Jul 25, 2012

Iraqi Kurdistan: Cross-Border Attacks' Lingering Effects

On 15 July 2012 CPTers took two journalists to the border between Iraqi Kurdistan and Iran to hear people tell about Iran's cross border attacks on their villages. 

The group met with Bapir Haji Kakamin and Mohammed Haji Amin in the town of Zharawa where the men's families share a house.  Bapir and Mohammed cannot stay permanently in their village of Basta along the border because of Iran's annual attacks on their village. 

Mohammed told the group that in the beginning of spring 2011 Iranian rockets hit his herds of sheep and goats.  Several died immediately, but over 400 died in the following weeks.  He had samples from the bodies tested.  He showed the CPTers and journalists documentation that showed that the animals died from a combination of poisonous gases from the attacks, and from having to move the animals from a cold climate to a hot climate to escape from the attacks. 

14-year-old Bahar tells about the day Iranian rockets hit her village
"At the beginning of spring 2011," Mohammed said, "I was the richest person in the area.  I used to help people.  Now I cannot.  Sometimes people help me.   It hurts me psychologically.  I write every day.  I had a house in Basta.  It was destroyed.  It had five rooms.  It had everything - guest space.  I used to make $50,000 - $60,000 a year.  Now I make nothing."

The CPTers and journalists then headed to the border village of Sunnah, where Iranian rockets damaged a school in 2011 (see http://cpt-iraq.blogspot.com/2012/06/disrupted-lives-children-of-sunnah.html).  The team met with Othman Bapir Mahmoud, a leader of the village.  When asked why he thought Iran attacked Sunnah, Othman replied that Iran thought that the PJAK used the clinic in Sunnah.  (The PJAK is an armed resistance group fighting for the rights of Kurds in Iran.)  But Othman said that the PJAK do not use the clinic.

Othman showed the CPTers and journalists the repaired roof of his neighbor's house where a rocket went through 17 July 2011.  He showed them where rockets hit elsewhere in the neighborhood, too.  He then went with them to the Iran border and pointed out three Iranian bases on the tops of the mountains.  He said one base was old, but the Iranians built the others this past year. 

Back in Sunnah, the journalists interviewed Bahar Omar Ibrahim, a 14-year-old girl who was washing clothes when the rockets came last year.  She could not leave the area during the attacks because she is visually impaired.  "I was very scared," said Bahar.  "I am still scared.  I am very happy there are no attacks now.  Life in the camp" (where the villagers had to relocate) "was bad, dusty, hot and windy.  I am glad to be at home in my village."

On the trip back from Sunnah, the CPTers and journalists saw new trailers in the village of Shiwa Raz, likely put there by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) to be used as an internally displaced persons camp if Iran attacks village areas again.  Villagers who live along the border are glad that so far Iran has not attacked their villages this year.

The trip resulted in a local radio report and article.  Another article is planned to be published soon.  


CPT Iraqi Kurdistan does not condone the violence perpetrated by Turkey and Iran against the Kurdish people.

CPT Iraqi Kurdistan does not condone the sanctions against Iran emplaced by the U.N, that collectively punish the Iranian and Kurdish People of Iran.

CPT Iraqi Kurdistan does not condone the calls for “military action” against Iran.

Jul 11, 2012

Life in Iraqi Kurdistan, under the veneer of democracy.

CPT Iraqi Kurdistan releases the following article, via Awene News and this blog, reflecting on the culture of fear we witness under the government of the Kurdish Region of Iraq. 

Authorities of the KRG (Kurdistan Regional Government) expend resources contrasting life in the Kurdish north to that experienced in southern Iraq.  Visit their website and surf the web for entertaining adventures to be found in the safe, welcoming environment supervised by well trained and modernly equipped security forces.  Relatively, the scene in Iraqi Kurdistan is more serene when compared to the continuing violent outbursts in the south that sometimes fail to make the news because of their now routine occurrences.  On the surface, areas controlled by the KRG do appear to be more stable than the regions in and around Baghdad. 
However this peaceful resignation is not free, nor does it come cheaply.  Submitting to inequitable policies and ignoring indiscriminate methods used by authorities to maintain control of community affairs is the price one pays for being left alone.  And considering that up to 95% of the population depends on resources paid to them because of their supportive participation in the management of civil procedures dictated by politicians, there is strong incentive for persons to continue supporting prevailing practices.  
Another factor that serves to curb civil dissent is treatment (or more appropriately mistreatment) of persons who are arrested.  In the United States sometimes persons are arrested for protesting policies that violate human rights of a segment of the community.  When protestors are arrested, they have little concern that they will be tortured while in prison.  They may be shackled and invited to sleep on a cold steel mattress, but they will be given generous amounts of food and drink.  Nor do they fear they will disappear while in prison, or that some mysterious ‘accident’ might occur that will take away their life, or that they will remain in jail for years before they are ever scheduled for a trial.  But these are real consequences awaiting persons who are arrested in Iraqi Kurdistan.  Each of these things has happened recently.   
One of the principle and foundational pillars of democracy is the freedom of the civil population to question practices and laws that appear to be unjust.   Indeed since a democratic government functions on behalf of the people, it is the duty of individuals and groups to demand transparent governmental management of resources and to hold those who employ corrupt strategies accountable.  In a democracy citizens are obligated to stand up and speak out for persons who are mistreated and denied their human rights.  So let’s consider the treatment of several individuals in Iraqi Kurdistan who recently spoke in public insisting on transparency in government and equal treatment under the law of all people.
CPT knows of two individuals who have needed to leave their homes in Iraqi Kurdistan because of threats against their lives after they publicly called for government officials to explain apparent unjust practices.  CPT knows of an individual who was abducted and beaten because of his presence in a public gathering calling for government officials to reveal the way resources committed to civil services are managed.   CPT knows of an individual who was accused of a crime and, without any evidence to support the charge, was taken into custody and remained in prison for many months before he was judged not guilty.  And CPT knows of numerous incidents when persons were afraid to attend memorial services or be present for public discussions because they feared being arrested.
There is an unobtainable number of persons who have been or who are even now being intimidated by these abusive practices that occur under the supervision of KRG authorities.  If life in Iraqi Kurdistan is so safe and visiting here would be such a peaceful excursion, as the official propaganda indicates, then why do these oppressive things happen to people who publicly dissent?  And why is there no response from government officials to ensure their protection?   Either KRG authorities are unable to prevent these proceedings or they allow them to continue because such practices serve a purpose considered important by the authorities.  Either way, the description of Iraqi Kurdistan being a democracy is a real stretch.  
Welcome to democratic Iraqi Kurdistan; welcome to Fantasyland. 

Jul 8, 2012

Reverberations of an uprising: one father's story

For a Kurdish translation of this post, click here.

On February 19, 2011, Iraqi Kurdistan security forces shot into a crowd of demonstrators, killing Surkew, the teenaged son of Zahid Mahmoud Emam.  Surkew was on his way home from school when he joined the protest; security forces shot him in the midsection.  He died in the hospital later that day.  It was the third day of the Kurdish Spring Uprisings in Sulaimani against corruption in the government.  Sixty-two days after the daily protests began, the security forces used tear gas on the crowds and burned down the stage in Azadi ("Freedom") Square, ending the demonstrations.  During the time of the demonstrations, ten people were killed and security forces wounded and arrested hundreds of demonstrators.  The security forces beat and tortured many of the detainees.  “I was beaten up and still have breathing issues because of the tear gas, and I have still problems in my back because of the beatings," said Zahid during an interview with CPT.  "This happened even after my son was killed." 
Photo of Surkew Zahid Valentine's Day Remembrance 2012
Over a year after the demonstrations ended, Zahid campaigns on behalf of the demonstrators who remain in prison.  He also campaigns for the prosecution of those who killed demonstrators last year.  “Until I will get to my goal" [of having those responsible prosecuted] "I will continue until everyone knows about the situation here.” He told CPT that he speaks out for the sake of "the blood of my son who was murdered and all the others who were murdered."  
Zahid (right) in the 2012 Valentine's Day remembrance of those killed Spring 2011
Zahid believes it will be more effective if he shares his story outside the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.  He visited Sweden in April 2012, after accepting an invitation from the Swedish Green Party.  He met with a group called the 17th of February, which is composed of Kurdish people who live in Sweden and are supportive of the demonstrations.  He also met with a Swedish government official responsible for Middle East Foreign Affairs.  Zahid told him that some of the authorities in the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) have Swedish citizenship and asked him to block their financial resources and launch investigations into the killings, beatings, arrests and torture of demonstrators.  Zahid told him that some of the people who committed brutality were helped out of the country by KRG authorities with Swedish citizenship.  Zahid told him those authorities should be held accountable for this on their return to Sweden.  This official promised that he would report Zahid's message to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  Zahid said he thinks the trip to Sweden was good for sharing the dark side of the Kurdistan Regional Government and unmasking its pretense of democracy.
Zahid hopes to make similar tours to other European countries and to the U.S.  He told CPT that he does not need any financial help - just an invitation.  He is also happy and available to do an interview from his home.

Jul 5, 2012

"We Will Continue"

Around 6pm one evening in 2009, Iran shelled across its border into a community of Kurdish shepherds in the mountains of Iraqi Kurdistan.  Pieces of shrapnel from a rocket hit a teenager, Sabir, in the neck and shoulder.  Sabir survived, and CPT contacted him to hear about his experience.  In June of this year CPT contacted Sabir again to learn about Iran's present cross border attacks in his area, and Sabir invited the team to spend the night with his community in the mountains.

Traveling to meet Sabir, the team came to a fork in the road and did not know which way to go.  They asked some men in a pick-up truck for directions.  The men were from Hawler, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, and had come to the area to pay the shepherd of the sheep that they owned.  While they spoke, the shepherd came down the hill with the men's sheep.  The shepherd was Othman, Sabir's cousin.  After receiving his pay, Othman left the sheep with his son, and got into the CPT vehicle to show them the way.  Soon afterward, Sabir came in his pick-up, and the team followed him up the mountain.

The region near Sabir's relatives' tents

Sabir led the team up to the green highlands where the weather was much colder than in the team's home area of Sulaimani.  He stopped on a wind-swept plateau where his relatives lived with their tents and animals.  After visiting in Sabir's tent, the team followed Sabir farther up the mountain to see where the rockets hit in 2009.  Near the top of the mountain was another plateau where Sabir, Othman, and others walked around describing to the team what happened that evening in 2009.

On that evening, ten rockets hit the area.  Othman showed the team where one rocket hit a home and where one hit his vehicle.  Rocks were piled on another place where a rocket hit.  The men showed the team pieces of rockets still on the ground.  Sabir also showed the team the crater where the rocket that injured him hit. 

Back in the tent, Sabir told the team that when the shrapnel hit his neck and shoulder he lost consciousness.  Friends drove him into town to the public hospital, but the doctors could not perform surgery there.  Sabir's family could not afford surgery at the private hospital.  So, they had no choice but to drive him to Hawler, arriving at 4am in the morning.  The doctors did not start surgery until late in the evening.  Family members thought he was dead.  Sabir says it is like a miracle that he survived.


Several other men in the tent described their losses in 2009 from the Iranian shelling.  For example, the shelling killed 20 of Sabir's father's sheep and 14 of his cows, and killed 13 of Othman's cows and damaged his vehicle.  Neither Sabir nor anyone else in the area received any compensation from the Kurdistan Regional Government or the Iraqi Central Government for their injuries or losses.  In 2011 Iran fired several thousand rockets into the area, killing one person and killing or scaring off an estimated 12,000 sheep.  No government group or NGO had visited them regarding the cross border attacks since 2009.

Team member Lukasz amid the beauty of the highland region

The team received gracious hospitality while staying with Sabir and his relatives.  The following day the team feasted on a goat killed for the team.  That morning the team also heard a rocket flying overhead.  Sabir said they hear drones fly over every day.  Iran and Turkey claim to target the PJAK and the PKK (resistance groups fighting for the rights of Kurds in Iran and Turkey) with the cross border attacks.  The US shares intelligence information with Turkey about these resistance groups, and Turkey shares information with Iran.

One of the men in Sabir's community told the team, "We will continue.  Every year we sacrifice, but we will continue.  This won't break us.  Several thousand years this has been our ancestors' land.  This is our life.  We will never let anyone take our lives... They know there is no PJAK or PKK here.  The PJAK and PKK are in Qandil.  Last year a woman was killed - she had five children.  They, on purpose, want to destroy our life.  We will continue coming here." 

Team members standing with Sabir and his relatives


CPT Iraqi Kurdistan does not condone the violence perpetrated by Turkey and Iran against the Kurdish people.

CPT Iraqi Kurdistan does not condone the sanctions against Iran emplaced by the U.N, that collectively punish the Iranian and Kurdish People of Iran.

CPT Iraqi Kurdistan does not condone the calls for “military action” against Iran.