Compiled by New Age Islam Edit Desk
20 August, 2014
• ISIS Becomes a Catalyst for Reviving Sunni Moderation
By Raghida Dergham
• Actions, Not Words, Needed To Counter Bloodshed
By Khaled Almaeena
• Anti-Arab Feelings on the Rise in Kurdistan As Islamic State Spreads Fear
By Cathrin Schaer
• ISIS on Film: Swords, Deaths and Clichés
By Diana Moukalled
• Who Are Iraqi Kurdistan’s ’Peshmergettes?’
By Salma El-Shahed
ISIS Becomes a Catalyst for Reviving Sunni Moderation
By Raghida Dergham
18 August 2014
The events in Iraq this week may represent the beginning of a new approach in Saudi-Iranian ties, with the removal of the obstacle represented by Nouri al-Maliki, and the deal to appoint Haidar Abadi as prime minister to form a consensus, non-exclusionary government in Iraq. This is an important step that opens up the possibility of Iraq serving as a gateway to broader agreements not only within the country, but also to regional agreements, specifically regards Saudi-Iranian relations. But this is one step rather than a comprehensive strategy to transform this bilateral relationship. The path to that is long, and mutual trust will not be borne suddenly out of the Iraqi womb as soon as the Maliki obstacle is removed or an agreement is reached to fight the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and its terrorism. It is also hoped that events in Iraq over the past few weeks, from ISIS’s onslaught to Maliki’s theatrics, are not part of a tactical ploy by a certain party or a group of parties. Tactics do not amount to a strategy after all, and are sometimes deliberately deceptive, using temporary surprises while continuing preparations to revive the original strategy.
Instead, it is hoped that events in Iraq would lead to a new beginning for the country to emerge out of the hegemony of this side or the grip of that side, and proceed toward healthy federalism and not necessarily a confederation that would be based on partition. There are indications that the Iraqi events could bring about a positive change in regional and international understandings for a variety of reasons. So far, whether temporarily or in the long-term, moderation is climbing into a new position, after having been trampled before by extremist movements and regimes with external help, especially from the United States, where some supported both the Shiite theocracy in Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood and its theocratic project for the Sunnis in Egypt.
Fascination with ISIS
There has been a lot of fascination with ISIS for several months now, particularly when ISIS appeared to have the momentum and the element of surprise while the Iraqi army shockingly retreated before its advance in a way that remains quite mysterious in its features, background and logic. There are many theories regarding the identity of ISIS and of those behind it. One theory considers it an infernal combination of a group of intelligence services from multiple countries, from the Middle East and Western and Eastern powers. Another theory holds that it is an Iranian instrument to spread chaos as part of reinforcing the need for Iranian control over Iraq to control the situation and deter extremist terrorism there. And of course, there is the theory that considers ISIS to be the making of Sunni Salafism and Wahhabism with support from Qatari and Saudi families and parties, with a view to confront Iran and its allies using the language of “fire for fire” in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.
In the view of some, ISIS resembles the character of Rajeh in the Fairuz play, that is, a fictional character that only exists in the imaginations of those intimidated by him, making it a reality. But the reality left behind by ISIS, with its atrocities, brutal violence, and overt terrorism makes it a reality rather than an illusion.
The discussion also focuses on whether ISIS is a transient phenomenon – in the sense that, thanks to its appalling cruelty, it would not be able to survive because it lacks a support base on the long run – or whether it is the product of a support base that it already has in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon in the context of fighting cruelty with cruelty, extremism with extremism and bullying with bullying in the same measure or more.
ISIS is a combination of the two premises in terms of the support base that helped it take off and made it the terrifying catalyst it is today, but also in terms of its non-sustainability because it would not be able to keep its support base after causing so many shocks.
A Necessary Evil?
Perhaps history will note later what some now only whisper, that ISIS is a necessary evil as a “correction” of Iran’s excessive domination over Iraq, the fate of Syria, and the fate of Lebanon. Perhaps history will also note that ISIS thwarted the Iranian project, supported by the neocons in the Bush administration, dubbed the Shiite Crescent, by reshaping the Iraq-Syrian border along Sunni lines instead of Shiite-centric contiguity. But history will not forgive ISIS and its supporters or sympathizers for the atrocities against Christians, Yazidis, Kurds, Shiites, and other minorities. Certainly, the moderation brought to the fore by ISIS’ extremist brutality will not prevail if its popular base fails to tell ISIS firmly that it will not be a nurturing environment for it.
ISIS’ crimes has dwarfed the terrorism of others and overshadowed the crimes of others. ISIS is now the new focal point of counterterrorism, while at the same time becoming, as a done deal, a major catalyst in reviving Sunni moderation and rallying Sunnis from Iraq to Lebanon with a Saudi decision.
In Iraq, both ISIS and former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki have succeeded in rallying opponents to agree to remove them from the Iraqi scene. The American, Saudi, Iranian, and European leaderships all agreed to get rid of the two threats, with important Iraqi attitudes voiced against the two. Perhaps this inadvertently contributed to strengthening moderation against extremism, not only in Iraq, but also in the battle taking place within Iran between the hardliners led by Qassem Soleimani and the Revolutionary Guard, and the moderate camp led by President Hassan Rowhani.
Currently, Soleimani’s retreat and Rowhani’s rise are clear through the stances expressed by the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, who has supported Abadi as prime minister of Iraq and made it clear that Maliki had to step down. This was a blow to Soleimani, who clang to Maliki and who wanted to take advantage of the chaos unleashed by ISIS in Iraq to impose Iraq’s need for Maliki. But it is not clear whether this is all part of a tactic and distribution of roles as Ayatollah Khamenei has ordained, or whether it was a serious retreat by the hardliners controlled by Soleimani’s faction at the behest of Ayatollah Khamenei, as is being said.
If the rise of moderation in Iran is a serious development at the request of the supreme leader, rather than a tactic based on the distribution of roles, the events in Iraq will prove to be extremely important, because they would be indicative of the start of a new Iranian approach, and also a markedly different page in Iranian-Saudi relations.
The Saudi leadership has adopted moderation as the theme of the momentum of its new policies, which have seen grants being given to counterterrorism efforts and aid to boost moderation among Sunnis. Saudi Arabia is more willing to hold dialogue with the Iranian leadership in the context of reinforcing moderation, especially if the Islamic Republic of Iran acts like a state rather than a revolution.
ISIS, like al-Qaeda and similar groups, is a threat not only to Saudi Arabia, but also to Sunnis as a whole. But of course, there is a split in the ranks of Saudi decision makers between those who believe that there is no alternative to the policy of “fire for fire” to impose a new fait accompli to force the other side to concede and adapt, and those who believe that adopting moderation as a policy is the best course to achieve goals.
Today, it seems that there are signs for a Saudi role that is different from the Saudi role allied to Pakistan and the United States in manufacturing jihadists in Afghanistan thirty years ago to defeat Soviet communism. Mobilizing fighters from everywhere for jihad, by brainwashing them at the hands of the CIA, created a monster that soon went out of control.
It might be said that were it not for ISIS’ transformation into a monster that terrorized everyone, Sunni moderation would not have been revived, and neither would stopping Shiite extremism have been possible. Hence, this vindicates those who insisted on the “fire for fire” approach, and who insisted on keeping this option ready should the moderate approach fail.
Today, it seems that the official Saudi decision is to raise the banner of counterterrorism and combatting extremism high by taking measures and politically calculated stances as well.
The $100 million grant to the United Nations to mobilize global support for combatting terrorism is important not only in terms of its financial and media significance, but also in terms of its political implications, especially in the context of Syria.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has set himself as a spearhead in the fight against Sunni terrorism, and in the protection of minorities from ISIS and similar groups, even though it was he who had released ISIS members from Syrian prisons to undermine the Syrian opposition and its reputation, before selling himself to the United States, Russia, and Western powers as the go-to man for the fight against terror.
The Saudi grant to the United Nations carried a political message to pull the rug from under the feet of the regime in Damascus, in order not to allow him to monopolize the scene to claim that he alone is fighting Sunni terrorism. Furthermore, the Saudi government’s financing of counterterrorism activities by the United Nations, together with other grants to assist its efforts in Iraq, is part of its comprehensive strategy based on new engagement with the international organization and international cooperation in the area of counterterrorism, as well as in helping Iraq recover provided it stops excluding Sunnis and ignoring their rights at the behest of Tehran.
In Lebanon, the Saudi leadership rushed to make a stand against ISIS to bolster Sunni moderation, granting Lebanon $1billion carried by former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who returned to Lebanon as a leader of Sunni moderation, prepared to make agreements.
With Hariri’s return to Lebanon and the restoration of his moderate Sunni leadership, and with Maliki’s departure from power in Iraq taking with him his exclusion, sectarianism, and extremism, there is room to be optimistic about a new approach by the two countries and possible new understandings between the Saudi and Iranian leaderships, focusing on moderation to combat extremism.
Syria remains a thorn in the side of any possible understandings, because it remains exclusively in the hands of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. This of course will affect Lebanon, even though Hezbollah there listens to the supreme guide and has its own Lebanese calculations, and is not just a proxy of the Revolutionary Guard despite their close relationship.
Syria is not exclusively an Iranian-Saudi issue, but it also involves Russia, Qatar, and European powers in varying degrees and dimensions.
As concerns Russia, the visit conducted by the Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Sisi to Russian President Vladimir Putin to forge closer ties was remarkable. Sisi sought arms deals using Saudi and Emirati funds, in addition to giving Russia access to the new Suez Canal project. Egypt represents one of the outlets of Saudi rapprochement with Russia, just like Iraq represents a channel for Saudi rapprochement with Iran.
At the American level, President Barack seems willing to move in small steps, which appeared as though they are strictly meant to support Kurds, whether by bombing ISIS positions or by considering the possibility of expanding the U.S. role in Iraq through the use of drones. Thus, Obama appeared willing to move against radical terrorism as represented by ISIS’ crimes, in conjunction with the consensus over removing Maliki from power, perhaps in order not to appear to be siding with Iran in Iraq if Obama fails to put pressure to remove Maliki.
Obama will not drag America into a direct battle with ISIS or other belligerents, because he is determined not to get involved in the wars of others in accordance with the wishes of the American public, as he has determined them to be.
The events in Iraq are an opportunity for the U.S. president to redefine the relationship with both Saudi Arabia and Iran, in the direction of brokering understandings and supporting moderation in earnest. This way, Obama can cast off the reputation for supporting extremism with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and by appeasing Iran in order to secure a nuclear deal with Tehran as his legacy.
Nuclear negotiations with Iran have stalled, and may not lead to the outcome desired by Barack Obama, because of the huge gap between what Tehran wants and what the Obama administration can live with and can sell to the Congress in Washington.
For this reason, it might be worthwhile for the U.S. president to draw a parallel path to his focus on appeasing Tehran, using the events in Iraq as a foothold to launch a new image for himself that would establish him as a serious and firm supporter of moderate powers, and one who can contribute to writing a new page for the Middle East.
Raghida Dergham is Columnist and Senior Diplomatic Correspondent for the London-based Al Hayat, the leading independent Arabic daily, since 1989. She writes a regular weekly strategic column on International Political Affairs. Dergham is also a Political Analyst for NBC, MSNBC and the Arab satellite LBC. She is a Contributing Editor for LA Times Syndicate Global Viewpoint and has contributed to: The New York Times, The Washington Post, The International Herald Tribune and Newsweek Magazine. She serves on the Board of the International Women's Media Foundation, and has served on the Advisory Council of Princeton University's Institute for Transregional Studies of the contemporary Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia. She was also a member of the Women's Foreign Policy Group. She addressed U.N. General Assembly on the World Press Freedom Day when President of The United Nations Correspondents Association for 1997 and was appointed to the Task Force on the Reorientation of Public Information by U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan. She moderated a roundtable of 8 Presidents and Prime Ministers for UNCTAD at Bangkok in 1991. Dergham served as Chairman of the Dag Hammarskjold Fund Board in 2005.
Actions, Not Words, Needed To Counter Bloodshed
By Khaled Almaeena
18 August 2014
There are reports in the Saudi media about directives issued to mosque imams to pray against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and other extremist organizations and portray them as “deviant groups.”
More needs to be done to counter such groups, who with a slew of tricks and misrepresentations have managed to draw a number of youth to their fold.
These groups by their acts of terror and bloodshed have nothing to do with Islam. The Sharurah incident in which several security personnel were killed this Ramadan by these “deviants” without any consideration for the inviolability of the Muslim blood and the sanctity of Ramadan was another eye-opener into the ideology and purpose of these organizations whose only aim is to cause bloodshed.
These groups have no intention of reform or creating an Islamic society as they profess. On the contrary they do a lot of disservice and damage to the Muslim community all over the world with their gross and bloody actions.
They have made clever use of the social media by focusing on many negative aspects of governance in the Muslim world, injustices and oppression, foreign interference and a host of other problems to reach the youth, ignorant and the uninitiated.
They exploit all and profess to come with solutions. They have thus attracted a substantial group of disaffected and disgruntled youth who have no knowledge of the real meaning of their religion.
We have come to a stage where all good men have to join forces to combat this evil.
Yes, we have to fight this cancerous ideology of hate and bloodshed.
Yes, we have to expose them in every forum.
Yes, we have to act now before it is too late as we see many ignorant people in the Muslim world beginning to follow them blindly.
But just using words against them is not enough. Strong actions are needed.
Hijacking Our Youth
We should engage our youth with versatility and verve. For a long time we have neglected them, and this has enabled the extremists to hijack them with lies and false ideologies. The only language they heard was from these preachers of hate.
And when writers and media people pointed out the dangers of allowing space to these insidious players they were quickly labelled as “liberals” “anti-Islamists” and called horrible names.
The authorities did not help. Rather some of these voices were snuffed. Frankenstein was the doctor not the monster. ISIS has been created by Arab societies who were totally oblivious to its dangers.
Teachers, preachers and imams were working for the past 30 years under the cloak of religion to nurture this evil philosophy. Intolerance and non-acceptance not only of non-Muslims but other sects within our own faith was encouraged and today we are reaping what was sowed.
The Grand Mosque Imam Sheikh Abdulrahman Al-Sudais has at least begun the battle in the right direction. He has called for a global code of conduct for leaders, scholars and young people to halt a further slide into violence and “terror” in his Friday sermon in Makkah.
He said, “There was an urgent need to prepare a global code of conduct in which the leaders and scholars would deliver their messages and in which the youths would set their thoughts right and the path of the new media is set right.”
ISIS, however, has become a small tsunami and to stop it from drowning humanity we need a total re-evaluation of our thought process, weed out teachers and imams and false preachers.
We should teach our young philosophy, arts and foreign literature while inculcating in them a tolerance for others. For is not Islam a religion of tolerance and mercy?
We should encourage sports, arts, music, films and a love of life. God has put us on this earth to enjoy its beauty, work upon it and make it a better place. Not to kill, plunder or destroy.
This is what these people are doing. And we have to stop them. Why would a doctor blow up himself as Dr. Faisal al-Aanzi did?
And why did so many commend him on Twitter? There is a sickness and malaise in our society. I am glad the government is taking action — but I do hope it will be more than just praying against ISIS in mosque.
It should be fighting for the minds of our young by using modern methods and instilling in them humane values and a love of life.
Khaled Almaeena is a veteran Saudi journalist, commentator, businessman and the editor-at-large of the Saudi Gazette. Almaeena has held a broad range of positions in Saudi media for over thirty years, including CEO of a PR firm, Saudi Television news anchor, talk show host, radio announcer, lecturer and journalist. As a journalist, Almaeena has represented Saudi media at Arab summits in Baghdad, Morocco and elsewhere. In 1990, he was one of four journalists to cover the historic resumption of diplomatic ties between Saudi Arabia and Russia. He also traveled to China as part of this diplomatic mission. Almaeena's political and social columns appear regularly in Gulf News, Asharq al-Aswat, al-Eqtisadiah, Arab News, Times of Oman, Asian Age and The China Post.
Anti-Arab Feelings on the Rise in Kurdistan As Islamic State Spreads Fear
By Cathrin Schaer
August 18, 2014
After Islamic State extremists attacking the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar last week were warmly greeted by local Arabs, there’s been a further rise in anti-Arab sentiment in Iraqi Kurdistan. Compared with other parts of Iraq, the semi-autonomous region has been a relatively safe, prosperous and more tolerant area. But as anger on social media translates to impromptu demonstrations and vandalism, is the region’s reputation for tolerance crumbling?
Over the past week or so, Iraqi Kurdish social media has been alive with the sound of anti-Arab sentiment.
“Arabs should not be allowed to roam freely around Iraqi Kurdistan,” wrote one Twitter user from northern Iraq. “Special camps should be made to house them.”
“I wish Sunni Arabs would stop supporting ISIS, a threat to civilisation,” noted another.
“Everyone here is regretting the fact that Erbil houses a large Arab population,” tweeted yet another. “We have a reckless open door policy.”
“It wasn’t the Islamic State who took our girls,” said one writer angrily, referring to the kidnap of a large number of women from the town of Sinjar by the Sunni Muslim extremist group known as the Islamic State. “It was the Arab tribes.”
These are just a sample of the kinds of comments that Iraqi Kurdish social media users have been posting online. Others added even more vitriol, reporting that relatives serving in the Iraqi military, who were fighting the Islamic State group, said they were shot at by ordinary Arabs in contested areas. They also said that the ordinary Arabs in contested areas were providing the extremists with intelligence.
The online anger against Arabs that started as random messages on social media has also evolved into online campaigning in some cases, with one group starting a Facebook page “for the expulsion of Arabs from Iraqi Kurdistan”. A group of Facebook campaigners also began to organise a demonstration against Arabs in Iraqi Kurdistan, even though Iraqi Kurdish authorities forbade it.
Two weekends ago, the UK-based website Middle East Eye reported on an impromptu demonstration held in the Iraqi Kurdish capital of Erbil. The mostly young men involved apparently set up checkpoints on the street to police anyone driving by, that they suspected was Arab. The protestors also tried to vandalise property they thought belonged to Arabs. Iraqi Kurdish security forces broke the protest up.
“We don’t want the Arabs here because they are all spies,” one protestor told Middle East Eye. “They come here to Kurdistan like they are refugees, but we know most of them are working with the Islamic State. If it was the other way, they wouldn’t help us, in the past they have killed us, we don’t want to help them.”
There seems to be difference between attitudes in different parts of Iraqi Kurdistan too. One journalist from Baghdad who is now living in Sulaymaniyah says she is treated very differently in Erbil and Dohuk, which are generally considered more conservative than Sulaymaniyah.
“The Iraqi Kurdish security staff treats me badly and I am never allowed to cross into Erbil or Dohuk easily,” said the Baghdad reporter – she wished to remain anonymous for fear of recrimination inside Iraqi Kurdistan. “Sometimes I have to wait four or five hours at the checkpoints.”
She tells how, returning from a wedding in Dohuk, she was travelling with two Europeans, one from Denmark, another from Italy, and the passengers were made to wait together at a checkpoint for some time – and not because one of the Europeans had forgotten his passport but because, the Iraqi Kurdish security forces on the border, said, “there was an Arab woman in the car”.
“A few days ago, I met with another female journalist who left Mosul and settled in Dohuk,” the journalist continued. “She complained to me about discrimination against Arabs and she said that people look at them with fear and doubt. She also thinks that the Iraqi Kurdish authorities there deliberately delay residency procedures for Arabs coming into Dohuk.”
She believes the anti-Arab feeling in Iraqi Kurdistan is just going to get worse. And some Arabs have said they are considering going back to places like Baghdad until the anti-Arab feeling dies down.
One family originally from Mosul told a relative in Abu Dhabi, that it took around two weeks and a lot of pressure to be allowed to take one car into the Dohuk area.
“They say that Kurds there are smashing cars with Mosul number plates. They haven’t been physically hurt but are afraid because they have seen cars smashed in their area,” the relative, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of backlash against family in Iraq, said in an email to NIQASH. “They are asking the Arabs to go back to where they came from. My cousins said they want to leave as soon as possible and go back to Mosul.”
Some cars in Dohuk have also been seen sporting a specially designed anti-Arab sticker and apparently a restaurant on the road between Sulaymaniyah and Erbil has a sign saying “Arabs may not enter”.
It’s not just the obvious events either – small instances of casual racist cruelty also appear to be on the rise.
“My relative was flying with his aged mother from Erbil to Dubai and he asked for a seat where his mother could lift her feet and be comfortable,” says the Abu Dhabi-based relative. “The manager came to the counter and asked him if he was Arab or Kurd. He told him if he was Arab, then no, his mother would have sit in an ordinary seat. My relative tried to explain that this was not acceptable for an international airline. But the manager just walked away.”
Some of the angry chatter online does appear to have a basis in reality. When the extremist group, the Islamic State, or IS, first arrived in the town of Sinjar, many of the residents fled in terror. However the IS fighters were apparently greeted by their neighbours, Sunni Arabs, a minority in the town. Eye witness reports from the residents who fled Sinjar said that members of local Arab tribes were convinced to join the group and that after they did, they informed on and killed their former Yazidi neighbours.
There have been pictures posted online that allegedly show local Arabs greeting the IS fighters in Sinjar. The faces of those greeting the fighters so warmly have been magnified and those posting the pictures make ominous comments, saying they will take revenge on the individuals concerned.
Sinjar was mainly inhabited by Yazidis, an ethno-religious minority with close links to Iraq’s Kurdish population. The IS group, which adheres to an extreme version of Sunni Islam, considers the Yazidis infidels.
Although numbers remain vague, it seems that most Yazidis fled. There have been unconfirmed reports from inside Sinjar of all kinds of brutality against the Yazidis who stayed, from summary execution to being buried alive to kidnapping. One thing that has been confirmed is that the IS group took between 300 and 500 Yazidi women and girls and sent them away on a bus; it is thought they are now in a prison and nobody knows if the IS fighters plan to use them as slaves or sell them as wives.
In light of what has happened to those Yazidis who fled, the horror stories coming out of Sinjar, as well as the concerns about the welfare of the kidnapped Yazidi women, it is hardly surprising that many Iraqi Kurdish are angry at the Yazidis’ Sunni Muslim neighbours, who apparently helped IS fighters, giving them information about locals, assisting them with navigation and even providing tea and food.
It is also well known that the IS group are dependent on “sleeper cells” – that is armed groups of local sympathizers who only expose their alliance once IS fighters are nearby. Iraqi Kurdish locals are concerned that by letting so many Arab refugees in they’re opening what was until very recently a safe haven up to attack.
“The Arabs are not clean,” one, usually-liberal Iraqi Kurdish civil society activist tells us without a trace of irony. “They betray one another and us.”
“The Kurdish public are divided on this issue,” writes Shalaw Fatah, a Masters student at the American University of Iraq in Sulaymaniyah, on a website run by local think tank, the Kurdish Policy Foundation. “Those who are nationalist tend to perceive the influx of refugees as a major concern that must be dealt with adequately, while others who are considered as moderate Kurds don’t see the influx of Arabs … as a national crisis.”
This bout of anti-Arab feeling is most likely about more than the very recent events. It’s been building for a while.
Iraqi Kurdistan, which has its own military, legislation and parliament, has consistently been one of the safest and most prosperous places in Iraq. The Kurdish people are one of the largest ethnic groups in the world without their own country and rather than fighting about their religious denomination – Kurds are Shiite Muslim, Sunni Muslim and Christian as well as secular – they focus on their shared ethnicity and their ambitions for statehood. This is why many Iraqis, who have fled violence in their own hometowns, have ended up sheltering in Iraqi Kurdistan.
And in the recent past, the region has seen several waves of refugees, starting with Syrians from over the border, and more recently, Iraqis leaving the nearby city of Mosul, which was taken over by the extremists in early June. The most recent wave consists of Christians from Mosul and Yazidis from the Sinjar area. It is estimated that there are now over a million refugees in Iraqi Kurdistan now. Some say there may be as many as 2 million, possibly more, because many of the displaced people in Iraqi Kurdistan are not registered as official refugees – they may be staying in hotels or with relatives.
As a result of such a massive influx of people as well as financial problems that local authorities are having with Baghdad, the Iraqi Kurdish Ministry of Social Affairs says that levels of crime and other socially undesirable behaviour, such as begging on the streets, has increased. And as demand rises, rents increase and shortages grow due to blocked roads, prices for food and gas have also increased in the region. Again, this has increased bad feelings towards Arabs among locals.
Then again, this isn’t anything new. There has always been enmity between the Iraqi Kurdish and the Arabs of Iraq. After all, former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein tried to kill or displace as many Kurds as possible; the country’s Kurdish population suffered greatly and rose up against him as a result. The Kurdish have always wanted their own country.
"In Iraq we have a term, “Kurdish-Arab brotherhood,” that was coined and promoted by successive regimes. But the truth is more like Kurdish-Arab suspicion and distrust," Ayub Nuri, editor at the Iraqi Kurdish news organisation, Rudaw, wrote in an opinion piece in Time magazine recently. "The Kurds see Iraq as the cause of all their miseries and Iraq thinks the Kurds are the reason that the country has never been stable. Both sides are right. Iraq has brutalized us for decades, and we have fought Baghdad politically and militarily for years."
And as one patriotic Iraqi Kurdish man readily admits about the situation in Sinjar, “wherever there are Peshmerga (Iraqi Kurdish military) in charge, they don’t always treat the Arabs as well as their own Kurds”.
Some ethnic minorities have also insisted that the Iraqi Kurdish are using the conflict with the IS group as an excuse for a land grab; to expand the territory they control and harass local Arabs. For example, the Assyrian Federation of Sweden, which was in contact with locals in the northern Iraqi town of Qaraqosh, compiled a report saying that Iraqi Kurds deliberately started a fight with local Arabs in late June.
And the standoff at checkpoints going into Iraqi Kurdistan is nothing new either. It was happening long before the IS group took control of Mosul.
After a September 2013 attack on Iraqi Kurdish military headquarters in Erbil – it killed seven staff and injured as many as 72 others – border security was tightened and it became much tougher for Arabs to enter the region. All of the attackers had been Arabs, authorities said. Arabs coming into the region were subjected to special scrutiny – especially if they were single males. Many who had planned to come into Iraqi Kurdistan were denied entry and made to turn back.
Having said all this, there are also efforts afoot to stem the rising tide of racism. Authorities have not allowed anti-Arab demonstrations to go ahead and many local media have published editorials and articles saying that locals need to be tolerant of, and compassionate toward, refugees.
Iraqi Kurdistan is doing its best to help the refugees flooding into the region and locals are happy about this, many commentators have said.
Even the Prime Minister of Iraqi Kurdistan, Nechirvan Barzani, has voted for tolerance in his region – albeit in a statement made before the most recent attacks on Sinjar. “The Kurdish people enjoy good relations with their Christian brothers and sisters as well as all other ethnic and religious groups, and we are proud to protect the diversity that exists in Kurdistan,” an official June 19 statement, asking for aid for refugees, said. “This diversity and culture of tolerance have been effective over the past few years in our society.”
ISIS on Film: Swords, Deaths and Clichés
By Diana Moukalled
19 August 2014
Rafiq Abu-Moussab, media officer of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), rose suddenly when he heard a question about his private life and family. He removed his shades and replied with a stern stare: “I do not do entertainment at all; I do not go out at all. Family, pardon the expression, is the least concern, as there are more important issues; if we spent time with the family, no one would defend the honor of Muslims.”
On a similar question about the place of personal life in the day of an ISIS member, Abu-Moussab replied: “We do not like the happy life and picnics, because they distract us from God.”
These answers gave an insight into the way of life and the thinking of those armed men who have shocked the world, and continue to do so, by repeatedly airing videos of beheadings when their barbarism is let loose.
In an unprecedented documentary, ISIS leaders allowed a television crew from Vice News to enter the areas under their control in the Syrian province of Raqqa for two weeks to make a film about the killings they carried out. The film also showed how the group controlled the lives of residents with their “hisbah” patrols, and ISIS even allowed the team to film prisons that the group ran.
This film, which has spread widely less than one week, was carefully made. A film like this cannot be shot without the consent of the power in charge on the ground, which in this case was ISIS. Any attempts made to film outside the area permitted by the group would have meant a quick death.
The importance of this work lies in showing both the personalities and what life is like under murderers whose barbarism has shocked the world, and who have spread with a speed that is still not understood.
All those ISIS members who spoke on camera were not Syrians. Their dialects were mostly from the Gulf and the Maghreb, and some were members of the Arab diaspora in Europe.
A 50-year-old man appeared in a scene showing an evening gathering in a Raqqa square, chanting with those around him: “The virgins in the heavens are calling, list me for martyrdom.” He addresses the camera, saying he had lived in Europe for 25 years yet had traveled to the new so-called Islamic Caliphate, leaving behind “a beautiful wife and children, [coming instead] to jihad and peace of mind.”
In fact, all those members of the group shown in the film are examples of the sick societies which produced them. Even those who lived in Europe did not escape the heavy legacies which they took with them from their countries and societies.
The people in the film repeated the same tired phrases that have been heard again and again over the last three decades, tired clichés about infidels targeting Muslims, clichés repeated by angry, ruthless youths who have let their beards and hair grow, and show off their guns and swords, teaching their children hatred of others and training them to kill.
The issue is so complicated that it cannot be attributed just to violent religious discourse. If this discourse is the sole source the militants draw on, then what we see in the resulting death and destruction is but one of the signs of the deterioration of Arab societies. Many in this film were most probably born in countries crises and conflicts.
The waves of Takfirists (apostatists) have been coming for three decades, to the extent that we are now facing what is the fourth generation. Wars on terrorism have been launched with varying degrees of success, but they have not eradicated its root causes.
It is time for a different approach. It is time we asked ourselves hard questions, because what was shown in this film, and the fact that this kind of murder and violence has become commonplace in some places, will not be destroyed by fighter jets.
Diana Moukalled is the Web Editor at the Lebanon-based Future Television and was the Production & Programming Manager with at the channel. Previously, she worked there as Editor in Chief, Producer and Presenter of “Bilayan al Mujaradah,” a documentary that covers hot zones in the Arab world and elsewhere, News and war correspondent and Local news correspondent. She currently writes a regular column in AlSharq AlAwsat. She also wrote for Al-Hayat Newspaper and Al-Wasat Magazine, besides producing news bulletins and documentaries for Reuters TV.
Who Are Iraqi Kurdistan’s ’Peshmergettes?’
By Salma El-Shahed
19 August 2014
As Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants continue to wreak havoc across northern Iraq, many Kurds are highly concerned and angry because of their gruesome activities, including female members of Kurdistan’s army, the Peshmerga.
In light of recent ISIS violence against minorities and women, Kurdish female fighters within the Peshmerga Force for Women have been asking their commanders to send them to the frontline to help combat the extremists, the BBC reported.
The existence of these female troops is an “affirmation that women in Kurdistan should be full members of society and not be hidden behind closed doors,” Dr. Joseph Kéchichian, an American scholar who specializes in Gulf and Iraqi affairs, told Al Arabiya News.
“Kurdish men and women have seldom shied away from serving their military duties,” he said.
“We are now on the battlefield, but I'm married and I have a daughter, whom I left with my parents to fight against extremists. I'm happy to perform my national duty to defend Kurdistan,” Chelan Shakhwan a fighter in the Peshmerga female regiment, told al-Monitor news website.
In the BBC report, the women are seen chanting about martyrdom while protecting their country.
“The reasons we want to fight ISIS is first, to defend our country, and secondly, to defend women, because in Mosul, ISIS attacked a lot of women,” one of the women told BBC’s Shaimaa Khalil.
A History of the Peshmergettes
Female Peshmerga fighters are not a novelty, according to Kéchichian. “Saladin, one of the most famous Muslim leaders of all time, was a Kurd, he had women fighting along his side,” he said in a telephone interview.
Additionally, a paper published by Florida State University in 2005 said women have been fighting alongside their fellow countrymen since the 1700s.
Following the Kurdish Civil War of the 1990s, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan started recruiting female Peshmerga in 1996, making them the first party in Iraq to include women in their military forces.
The Peshmerga Force for Women was first established with the enrolment of 11 women by the PUK.
“Since the beginning of their training in 1996, women Peshmerga saw their instruction expands, learning not only military tactics and strategy but also math, computer science, and history,” the paper explained.
Today, more than 500 women are part of the Peshmerga and although they are yet to face ISIS, they have gone through military exercises under Sulaymaniyah’s burning sun to prepare themselves for any surprise attacks, as reported in the New York Post.
“The formation of a female battalion is the Peshmerga organizing its various military resources,” Kéchichian said.
Kéchichian also found irony in female soldiers facing ISIS, as both sides are Sunni, the “Peshmerga is showing that you can be both Muslim and moderate,” as opposed to the extremist version of Sunni-Islam practiced by ISIS militants.