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World Media on ISIS and Iraq Part 12


Compiled By New Age Islam Edit Desk

02 August, 2014



The Islamic State’s Challenge

By David Ignatius

Shakespeare in Mosul

By Tammy Swofford

It Is Time to Fight Extremism

By Sabria Jawhar

Political Economy of ISIS's Advance

By Dr. Peter Custers

Independent Media Fades In Iraqi Kurdistan

By Kamal Chomani

Why Barham Salih Isn't Iraq's New President

By Cengiz Çandar

Iraqi Volunteers Ill-Prepared To Fight IS

By Wassim Bassem



The Islamic State’s Challenge

By David Ignatius

August 2, 2014

Warnings from U.S. officials about the terrorist Islamic State (IS) that has established a safe haven in Iraq and Syria sound ominously like the intelligence alerts that preceded al-Qaeda’s attack on Sept. 11, 2001.

Richard Ledgett, the deputy director of the National Security Agency (NSA), told the Aspen Security Forum last week that the “most worrisome” threat he’s tracking are the thousands of foreign fighters training with the Islamic State (IS). Lisa Monaco, the White House counterterrorism adviser, told the same gathering that the al-Qaeda spinoff poses a potential danger to the U.S. homeland.

The lights seem to be blinking red, but the U.S. is holding its fire for the moment, despite some calls from congressional hawks to bomb the IS terrorists before they get any stronger. This delay reflects a debate within the Obama administration about how and when to fight the self-proclaimed jihadist caliphate.

The case for caution was made by Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, at the Aspen meeting. He warned against “precipitous” military action and said the U.S. “should take the longer-term view” of how to roll back the IS fighters. Dempsey argues that the U.S. should channel increased military support through a new, more inclusive Iraqi government after the polarising Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is replaced.

A new Iraqi government is certainly desirable, but the U.S. shouldn’t wait for the perfect allies in Iraq, Syria or other new battlegrounds. Imperfect though they may be, Iraqi tribal leaders and haphazard Free Syrian Army fighters need U.S. help now. And on the legal front, the Obama administration may soon need authority for direct action against the IS, which as an al-Qaeda breakaway may not be covered by existing authorisations to use force.

The Islamic State is dangerous because it operates strategically, forming useful alliances and carefully planning its operations. The group withdrew from vulnerable positions in northern Syria last year and consolidated a safe haven in Raqqah. From there, it expanded its operations in Iraq, sweeping across Anbar province this spring and blitzing through Mosul and Tikrit in June.

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State, has demonstrated a mix of brutality and cunning. He sliced through Iraq by forming alliances with Sunni tribal leaders and former Baathist officers, capitalising on their hatred of Maliki. By maintaining good operational security, he achieved tactical surprise in Mosul and elsewhere. He struck at weak points in the Iraqi military, based on what evidently was good intelligence. Though poised to attack Baghdad, he has held back, perhaps fearing a punishing U.S. reaction.

In all these ways, Baghdadi is a formidable foe. He rebuilt a network that had been reduced from its 2006 level of 10,000 fighters to perhaps 1,500 a year or so ago. What’s scary is its outreach: Roughly half of the Islamic State’s 10,000-plus fighters today are neither Syrian nor Iraqi but foreigners drawn from Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Europe and even America. IS has also begun drawing recruits from the most toxic al-Qaeda affiliates, and gained their expertise in making undetectable non-metallic bombs.

How can the U.S. begin to combat and ultimately destroy Baghdadi and his Islamic State? A crucial ally would be a new Iraqi government, trusted by Sunnis and Kurds as well as Shias. But the U.S. will also need links with Iraqi tribal leaders. An opportunity came at a conference two weeks ago in Amman, Jordan, of 200 Iraqi sheiks, Baathists and other opposition figures. But the Iraqi government denounced the meeting, saying the attendees were “involved in the shedding of Iraqi blood.” The U.S. appears to have acted cautiously, despite pleas from some tribal leaders to revive the “Awakening” strategy that shattered al-Qaeda in Iraq between 2006 and 2008.

For Obama, who said last year he hoped to move the U.S. away from a “perpetual wartime footing” after Iraq and Afghanistan, the IS threat has been a painful reality check. Obama doesn’t want to create a new generation of enemies for the U.S. But he faces a dangerous, festering menace he didn’t anticipate. The Islamic State is like a toxic epidemic in a faraway country. For now, it may be killing mainly Syrians and Iraqis; but left untouched, it’s likely to spread until it threatens Europe and America, too.

The awful truth is that the conflict taking shape in Iraq and Syria will last for years. The challenge for Obama (and, alas, his successor) is how to fight terrorism over the next decade without making the ruinous mistakes of the previous one. — © 2014. Washington Post

The Islamic State is like a toxic epidemic in a faraway country. Left untouched, it’s likely to spread until it threatens Europe and America too


Shakespeare in Mosul

By Tammy Swofford

August 01, 2014

Any man who wants to line up women to check out their hidden parts is certainly not averting his gaze

Act I: Bigots Make Bad Neighbours.

In the first act, the principal character, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, makes his appearance on stage in the flowing black robes of a war-cleric. He is known by his Kunya (name given in respect to an elder) ‘bad knees’ and is seen climbing the stairs in the manner of a man whose time is rapidly degrading and whose end is near. As he delivers a fiery oration, a magnificent digital presentation displays a collage of images from Mosul. Convoys of cars are seen leaving the city. Bakeries are closed and shops are shuttered. Schools are vacant and only men are noted outside the homes.

As the principal character leaves the stage we are greeted with a spectacular amplification of music from the orchestra pit. The percussion section releases a cadence that rivets our attention to the dozens of men marching onto the stage. This is accompanied by a spectacular display of pyrotechnics with multi-coloured flashes of light and smoke. Gold and silver glitter is released from the catwalks to represent the looting of 500 billion Iraqi dinars from the central Mosul bank. The audience is then engulfed in the action as the men move from the stage and into the aisles to dance to War Pigs by Black Sabbath (from the live performance track, Paris 1970). With weapons twirling and aiming their rifles at the heads of the audience, ‘Shakespeare in Mosul’ becomes a spectacular adult entertainment venue.

The act concludes with a decree against Christians. The stage is changed to a calmer setting: a narrow street in the city of Mosul. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s Carol of the Bells is the backdrop as Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi makes his movement back onto the stage. He nails signs onto the doors of all of the Christian homes. He is followed by men who also spray paint the walls of the residences to assure the homes are targeted.

Act II: Rapists Make Bad Lovers.

The act opens with the spotlight on a chorus line of males from the ages of 10 through 18. Each man stands with his fist raised. The spotlight shifts to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who is standing silently at the back of the stage. As he raises his fist and turns, our attention is directed to the middle of the stage. Females from the age of fertility through the age of childbearing are bound to a roughly hewn post. Their wrists are tethered to the top of the post. The orchestra plays the ‘sword dance’, in the tradition of an old Highland dance, the Ghillie Callum. This is an ancient war dance of the Scottish Gael and is said to find its historical timestamp back to King Malcolm Canmore (Shakespeare’s Macbeth). Today the dance is typically done with one dancer performing over two crossed swords. ‘Bad knees’ is unable to perform the intricate steps so the understudy is used for the sword dance. As he performs, the protagonist pulls a decree from under his turban and his shouting is heard in the background.

As this scene comes to a conclusion, we are greeted by six ballerinas. They begin to dance to the work of world-renowned composer Tammy Swofford. This is the hastily composed, ‘Rapists do not make good lovers’ sonata. It is dark and brooding, building to an intensity that heightens emotions to new levels. The piece is based on Ms Swofford’s conviction that the resurfacing of an edict of the ISIS leadership in 2013 holds dire consequences for two million girls and women. The edict calls for the female genital mutilation of women. There is a difference of opinion regarding interpretation of the edict/fatwa under current conditions. But since rape and forced marriages now abound in Mosul, it is but a small jump to imagine further horror inflicted upon the gentler sex. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is now presented as who he really is: a rapist at heart. Any man who wants to line up women to check out their hidden parts is certainly not averting his gaze. It is a command that was first given to the men, by the way. However, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is a major lust hound. When sex is reduced to mutilation (remember, this edict does exist, it is just being recycled), it is an act of the powerful against the powerless. Sexual mutilation can be a component of rape.

Rapists make bad lovers. They are never interested in providing a rich, emotional and physically satisfying experience for the woman. It is better to clip the woman and reduce her to the level of importance of the bed or, perhaps, the dresser in the room. She is just, well, furniture. She is incubator, cook and cleaner. Not worth much, in the eyes of the rapist who is never a good lover anyway. So it is that the composition finds primary creative release with the use of violins and wind instruments. It is the plaintive cry of the women that is heard in this piece. I am channelling that sound, straight out of Mosul.

As the second act comes to a close, the Iraqi National Symphony Orchestra plays the aria ‘My Beautiful Baghdad’. This will be their last performance of the season, perhaps the last performance ever. With the oppression of women, music, laughter and joy disappear. And the protagonist is just getting started.

Curtain call: the principal character makes his farewell as he plummets down a large slide into the orchestra pit. It has been converted into a cavern dancing with flames.

Instructions for the audience: please withhold your applause until the descent of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi down the slide. You may pick up your free autographed ‘God’s little messenger boy’ turban at the exit. Yes, it is free. Thank you for attending our performance tonight.

Understudy: choose a terrorist.

Wardrobe mistress: non-state terror sponsors.

Orchestra: the Iraqi National Symphony Orchestra.


It Is Time to Fight Extremism

By Sabria Jawhar

1 August 2014

For many Saudis the idea of extremism in Saudi Arabia disappeared when the Ministry of Interior crushed Al-Qaeda nearly a decade ago. We have a tendency to rationalize that extremist behaviour is restricted to faux sheikhs who lack the education and authority yet manage to gain a Twitter following to espouse deviant ideology that help send naïve young men to fight illegal wars.

But some men who should know better and who many people look to for guidance and strength abuse their positions of authority and engage in extremist behavior. It’s those men who lay the groundwork that lead to extremism and violence. Indeed, some people in position of authority act violently and set an example for the younger generation.

A case in point is an incident involving a social club supervisor in a village in Jazan. The leader decided to allocate specific area for women to pray Eid following the Sunnah of the Prophet (peace be upon him). The Sunnah allows the entire family, including grandparents and women, who had just given birth or who are in their menstrual cycle to attend prayer. Menstruating women, for example, do not pray but attend the gathering with the family.

However, the local imam objected to the gathering, claiming it was bida’h, or innovation in religious matters. As families arrived for the prayer shortly after Fajr, the imam drove up in his car and used the car as if he was “drifting,” a type of controlled speeding and swerving while using the accelerator and handbrake, to break up the gathering. Families quickly dispersed, running away as the iman drove recklessly through the area. He then used his car to smash partitions. It’s shocking that an imam is not educated in the Sunnah that allows women to attend Eid prayer. Without question this is extremism and lack of religious education.

I can’t help but think that it wasn’t the imam’s lack of religious knowledge, but his bruised ego and inflated sense of superiority over the people he was supposed to give religious guidance. An unrelated incident, but nonetheless indicative of extremism, occurred recently when the head of the Haia transferred a commission member to another office following some incident or problem with the member’s performance. Some Haia members allegedly staged a work stoppage to protest the reassignment, according to Al Hayat newspaper. These men interfered with an administrative decision to intimidate their supervisors. 

In both of these incidents, religious men misused their authority. They abandoned their sacred duty to honor, respect and remain loyal to the community they serve and the individuals that employ them.

They indirectly send a message to young and impressionable Saudis that intimidation and violence in the name of religion is acceptable behaviour.

We as Saudis accept such behaviour because we fear being branded as bad Muslims while at the same time lament young men going to Syria or other troubled countries to fight illegal wars. The reality is we allow some people in authority to act on emotion rather than Sunnah and Hadith, sending the wrong message. If we can’t stop the extremists who convey negative signals through their acts, how can we control the young men who are determined to fight in foreign countries?


Political Economy of ISIS's Advance

By Dr. Peter Custers

1 August 2014

WHICH story line sounds the more credible, - that linking the rebel movement ISIS to policies pursued by Iran, - or rather that linking the Sunni extremist force to Iran's adversary Saudi Arabia? In June last, fighters belonging to ISIS - a rebel movement that had previously established its foothold in the oil-rich areas of North-Eastern Syria - succeeded in capturing Mosul, a city surrounded by oil fields in Northern Iraq. Ever since, commentators in the world's press media have been speculating on the origins of the dreaded organisation's military success. It is admitted that the occupation of Mosul and vast tracts of the Sunni-dominated portion of Iraq would not have been possible except for the fact that ISIS forged a broad grassroots' alliance expressing deep discontent by Iraq's minority Sunnis against policies of the Al-Maliki government. Nor would Mosul have fallen but for the dramatic desertion by top-officers of Iraq's state army. Yet various observers have meanwhile focused on the political economy behind ISIS's advance. Some experts belonging to US think tanks have discussed the likely sources of ISIS's finance, pinpointing private donors in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states. Other writers instead have connected ISIS's reliance on black market sales of oil in Kurdish territory with Iranian exports of crude, described as 'íllegal'.

Below I propose to put the spotlights on the methods of war financing used by ISIS. But before doing so, I suggest to highlight the movement's utter sectarianism. Soon after the occupation of Mosul, rebels blew up and bulldozed shrines and mosques in the city belonging to Shia Muslims. Pictures on the demolition of these buildings were circulated widely via the world's mainstream media. Unfortunately, few Western journalists have cared to draw attention to the role which destruction of shrines has played in the history of Islam. Contrary to what's the case in Christian Catholicism, - the veneration of saints at Sufi and Shia tombs and shrines basically reflects heterodox tendencies within the Islamic faith. Whereas Sunni orthodoxy of Saudi  variety, i.e. Wahhabism, either condemns intercession, or at the least considers the worshipping of saints at tombs to be unacceptable, - Islam's minority of Shias, and its mystical current of Sufism, freely engage in such worship, - and this throughout the Muslim world. ISIS's work of demolition in Iraq can in no way be equated with practices of Iran's Shia rulers. Instead, they express the extremist movement's affinity with policies for long championed by Saudi Arabia.

What does the political economy behind ISIS's military advance in Syria and Iraq tell us about the organisation's affinities? First, in one sense ISIS's strategy might be interpreted as rather novel. Whereas the extraction of raw materials is a war strategy pursued by numerous rebel movements in the global South – see e.g. UNITA's extraction of diamonds in the context of Angola's civil war, and the trade in coltan by rebels in Congo (DRC) - rarely has a Southern rebel movement succeeded in turning crude oil into its chief source of revenue. Indeed, whereas ISIS originally relied on private funders in Saudi Arabia so as to build up a force of trained fighters, - the organisation has consciously targeted regions in Syria and Iraq harbouring major oil fields and (in the case of Iraq) oil refineries. By laying siege to the oil refinery at Baiji, responsible for processing a third of oil consumed in Iraq, ISIS hoped to undermine the state's control of oil resources. Again, some 450 million dollars was stolen by ISIS fighters from a subsidiary of Iraq's central bank after the occupation of Mosul. This reportedly was all income from oil extraction. Some observers put the cash income which ISIS derives from smuggled oil at a million dollars per day!

ISIS then is a 'religiously inspired', Sunni extremist organisation with an utterly secular objective: to lay hold on the bulk of oil resources in two Middle Eastern states, so as to re-establish a caliphat, a all-Islamic state-entity guided by a central religious authority. Yet though ISIS' methodology of reliance on oil for financing of its war campaigns is novel for a rebel movement, - it is not as such unique in the context of the Middle East. Ever since the 1970s, most oil-rich countries of the region have squandered a major part of their income from the exports of crude, by (indirectly) exchanging their main natural resource against means of destruction, - weapon systems bought on the international market. And while the Shah's Iran in the seventies was equally enticed into opting for this form of trade , - it is the Wahhabi kingdom of Saudi Arabia which all through – from the oil crisis of 1973 onwards and until today – has functioned as the central axe of the given trade mechanism. Witness for instance the 1980s oil-for-arms (!) barter deal between the Saudi kingdom and Great Britain, the socalled Al Yamamah deal. And witness the 60 Billion US Dollar, largest-ever international arms' agreement between Saudi Arabia and the United States clinched in 2010.

In 2014 Iraq is madly struggling to survive. A section of the world's media has already announced its impending demise, - predicting a split of the country into three portions, i.e. the Sunni, Kurdish and Shia portions. On the other hand, some commentators have advised that the US should now change gear and line up with Iran, so as to help the Iraqi government overcome its domestic political crisis. Yet the US and its European allies for long, too long, have bended over to service the Wahhabi state. Even as Western politicians loudly proclaimed their allegiance to democracy and secularism, - they failed to oppose or counter the oppression of, and utter discrimination against Shia citizens. For over fourty years they opted to close their eyes and supply Saudi Arabia with massive quantities of fighter planes, missiles and other weaponry, in exchange of the country's crude. The US has recently advised Iraq's prime minister al-Maliki known for his sectarian approach, that he should be more 'inclusive', i.e. sensitive towards Iraq's minority Sunni population. But has the US's prime Middle Eastern ally Saudi Arabia ever been chastised over its systematic discrimination of Shias? Has it ever been put to task for its cruel oppression of heterodox Muslims? And has the US ever pondered over the implications of the trading mechanism of disparate exchange it sponsored - for the future of democracy, food sovereignty and people's welfare in the Middle East?

Dr. Peter Custers is the Author of 'Questioning Globalized Militarism' (Tulika, New Delhi/Merlin Press, London, 2007)


Independent Media Fades In Iraqi Kurdistan

By Kamal Chomani

August 1, 2014

The changing political and socioeconomic dynamics in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq have added tension to the conflicts among political parties. After the emergence in 2000 of Daily Hawlati, the first free Kurdish media outlet, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) began establishing a number of media outlets to undermine the independent media. These outlets are widely referred to as the "shadow media," as they claim to be independent but are subservient to their respective political parties.

Independent media, nevertheless, continued to flourish with outlets such as the weekly Awene and Lvin magazine. Many analysts believe that the opposition party Gorran would not have emerged in the 2009 elections without the assistance of Iraqi Kurdistan's strong independent media.

Alarmed by their weakening grip on information, regional authorities moved to stifle independent media with force and intimidation. In 2008, Lvin reporter Soran Mama Hama was killed by unknown armed men for writing critically on the political situation in Iraqi Kurdistan. Independent journalists received death threats for reporting on corruption and other topics the authorities would rather ignore. In 2010, Sardasht Osman was killed for satirizing the political situation. Kawa Germyani was murdered outside Sulaimaniyah late last year after extensively documenting corruption in PUK territory.

In 2011, Kurdistan's independent media entered a new era. NRT, a free satellite TV station, was founded in Sulaimaniyah by Shaswar Abdulwahid, CEO of Nalia Company. NRT was set on fire by armed men only 72 hours after its official launch.

Shwan Muhammad, editor-in-chief of SpeeMedia, a new free biweekly, said the decline of independent media is one of the greatest threats to Kurdish democracy.

"The free media revolutionized during the first decade of the 21st century, but entering the second decade, it has been challenged by emerging digital media, in particular new satellite TV stations that are funded by political parties. Unfortunately, free media has not been able to compete with them due to a lack of any economic resources," he told Al-Monitor.

Muhammad still believes that an independent media is the only hope for Iraqi Kurdistan's democracy.

Sirwan Najm, a newsagent in Erbil, said sales figures for independent newspapers are dropping by the day. He told Al-Monitor, "Before, I'd sell 300-400 copies of every issue of an [independent] newspaper, but now I hardly sell 15."

Najm explained the reasons for the decline: "The KDP and PUK created many newspapers to undermine the free media. And they printed everything without any reliability. This has negatively affected the reputation of free media as well because readers have lost their trust in media in general."

Despite the fact that independent media outlets, former opposition TV stations and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) itself are facing financial crises, another pro-KDP satellite TV station is opening. Kurdistan 24 will soon start broadcasting, and sources state that it will be funded by KRG head Massoud Barzani's son Masrour Barzani, reportedly in response to Nechirvan Barzani's Rudaw Network, which strongly promotes Nechirvan's policies. The PUK also opened Kurdsat News, a new satellite TV station in response to Rudaw, in March.

Sardar Muhammad, the editor-in-chief of Awene who was recently listed as one of the #100InformationHeroes by Reporters Without Borders, is concerned about the media situation. He underscored, "The decline of free media is the decline of democracy."

"Free media has been a hope for strengthening democracy. Unfortunately, because of different reasons, free media has stopped developing," he told Al-Monitor. "Four years ago, our circulation was much better than now as TV stations appeared, and they are paid well by the political parties. Rudaw, for example, gathered some good journalists because it can pay them well. In the meantime, some partisan outlets are distributed for free. This has also negatively impacted our performance."

Former opposition TV satellite stations are struggling to keep up. The Kurdish News Network (KNN), the Gorran movement's station, announced recently that it will dismiss some of its journalists for lack of funding. Following KNN, Payam TV, the Islamic Group's station, announced that it will stop broadcasting unless its viewers support it financially.

Faruq Ali, Payam TV's general manager, told Al-Monitor that the network is experiencing a serious financial crisis as its sponsoring party is unable to pay as well as before.

The situation has media advocates concerned.

"Some media outlets are paid well on the public budget and this has made some pro-political parties and partisan media outlets do well, whereas independents can't develop, all at the expense of democracy and free speech," Rahman Ghareeb told Al-Monitor. He is the general coordinator of Metro, a Sulaimaniyah-based independent organization for defending freedom of speech.

Independent media outlets urgently need a plan. Harem Karem, a co-founder and editor of The Kurdistan Tribune, has proposed some regulations to invigorate and professionalize the media in Iraqi Kurdistan.

"Regrettably, the lack of an effective regulatory body has paved the way for chaos. There is more echoing of one another, misinformation and unnecessary attribution to anonymous sources than grassroots journalism," he told Al-Monitor. "Political parties as well as powerful individuals have established their own media outlets with large budgets, not only to have a favourable voice but also to defend themselves."

Karem described his idea, saying, "An independent [nonpartisan] regulatory body — including a road map and organizational structure — would be based on the reality on the ground. The body will be set up and managed by the industry to organize and regulate the media and ensure that public interests are protected. The body's primary objective would be to regularly examine the culture, practice and ethics of the domestic media; provide guidelines, code of conduct and training; enforce regulations and provide pre-publication advice to the media industry. I have spoken to the industry leaders, who are ready to support the project, but the question is: Will Prime Minister Barzani approve such a project?"

Al-Monitor asked Farsat Sofi, head of the KDP bloc in the Iraqi Kurdistan parliament, whether there are any projects in parliament to fund all media outlets without prejudice. Sofi said, "There are no projects, but parliament will support such initiatives."

According to the Kurdistan Syndicate of Journalists, over 800 media outlets have been registered in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. Of them, 153 are satellite TV stations, local TV stations and radio stations, while the remainder are daily and weekly newspapers and magazines.

Muhammad, Ghareeb and Ali unanimously agreed that the Iraqi Kurdish parliament should pass a bill granting funds to all media outlets unconditionally. Otherwise, independent media will continue to suffer.


Why Barham Salih Isn't Iraq's New President

By Cengiz Çandar

July 31, 2014

The Kurdish choice of Fouad Massoum and his eventual election as Iraq’s new (and second Kurdish) president needs further scrutiny. My last article on this issue resonated among Iraqi Kurdish officials. I received valuable (but non-attributable) information and a correction on the voting attitudes of Kurdish parliamentarians in the Iraqi national assembly that shed new light on how local political considerations and calculations may be instrumental in determining regional and international politics, a phenomenon exclusive to the Middle East.

In my last article, I had written the following:

"Late July 23, in a closed-door gathering in Baghdad, Kurdish members of parliament voted for their presidential candidate in a contest between [Patriotic Union of Kurdistan] PUK senior leaders Massoum and Barham Salih.

"In a close race, Massoum won a majority of 30-23. The rest of the Kurds' parliamentary bloc was absent.

"Massoum received 15 votes from the PUK, six from Goran (a splinter group from the PUK), four from Islamic parties and five from the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), while Salih got four votes from the PUK, two from Goran, three from Islamic parties and 14 from the KDP.

"This voting pattern shows that Turkey, and its closest ally in the region, the KDP, tilted toward Salih. His candidacy had been opposed earlier by a powerful PUK figure, Talabani's wife, Hero Khan. There were widespread rumors in Sulaimaniyah that Iran, which has a strong behind-the-scenes presence in the area, had been backing her for a long time."

A leading Kurdish statesman and an insider who asked to remain anonymous told me that exactly the opposite is true. According to this new information, while the PUK, Gorran and also the Islamists supported Salih’s presidential bid, strong support from the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) President Massoud Barzani’s KDP for Massoum enabled him to outnumber Salih to become the Kurds’ candidate.

Only one round of voting took place on late July 23, and out of 63 Kurdish parliamentarians, 55 participated in the meeting. Two out of the 55 (presumably from Gorran) abstained from voting. Salih managed to get the support of the majority of PUK parliamentarians, nearly all of the Islamists and more than half of Gorran. However, out of the KDP’s 25 parliamentarians, only one or two voted for him. Despite having the support of 10 PUK members out of 17 in attendance, six Islamists, five Gorran and probably only two from the KDP, he was outnumbered against the 30 votes that Massoum secured. Nearly 90% of the KDP determined the ultimate election of Massoum.

I checked these details with sources close to the KDP leadership, who confirmed them. These sources reiterated that a week before the fateful vote, the KDP had already committed to support Massoum against Salih, as Barzani did not want Hero Talabani, the wife of President Jalal Talabani, to have a say in the outcome. Jalal Talabani, the founder and the uncontested leader of the PUK, was undergoing medical treatment in Berlin and about to return to Sulaimaniyah.

For observers of Iraqi Kurdish politics, it is no secret that while Jalal Talabani was in Berlin since December 2012, Hero Talabani and Salih formed opposing poles within the PUK.

There was widespread speculation in the KRG and particularly in Sulaimaniyah that a strong presence by Iran in the region, in the person of Qasem Soleimani, the commander of the Revolutionary Guard's Quds Force, was supportive of Hero Talabani and PUK against Barzani, and that his KDP was a strong ally of Turkey and was entertaining secession from Iraq. This was an unacceptable choice for Tehran, which preferred to control Iraq through its influence over the central government in Baghdad.

At the beginning of March 2014, when Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu made his first ever visit to Sulaimaniyah to deliver the opening speech to International Sulaimaniyah Forum initiated by Salih, a senior member of the Turkish delegation told me, “Our real reason for coming here is to give support to Salih. You know there is considerable dissent in the PUK.”

Davutoglu, after delivering his opening speech, visited Hero Talabani at her residence and then went on to Erbil for further meetings with KDP officials.

Armed with that information, I jested with the official, telling him, “As long as you are going to meet with Hero and the reason for your coming here is to show support for Salih, why don’t you take with you on your visit? You may get something for it.”

Deciphering the conflict of Turkey-Barzani-KDP and Salih in the PUK opposed by Iran-PUK-Gorran and Hero Talabani became even more difficult when Barzani supported Massoum against Salih to avoid clashing with Hero.

Yet, even though Barzani likes and respects Salih, a protege of Jalal Talabani with a reputation as his “adopted son,” intra-Kurdish calculations and the nature of relations between the KDP and PUK forced Barzani to accommodate Hero Talabani.

According information provided by PUK officials who insisted on not being identified, Barzani saw the benefits of a PUK controlled by a family, just like the KDP under his own control.

This would thus end the last distinction between the KDP and the PUK, and as a matter of fact, it would maintain the preponderance of the KDP over the PUK in the KRG.

In terms of the regional dimension of Massoum over Salih, satisfying the Iranians vis-à-vis Turkey and its staunch ally Barzani does not seem to be the real determinant.

Traditionally, to make Erbil receptive to Turkey’s influence and Sulaimaniyah to that of Iran, while the KRG presidency in Erbil is with the KDP, Barzani has tacitly agreed to live with a PUK Kurd as the president of Iraq in Baghdad.

In this sense, having Massoum or Salih as a Kurdish president in Baghdad will not make much of a difference. That’s why it's more important to focus on the local dynamics shaping the regional developments with international political ramifications. At least when it comes to the Kurds of Iraq, that seems to be the case.


Iraqi Volunteers Ill-Prepared To Fight IS

By Wassim Bassem

August 1, 2014

A popular mobilization is occurring in Iraq in response to the “righteous jihad” fatwa issued three days after the Islamic State group (IS) occupied Mosul on July 10.

Saad Hamid is among the 200 individuals who volunteered to help the Iraqi army stop the IS advance. Enlisted in a one-month training program in al-Kafal village, south of Babylon, he was being trained to use weapons and in combat techniques before he was expected to join his peers on the battlefield.

Hamid enthusiastically relayed his impressions to Al-Monitor. He said that he was ready to fight IS and defend the country in response to the call to jihad. There are other reasons behind his haste to volunteer, however, including unemployment and difficult financial straits.

He told Al-Monitor, “I am reassured because I am receiving a fixed monthly salary to provide for my family, which includes my mother and three siblings.”

Like Said, the majority of volunteers are poor and trying to find a livelihood at any cost. Every volunteer receives a $400 monthly salary, which is raised to $600 once he enters the battlefield.

In a training camp in Babylon’s Hillah, in the former US Kaslo base, Hassan al-Jabbouri, 19, trained for a month and a half before joining the combat troops in mid-July in Jurf al-Sakhar, north of Babylon. The area is the site of attack-and-retreat battles between the army, security forces and volunteers on one side and armed groups on the other.

Despite Jabbouri’s enthusiasm and his belief that fighting IS is a national duty, he told Al-Monitor, “The majority of volunteers did not receive proper training and lack combat expertise. In addition to this, the majority of them are young and poor, and they see in volunteering a chance to secure an income.”

Saad Hassoun, an Iraqi army officer, told Al-Monitor, “The majority of volunteers need quality training and enough time to master the use of weapons and martial arts.” He added, “National enthusiasm can be reckless, and can lead to human losses if not coupled with proper training.”

Hassoun said, “There are thousands of Iraqis who have combat experience from their involvement in the wars that Iraq fought in the 1980s and during the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, and even though these more experienced Iraqis are older, [the army] can benefit from their expertise and training.”

In the 1980s, the former Iraqi regime formed the Iraqi Popular Army to bolster the state army in its war against Iran. This pattern is repeating itself today under different circumstances and for different purposes.

Hassoun believes, however, that at that time, “The Popular Army was more organized and powerful than the current groups of volunteers. It relied on older-age groups in comparison to now.”

Qais Hamza from Babylon is one example of the fighters trained in the volunteering centers. He was sent to the battles in al-Taji in Baghdad to fend off the attacks of armed groups, during which three of his fellow volunteers died.

Hamza told Al-Monitor that he had no livelihood other than what he earned from volunteering. He noted, “A large number of young men who were transferred to the battlefields got killed due to the enthusiasm that was not combined with expertise and proper training.”

An Iraqi officer tasked with training the volunteers in the Babylon centre who spoke on condition of anonymity said, “There are large quantities but no quality. The operation needs to be able to choose quality fighters who can fend off terrorism with the least human and material losses possible.”