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Kurdish Supplement, 10-16/6/01


A selection of news items and articles from the Kurdish Observer


*  Kurds Prepare For Changed Political Scene In Iraq [reference to moves
towards a rapprochement with Baghdad: Œthe 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 [Œnew 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]


*  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: ŒIt 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: ŒWhile
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


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.

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.

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

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


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

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

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

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.

 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.

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

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

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.


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

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.


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

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

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.

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

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

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

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

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.

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