Informed Comment Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion Sun, 11 Dec 2016 09:43:13 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Is Bruited Sec. of State Tillerson allied with Iran & at war with Iraq? Sun, 11 Dec 2016 09:38:50 +0000 By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

A couple of years ago an oil tanker showed up off the Texas coast with cargo from Iraqi Kurdistan.

The problem? Iraqi Kurdistan is a province of Iraq, and the central government in Baghdad claims that petroleum discovered in Iraqi Kurdistan is under the control of the Baghdad Ministry of Petroleum.

The attempt of Iraqi Kurdistan to export petroleum to the US without going through Baghdad created an immediate court case. But once the oil was caught up in US litigation, it became clear that US judges would rule in favor of the central Iraqi government.

Despite the clear leanings of the US judicial system, there is one powerful American who insists that Iraqi Kurdistan can do oil deals without reading in Baghdad.

Exxon-Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson? Yep, that very one. The man Trump is hinting will be his secretary of state? Yes.

Tillerson as head of Exxon-Mobil was perfectly happy to do a deal with Iraqi Kurdistan even if the deal angered the central Iraqi government.

The deal was illegal in international law, but Tillerson really
pushed for it, because Exxon-Mobil apparently isn’t satisfied with annual profits of $16 billion a year.

The backing of Exxon-Mobil for the Kurdistan Regional Government’s interpretation of oil rights gave the KRG new confidence, and historians looking back on it may well see it as the moment in which the Iraqi Kurds started on their path to an independent country.

Getting the cooperation of the Iraqi government of PM Haydar al-Abadi in the fight against Daesh (ISIS, ISIL) is crucial to success in that campaign. But you could imagine a President Trump being rebuffed by the Baghdad government of al-Abadi for interfering in the country’s internal affairs via that KRG oil deal.

Moreover, Turkey won’t be too happy with the whole episode, either.

The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in the meantime is planning to take advantage of the end of international sanctions on Iran by pumping oil through Iran to get around Iraq’s objections.

So, yes, you got it. Tillerson’s corporation is de facto an ally of Iran and would have a reason to want US sanctions on that country dropped (those sanctions were just renewed by Congress for 10 years).

Related video:

CPT Iraqi Kurdistan: “Exxon Mobil disrupts lives of farmers of Hajji Ahmed”

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In Iran, Women’s militia Leader Demands Persecution Of Gender-Rights Activism Sun, 11 Dec 2016 05:24:23 +0000 By Golnaz Esfandiari | ( RFE/RL) | – –

Minou Aslani, head of the Women’s Basij organization in Iran, has condemned efforts to increase the number of women in parliament and opposed campaigns to curb domestic violence as perceived assaults on Iranian society and traditional family values.

Minou Aslani, head of the Women’s Basij organization in Iran, has condemned efforts to increase the number of women in parliament and opposed campaigns to curb domestic violence as perceived assaults on Iranian society and traditional family values.

The woman who leads female volunteers in Iran’s hard-line conservative militia, the Basij, has identified a new foe.

Minu Aslani has reportedly called the promotion of gender equality illegal and demanded that the country’s powerful judiciary take action against people who speak out against such state-sponsored discrimination.

“These activities are in fact against our laws and the judiciary should take action,” the semiofficial Mehr news agency quoted Aslani as telling reporters on December 2.

In the past, Aslani has condemned efforts to increase the number of women in parliament and opposed campaigns to curb domestic violence as perceived assaults on Iranian society and traditional family values. Pushing for greater female participation threatens to “distort” the identity of Iran’s women, she has said.

The latest broadside against opponents of gender-based discrimination appears to be a volley aimed at allies of relative moderate President Hassan Rohani, who campaigned in 2013 on a pledge to fight second-tier status for women and is expected to seek a second term in 2017.

At the December 2 press conference, Aslani argued that gender equality was a Western concept that isolates women. “This is a path that has resulted in the solitude of women in the West,” she said. “Unfortunately some people in this country are following the outdated Western example — it is against human nature.”

Aslani also criticized United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s eight-year-old UNiTE To End Violence Against Women campaign, which is aimed at raising awareness about violence against women and girls.

Aslani argued that the initiative — which proclaims the 25th day of each month “Orange Day” — suggests to women and girls that they should not grant their love and affection to their families.

“Why have authorities in our country given a commitment to the United Nations to achieve gender equality within the next 15 years?” Aslani asked reporters.

She appeared to be referring to a UN development agenda for global action for the next 15 years, ratified by member states in 2016, that highlights gender equality and women’s empowerment as a key priority.

Aslani added that Iran should have a plan for women to be active in society while providing “emotional support” to their families. “Alongside social and economic activities, the main identity of a Muslim woman is centered on her role as a mother,” she said.

She also complained that unnamed individuals in Iran have designed a questionnaire to gauge gender equality among various state bodies, adding that such activities were also “against the law and the judiciary should take action.”

Aslani also criticized Iran’s vice president for women’s affairs, Shahindokht Molaverdi, who has expressed commitment to gender equality and angered hard-liners with her efforts to promote women’s rights. She recently tweeted to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women on November 25:

“…[W]hat has the vice presidency for women’s affairs done for virtue in society?” Aslani asked.

Women’s rights activists have sought to become more active and engage more thoroughly in Iran’s religiously conservative society under Rohani’s presidency. But they have faced pressure from hard-liners in control of key institutions who believe feminist ideas are a violation of Islamic principles.

In August, Amnesty International warned against a renewed crackdown against women’s rights activists in Iran, saying that they were being treated as “enemies of the state.”

In recent weeks, reports have said that as many as 20 women have been summoned and interrogated by the authorities for attending a seminar in Georgia on women’s empowerment.

At least one of the seminar’s attendees, photographer and women’s rights activist Alieh Matlabzadeh, has been arrested.

Golnaz Esfandiari is a senior correspondent with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. She can be reached at

Persian Letters is a blog that offers a window into Iranian politics and society. Written primarily by Golnaz Esfandiari, Persian Letters brings you under-reported stories, insight and analysis, as well as guest Iranian bloggers — from clerics, anarchists, feminists, Basij members, to bus drivers.

Copyright (c) 2016. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036.


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Those times the US meddled in other People’s Elections Sun, 11 Dec 2016 05:18:11 +0000 TeleSur | – –

U.S. concern over alleged Russian foul play in this year’s election is ironic given decades of Washington’s deadly foreign intervention.

Revelations surfaced on Friday that a leaked document from the CIA has allegedly found that the Russian government had intervened in the U.S. election to help to elect Donald Trump.

For many, such a scenario seems unthinkable, but for decades successive U.S. administrations and the CIA have been meddling with other countries’ affairs backing foreign right-wing leaders across the world, with disastrous effects. We look at just some of the many examples.


In 2009, President Manuel Zelaya was preparing for a non-binding referendum to ask the electorate if they would support a change to the constitution. The right-wing with the support of the military and U.S. backing from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton helped to support a military coup against the center-left leader.


In 1954, the CIA helped launch a coup against Guatemalan President Jacobo Arbenz, the country’s only democratic government. The brutal intervention is estimated to have led to the deaths of at least 200,000 people and decades of genocide.

El Salvador

At least 70,000 Salvadoran are thought to have been killed in the country’s civil war from 1979-1992, where the majority of deaths were attributed to right-wing security forces and deaths squads, which were again given U.S. backing.


Not only has Washington’s blockade stripped the island of a massive US$753.7 billion since it was imposed in 1960, but the CIA helped to lead a band of Cuban mercenaries in their failed attempt to invade Cuba in April 1961. Late Cuban leader Fidel Castro is thought to have survived over 600 assassination attempts.


The U.S. along with other western powers supported former President Suharto for his anti-communist stance. Known as the Indonesian Genocide, Suharto carried out a national purge against suspected communists, with an estimated death toll reaching as many as 3 million. The CIA was known to supply the names of suspected communists to the Indonesian army and provide them with arms.


In 1953 the CIA along with help from the U.K. executed a coup known as “Operation Ajax” against Iran’s democratically-elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadeq. Mossadeq “crime” was that he wanted to nationalize the country’s oil industry.


Amid the raging U.S.-led war in Vietnam, Laos became the scene of a CIA “secret war” to cut supplies they believed were flowing to North Vietnamese communist troops. From 1964 to 1973, Laos became the world’s most bombed country per capita. While Obama this year apologized for “secret war,” the country is still plagued by unexploded landmines.


Again allegedly fearing communism, the U.S.-backed military dictator Augusto Pinochet overthrew democratically-elected president Salvador Allende in 1973 with the help of the CIA. Pinochet then ruled for 17 years and more than 3,200 people are thought to have been killed or disappeared, while more than 28,000 are estimated to have been tortured by his forces.


Via TeleSur

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Amnesty International calls on Israel to drop ‘baseless’ charges against activists Sun, 11 Dec 2016 05:17:58 +0000 Ma’an News Agency | – –

BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) — Human rights organization Amnesty International released a statement Friday demanding Israel to drop the “baseless” charges against two Palestinian “human rights defenders” Farid al-Atrash and Issa Amro, who both currently face charges in an Israeli military court relating to their activism.

Both locals of the southern occupied West Bank district of Hebron, the two are facing prison time if found guilty. The hearing to decide their fates was adjourned until Dec. 21, after their lawyer asked for a number of the charges to be dropped during a Nov. 23 hearing.

File Photo

In attendance at the Nov. 23 hearing were representatives from the the embassies and consulates of the United States, United Kingdom, Belgium, Finland, Germany, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland, as well as representatives from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Human Rights Watch, and other international organizations.

Both activists were arrested by Israeli authorities in Hebron in February within three days of each other, for their participation in a peaceful protest.

Al-Atrash, a lawyer, was arrested during a peaceful march on Feb. 26 commemorating the 22 years since extremist American-born Israeli settler Baruch Goldstein opened fire on Muslim Palestinian worshipers killing 29 and injuring more than 120 in Hebron’s Ibrahimi mosque in 1994.

The demonstration also called for the re-opening of al-Shuhada street, which was shut down soon after the massacre, and called for the removal of discriminatory restrictions on movement placed on Palestinians in the city.

During the protest, Israeli forces threw sound bombs and fired tear gas at the protesters.

Israeli officials later presented al-Atrash to the Ofer military court with charges amounting to “participating in an illegal demonstration” and “attacking soldiers,” according to Amnesty International.

Al-Atrash vehemently denied the charges, with video footage of the arrest corroborating his account, showing that he was standing and holding a poster peacefully in front of Israeli soldiers when he was pushed, dragged, and then violently arrested by a number of soldiers, according to Amnesty International.

Days later on Feb. 29, Issa Amro, coordinator of the Youth Against Settlements group, was arrested from the group’s center in the Tel Rumeida neighborhood of Hebron’s Old City for his participation in the Feb. 26 protest where al-Atrash was arrested.

On June 7, Israeli authorities handed Amro 18 charges, ranging from “insulting a soldier” to “assault,” with some of the charges dating back to 2010.

According to Amnesty International, Amro has denied all the charges, and alleges that he was beaten by the Israeli police while in custody on two occasions. He has also claimed that he has faced threats and harassment from the Israeli army, police, and settlers.

The statement added that Amro and al-Atrash’s lawyer asked for a number of the charges to be dropped against Amro because of the how old some of the charges are, and because some of them were from closed police files.

“Amnesty International believes that the charges against both men are baseless, and are solely related to their work as human rights defenders,” the statement said.

The statement concluded by asking people to call on the Israeli authorities to “immediately drop all the charges against Issa Amro and Farid al-Atrash, to put an immediate end to harassment of Issa Amro and other human rights defenders in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, to immediately investigate Issa Amro’s claims of beatings by the Israeli police, and prosecute those responsible if sufficient evidence is discovered.”

Throughout tens of years of his activism, Amro has been highly regarded by Palestinian and international activists for his unrelenting commitment to nonviolent peaceful protest.

Magdalena Mughrabi, Deputy Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International, has previously condemned what she said was a “sustained campaign of harassment and assault at the hands of the Israeli military and settlers because of (Issa Amro’s) activism.”

In a November statement, Mughrabi said “imprisoning Issa Amro would be a travesty of justice and would silence yet another important critical voice in the Occupied Palestinian Territories,” and that if convicted, Amro would be considered a “prisoner of conscience” by Amnesty International.

In 2011, an annual military courts report documented that Israeli military courts in the occupied West Bank have a 99.74 percent conviction rate for Palestinians brought before them.

Via Ma’an News Agency

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2016 ‘One of worst Years in History for Children’: UNICEF Sat, 10 Dec 2016 05:32:50 +0000 By Matthew Tempest | ( ) | – –


Syria: Abdulaziz (in red), 10, whose father was killed in the continuing conflict, spends time with his friends at the ‘Land of Childhood’ – two basements linked with a tunnel to create an underground playground that gives children a relatively safe place to have fun in their besieged area.


From Aleppo to South Sudan or Yemen, UNICEF banged the drum for education in emergencies at a European Parliament event this week, highlighting the plight of tens of millions of children in conflict and emergency situations going without schooling.

EurActiv’s development correspondent Matthew Tempest spoke with Justin Forsyth, the deputy Executive Director of UNICEF on the sidelines of an event at the European Parliament on Tuesday (6 December).

Forsyth is formerly chief executive of Save the Children and a former advisor to UK Prime Minister Tony Blair.

What was today’s event hoping to achieve?

It was about putting the spotlight on education in emergencies. We’ve made a lot of progress in the world in terms of getting children into school in general – but in emergency situations many children fall out of school, and they don’t need to.

Or they stop learning. And very little humanitarian aid is spent on that. So Commissioner Stylianides and all these children were all here today to bang the drum for education in emergencies.

Whether it’s in Aleppo or South Sudan or Yemen, the question is how do we keep children learning amidst humanitarian emergencies? We heard some great stories about how that’s possible.

UNICEF’s figures are that 462 million children are in ‘emergency situations’ and some 75 million children are not able to attend schools. Now, nobody can be in favour of 75 million children not attending school, so what is it you’re wanting concretely, or in financial terms, to help that situation?

One example is that in the past, the European Union – one of the biggest aid donors in the world – spent less than 2%, or only a few %, of its humanitarian budget on emergencies. Then Commissioner Stylianides came in, saying we spent 4%, now it’s going to be 6%, and now it’s going to be even more than that. So one thing is to mobilise a lot of money.

And it’s not just the EU – the World Bank, bilaterally the British government, the Norwegians, the Americans, a lot more money is going towards this, and that leads to practical results.

In Aleppo at the moment, even in the midst of all this conflict, there are underground schools, where children are learning. And that’s with European Union money. In the refugee camps in Jordan and Turkey, there were huge numbers of children out of school – and now nearly all the children in Jordan, for example, are in school. There’s still a lot more to go in Turkey, but in Jordan there’s been a huge amount of progress, so we don’t have this ‘lost generation’ of children that miss out on education, because we know it damages those children.

But it also has very negative impacts on those communities and societies. And in places like the Middle East, it leaves them vulnerable to being recruited by extremists.

You mentioned Syria and Aleppo. Obviously, that is on everyone’s minds at the moment, but speaking to a lot of NGOs over the past few months, Syria ‘crowds out’ a lot of other forgotten conflicts. There’s also Yemen, the Lake Chad situation in Africa…

Completely. I’ve just been in South Sudan over the summer, and 50% of the children in South Sudan don’t go to school. And that’s a tragedy. We were beginning to make progress in South Sudan, but the two leaders there opening up that conflict again in July has led to mass displacement and huge amounts of children being malnourished, but it’s also displaced more children out of school, and armed groups have not only been committing human rights abuses generally, but recruiting children as child soldiers.

I went to one very remote part of South Sudan, a place called Bentu where thousands of people are displaced by the war. In the refugee camp they’ve begun to put schools together, children are learning again, and they were really eager and enthusiastic – because it creates some normalcy for them in the midst of conflict, as well as making sure they don’t miss out on learning.

So I completely agree. South Sudan, also northern Nigeria, where Boko Haram deliberately targeted I think 3,000 schools were destroyed. As they’ve been pushed back, more children were able to start education again in those areas.

It’s not just Syria, where children are on the move.

UNICEF Deputy Director Justin Forsyth believes people have almost given up hope on Syria, and that 2016 was one of the worst years in history for children worldwide.

UNICEF Deputy Director Justin Forsyth believes people have almost given up hope on Syria, and that 2016 was one of the worst years in history for children worldwide.


I guess part of the importance of education is that – horrible as the situation children find themselves in now – if they have an education of some sort, they are equipped with tools for later life, whereas if you miss out entirely, it’s hard to get a second chance.

No. Although you can catch up later, and some of the programmes which we run with slightly older children are ‘catch up’ programmes. But it’s much better that you don’t miss out – because also those children are also vulnerable to abuse, or working in factories, like they are in Turkey at the moment. So schools are a place of safety, as well. So keeping children learning has a double benefit.

And it might not be formal schools. In South Sudan, I went to ‘outdoor’ schools, tents in one of the refugee camps, and in Aleppo as I mentioned there are ‘underground’ schools. We have to make do in these very difficult situations, but the point is you have a place of safety for children.

Since it’s December, how do you see 2016 in retrospect from the development/humanitarian perspective? We’ve had the London Syria donors conference, the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul, the EU’s new Consensus on Development. And yet, on the other hand, there’s no end in sight to the Syrian conflict, there are millions of refugees in neighbouring countries, let alone Europe. Do you have any glimmer of hope for 2017?

I think 2016 was probably one of the worst years in history for children. If you add up not just Syria, but Yemen, South Sudan, northern Nigeria, children on the move around the world, fleeing gang violence in central America, or crossing the Mediterranean from Libya, there can’t be many years that children suffered so much from violence, let alone missing out on education.

In Syria, I think it looks very bleak at the moment. In many of these besieged areas where we work and try to have access, yes, some aid has got in, more than in eastern Aleppo, but very little, and much less than in previous years. And we’re not about to reach the sixth anniversary of this conflict, and the level of suffering is appalling.

One of our staff was telling me that in eastern Aleppo doctors that we fund and work with have run out of medicines. So they’re having to literally decide which children live or die.

And there are hundreds of injured children we’ve not been able to evacuate.

You can’t imagine a more horrific situation. People are beginning to give up hope. We had a story of one mother, who lost her husband and two sons, and then tried to stab her baby to death and kill herself.

At the beginning of this conflict, people had hope about returning, and hope about the future. I think people are now in despair.


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The Reich Strikes Back? Neo-Nazis Call for a Boycott of New Star Wars Movie Sat, 10 Dec 2016 05:28:31 +0000 By TeleSur | – –

White-supremacists are upset because nearly all of the major characters on the new Star Wars film are people of color.

Neo-Nazi groups on the Internet are calling to boycott the premiere of “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” as they feel offended about the themes of the upcoming film, calling it “nothing but a Jew masturbation fantasy of anti-White hate,” reports IB Times.

According to what these white-supremacists have poured into their comments on a forum on the discussion website Reddit, they are upset mostly because “nearly all of the major characters are non-whites and the main character is an empowered white female.”

The film’s main characters are starred by Felicity Jones, a woman and Diego Luna, a Mexican. It is a prequel to the hugely successful franchise which returned to screens last year with “The Force Awakens.” It is set for release on December 15.

A similar thing happened before the release of the franchise’s Episode VII “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” in 2015, when men’s “activists” called on boycott the film because it was starred by John Boyega and Daisy Ridley: a black actor and a woman.

The election of Donald Trump has underscored deep national divisions that have fueled incidents of racial hatred across the United States. There has also been a spike in the number of hate crimes after the vote, according to the FBI.

Via TeleSur


Related video added by Juan Cole:

Star Wars: “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story Trailer #2 (Official)”

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No, America, it wasn’t Russia: You did it to Yourself Sat, 10 Dec 2016 05:18:06 +0000 By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

The headlines scream, “Secret CIA assessment says Russia was trying to help Trump win White House” and “Obama orders review of Russian Hacking during Presidential campaign.”

I don’t doubt that the Russian Federation employs hackers and PR people to influence public opinion and even election outcomes in other countries. So does the United States of America. But I am skeptical that anything the Russians did caused Donald Trump to be president.


It wasn’t like Trump was a Manchurian Candidate, a stealth plant in the US body politic who would only be operationalized once elected.

Trump was in plain view. He had all along been in plain view. His hatred for uppity or “nasty” women, his racism, his prickliness, his narcissism, his rich white boy arrogance and entitlement (apparently even to strange women and other men’s wives), his cronyism and his fundamental dishonesty were on display 24/7 during some 18 months of the campaign, and it wasn’t as though he were an unknown quantity before that.

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Americans voted for him anyway. Slightly more Americans voted for him than for a respectable person like Mitt Romney. No Russians were holding a gun to their heads. And they knew, or should have known, what they were getting.

By a “black swan” fluke, a few tens of thousands of the Trump voters were distributed differently, state by state, than the McCain and Romney voters; and in some key states like Michigan Sec. Clinton did not do as well as Obama had, even if she was beloved in California and New York.

One of the cleverest things Trump said during the campaign was directed to African-American voters, asking what they had to lose by challenging the status quo and voting for him. It was a trick, of course, and they have everything to lose, both because the Republican Party’s economic policies aim to help rich people at the expense of workers and most African-Americans are working class, and because the GOP since Nixon has connived at attracting a white racist constituency, and succeeded.

But despite the dishonesty of the quip (which did not fool African-Americans one little bit), that kind of thinking appears to have been widespread. In some states, as many as 14 percent of the white working class deserted the Democratic Party compared to the previous two elections, and, worse, 21 percent of white working class voters who used to vote for Obama just stayed home. They weren’t being irrational. Things have been bad for them and they haven’t participated in the recovery after 2008 the way the stock market has. Their death rates have even increased.

Nor did any Russian hacking related to Wikileaks, if that is what happened, prove decisive. Clinton’s own polling people found the big turning point was when she called Trump voters a “basket of deplorables.” Americans don’t like being talked down to, and had already gotten rid of Romney for the same sin. The spectacle of Clinton taking hundreds of thousands of dollars to give a speech to the people who put them out of their homes in 2008-9 also turned many of them off so that they stayed home, while another section of them decided to take a chance on Trump. He will screw them over, but from their point of view, they worried that she might have, as well. Trump was promising to stop the hemorrhaging of jobs via protectionism, whereas everyone understood that Sec. Clinton’s first instinct was to do TPP and send more jobs to Asia.

So it was Clinton’s public persona and public positions that hurt her and depressed Democratic turnout in places like Detroit and Flint, not anything in Wikileaks (can anyone name even one newsworthy email?) Or on the other hand it was Neofascist disinformation campaigns like spiritcooking and pizzagate. It wasn’t anything as rational as a Putin sting.

No, America had its eyes wide open. The Republican Party, the usual 61 million, voted for Trump, despite his vulgar talk and vulgar style of life. Since the GOP is mostly the party of Protestant whites plus about 40 million Catholics who think they are white, nobody over there too much minded the racism against minorities. There were some defections among the white Protestant married women from the GOP (either stay-at-homes or aisle-crossers) and there were some defections among the white working class from the Democratic Party. But those two may well have just cancelled each other out.

The GOP voted for a champion of the business classes, which Trump will be, in spades. And that is what everyone should expect. There is nothing surprising about it. The GOP wins nationally when it can add to its base of small and large businesspeople and farmers and exurbanites, and Trump managed to attract a few tens of thousands of other sorts of people in the districts where it happened to matter.

Russia doesn’t enter into it.

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The Fate of Iraq’s Minorities After Mosul Sat, 10 Dec 2016 05:16:23 +0000 By Tyler Fisher and Kamal Kolo | ( | – –

The liberation of Mosul offers the international community a unique opportunity to permit the region’s most vulnerable minorities to exercise self-preservation and self-determination.

Prayer cloths on Mount Arafat in the Yezidi holy site of Lalish, Kurdistan Region. Picture by Levi Clancy. Creative Commons BY-SA 4.0.

The imminent liberation of Mosul offers the international community a unique opportunity. It is an opportunity to take concrete, concerted legal action: to permit the region’s most vulnerable minorities to exercise self-preservation and self-determination by forming an autonomous, pluralistic province in the area known as the Nineveh Plains, their historic homeland in the northwest reaches of Mesopotamia.

Such a territorial initiative would, of course, be fraught with dangers and disadvantages, which any viable plan must take into consideration. It must not be a unilateral effort, especially by the United States, or perceived to be such. This must not be another American interventionist, nation-building exercise.

Earlier this year, the European Parliament, the Council of Europe, the British Parliament, and the United States Congress all formally recognized that the Islamic State (ISIS) has waged an ongoing campaign of genocide against Christians, Yezidis, and other ethnic minorities in Iraq and Syria. This resounding international designation of Islamic State’s atrocities as genocide is momentous. Under the terms of the United Nations’ Genocide Convention of 1948, states must ‘undertake to prevent and to punish’ genocide. Prevention of genocide can take real, substantial form in the creation of a protected province in the Nineveh Plains, even if that province is federated and remains dependent on Baghdad to some degree.

Too often, international interventions in Iraq during the last two decades have lacked clear and consistent strategies for the aftermath of military campaigns.

Too often, international interventions in Iraq during the last two decades have lacked clear and consistent strategies for the aftermath of military campaigns and even for the aftermath of humanitarian efforts: what should be done after a dictator is overthrown, or when a hotbed of extremism is reoccupied? How long can millions of refugees subsist in makeshift camps?

Liberating Mosul and the Nineveh Plains from the Islamic State’s control affords a crucial window of time and territory in which to be proactive instead of merely reactive. One proactive proposal that is gaining some traction among the coalition powers, both inside and outside of Iraq, is a plan to create an autonomous, democratic, pluralistic province for Iraq’s Christians, Yezidis, and other minorities, within the region that Islamic State has occupied with their self-declared caliphate since the summer of 2014. For Iraq’s Christian and Yezidi minorities, in particular, this proposal might prove to be the one measure that can still spare them from extinction in their ancestral homeland. They are under existential threat. As matters stand, they could easily go the way of Iraq’s Jewish population, which was utterly wiped out by ethnic cleansing, exile, and emigration between the 1950s and 1970s —the end of a community that had lived continuously in Mesopotamia for at least 2,500 years.

Restoring the mosaic

The Nineveh Plains have historically been a fragile mosaic of ethnicities: Assyrian Christians, Chaldean Christians, Syriac Orthodox Christians, Yezidis, Babawat, Kaka’i, Shabak, Sufi, Shi’a and Sunni Muslim tribes. The Islamic State did their best to obliterate this mosaic. Now is the time to frame what is left of that mosaic within secure borders where it can recover some of its former rich and vivid colours. The formation of a secure, self-governing homeland for the ethno-religious minorities of northern Mesopotamia would stand in stark contrast to Islamic State’s monolithic reign and fanatical, autocratic ideology.

The territorial initiative would grant an opportunity to repatriate many of the nearly two million refugees who have fled to the relative safe haven of the Kurdistan region in northern Iraq. Even now, members of vulnerable minorities from the Nineveh Plains continue to flee to Kurdistan, Turkey, Syria, and neighbouring regions, but these neighbours cannot support them indefinitely. A perpetual diaspora need not be accepted as inevitable.

The Nineveh Plains have historically been a fragile mosaic of ethnicities.

It would constitute a new narrative for the region, countering head-on the caliphate’s genocidal narrative of population control and territorial expansion. This would blunt much of Islamic State’s appeal as a strong, geographically expanding enclave for extremists. Beyond neutralizing a central tenet of Islamic State’s apocalyptic message, it would represent a decisive reversal of Islamic State’s violent depredations. The contrast could not be clearer between a repressive caliphate and vigorous pluralism.

Ancient Christian communities have endured in this often inhospitable region since the first century CE. There is an apocryphal story of an American soldier who was surprised to see a church in a village of northern Iraq. “When did you people convert to Christianity?” he asked the villagers. “About 2000 years ago,” was their reply. Indeed, the Nineveh Plains are home to the tombs of patriarchs, prophets, and apostles, as well as other sites of biblical significance. Alongside these, the land is dotted with important shrines for Yezidi pilgrimage. The Islamic State has systematically destroyed museums and monuments. We must preserve what is left of the cultural and archaeological heritage in this region of Mesopotamia that is so fundamental for the broader history of civilization.

Obstacles and necessary provisons

International peace-keeping forces will be indispensable. The Nineveh Plains are rich in natural resources, with vast oil and gas reserves that are largely untapped. Control of these resources is likely to be strongly contested. In the same vein, the international community must also recognize and preempt the potential for further sectarian conflict in the area. At present, various factions, visibly represented by local militias, are united in cooperation against a common foe, but, historically, their relations have not always been so harmonious.

Likewise, the international community must recognize and preempt the potential for such a territorial entity to become a prime target for radical Islamists. The Islamic State might be in retreat at the moment, but it leaves a void that other extremists will almost certainly strive to fill.

Finally, the political relationship between this hypothetical province and Baghdad would require careful, clear articulation from the beginning — whether it is to be a semi-autonomous province within a federated Iraq, or an independent state.

Among the global powers, there may well be little appetite for further subdividing Iraqi territory, but doing nothing in the aftermath of the Islamic State will surely result in continued carving-up of the region. Clear policies and definitive action can prevent further atrocities. Mesopotamia has long been known as the “cradle of civilization”. The international community must prevent it from continuing to be a cradle for regional genocide and international terrorism.
About the authors

Dr. Tyler Fisher is a visiting scholar at Soran University in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Prof. Dr. Kamal Kolo directs Soran University’s Scientific Research Centre.


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