The crisis, provoked b the passing of a law regarding the status of Kirkuk, which was attacked by the Kurds, has not calmed down, despite the parliamentary recess and the fact that the Presidential Council finally vetoed it. Not only has the tone sharpened as between Baghdad, Irbil and Kirkuk but tensions, that hitherto had been limited to only one of the Kurdish areas detached from it by the previous regime, have now extended Diyala following the government’s decision to replace the Peshmergas, who have, hitherto, been ensuring its security, by Iraqi troops.
At the beginning of the month, just after the announcement that 26 Kurdish members of the Kirkuk Provincial Council (which has 41 seats) had officially called for the province to be included in the Kurdistan Region, Ali al-Dabbagh, the Iraqi Government spokesman, let it be known its opposition to “any unilateral gesture” aimed at changing the region’s status. “The Iraqi Government calls on all groups and parties of Kirkuk Province to calm down and abstain from any measures that would lead to an escalation which would harm national unity. The Iraqi Government categorically rejects any unilateral measure to change the status of Kirkuk”. Ali al-Dabbagh added that the government would respond firmly to “any abuse or threat to security by any armed group”.
Meanwhile the Iraqi Parliament held an extraordinary session to resolve the headache the election law had created over Kirkuk by deciding, in advance of any elections, the ethnic distribution of seats and sharing of power between the Kurds, Arabs and Turcomen — regardless of whatever the population distribution in the population really was. Indeed, his conflict is blocking the holding of elections throughout Iraq. Despite US insistence, it seems less and less certain that they will take place next October as the quarrel spreads throughout the country.
However, on 4 August, Mahmud Othman, an influential member of the Kurdish Alliance in Parliament, announced that the Iraqi and Kurdish political parties were on the point of reaching an agreement on the electoral law as the President of the Kurdistan Region had just met the principal Arab political leaders in Baghdad together with Staffan de Mistura, UN Representative in Iraq and the US Ambassador Ryan Crocker. Mr. de Mistura is himself the author of a controversial report on the question of the territories claimed by the Kurds. In a statement to AFP, Mahmud Othman made the point that amendments would be made to Article 24, adopted last July and that the Kirkuk elections could be postponed for six months. Meanwhile a Parliamentary Commission could be formed specially to give a verdict on the province’s status. This Commission would then submit its report to both the Irbil and Central governments and to the two Parliaments.
This agreement did not prevent the Kurdish President from making a scathing attack on the abortive Bill at a press conference 0n 5 August, even describing it as a “conspiracy”: “It is clear to us that the events of 22 July were a major conspiracy and represented a great danger to the democratic and constitutional process for Iraq and, especially, for the Kurds”. Mr. Barzani also repeated the Kurdish stand on the power sharing in Kirkuk — namely that it should be decided on the basis of the election results and not by carving it up into three equal portions (Arab, Kurdish and Turcoman) regardless of the real size of each of these communities.
Massud Barzani’s accusation that this law represented a “conspiracy” was taken up an spelt out by Mahmud Othman, who openly accused Turkey of seeking to reduce Kurdish political influence in Iraq, describing it as the principal instigator of the law: “Turkey manoeuvred to get an anti-Kurdish Bill passed in Parliament. It was behind the adoption of Article 24 of the Election Bill because it is trying, by every means, to reduce the gains the Kurds have won by the overthrow of Saddam Hussein”. The Kurdish M.P. also criticised the “negative role” of the United States that, in his view, gave Turkey a free hand in this issue over Article 24. He also revealed the pressure exerted by the British Government to make the Kurds give way to the Turcoman and Arab demands.
In the end, it was not just a six-month postponement that the UN proposed for the poll but a whole year, as Mahmud Othman announced — again speaking in the name of the Kurdish Alliance. “WE have accepted the five-point UN project that essentially consists of postponing the elections in Kirkuk at least as until December 2009 so as to let the discussions to settle the issues regarding this province to continue for a year”. He also pointed out that UNO wished to maintain the existing Council in being meanwhile — thus with the existing Kurdish majority and “to carry out an examination of this province’s demographic composition”. This means that, if this really does take place, that the programme provided for by Article 140 of the Constitution will be fulfilled, at least in part, since this Article had provided for a census of the population of Kirkuk before holding a referendum.
According to Khaled al-Attiya, Deputy Speaker of the Iraqi Parliament, those in favour of the UN proposals were the Shiites of the Supreme Islamic Council in Iraq (SICI), those of al- Dawa party, the Sunni Arabs of the Islamic Party and of the Concord Front. Those against were the Shiite supporters of Moqtada al-Sadr, the Sunni Arabs of the Iraqi Front for National Dialogue and the Turcoman Members of Parliament who, for their part wished for the elections to be postponed beyond 2009. This opposition succeeded, once again, in scuppering the election law, despite the insistence by Khaled al-Attiya that an agreement be reached to enable the elections to take place this year. However Fawzi Akram, a Turcoman M.P. who is a supporter of al-Sadr, spoke of a “red line” regarding the disputed province, rejecting any postponement of the elections in Kirkuk.
However, quite apart from the electoral issue, the UN and its representative in Iraq are still working on a solution for all the disputed areas in Iraq, not just Kirkuk. “We will propose, some time between September and October, some options for a global agreement about the disputed areas. This will, of course, include Kirkuk, which is the hottest problem in Iraq at this time”, stated Steffan de Mistura. “I hope that towards October the options we will be proposing will be taken into account, in a constructive manner, by all the parties concerned and that a compromise will be found to provide a fair and peaceful solution to Kirkuk”.
At the time that his first report was published, with its proposed solutions, the Kurds had sharply criticised the way the UN representative overlooked Article 140 and the referendum it proposed. This time, Steffan de Mistura seems to want to stave off Kurdish criticisms in advance by pointing out that they did not exclude such an electoral process following the proposed plan: “This formula could then be confirmed by a referendum”. The UN proposals will cover some 30 or 40 parts of Iraq, although, according to de Mistura, only 12 districts present any real problem. The report he had made in June covered the areas of Akre, Hamdaniya and Mahmur in Nineveh, and Mandali in Diyali. By the autumn, the UN representative stated, his proposals for Sinjar, Tell Afar, Tulkay and Shaikhan (Nineveh Province), of Kifri (Suleimaniah Province), of Khanaqin (Diyala) and Tuz (Salaheddin) will be submitted to the Iraqi Presidential Council.
While all this was happening, the President of the Kurdistan region visited Kirkuk for the first time since his election. In the speech he made there, he reaffirmed the “Kurdish character” of the city, while wishing to “convey a message of peace to Kirkuk, which is a city that is part of Kurdistan and of Iraq”. This visit was boycotted by the representatives of the Turcoman Front (the party backed by Ankara) and those of the United Arab Block. However, Mr. Barzani challenger these two groups the right to speak in the name of all Kirkuk’s Arabs and Turcomen: “I invited the public figures who do not agree with us to this meeting but they have not come. In any case, they do not represent all the city’s Arabs and Turcomen — when they are ready for dialogue, shall we be as well”.
On the referendum issue, which has also been postponed sine die since December 2007, he repeated his commitment to the observance of Article 140, the only viable solution in his view: “All the elements that make up this city have to live together, because the time is past when the strong could crush the weak. I have come here to dispel fear and clear the air between the different components”. The president added that the fact of affirming that Kirkuk was part of Kurdistan did not mean that it was not an Iraqi region. Thus he denied he had any separatist aims and he was frequently accused by Arab politicians — as well as the Ankara government.
Nevertheless, it is now clear that the elections cannot be held in October as originally planned. According to the head of the Election Commission, the latest date possible for passing the election law to meet this deadline is mid-September: “If the Bill is passed on the 9th or 10th September, the elections could take place on 22 December”, he explained to the Reuters news agency. “If later then we could try for 31 December”.
Zeinab Bayzeydi, a Kurdish feminist activist, already sentenced to four years imprisonment, has had her sentence confirmed on appeal, as well as the “internal exile” that obliges her to serve her sentence outside her native province, Western Azerbaijan.
This Kurdish activist had taken part in the “A million signatures” campaign, launched in June 2006 to demand the repeal of laws that discriminated against women and equality of rights on family issues, such as marriage, divorce, inheritance and child custody.
Arrested at the same time as Zeinab Bayzeydi, Hana Abdi had already been sentenced to five years in June and a third woman, Ronak Safazadeh is still awaiting trial. At the beginning of the month, the French Presidency of the European Union condemned their arrest and their detention.
Judicial pressure is unrelenting against Kurdish Human Rights activists, journalists and Trade Unionists. On 25 August, two students were sentenced to two years jail for “propaganda against the Islamic authority and for taking part in illegal gatherings”. Sabah Nasri and Hedayat Ghazali, who were students in Teheran, have been detained for the last fourteen months and this period will be deducted from their sentence. Their lawyer, Saleh Nikbakht, told the daily paper Kargozaran that he would appeal against this verdict.
Trade Unionists are also targeted by the authorities. The International Alliance to Support Workers in Iran (IASWII) has published a list of labour rights and Trade Union activists, who have recently been imprisoned and sentenced for their activities. Amongst these are several Kurds from Sanandaj, the provincial capital of Iranian Kurdistan, who have been sentenced to imprisonment and whipping for having taken part in the 1st May demonstrations in that town. Thus Sousan Razani, 36 years of age, received a sentence of 9 months jail and 70 strokes of the whip, Shiva Kheirabadi, 25 years old, 4 months jail and 15 strokes of the whip, Seyed Qaleb Hosseini 46 years old, 6 months and 50 strokes of the whip and Abdullah Khani, 49 years old, was sentenced to 91 days jail and 30 strokes, suspended for 2 years. All were sentenced on charges of “disturbing public order and illegal assembly in front of the Social Security building.
Last month Amnesty International, in its report, had severely criticised the discrimination and repression to which the Kurds of Iran are especially subjected. This month it is the European Union that has published a report on behalf of these Kurds and, especially of the five sentenced to death and awaiting execution. The French presidency of the European Union has said that it was “deeply concerned by the attacks carried out by the Iranian authorities against the rights of certain of their citizens from the Iranian province of Kurdistan. It was with considerable concern that the European Union learnt of the death sentences passed on Messrs. Farzad Kamangar, Farhad Vakili, Ali Heidarian and Hivar Botimar and Anvar Hosein Panohi, members of Kurdish minority. The European Union once again urges to put an end to the death sentence and to executions.
While the parliamentary crisis round the issue of future Iraqi elections was at its height, there was another clash between the Irbil and Baghdad governments, this time over the issue of internal security.
In fact, on 10 August, the Peshmergas, who have been controlling the Northern part of Diyala Province from Khanaqin district, received an order from the Iraqi Ministry of Defence and the Commander in Chief of Iraqi Land Forces, Ali Ghidan, to withdraw and make way for Iraqi Army troops. However the Peshmergas refused to comply without orders from the Irbil government, as their General, Nazem Kirkuki (who commanded this 4,000 strong brigade), explained to the press: “We only take orders from the Presidency of the Kurdistan autonomous region. We have a brigade deployed in the areas of Saadiya, Qara Tapa and Jalawla (Northern Diyala) and we will not move because so far we have not received an orders to withdraw from the presidency. We came here to take part in the restoration of security in the region and, since then, have take part in several operations with the American and Iraqi forces”.
It was, indeed, at the request of the US and of Iraqi authorities that these Peshmergas have been maintaining control of the province for the last two years. Prior to that it had been plagued by al-Qaida terrorist activities. Since then the activity of these Kurdish troops has markedly improved its security. The Kurdish regional Government is claiming those parts of Diyala that are inhabited by Kurds, which are among the areas to decide their future by referendum, under Article 140 of the Constitution. They had previously been pat of Suleimaniah Province.
Since July 29 a joint operation by US and Iraqi forces had sent 40,000 troops into Diyala Province to mop up the remaining al-Qaida networks. However, as the Kurds point out, the parts of Diyala they control no longer have any terrorists present, as General Jabar Yawar explained: “The zone where we are stationed has been made secure and no longer needs military operations nor any deployment by the Iraqi Army. We have given our blood to maintain peace here”.
The Iraqi Defence Ministry spokesman, General Mohammad al-Askari, does not deny that the Pesmergas are deployed in Northern Diyala at the request of the Baghdad government, but considers that their mission there is now ended: “The Peshmerga brigade came from Kurdistan to take up positions along the Khamrin Valley at a time when the Iraqi police and Army were occupied elsewhere. The agreement specified their withdrawal when the Iraqi Army was ready. Today we have come to tell them that we no longer need them”.
However, this sudden decision to re-occupy the whole of Diyala is, perhaps, not just a coincidence, since at the same time Kurdish and Arab M.P.s, as well as various Kirkuk factions are arguing about power sharing in this province. While, from a military point of view, the Peshmergas and Asayish (security forces) have the situation in Kirkuk reasonably well in hand, the Kurds openly fear that by giving way at Khanaqin they may not only lose any chance of seeing this area re-united with Kurdistan but that the deployment of the Iraqi Army might be extended to all the disputed areas. As an unnamed Kurdish official in Suleimaniah confided, off the record to AFP: “Our leaders fear that if the Iraqi Army is deployed in Diyala Province, it might want to do the same in those areas of Kirkuk and Mosul where are forces are present”.
Despite all this, the Kurdish government’s tone has begun to be more conciliatory. Jafar Mustafa, the autonomous Kurdish Government’s Secretary of State for Peshmergas has stated that meetings are being held between his government and the Iraqi Defence Ministry “to find a solution”. However, on the spot comments were much more alarming. The mayor of Jalawla district, a suburb of Khanaqin, stated on the Awsat al-Iraq radio, that the situation was explosive and could worsen at any moment. “The presence of Iraqi troops has created tension with the Peshmerga forces over the last few days. The situation could explode from both sides at any moment”. The mayor explained that the Peshmergas feared being encircled and isolated in Khanaqin by the Iraqis and that the Arab tribes were working with the Iraqi forces to form local councils in which the Kurds feared being marginalised and even excluded. “The Diyala police commander has decided on a police force for the Jalawla district and has only recruited Arabs for it. This is clear breach of the law”.
Nevertheless, on 15 August Jafar Mustafa announced that the Peshmergas would be withdrawing from Qara Tepe, the area they occupied in Khanaqin, in the next ten days, in accordance with an agreement with the Baghdad government. A meeting had taken place between a Kurdish delegation, led by the Vice-President of the KRG, Kosrat Rassul, and Fadel Mirani, Secretary of Massud Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party, and the Iraqi Prime Minister, Nuri al-Maliki. However, in the days that followed, the arrival of the Iraqi troops quickly created more tension — not only with those Peshmergas still present but also with the Kurdish population.
On 23 August, without prior warning, some Iraqi soldiers besieged the Kurdish forces headquarters — a raid described as a “blunder” by an official of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK — the party of the Iraqi President Jalal Talabani). Mahmud Sankawi stated over Aswat al-Iraq radio that the Deputy prime Minister, Barham Saleh, a Kurd, had been informed about this incident, and a memorandum submitted to Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki pointing out that “the Peshmergas are not the Mahdi´s Army” (an allusion to the law on dissolving armed militia, which certain Arab groups wished to be applied to the Kurdish forces). Mahmud Sankawi indicated that Barham Saleh had met the Defence Minister and secured the cancelation of the evacuation of government buildings held by the Peshmergas — though the Iraqi government has not yet confirmed this agreement.
Three days later, on 26 August, it was the turn of the inhabitants of Khanaqin to protest at the presence of the Iraqi Army and the setting up of checkpoints in the district. The demonstrators gathered in front of the Town Hall buildings and also sent a memorandum to demand the departure of these soldiers, pointing out that the “stable” situation in Khanaqin did not warrant their presence.
For his part, the President of the Kurdistan Region, Massud Barzani, while welcoming a delegation of senior officials of the US Embassy, expressed his “surprise” at the recent decision of the Iraqi Army to occupy Northern Diyala: “Khanaqin is a safe zone and it is surprising that the Iraqi Army should enter it to fight terrorism”. Massud Barzani also questioned the total absence of coordination between the Central Government’s decisions and the Kurdish Region.
On 29 August, even as General Muneim Ali, Commander of the 4th Brigade of the 5th Iraqi Army Corps, “totally controlled the Qara Tepe, Jawlala and Khanaqin areas”, the Prime Minister, Nuri al-Maliki was threatening (according to an M.P. of the principal Shiite bloc in the Baghdad Parliament) engage in “legal actions” against the Kurdish forces if they sought to deploy outside the areas assigned to them. This threat was denied by Fuad Hussein, the Kurdish Presidency’s chief of Staff, while a Kurdish delegation was going to Baghdad to discuss the Khanaqin crisis with leading Iraqis. Finally the Pershmergas secured the right to remain in the public building they have been occupying since 2003.
In an interview given to Asharq al-Awsat, the Kurdish president Massud Barzani explained the root of the crisis was the unwillingness of the Baghdad government to consider the Kurds as real partners: “We are partners but we have no role in the government. We are not partners on matters of security, of the economy, on military questions and we are not at all informed about these matters. During me recent visit to Baghdad we secured some good agreements and the means of carrying them out. We had a programme that we had agreed with the government. However, when we returned to the Kurdistan Region all we had agreed was ignored or marginalised. This state of affairs is no service, either to the coalition, or to Iraq or to the future of Iraq. Everything should be carried out on the principles of understanding and partnership. That is the only means of building the new Iraq. The consequences of a monopolised authority are well known. This situation cannot result in any beneficial results for Iraq”.
Massud Barzani described the Iraqi takeover of certain districts of Khanaqin as an “enormous mistake”, also stressing that the behaviour of the Iraqi troops on the spot had considerably contributed to aggravating the situation. “When the government asked the Kurdish forces to withdraw, they really did withdraw. But the military forces that replaced the Kurds arrived shouting provocative slogans and acted exactly like the old regime’s Army — the one that committed crimes against the Kurdish people in the past, particularly during the Anfal operation. Thus these forces arrived with the same slogans, the same attitudes and acted in the same way”.
Since the beginning of the civil war in Iraq, the Christian communities, specifically targeted by the Islamic fundamentalists, had no other choice but to flee the country, to seek refuge in Kurdistan or the adjoining areas where security was ensured by the Peshmergas, such as Nineveh. An increasing number of these Christians hope less and less in any solution provided by the Baghdad government as is shown in a report in the Kurdish Globe. Thus Father Joseph Yohannes, the priest of a little Christian village of that province, considers that his community is considered more as if it was a “foreign minority” in Iraq than as full citizens and believes that their status would be better within the KRG: “Sometimes we feel that the Baghdad government considers us as refugees in Iraq, as if we were not natives of this country. If we join the Kurdistan Region, our Christian community will makeup 15 to 20% of the country and so we will be better protected”.
Despite the recent meeting between Pope Benedict XVI and the Iraqi Prime Minister, Nuri al-Maliki, Father Joseph is hardly optimistic about any improvement in the fate of the Christians in Iraq, even though this issue was central to discussion between the Pontiff and the head of the government. Meanwhile, in Nineveh, tired of waiting for an unreliable protection from the Iraqi authorities, the Christians are tending to organise their own self-defence militia, called “church guardians” because they are financed by religious funds. Following the example of the security system set up in the Kurdistan Region, traffic between villages is watched over and filtered by numerous checkpoints. Saleem Yusuf, who commands one of these civilian guards in the village of Karamalis, explains that the aim of these checkpoints is to prevent suicide bomb vehicles from entering the villages to explode there. This indeed happened in August 2007, in this case against two Yezidi villages, causing hundreds of casualties. The village of Karamalis alone has 250 guards.
In addition to suicide bombs, other threats are kidnappings for ransom, which strike all communities in Iraq, and summary executions. The city of Mosul is the most affected by this form of terror. This Father Joseph confesses that he has not returned to Mosul for three years. Last February the kidnapping followed by the murder of the Chaldean Archbishop of that town, Monsignor Faraj Rahho, who was born in this very village of Karamlis, deeply hit people's feelings.
However, Christians wishing to flee, or who are already refugees, have to face other difficulties besides those of safety. Unemployment and the loss of their resources are major problems of their daily lives. Many of the Christians of Nineveh used to work in factories or had government jobs. Or else they had owned shops or restaurants that they were obliged to leave behind, with little hope of being able to return.
However, the fate of Iraqi refugees in neighbouring countries, like Syria or Jordan is even worse. Having left everything behind them they do not enjoy, as they do n Kurdistan, of help in settling in, of some housing or a monthly allowance. Thus their funds rapidly melt away, in Arab cities, to pay for housing and food — without, having any hope of finding employment. Some local NGOs even practice discrimination against Christians — including even local employees of the UN High Commission for Refugees. “These Christians fleeing persecution in Iraq tell us that they suffer discrimination from the institutions supposed to come to their assistance. In the present context, where the war in Iraq stirs us hatred between Christians and Moslems in the Middle East, the officials of the HCR and the Embassies should ensure an equitable treatment of all refugees, whatever may be their beliefs ”, accused Michel Varton, manager of Portes Ouvertes France in a communiqué published last July on the association’s Web site.
The members of the Portes Ouvertes France NGO present locally have thus made public testimony from Iraqi refugees: “I have seen that application forms from Christians are systematically rejected while those from Moslems immediately approved. This has been confirmed thousands of times. Every family can give examples from experience”, one of them says.
This state of affairs is, moreover, confirmed by a local Christian official: “The problem comes from the fact that most of the HCR and Embassy staff who receive these refugees are Moslems. They don’t want to accept that we are being persecuted by other Moslems in Iraq. This is a situation that most senior officials ignore”.
The latest record album by the famous musician Kayhan Kalhor, a Kurd from Iran, who is a composer and a virtuoso on the kemench (an Iranian hurdy-gurdy) is intended as a commemoration of the tragedy of Halabja that occurred twenty years ago. The record is named after the 29 minutes long Silent Village piece, played with the American string quartet Brooklyn Rider and is issued by the World Village label and been hailed by critics internationally.
Born in 1963 in Teheran, Kayhan Kalhor was brought up in the Kurdish city of Kermanshah. He studied the kemench from the age of 7 on, and started performing publicly at 13, with the Iranian National Radio and Television Orchestra. After the Islamic Revolution, he left Iran to study music composition in several Western countries, and particularly at Carleton University in Ottawa. He has recorded alone and with other world famous artists: the Kurd Ali Akbar Moradi, the Indian Shujaat Hussein Khan and the Turk Erdal Erzincan. He has composed for Mohammad Shajarian and Shahram Nazeri, the two great masters of Iranian music. He has performed with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra at the Mostly Mozart Festival and at Carnegie Hall. Three of his albums have been proposed for Grammy Awards.
He first met the members of the Brooklyn Rider Quartet in the year 2000. They are Colin Jacobson and Jonathan Gandelsman (violin), Nicholas Cords (viola) and Eric Jacobsen (cello). At that time they were taking part in the Silk Road Project, initiated by the cellist Yo Yo Ma. “Silent City” is the outcome of 8 years of learning and experimenting explained Nicholas to the New York Times. Western musicians have, for example, to work at improvising round a melody or how to adapt their tonality to the musical modes of Iran. For his part, Kayhan Kalhor, who studied classical Western music, integrated techniques (like pizzicati) that are not normally used in Iranian music.
The first piece on the CD, “Ascending Bird”, mingles a traditional melody and improvisation round an ancient Zoroastrian tale about a bird that flew too close to the sun, a tale taken up by the piece “Pervaz”, composed by Kayhan Kalhor, who plays both the Kemench and the sitar.
“Beloved, do not discourage me”, composed by Colin Jacobsen, take its title from the 16th Century poet Fuzuli and related the famous legend of Layla and Majnoun.
As for the composition “Silent City”, it is considered the most compelling, aiming at being “a calm meditative lamentation on the fate of the Kurdish city of Halabja” and its thousands of victims. The music, which leaves plenty of room for improvisation, mingles Kurdish and Turkish melodies in an elegiac rhythm that, however, according to Kayhan Kalhor, tries to express the final triumph of life and hope over darkness and despair. According to Eliane Azoulay, in the weekly Telerama, the compositor’s strength “is in cultivating an edgy and nervous exaltation drawn from the Iranian traditions of Khorasan and Kurdistan while integrating the earthier themes of his American companions. The instrumental ensemble hinges round images and symbols: the destruction of a town, the legend of Layla and Majnoun and the myth of the bird that wanted to reach the Sun”.
On 27 August, Observatory of Human Right in Syrian announced that a Syrian Kurdish writer, Mashaal al-Tsmmu, was arrested by the Baathist Secret Service and placed in solitary confinement on 15 August. His relations have not seen him since that day, when he was going from the Kurdish village of Koban to Damascus. His car was found, closed, near the premises of the Aleppo security services. In spite of this, the authorities deny any involvement in his disappearance. However, some witnesses state having seen him on 27 August in a courtroom in Damascus, going through his preliminary hearings. Lawyers specialised in Human Rights issues in Syria tried to find some trace of him and, especially to find out if the writer, an active human rights campaigner, is due to appear before an army or civilian court.
Mashaal al-Tammu, 50 years of age, is also spokesman for the political opposition movement “Kurdish Future”.
In the days following the alert given b the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the United States have reacted, through a State Department spokesman, Robert Wood, who, in a communiqué called for the “immediate and unconditional release” of this dissident. “We are concerned for this Syrian Kurdish activist, Mashaal Tammu, whose worrying arrest is the most recent of a series of arrests of civil society activists by the authorities. We condemn the detention of Mr. Tammu and other Syrian prisoners of conscience. We call for their immediate and unconditional release”.
Mr. Woods has also called on the international community to take up this call, while French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, is due to visit the Syrian capital to meet President Bachar al-Assad on 3 and 4 September, following on the latter’s controversial visit to Paris for the inaugural summit of the Mediterranean Union. On this last occasion, the Middle East manager of Human Rights Watch, Sarah Lean, considered: “Nicolas Sarkozy should apply pressure in favour of dialogue on several subjects, including the State of Emergency, the arresting of activists, the events in Sidnaya Prison and the repression of Kurdish identity”.
The Iraqi Kurdistan Region is getting down to the task of reforming the education system in time for the new school year so as to raise the level of teaching. Thus the new programmes will include the teaching of English in Primary schools and more time devoted to early learning activities and individual thinking — as against the way in which, in most Middle Eastern countries, it is based more of learning by rote, without any critical thinking.
The wife of the Iraqi President, Hero Talabani, explained that the need for this reform in education was making itself felt in the Kurdistan Region, as in the rest of Iraq. The greatest problems in this area include the lack of schools — and that in a country where the majority of the population is of school age, as well as the obsolete programmes, which completely fail to meet the needs of the 21st Century.
Another obstacle to learning is the system of rotation between morning and afternoon classes, which, she says, does not allow the pupils to assimilate their lessons with only three and a half hours of class a day. This rotation is, however, necessary to get round the lack of schools and classrooms. However, the Kurdistan Region is actively working to catch up with this need — Hero Talabani pointing out that it has built more schools in Kurdistan since the overthrow of the Saddam Hussein regime in 2003 than the old regime had between 1958 and 2003.
The Minister of Education of the KRG, Dr. Dilshad Mohammad, is an active supporter of these reforms and undertook, at the end of the month, a tour of various European countries to meet “experts” on questions regarding teaching in Austria, Germany, and also the United Nations. Dr. Abdulrahman summaries his own impressions following these various meetings and consultations in this way: “Firstly, we have a great deal in common with the European countries we visited. This includes the challenge created by the new technologies and ways to introducing them into the schools, but also getting a suitable balance between academic and basic education so as to create a skilled labour force. However, many experts have also stressed the contrast and opportunities created by these challenges in Kurdistan, which has such a large school population, as compared with the challenge in Europe to facing up to an aging population”.
At UNESCO’s international education office in Geneva, the Kurdish minister, together with the Iraqi Minister of Education and the Director of the Iraqi Office of UNESCO, Mohammad Jelid, took part in a meeting to draw up a new educational programme for the whole of Iraq, with special adjustments for the Kurdistan Region.
UNESCO is already involved in Iraq with a $5 million project for an overall revision of Iraqi school programmes and is encouraging other Iraqi regions to follow the example of the Kurdistan Region in anticipating these reforms. In 2007, the organisation opened an office in Irbil, at the request of the Kurdish government. The assistance provided by UNESCO cover both the training of teachers and running campaigns on preventive health measures and information on, for example, how to fight cholera epidemics. This is why UNICEF and the World Health Organisation are also active in the area of education, both in primary or secondary schools, with a major project of information about and prevention of cholera, launched in October 2007 in the KRG cities of Irbil, Suleimaniah and Dohuk, as well as in Baghdad, Basra and other Iraqi provincial capitals.