Assume the Position
Saturday, March 01, 2003
Between Iraq And A Hard Place. Glenn Reynolds sees Turkey's failure to allow US forces to deploy from Turkey as good news for an independent Kurdistan. I don't, I see it as bad news for the Kurds. A US attack from the north and south will pin Hussein's forces in place in central Iraq. Without the option of deploying from Turkey, a US attack solely from the south will pin the Kurds between retreating Iraqi forces and the Turks—not a good place to be.
Additionally, any presence of US reserve forces in northern Iraq would tend to moderate the actions of Turkish forces. For example, Turkey would not be able to extend their buffer forces below US staging areas; without a US presence, the Turks would have free rein to move as far south as they wish.
Right now, the situation for the Kurds depends on whether Iraqi Kurdistan becomes a battlefield or not; the status of post-Hussein Iraqi Kurdistan (independent, semi-autonomous within an Iraq republic, or other) is a side issue that can be hashed out later.
UPDATE: Also, right now, it seems Ansar Al-Islam is attacking the PUK in Khormal.
While the PUK was preparing for the US attack on Iraq and at the same time engaged in the Iraqi Opposition meeting, the fundamentalist Islamic group Ansar Al-Islam launched an attacked [sic] against the PUK forces in the town of Khormal outside Sulemani, a PUK stronghold.The KDP/PUK government has got enough trouble without needing to face an unchecked Iraqi army fleeing northward from central Iraq.
UPDATE 2 - March 3, 2002: Thanks Professor, the weekend Instalanche™ from the mention in this post was a nice surprise, even if I was offline and missed it. I would have put out the welcome mat sooner, but, better late than never…
Welcome, InstaPundit readers. You are invited to wander through the archives, however, the specific posts on some facets of the Iraqi Kurdistan issue are "Fantasy Countries and Assumed Homogeneity" on this page and "Kurds is Kurds" from August 2002 (you may have to scroll way down if the internal anchor doesn't jump to the post). A January post that may explain my being "less optimistic" in general about the potential of some democratic movements is "There Are No 'Good Guys'" (a title that's actually a bit too pessimistic).
Friday, February 28, 2003
The US Is/Is Not A Party To The Geneva Conventions. Right!
Whenever war becomes more imminent, you start running across seemingly contradictory assertions regarding the status of the US under the Geneva Conventions. The reason both assertions are right (or wrong), is because The Geneva Conventions™ are not a single document or treaty. The historical "Laws of War" may be generally considered to consist of the Hague and Geneva Conventions, with the earliest Geneva Convention being the Convention for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded on the Field of Battle, signed in Geneva on August 22, 1864, which is also known as the Red Cross Convention.
The major Hague conferences were held in 1899 and 1907, action moved to Geneva in 1928 ((Chemical and Biological Weapons) and 1929 (Treatment of POWs). In the aftermath of WWII, a major rewrite resulted in the four Geneva Conventions of 1949; and additional protocols have been adopted since then. Since "war" is traditionally conducted between nations, the term "armed conflict" is now used, instead; and describes both warfare conducted between nations and within nations (civil wars, insurgencies, etc.).
This is where the major Geneva Conventions stand today, and the source of the contradiction/confusion about the United States status:
As many people became aware of because the Global Warming Treaty, there is little meaning to signatures on the conference document or during the limited open sign-up period. States become bound by ratification, accession or succession. (The following come from the International Committee of the Red Cross commentary on Protocol I, 1977, footnotes and citations have been removed.)
Signature does not definitively bind States to the Protocol; this is achieved by ratification and accession dealt with in Articles 93 '(Ratification)' and 94 ' (Accession)'. By signing the Protocol, States undertake to seriously consider the possibility of ratifying it; they are not obliged to proceed to ratification if they come across major obstacles in the interim.Additionally, a country may become party to a treaty with "reservations" and/or "declarations" which detail the interpretation it has for specific articles or may even declare itself exempt from certian articles. For instance, Protocol I entered into force in 1978, the United Kingdom did not ratify (bind itself to the protocol) for some twenty years (1998), and its accession contains numerous reservations and declarations, including:
(a) It continues to be the understanding of the United Kingdom that the rules introduced by the Protocol apply exclusively to conventional weapons without prejudice to any other rules of international law applicable to other types of weapons. In particular, the rules so introduced do not have any effect on and do not regulate or prohibit the use of nuclear weapons.The UK's reservations and declarations essentially place their obligations at the level of the 1949 conventions; in other words, they might as well never have become a party to the protocol—the way they have done so is simply for public relations, to be able to say they are a party without it having any effect. The US hasn't been playing that game, and takes the more straightforward route of refusing to join.
Thursday, February 27, 2003
Fantasy Countries and Assumed Homogeneity. Jim Henley has a series of posts he's collectively calling "The War of the Kurdish Suppression." (Going backwards from here, then down, down, down, down, and there's probably a few more that I've missed.)
Before I turn to Kurdistan, here are a few rhetorical questions about another fantasy country: Aztlan.
What would you propose be done if the MEChAnistas take up arms to liberate Aztlan? Would you be outraged over the "War of Chicano Suppression" if the US refused to simply turn over the entire southwest to Marxists demanding self-determination and autonomy based on their ethnic heritage? If the MEChA fighters were forced out of the US and started staging terrorist attacks from northern Mexico against San Diego and El Paso, would you condemn US raids against their bases even if the US had the permission of the Mexican government? What if the MEChA "freedom fighters" were being supported by the Mexican government, or had taken over Mexico making it South Aztlan and were still trying to "liberate" North Aztlan (California, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, etc.)?
Now consider the equally mythical Kurdistan: West Kurdistan is Northeastern Syria, East Kurdistan is Northwestern Iran, South Kurdistan is the northern third of Iraq and some more of Iran, and North Kurdistan is eastern third of Turkey and a bit of Armenia. That's the way the Kurds historically define it, and the Turkish portion is what the PKK (Kurdistan Workers' Party) wanted to take.
I'd previously addressed the "Kurds is Kurds" assumption as it related to another misconception ('our supposed friends, the Kurds, are harboring Ansar Al-Islam, another bunch of Al Qaeda supporting terrorists'), but that same assumption makes it easy to believe that any action taken against any other specific group of Kurds constitutes action against all Kurds. When it came to Afghanistan, there weren't many people in the US who thought attacking the Taliban equalled attacking all Afghans, few proposed an "Afghans is Afghans" rational any time the US killed some of the wrong Afghans. That there could be wrong Afghans to kill meant that most everybody grasped that Afghans were not a homogeneous group and some were valid targets (the Taliban) and some weren't (Northern Alliance/United Front, etc.) But when it comes to Kurds, such distinctions seem to get missed.
Unlike the MEChAnistas, who are still mostly stuck in the campus rhetoric stage, the PKK have been real terrorists for years. The Federation of American Scientists, always sympathetic to an oppressed minority, take most of their entry from the US State Department's "Patterns of Global Terrorism 2001 Report," but begin with a brief mention of the Kurds' grievances against Turkey:
Geography, politics and history have conspired to render 30 million Kurds the largest stateless people in the Middle East. The Government of Turkey has long denied the Kurdish population, located largely in the southeast, basic political, cultural, and linguistic rights. As part of its fight against the PKK, the Government forcibly displaced noncombatants, failed to resolve extrajudicial killings, tortured civilians, and abridged freedom of expression. The PKK committed widespread abuses, including the frequent murder of noncombatants, as part of its terrorism against the Government and civilians, mostly Kurds. Estimates of the total number of villagers forcibly evacuated from their homes since the conflict began vary widely from 330,000 to 2 million. A credible estimate given by a former Member of Parliament from the region is around 560,000.
The description of the PKK as "Marxist-Leninist" is a bit prosaic and understated, here's a description written by Michael Radu, a Senior Fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, after Ocalan was arrested by the Italian police in November 1998.
Born in 1948 in a village in Eastern Turkey, Ocalan studied political science at Ankara University, where he became a Maoist. By 1973 he had organized a Maoist group - which initially included Kurdish as well as Turkish militants - whose goal was socialist revolution in Turkey. After years of recruiting and indoctrinating followers, the PKK was formally established on November 7, 1978. In the previous year, he committed his first known murder, that of an ideological rival accused of working for the government.Radu's piece ends with a prophectic paragraph,
Italy already has had a bad record in dealing with foreign terrorists: they routinely walk away from its jails, are given asylum or allowed to transit freely. It is also important to see if the ex-communists dominating the government in Rome have indeed become democratic or still share Ocalan's beliefs in "proletarian internationalism," and put them above justice and good sense. Furthermore, an Italian refusal to extradite Ocalan will irreparably damage Europe's already tense relations with Turkey and make a further mockery of the European Union's pontifications about "human rights" and international law. Indeed, if Ocalan goes free after a campaign that has left 30,000 dead in the name of Maoism, while Pinochet is put on trial for the deaths of 3,000 in winning Chile's war against communism, then we will know that the European capacity for political hypocrisy has not been exhausted by the fall of the Soviet Union.The Italians released him in January 1999. Before we pick up the rest of his travels, a brief look at some of the PKK's exploits in the 90's. I'll ignore their direct actions against their opposition in Turkey (where they invariably ended up killing more Kurds than Turks) and just concentrate on those things that kept them classified as terrorists. These were culled from the "Chronologies of Significant Terrorist Incidents" portion of the annual State Department reports, conveniently collected on the Naval Postgraduate School's site. [A few of the "No one has claimed responsibility" entries may not be PKK actions, I included them because the timeframe, targets, and methods seemed to fit.]
1993In January 1999 the Italians refused both Turkey's extradition and Ocalan's political asylum requests. Abdullah Ocalan began his "mystery tour."
The final chapter in this extraordinary story began in January when the Kurdish rebel leader left Italy for an undisclosed destination.Where did Ocalan wind up? Remember what Michael Radu said about the Greek socialists? On February 15, 1999, the Turks captured him as left the Greek embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, and went to the airport. Who, if anyone, assisted the Turks is, to my knowledge, still an unanswered question, with the Greeks, Kenyans, CIA and everybody else denying they had anything to do with Ocalan being in Kenya or setting him up for capture.
1999Ocalan, finally in the hands of the Turks and facing the death penalty, gave up his blustery rhetoric and his promises of becoming a martyr and told the PKK to turn to the path of peace, lay down their arms and embrace democracy, and give up the idea of creating an independent Kurdistan in Turkey. His ploy didn't work and he was convicted and sentenced to death on June 29, 1999. Of course, that's not the end of the timeline. Ocalan appealed and lost in the Turkish Security Court, then he started appeals through the European Court of Human Rights.
Time to leave Ocalan enjoying his stay as the only prisoner on the Turkish prison island of Imrali and get back to the PKK. What did they do with their "Chairman's" call to work peacefully for Kurdish rights in Turkey? It took them a year, but in February 2000, the PKK "announced a formal halt to its 15-year war against Turkey." Well, at least some of them did.
The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) statement on Wednesday followed reports of the rebels splitting on whether to follow Ocalan's peace moves.Then, apparently before the EU process could finish, Turkey commuted Ocalan's sentence to life without parole in October 2002. "The decision is a formality in line with Turkey's abolition of the death penalty in August to meet criteria for European Union entry."
In April 2002, the PKK changed its name to KADEK (Congress for Freedom and Democracy in Kurdistan). The Turks didn't buy it:
However, Tuesday's move was immediately denounced as cosmetic by the Ankara government.Europe didn't buy it, either; the EU added the PKK to its list of terrorist organizations that May.
Turkey has welcomed a European Union decision to add two outlawed Turkish groups to its list of terrorist organisations.
The foregoing had little or nothing to do with Iraq or the Iraqi Kurds. If anyone wanted to call it "The War of the Kurdish Suppression," it still doesn't have anything to do with Iraq or a US war against Hussein. So, now I'll turn to where the Iraqi Kurds come into the picture.
The two main parties that control Iraqi Kurdistan have had a long and often unhappy relationship with the PKK; and they didn't buy the name change in the end, either. This BBC story comes from January 2002 (emphasis added).
[I]n a joint statement, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) said that they "categorically reject baseless and provocative accusations" that they were planning an independent state and understand the "legitimate concerns of neighbouring countries, especially of Turkey".The KDP, being more nationalist than socialist, rarely had good relations with the PKK; but the socialist PUK had on-and-off alliances with them. That association was beginning to break up when the US brokered a peace and powersharing agreement between the KDP and PUK in 1998, and the post-September 11th world fairly well severed it completely, meaning the PKK kills PUK forces just like it had been killing KDP forces all along. The Turkish incursions into Northern Iraq, including the Turkish Air Force raids on PKK camps that so dismay Jim, were quietly accepted (and possibly welcomed) by the PUK & KDP.
A February 3, 2003 interview with Jalal Talabani, "Vice President of the Kurdish Regional Government and leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) party."
What is the current state of relations between the PUK and Turkey?And, it's not just the PKK that's a problem…
How will you deal with the threat posed by the Ansar Al Islam group?The problem facing the KDP/PUK Kurdish Regional Government in Northern Iraq is that they are barely able to defend themselves against the other Kurdish threats — the PKK and Ansar Al-Islam, who are both being supported by Iran. Some reports say the PKK may have fled northern Iraq and moved its bases into northern Iran, since Syria is still holding to its deal with Turkey.
That becomes the US's problem in a war against Iraq. The idea that the KDP/PUK forces would have any role greater than defending their current territory is ridiculous. Somewhere, Jim Henley got the opposite idea,
Also, are "light weapons" enough for the Kurds to fulfill their planned offensive role of providing the bulk of the manpower for the drive south on Baghdad?I doubt that was ever a serious proposition. For both military and political reasons, nobody would want the Kurds attacking Baghdad. But, 'What can be expected from Kurd forces?' asked during some meeting quickly gets turned into 'The Administration is considering plans to use Kurdish forces during an attack on Iraq' by the press, and then it starts to spread around as 'the plan to attack Baghdad.'
Back to the interview…
Masoud Barzani, President of the Kurdish Regional Government, maintains that Kurdish-ruled areas will not be used in a U.S.-led war on Iraq. Is this correct?All-in-all it was a fairly straightforward interview with surprisingly little political rhetoric and bravado. But it runs directly counter to this communiqué.
London (KurdishMedia.com) 24 February 2003: In a communiqué issued by 23 Kurdistani political organisations of south kurdistan, Kurds, Turkmens and Assyrians condemned the planned Turkish-US invasion of south Kurdistan.That was a bunch of Kurds getting together and the only statement they could agree on was, "Let's cut our throats so Hussein won't have to." There's no thought or realism behind it, it's just what they think they have to say to keep up appearances.
The Turks (probably including Turkey's Kurds) don't want a million Iraqi Kurds running to Turkey, the KDP/PUK joint government doesn't really want Turkish "protectors" but knows they need somebody to help them while the US is busy, because 1) nobody wants the Iranians coming in, 2) Ansar Al-Islam needs to be put down, and 3) the PKK are liable to pop up anywhere. Additionally, Turkey has to consider the effects on its efforts to join the EU, which won't happen if it is engaged in an inappropriate occupation of northern Iraq. (Though with France and Germany playing Masters of the EUniverse, Turkey might be having second thoughts about whether it's worth joining or not.)
Baghdad is 450km south of Turkey, it's also 450km north of Kuwait. Attacking from both directions would be advantageous, not only from a military standpoint, but also out of consideration for the Kurds. It is not, however, absolutely necessary. If the US was giving no thought to its self-imposed obligations to the Iraqi Kurds, Turkey could have been told to take a hike, the US could invade from the south and let Hussein's army do whatever it wanted as it scurried northward from Baghdad shouting, "Run away! Run away!"
Consider one of Vice President Talabani's comment's once again: "Can the Iraqi regime really pose a threat to us when it is under attack by the Americans? I don't think so. It is my impression that when they are under attack, they will lose control, the army will not obey their orders, and the regime will collapse." That can be reassuring to the Kurds only if the US has some portion of its forces attacking from the north, otherwise the Kurds are sitting in the Iraqi army's line of retreat.
In the end, it seems the whole 'sellout of the Kurds' argument came up, not out of concern for the Iraqi Kurds, but as just another smokescreen tossed out by those who oppose the war. I say that because here is Jim's August 2002 summary of what he thinks US should do. It's basically an isolationist approach:
I have previously said that I do not argue for maintaining the status quo rather than war. In some ways the status quo is worse than going to war. It is (one more time) like poking a trapped animal with a sharp stick.The unstated, but obvious, part of that policy is the 'oh by the way, tell Saddam that it's none of our business what he does to the Kurds in northern Iraq, either.'
In other words, even if the Administration's plan results in "The War of the Kurdish Suppression" by the Turks, Jim's prescription results in Hussein being able to carry out his own suppression of the Kurds. Which is worse for the Iraqi Kurds? While Turkey's overall human rights record is poor, and its attempt at forced assimilation of minorities makes it worse, it is necessary to remember that the situation in Turkey is far different than in places like the former Yugoslavia. Turkey hasn't been physically exterminating its Kurdish population or driving them out of the country. The Turkish Kurds displaced from their villages during the war against the PKK are almost entirely internal displacements, with most of them going to Turkey's cities — they were not driven into Iraq, nor did they flee to Iraq. The direction of fleeing Kurdish civilians between Iraq and Turkey has been from Iraq to Turkey, not vice versa. That should indicate which side most Kurds think is worse.
Kurdistan does not exist and The Kurds™ are not one big happy family. Given a measure of autonomy after the Gulf War, the PUK and KDP in northern Iraq spent 1991 - 1998 in open warfare among themselves, with the PUK getting assistance from Iran (and the PKK), while the KDP got help from the Iraqi army. The "renegade" members of the PKK who broke with KADEK are still out there, so the Turks have a valid issue if they are concerned the PKK might use an influx of refugees as cover to re-establish themselves in Turkey, which is one reason to make sure the refugee camps are established on the Iraqi side of the border. I agree with Jim's assessment that the status quo isn't working, but I think reverting to the pre-1991 status would be worse for everybody, including the Iraqi Kurds, over both the short and long terms.
A Diplospeak Reminder from the wrangling over the draft first resolution on Iraq during October 2002.
Instead of threatening "all necessary means" should Iraq refuse to cooperate, the Bush administration has proposed the words "serious consequences," a nuanced diplomatic approach the United States hopes will sound less belligerent yet still afford tacit U.N. approval for the use of military force, if necessary.Something to keep in mind now that they are wrangling over the second resolution. "Serious consequences" has gotten enough media play that the general public believes it means "war," but don't be surprised if the US gets its version of the second resolution passed and suddenly there are arguments that "serious consequences" includes everything except "war."