Sunday, July 17, 2005


Pit of Despair

London Blasts

I have not written about the London Blasts. I not only wanted the dust to settle, but I also wanted to unravel my own feelings first.

Loss of life is always that… a loss, a grave loss. It is sad. The feeling of sadness is always enhanced when the loss includes innocent life. But to be honest, while following the unfolding news from London on the BBC, I did not feel shock. I did not feel the shock and repulsion that I felt on 9/11.

This has become just like any other day in Iraq. Regular news. You don’t get shocked by regular news.

I felt anger, but it was an anger of another kind.

What angered me most was that I have somehow found out that I had less compassion than I should for those people who suffered or lost their lives. Have I lost part of my humanity and capacity for compassion… or the ability to feel for the suffering of other people?

It is a loss indeed. But it is also my loss… of part of my soul.


The following excerpt is from an email I received from an American gentleman about that particular tragedy.

“Last week I was watching NIGHTLINE on ABC with Ted Koeppel , it was the
evening of the day of the London bombings. He had three guests. One was a former terrorist from Ireland who had served prison time for his crimes…

“… Koeppel starts by asking the former terrorist about the causes of terrorism.

“The man patiently and eloquently answers and says essentially that policies that make life difficult for a certain group of people, can create a “pit of despair”. The population of this pit grows as the dignity and needs of the group are continually ignored.”


The words ‘pit of despair’ kept resonating in my mind. They reminded me of something I wrote somewhere.

Satan is called Shaitan in Arabic. Another word frequently used for the Devil is “Ibleess”. I once traced that word and found that it derives from something that means "extreme sadness caused by total despair."


To the British:

I am sorry for your loss. But you have to be patient. This is part of the war against terror. Your government never stops telling you that they will prevail. I am telling you that they will not; not along this path.

Be patient. Be strong. It may happen again.

What happened on that Thursday in London was horrible, wasn’t it? Well, it is an almost daily occurrence in my country.

These people have found the ultimate weapon and the ultimate motivation. How can you defend yourself against people who are so bitter and angry that they are not only prepared to die in the process of killing you… but actually look forward to it? The vehicle? Faith! For these people, Faith has been effectively used to stun their own self-preservation mechanisms. Add to that the fact that there are numerous other people who are not willing to die themselves, but nevertheless equally angry to the extent that they are prepared to assist in whatever financial or logistical way that they can.

Frankly I do not see much difference between those people and the people who bomb cities full of innocent people. In fact the latter group is worse… because they are acting in that violently criminal manner from outside that ‘pit of despair’.

You cannot fight faith, anger and despair using tanks and bombs. They tend to make them stronger. Yet this is exactly what your government has been helping the present US administration to try and achieve.

You cannot fight it by spreading ‘Freedom and Democracy’ the way the US administration has been trying to in Iraq. Britain is already free and democratic.

Nothing can be done unless the soil that produces these off shoots is tackled. Favorable conditions have to be altered.

But this is all premature at the moment. Perhaps after enough death, carnage and suffering, when your own self-preservation mechanisms, not irrational fear-induced anger, are triggered and the lives of your loved ones are at stake… we can start thinking about alternative approaches.

How many lives have to be lost between now and then? How much innocent blood has to flow?

But don’t listen to me; I may have a vested interest or an ulterior motive or my judgment may be impaired by my own suffering or the suffering of my country. Listen to others, Americans and British, who have a different perspective… just in case they are right.


Iraq’s G4

They all had excellent excuses: defending nations and values, spreading freedom and democracy… or defending country and religion.

But the result was always the same. Over the past three decades, these different people killed many, many thousands of innocent Iraqis:

1. Saddam Hussein
2. Islamic Republic of Iran
3. United States of America
4. International terrorists

Iraq’s Gang of Four: Members of this club since 1979, 1988, 1991 and 2003 in that order. The first lured the second and the third. The third lured the fourth.

In killing innocent people in Iraq…

They all think they are right.
They all think they have that right.
They all think they have God on their side.

Monday, July 04, 2005


The Kurdish Question in Iraq

[I have posted some background information on Kurds in Iraq in my other blog “A Glimpse of Iraq” for readers interested in some more details.]


In a private communication, one astute reader sometime ago made the observation about Kurdish and other Iraqi bloggers ‘not talking to each other’! That is largely true. It is perhaps driven by a conscious or an unconscious desire not to confront each other at this stage… and wait and see how things develop. Kurds do want their independent state but do not want to go to war over the issue yet. I think they know that, practically, this is almost impossible at this stage.

Post-Invasion Politics

Kurdistan has not been devastated during the past two years because it was not “liberated” through an invasion; it was already an autonomous ‘safe-haven’! There has been little violence or disruption of life. Animosity towards the Americans is therefore almost non-existent.

Kurds are generally happy with and hold strongly to their autonomy.

This has been reflected by the Kurdish politicians’ position over the past two years. While America is around, they are trying to get as much as they can while paying lip service to the ‘territorial integrity of Iraq’. They have certainly firmly established a few things through TAL (the Transitional Administrative Law) particularly the concept of a Federal Iraq and the veto (which ironically the ‘Sunni’ provinces can now use). Both Barazani and Talabani were quick to write a letter to President Bush when UN resolution 1546 was being drafted. They were furious about the prospect of not mentioning the TAL in the resolution. In the end, Sistani was appeased by not mentioning that law specifically… but the Kurds won as it was that law that formed the basis of the interim government… and represents our “constitution” up to this minute.

Most Iraqis have been angered by some of the Kurdish demands during the process of forming the present, post-election government. Most saw those demands as impossible to meet. Some of those demands seemed to me to be more like conditions of a ceasefire between a victor and a loser than haggling between politicians of the same country. There were compromises later.

Both Barazani and Talabani are basically warlords. They have headed their respective parties for decades. They still do. However, they have both decided to play within the rules of a democracy that secures their dominance over Kurdish politics. Other Kurdish parties are bitter about their dominance over Kurdish politics.

Barazani is more of a traditionalist. Talabani is secular. Sulleimaneyya (Talabani’s capital) is much more ‘westernized’, while Barazani’s Arbil is much more ‘Muslim’ and traditional in façade. Talabani originally ceded from Barazani’s party sometime in the 70’s. Barazani is also more ‘tribal’. His father struggled long and hard against central governments for decades (and was played by all sides: Iran, America, Israel and Soviet Russia).

Aspirations and Limitations

Generally, the Kurds have had a very raw deal and suffered much for most of the past century. But their problem was mainly with governments and not with ordinary people. I think this is important.

I must add that Iraq is so old, it may be difficult for many people to understand the subtlety of some of the finer issues. Kurds are Indo-European in origin and not Semites. Kirkuk is contested. But Arbil, which lies north of Kirkuk has an ancient Semitic name (Arb= arba’a= four… il=God… city of the four Gods!!). Barazani is now trying to change that ancient name, which I find sad really. That name predates the Assyrians.

I can understand Kurdish national aspirations. I sympathize with them. Any fair-minded person should. Even Arab Nationalists should, if they want to be fair and honest! Just as they feel that Iraq is a severed part of the Arab world, Iraqi Kurdistan is part of the Greater Kurdistan. The important difference is that all the various segments of Kurdistan are swallowed by other countries!

Any Arab Nationalist who does not concede the right of the Kurds to National aspirations is not true to his own beliefs, unless they stem from subduing other nations! (People who see themselves as Iraqis first are another story; they simply will not concede to carving up Iraq.)

I believe that this Nationalistic aspiration is the real (frequently undeclared) conflict behind all this talk about federalism. Otherwise people would have been discussing de-centralization instead!

Most Kurds would like to cede from Iraq. But I’m afraid it is not possible for them to cede without causing much damage to themselves and to the rest of Iraq.

There are two main problems:

1. Surrounding countries:

Turkey, Syria and Iran all have Kurdish minorities. Turkey has made its displeasure quite clear. The position of Turkey on the question of an independent Kurdistan was summarized quite bluntly by their foreign minister about a year ago. Following some pressure from America (or Israel) he said that they were being given a choice between important friendships… and survival!

2. Kirkuk

If a province of Iraqi Kurdistan emerges from the present chaos and if, as would be natural to assume, the Kurds would want Kirkuk, if not for historical reasons, then definitely for economic ones: Iraqi Kurdistan could never survive economically without Kirkuk.

But…Facts must always come first!

• Kirkuk is contested!
• Kirkuk has Kurds, Arabs and Turkmen living in it, now! Even statistics used by all parties, agree that all those people were there for I don’t know how long. They only differ on percentages.
• I cannot see the Arabs or the Turkmen giving up what most feel to be their homes without a fight.

Remember, some of them lived there long before Saddam! If they had contested that land, they wouldn’t have been friends and allies against the foreign Ottomans. There has rarely been popular strife between them.

The Turkmen who have had a raw deal on the political arena in the past two years are likely to align themselves with the Arabs in any conflict in Kirkuk.

In this simplistic summary, I see all the elements of bloody strife, killing and suffering.

But basically, we all know that Arabs and Kurds don’t really have a problem of co-existence as people! They have been doing it for many centuries.

It is all a question of national aspirations!

There has been forced displacement of people from Kirkuk under Saddam. Come to think of it, there has been so much injustice and suffering, everyone had his share! Including, and believe me, even many of those unfortunate Baathists. I don’t think starting a new conflict between Iraqis at this stage would put things right or lead to any advantage to anyone!

When we have a good system of government and a decent judicial system, then, and only then can some of those injustices, forced displacements and statistics be addressed…the process could take years! During those years, it seems to me to be more rational to work together for a better country for all than killing each other!

Is There a Solution?

My personal belief is that there is!

The major source of anguish among Arabs and neighboring countries centers around one word: Federalism. If Iraqi Kurdistan is constructed following the present model, most non-Kurds believe it to be a recipe for ceding from Iraq. The Kurdish politicians’ insistence on redrawing inter governorate borders adds to that suspicion.

The new entity will be resisted, overtly or covertly, by all countries surrounding the northern half of Iraq (Turkey, Iran and Syria). Kurdistan and the rest of Iraq stand to suffer. At this point in history we simply cannot afford that.

The simple alternative is a federal state that has not just two regions (Arab and Kurd) but 18 – the present number of provinces (or governorates) of Iraq.

If each province is given a high degree of autonomy, but relies for income on the central federal government and if the army remains federally controlled, this has the advantages of
• meeting the nationalist aspirations of Kurds (language, culture, self-government, etc) in their three provinces…

• and yet appeasing other Iraqis and neighboring countries, since each of these provinces cannot unilaterally cede from the country.

Those provinces can, at a later date when conditions permit, form the coveted region.

There are numerous ways of addressing the grievances of displaced people in Kirkuk and elsewhere equitably within Iraq or through international legal bodies or organizations. Many people in Iraq, not just people in Kirkuk, have many grievances that have to be addresses and rectified. We cannot hinge everything on sorting out Kirkuk, risking the stability of the whole country in the process.

I must add that this scheme does not seem to appeal to most of my own Kurdish friends. They want their Kurdistan in one piece, now!!

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