS victims are in or near the Kurdish region because it has been secured by the Kurdish Peshmerga forces. However, since the Kurds are not an independent nation-state, they are not privy to U.N. practices in refugee camps, nor are they invited to talks on the humanitarian situation in the region. Additionally, when money is sent to the “refugees” and IDPs living in camps in the Kurdish region, none of that money goes to the Kurdish Regional Government because they are not a recognized state. The money is either given directly to the United Nations OR the “recognized” government of Iraq in Baghdad.  Considering that Iraqis have fled Baghdad for safety in Erbil and the Kurdish region, this seems to make very little sense in helping those that need it most and supporting the forces protecting the victims.

Jennifer Salcido, a humanitarian filmmaker in Iraqi Kurdistan, recently met with a small group of Assyrian Christians. When she asked them why they didn’t go to Baghdad for safety from ISIS, they responded, “Because they will murder us in Baghdad. We are much safer in Erbil [Kurdistan region capital].

Is it really helpful to have another independent government in an already volatile Middle East region?

The answer is 100% yes if that independent government is friendly to the United States, Israel, and secular governance including human rights and not Islamist sharia implementation. The Kurds have no sharia laws or desire to impose Islamist laws. They’ve been persecuted by Islamist governments for far too long and the modern Kurdish parties, such as the KDP, have adopted a secular democratic constitution.

Most Kurds are Muslim, but reject religious rule in favor of secular governance so that all religious people and ethnic minorities can have fair and equal representation. The Kurds have adopted secular lifestyles seen just by visiting the capitol city of Erbil where you’ll hear American music, see a booming economy, or have conversations about new business enterprises.  If you’re lucky, you may run into the Erbil Men’s Club. Kurds don’t identify as “Sunni” or “Shia” at the outset. While they will openly say what religion they practice, they refuse to allow their identity to be encompassed in the sectarian strife they’ve witnessed throughout the Middle East. They want no form of oppressive sharia law in their governance to promote the rights of women and minorities. In fact, Kurdish government mandates that 30% of Parliament members be women. I witnessed that firsthand and it looks a lot like the United States: churches, mosques, and synagogues side-by-side with equal numbers and mutual respect between all religious leaders.

The issues in the Middle East come down to proxy wars and one important differentiation: Does the country have a theocracy or a secular government that governs the people with basic freedoms of life and liberty to freely worship? The Kurdish government maintains the latter and thus makes their application for statehood a necessary element in upholding human rights and providing for a more stable and violence-free Middle East.

Jennifer Breedon is an attorney and the legal analyst for Clarion Project. Jennifer’s specializations are in international criminal law, Middle East policy and U.S. Constitutional Law. To invite Jennifer to speak please contact us.

Why is the West So Obsessed with Protecting the Territorial Integrity of Syria and Iraq?

Russia has been accused of helping the Assad regime by bombing its opponents rather than Islamic State fighters. Photograph: Alexander Kots/AP

Russia has been accused of helping the Assad regime by bombing its opponents rather than Islamic State fighters. Photograph: Alexander Kots/AP

American Thinker, by Adam Turner, Feb. 20, 2016:

This week, UK Foreign Secretary Phillip Hammond asked, “Is Russia really committed to a peace process or is it using the peace process as a fig leaf to try to deliver some kind of military victory for Assad that creates an Alawite mini state in the north-west of Syria?”

sy-mapObviously, the Russians are not committed to the Syrian peace process and want an Alawite state. Their national interest is in keeping their client state, Syria, and the Russian bases within it, in existence. The Russians have little interest in a peace process to create a more democratic — and certainly Sunni Arab (74% of the population) dominated — Syria, where they would probably lose both their client and their bases. The easiest way for the Russians to do this now is to cut off the Alawite portions of the state and thereby create an Alawite majority/plurality state.

The U.S., and the rest of the West, needs to understand what these Russian interests are, and try to make the best of the situation. Thanks to the U.S.’s fecklessness in the region, we have already allowed Russia to take a dominant role in Syria, and there is probably little chance of us pressuring them to leave. Besides, the creation of a separate Alawite nation is not necessarily in opposition to Western interests. The West has long sought to promote peace; boost the number of democratic nations; and also protect minority rights (whether religious, gender, ethnic, or tribal) throughout the Middle East. Some revamped borderlines, including the creation of an Alawite state, may well maximize these Western interests.

Syria was one of the many Middle Eastern states that were created by the Sykes-Picot Agreement. Unfortunately, the post-World War I Sykes-Picot lines were drawn solely for the benefit of the colonial powers, and not based on the idea of creating stable, united, and democratic nations. So, the end result of Sykes-Picot has been the creation a Middle East plagued by violence, genocide, and persecution. And with the Obama Administration’s decisions to: 1) pull the U.S. from the region; and 2) favor Islamist Iran, which has long sought to promote instability throughout the rest of the region and thereby boost Iranian power, things have gotten even worse.

A man carries a child from a building following a reported barrel bomb attack by Syrian government forces on Aleppo. Some 50,000 people have fled the recent upsurge in fighting there. Photograph: Karam Al-Masri/AFP/Getty

A man carries a child from a building following a reported barrel bomb attack by Syrian government forces on Aleppo. Some 50,000 people have fled the recent upsurge in fighting there. Photograph: Karam Al-Masri/AFP/Getty

Dividing Syria into different nations — whether officially or de facto — might help ameliorate the bloody civil war that has (so far) reportedly killed up to 470,000 Syrians and driven millions more into exile. An Alawite state in the west of Syria would satisfy the Russians, but also protect the Alawite and Shia population (13%) from slaughter at the hands of Sunni Islamist groups. (Perhaps an agreement could also be reached with Putin to remove Assad, and replace him with another, less bloodthirsty, Alawite.) An Alawite state could also include Syrian Christians (10%), who mostly live near the Alawites, and also are endangered by the Islamists. A Kurdish state in the north would be positive for the West, since the Syrian Kurds (10%): 1) have proven to be the most effective fighters against ISIS; 2) are largely secular; and 3) have had some success creating a region where other minorities are protected. A Druze state, in a portion of the south where they are a majority, might also be a good idea. The Druze (3%), as a minority, generally do not discriminate against other groups, have faced threats from the Syrian Sunni Islamists, and have long been known as fierce and competent fighters.

Syria’s division would also impact Iraq. The remainder of the Syrian state is Sunni dominated, and should probably be added to the Sunni portions of Iraq to create one state. “This ‘Sunni-stan’ has economic potential as an oil producer (subject to negotiations with the Kurds, to be sure) and could be a bulwark against both Mr. Assad and Iran-allied Baghdad.” This would also allow the West to “empower viable Sunni leaders, including tribal authorities” to fight against ISIS, in a replay of what happened in Iraq in 2007. Currently the Sunni Arabs who dominate in those regions so fear being controlled by Shia Iraqis, Alawite Syrians or Shia Iranians that they will not oppose Sunni ISIS. Of course, by separating Sunnis and Shias in Iraq and Sunnis from non-Sunnis in Syria, this should also decrease the religious violence and discrimination currently occurring in Syria and Iraq.

If the Sunni Arab areas of Iraq are separated from the rest of Iraq, this will also result in the creation of a separate Kurdish state in the north, since Sunni Iraq is between Iraqi Kurdistan and Shia Iraq. (Iraqi Kurdistan and Syrian Kurdistan could also unite as one state). Once again, the West would benefit from a Kurdish state; Iraqi Kurdistan “is a uniquely strong, stable, and democratic house” that generally has a good record of respecting minority rights.

25bolton-blog427Two nations will object to these map changes in Iraq and Syria. Iran wants to maximize its control over the Middle East. But contrary to the belief of President Obama, the U.S. does not have national interests in empowering the Shia Islamist Iran. Turkey would also object. But the concerns of that undemocratic, discriminatory Sunni Islamist regime should be immaterial to the West, especially since the Russians would be happy to stick it to the Turks by backing a Kurdish state.

It is time to redraw the lines in the Middle East to ameliorate violence and promote democracy and human rights. I hope the next U.S. president will have the courage and foresight to do so.

Adam Turner serves as general counsel to the Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET). He is a former counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee where he focused on national security.

FGM: ‘It’s like neutering animals’ – the film that is changing Kurdistan

film on FGM

 

By  and :

A young girl is given a plastic bag of sweets and a bottle of lemonade after being genitally mutilated … the story of the 10-year fight against female genital mutilation by two film-makers has been made into a hour long documentary by the Guardian and BBC Arabic and will go out across the Arab world from Friday, reaching a combined global audience of 30 million viewers. This is the Guardian’s shorter web version of that film

It started out as a film about a practice that has afflicted tens of millions of women worldwide. It culminated in a change in the law.

Ten years after they embarked on a documentary to investigate the extent of female genital mutilation in Kurdistan, two film-makers have found their work changing more than just opinions in a fiercely conservative part of the world. Partly as a result of the film, the numbers of girls being genitally mutilated in the villages and towns of Iraqi Kurdistan has fallen by more than half in the last five years.

Shara Amin and Nabaz Ahmed spent 10 years on the roads of Kurdistan speaking to women and men about the impact of female genital mutilation (FGM) on their lives, their children and their marriages. “It took a lot of time to convince them to speak to us. This was a very taboo subject. Speaking about it on camera was a very brave thing to do.

“It took us weeks, sometimes months to get them to talk and in the end it was the women that spoke out – despite the men,” said Ahmed.

The result was a 50-minute film, A Handful of Ash. When it was shown in the Kurdish parliament, it had a profound effect on the lawmakers.

The film-makers’ work began in 2003, shortly after the fall of Saddam Hussein. The stories they were told had a numbing consistency. In one scene in the documentary a young mother with her children sitting beside her tells Shara that in their village: “They would just grab the little girls, take them and cut them, and the girls came back home. I can still remember I was sick, infected for three months. I could barely walk after I was cut.”

A mullah tells the film-makers that “Khatana [the Kurdish term for FGM] is a duty; it is spiritually pure.” That is the position of the Shafi’i school of Sunni Islam that is practised by Iraqi Kurds. It is the same branch of Islamic law that predominates in Egypt, where studies show that up to 80% of women have been mutilated. But FGM is not just confined to some Muslim countries in the Middle East – it is also widespread in parts of Africa and
Indonesian. It pre-dates Islam or Christianity and is on record since
the time of the Pharaoh.

“It is about controlling women’s sexuality and keeping them under control,” said Nadya Khalife, from Human Rights Watch.

Read more at The Guardian

For more on FGM go to https://counterjihadreport.com/category/female-genital-mutilation/

Syria’s Kurds stand alone after rejecting rebels and regime

by Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi

Developments in Syria and Iraq have led some to speculate that the birth of an independent Kurdish state might be at hand. A closer analysis shows that a united Kurdistan is still unlikely, although a separate semiautonomous Kurdish community in Syria, with some parallels to the Kurdish Autonomous Region in Iraq, is a growing possibility.

In Syria, Kurds are sitting on the sidelines of the uprising against the Damascus regime. Indeed, the Free Syrian Army has accused members of the militant Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) of hindering its operations in some areas against the Assad regime, according to the Kurdish website Rudaw.net. Leaders of the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), which is affiliated with the PKK, have made it clear that they will not tolerate the spread of Syria’s conflict into the Kurdish-dominated areas of Syria.

The PYD stands separate from the Kurdish National Council, a coalition of 11 Kurdish parties in Syria that has ties to the autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq. But leaders of the Kurdish National Council have also indicated to Rudaw that they are aiming to keep Kurdish areas free from fighting between the regime and the rebels.

The Kurdish groups are far from united on most issues – the KNC has in the past clashed with the PYD, but since Syria’s unrest began last year, the two factions have “signed an agreement sponsored by the Iraqi Kurdish leadership to prevent intra-Kurdish tensions”, according to Jonathan Spyer, an analyst at the Israel-based Global Research in International Affairs Center.

This, Mr Spyer writes in the Jerusalem Post, ensures “de facto Kurdish control of a large swathe of Syria’s north-east and the placing of this area off limits to the insurgency against the Assad regime for the foreseeable future”.

Syria’s Kurds are not, by and large, supporters of President Bashar Al Assad, but their scepticism about the Syrian opposition is understandable. For one thing, rebel fighters in Syria have the support of Ankara, which has a bad reputation regarding Turkish Kurds in matters of civil and cultural rights.

In addition, whenever Kurdish groups have tried to engage the Syrian opposition about the shape of a post-Assad Syria, talks have always broken down. The main issue is that the opposition refuses to drop the identification of Syria as an Arab nation (as evinced in the country’s official name: “Syrian Arab Republic”) and accept that Kurds are a distinct people. Thus ended the recent Cairo meeting of anti-Assad groups, attended by the KNC.

With Syrian Kurds declining to choose between Mr Al Assad and the opposition, the idea of a de facto Kurdish autonomous area in the Al Jazira area of north-east Syria becomes a possibility.

In the event of Mr Al Assad’s downfall, Sunni groups and others in Syria might be too distracted by infighting to deal with the question of Kurdish autonomy.

Read more at Middle East Forum

Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi is a student at Brasenose College, Oxford University, and an adjunct fellow at the Middle East Forum.