On the morning of 7 June the first attacks by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) of the Iraqi armed forces in Mosul led to a surprising and spectacular collapse of the Army and the Jihadist militia were able, in just two days, to occupy the whole of the city, including Government buildings, the international Airport and all the police and army bases. Five hundred thousand of its population fled to the highways in a mass exodus, perhaps as much due to fears of passible air raids by the Iraqi Air Force as of the fighting taking place in the city.
Despite televised appeals in which he had called on all the armed forces to face the attack, the Provincial Governor, Osama Al-Nudjaïfi, surrounded by ISIL militia, finally escaped and was evacuated to Erbil with the help of the Peshmergas. The same goes for the majority of foreign personnel there, except for the Turkish Consular staff who, for unknown reasons, refused to evacuate their premises and are, at the moment, hostages of the ISIL. The same goes for about thirty lorry drivers from Turkey who were made prisoners.
The Pehmergas also succeeded, without any casualties, in freeing and evacuating about 600 students from several other Iraqi provinces who had been trapped for three days in their college dormitories. All these were taken to the area North of Mosul, to areas where security was ensured by the Kurdish forces.
Finally, by 10 June, the headlong flight of the Iraqi troops and the total loss of Nineveh Province could no longer be concealed. Pictures of troops that had abandoned all their weapons, including tanks (taken over by the ISIL) and taking off their uniforms to hide as civilians shocked the Iraqis as well as the rest of the world. This was underlined by the extreme numeric inferiority of the ISIL forces (at first about 3,000 strong, as against 71,000 Iraqi troops plus police and their unquestionable superiority in US supplied equipment. In a speech made from Erbil, Osama Al-Nudjaïfi accused the generals of disloyalty and of having fled leaving the city undefended in the face of the Jihadist advance.
The refugees from Mosul and the surrounding areas fear Iraqi retaliatory air raids as much as the ISIL’s terrorism. Caught between cross fires and seeing the whole army in flight, they rush towards Kurdistan, while the Peshmergas hurry to take up positions in almost all the area with a Kurdish majority, so as to protect areas whose non-Moslem population could be a choice target for the Jihadist — like Shingal and its Yezedis, al-Qosh and Qurqosh inhabited by Christians and Shabaks and Yezidis. These regions are themselves welcoming the flood of refugees from Mosul. The Rabia border post that also covers the Syrian Kurdish province of Hassaké even saw some co-ordination with the YPG forces. Indeed, according to YPG sources (unconfirmed by the Peshmergas) some YPG units may have crossed the border to drive off ISI and seal off the Shingal area pending the arrival of fresh Peshmergas from Erbil.
It was, however, especially in the city of Kirkuk and more Southerly Kurdish areas like Jalawla that saw the greatest reinforcing of Peshmergas who filled the vacuum left by the Iraqi troops, who fled here as in Mosul.
On the evening of 10 June, Osama Al Nudjaïfi was able to announce that the whole of Nineveh Province was now occupied by the Jihadists except for those areas guarded by the Kurds. Salahaddin Province soon fell into the ISIL hands, despite Nuri al-Maliki’s statements that his troops would recapture Mosul within 24 hours. It very quickly became apparent that Iraq was politically and militarily divided into 3 zones: Kurdish, Sunni Arab and Shiite Arab.
The explanations given by those who witnessed the Iraqi defeat were contradictory and confused. Those soldiers who sought refuge in Kurdistan pending being sent home from Erbil Airport or who are receiving treatment in the capital or in Duhok described very well trained groups experienced in street fighting — which is not the case with the regular army, except for the Peshsmergas. Indeed, the lack of training and the poor physical conditions of the Iraqi Army have been commented on for many years past. However, many have described a sudden and chaotic flight of the officers and that the generals themselves, after issuing orders to withdraw to their troops, left them to fend for themselves without any further orders.
Finally, is seems above all that the policy of “de-Baathing” the Army, started by the Americans in 2003, became in fact a “de-Sunniing”, so that the troops in Mosul became a hated army of occupation whose men had not desire to die to defend this city and province. The central government’s conflictual relations with Iraq’s Sunni Arab population led to a certain passiveness by them to the advance of the Jihadists.
On 11 June the ISILs captured Tikrit, less than 200 Km from Baghdad, and besieged the Baiji oil refinery, plunging the whole country, including Kurdistan, into an acute fuel shortage. The ISIL spokesman, Abou Muhammad Al Shami Al-Adnani, announced their intention of marching on Baghdad.
However, it is unlikely that Baghdad and the Shiite provinces would fall as easily as the Sunni regions, where the anti-Maliki feelings impelled them at best to indifference and at worst to open collaboration with the ISIL, especially in the case of the post-Baathist movements. The Shiites, on the other hand, like the Kurds, will never give up their towns, let alone their holy places of Najaf and Kerbelah that are directly threatened by the ISIL, whose programme of destroying tombs and religious and pilgrimage centree is even more radical than that of the Wahabites.
Maliki and his political associates’ answer to the advance of this militia and to what is also a virtual Sunni Arab insurrection was both incoherent and dangerous. He called on the Army to fight to the last man, threatening the deserting officers with courts martial and death. He also called on the population (essentially the Shiites) to form volunteer militia — which strengthens his old enemy, Moqtada as-Sadr. This is liable to lead to acts of violence and settling of scores between the various armed groups and also threats against the non-Shiite population (essentially Kurdish and Sunni Arabs) living in Baghdad, implicitly accused of being traitors and ISIL accomplices. Finally he refused to give up his posts of Prime Minister and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces to enable the formation of an emergency National Unity Government, as suggested by the EU and the USA.
On 12 June the Iraqi Parliament met but did not vote as it lacked a quorum — only 128 members were present out of 328. The session was thus invalidated without being able to elect a new President.
The activity of the self-defence militia is also limited by the character of the land. Thus the Turcoman Shiites of Tel Affar had refused the offer of the Peshmergas to enter the town to defend it. However, a few days later, having waited in vain for the Iraqi Army to arrive, they were obliged massively to flee to Kurdistan, caught between the cross fires of the Jihadists and air raids by the Iraq Air Force, and ask for help from the Peshmergas. Similarly at Qaraqosh, the Peshmergas had to act to save the town from an ISIL attempt to take it, which had led to a fresh exodus of Christians.
As for the United States, whose responsibility for the post-Saddam situation was due to their unceasing political and military support for Maliki, despite the Kurdish warnings of the danger to Iraq, this was expressed by President Barak Obama saying that there would be no return of US ground troops or of air strikes, despite the open demands by many members of Maliki’s party. Its support may be limited to sending 300 military advisors as well as that of the 200 security forces in Baghdad, essentiall7 to protect the US Embassy. Barack Obama has clearly recognised that the problem and its solution lies mainly in the political management of the present government than in a lack striking power. Army experts like Lt. Colonel Ralph Peters, speaking on Fox Newsunhesitatingly described Iraq as “finished” and that reconciliation between all its ethic and religious components was impossible because “too deep”.
On 23 June, the Secretary of State, John Kerry, left for Baghdad to meet the country’s main political forces — apart from the Kurds, who turned down the invitation, thus obliging John Kerry to go to Erbil the next day.
At the end of June, the front had been stabilised around Tikrit, where the Iraqi army dug itself in while awaiting reinforcements (essentially five Sukhoy bombers from Russia) though without being able to retake the town.
While Baghdad seems regained a certain calm, the ISIL troops are not attempting to move into Shiite areas. Their organisation has ensured its connection with its Syrian base by taking over all the Iraqi-Syrian border posts except that of Rabia, held by the Peshmergas (the Syrian side, Yaroubia, being held by the YPG). Thus the land held by the “Islamic State” forms a continuous arc running all through the Sunni Arab provinces from Deir ez-Zor to Tikrit. Parallel and North of this the Kurds form an arc astride the two borders from Hassake to Kirkuk.
AS well as Syria and Iraq, the aim of ISIL is to extend its control to the whole of the Near East. This was, in fact clearly shown by its choice of name, by using the word Sham for Levant — an old name for Syria that covers far more than the existing Syrian republic. On 30 June ISIL raised its territorial clams still higher by claiming the whole “Dar el Islam” (land of Islam), since its leader, who used to call himself “Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi”, proclaimed himself Caliph of the whole of Islam with his real name of Ibrahim, on the first day of Ramadan. Consequently the organisation has changed its name to just IS (the Islamic State) indicating its claims go beyond the Near East and cover the whole Moslem world . . .
At the same time as it proclaimed the Caliphate the IS also published its Caliph’s genealogy, so as to “prove” his Quraishi linage and descent from the prophet. Although, in principle, the Sunni Caliphate (unlike the Shiite) was elective as Mohammed is said to have recommended on his deathbed, after Ali’s death the title of Commander of the Faithful did become dynastic, the Abassides, who overthrew the Omayyades, being also relatives of the prophet.
Moreover, the term “Dawla”, that we translate as “State”, originally meant “victory, success, good fortune” and was essentially used in this sense at the start of the Abasside era to demonstrate that their accession to the Caliphate was naturally ordained. It became to linked to the established authorities that it became synonymous with dynasty and so with State. Thus the term al-Dawla al-Islamiyya can be translated as Islamic State but also as meaning a new reigning cycle or a revolutionary accession of power or political victory of Islam against the rest of the world, which is thus divided into “Land of warfare” (that of the unbelievers or enemies) and “Land of Islam” (those subject to the Caliph). Ibrhim has, logically enough, called for immediate allegiance of all Moslem, on pain of being guilty of apostasy and so becoming part of the “Land of Warfare”. On this basis he declares all religious and lay leaders of Moslem states to be deposed of any legitimate authority.
This new “Caliph” had already proclaimed this programme in his earlier “nom de guerre”: Abu Bakr was the first Islamic Caliph, somewhat decried by the Shiites because he was the first to “usurp” (in their view) this title instead of their first hero Ali. He was also the father of Aisha, the prophet’s youngest and favourite wife, who led any army against Ali at the so-called battle of Camels. He is also the only one of the first four Caliphs (who the Sunnis consider the purest) not to have been assassinated — which suggests a degree of optimism on the part of the IS leader . . .
By capturing Mosul and the Sunni Arab regions, the IS has also called for unity against the “Safavide Army”. This refers to the dynasty founded by the Iranian shah Ismail Safavi, who, at first Alawiite became Shiite and imposed Shiism on Iran as from the 16th Century.
Saddam Hussein had already this argument in his war against Iran, to enable hi, both to rally Arab nationalism against Persia and to brandish the banner of Sunnism and ensure the support of the neighbouring Arab states against the Islamic Republic, whose influence worried the Gulf States. It was thus, as “Safavides” that thousands of Shiite Kurds (the faylis) were massacred and deported and later, in 1991, hundreds of thousand Shiite Arabs. So the immediate enemy and main target of these latter day Jihadists is Arab Shiism as well as the whole Iranian world — as Iran has clearly understood.
This totalitatian programme will, obviously, not rally all Moslems nor necessarily make them more friends in the ranks of other Jihadist groups. However, the stupefying success of the IS in Iraq may galvanise those nostalgic for the glories of Islam’s golden age, that has decaded in modern times through divisions between the faithful and their subjection to the West. Military victories have, since the advent of Islam, often been seen as a sign of divine approval.
In Iraq, as in Syria, even more than Christians, the main targets of the IS are the Shiites, seen as apostates or heretics, and so punishable by death — and then those religions that are not covered by the protection recommended in the Sharia — that is the Yezidis, the Sabaks, the Mandeans, seen as apostates of polytheists, sentenced to either conversion of death.
Christians might hope, at first, to survive with the subjected status “dhimmis”, through total subjection to the Sharia as interpreted by the Islamic State and its new “Caliph”.
The KRG’s reaction to the fall of Mosul and the ISIL’s advance into Iraq was immediate. As fast as the Iraqi troops fled, the Peshmergas (250,000 troops, 240 tanks and 40 helicopter gunships) strengthened their positions in the Kurdish areas of Nineveh, Kirkuk, Khanaqin, Diyala etc. These are areas the KRG has claimed should be included in the autonomous Region following a referendum, in accordance with Article 140 of the Iraqi Constitution. They have also been deployed into areas left defenceless by the Iraqi Army. As from 11 June, the military headquarters were able to announce that the Kurds now held 95% of these areas and that, unlike the Iraqis, they intended to stay there “to the last drop of their blood”. The Peshmergas Ministry was able to announce that the Kurdish Region had nothing to fear from the ISIL, considered militarily incapable of beating the Peshmergas. It even confirmed that Kurdish troops had regained control of Mosul’s main airport, which had fallen into the hands of the Jihadists and that they also controlled Kirkuk’s Hurriya (Freedom) Airport.
Throughout the month of June, there were unceasing clashes South of Kiekuk, interspersed with brief “truces” with the ISIL. The Peshmergas essentially sough to convince the chiefs of the Sunni tribes not to shelter the Jihadists fighters and terrorist units even though they refused to set up a security belt south of Touz Khormatou to prevent the fighting between the Iraqis and Jihadists from overflowing into the Kurdish areas. Indeed, it appears that the ISIL is not seeking to confront them when it is fighting Iraqi forces to the South, to avoid being caught between two fronts. Sometimes the ISIL attacks Kurdish positions, sometimes it adopts an attitude of mutual non-aggression. This probably is not part of any co-ordinated strategy, it does not seem to know the lines dividing the Kurdish and Iraqi forces — nor do these multi-national fighters from Syria know the layout of the land.
However, the Sunni Arab areas also contain other armed groups, like those in Diyala that know the land and are used to clashes with the Kurds. Thus Mohammad Ihsan, the KRG representative in Baghdad, when interviewed by the daily Rudaw, estimated that 100% of the Kurdish inhabited areas of Nineveh Province was under their control and according to the governor of Kirkuk, Najmaldin Karim, 70% of Kirkuk Province was held by Kurdish armed forces and police — the rest, inhabited by Arabs had passed under ISIL control.
However, in the mountain and desert areas, according to a Peshmerga Major, the Peshmergas “at Hawidja, Zab, Rashad and Abasiya, have difficult in maintaining full control ‘without headaches’, because these areas were already used by terrorists forshelter, and they knew the layout of the land”. Thus at Jalawla, the local mayor, Anwar Hussein, admitted that while his town controlled by the Peshmergas, Jihadist fighters had infiltrated into areas of thick fruit orchards which it would be difficult to control and clean.
The most dangerous and probable attacks by some Jihadists would not be in the form of classical military assaults but rather by terrorist actions. Thus fighters of the “Diji Terror” forces (5000 men specially trained by the Americans in anti-terrorist urban fighting) arrived at Jalawla and Saada (south of Diyala) in anticipation of terrorist attacks against civilians, while there had been fighting not far from there against the Iraqi army. On 12 June, a bomb exploded in Kirkuk as a Peshmerga Ministry vehicle was passing, killing a Pesmerga, while other bomb attacks or mortar shots aimed at Kurdish troops had take place killing some people.
The main danger comes from the flood of refugee families from the Arab areas who might easily be used as a base for “sleeping terrorists”, as had been the case in Mosul. While most of the families coming from Mosul to Erbil have been checked and screened (only the men had been refused entry) and settled in camps outside the city, the same directive has not been applied in Kirkuk, which is not yet administered from Erbil. Even though rules and restriction shave been set up in the course of the month.
Another knock-on effect that affects Iraqi Kurdistan as a whole is the general shortage of fuel resulting from the closing of the Baiji refinery, which used to supply 60% of Kurdistan’s fuel. The government hurriedly set up a rationing system based on vehicle registration, but the black market has rocketed since the shortage has also hit the other regions of Iraq and people are coming from Mosul and other areas to buy oil produced in Kurdistan and resell it elsewhere at twice or three times the price. Thus the price of fuel has increased 300% in a few days despite the arrival of 400 tanker trucks from Turkey at the request of the KRG — this is a first delivery, 1200 are hoped for in all. Priority has been given to supplying ambulances and army vehicles. The Turkish Energy Minister, Taner Yildiz, confirmed that the closing of the Baiji Refinery was depriving Kurdistan of 4,000 tons of fuel and that Turkey would try to respond to this need although this was causing long queues at the border.
Iraqi Kurdistan itself refines some 96,000 barrels to meet a demand for 140,000 (according to the KRG office in London). Its two refineries (Khabet and Barzan) are also short of oil products. While the reflex of hoarding by the population has aggravated the situation, another cause is that Erbil has now started supplying fuel to Kirkuk Province. Patrick Osgood, who runs the Kurdistan office of Oil Report Iraq stated, to Rudaw that Kurdistan can only supply 40% of its needs, the other 60% having been hitherto supplied by Baiji, and that this means a crisis throughout Iraq, that has no “B Plan” and was already importing fuel before the closing of the refinery. The KRG is envisaging importing fuel at a “reasonable price” of under 1,250 dinars per litre while continuing to sell its own at 500 dinars.
The main political question facing the Kurds is, evidently the foreseeable decision of Masud Barzani to ask for popular agreement to the Region’s independence, since it is now completely cut off trom Baghdad by an ISIL/Sunnistan.
Already, on 23 June, the Kurdish President, in an interview to CNN, after repeating that there was no longer any discussion about the status of Kirkuk and the other Kurdish regions since Article 140 of the Constitution had become obsolete, reaffirmed that following the collapse of Iraq the Kurds would seize this opportunity. “It is time for the people of Kurdistan to decide on its future and were will see to it that the people’s decision is respected”.
The same remarks were made a few days later to the BBC and the President made the point that this referendum could take place in a few months time.
On 26 June Masud Barzani went to Kirkuk to formally address the population and his troops while the Prime Minister went to Ankara to meet the Turkish Foreign Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, at the latter’s invitation. He then met Hakan Fiden, head of the Turkish Intelligence Services and, finally, the Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. These meeting, inevitably, covered the latest events— the Turkish hostages, the Security situation in Iraq but also Kirkuk and the issue of Independence.
Regarding Kirkuk, since at the same time Masud Barzani was declaring in his speech the successful outcome of a 60 year struggle by the Iraqi Kurds to regain this city, there could be no doubt that this was no longer a point at issue in Ankara. Nor could the issue of independence be much of a surprise since ever since 14 June Huseyin Çelik, the AKP spokesman had stated that it was the right of the Iraqi Kurds to decide their own future should Iraq split up and that Turkey would continue to support them.
The Turkish Deputy Prime Minister, Bulent Arinc, for his part, was more equivocal in his remarks: “Let the whole world understand our position: that Iraq should not break up, that we should not let them aim weapons against one another, that we should not let people shed one another’s blood, and that outside powers should keep their hands off Iraq and let it follow its way towards an integrated society”.
In the last few days Turkey has reiterated it “opposition” to the division of Iraq but without making any specific threats — unlike the 2003-2008 period of hostility.
Another, though much less discrete support is from Israel, which has openly called for a Kurdish State, at first through its president, Shimon Perez, who coming to greet Barak Obama, offered him some “pragmatic advice”. “Hold on to your friends, whatsoever their faults and they will help you to fight your real enemies”.
Thus he listed, amongst the “good camps” to support in the Middle East, that of the Kurds, as against a “unified Iraq” that he described as a “lost cause — without investing in a massive military intervention” and to support Kurdistan, already “semi-democratic and semi-independent”.
The Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahou, supported in an even more explicit manner, the future independence of the Kurds: “this people with a fighting spirit that has proved its political commitment, its political moderation and deserves political independence”.
As for the Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, he described this independence as a fait accompli, while stating that his country would undertake no action to help the Kurds saying “In reality, it seems to us that an independent Kurdish State already exists de facto”.
The United States, however, disapproved of these extreme statements and seems to display an obstinate rigidity both regarding any military commitment in Iraq (or Syria) against the ISIL and in recognising that irreversible changes have taken place. It hangs on to (or pretends to hang on to) the illusion of turning back and of Iraq being a country that will end up by being reunited, reconciled and pacified.,
The visit to Erbil by John Kerry, US Secretary of State, to ask the Kurds to commit itself along side Iraq against the ISIL and form a plural and united government in Baghdad was an outstanding example of this lag between Kerry’s wishes and the realities in the field. Masud Barzani had to remind him that he was now faced with a “new reality and a new Iraq”.
The most virulently hostile statements came, obviously from Iran, Maliki’s main support that views with disfavour a partition that would push the Kurds still closer to Turkey. The Iranian Foreign Ministry’s spokesman, Marzieh Afgham, stated that the division of Iraq was the work of its enemies and that all the Iraqi political parties were in fvour of unity: “Whosoever seeks to divide Iraq is serving American interests”.
During Neçirvan Barzani’s visit to Iran on 16 June, Teheran tried in vain to secure Kurdish military and political support for Maliki against the ISIL — which was firmly rejected.
On 18 June, the formation of the 8th Cabinet of the Kurdistan Regional Government was announced to the Kurdistan Parliament, meeting in an extraordinary session. The Prime Minister, Neçirvan Barzani, the Deputy Prime Minister, Qubad Talabani, and all the Ministers of the new Cabinet, coming from both the majority and the principal opposition parties, swore their oaths of office before the assembly.
Presenting the new Cabinet’s political programme, the Prime Minister recalled that the country was going through a crucial period and, as in 2003, at the time of the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and the formation of the new Iraq, “the people of Kurdistan needed to speak with a single voice and to work together to protect and preserve the successes and interests of the Kurdistan Region”. In this “difficult period for Iraq (…) the people of Kurdistan has the historic responsibility” of adopting a common strategy to ensure the safety and security of the inhabitants of the Kurdistan Region and of those regions previously outside its administration.
The Prime Minister also thanked the people of Kurdistan for the “patience” it had shown during the process of forming a new Cabinet as well as during the Civil Service wage freeze ordered by Nuri Maliki, “an unjust and unconstitutional” decision that had had “a negative impact on the economy and the investments of Kurdistan”. However, “the new stage” that Kurdistan was now going through allowed one to hope that the Region would never again be faced with such a political and financial crisis.
Nêçirvan Barzani then lay out the principles with which he intended to carry out his policy. This includes a more transparent method of government, the separation of powers, social justice and peace, observance of human rights, especially the rights of women and children, environment protection and suitable measures for fighting against corruption …
The Prime Minister several times stressed the concept of citizenship on which the principles and values of the government must be based, with equality of opportunity for all the inhabitants of Kurdistan, whatever might be their ethic origins, religious beliefs or political membership.
The new Cabinet is committed to ensure the separation of institutions, government and political parties.
The Prime Minister also recalled that the 8th Cabinet was a coalition government and that the participation of various political parties to this coalition strengthened the bases of democracy and of peaceful coexistence, with due respect for differences, varieties of opinion, freedom and the press.
Regarding the conflicts between Erbil and Baghdad, the 8th Cabinet wished to undertake a policy of “reconciliation” so as to resolve all pending issues between the Region and the Federal Government, particularly regarding the application of Article 140 regarding the Kurdish areas due to decide by referendum whether or not to become part of Kurdistan..
Another objective was the economic independence of Kurdistan and the diversification of the sources of its income beyond that of natural resources. The prime Minister expressed the determination to develop the agricultural industrial and commercial sectors and services, as well as to make more equal the differences in living conditions between the countryside and the towns. Electricity, water, and roads should be improved and decentralisation encouraged as well as local and foreign investments. Special attention would be paid to the industrial and tourist sectors.
The new government wished to continue its reform of education, including higher education and the abolition of illiteracy. Finally, regarding health, the Prime Minister explained that his Cabinet would work to adopt the most modern systems and to differentiate the private and public sectors. The families of martyrs, the victims of the Anfal campaign, of chemical weapons and former political prisoners would be the subject of the government’s special attention.
Finally, the housing sector would be modernised and the government would work to resolve the housing problems of low-income families.
The Compasition of the 8th Cabinet of the Kurdistan Regional Government.
Prime Minister: Nêçirvan Barzani (KDP)
Deputy mine Minister: Qubad Talabani (PUK)
Presidential Chief of Staff: Fuad Hussein (independent)
Foreign Ministre: Falah Mustafa Bakir (KDP)
Government Spokesman: Safin Muhsin Diyazee (KDP)
Minister of Agriculture and Water Supply: Abdulstar Majeed (Komal)
Minister of Trade and Industry : Samal Sardar (Goran)
Minister of Culture and Youth: Khalid Doski (PUK)
Minister for Religious Foundations: Kamal Muslim (Goran)
Minister of Education : Pishtiwan Sadiq (KDP)
Minister of’ Électricit6: Salahaddin Babakir (Yekgirtu)
Minister of Scientific Research and Higher Education: Yousif Muhammad (PUK)
Secretary of State for Parliamentary Relations : Abdulrahman Abdulrahim Hama Reza (Yekgirtu)
Minister of Finance and the Economy: Rebaz Muhammad (Goran)
Ministre of the Interior: Karim Sinjari (KDP)
Minister of Justice : Sinan Abdulkhakiq Chalabi (KDP)
Minister of housing and Building: Darnaz Kosrat Rasul (PUK)
Minister for Martyrs and the Anfal: Mahmoud Haji Salih (PUK)
Minister of Municipal Affairs and Tourism: Newroz Mawlud Amin (KDP)
Minister for Peshmergas : Mustafa Sayid Qadir (Goran)
Minister of Planing: Ali Sindi (KDP)
Minister des Ressources naturelles : Ashti Hawrami (indépendant)
Ministre Of Health: Rekawt Hama Rasheed (PUK)
Minister of Transport and Communications: Jonson Siyawash (Chaldéan)
Minister of Labour and Social Affairs: Mohammad Qadir (Goran)
The war spoils in arms, equipment and money won my the Islamic State (formerly ISIL), which seized all the money of the Bank of Mosul is bound to have an impact in Syria where, thanks to the collapse in Iraq, it is now the richest terrorist group in the world. It is now equipped with American arms that are certainly more effective than those of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and the Kurdish PYD. The territorial continuity of the “new State” also enables continuous and reliable access for its fighters’ to move between Deir ez-Zor, Raqqa and Mossul.
The question is whether the IS’s main Front will continue to be Syria, particularly Deir ezZor, or whether Iraq will come first in its offensive priorities. Nevertheless, the setting up of the new Islamic State requires as much a strengthening of its attacks against the rival Jihadist militia and the FSA as a strengthening of its position s in Mosul. It involves ensuring the security of its transport routes and keeping control over the captured oil fields, be they at Deir ezZor or in Nineveh.
Other the other hand, the IS has issued several reassuring calls to the opposing Jihadist militia, some of ehich, particularly linked to Jabhat al Nusra, have already defected in its favourat some localities in the province. Here, the IS policy follows the line put forward towards the Iraqi Sunnis — “clemency” for the repentents.
The town of Deir ezZor is still being fought over by the regime, Jabhat al Nusra and the “Islamic State”. Hitherto the IS has mainly fought the Syrian rebels, avoiding confronting the regime in the same way as it avoided the Kurdistan forces in Iraq. However, its recent military gains in the East could change the situation.
The Syrian Army’s strikes and its concentration on the West of Syria are also changing and it is now mainly aimed at Raqqa. Deir ezZor and Hassaké, on those positions held by the ISIL. This may ease the pressure on the FSA in the West, especially as the Iraqi Shiite militia in Syria have been recalled by Baghdad to strengthen the defence of Southern Iraq. Thus, on 15 June the Syrian Air Force bombed for 24 hours ISIL strongholds in the Raqqa and Hassaké areas.
While the lightening of the Western front may see the Syrian armed efforts moved against the IS, the latter, whose fire power is now much greater and whose movement much easier may also concentrate its attacks on the Kurdish areas, especially Koband, hemmed in between Turkey on its West and and the IS to its East. Hassaké is harder to capture, partly due to the persistent presence of government forces and Afrin is cordoned off between the FSA and the Alawiite bastion. Ths, between Raqqa and Deir ezZor, the IS’s front lines run parallel with those of the Kurds, as in Nineveh and Kirkuk and are alongside the KRG’s Pehmergas. However, while in Kurdistan and in Iraq the IS generally avoids dividing its forces between the Kurds and the Iraqis, this does not necessarily hold for Syria — especially as the YPG is seen as allied to the Shiite camp (Baath + Maliki + Iran). Moreover, while the Pehmergas have adopted a strictly defensive attitude, the YPG, for its part, is vainly trying to dislodge the IS from areas it occupies that separate the three “Rojava cantons”.
As a reprisal, the ISIL is spreading terror in the villages round Ras al’Ayn – Sere Kanivê and Tell Abyad, massacring civilians and carrying out exeutions by beheading and cricifiction. These images, shown by Internet and various social networks (both my themselves and the Kurds) have the effect of shocking feelings and serve as warnings and intimidation — but also to mobilise still further the Kurds and all those who have reason to fear the IS.
The PYD’s reaction to the fall of Nineveh and the movement of the Pehmergas into the areas abandoned by the Iraqis was, in the first days of the attack, a call for “unity” and for the general defence of Kurdistan in the (improbable) event that the IS threatened its existence. The YPG spokesman even made a statement declaring they were ready to fight alongside the Peshmergas.
The Peshmergas at Rabia and the YPG at Yarubia even met on 10 June to coordinate the defence of the border against the IS (according to a YPG source). Since the departure of the Iraqis, the respective epositions of the Kurds remain the same: Yarubia is held by the YPG and Rabia by the Peshmergas. Further South the IS controls the Iraqi-Syrian border, of which the Iraqi Army has completely lost control.
Interviewed on 13 June by the Turkish daily Bianet, Salih Muslim, co-President of the PYD, reiterated the call for unity of the Kurds, again complaining that hitherto his party had been the only one fighting the IS (pretending to ignore the FSA and Jabhat al Nusra) and that Turkey had never accepted their offer of collaboration — the fall of Mosul being the direct result of this.
“We have constantly knocked at the door, held out our hand but it was ignored. Turkey must now face the facts. Let us do something together of the danger is upon us”.
Parallel to this the PYD, like the PKK, called for unity at the moment that the IS invaded Iraq. The daily Basnews, reported a meeting between the PYD and Barzani’s KDP in Ankara, the principal subject of which wa the future of Syrian Kurdistan. The two parties are said to have agreed to stop attacking one another in the media and to try to find an agreement about the Sêmelka-Pêsh Khabur border post. According to this paper, the KCK (the Kurdish Community close to the PKK) had taken part in the discussions.
Last March, the Syrian regime had been accused by the PYD of secretly supporting the IS against the PYD, both through the YPG spokesman, Rêdûr Xelîlm who directly named alAssad, and by Salih Muslim, who stated in alMonitor (23/3/2014) that Damascus was behind the IS attacks on the Kurds, which justified collaboration between the FSA and the YPG. However, on 24 June, in an interview given to alMonitor, Salih Muslim changed his attitude to Turkey and accused it of supporting the IS, if only by letting its activists cross its borders or even by directly supporting some armed groups,
Thus Salih Muslim stated that “various documents” found on the bodies of dead IS fighters , showed that they had stayed in Turkey. He also stated that he did not believe the thesis that the “deep state” acted without Ankara’s agreement. At least, in his view, the country closed its eyes to the organisation’s comings and goings.
As foressen, in the military field of Syrian Kurdistan, it is at Kobani, the most vulnerable of the areas held by the PYD, that the IS’s war effort has been concentrated against the YPG. For a little less than a week, the front has developed, almost daily bomb attacks or clshes between villages are taking place similar to those in the spring. There seems to be about a hundred Jihadists in the area (according to the YPG) and heavy mortar shelling is taking place.
The Kobanî canton has decreed general mobilisation and its officers, as well as those at Qandil (PKK) have called for all “Kurdish youth” of the whole of Kurdistan to take part in the fight. In these operations, the military alliance between the FSA and the YPG is continuing with joint operations to the West of the Canton (near the FSA positions).
On 24 June, the Iraqi Supreme Court rejected an application for a temporary injunction submitted by the Iraqi oil Minister, , Abdul Karim Al-Luaibi, against the export of Kurdish oil. This injunction would have had the effect of ordering the stop of exports before any decision had been made regarding the central government’s complaint.
The Court unanimously refused to give an injunction, considering it “contrary to the legal context applicable in Iraq”, which does not mean that s final ruling has been made and that the exports have been ruled to be “legal” by this court.
The Kurdish Energy minister stated: “With this ruling by the Court, the KRG secures another important clarification of its rights, as laid down by the Constitution. Such a decision by the country’s Highest Court, is binding on the Federal Oil Ministry and cannot be challenged in any way”. He added that the Federal Oil Ministry and SOMO (the State agency responsible for the sale of Iraqi oil) must stop their “illegal and unconstitutional actions” aimed at stopping the export of Kurdistan oil. “They must also stop sending threatening and intimidating letters as well as untrue statements to potential purchasers of oil leglly exported by the government of Kurdistan”.
However, the rejection of this injunction is based on a legal principle that does not allow application pending judgement but does not rule on the essence of the case, which is whether the KRG, in directly exporting its oil, is or is not in beach of the Iraqi Constitution. On this issue, the case has not yet been heard but, meanwhile, the Kurds have not stopped their activity.
According to a legal expert in Baghdad, speaking off the record to the paper Rudaw, the request was rejected because inappropriately drafted, “but the Oil Ministry can submit another plea on the same issue. The Court’s rejection does not mean approval of the KRG’s oil exports”.
On 21 June, the Paris Kurdish Institute organised a symposium in the Victor Hugo Hall of the French National Assembly entitled “A tribute to Abdul Rahman Ghassemlou”, assassinated with two of his colleagues25 years ago on 13 july 1989 in Vienna by “emissaries” of the Iranian President in the course of “peace negotiations”.
This State crime has, unfortunately, never been punished. The assassins, identified but carrying diplomatic passports, were able freely to leave Austria and return to iran where they were congratulated and promoted. The Austrian CourtE did not seek to identify those behind this act of State terrorism carried out in the heart of Europe. Let alone trouble them.
Apart from this injustice, that remains very much alive in Kurdish collective memory, Dr. Ghassemlou’s political message, the ideals that guided his struggle for the emancipation of the Kurdish people, and for a democratic and secular Iran, that respected its political, cultural and linguistic diversity remain very much contemporary issues in Kurdistan, in Iran and in the Near East.
Further to witnesses to the many facets of the late Kurdish leader’s personality, those taking part were invited to discuss the topicality of his political ideas as well as the perspectives for Iranian Kurdistan and Iran
The first Round Table was called “Abdul Rahman Ghassemlou, a private person, a Kurdish political personality and an Iranian”. It was presided by Ms Joyce Blau, Emeritus Professor. Participants were Mr Hamit Bozarslan. Lecturer at the EHESS; Mr Bernard Granjon, a doctor and former President of Medecins du Monde; , Mr. Mostafa Hijiri, Secretary of the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran; Mrs Hélène Krulich, wife of Abdul Rahman Ghassemlou; and Mr. Frédéric Tissot, formerly France’s Consul General atErbil.
Hélène Krulich, who was Dr. Abdul Rahman Ghassemlou’s wife, recalled his assassins had never been bothered but had even been “promted”. She recalled her husband’s childhood and youth, his desire for justice in the face of the poverty in Kurdistan and in Iran and his early commitment of opposition to the Shah’s regime. “He was an Iranian patriot who loved his native Kurdistan”. Je and his wife, who he met in Czechoslovakia when he was 20, shared the desire to “put an end to the cruelties of the world”.
She also spoke of his wish to see a “free Iran”, which she shared, the dream for which “he fought for all his life and for which he gave his life”.
Hélène Krulich ended by praising some “brother Kurds of Iraq” and what they were achieving today “in a region where human rights and democracy are respected as nowhere else”. This would have made d’Abdul Rahman Ghassemlou “very proud”. She particularly praised the courage of the Peshmergas who, at that very moment were fighting Jihadists who have come from all over the world.
The General Secretary of the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran, Mustafa Hijri, thinks it “important to pay tribute to Dr. Ghassemlou’s life and his relentless fight for democracy in Iran and for the Kurdish people’s national rights in Iranian Kurdistan.
Dr. Ghassemlou was a man of principles while also aware of political realities. In other words he saw no contradiction between defending fundamental principles while showing political cautiousness. He was basically a humanist who understood that a political change in the desired direction would take time”.
The ideas he was committed to defend within the KDP-I were “democracy, equality of the sexes, freedom and independent decision making, regardless of the internal regional and international trends and cross currents”.
Twenty-five years after Dr. Ghassemoul’s assassination, the general situation of the Kurds, in the Middle East has improved — except in Iran, where we are seeing “increasing oppression of all those who demand freedom, especially political activists who struggle for the national rights of the Kurds, the Arabs, the Balouchs and the Axeris.
“Iran’s population expects the Western powers to make no compromise about the human rights situation while reaching an agreement with the regime on its nuclear programme. It is important that they realise that the Islamic regime only makes concessions when under pressure. The decision of the regime to negotiate and accept the conditions laid down by the world powers proves this. We think that if the Western Powers give a priority to the human rights situation in Iran the Islamic regime will respond to world pressure”.
Dr. Bernard Granjon, a doctor and former President of Medecins du Monde; recalled his first meeting with Abdul Rahman, thirty years ago, in the middle of the Iran-Iraq War and “the very simple and extremely warm welcome” he received from this man “who spoke seven, eight or nine languages” including French.
Quoting Malraux in “The Royal Road” “let victory come to those who fought this war without liking it”, Bernard Granjon testified that Abdul Rahman Ghassemlou had never liked war, that he was prepared to admit it was necessary but that “it was never by choice. He was a humanist, a visionary who had very long-term views”.
Abudl Rahman Ghassemlou preferred democracy above all else and refused to kidnap hostages or engage in terrorist actions so as to make “war as clean as possible”. Thus the KDP-I’s prisoners found, as they themselves admitted, that they were better treated than in the Iranian Army.
Medecins du Monde and International Medical Aid had helpd, in the field, build a hospital and train trained medical staff, from nurses to surgeons, which continued to be operational during the embargo on Iraqi Kurdistan and even today.
Bernard Granjon regularly saw again Abdul Rahman Ghassemlou during his visits to France. His last memory of seeing him was on 3 July 1989, in Paris, ten days before his assassination. As for the reasons why the KDP-I leader had kept this fatal appointment with the phoney negotiatprs from Iran, the put forward two hypotheses: “These negotiations were of very great importance. There had already been two meetings, this was a third one (…) Khomeiny had since died and he took a risky gamble, that he lost, thinking that the Kurdish cause was worth the risk. The other explanation is that this man was too great, too great to imagine the despicable and treacherous character of his enemies”.
Like Barnard Granjon, Dr. Fréderic Tissotm former French Consul General at Erbil, met Abdul Rahman Gassemlou in 1981, when he was a “French doctor”. He remembered his as “an absolute history lesson” with whom he learnt what were the Kurds and Kurdistan.
“Abdul Rahman Gassemlou taught me that it was nit easy to advance democracy in a war situation”. Frédéric Tissot remembered this lesson when he took up his post in the newly created Kurdistan Regional Government.
His settling in as France’s diplomatic representative in Kurdistan might not have been as easy if he and Bernard Kouchner had not known Dr. Ghassemlou, which enabled them to be more appreciated by the Kurdish authorities and population.
Mr. Hamit Bozarslan, first dealt with Abdul Rahman Ghassemlou’s ideas, on the basis of his book, written in 1965 “Kurdistan and the Kurds”, for which he had written a preface for the Turkish edition. With his generation, he was part of the Kurdish intelligentsia of the 1950s and 60s that renounced its class privileges in support of a cause. His ideas also tend towards those of the democratic left that forecast the Prague Spring, a critical thinking that was the opposite of that of the Baath, that also claimed to be of the Left.
His analysis of the situation of Kurdistan and of Iran was that, at that time, there was “neither a proletariat nor a bourgeoisie”. His commitment to the Left “was the bias through which it is possible to reconcile specific interests and universal interests. The specific interest being that of the Kurds, of their national struggle and the right of peoples to self determination — but this struggle would be hollow without the perspective of universal emancipation”.
“His book is very rich in data on Kurdistan and Iran of the period: the class relations, the urban dynamics, the question of incomes, tribal structures, the rental system, real estate etc. For anyone who would want to work on Kurdistan of the 50s and 60s, this book is essential. We can see a man who the figures, the facts, the areas, the price of land and the number of tractors seriously… This data enables us to draw up a very accurate map of the Kurdistan of the period”.
The dynamics of Kurdish nationalism had, for him, a double solution: a free union in which the structures of the State were not called to question but the free union is negotiated on the basis of equality. The other is a Middle Eastern Federation.
This book is a research work that can be most profitably used.
This first Round Table was followed by the screening of a documentary: “Abdul Rahman Ghassemlou by himself”.
The Second Round Table was presided by Kendal Nezan and called “Abdul Rahman Ghassemlou, citizen of the World”. Those taking part were: Mr. Marc Kravetz, a jounalist and international reporter withFrance-Culture; Mr. Bernard Kouchner, Former Minister of Foreign and European Affairs;, Mr. Abdol Karim Lahidji, a lawyer and former President of the International Federation of Human Rights and Mr. Jonathan Randal, former international reporter of the Washington Post.
Bernard Kouchner was a close friend of Ghassemlou. In his opinion, the only man that can be compared with him is Vaclav Havel, with whom he shares a common way of thinking about democratic socialism, the same intelligence the same humanism and complete realism.
“The struggle of the KDP-I changed our views. It was possible to be in favour of armed struggle imposed by an oppressor and, at the same time, have a vision of a socialist hope and of a deep nationalist hope”.
The present situation in Iraq shows how right Abdul Rahman Ghassemlou was with his idea of federalism. “There will be an independence and a sovereignty of Iraqi Kurdistan. … The only stable area, peaceful and in full development is Iraqi Kurdistan. Starting from that we can begin to think of a federation for Turkish, Syrian and Iranian Kurdistan”.
Abdol Karim Lahidji, a lawyer and former President of the International Federation of human Rights, was a friend of Ghassemlou, who he met in Teheran in 1979, four months after the revolution, when they were both candidates in the first general elections. Despite massive frauds, Ghassemlou was elected in Kurdistan because of the exceptional support he enjoyed. However war broke out in Kurdistan immediately and he was unable to take his seat in that Assembly “in which 70% were mullahs” or take part in drawing up the first Constitution of the Islamic Republic.
The repression intensified in the 80s, thousands f political activists were imprisoned or executed after minute-long trials. For the survivors, exile was the only alternative.
In Paris Abdol Karim Lahidji regularly saw A. Ghassemlou, the last time being a few days before his assassination, at which he didn’t breath a word about his pending meeting with the Iranian emissaries. But he was always seeking a great and peaceful coalition of the Iranian opposition.
A few months before his assassination, the regime had organised a purge of political prisoners in which 3,000 of them, who had been serving prison sentences, sometimes or many years, were executed on Khomeiny’s orders. How could he have had any confidence in the emissaries of such a regime?
Hia assassination was the start of a plan organised by the Islamic Republic of iran in the course of which over a hundred Iranian opponents, including his successor Sadiq Sharafkandi were murdered wither in Iran or abroad.
This policy of elimination comes under the heading of crimes against humanity as defined by the International Penal Court and are not prescriptible. The must be dealt with by an independent jurisdiction.
Marc Kravetz was also a close friend of Ghassemlou. He also conducted an enquiry on the triple murder inVienna. They met for the first time in Mahabad in 1979, when Iranian Kurdistan was surrounded by the Iranian Army and the Pasdarans (Guardians of the Islamic Revolution) — who, at that period were just a voluntary militia, many of whom had returned from the Lebanon and whose cruelty and violence had not yet reached such a high level.
One of Ghassemlou’s most striking features was his calmness and serenity even in such circumstances, which contrasted with that of most leaders of armed liberation movements. The city, from which all Kurdish armed forces had withdrawn to avoid causing considerable losses to the population, was soon surrounded by the Pasdarans.
It was while following the Kurdish mountaineers and Pesmergas, that Marc Kravetz was able to hear him develop his political vision, especially that of a “federation” or “confederation” when talking about the countries amongst whom Kurdistan had been divided. He summed up this idea in these terms: “We are a problem for all of them but we could also be their solution”. He also said “No one will allow us to create a country by destroying others”.
Ghassemlou tried to think of a people and a nation without necessarily identifying it with borders or a territory.
His last meeting with Abdul Rahman Ghassemlou was shortly before his journey to Vienna and followed Marc Kravetz’s return from Iran, where he had attended Khomeiny’s funeral. He then went to Vienna to conduct an enquiry into the assassinations: “There was no mystery about what had happened — and 25 years later the assassins are still around. However, Abdul Rahman Ghassemlou’s message also continues to live”.
Jonathan Randall recalled his meeting with Ghassemlou and the American Ambassadress, to Iraq, April Glaspie. The latter told him about her first meeting with Ghassemlou, in Baghdad, in the summer of 1988, during the cease-fire in the Iraq-Iran War, in which they discussed the condition of the Iraqi Kurds. She recalled an “accomplished diplomat, a subtle tactician . . . endowed with an extraordinary ability to pursue his life’s mission”.
In the summer of 1988, Ghassemlou was freer in his movements in the “Iraqi police state” than under the mullah’s regime, although her was only just tolerated in Iraq at a time when Saddam had not yet fully launching a reign of terror in Kurdistan.
However the cease fire with Iran saw the unleashing of the Anfal campaign against the Kurds in regions hitherto spared, like Behdinan, leading to an exodus of refugees towards Turkey. It was at this critical moment that discussions took place between April Glaspie and Ghassemlou, who she described as “worming his way between Saddam’s henchmen” to meet her i.e. risking his life to visit her at her official residency. “At that period the world had little reliable information about the fate the Kurds were undergoing in Iraq” and April Glaspie wanted to know what was happening in Behdinan, totally cut off from the Arab parts of Iraq. Although at great risk, Ghassemlou could go the Iraqi Kurdistan, unlike the Ambassadress, whose car was constantly followed by Saddam\s agents.
Jonathan Randal had dinner with him on the eve of his journey to Vienna, on his return from the Socialist International meeting in Sweden in 1989. At that moment he was very optimistic — with the end of the Iraq-Iran War and the death of Khomeiny, he had grounds for hoping that the United States would finally give him a visa. He was convinced that he would shortly be able to return to Iran.
Kendal Nezan, the President of the Kurdish Institute, then read a message from the well known expert in geopolitics, Gérard Chaliand, who wanted to pay tribute to Ghassemlou’s memory as “a friend and a companion” and “incontestably the most remarkable Kurdish political figure” of the last century. His project of an autonomous Kurdistan in a democratic Iran was completely opposed to Khomeiny’s dictatorship, and his death deprived his party and those close to him of someone irreplaceable.
Finally Kendal Nezan recalled his meeting with Ghassemlou in 1976, at a time when ht elatter had chosen to leave Prague for Paris and when he was teaching Kurdish at INALCO. They had worked together on the book “The Kurds and Kurdistan”, together with Ismet Cheriff Vanly — a book that aimed at explaining the Kurdish point of view regarding their own history, which has since been translated into dozens of languages. His knowledge of Iranian Kurdistan was most valuable for the France-Kurdistan Association, which was trying, at that time, to made the Kurds better known to French and world-wide public opinion. He also advanced a new vision of the Kurdish cause at a time when the various Kurdish movements were still under pro-Soviet and Marxist influence.
In a period when the French Right was favourable to the pro-Western Shah and to Saddam Hussein, while the Left regarded the Kurds as pro-American because of Barzani’s alliance with the US, Ghassemlou’s approach in favour of “democratic socialism” and his refusal to call existing borders into question, met a favourable response in various components of the French Left, particularly in the Socialist Party.
In March 1979, during the “Iranian Spring” following the overthrow of the Shah, and when the KDP-I’s Kurdish Peshmergas controlled most of the Kurdish towns, Kendal Nezan was able to take a French TV1 team to Kurdistan to meet Ghassemlou and bear witness to the extraordinary Springtime of Freedom in the Iranian Kurdistan region.
During the Jihad launched by Khomeiny in August against the Kurds, described as “Satan’s children”, Kendal Nezan acted, at Ghassemlou’s request, as “ambassador of the Iranian Kurds” in Europe with the media and NGOs for medical and humanitarian action. This led to action first by Doctors without Borders, then International Medical Aid and Doctors of the World in 1984. On their return these teams gave evidence on the situation and formed a network to make opinion aware of it.
The International Secretariat of the Socialist Party put these representatives of the Kurds in contact with its equivalents in Scandinavia, Germany, and Austria and they were even able to meet the Austrian Chancellor, Bruno Kreisky, as well as senor Norwegian, Swedish and Yugoslav officials.
Abdul Rahman Ghassemlou’s message during these meetings was always
-Not to challenge the existing borders but to aim for a democratic, secular and federal Iran that would grant the Kurds a wide degree of autonomy
-That the ends never justified the means, that the Kurds would never resort to terrorist actions so that their cause will always be considered legitimate, even if this took longer
-That the regional context sometimes obliged the formation of “unnatural and painful” alliances, but that these alliances should never be made to the detriment of another part of Kurdistan
Regarding the Kurdish question as a whole, he supported a National Kurdish Conference that would set up a National Council that could speak in the name of all the Kurds, for a common diplomacy rather than one dissipated between various movements. While it has not been able to achieve this at the political level because of disagreements between Kurdish parties, this idea has inspired the activity of the Kurdish Institute at cultural level.
In Iran, the Human Rights situation has in no way improved under the new Presidency and the Kurds continue to pay the price of a policy that aims at attacking simultaneously all ethnic and religious minorities as well as any political dissent.
Arrests made without any known reason are often followed by solitary confinement without the families having the slightest news of the detainees, even when the charges made are very slight or cannot be considered legal offences.
Thus there is still no news about some Kurds arrested last April in the towns of Bokan and Mahabad for the sole crime openly practicing Islam and religious festivals in accordance with the Sunni calendar rather than that decreed by the Shiite Iranian authorities.
In Urmiah and Tabiz, a demonstration criticising the authorities for their passiveness in the face of the ecological death of Lake Urmiah and its tragic drying out was followed by a wave of arrests. Some of these people have since been released.
Some deaths imputed to “smuggling” are, in fact, concealed crimes. In Piranshahr, Hadji Rasooli was shot down on 2 June, by police patrolling in the mountains. The Human Rights Activists’ News Agency collected evidence from local witnesses that contradict the official version. A smuggler was caught on the spot and shot down. However, the victim was travelling in the mountains but did not have any smuggled products on him. Having killed him, perhaps by mistake, the police then placed several bottles of alcoholic drinks beside the body and faked their report to avoid being blamed. Hadji Rasooli was arried and father of three children.
On 27 June, a young Kurd was killed by the Armed Forces while driving on the road between Paveh and Kermanshan. The Army accused the victim of smuggling but the family’s lawyer doubts this, arguing that the way the young man, Farsahd, had been hit shows that he had never been given the usual three warnings.
Such blinders by the patrols responsible for stopping smuggling are frequent in Iranian Kurdistan are never followed up or punished, those responsible covering up the facts with false reports or else the deaths are described as “accidental” and not followed by any enquiry.
Living conditions in the prisons are still deplorable and seriously threaten the lives of the detainee. Thus the Human Rights Organisations have, for many years regularly warned about the case of Zeynab Jalalian, sentenced for political reasons and incarcerated in Kermanshan Prison. Though suffering from pterygoid process, the authorities have long refused her transfer to a hospitalto undergo a surgical operation that could prevent her loss of sight.
Four Kurdish political prisoners in death row have been holding a hunger strike for the last 75 days. Arrested in 2009, Jamshid Dehgani, Jahangir Dehgani, Ahmed Hamadi and Kamal Molayee have never seen a lawyer since their arrest. They have, however, been subjected to several pretended executions — a form of torture tht is widespread in Iranian prisons. Their recent transfer to Ghezel Hasar Prison, North-west of Teheran, gives reason to fear their imminent execution — this time in reality.
A detainee, of Turkish nationality, Shakir Begi, originally from Van and captured in 2007 between Sanadaj et Mariwanm is serving a 30 year prison sentence. He was transferred this month from Diesel-Abad Prison (Kermanshan) to one at Kashmar in Khorassan. Placed in acell with criminal law prisoners instead of political ones, his stateof health is said to be very bad.
Also at Diesel-Abad Prison, another political detainee has started a hunger strike and has even sown up his lips in protest at his awful conditions of detention and the rejection of his demand to be transferred to Paveh Prison, near to where his family lives. In 2011, Layegh Kordpoor was arrested by the Intelligence Service and held in solitary for 2 months. Sentenced to 5 years jail, for “supporting some Salafist groups” without any precise statement of facts or evidence being presented at his trial, he has had his sentence reduced by one year and eight months but has not yet been released.
On 1 June the International Council of Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) published its “Evaluations of proposals for registering mixed and cultural goods in 2014” in UNRSCO’s World Heritage. The latter should decide, during its meeting in Doha this month, whether or not to register the sites and monuments examined by ICOMOS.
Amongst these are the Erbil Citadel, which ICOMOS had considered, after examination, that registration should be postponed but not disapproved (the third option being outright recommendation) because of some weaknesses in the case presented and, especially, the reservations the Council made about evacuating the people living in the Citadel.
The following are the final conclusions and recommendations submitted to UNESCO and to the High Commission for the Restoration of Erbil’s Citadel.
“Erbil’s Citadel, with its high position at the summit of an impressive artificial mound, rises above the plain in a region that was the cradle of the first cities and continues to make a striking visual impression. Abundant written and epigraphic traces also recall the long history of the site, which has been documented since the Ebla epoch and which has prospered as a political and religious centre in the neo-Assyrian period. The permanence of its name throughout the centuries strengthens the idea of a long continuity of occupation.
The proposal of registration seems influenced by three factors, but once it is a matter to putting forward material elements to back the arguments of the selected criteria, the brief shows a degree of ambiguity and confusion. The comparative analysis, the delimitations and the arguments put forward in the proposal for registration do not help to demonstrate the justification pf an exceptional universal value proposed at this stage.
Indeed, the remaining, fragmentary constructional fabric of the property proposed for registration and the buffer zone bear witness to Erbil’s more recent historic period, between the 18th and early 20th Centuries. With regard to the pervious historic phases, the remaining traces of the property proposed for registration do not support the arguments put forward in the brief, nor do they show to what extent or how these earlier traces have determined the present configuration of the Citadel. Some further historic, documentary and morphological studies could throw more light on this point.
The tell is the only massive physical demonstration of the ancient phases of occupation. but the absence of systematic archaeological excavations, any information on the preceding strata remains hypothetical and cannot contribute enough support for the arguments advance in the brief for registration. At this stage, there are few material elements or scientific documentation to show that the tell contains important archaeological traces and coincides with the Assyrian city of Arbeles.
The wholeness of the property proposed for registration is also worrying. Most of the components that made up a historic fortified urban centre no longer exist or have undergone major transformations. There only remain some groups of 19th Century residential buildings, in a precarious and fragmentary condition.
ICOMOS congratulates the Kurdistan autonomous region for its important contribution to the preservation of Erbil’s Citadel. However, it notes that the ambitious programme of conservation and revitalisation initiated in 2008 is still at its beginnings and needs a long-tern political commitment and a substantial institutional capacity to carry it through.
Some major projects — for example the reconstruction under way of the main gate based on historic and graphic documentation limited to its pre-1960 configuration and the Kurdistan National Museum (directly in front of the citadel) also raise some concern regarding the maintenance of the already weakened integrity and authenticity of the property proposed for registration”.
The 8 Recommendations regarding registration were:
“ICOMOS recommends that examination of the proposal to register Erbil’s Citadel on the World Heritage List be differed to enable the State concerned to:
- deepen research into the urban-architectural heritage and the archaeological context of the property proposed for registration and its environment so as to clarify the potentially important areas of the property in terms of material elements and to complete the comparative analysis so as to understand if the property can be considered to have an exceptional universal value.
If this research suggests that some silid arguments justify the property\s exceptional universal value, then:
- Alter the delimitations of the property proposed for registration and the buffer zone if and where this is necessary
- Formalise by legally appropriate means the role, structure and powers of the High Commission for the revitalising of the Erbil Citadel as a managing authority, endowed with appropriate and stable financial and human resources for effective long-term operation.
ICOMOS considers that any revised proposal should be studied by an expert mission that will go to the site.
ICOMOS also recommends that the State party take the following points into account:
Urgently to concern itself with stabilising the slopes of the archaeological mound.
To reconsider the location of the Kurdistan National Museum or to substantially revise the architectural design of the present project to harmonise it with the Citadel and its relationship with the environment.
To study, document and map remaining surface vestiges of all kinds and to set up mechanisms for documenting and protecting the archaeological vestiges buried under building activities.
To draw up a strategy for attracting private investors and building a solid public/public partnership to carry out the programme of conservation and revitalisation.
To undertake legal studies with a view to improving the existing legal framework by introducing mechanisms to support private owners regarding their obligations to maintain their heritage properties.
To strengthen the involvement of the inhabitants and of the civil society of Erbil in general in the revitalisation of the Citadel and to provide the appropriate tools to ensure their effective participation in the process”.
The whole report can be read on line or downloaded at this address (the file on Erbil is on pages 242-252)
In the end, however, at its 21 June meeting in Doha, UNESCO did not follow the ICOMOS recommendation but on the spot registered the Citadel on the World Heritage List. It is now on UNESCO’s site. on the page of newly registered entrants with the following presentation:
“The Erbil Citadel (Iraq) is an anciently established fortified construction at the summit of an imposing ovoid tell — a mound created by the generations that have followed one another on the site and rebuilt in the same place. It is located in the Kurdistan autonomous region of Iraq, in the North of the country. The uninterrupted wall of facades of 19th century houses continues to give the impression of an impregnable fortress overlooking the town of Erbil. The Citadel has a particular fan-shaped street layout dating to the late Ottoman phase of Erbil. Written and iconographic sources record the antiquity of the human occupation of the site. Erbil corresponds to the ancient city of Arbeles, an important Assyrian political and religious centre, while some archaeological digs and discoveries suggest that the hill may hide strata and vestiges of even more ancient sites”.
Erbil’s Citadel has thus become Kurdistan’s first historic site to appear on tUNESCO’s prestigious list of Humanity’s heritage.