Good afternoon Ladies and Gentlemen. I would like to thank the Minister of Culture and the Kurdish Institute of Paris for giving me the opportunity to speak with you here today. Before we get too far along, I need to start off with a disclaimer. Many of my friends who know me here from Hawler will have recalled seeing me in uniform from my days in the military or later with CPA. I want to clearly state though that I am not here today as a representative of the US government. As you can see I am dressed in civilian clothes and I am here in that capacity. Those things which I will say are my own opinions formed from my own observations and during the course of the work that I am currently doing with the Kurdistan Regional Government.
I have been asked to talk today on security. Specifically, I will address security issues in Iraqi Kurdistan as well as the role of the Coalition in Iraqi Kurdistan’s security. I will begin with the discussion of security issues in Iraqi Kurdistan. My assessment is based on my living for 2.5 years in Kurdistan as well as the very close advisory and assessment relationship I have with the police and other security forces. Naturally my views are from the perspective of an American. I have divided this portion of my presentation into four categories. You may not think that some of the topics I will discuss have much to do with security, but I would submit that they all have a bearing on public safety. I will also not discuss any suggested solutions during this initial portion, as I will first present observations and then discuss some potential ideas for these problems.
The first of the four security categories is traffic safety. Now you would probably believe that traffic safety is not so much a pure security issue, but in my belief it is probably the most significant public safety issue in the region today. As an example, there were eighteen accident fatalities in the metropolitan Erbil area over the three day period of the Feast. If you were to extrapolate that over the course of an entire year, you would have over 1,000 accident fatalities in the greater Erbil city area alone. Certainly, that figure is far too high for an area of this size and population. What are the things that cause these traffic safety problems? Well it’s a number of things, to include: the condition of roadways; signage and markings along the road; the condition of vehicles – and I think we’ve all seen extreme examples of that, such as cars with no lights, or windows, or doors – driver training and the skill of drivers; and, the basic enforcement of the traffic laws.
The second category of security issues is defined by me as anti-social behavior. I include in this your basic street crime which is most often motivated by greed, lust, hostility and anger, or some combination thereof. As some examples, I would include in this category: burglaries and thefts; robberies; car theft; and, assaults by strangers.
I define the third category of security issue by the name that has been given to me by some who I work with from within the police, and that is: social issues. You could further classify these types of incidents as matters relating to honor. These incidents are usually related to family or domestic issues and quite often there is some type of involvement with women. These types of issues are also a very common motivator in violent crime to include assaults, murders, suicides and attempted suicides. I can give you an example of how pervasive these problems are by giving you the background on some recent arrests I am aware of. I was visiting one of the police stations within the city limits of Erbil, and on the day I was there, there were three men in the police station’s lock-up. I asked the staff why the men were in
custody. I was told that one of the men was arrested because he had been taking pictures of women with his mobile phone while walking around in the market. The second guy had been arrested for assaulting another guy over some dispute regarding that guy’s sister. I was told the third man had been arrested for assaulting a woman. When they told me that I thought, “oh no, this guy has raped or in some other way molested some poor girl.” So I then asked exactly what the man had done. The police told me that he apparently had some affectionate feelings for a girl and the feelings were apparently mutual. The man wanted to talk to the girl, so he climbed up onto the wall around her house. The girl’s mother saw the man on the wall, so she called the police, who came and arrested the man. So this man’s “assault” of the girl had amounted to him perhaps trespassing by climbing onto the wall to say hello to a girl he liked and who liked him. Also present at the station was the girl’s mother who had summoned a mullah to the police station. She had agreed that if the man would marry her daughter that she would drop the charges against him. And thus, the condition of security problems related to “social issues.”
The fourth category of security issue is the one that most people are probably most concerned about because it is the most sensational, and that would be terrorism. For terrorism here in Kurdistan, we are speaking purely about that terrorism which is linked to or motivated by Islamic extremism. Now when I say that, I am not passing an indictment on Islam, but am purely making a statement of fact. I say this in the context of knowing that the world sees many types and causes for terror. As an example, in the United States we have one terrorist group in particular that causes millions of dollars in property damage every year. They are called the Animal Liberation Front. They conduct terror by breaking into buildings that do medical testing on animals, by breaking into circuses and other similar places and causing great destruction. They are a terrorist group because of the way they operate. That’s in America. But here terror comes in the form of Islamic extremism.
Terror here is usually done in the name of Islam, but quite often the real motivating factors is power via fear and intimidation. That is, the terrorists essentially want to create what amounts to a form of dictatorship. I saw the impact of this attempt to establish absolute power in the village of Biyara in what had been part of the Ansar al Islam stronghold east of Sulaymani. I went into the village not long after we had bombed it and driven the terrorists out. People had started to return to the village, but there was a sense of gloom hanging over the whole village. You could almost feel this dark cloud hanging over everything. This was the residual effect of what Ansar al Islam had done in the village. They had closed all the schools and ordered certain shops closed. They had instituted a Taliban-like lifestyle among the people, and all who did not practice it were driven out as refugees. They had gone so far as to desecrate the mosque. Purely, their motives were power to establish the way of life they wanted to live over everyone they could bring under their control. I later went back to the village several months later, after we had begun a reconstruction campaign there, and displaced people had begun to return. There was a new sense of life to the place, almost as if the clouds had broken and the sun was shining in. Shops were open and school repairs were well under way. People moved about the streets with signs of happiness and sounds of music could be heard coming from stores and homes. A new feeling of life existed in the place.
Another example of this power via fear and intimidation are the actions of those figures such as what we saw with the Sheikh Zana group. This was the terrorist group that was captured last summer after some of the terrorist acts that were committed here in Hawler. When they were captured, a number of CDs and videos and other incriminating evidence were captured with them. Anyone who saw those images on KTV would be able to immediately recognize that although Islam was used as a motivating factor and perhaps a recruiting tool with the group, the acts they carried out had nothing to do with religion. The brutal acts of murder they perpetrated on purely random and innocent people were done for sporting fun. And the acts of homosexual sex and multi-partner heterosexual sex were done to satisfy their basest desires of lust. There is nothing pure or noble in any of these kinds of actions. But these are the lies they would have their followers and supporters believe.
In Kurdistan, the terrorist groups ostensibly target the local leadership and security forces because of their links to the west and their avowed secular views. In targeting these individuals and groups though, they make no distinction for and do not care in the least about collateral damage. The terrorists preferred target – the Coalition Forces – are not as plentiful or accessible here in Kurdistan as in other parts of Iraq, so this is why they have not been targeted as often or effectively.
I have discussed what the four categories of security issues in Kurdistan are, as well as some of the factors that cause and affect these issues. What I’d like to do now is to discuss some of the steps that can be taken about these problems. And as is appropriate for this panel, we find that democracy ties into the solution for these problems or that at least democracy can be a mitigating influence to the severity of these problems. In discussing some of these potential solutions, I will draw on the example of our democratic values that we hold in the West.
First I will address the responsibilities of a citizen in a democracy. These include: not being a burden to the State, that is, each citizen is one cooperative cog of many cogs within the workings of the community so that people work and live together in harmony; obey the law; respect your fellow citizens; know what is right and what is wrong and practice it. Let me give you some examples. I think most people who have driven here in Kurdistan or anywhere in Iraq for that matter, have all seen the person driving down the street, especially when making a turn or merging into traffic, and they act like they are driving with blinders on their head. That is they act like they are the only car on the road with no attention to or respect for others and no consciousness of the traffic laws. Here’s another example. You’re walking down the street and see a bicycle propped up against a wall outside of a business and no one is around. The bike was obviously left there by someone and it is normal that they should be expected to return for the bike. Out of respect for that person’s property and because it’s the right thing to do, you leave it there without touching the bike. Next, I’ll discuss performance of one’s duties by public servants. By public servant, I mean anyone who is employed in anyway by the government, whether that is school teachers, policemen, municipal workers, or any other type of official employee. As a public servant you need to do your job because it is your responsibility and that is what is expected of you. You should not be motivated by the fact of whether or not someone is looking over your shoulder. You should also not be motivated by someone paying you off, or because some person is related to this guy, or knows that guy. Again, it is a matter of doing what is right and abiding by the law, or your contract, or whatever other guidelines you are expected to follow.
Related to the performance of one’s duty is a necessity to stay ahead of the trends of technology and development. This is particularly important for technical fields as well as for law enforcement in their investigation of anti-social behavior such as theft, fraud, and other types of property crime. This is because these sorts of crime will only get more complex as more “progress” is introduced to Kurdistan. The bad guys will keep up with advancements – both criminals and terrorists – so it is important for the good guys to do as well.
Third is respect for the rights of others regardless of their ethnicity, religion, sex, social status, party, tribe, or any other factor which differentiates someone as being unique in some way. All must be equal before the law in fact and in practice. This issue is most directly related to the status of women. It is no secret that women are not treated equally in this society. Progress has been made, but there is certainly a long way to go. Further strides can be made on this problem by developing greater trust within the family. Greater trust within the family will do much to end what is in essence at the moment a family dictatorship. This trust can be built by solidly teaching right and wrong within the family and then having faith that the right course will be taken by the family’s young people. Also important in this education within the family is teaching socialization skills so that young men and women understand behavior that is appropriate and inappropriate. And one of the most important aspects of the respect for the rights of others is respect for the privacy of others. The attitude that is decent and fair ought to be, “if I’m not breaking the law, it’s none of your business that I own two cars; just as it’s none of my business that you’re wearing a pink T-shirt.” A thorough understanding and acceptance of respect for others will pay tremendous dividends in stamping out crime related to social issues and will also weaken terror recruiting dogma because of increased tolerance for others.
The final element in combating some of these security issues is to allow for the participation of all citizens in the functions of society as their abilities and desires warrant. This includes job selection, education opportunities, land ownership, and the ability to share in the opportunity for upward growth. Successfully attending to this issue will make a huge impact on the ability of terrorists to recruit as well as take away the motivation for some engaged in anti-social behavior. Specifically, do not force people into the outside of the social norms by creation of exclusive groups. Making special classes of people, forcing people into types of ghettos and taking other steps to marginalize individuals or groups will make them look elsewhere to solve their problems, or to be included within another group; and we may not like the choices they make when looking elsewhere for support. Key in this concept is having open economic and job opportunities. If people are able to take care of their basic needs and care for their families with food, shelter and other basic comforts, they are not forced into desperation to look for other alternatives. At the same time, when resources are available, steps need to be taken to allow people to live a life that is better than at the basic sustenance level. In this way they can share in the benefits of state wealth. I think the best way to sum up this notion is by referring to that expression from the American Declaration of Independence, which states that everyone has the right to, “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” In striving for this goal, it is up to each person’s means, their desire and their ability to adapt. I’d like to conclude this portion with an example of how anyone can succeed with hard work, skill and some luck, and I call this the Colin Powell example. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell was born of immigrant Jamaican parents and was raised in a working class family living in a working class neighborhood of Harlem, New York City. He attended public schools and through his hard work there, gained entrance to New York University. After graduation, he entered the military as a Lieutenant, and ended up rising – as a black man – to be the nation’s senior military officer, and later serve as the man responsible for the country’s foreign affairs. All of this from humble beginnings.
Finally, I will discuss with you the role of the Coalition in the security of Kurdistan. Of course, members of the Coalition have been involved with security for sometime here, as American and British pilots patrolled the no fly zone over Kurdistan and before that, a multi-national relief effort provided security and relief in response to the humanitarian crisis after the Uprising of 1991.
At the moment though in Kurdistan, there is not much of a role for the Coalition in providing security. The main missions currently of the Coalition are in providing training and equipment to the Region’s security forces – which mainly involves the police and the Iraqi Army battalions previously referred to as the Iraqi National Guard – as well as to reconstruction and development. There is no doubt that assistance is needed by the Kurdish security forces. These forces have excellent human skills, but they require training in modern techniques and equipment of all sorts. This is because most of what they have achieved since the Uprising has been obtained completely from the resources of the KRG or the parties. So in this regard, the Coalition is now providing assistance in the form of training and equipment though much more is needed and should be provided, especially to maintain parity with the levels of assistance being provided in other parts of Iraq. Another benefit that is obtained by a Coalition presence in Kurdistan is the establishment of a visible trip wire to external influences. The presence of the Coalition should make any antagonist – whatever the source – think twice before overtly attempting to interfere in the activities of the Kurdistan Region.
In addition to the current role of the Coalition in security in Kurdistan, there has also been much debate recently – particularly in the United States – about a draw down or pullout of Coalition forces from Iraq. So now, I’d like to discuss the consequences of a US near term pullout. Here I am saying US, because it should be clear that where the US goes, the Coalition will go as well. First, it is not likely that we will see a complete pullout for at least three years. I am basing that assessment on the fact that the Bush administration has three years remaining in its term and the President has committed US foreign policy to this effort. Furthermore he has established a track record of staying on course to things he has committed America toward. Naturally, we all know, however, that Mr. Bush is a politician. Politics are fickle and as such, we should always keep in mind that although Mr. Bush has made a commitment to Iraq and Kurdistan, that a drastic change in political landscape, or some other pressing event relating to US security could cause him to change course. For this reason, the leadership and people of Kurdistan have much work to do in the course of the next three years to make the compelling arguments to American leadership and to Americans for why the future of Kurdistan must logically be tied to the future of US policy in the Middle East. I also want to emphasize that any draw down of US forces that you see will almost assuredly be a phased draw down. In fact, our recent military experience has shown that to be our operational model. For example, we went into Bosnia in 1995 with a force of 20,000 US soldiers who were part of a 60,000 strong NATO force. Today, there are less than 200 Americans there.
In Kurdistan, the impact of a Coalition withdrawal would not be overtly and immediately apparent except for not being able to see any US or Korean soldiers here. The consequences would be important, but more subtle. First, the obvious American trip wire to external influences would be gone. This could be an invitation to those actors to attempt to take a more direct and active role into the internal workings of Kurdistan. Secondly, the training, equipping and reconstruction source would be gone. This would slow the development of Kurdistan’s security forces, but would not stop their development. Finally, the ability to continue to build stronger relations with America and the west would be made more difficult.
In the rest of Iraq the consequences to a near term Coalition withdrawal would be more severe and more immediate. Some of the consequences would include: an inability of the security forces to properly mature and develop to conduct and sustain their own operations due to the loss of US mentoring and support; a related inability of government institutions to mature in a transparent and democratic fashion due to the loss of Coalition mentoring and related poor security; potential chaotic situation as assorted power brokers attempt to rise to the top in the absence of strong leadership; and, a strategic victory for the terrorists as they would achieve one of their stated goals of driving the Coalition out of Iraq. The bottom line is this: the Coalition broke key government institutions with the removal of the Saddam/Ba’ath Regime. Now those institutions need to be set right on a solid foundation for the country to be able to function and for the Coalition to be able to leave in good conscience.
I thank you for your attention, and again it was an honor to be able to speak with you today.