Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

U.S. support of Turkey and Kurdistan

The following article appeared in the December 13th edition of The Economist.

American policy toward Turkey and Kurdistan
The Economist
December 13, 2006

It is looking ever more awkward for the Americans to keep two of their
closest allies in the Middle East simultaneously sweet: Turkey and the Iraqi
Kurds, who enjoy extreme autonomy in what is now the only stable part of
Iraq. Kurds there are particularly rattled by several of the recommendations
of the Iraq Study Group, co-chaired by a former secretary of state, James
Baker (see article). The Turks, for their part, are increasingly angered by
a renewal of attacks in Turkey by guerrillas of the home-grown Kurdistan
Workers' Party (PKK). Moreover, they have never liked the idea of an
autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan, seeing it as a magnet for Kurdish nationalism in the region-especially in Turkey itself.

Indeed, there is a growing chance that the Turkish army will, perhaps as the
snows melt next spring, invade northern Iraq in an effort to clobber the PKK
in its safe haven just inside Iraq. The Iraqi Kurds might then feel obliged
to help their ethnic kinsmen fight back against the Turks. At that point, it
is unclear what the Americans would do, for they deem it vital to stay
friends with both the Turks, who are members of NATO, and the Iraqi Kurds,
who have hitherto been by far the most pro-American group in Iraq.

Iraq's Kurds disliked the Study Group's suggestion that Iraq's central
government should tighten its control over Iraq's provinces. They hated a
recommendation that a promised referendum on Iraq's disputed oil-rich
province, Kirkuk, be postponed. And they were horrified by the report's call
for America to improve relations with Syria and Iran, which have both long
suppressed Kurdish nationalism.

The Iraqi Kurds' biggest worry now is that an American wobble might hasten the feared Turkish invasion of their enclave. The Turks would argue that they merely wish to knock out some 5,000-odd PKK rebels in the mountains close to the border, then withdraw. But Iraq's 4m-5m Kurds fear that the Turks' true aim would be to ruin their successful experiment in self-rule, which has been inspiring Turkey's own restive Kurds, some 14m-strong.

"It's no longer a matter of if they [the Turks] invade but how America
responds when they do," says a seasoned NATO military observer. America
would be loath to let the Iraqi Kurds help their PKK kinsmen fight back,
since Turkey is a cherished NATO ally and a pivotal Muslim state in the
region. Turkey's airbase at Incirlik, in southern Turkey, is a hub for
non-combat materiel flown in for American and allied troops serving in Iraq
and Afghanistan.

The increasingly confident Iraqi Kurds sometimes helped Turkey fight against the PKK in the 1990s, but now they say they will no longer kill fellow
Kurds. Instead, they have been strengthening links with their Turkish
cousins, offering jobs and scholarships in northern Iraq. The Americans have
been telling the Turks to stay out of Iraq, despite the PKK's provocations.

So far Turkey has obeyed, hoping that America would deal with the PKK
itself. Its failure to do so is perhaps the biggest cause of rampant
anti-American feeling in Turkey. In July Turkey's mildly Islamist prime
minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is said to have warned President George
Bush, in several telephone calls, that he might be unable to restrain his
hawkish generals after 15 Turkish soldiers were killed in PKK attacks in a
single week. Some 250,000 Turkish troops then briefly massed on the Iraqi
border, jolting the Americans into naming a former NATO commander, Joseph Ralston, as a "special envoy for countering the PKK" (his own description). But the PKK's attacks went on, despite its proclaimed ceasefire in September.

One big reason for Turkish restraint against the PKK in Iraq has been
repeated warnings from the European Union, which Turkey has been bent on joining. But that restraint may weaken as the EU, or at least some of its leading members, continues to snub Turkey in its efforts to obtain membership.

If Turkish forces do invade Iraq, America's response will depend largely on
the scope and scale. Most probably, they would not penetrate far into the
country. "If they did, they would find themselves in the position that we do
in Iraq, bogged down in a guerrilla insurgency," says Henri Barkey, an
American expert on the Kurds who served in the State Department during the Clinton administration.

Plainly, it is in America's interest to cut a deal between the Turks and the
Kurds, including a plan to disarm the PKK for good, in return for wider
cultural and political rights for Kurds in Turkey. Conceivably, Turkey might
then be persuaded to accept the reality of an autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan;
optimists point to burgeoning trade links across the border. But pessimists,
especially in Turkey, say the Turks (as well as the Iranians) will never
tolerate Kurdish independence, which is how they see the Iraqi Kurds' present extreme autonomy.

If it comes to a stark choice, it is hard to say which way the Americans
would tilt. A vigorous debate is taking place in Washington. The
self-described realists favour Turkey: the country is a tested ally and far
bigger, richer and more powerful than today's fledgling Iraqi Kurdistan. The neoconservatives may favour holding on, at all costs, to the only solid ally within a federal Iraq, namely the Kurdish regional government. But the mood may recently have shifted in favour of the Turks. "The Iraqi Kurds are not the angels they were made out to be," says an American official.

With Turks and Kurds digging their heels in, the Americans hint that they
may be resigned to a limited Turkish operation that aims at PKK bases close
to the Turkish border; and they would tell the Iraqi Kurds to stay put. But
some in the Bush administration say the Americans should actually help
Turkey swat the PKK in Iraq "At this rate," says another American official,
"we're not only going to lose Iraq but Turkey too." That, for America, is a
prospect too ghastly to contemplate.

Barzani critical of Baker-Hamilton

The following opinion piece appeared in today’s Washington Post. The writer, Masrour Barzani, is the director of the Intelligence and Security Agency of the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq and a high-ranking member of the Kurdistan Democratic Party.

For Iraqis, A Promise Is in Peril
Baker-Hamilton Would Sell Out Democracy

By Masrour Barzani
Wednesday, December 20, 2006; A23

IRBIL, Iraq -- The Iraq Study Group's recommendations will accomplish nothing in Iraq. Its expressions of "gratitude" to those of us Iraqis who fought on the battlefield for freedom and liberty ring hollow. The report ignores our accomplishments, dreams and sacrifices in favor of a concern for those whose ultimate goal is the destruction of democracy.

Our federal constitution, which the majority of the Iraqi people voted for, is treated flippantly, as though it were a negotiable document rather than the hard-fought result of lengthy negotiation among those willing to participate in the new Iraq. Further, the study group's approach is driven by the concerns of the countries in this region rather than by the concerns of the Iraqi people.

Many Iraqis, especially the Kurds, are justifiably concerned about this. No one from the study group visited Iraqi Kurdistan, which the group admits is safe and pro-American, and where there has not been a single U.S. casualty since the war. Kurds not only fought alongside Americans but lost some of our best men to American friendly-fire incidents. Yet we staunchly support the work of the coalition and are eternally grateful for the sacrifices the American people have made for our future.

The report is right to acknowledge that part of the problem in Iraq is America's inability to distinguish friend from foe. Unfortunately, Baker-Hamilton fares even worse in this regard. This comes as little surprise, since it was partly written by those who orchestrated the saving of Saddam Hussein in 1991.

To call upon Iraq's neighbors, which have chosen Iraq as a place to fight the United States, is a grave mistake. Seeking their participation would inevitably backfire. They would not only contribute to the instability within the country but would implement agendas in direct contradiction to America's occupation goals.

The plan would reward regimes that have undermined the U.S. effort at every turn. Iraq would fall under the regional powers, and the Iraqi people would come out the losers. Any vacancy left in Iraq by the coalition forces before Iraq is ready to stand on its own would be filled by those opposed to democracy. American credibility would dissipate and any chance for success in Iraq would evaporate. If this comes to pass, hopes for real democracy in the Middle East will be history. The regional powers that border us have an interest in keeping us weak and divided.

Once again Kurds are about to be sold out. Should the U.S. administration adopt the recommendations of Baker-Hamilton, the Kurds will be sacrificed to protect the interests of Iraq's neighbors. We were massacred in 1975 and 1991 by Saddam Hussein because we thought that our commitment to democracy and tolerance made us natural U.S. allies. We responded then, as we did four years ago, to American calls for the introduction of a new era in the region. Like Americans, we dream of a better future for our children, one in which they can grow up without deformities caused by chemical attacks on our villages.

It is true we fly Kurdish flags. This is yet another similarity we have with Americans, who are proud not only of their country but also of the accomplishments and unique identities of their states. The harbinger of successful democracy in the United States was the willingness of its founders to recognize the particular interests of states and to craft a constitution to safeguard their rights. Baker-Hamilton would deny Iraqis the same rights and thus doom our efforts to construct a system in Iraq that protects all its citizens. It would strip Kurdistan of rights it has negotiated with the central government to protect it from abuses like those it has suffered in the past. We should not forget that over-centralization has been a disaster for the Iraqi people.

Iraq's constitution should be treasured. Iraq's neighbors should not be allowed to violate our sovereignty. Democracy and federalism are the popularly chosen basis of the new Iraq. Never again should Kurdish wealth be stolen to finance genocide against the Kurdish people.

While Kurds welcome American troops into their homes, Baker-Hamilton proposes that the United States revise its policies to meet the demands of those firing at its soldiers. According to the study group, we are all part of "a problem" that needs fixing, and we are equally unworthy of America's protection.

Don't sell us out to our authoritarian neighbors and those who are terrorizing our communities. We agreed democratically to participate in this project because we were guaranteed the rights needed to protect our people. We Kurds are asking President Bush and America to remember the sacrifices we have made to keep your loved ones safe in Iraq. We are asking you to keep a promise where those before you have failed.

To access the article on WashingtonPost.com, click here.

Afghan newspaper rails against escalating drug trade

The state-run Afghan newspaper “Anis” ran an editorial on December 18 that called narcotics traffickers Afghanistan’s “main and real enemies,” RFE/RFL reported on Tuesday. The newspaper also linked the nation’s booming drug trade to government corruption. “Thanks to their boundless illegal wealth, [drug lords] have penetrated the highest levels of the government structure” and “have established relations with senior government officials,” the editorial asserted. “Anis” also criticized NATO forces for avoiding the growing drug problem and argued that drug lords must be apprehended by NATO and Afghan authorities before progress can be made in the fight against terrorism in the country.

For the full article, click here.

Egyptian Baha’is denied right to carry valid ID cards

In an ominous sign for religious freedom in the Arab world, an Egyptian court ruled on December 16th that Baha’is would not be allowed to list their religious affiliation on official identifying documentation. The verdict, reported by AFP on the same day, puts additional limitations on the rights of this persecuted ethno-religious minority.

Judge Sayed Nofal sought to validate the supreme administrative court decision. “The constitution promotes freedom of belief for the three recognized heavenly religions and they are Islam, Christianity and Judaism,” Nofal said. He went on say, “As for the Baha’is, Islamic jurists have all agreed that the Baha’i faith is not one of the three recognized religions.” Nofal also called Baha’is “apostates of Islam.”

The verdict casts serious doubts on the ability of Bahai’s to access basic services. Egyptian law requires citizens to carry valid ID cards at all times and the documents are needed to do virtually anything, from applying for employment to enrolling children in school.

The ruling was widely denounced in the international human rights community. According to Bani Dugal, a Baha’i representative with the United Nations, the verdict “threatens to make non-citizens of an entire religious community.”

For the full article, click here.

Nour undergoes heart procedure under tight security

Physicians performed cardiac tests on jailed Egyptian opposition leader Ayman Nour at a Cairo hospital on Monday, according to a Reuters report. Nour, who is in the midst of a five-year sentence on dubious fraud charges, was kept under close supervision by Egyptian authorities throughout his hospital stay and prevented from speaking with outsiders, including his wife, Gameela Ismail. The examinations were done to assess whether additional procedures would be needed for Nour, who was had cardiac and arterial problems in the past.

Nour challenged, but ultimately lost to, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in the September 2005 presidential elections. He was arraigned shortly thereafter in a move thought to have been carried out to prevent a future bid by the democratic reformist.

For the full article, click here.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Donors ignore human rights violations, pledge more aid for Viet Nam in 2007

Last week, international donors pledged $4.4 billion in aid to a corrupt Vietnamese regime with an atrocious human rights record. The 2007 aid figures represent an increase of over $700 million from last year, according to AsiaNews.

Donors seeking to capitalize on Viet Nam’s growing prominence in the international marketplace looked past glaring concerns that have been underscored by recent events. Earlier this year, rampant government corruption was highlighted when it was discovered that Transport Ministry officials had embezzled millions of dollars for personal use. In November, Hanoi attempted to silence political prisoners released in anticipation of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum by sanctioning threats and house arrests.

For the full article, click here.

Iranian Kurdish activist jailed for dissent remains in prison

Sherko Jihani, an Iranian Kurdish journalist and human rights activist, continues to serve jail time for political dissent, Amnesty International reported last week. Jihani, a member of the Human Rights Organization of Kurdistan (HROK), was apprehended in late November 2006 in Mahabad, Iran, and has since been taken to an undisclosed prison, where he is believed to be at risk of torture.

Jihani is believed to have been detained for forming a committee to investigate the treatment of a fellow HROK member who was detained and beaten by Iranian authorities in January 2006.

The plight of Iranian Kurds has become even more precarious of late in the wake of massive Kurdish demonstrations in July 2005 that were triggered by the brutal murder of a Kurdish activist. Twenty protestors were reportedly killed by Iranian forces during the demonstrations and others who were involved have received death threats.

For more information and to send an appeal for Jihani’s release, click here.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Opportunities for Iraqi women continues to dwindle

While Iraq was once considered a progressive Middle Eastern country, today it offers women little to no opportunity for individual advancement. Iraqi women live in fear of being kidnapped or raped, and commonly receive death threats due to their professional and educational decisions, the Washington Post reported on Saturday.

Significant opportunities for professional and educational advancement for females first became available in the 1920s. However, in the wake of the Iran-Iraq war and the embargos of the Persian Gulf War, the Iraqi government began imposing stricter regulations on women. The recent escalation in violence in Iraq has left some women feeling as though leaving their house is even too great a risk to take. And those that choose to leave must abide by strict regulations on their attire.

Following the US-led invasion, President Bush stated that increasing women’s rights in Iraq was an essential part of forging a new democratic Iraq. Although positions within the government have been allocated for women since then, little has changed. Threats from radical groups and ineffective law enforcement continue to contribute to the fearful state of Iraqi women.

For the full article, click here.