Cliff Kindy Iraq Blog

Current entries are related to Cliff Kindy's fourth Iraq trip, beginning in October 2007. The blog archives contains letters from Cliff's third Iraq trip in 2004-5.

Friday, February 22, 2008

February 22, 2008 Letter

Dear Friends, Family and All Good People,

I have been home for one week now and want to fill you in on all the events as I left Kurdistan. My three teammates are still in the KRG (Kurdish Regional Government) area trying to complete our CPT application for NGO status (Non Governmental Organization).

I left on the expulsion visa we had been given by Asaish security that gave us one week to leave the country. That was just one day after they had granted us a 30-day visa to complete our NGO work. We scrambled and CPT in the US made connections with Senate offices and State Department offices. It was probably AFSC and Senator Lugar contacts with Jalal Talabani’s (Jalal is the President of Iraq and head of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan Party) son in DC that finally opened doors to get that expulsion visa extended for another 30 days. KRG offices are asking for a letter from US officials recognizing CPT and granting clearance for us to be in the KRG. It is not clear yet whether US officials will write that letter. It has seemed to me that the US and KRG are working together to assure that CPT will be unable to continue to work in the Kurdish north of Iraq.

You may have noticed in the news the last few days that Turkey has bombed the KRG area again and crossed into Iraqi territory with ground troops. They were confronted by Kurdish Peshmerga forces and it is not yet clear what the outcome will be. Journalists have been prevented by Asaish from covering the stories in the Kurdish villages. CPT was able to get an appointment with EmergenC for Susan, one of the civilians who lost her leg in the December Turkish bombings. EmergenC is a Kurdish organization that provides prostheses along with physical and occupational therapy for war victims. Watch the news to see if more Kurdish civilians become victims in this Turkish/US assault against the PKK resistance. A friend writes, “What does this mean? That the U.S. is engaged, not only in a civil war in Iraq, but also aiding the Turks in invading Iraq? I am confused.”

Remember the student group that was camped out in the local city park in Suleimaniya advocating for jobs, a role in building Kurdistan, and talking about nonviolent change? CPT had provided one training session of nonviolence in their tents. At a meeting with Asaish to try to reduce the restrictions on our visa, I had specifically asked about our work with this student group. The officer told me, “It would be better if you separated yourselves from that group.” As I walked downtown after that meeting I saw that all the tents and students were gone! We learned from students later that in the middle of the night Asiash had leveled the tents and arrested six of the students. That story is still in process as students consider bringing charges against Asaish for limiting the freedom of speech granted in the constitution.

In the last several weeks of my time in the KRG, friends came to me to talk about the Kurdish secret police. There is one unit in the Erbil KDP area - Dazgay Parastin (Protection Agency) and another in the Suleimaniya PUK area - Dazgay Zanyari (Information Agency). I was told they are among the most brutal in the world and basically invisible. Those who do come out of that system alive are threatened with death if the story is ever exposed. Those officers who are at the top of Asaish are also top officials in the secret police. This is a sobering revelation in the region of Iraq that is pointed to as a model democracy. At one of the offices I visited in my last days a staff person told me, “Here in the KRG we were very glad that the US helped us get rid of Saddam Hussein. The problem is that now we have seventeen little Saddam Husseins.”

Here at home I have been busy with some garden tasks even in the cold weather. I finished pruning the Concord grapes and the red raspberries. Arlene is making plans to start the early garden seeds inside even before the outside soil is thawed. As individuals and groups we nurture and ready the gardens for a future harvest. In local settings and around the world we also choose a different way of relating to the crises and enemies that we face. If justice and peace are to prevail, it is essential that common people, in little ways, take the steps that restrain empires and economic powers and redirect them and each other to the sustainable Way that God intends.

Remember that I am open to invitations to speak and act with you. Write or call 260-982-2971. Blessings of peace to you!

Cliff Kindy

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Turkey Bombs Kurdish Villages with US Support

Dear Friends, Family and All Good People,

The bombing has continued two days this week and CPT is being expelled from the country on Sunday, three days from now, with little chance to intervene on behalf of the Kurdish villagers. This article by my teammate Anita David from Chicago is a helpful explanation of the complex affair. Read and respond.

Peace to this world!

“When there is a promise, there is a tragedy.”

The tilled fields are small and the stands of undersized trees infrequent. The compressed tonal range of the scene falls between straw and the gray green of lichen. In the distance, the snow-dusted Qandil Mountains are the rawest element in this land. They form the border between Iraq and Turkey and are rendered irrelevant by Turkish fighter planes flying over them to drop bombs on villages there. 235 kilometers separate 34 mountain villages bombed in the Suleimaniya Governorate of Kurdistan from Kirkuk, the disputed oil rich region, where a referendum was to have taken place by December 31, 2007. It has been put off for six months.

“If you want to know if there is a direct line to Article 140, yes. There is!” Sitting in his office, the mayor of Rania, a temporary home to families displaced by the bombing, was emphatic in his assessment. He did not raise the issue of Article 140. Asked about the distance between the two locations, that was his response. Almost anyone in Kurdistan will say the same.

A complexity of relationships, going back in time, result in death, displacement, loss and hardship for both sides.

The Turkish government insists its only intention is to rid the mountains of PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party). In 1984, PKK began its armed struggle to create an independent Kurdish state within Turkey. More than 37,000 people died, and thousands of Kurdish villages in Turkey were destroyed since that time. Recently, PKK attacked Turkish soldiers, killing 13 on October 7 and another 12 on October 21. In the October 21 attack, seven Turkish soldiers were captured and later released. The Turkish government accused PKK of responsibility in two October attacks on Turkish civilians. PKK has a standing request for dialogue with Turkey, first forwarded in 1994 and reiterated this November. If the Turkish government will agree to their six requirements, they will lay down their weapons. Thus far the Turkish government has refused to talk.

Even dead, Saddam Hussein continues to affect Kurdish lives. In the 1975 Algiers Accord, Saddam agreed to allow Iran to attack Iranian Kurdish fighters within Iraqi territory. In the Istanbul Agreement, he agreed to attacks by Turkey on PKK bases inside Iraq. Turkey’s recent attacks are over 40 kilometers within Iraq’s borders. There are five Turkish outposts in Iraq. The Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) is in contact with the outposts. Turkey notifies KRG Peshmirga when they might carry out an operation. The Peshmirga talk with police or local Peshmirga leaders who notify citizens there might be activity. These arrangements extend to Iran. Before the July 18, 2007 shelling, Iran dropped leaflets in areas where it pursued PJAK (sister organization to the PKK) along its border with Iraq. PKK notifies villagers when it learns of possible attacks in an area. People leave and then return to what remains of their homes and former lives. The attack becomes another mark in a history enveloped by memory.

In August 2007, the Iraqi central government made a security arrangement with Syria, Turkey and Iran. The central government indirectly asked for help in hunting down PKK and gave permission to attack PKK within Iraq’s borders. In September/October things heated up. On October 17 the Turkish Parliament voted to allow military operations in Iraq. The U.S provided intelligence information to Turkey of PKK movement. More significantly, it cleared the air space allowing attacks on its Kurdish ally in Iraq by Turkey.
In early September Turkey attacked in the northwest region of Dahok. Fifty to sixty families evacuated and have since returned. On December 16/17 Turkish aircraft hit 34 villages in the Suleimaniya Governorate, and in Erbil Governorate damaged or destroyed 21 villages causing over 700 families to evacuate.
On December 31, in Dahok Governorate, 13 villages received constant shelling and had to be evacuated. On January 15, air strikes and shelling occurred in both Erbil and Dahok Governorates. The shelling in these areas damaged farms and killed livestock but did not cause civilian casualties. Since October, Turkish attacks have been moving from Suleimaniya to Erbil to Dahok Governorates. Continued flyovers by Turkish reconnaissance planes cause villagers and farmers returning to their homes to fear for their lives. Bombardments continue on abandoned villages. Turkish military are present within Iraq’s borders.
As a result of the December 16/17 bombings, 370 families were displaced to towns in the Suleimaniya Governorate and 370 families were displaced in the Erbil Governorate. (Each family is counted as 6 individuals.) In Sulimaniya Governorate, one woman was killed and five villagers are injured. There is extensive loss of livestock (Picture), damaged or destroyed homes, a destroyed school (Picture) and two damaged mosques. Very few people remained in the villages. Some shepherds continued to graze their herds but found shelter overnight in caves. Villagers found shelter in rented houses or in relatives’ homes causing hardship on host communities.

The numbers don’t capture the realty of these interrupted and dismantled lives. Mr. Abdullah, Vice Mayor of Sangasar, who works directly with victims of the bombing in the Suleimaniya Governorate describes “…their life there is crippled. As a result [of the attacks] we have 30 to 40 schools closed in that region, also, some hospitals have been closed. People are worrying about their futures.” 190 of 370 displaced families in the Suleimania Governorate moved to Sangasar.

“This is about geography. For the Kurds, this is about land and the oil is in the land which we will give to the United States.” Ali Khalifa Aziz sums up the situation in these few words. Mr. Aziz survived Saddam’s death camp in the south of Iraq. He recently repossessed his home in Kirkuk. It is also about a long dirty history: the British, the monarchy, Saddam, the Anfal and Arabization of the Kurkuk region, and now the United States. Kurd’s have been yearning for their own state since before the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire and were promised autonomy by both the British and the Baath Party. In Ali Aziz’s words, “When there is a promise, there is a tragedy.”

Article 140 of Iraq’s Constitution, calls for a referendum in Kirkuk and other disputed territories to determine whether these areas which underwent Arabization would revert to Kurdish authority. Arabization is the process by which Saddam Hussein replaced Kurkuk’s Kurdish population, whom he either killed or expelled, with nearly 90,000 Arabs. Kurds are returning to the city and reclaiming their homes. Turkey stated its unhappiness with Article 140 and what relates to Kirkuk. Iran, Iraq, and Syria each have Kurdish minority populations but Turkey’s thirty million Kurds is the largest group. Turkey views any authority or power in one part as a threat to them. Oil revenues coming to the KRG with the settlement of Article 140 could be used to supply and support Turkey’s Kurdish population. An autonomous Kurdish state becomes more real.

Mr. Hassan, Mayor of Qaladza, another town providing homes to displaced villagers, believes: “This is my personal opinion. There are so many issues. This part of Kurdistan has been liberated. Kurdistan has its own government so that is a threat to Turkey.”

There is a Kurdish problem inside Turkey related to the Kurdish minority there and the Turkish government’s humanitarian and diplomatic point of view. In the 1990s the PKK shifted their demand for independence to human and cultural rights for Turkey’s Kurds. The Turkish government granted some change. Kurds believe it is not enough. In October the Turkish parliament, with an overwhelming majority, gave the Turkish army one year to finish off the PKK. The current Prime Minister has challenged the military by giving it a blank check for one year. The military is nervous about the current civilian government and knows it has to prove itself for its pride and to the population. However, the Turkish army did not tell the parliament they already lost the war. 600,000 soldiers are needed to monitor, patrol and control this area. Turkish soldiers do not know this mountainous region, can’t bring large vehicles in because of the roads and winter conditions make movement very difficult.

The attacks have led to increasingly bitter feelings toward the United States. The U.S. administration seems oblivious to the negative political effects of the attacks. In the past, Kurds spoke of the United States and President Bush with great admiration. It took long conversation and building a relationship of trust before someone would express disappointment in the U.S’s lack of support during the 1991 uprising or its silence during the Anfal. Now, there is no hesitation in expressing anger with President Bush for his choice to support Turkey.

Kurds argue that Kurdish Peshmerga fought along side of U.S. soldiers in this war. They point out that Kurdistan is the only place in Iraq that is secure and peaceful and where the U.S.’s stated goal of a democracy is beginning to take hold. A program of human rights training for security police is underway. At the grass roots level, nongovernmental organizations and students pressure the regional government for change. A second issue is that as the occupier, it is the responsibility of the United States to protect the Kurds and to not make them target practice for Turkey. Finally, by supporting Turkey in its attacks, the United States breaks all international agreements including Geneva which forbid attacks on civilian populations.

From a security perspective, ridding the border areas of PKK and PJAK opens these areas to insurgents pushed out by the “surge”. There is infiltration along the eastern route between Iran and Iraq. Specifically, Ansar al Islam moved into villages in areas PJAK left.

90% of the families have returned to their villages. If their houses are still standing, villagers need to prevent snow and rain from destroying the mud bricks by covering them. If their livestock are alive, they need care and shelters should be rebuilt. Schools, damaged or destroyed must be rebuilt. People need to regain their source of livelihood. Turkey’s aim may be to subdue PKK or to forestall implementation of Article 140, but its targets are people.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

February 6, 2008, Letter

Roller Coaster Ride

Early December CPT went to the KRG Residency office to renew visas. The office said they should first obtain the NGO status and then get the visas. CPT started to work seriously on its application for nongovernmental (NGO) status.

The month of December was basically lost because Eid and Christmas contributed consecutive days to vacation time. Offices were regularly closed and CPT couldn’t pursue the application.

Offices opened and CPT met the Minister of Interior (MOI). This was in the context of proposing a return accompaniment with Kurdish villagers displaced when Turkey, with US support, bombed their homes.

When CPT met again with MOI there was opportunity to entertain a shortcut proposed by the legal advisor. “Why don’t you just transfer your existing NGO status from Baghdad?”

Things moved quickly. The Suleimaniya Governorate signed its approval and papers went to the Asaish security office. There the coaster got stuck. CPT was told to wait and then pick them up on Wednesday. Then, Sunday. No, tomorrow. For sure on Tuesday. “What! You don’t have your papers yet?” “Okay, just go to this office tomorrow and you can pick them up.”

CPT did and they couldn’t. Then, “We can do nothing from here. The papers are with your friends. You will have to find those who can influence a change.” CPT asked who were the ones to influence. KRG officials could not say.

CPT worked the channels. A media friend said, after hearing the tale, “It is the United States. They are bothered because you raised issues about bombings on the borders.” CPT recognized this as a factor, but other issues, like the kidnapping of two CPTers here one year ago, might also impact.

Suddenly, Residency offered one-month visas. CPT had been nearly two months without valid visas because they had CPT wait until the NGO was complete. There were restrictions, though, with these visas. Essentially, nothing could be done except work on the NGO application. This would damage the credibility CPT had gained and lose the initiative that had been grasped on the border bombings.

CPTers appealed the constraints, got them removed, and then another office took back the visas of the previous day! CPT should go buy tickets, get passports stamped with an exit visa, and leave directly.

The roller coaster crashed! In searching, though, it became clear that KRG offices were not the only roadblock to the process. Officials and advisors clarified that some US office was blocking the road and also making Kurds force CPT out.

The ride is not over. CPTers are visiting the State Department in Washington, DC. Others are visiting US Senate offices to request they get this expulsion reversed. CPT has work in Kurdish Iraq and needs clear visas and NGO papers.

In Iraq CPTers are approaching the US embassy in Kirkuk, the Ministry of Planning and the Council of Ministers in Erbil. CPT meets with a local State Department representative tomorrow. Five days remain and the roller coaster has places to go.

Yesterday CPT met with US State department officials in country and with the head of the Asaish security in the KRG. Both were clear it wasn't a fault of their office!! I suspect one is covering for the other. Three and a half days to go and we are still pulling out the stops so the roller coaster can roll on.

Beyond any of our activities here in the KRG, it feels as though things are unraveling in dangerous ways. Maybe just being here for a longer time allows for the invisible to become visible. Please pray for the people of this land.

Peace to each of you,

Cliff Kindy