Category Archives: Global Affairs

Qatar standoff thrusts region into new divide

The decision by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and a few other nations to cut ties with Qatar, accusing it of supporting terrorism, has ramifications across the Middle East, not least in Iraq.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi delayed his visit to Saudi Arabia to meet with Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud by a week so as not to be seen as taking sides.

However, even as Baghdad and Riyadh announced a “quantum leap” in bilateral relations according to statements, their relations, which have been lukewarm in recent decades, remain overshadowed by the dominant Iranian influence in Iraq.

Iran is a supporter of Shia militias in Iraq, while several Shia political parties enjoy strong historical ties to Tehran.

In contrast, Saudi Arabia has previously criticized the Iraqi Shia militia Hashd al-Shaabi for being a “sectarian organization which threatens Iraq’s unity.”

Baghdad has been more suspicious of Saudi meddling in Iraq for fear of inciting its restive Sunni population.

Saudi only reopened its embassy in Baghdad after a 25-year hiatus in 2015. By then, Tehran’s footprint was firmly established in Baghdad.

Also on Abadi’s Middle East tour was Iran, whose jockeying for regional supremacy with Saudi ultimately led to the Gulf standoff with Qatar.

Tally Helfont, Director of the Middle East Program at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, told Kurdistan24, “No matter how much the Saudis try to woo the Iraqis, Iran’s talons are firmly sunken into Baghdad, enabling the Iranians to operate unfettered throughout Iraq.”

“This state of affairs continues to divide Sunni from Shia, keeping the Sunnis aligned with Da’esh and Iraq’s traditional Arab allies at bay,” she added, using the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State.

The growing influence of Iran in the region has startled Saudi and its Gulf neighbors, as Iran seeks to consolidate a Shia corridor from Tehran to Beirut.

If Iran can muster some control over the Iraq-Syria border, then it will have an effective land route for military supplies and to stamp its authority.

The diplomatic stand-off has led to an economic embargo on Qatar as land and sea routes were severed. Qatar labeled the accusation of supporting terrorism as “unjustified.”

Ironically, each of the concerned countries has been supporting various proxy groups and enhancing their agendas.

The Saudi-led Gulf discontent with Qatar is not new. There was a similar diplomatic impasse in 2014, although it did not lead to the assertive actions of today.

Qatar may be a small state, but its regional influence belies its size, owing to its economic might that allows it to influence conflicts and geopolitics well beyond its frontiers.

It is this geopolitics that has often been contrary to the Saudi agenda, such as Doha’s support for the Arab Spring, Houthi rebels in Yemen, the Muslim Brotherhood, and Hamas.

Qatar has mediated many conflicts, including Eritrea’s border conflict with Djibouti, demonstrating an influence that extends to the Horn of African.

It has somewhat struck an independent foreign policy tone, especially in its cordial relation with Iran, that has annoyed Riyadh and opened cracks in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).

The bold moves by the Saudi alliance may ironically push Doha closer to Tehran.

With Turkey, who have their first military base in the Arabian Peninsula in Qatar, enjoying strong relations with Doha and even dispatching troops as well as food supplies in support, the standoff could lead to the powers of Qatar, Turkey, Iran, and Russia on one side and a Saud coalition on the other.

Saudi has counter moves of its own, such as support for Iraqi Kurds in their bid for independence as well as Syrian Kurdish autonomy.

The reaction to the diplomatic standoff places many countries in a difficult predicament. For example, the US has expressed a contradictory stance so far.

On the one hand, US President Donald Trump initially backed Saudi in a series of tweets.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has been much more conciliatory, urging Saudis to ease the “blockade.”

Tillerson’s spokeswoman recently issued a statement underlining his impatience with the Saudi-led alliance and stating the US was “mystified” by their failure to list demands for Doha.

Qatar hosts Al-Udeid, the largest US airbase in the Middle East.

Saudi has been the traditional US ally in the region, but Washington can ill-afford to let Qatar slip into the hands of Iran and Russia, making a peace settlement in Syria, as well as regional conflicts much more tenuous.

According to Helfont, even at its boldest, Qatar has struggled to “shrug off the yoke of the Al-Sauds.”

“The intertwined nature of the strategic fates, militaries, and economies of the Gulf States will prevent Qatar from breaking away in any meaningful manner,” Helfont added.

“It is more likely that the Qataris will once again be brought back in line by the Saudis, if for no other reason than to retain a unified Gulf in the face of the looming threat of Iran,” she concluded.

An agreement to end the embargo looks out of sight for now, but as much as Qatar seeks to avoid the shackles of the Saudis and exert its influence, they can ill-afford long-term isolation.

First Published: Kurdistan 24

Manchester terror attack instilled unity, rejected religious discrimination

On May 22, the UK suffered its deadliest terror attack since the events of 7/7 in 2005. The suicide bomb attack at an Ariana Grande concert at the Manchester Arena killed 22 innocent civilians, several of them children, and injured another 119.

The attack was described by UK Prime Minister Theresa May as “among the worst terrorist incidents [the UK had] ever experienced.”

Such terrorist attacks naturally strike fear and raise countless questions: What did security services know about the attackers? Could they have done more to stop the attacks? Where will the terrorists strike next?

As the nation was left stunned by the barbaric incident, such events can bring unity or drive a wedge with the Islamic community and heighten discrimination, something the attacks try to inspire.

However, the attack by the radicalized Briton of Libyan decent, Salman Abedi, served to unite the country.

Terrorism and Islam are often used side-by-side, and such implications are a prelude to religious divide in the West.

Ironically, Abedi’s family ran to the sanctuary of the UK from the dictatorial regime of Colonel Gaddafi. The freedoms Abedi and his family enjoyed in the UK could not be replicated in Libya today, let alone under Gaddafi.

The UK is a place of harmony and co-existence between dozens of ethnic communities and religions.

The actions of Abedi and his terrorist network constitutes a very small minority that does not represent Islam.

Calls by some popular figures in the country that the Islamic community should do more is a narrow-minded motion.

The actions of a few extremists, who managed to slip through the complex UK security network, should not be pinned on the lack of action from the Islamic community.

The response of the Muslim community was to greatly condemn the attack, organize vigils, and show solidary in Mosques with ubiquitous posters of “We love MCR.”

Displays of defiance from the Muslim community dispel the goal of terrorists to promote the concept that such attacks are sanctioned by Islam.

Ironically, the greatest victims of terrorist attacks in general by Islamic groups are Muslims themselves.

Divisive rhetoric or policies as a response to terror attacks or threats from the Islamic State (IS) pushes communities further apart and, more importantly, leads to public misinformation about the foundations and spirit of Islam.

Such rhetoric was a cornerstone of US President Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, leading to an outcry that did more harm than good for the values of democracy and pluralism of the US.

Recently, Trump refrained from one of his favorite phrases, “radical Islamic terrorism,” a term rejected by many.

Trump’s attempts to impose a travel ban on citizens of six predominantly Muslim countries hit a stumbling block in US federal courts with the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals stating the proposal “drips with religious intolerance, animus, and discrimination.”

Trump may have recently toned down his rhetoric connecting terrorism and Islam, but his Ramadan address was still dominated by the battle against terrorism.

The White House statement read: “This year, the holiday begins as the world mourns the innocent victims of barbaric terrorist attacks in the United Kingdom and Egypt, acts of depravity that are directly contrary to the spirit of Ramadan.”

The report added that “such acts only steel our resolve to defeat the terrorists and their perverted ideology.”

The statement reiterated a key part of Trump’s message on his recent visit to Saudi Arabia, “America will always stand with our partners against terrorism and the ideology that fuels it.”

Islam is not a threat; it is the rhetoric that stereotypes Muslims based on the extremist actions of a few.

In contrast to Trump, George W. Bush’s Ramadan statement in 2001 did not mention terrorism at all, just months after 9/11.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s attempts to connect Britain’s involvement in military action abroad and such terror attacks in Manchester, was largely rebuked.

The perpetrators of the Manchester attacks were part of a small circle. The violence should not be an excuse for the UK to regress from its global obligations in the battle against terror.

Moreover, extremist ideology can come from anywhere, not just Islam. The decades of deadly IRA attacks on the UK is one such example.

As sickening as the attacks in Manchester were, the West should not ignore that terrorist attacks anywhere are unfortunate and sorrowful.

Days after the Manchester attack, militants in Egypt killed at least 28 Coptic Christians, which received little coverage.

Victims of terror span across religions and ethnicities and the war on terror is not linked to one country or continent. It requires global and regional unity.

Today, the Kurdistan Region finds itself at the forefront of the fight against IS.

Supporting regional forces such as the Peshmerga is the most effective way to ensure peace in the UK and the West, not just through localized reactions in respective countries.

First Published: Kurdistan 24

Frustrated by the West, Turkey looks East to mend ties and transform regional dynamics

The recent mending of ties between Russia and Turkey comes almost 9 months after the ill-fated Turkish shooting of a Russian jet that saw relations plummet to historic lows. The tune of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin after the patching up of ties was a far cry from months of harsh rhetoric, economic sanctions and deep animosity.

This sudden thawing of ties has been on the card for a few weeks as Erdogan tried to mend ties with Moscow with a number of reconciliatory statements. There is no doubt that improvement of ties is linked directly with the failed military coup in Turkey last month. Erdogan, AKP and Turkey were rocked by the coup and have been vociferous in their disappointment of the EU and US response.

Ankara even made a thinly veiled threat to leave NATO owing to the lack of support since the coup, western criticism of the strong post-coup crackdown and EU threats to end Turkish EU membership bid if Turkey reintroduces the death penalty. The US on the other hand has refused to extradite exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen whom Erdogan accuses of spear-heading the coup.

Turkey has also suffered greatly from an economic angle since the downing of the jet with bilateral trade significantly hit as a result of the Russian sanctions. At the same time, Turkey was already experiencing somewhat frosty relations with the EU and US even before the coup over developments in Syrian and the region, such as US support for the Syrian Kurdish fighters who Turkey deems as terrorists but who are in fact the most effective group against the Islamic State (IS). EU and US have been consistently critical that Turkey could have done much more to stem the flow of IS fighters and arms across its porous border. Then relations with EU soured further over the migrant deal which Turkey has criticized and even now is not fully implemented.

Turkey could not sit idle with a lukewarm West on the one hand and a bitter and powerful Russia on East. Any less favorable view of the West for Turkey, invariably means that Turkey will turn further east towards Russia. Restoration of economic ties and tourism is an obvious benefit but Turkey gets a natural leverage against NATO and the West with the revival of ties with Russia. It’s showing Western powers that Turkey does not need them that they need Turkey and that Turkish foreign policy is dynamic enough to deal with the changing socio-political picture in the Middle East.

Russia also benefits from resumption of trade and a warmer Turkey that may help to boost Russian strategic influence in the Middle East that it craves as well as diluting Western leverage in the region. It also speeds up the deal to provide natural gas to Europe via Turkey. Turkey, of course, relies heavily on Russian gas for its needs.

At a critical juncture in Syria and the Middle East, the warming of ties adds another angle to an already complicated Middle Eastern picture. However, economic and energy ties are easiest to fix. No side really benefits from loss of trade and lucrative energy deals. But on the political front it’s much trickier.

9 months of fierce rhetoric and rock bottom ties will not heal overnight. Neither will their entrenched positions on Syria. Turkey is unlikely to forgo its support of Syrian rebels and Russia is obviously a huge backer of the Syrian regime. But it may increase the chance of some compromise over the fate of Assad and certainly a closer cooperation to deal with IS as a counter weight to US led coalition efforts against the same group.

Ultimately, the biggest bargaining chips is the Kurdish forces in Syria that are enjoying a stronger autonomy and strategic standing by the day. Turkey can much more readily accept a Syrian reality that does not match their objectives and vision if the price is that Syrian Kurds are stifled and Russia gives up support for them.

Can Turkey force Russian hands on Syrian Kurdish support and autonomy? Can Turkey accept Assad to stay in power if Russian concedes on key Turkish demands?

Key bilateral relations that are dominated by two parties with different strategic agendas will have to make way for some tough compromises.

First Published: Kurdistan 24

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

As Turkey mend ties with Russia, what now for the changing dynamics in the region?

With a strong geopolitical standing, Turkey has historically been a keen lever between the East and West. After increasingly lukewarm relations with its NATO allies in the West in recent years and a bitter feud with the biggest Eastern power in Russia, Turkey could not sit idle as its regional leverage was diluted and new events at home unfolded.

The mending of ties between Moscow and Ankara comes almost 9 months since the fatal downing of a Russian jet that propelled relations to historic lows. Now the tune of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin could not be more different.

The patching of ties has a number of angles but is certainly fuelled by the recent failed military coup in Turkey. Turkey was already at loggerheads with the US over support of Syrian Kurdish rebels whom Turkey accuses of been terrorists but who have proved by far the most effective group against the Islamic State (IS) and then there is the continuous friction with the EU over a migrant deal that even today is not fully implemented.

The failed coup rocked Erdogan, the AKP and Turkey leading to severe crackdown of opponents in various circles that has been criticized by the US and EU, not to mention the possibility of reintroducing the death penalty which would all but end any lingering hope of EU membership.

Erdogan has been heavily critical of US refusal to hand over exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen whom he accused of orchestrating the coup with thinly veiled threats that Washington would soon need to choose between Gulen and Turkey.

For the US and EU, Ankara remains a key ally but they have also grown frustrated in recent years as Ankara has driven a hard bargain over the migrant crisis, access to Turkish airbases and the lack of direct action against IS.

By papering over ties with Russia, there is obvious economic benefit as Russian sanctions took their toll on Turkey. However, Turkey is clearly showing their Western and NATO allies that Turkish foreign policy is dynamic enough to deal with the changing sociopolitical picture in the region. Turkey is demonstrating that they are not short of options and that the West is more in need of Turkey than any carrot of EU membership or ties with its western allies.

The thinly veiled threat from the Turkish Foreign Minister that they could leave NATO owed to lack of US and EU support in the aftermath of the coup reinforces this point.

Russia, of course, gets numerous benefits of its own with a Turkey that is disappointed with their allies and turns to their shoulder. It boosts Russian quest to play a stronger strategic role in the Middle East and at the same time as diluting Western influence.

However, at the same time, months of animosity will not just evaporate overnight. Not without tough compromises from each side. For example, Ankara can stomach most Syrian realities, even if it includes Assad, if it somehow curtails the increasing strategic and powerful Syrian Kurdish forces who enjoy a great deal of autonomy.

But it remains to be seen if Russian would drop their support of Syrian Kurdish forces or on the other hand if Turkey could drop its strong support of Syrian opposition.

Either way, a Turkey that is leaning increasingly towards the East, transforms an already complicated Middle Eastern picture. The extent of any new reality depends on US action on Gulen, whether EU will continue to appease Turkey to shore up the migrant deal and whether Russian and Turkey can bridge their differences over Assad and the Kurds.

First Published: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

Terror in Europe and the Middle East is one and the same

With Europe still recovering from the Nice massacre a little over a week ago that saw 84 people killed and 303 injured when a French-Tunisian terrorist chillingly drove a 19-tonne lorry into large crowds watching fireworks on Bastille Day in Nice, Germany was coming to terms with a shocking attack of its own on Friday.

An 18-year old German-Iranian gunman went on a shooting rampage in a busy Munich shopping centre killing 9 people and wounding 16 more. The motives of the gunman are not clear and he is believed to have acted alone but nevertheless the end outcome is the same.

Such attacks in France, Belgium and now Germany naturally strike fear and anxiety into the hearts of the population. IS have already threatened Nice-style attacks on popular parts of central London

The Munich attack comes just days after an Afghan teenager wounded four people in an axe and knife attack on a train near Wuerzberg.

Whether any act is done in the name of the Islamist State (IS) or not, these shooting attacks are clearly influenced by the mass terror that is perpetrating across Europe and the Middle East.

The fact that many of the attackers are not migrants from Iraq, Syria or beyond but citizens of the country they attack only makes the matter worse as it intensifies Islamaphobia and increases the ethno social divide.

Whilst the European governments are increasingly rattled by each attack leading to stronger security measures as well as airstrikes on IS targets, the seeds of this problem were sown long ago. Hardline groups were largely unhindered in Syria as the civil war spiraled from 2011 and in some cases even tolerated as a card to defeat Bashar al-Assad.

IS did not just dominate huge swathes of territory, possess thousands of fighters and advanced weaponry or revenues of millions of dollars a month overnight.

Now many yearn for the stable rule under Assad than the continued chaos and suffering gripping Syria whose outcomes are clearly felt across the globe.

Too often conflicts in Syria, Iraq and the Middle East are seen as battles in distant lands. Whilst the increasing attacks on the West were always going to dominate the media and unnerve the populations, it should not be viewed differently from attacks across the Middle East that often receive much less attention.

In the run up to the Islamic celebration of Eid al-Fitr, at least 200 people were killed as an IS suicide bomber struck a bustling market area in Baghdad. The Baghdad attack on the heels of massacres in Bangladesh, Turkey, Yemen, Lebanon and Jordan

The war on terror does not end or begin in Middle East or Europe, it’s one and the same and the devastation should not be viewed differently by any part.

First Published: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

UK exit is as much a question of the fabric of the EU as the future of the UK

The UK referendum on EU membership was always going to be a tenuous and divisive affair whose impact would echo well beyond these shores.

European and world leaders woke up to a new reality on Friday as the exit camp won the day against polling projections. Fluctuations in the Pound were as wild as predictions ahead of the final vote. It was a tight race that threatens to intensify the deepening divisions within the UK.

51.9% may have voted for an exit but the 48.1% that wanted to remain can hardly be ignored. Nor can the stark regional variations to the vote. London, Scotland and Northern Ireland voted resoundingly to remain clouding the long-term future of the UK.

Scotland will almost certainly hold a new independence referendum and Northern Ireland may well face sociopolitical uncertainty with calls for a referendum to unite both parts of Ireland.

The exit vote is a test of the strength of the union. Will the allegiance to the union overpower the desire to be part of the EU?

UK exit means stepping in to the unknown and thus global markets were always braced for turmoil in case of an exit. It will take many years for the dust to settle and for the full economic and political effects to be known.

However, exit of the EU does not mean that the UK is no longer influential on the European or global stage. The UK had a prominent economic and strategic role long before the EU was established and in spite of scaremongering, the EU powers are not about to alienate the UK and sacrifice the trade links that are vital for each side.

At the same time, UK will continue to have a strong voice in geopolitical and security matters. In other words, the end of a formal union does not mean the end of long-standing alliances with many of these member states, even if the UK always had somewhat of a Eurosceptic view and a strong desire for sovereignty.

UK trade ties with US and other major economies will not suddenly evaporate even if the terms of such agreements will naturally have to be reviewed and renegotiated.

As questions are asked of the future of the UK, there is equal spotlight on the future of the EU. Is a UK exit a one-off fire that will quickly disappear, or does the exit mark intrinsic problems with the very fabric of the EU that must be addressed before it leads its wider unravelling?

A period of self-reflection is needed as much for the EU as the UK. Nationalist and disenchanted voices in France, Germany and beyond are already calling for referendums of their own. This is a test for the future of the EU as much as the UK.

First Published: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

The wide ramifications of UK exit from the EU as economic and political uncertainty ushers a new era

The UK referendum on whether to remain or exit the European Union was always going to be a highly emotive, divisive and controversial affair, and it certainly did not disappoint.

The Brexit campaign divided the nation, political parties and businesses with claims and counter claims and campaigns of fear. Topics such as immigration, economic ramifications and national sovereignty played on the minds of many. It was projected to be a very tight contest but Remain camp lingered firmly in the driving seat on referendum day.

However, it was the Exit camp that won the day with 51.9% of the vote with Britons, Europeans and global powers waking up to a new reality that sent shockwaves across the continent.

The value of the Pound against the Dollar see-sawed wildly on the night before settling at lows not witnessed since 1985. The global markets were braced for turmoil and this was even before UK Prime Minister David Cameron announced his resignation in a teary speech.

Fluctuations and anxiety in markets are to be expected, after all, we are entering the unknown. The UK has two years to negotiate its exit once it invokes Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty.

Economic uncertainty is topped by a deepening national divide. London, Scotland and Northern Ireland voted strongly to remain. An exit from the EU, now threatens the very existence of the UK with Scotland very likely to press ahead with a second referendum on independence with view to rejoining the EU.

There is already much talk of a referendum on uniting both parts of Ireland after the Northern Ireland voted to stay in the EU. Allegiance to the UK will be tested versus desire for EU membership.

This social, political and economic uncertainty will take time to settle. But once the dust eventually settles, it remains unclear exactly what UK is left behind. However, in spite of all the scaremongering, pulling out of the EU is one thing and pulling out of the European continent is another.

The UK has always had a firm and influential place in Europe and this will not change. UK’s long-standing strategic ties with major powers and key global economies is not about to dissipate either as a result of the vote.  Existing the EU does not mean that countries such as France or Germany will stop trading with the UK or will not work with UK in key geopolitical and security matters. Nor will it mean an end to the free movement of people.

Putting stringent borders between UK and EU will benefit no side. It just means that the terms of engagement will be different and no party is bound by any common law except mutual interests.

The web of years of EU legislation will naturally take time to untangle and the period of uncertainty is hard to quantify.

But the UK’s decision to leave the EU has as wide ramifications for the EU as it does for the UK. EU leaders have a battle on their hand to ensure that the UK leaving is a solitary fire that they can quickly extinguish. But anti-EU voices are already growing in France, Germany and Denmark. Discontented nationalists are already pushing for referendums of their own.

Now the arduous task of exit negotiations with the EU will begin. As much as the EU will still rely on trade and political ties with UK, they will hardly roll the red carpet for an easy exit either.

The EU will not want to alienate the UK as it will backfire and harm their own interests but it will equally want to make a show of the exit as a warning to all member states. Either way, the EU will never be the same again and is in desperate need to reform and face a tough period of self-reflection.

First Published: Kurdistan 24

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

Mankind’s footprint of sin and atrocities can never be confined to any piece of land or racial grouping

In a week of devastating terror in the West, British PM Jo Cox was tragically murdered outside her constituent surgery in Birstall, West Yorkshire. The killer was not a Muslim, contrary to many a first thought, but white British showing that cold blooded acts of terror are hardly confided to one religion alone.

Thomas Mair, who was reportedly a loner with a history of mental health issues, had suspected linked to far-right groups. When appearing in court on charges of murder, he announced his name as “Death to traitors, freedom for Britain”.

Cox, was a prominent campaigner for the ‘remain’ camp ahead of the UK referendum on leaving the EU. However, Cox was also exemplary in her humanitarian work, particularly with regards to the plight of Syrians where she campaigned for Western intervention and for the UK government to allow more child refugees into the country.

It was later revealed that Cox was the subject of a string of threats, although there is no link between the attack and the messages.

Either way, Cox was certainly not the only MP to receive threats for their views in recent weeks. Whilst UK and European security forces may be geared more towards Islamic State inspired terror attacks as witnessed in Paris and Brussels, they must not take for granted that violent rages or acts of terror can be committed by any human with strong enough motive.

We often look at Europe as a model of co-existence and justice, yet we forget that two World Wars were instigated on this stage. We overlook that in our modern history that 6 million Jews were chilling exterminated on these lands.

There is a history of violence and policies of racial or sectarian supremacy that spans many centuries.

Only recently has the UK become safe from threats of groups such as the IRA. Northern Ireland was a long-time magnet for acts of violence, terror and revenge killings based on sectarian affiliation. Spain suffered under the hands of Basque separatists for decades.

The mass violence between English and Russian fans at Euro 2016 also demonstrates how racial hatred and extremism can span well beyond religion. Ultra-nationalists and many active far-right groups have hubs across Europe and football was merely a platform to launch racially fueled violence.

Across the Atlantic Ocean in the U.S., Orlando was subject of the worst mass shooting in its history. However, as long as anyone can buy fire arms and possess extremist views and violent motives, such heinous crimes will never be limited to that of a certain faith.

Violence, suffering and terror attacks are such a norm in the Middle East that the West often views them as been in a distant land from their door step. However, as long as mankind exists, his footprint of sin and atrocities will never be confined to any piece of land or racial category.

First Published: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

Devastating attacks in Brussels underscore why West must rethink it reactive war on terror

With France still coming to terms with the devastating terror attacks last November that killed 130 people and traumatised a nation, Belgium became the centre of a new national tragedy.

Islamic State (IS) inspired suicide bombings at Brussels Zaventem Airport and a metro killed over 30 people and wounded dozens more. As Belgians mourned the chilling events with Brussels coming to a standstill, attention soon turned to the authorities.

What was the known of these terrorists and was enough done to prevent such attacks? As Salah Abdeselam, the most-wanted fugitive from the Paris attacks was arrested days before the attacks in Brussels, any sigh of relief quickly turned to public anger.

Why did take 4 months to find and arrest Abdeselam, especially in light of evidence that Belgian police had identified the same addresses in December where he was eventually arrested but no action was taken?

Following a number of raids and frantic attempts to identify the attackers, it became clear that the cell behind the Paris and Brussel attacks was one and the same. In fact, Abdeselam’s arrest was the trigger for the attacks in Brussels. Terrorists feared that Abdeselam would blow their cover. Abdeselam himself was planning a machine gun massacre in Paris over Easter.

Najim Laachraoui, who detonated one of the bombs at the airport terminal, was an expert bomb maker whose DNA was found on the suicide vests used in the Paris attacks.

Ibrahim Bakraoui, one of two brothers in the attacks, was a known criminal but more importantly he was arrested twice in Turkey last year and handed over to Belgian authorities as a dangerous jihadi but the security agencies failed to take heed.

Days after the Brussels attacks, another man planning an attack on a metro was killed in Schaerbeek by Belgian forces.

As grave as the attacks in Paris and Brussels, there is still a much darker picture. This is the reality that no place in Europe is safe and no government can guarantee that they will not be the victim of the next attack.

The cells that operate across Europe do not number a few dozen but by some estimates it is as much as 5000.

Such attacks serve to polarise communities and stir anti-Islam fever and make the balance between freedoms and security very difficult to uphold.

The biggest question remains as to whether the U.S. and EU powers have done enough to combat not only IS but to end the 5 year civil war in Syria. After all, IS is merely an offshoot of this war that was treated as bloodshed in a distant land between warring sects than a war that is in all reality on the doorstep of every European.

Attacks seen in Paris and Brussels are regular occurrences in Syria and Iraq. U.S. and European powers must rethink their approach to tackling IS and the conflicts in Syria and Iraq. Not only to protect their own at a most sensitive juncture but press for peace and end of suffering of thousands of civilians.

First Published: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

Time to give Kurds in Iraq and Syria their due

As the struggle against the Islamic State (IS) dominates international attention, Kurdish forces in Iraq and Syria find themselves at the forefront of the battle.

Although, the Kurds have proven to be the most effective forces on the ground, their rightful role in the negotiating table as regional players is often overlooked.

At the same time, the key US allies have not always been provided with the arms and firepower needed to match their strategic importance.

The White House has looked to the Peshmerga forces as key players in defeating IS, yet its stance towards the Kurds is typified by tip-toeing around Baghdad and the obsession of promoting a “unified” Iraq.

The Iraqi Kurds have not been invited to participate in the Vienna peace process that aim to provide political settlement to the crippling Syrian civil war as the U.S. deemed Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi as the “representative” for Iraq at the conference.

This ironic position is a continuation of past policy when the Kurds were omitted from key international security conferences.

This creates somewhat of a contrary approach to the Kurdistan Region. Kurdistan is all but independent with very limited influence from Baghdad. Baghdad has not paid the regional budget for several months nor has it truly supported the Peshmerga forces.

The recent bill passed by the House Foreign Affairs Committee that would authorize the U.S. to directly arm and train the Kurdish Peshmerga is a welcome move, even if it will not be received warmly by Washington or Baghdad.

The notion of an effective central government or a unified Iraq has long evaporated. U.S. will only alienate the Kurds the more it insists on any rational that Baghdad still represents the Kurds.

At the same time, the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), have been the most effective military force against IS in Syria. They are essentially key U.S. allies that Washington is too hesitant to showcase in public.

Whilst a myriad of Syrian opposition parties were invited to a recent conference in Saudi Arabia that sought to unify opposition ranks ahead of proposed negotiations with the Bashar al-Assad regime, the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and the YPG were notable absentees.

How can the U.S. and regional powers expect the Syrian Kurds to carry the fight to IS and yet it discards them for vital talks that directly implicate their future?

U.S. policy towards both Kurds in Syria and Iraq is dominated by political sensitivities and the need to appease Ankara, Baghdad and other regional voices, and is tarnished by double standards.

The Syrian National Council stated that the Kurds were not invited as they were too focused on fighting IS than Assad. The Kurds don’t have endless arms or manpower and they can hardly ignore IS on their doorstep as witnessed in Kobane, when they received little help from the same Arab opposition forces.

Then there is Turkish anxiety of Kurdish nationalism that leads to a narrow and unrealistic foreign policy. For example, are all Syrian Kurds simply affiliated to the PKK? It is unlikely that Syrian Kurds would back down from their hard fought autonomy which they have maintained at great cost in recent years.

Without a broad solution in Syria that covers every angle, true peace will never be achieved.

First Published: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc