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KURDISH SUPPLEMENT, 10-16/6/01 A selection of news items and articles from the Kurdish Observer NEWS * Kurds Prepare For Changed Political Scene In Iraq [reference to moves towards a rapprochement with Baghdad: the Kurdish leaders are aware that they cannot rely on firm Western stands toward the Iraq issue. These caused them to turn to Baghdad with specific initiatives.ı] * Iraq To Open Free Trade Centers with Kurdistan * New Turkish Ruling Limits Trade With Iraqi Kurdistan [new travel restrictions on Turkish citizens visiting Iraqi Kurdistan through the strategic Khabur Crossing ... can have a devastating economic impact on Iraqi Kurdistan whose revenues are largely dependent on cross border trading, and tourism from Turkey.ı] ARTICLES * Normalizing" the Situation in ³Northern Iraq² [fear of an Iraqi return if the US and British stop the no fly zones] * Michael Rubin on Conditions in Iraqi Kurdistan [a very rosy picture. Everything is wonderful and this proves that the misery in Saddam-controlled Iraq is all Saddamıs fault] * Why are the Kurds leaving their homeland? [a considerably less rosy picture: It was only two months ago that I had a chance to interview few families living in an area that is no more that a quarter of a mile from the head quarters of United Nations offices in Ankawa. The living condition of these families, about 450 of them, is beyond imaginable. These families are living in all mud ³houses² from the ceiling to the floor and have no electricity or running water.ı] * The Kurds - genuine refugees or economic migrants [argues that Kurds from Northern Iraq/Southern Kurdistan are genuine refugees because of real fear that Saddam could return] * Southern Iraqis likely to lose out [Paints a rosy picture of Baghdad which resembles M.Rubinıs rosy picture of Suleimaniyah but continues: While smart sanctions will allow "civilian-use" items into the country, they will not be directed to where they are needed most. The bulk of the goods will be consumed by Baghdad, and, as usual, the south will be left to pick up the crumbs.ı] NEWS http://members.home.net/kurdistanobserver/9-6-01-rfe-kdp-puk-irq.html * KURDS PREPARE FOR CHANGED POLITICAL SCENE IN IRAQ. by David Nissman Kurdistan Observer (from Radio Free Europe), 8 June 2001 The "reconciliation" between the Kurdish parties administrating the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) is driven by a review of priorities in anticipation of the possible consequences of the failure of the ongoing negotiations between Baghdad and the United Nations on the new sanctions system and in preparation for the expected political changes, according to a commentator from Irbil writing in London's "Al-Hayat" of 29 May. The rapprochement and coordination between the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) has descended to deeper levels than the differences in views over the distribution of customs revenues, unification of the two administrations, and the reactivation of the KRG parliament. Current Kurdish moves toward coordination with Baghdad are a result of increased confidence in the Kurdish establishment and the Kurds' success in establishing a solid defense system that can handle any conventional attack by Baghdad on Kurdistan. Over the last two years, Kurdish military leaders both trained a semi-professional military force and exploited the international market to obtain good weapons in the same way as Iraq, namely, by using the smuggling networks. Thus, the defense network resulting from these efforts became an actual deterrent to attacks from the Baghdad-controlled areas. At the same time, the Kurdish leaders are aware that they cannot rely on firm Western stands toward the Iraq issue. These caused them to turn to Baghdad with specific initiatives. In this context, PUK leader Jalal Talabani made the teaching of Arabic compulsory at the start of the next school year. and promised not to use any regional party for developing oil production from wells in his areas. The major stumbling block remaining between the KDP and PUK is the question of the unification of the PUK and KDP administrations. Leader of the KDP Mas'ud Barzani said to "Al-Hayah" that "I personally do not see any problem in the presence of the two administrations at the crucial transitional stage." But Talabani disagrees. http://members.home.net/kurdistanobserver/15-6-01-ko-irq-claims-free-trade.h tml * IRAQ TO OPEN FREE TRADE CENTERS WITH KURDISTAN The Kurdistan Observer, June 15, 2001 Informed Kurdish sources announced that the Iraqi government is leaning toward opening two duty free centers in the areas controlled by both Kurdish factions of Iraqi Kurdistan, reported the London based Arabic newspaper, Al-Sharq Al-Awsat today. According to the sources, Iraqi authorities plan to open the two centers in the areas bordering the Kurdish administrations of the KDP and PUK to combat the current illegal trade between Iraq and Kurdistan. The newspaper added that in the last few months there has been several shooting incidences between smugglers and Iraqi security forces causing the losses in the Iraqi security forces. http://members.home.net/kurdistanobserver/13-6-01-ko-tky-demand-irq-visa.ht ml * NEW TURKISH RULING LIMITS TRADE WITH IRAQI KURDISTAN by Diyar Gekhsi The Kurdistan observer June 13, 2001 The Turkish government recently introduced new travel restrictions on Turkish citizens visiting Iraqi Kurdistan through the strategic Khabur Crossing. The new ruling forbids Turkish traders and visitors from crossing the border into Iraq without obtaining costly travel permits from the Iraqi Embassy in Ankara, a reliable Kurdish official told the Kurdistan Observer today. These travel restrictions and associated costs will severely curtail trade with Iraqi Kurdistan. This can have a devastating economic impact on Iraqi Kurdistan whose revenues are largely dependent on cross border trading, and tourism from Turkey. Over the last numbers of years, cross border restrictions were almost non-existent, and thousands of Turkish citizens enjoyed touring the region and exchanging goods and services in Kurdish cities and towns of close proximity to the Turkish border. This ruling also deals a blow to the Kurds and Iraqi opposition since it signals a warming in Turkish government's relationship with the Iraqi regime. This sign of warming was evident in a last week statement by the Turkish Foreign Minister Cem who said on Turkish state television that a new border crossing will be established between Iraq and Turkey within two years. The new border crossing will likely bypass areas under the control of Iraqi Kurds, and therefore make direct trade with the Iraqis possible for the first time. Iraqi Kurdish officials believe Turkey is seeking to diminish their revenue from the lucrative fuel trade because of Turkish fears that the Iraqi Kurds are moving toward independence, a move that would heighten nationalistic aspirations among Turkey's 20 million Kurdish population. Kurdish officials are convinced that Turkish attitude toward them has changed ever since the capture of PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan in February 1999, and Ocalan's decision to call off the rebels' 15-year-old insurgency. According to these officials, Turkey feels it no longer needs the Iraqi Kurds and is now urging them to make peace with the central government in Baghdad. ARTICLES www.kurdistanobserver.com * NORMALIZING" THE SITUATION IN ³NORTHERN IRAQ² by Rashid Karadaghi The Kurdistan Observer May 18, 2001 Commenting on the "abnormal" situation in the liberated areas of Kurdistan (which Iraq and all those to whom the name "Kurdistan" is a taboo call "Northern Iraq"), a high Iraqi official said earlier this year that ³The Western-imposed no-fly zone and air strikes have up until now prevented the normalization of the situation. Once circumstances allow, I am convinced Iraq will be capable of normalizing the situation.² Given the bloody history of the Iraqi regime and the mentality of Iraqi officials as a whole, it is not difficult at all to know exactly what this official meant by what he was saying. By "normalizing" the situation, the Iraqi official meant, of course, for the Iraqi army and Security Police to return to Kurdistan to terrorize, imprison, torture, and butcher innocent Kurds as they have been doing for decades. By "normalizing" the situation, he meant for the Iraqi army and Security forces to destroy the villages and small towns which the Kurdish people have managed to rebuild in the last ten years thanks to their own initiative and the much-needed international support. (It is public knowledge that the Iraqi regime either burned or dynamited house by house four thousand Kurdish villages in the 1980ıs, leaving the Kurdish countryside a desolate wasteland.) By "normalizing" the situation, the Iraqi official meant planting more land mines throughout Kurdistan to maim and kill more innocent civilians. (It is also public knowledge that the Iraqi regime planted millions of land mines in Kurdistan causing hundreds of casualties among innocent villagers and others who have stepped on them. It should also be known that the Iraqi regime has vehemently opposed attempts by the UN and non- governmental organizations (NGOıs) to clear these land mines.) In short, by "normalizing" the situation, the Iraqi official meant putting the Kurdish people back in the hell his regime had so methodically and systematically created for them because that is the only kind of world that regime knows and it cannot tolerate the fact that the Kurds have found a way out of it. And just imagine! They still wonder why the Kurds want a divorce from this abusive and murderous union that was forced on them. Anyone who has seen a video of the aftermath of the chemical attack by the Iraqi army on the innocent Kurdish population of Halabja in March 1988, or has seen for himself even a fraction of the destruction house by house of all the Kurdish villages by Iraq, or has heard some of the horror stories of the survivors of the infamous Al-Anfal operations of the late eighties in which the State of Iraq "disappeared" over a quarter of a million innocent Kurds by burying them alive in the deserts of Southern Iraq, or has seen some of the victims of the land mines planted in Kurdistan by the Iraqi army, or has seen the torture chambers at the former Iraqi Secret Police headquarters in Sulaimani - to mention just a few of the most heinous and publicized crimes that the Iraqi government and army have committed against the Kurdish people - will say "never" to the "normalization" which the Iraqi official (and his government) is hoping for if the no-fly zone is lifted. (The Western Powers, especially the United States and Britain, which are enforcing the no-fly zone, should take note of all the threatening statements by Iraqi officials and strongly resist any call for lifting or reducing the level of commitment to the no-fly zone because of the disastrous consequences of such a move for the Kurds. In fact, if anything, they should couple the no-fly zone with a no-drive zone to make sure that not only does the Iraqi regime not threaten the Kurds from the air but on the ground, too. The Iraqi regime has not given up on its designs to retake the liberated areas of Kurdistan and re- establish its reign of terror there. It has tried several times to test the will of the Kurdish people and that of the Allies by pushing into its "beloved North" to see the degree of resistance. All its attempts have failed so far thanks to the vigilance of the brave Kurdish Peshmergas and the fear of retaliation by the Allies. This is why maintaining the no-fly zone, and actually expanding it, is so crucial to the survival of freedom and democracy in the liberated areas of Kurdistan.) It should be mentioned that the Iraqi regime has not been the only one bent on "normalizing" the situation in the liberated areas of Southern Kurdistan. It is no secret that the foreign ministers of Turkey, Iran, and Syria, in their desire to smother the new freedom that was beginning to take roots in the liberated parts of Southern Kurdistan, and in their fear that the winds of freedom might blow in the direction of their sections of occupied Kurdistan, used to meet regularly (of course with their Iraqi counterpart attending in spirit) from 1992 to 1994 to discuss the so-called "power vacuum" and find a way to destabilize the new Kurdish administration and the democratically-and-freely-elected parliament (1992). Of course, these regimes believe that if the Kurds are being ruled by themselves instead of being harassed, imprisoned, and killed by occupation armies, then there is a "power vacuum" that needs to be filled. Those who call a return to the reign of terror "normalization" should know that the situation in Kurdistan has never been as normal as they are now, and if and when differences arise among the various segments of the Kurdish society, as it happens in every human society, they can be resolved democratically and peacefully if outsiders with evil designs stop meddling in their affairs. For the first time in their history, the Kurdish people living in the liberated part of their country are leading a normal life because they have no fear of their government and they live in a free and democratic atmosphere where their rights as human beings are respected. It is this freedom and this democracy that the Kurds are enjoying now which the Iraqi regime wants to take away from them by force. Having had a taste of freedom in the last ten years under a Kurdish administration, the Kurdish people refuse to ever again live under the tyranny of a regime that has not thought even for one day of anything but how to harass, imprison, torture, and kill them. Not only do the Kurdish people refuse to go back to living under the current regime but any other regime that may follow because that would be too much of a nightmare to contemplate. The Kurdish people and their brave Peshmergas will no doubt defend their new-found freedom with all their might. Let us not forget, however, the huge advantage the Iraqi army would have over the Kurds in case, God forbid, of war because of the huge arsenal that the Iraqi army possesses compared with the light weaponry that the Kurds have. It is for this reason that the international community, and especially the Allies enforcing the no-fly zone, must remain vigilant in order to deter the Iraqi army from waging a new war against the Kurds. The no-fly zone is a vital component of this deterrence and must continue unimpeded. The international community must know that the minute the Iraqi regime thinks it can wage an all-out war against the Kurds without the fear of retaliation by the Allies; it would do so without any hesitation. In conclusion, we hope that the "normalization" which the Iraqi official spoke about will never materialize. The Kurds have the will and the determination to defend their liberated land and their new-found freedom, but they must have the full support of the Allies and the rest of the international community to safeguard the achievements of the last ten years. It is the hope of every Kurd that all freedom-loving people, governments, and organizations in the world will stand in solidarity with the Kurdish people to foil any attempt by the Iraqi government to snatch away their precious freedom which, God only knows, they have sacrificed everything to attain. www.kurdistanobserver.com * MICHAEL RUBIN ON CONDITIONS IN IRAQI KURDISTAN by Michael Rubin (The New Republic) Kurdistan Observer, 13th June SULAYMANIYAH DISPATCH: The Azad pharmacy in Sulaymaniyah is stocked with medicines. So is the Shara pharmacy next door. In the cool early evening hours, the street bustles with shoppers, some of whom drift inside. They hand over prescriptions, pay the equivalent of a few cents, and walk out with antibiotics for their wives or medicine for their children. Down the street, shops sell watermelons, cheese, vegetables, and meat. Even the liquor stores have large inventories. Mazdas and Mercedeses are becoming more common on the newly paved roads; in the wealthier areas, it is not uncommon to see BMWs. Sony PlayStation has become the latest craze, even among housewives. None of which would be particularly noteworthy, except that Sulaymaniyah is in Iraq. For years Saddam Hussein has loudly complained that U.N. prohibitions on the sale of Iraqi oil, imposed when Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, are starving his people. To prove his point, Saddam has taken foreign reporters and diplomats on tours throughout greater Iraq, where the citizenry does indeed seem to be suffering mass deprivation. And his public relations campaign has borne fruit, eroding public support for sanctions in Europe and in the United States and contributing to the Bush administration's recent proposal to radically scale them back. But Sulaymaniyah, a city in northern Iraq with approximately 500,000 inhabitants, tells a different story. Indeed, across a crescent-shaped slice of northern Iraq, the picture is the same: The shops are stocked, and the people are eating. Northern Iraq lives under exactly the same international sanctions as the rest of the country. The difference here is that local Kurdish authorities, in conjunction with the United Nations, spend the money they get from the sale of oil. Everywhere else in Iraq, Saddam does. And when local authorities are determined to get food and medicine to their people--instead of, say, reselling these supplies to finance military spending and palace construction--the current sanctions regime works just fine. Or, to put it more bluntly, the United Nations isn't starving Saddam's people. Saddam is. You can see this starkly in a place like Dohuk, about 300 miles northwest of Sulaymaniyah, where a two-story supermarket has arisen from the ashes of an Iraqi Revolutionary Guards base. Shoppers enjoy hamburgers and ice cream in the cafe; elsewhere they buy frozen meat and choose among a wide variety of canned goods from Iran, Turkey, and Europe. Upstairs, shoppers can try on locally made, and even Italian designer, shoes and clothes. At checkout, cashiers swipe each item with infrared scanners. Northern Iraq has been independent of Saddam (and guarded by U.S. and British patrols) since the Kurdish uprising that followed the Gulf war in 1991. And, under the sanctions regime in place ever since, the north receives 13 percent of Baghdad's oil income and can use the money to finance U.N.-approved projects. Those projects are wide-ranging, and they have transformed northern Iraq. Where Saddam's Baath Party headquarters and political prison were once located, the University of Dohuk now sits. Other cities are building schools, sewage systems, and hospitals. The din of generators is a constant distraction, but it's also a sign of the Kurds' effective administration: Local authorities have built the generators because Baghdad has reneged on its oft-repeated promises to provide the north with adequate electricity. (Indeed, Saddam has gone so far as to deny visas to the U.N. contractors and specialists who are supposed to be building new power plants in the north.) Even rural areas share in the bounty. New schools and medical clinics grace small villages along rebuilt roads. Westerners may remember the mountainous Halabja region from photographs taken in 1988, during Saddam's infamous Anfal campaign, when the Iraqi regime gassed hundreds of Kurds there. Now Kurdish authorities are clearing the region of mines and introducing agricultural and reforesting programs--programs financed by oil-for food money. But the most striking proof that the sanctions themselves don't make Iraqis suffer lies in northern Iraq's public health statistics: Infant mortality in the region is actually lower than it was before the United Nations imposed sanctions in 1990. "When I was in primary school, we had to scrounge for food," one university student joked. "Now my mother complains if she can't find truffles in the market." It could be this way in southern Iraq, too. But incredibly, even as Saddam's regime milks its people's suffering for international sympathy, it sells food abroad that is earmarked for Iraqi citizens. According to the U.S. State Department, in October 1999 Allied patrols in the Persian Gulf stopped three ships that were carrying food out of Iraq. Near the Iranian border, I watched smugglers load sacks of rice and grain (and whiskey) for export. When you throw in the fact that per capita income in Iraq (approximately $1,000) remains higher than in Syria ($900) and Yemen ($270), where few people go hungry, it becomes clear that there's no reason why Iraqis should be suffering--particularly when Saddam's regime has found $2 billion to build palaces, and even an amusement park for party officials, since the sanctions began. Of course, you won't see these things on the official tour: Unlike the Kurds, who allowed me to travel freely on my own, Saddam's regime insists on carefully managing visits. This is not to say the sanctions don't affect citizens in the north at all. Although people have food, unemployment is high, and the economy remains weak. Whereas the Iraqi dinar was once worth three dollars, one dollar now buys 18 Iraqi dinars in the streets of northern Iraq. Still, this is far better than in the south, where undisciplined financial practices (such as printing new currency whenever Saddam needs to pay workers) have driven the dinar down to one-hundredth of its value in the north. In fact, in northern cities, most businesses and financial institutions will only accept older issues of the currency--which were minted in Britain rather than Baghdad. One old man jokes that the Iraqi currency used to picture three horses, but now, he says, pointing to Saddam's picture, it pictures just one horse's ass. Elsewhere in Iraq, the comment would get him a firing squad. Which brings me to the other great advantage of living in northern Iraq: freedom. While the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan administers Sulaymaniyah, and its rival, the Kurdistan Democratic Party, controls Irbil and Dohuk, the major cities are dotted with offices of other political parties--socialist, Communist, Islamist, Assyrian, and Turkoman. In the run-up to the May 26 municipal elections in Dohuk and Irbil, the banners and flyers of rival candidates and parties made the streets look like an American city in October. Many political parties print their own newspapers and operate their own TV stations. Students surf the Internet at northern Iraq's three universities and in the growing number of Internet cafes. In teahouses and restaurants, patrons tell stories of how they were imprisoned or tortured by Saddam's government. One man was thrown in prison when his seven-year-old child repeated his criticism of the government to a first-grade teacher. Others--the Kurdish and Turkoman former residents of the oil-rich city of Kirkuk--tell stories of how they fled north from Saddam's ethnic cleansing in the oil-rich areas. This winter, hundreds huddled in a tent city outside Sulaymaniyah nicknamed the "Spring of Satan" while northern authorities tried to find them houses; Saddam's government had ejected them, then seized their property and turned it over to functionaries of his ruling Baath Party. All of which helps explain why, despite the inconveniences, residents here don't want sanctions weakened--they want them strengthened. Indeed, when the Bush administration recently announced it was going to use "smart sanctions" to target the military--not Iraqi civilians--one farmer in a rural village asked rhetorically how the administration could talk about Saddam's war crimes one day and reward him the next. Didn't the United States care that Saddam started two wars and used gas against Iraq's non-Arab population? Then again, whatever doubts northern Iraqis have about American resolve, it's better than the sheer disdain they feel for the French and the Russians, who, they say, sacrifice freedom to win lucrative contracts from Saddam. "Surely they understand that we hate Saddam," says one northern Iraqi deputy minister. "Once he is gone, we won't forget that they wanted to help him." That attitude applies to military operations, too. Some in the north do criticize American bombing in the south, but only because they think it does not go far enough: They want a sustained military campaign to remove Saddam from power. People here also vigorously support the American- and British-enforced no-fly zones that protect the north's independence. People in Dohuk, just five minutes from Iraqi government lines, visibly relax when they hear Allied sorties flying overhead. They understand that the real menace to their well-being--and to that of their fellow Iraqis--isn't international pressure. It's the dictator to the south. MICHAEL RUBIN, a visiting fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, recently returned from nine months in Iraq, where he was a Carnegie Council fellow working at northern Iraq's universities. www.kurdistanobserver.com * WHY ARE THE KURDS LEAVING THEIR HOMELAND? by Rizgar Khoshnaw The Kurdistan Observer, 14th June I am often confronted with the question of: Why are the Kurds leaving Kurdistan in such large numbers and is it truly that miserable of life there? My answer to them is simple and to the point: For now and for most people, life in Kurdistan is not a life, it is merely an existence in its worse form. There are no jobs, poor health system, uncertainty of the future and most importantly, no electricity which is the heart of all societies. Kurds are leaving as fast as they can sell everything they own in order to pay for the costly, and I might add, dangerous trip out of Kurdistan. Many Kurds have taken huge risks by selling everything they own in order to attempt to venture out of the country. They hire an individual, from the black market Bazzar, to forge their traveling documents to take them to Europe; and once they arrive, if they arrive, they turn themselves in to the authorities to be taken as refugees. This is the common avenue for Kurds to take in order to make their way to a new and better life in another country. Almost every week there is another group of Kurds caught in a boat trying to make it to land, or on a border trying to cross. There many documented tragic incidents that has caused the lives of many Kurds, most often woman and children, during the smuggling operation. And yet with all of the high risk involved in this journey, the Kurds fleeing Kurdistan still think it is well worth it. The Kurds are in search of better opportunities for themselves as well as their childrenıs. In their new country they are hoping to find work, safety, send their children to school and live a normal and comfortable life, as all humans deserve. As we speak, we have over 50% unemployment, poor health system, out dated education materials, lack of motivation by the teachers and our school system is in dire need of overhauling. A teacher in Ankawa once told me that he found himself, against his better judgment, passing high school students for few Kurdish Dinars just to keep his family afloat with necessities. What will become of our education system if students are passing grades by ³passing² few Dinars to their teachers? It was only two months ago that I had a chance to interview few families living in an area that is no more that a quarter of a mile from the head quarters of United Nations offices in Ankawa. The living condition of these families, about 450 of them, is beyond imaginable. These families are living in all mud ³houses² from the ceiling to the floor and have no electricity or running water. Interviewing a resident of this community, Mr. Jamal Ismael, a city of Arbil employee with a salary of $15 a month, told me that has six children and was forced to have his two oldest sons quit school. They are ten and eleven years of age and yet they are over whelmed with the responsibilities of not only providing for themselves but their siblings as well. They work in the ³shoe shine trade² in the center of Arbil for over ten hours a day for a lousy few Iraqi Dinars a day. They all live in a one room mud ³house² without a single window in the house to let air inside, even if it is hot and polluted air! He invited me into his house to show me the depressing living conditions and asked me to see if I can get his message out to the appropriate people for assistance. When I asked if there are any UN projects that where in the works, they pointed toward a ditch a few yards away, in which there was a blue plastic hose about 1.5 inches in diameters and that was the new water connection to the whole area of 450 families. Just in the last phase, covering only six months, the money allocated from the oil-for-food for water projects was $161.09 million (for Kurdsitan) and for 450 families all that they got from this huge sum of money is few meters of a blue hose! It is possible, with great deal of effort that people can live without electricity and little water availability, but it is impossible to live without a good health care system. That, my dear friends, does not exist in Kurdistan. We are so far behind with medicine and well trained medical doctors in Kurdsitan, that people are being misdiagnosed and in turn are give the inappropriate medication which does not cure them and often has the reverse affect on the patient. For reasons such as these, people are loosing faith in the health system in Kurdistan. The Hospitals lack not only trained personnel, but medicine as well. The UN supposedly have spent/allocated over $200 Million in one year alone for the health system. Where is that money been spent when we only have few real hospitals, the rest are only clinics, in all of Kurdistan? Has the UN been honest with us? I seriously doubt that. In order to solve the very critical problem of Kurds leaving Kurdistan, we must try to build Kurdistanıs economy to a level that people can find work to support their families. This could be accomplished by the local authorities take more control of their resources and to work with the United Nationıs oil-for-food program in a form of a partnership rather than having the UN ³spoon feed² the Kurds. The money that is allocated to the Kurds, if it is spent honestly by the UN, could easily provide Kurdistan with very good living standards. www.kurdistanobserver.com * THE KURDS - GENUINE REFUGEES OR ECONOMIC MIGRANTS. by Dr Mahmoud Osman The Kurdistan Observer June 12, 2001 The refugee issue has been for a while at the top of the agenda for most EU countries. The recent developments and measures taken by the various European countries were been placed to tighten asylum laws and prevent asylum seekers from entering Europe. The pretext has been that the asylum seekers are economic migrants and hence, they do not fulfil the criteria given by the Geneva Convention of 1951. The Kurds are one of the main groups that were caught by these measures. Over the past few years, Kurds, especially the Iraqi ones who sought asylum in Europe, have been facing difficulties in accepting their asylum applications. The excuse for this is that the allies protect Iraqi Kurdistan and it is now a safe (country) and the Kurds do not have any reasons to leave. In this lecture, I will try to explain the difficulties that the Iraqi Kurds are facing in their homeland which is divided into two areas, one under Kurdish rule and the other under the control of Iraqi government. Like all other members of the human race, the Kurds in Iraq want to live in stability with certainty and faith in the future. The Kurds in the region are facing enormous difficulties and fears. They live in a continuous state of anxiety because of the uncertainty of their situation. These fears and anxieties are the real reasons for this influx of Kurds into Europe. I will attempt to highlight these difficulties and give an accurate picture of the reality of the situation. I will start with the Iraqi Kurds, who can be divided into two categories, those who live in the liberated areas of Kurdistan under the control of the KDP and the PUK, and those who live under the control of Saddamıs government in the areas of Kirkuk, Kanaqin, Zamar, Makhmour and some other regions. Iraqi Kurdistan, apart from the aforementioned areas that are under the control of the Iraqi government, has been liberated from the Iraqi governmentıs control since the end of the Gulf war in 1991, when the Safe Haven was established in most of the area and the Kurds were happy to get rid of the Baıth regime. At the time, expectations were that Kurds who fled Iraqi repression and sought refuge in Europe and other countries would go back to their homes in Kurdistan. In fact, the exact opposite took place. Those who never thought that they would leave their homeland, had to sell all their property and possessions and face many dangers to make their way to safer countries seeking a secure, stable and peaceful life for themselves and their families. The main reason for the influx is that the future is bleak for the Iraqi Kurds who do not know what is the future hiding for them. The ones who live in the liberated areas are being supplied with food and other humanitarian aid, as a result of the UN Security Council Resolution 986, and are being protected by the USA, UK and Turkey. There are no guarantees that this feeding and protection will continue and even if it did, it will be on humanitarian, not political, grounds. This as a result created a great deal of insecurity and uncertainty in the future for the people in different aspects. Politically: Saddam Hussein and his regime, who conducted the most brutal campaigns of genocide and ethnic cleansing against the Kurds, are still in power. The danger of him returning to the region with his oppression machine is still plausible and there is no guarantee that this will not take place. Initially, the Iraqi people thought that he would be removed by the war or the popular uprising which followed in 1991; but they were let down by the west, especially USA, when the Allies stopped the war short of toppling him and allowed him to fly his armed military helicopters and planes, in breach of the cease fire accord, to quash the uprising. After that, the allies, led by the USA, enforced the no-fly zones in the Kurdish region and later in the south and promised to protect the people from his oppression, which is taking place on the ground, not in the sky. Besides this, these no-fly zones proved to be ineffective whenever he wanted to attack. His attack on the city of Arbil in 1996 is still fresh in our memory. The people of Iraq need no-drive zones and not no-fly zones. Furthermore, this (Safe Haven) protection includes only two-thirds of Iraqi Kurdistan; one third of the Kurdish area is outside the no-fly zone and under the control of the Iraqi government. This area is undergoing a systematic campaign of Arabization, which is part of the governmentıs policy to change the ethnic, cultural and demographic nature of these areas by expelling the Kurds and Turkomans from their homes to the Kurdish-controlled areas and their homes and property are given to Arab families and army personnel who are loyal to the government. The expelled Kurds, who have lost everything, find it very difficult to settle in the Kurdish controlled areas. This is because of the high unemployment, the poor public services and the dependency of the region on the UNıs humanitarian aid programme, which has no special plans to guarantee housing, food and other necessary means for them. A sign of hope for the Iraqi people was the American and the British governmentıs strong stand on overthrowing the Iraqi regime and their promises for supporting the opposition to do so. But in reality, there were no practical measures to do so, despite the strong declarations against Saddam. In fact, a shadow of doubt is now cast over the seriousness of the American and British position on this issue and many Iraqis are starting to believe that USA and its allies want this regime to stay. In 1995, the US government sponsored a covert action for a plan to overthrow the Iraqi government. It was to be carried out by the Iraqi National Congress and the two main parties that are controlling Iraqi Kurdistan, the PUK and the KDP. 48 hours before the start of the plan, the Americans withdrew all their support and wanted the INC and the Kurds to face the consequences by themselves. That sudden withdrawal and the plan itself, which did not seem to be practical and applicable, threw more doubt on the Americanıs seriousness in ending this regime. More recently, the issue of the UN arms inspection teams has dominated the news and was at the heart of the dispute between the UN and the Iraqi government and it seemed as if the problem for Iraq is whether it possess weapons of mass destruction or not! Although destroying these weapons is an important step, but the regime does not always need weapons of mass destruction to persecute his defenceless people. Furthermore, this persecution has been continuous with the knowledge of the international community and it did not take any significant steps to stop it. In another respect, the anti-Saddam camp of the international community, led by the USA and Britain, is currently reviewing its policy towards Iraq. In light of the latest indications and other remarks by western officials, it seems that the outcome of this review is going to be in favour of Saddam; especially after the escalation of the Israeli-Arab conflict and the dramatic decrease of Saddamıs isolation in the Arab world; the Palestinian uprising and the Israeli use of force against it. All these events benefited Saddam greatly and made him popular in the Arab and Islamic world. The essence of the new policy seems to be revolving around two conditions, Iraqıs threat to its neighbours, especially the Arab ones and its possession of weapons of mass destruction. The safety and security of the Iraqi people does not seem, to be on the agenda, and Saddamıs regime has a free hand to continue persecuting the people as it wants without being afraid of any international consequences or punishment. In light of this American policy review, and lobbying support in order to be back to the seen, Saddam is playing his cards in a cunning way. He is building strong trade ties with some regional and international countries like Turkey, Egypt, Syria, Jordan, France and Russia. He is also trying to create a lobby of people in different countries including the USA and the UK to support his plans. These people seem to be either naïve, or wanting to help Saddam, regardless of his threats to the Iraqi people and the others, in return for benefits from Baghdad. On the other hand, the Kurdish area, or the Safe Haven, itself is not very stable. People are caught between the fear of Saddamıs return and the unstable internal situation; especially the KDP-PUK conflict that divided the region into two areas and created a situation that allowed neighbouring countries to carry out military incursions into the region. The division has also created an atmosphere of violence that allowed violations of human rights to go unpunished or unaccounted for. It also placed clear limits on the freedom of expression. In addition to this, the Iraqi regimeıs agents are still able to infiltrate into the areas and carry out acts of sabotage to destabilise the situation. Economically: Since the Gulf War, Iraq, including the Safe Haven, has been under UN sanctions. The Kurdish region was also put under a blockade by Saddamıs regime. As a result, the Kurds were living under severe economic hardship, which would have been much worse had the oil for-food programme not been implemented. After the implementation of UN Security Councilıs Resolution 986, or what is known as the oil-for-food programme, and the allocation of 13 per cent of oil revenue to the Kurdish region, the situation of the people has improved. Food rations are given to them and also some service projects are being implemented. However, this programme does not provide an adequate solution for the problems. It is not making use of local resource that are available in the region in order to encourage people to be economically productive. As a result, record scores of unemployment are observed in the Kurdish region. In addition, the UNıs work is dependent on Baghdadıs approval. In other words, the life of an Iraqi Kurd in the Kurdish-controlled region is dependent on two temporal things; the US and British protection and the oil-for-food programme, both of which could be revoked. In light of the British and American policy review on Iraq, and the continuous Arab, Islamic and international pressure to lift sanctions, the Kurds are not excluding the possibility of Saddamıs return and the cutting of those two lifelines despite the USAıs promises that they will continue. Putting oneself in the position of an Iraqi Kurd, one can understand their anxiety and reasons for leaving their homeland and seeking a new life in the safety and security of a different country, where they could work, study and even help his needy family back home. Although we are talking about Iraqi Kurdistan, the Kurds in Iran and Turkey are denied their basic rights too. Even in Syria Kurds have no constitutional rights. In all those countries Kurds are either not recognized at all like Turkey, or discriminated against like Iran, and in general there are treated as second-class citizens. Some people might argue that the Kurds are economic migrants, I say to those: each Kurd raises an average of 10 to 12 thousand dollars to flee his country, this large sum of money is capable of providing a good lifestyle in Kurdistan, had there been security, stability and certainty of future. Furthermore, they would not be prepared to take all the risks while they go to Europe as we have seen when hundreds were drowned, suffocated in trucks or died in other ways. Even the two ruling parties in Iraqi Kurdistan, KDP and PUK, are now reconsidering their positions on the refugee issue, after saying previously that refugees could go back to their areas, by asking the European countries to be flexible in dealing with those asylum seekers. This comes after the severe criticism they faced, even by their own members. It was often said that if their areas are secure and prosperous, why do not they first take back their own families and members of their parties. This change in the partiesı policy is evident from the conclusions reached by the various committees, formed on this issue in the two areas, in saying that there are political, economical and social problems behind this mass migration and they have to be solved. In addition to that, the division of the Kurdish area ruled by KDP and PUK must end and a united administration must be formed in a way that guarantees lasting peace and stability in Kurdistan. The generous 1951 refugee convention, which was a mile stone in the international protection of refugees was drawn up by a Europe that was suffering from the aftermath of a brutal war and had witnessed the crime of a genocide against the Jews, and the other crimes committed against other people in the world. The two elements that, in my opinion, were the main incentive for drafting that convention are present today in the case of the Kurds who are escaping genocide and a war in which all forms of weapons were used and many crimes were committed against them. In order to tackle the refugee issue, the European policy makers have to take one of two options, they can either tackle the problem form the root and solve the Kurdish issue in the Middle East in a way that guarantees the Kurdsı safety and security; or expect many more ships of refugees and they will have to treat them in a better way. I am certain that if they lived under the circumstances and felt the plight of the Kurds, they would be very lenient and understanding towards them. An international, or at least a European, conference on the Kurds is needed to solve the problem. When refugee ships arrive, this demand is usually asked for by the countries concerned as was the case in Italy and France, but after a while when the ships stop coming, its no more talked about and this demand unfortunately fades away. In conclusion, I would say that if the Kurds were willing to give up their homeland sell all their property and take all the risks that face them on their way to Europe they must have a ³well-founded fear of persecution². This lecture was given in a conference at London University on asylum seekers earlier this year. www.kurdistanobserver.com * SOUTHERN IRAQIS LIKELY TO LOSE OUT by Muhammad Athar Lila Kurdistan Observer (from the Toronto Star), Jun. 13, 2001 Last month, more than 4 million Muslims converged in the southern Iraqi town of Karbala to commemorate the life of al-Husayn, a man of principle, a man known and respected by more than 1.2 billion Muslims worldwide. What was remarkable about the event was not the attendance, or that it occurred despite the U.N. sanctions. What was most remarkable - and sad - is that it came and went without so much as a whisper in the Western media. Perhaps it was because objective news reports aren't readily available from Iraq. Perhaps the media gurus don't think events in southern Iraq are newsworthy. Or perhaps, as many Muslims believe, the Western media have an anti-Islam bias. Many Western writers and academics talk about the "devastating" effect of the sanctions, but few have actually been to Iraq to see the conditions for themselves. Baghdad does not look like a city that has been living through a decade of sanctions. Within two years of Operation Desert Storm, the city had been rebuilt. Today, the city is a mix of neo-colonialism, Eastern folklore, and old-fashioned Iraqi resilience. The city is clean, the roads are paved, food is in abundance, and merchants bartering in Western goods are everywhere. There are even cellphones, luxury cars and Internet caf*s. But travelling to southern Iraq is like travelling back in time. Anywhere south of the no-fly zone, the buildings are decrepit, the water is repugnant, and essential government services like sanitation and health care are virtually non-existent. In some extreme cases, the streets are even lined with sewage. A typical diet consists of tea and lentils, and if one is fortunate, perhaps some rice. With a basic per capita income of less than $5 (U.S.) per month, most southern Iraqis lack the basic means to support themselves. The greatest tragedy for many is the loss of their dignity. With inflated food prices and insufficient income, many southern Iraqis have had no choice but to work for the government, enlist in the army, or in the worst cases, become informants. Nowhere in the world can you see such an odd plethora of soldiers, civil servants, undercover agents and government-appointed clerics. The sanctions are not crippling the entire country, as some pundits would have us believe. While the sanctions and the oil-for-food monitoring committees regulate which goods can enter Iraq, the U.N. has little power to control distribution. This allows Iraqi President Saddam Hussein a free hand to ensure that the brunt of the sanctions is felt only in the south. Many who argue for the lifting of the sanctions don't realize that lifting them is only the first step. This is why the current debate over the efficacy of "smart sanctions" is so misleading. While smart sanctions will allow "civilian-use" items into the country, they will not be directed to where they are needed most. The bulk of the goods will be consumed by Baghdad, and, as usual, the south will be left to pick up the crumbs. But then again, the southern Iraqis are no strangers to adversity. Living under sanctions is difficult, but living under Saddam is a nightmare. When Saddam came to power, he undertook a series of measures to cripple the south. In 1980, fearing a revolt, he had a number of prominent clerics killed. He shut down the millennia-old religious seminaries in Najaf. Dissidents were tortured or killed. So were their families and anyone associated with them. In the mid-1980s, the``Butcher of Baghdad'' built a series of dams throughout the marsh regions near Tigris and Euphrates. For more than 3,000 years, southern Iraqis had relied upon these marshes for agriculture, transportation and income. But with the marshes drained, the ancient lifestyle of marsh Arabs was destroyed. Those who didn't starve to death were forced to relocate, and thousands became vagabonds. In light of such hardships, it is no surprise that the southern Iraqis have such a close attachment to al-Husayn. As one of the two grandsons of the Prophet Muhammad, al-Husayn holds a special status in Islam. By A.D. 670, barely 40 years after the death of the Prophet, the Islamic world (which already spanned from North Africa to parts of Indo-China) found itself governed by the Umayyads. The regime was callous and those who protested were often killed or exiled. In 681, al-Husayn risked his life by declaring his opposition to the regime. His opposition was short-lived. On a trek through the deserts of Karbala, al-Husayn and a small group of friends and family members were intercepted by Umayyad troops. After a three-day standoff, he and his partisans - including women, infants and the elderly - were massacred. The overwhelming consensus among Muslims is that al-Husayn dedicated himself to a just cause and that ultimately, he gave his life for it. Both Sunnis and Shi'ites have come to revere him not only for his martyrdom, but also for his upright character and refusal to succumb to an oppressive authority. He has a special place in the hearts of the southern Iraqis, who have been living under the shadow of oppression. So while the world's leaders fine-tune their latest scheme to keep Iraq at bay, the southern Iraqis will do what they have always done: They will continue to visit the mausoleum of al Husayn, and remind themselves of his epic, waiting for someone of his calibre to rise and lift them from the yoke of oppression. Muhammad Athar Lila is a member of The Star's community editorial board, and just returned from a tour of the Middle East. -- ----------------------------------------------------------------------- This is a discussion list run by the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq For removal from list, email firstname.lastname@example.org Full details of CASI's various lists can be found on the CASI website: http://www.casi.org.uk