Tag: Iraq

My Time in Iraqi Kurdistan

 

KalarFrom mid-May to mid-June I worked on an archaeological survey centered on an area surrounding the Diyala River (called the Sirwan River in Kurdish) near the city of Kalar. We flew into Erbil, drove to Sulaymaniyah to take care of some Iraqi Antiquities Department paperwork, and then moved on to Kalar to set up our residence and begin survey work.

If you look up Kalar on Google Maps and zoom out a bit, you’ll see its proximity to the Iranian border and its position as one of the southernmost Kurdish-held cities in Iraq. Here are a few anecdotal remarks about my experiences there:

  • Negotiating where it is safe and where it is not safe to go is tricky business. On our drive from Erbil to Sulaymaniyah, we avoided the main highway that would have taken us through Kirkuk, and instead took some gravel and unfinished roads (the Kurds are building a highway that remains within Kurdish-held territory) between the two cities. Note: The Kurds later took control of parts of Kirkuk when the Iraqi regular army fled the advance of ISIS. This happened after I had returned to the U.S.
  • The survey area technically extends south of Kalar, but it wasn’t particularly safe for us to travel down that direction. We focused our efforts in searching for ancient sites on areas north and west of Kalar.
  • Armed checkpoints are frequent on major roads, river crossings, and near borders. The Kurdish Security Police look more like army soldiers than policemen (who are called Traffic Police) and are dressed and equipped like soldiers. They were serious, and yet friendly and respectful.
  • Our accommodations, a rented house in Kalar, was comfortable and air-conditioned, but there were regular daily power outages as the power grid and other utility infrastructure still needs major updating and upgrading.
  • Evidence of Saddam’s genocide against the Kurds in the ’80s was still visible. In visiting different tells (mounded ancient sites) in the area, many of them had the decaying remains of Kurdish villages either abandoned when their residents fled or were executed by Saddam’s troops. Locations of mass graves were known by Antiquities Department officials we spoke to.
  • We also found evidence of barracks, foxholes, and pieces of exploded ordinance from the Iran–Iraq War. Note: We were careful to confine our survey to currently farmed and traversed areas and spoke to officials about areas to avoid that still have landmines.
  • At the end of our survey, we stayed in Erbil’s Christian quarter the last couple days before our flight left. This area is called Ankawa and is located close to the airport. Since the Iraq War in 2003, this area has grown rapidly with Christian refugees fleeing other areas of Iraq no longer safe for Christians. It was already crowded when I was there in June, and it must be overflowing following the ISIS capture of Mosul and surrounding areas (I flew back to the States the day ISIS began attacking Mosul).

These are just a few brief observations from my recent archaeological work in Kurdistan. As I was going through the security checkpoint in the airport on the way out, one of the security officials asked if I was an American, and upon my answer in the affirmative, he told me how much he liked Americans and thanked me. I thanked him in return for the warm hospitality I had received in his country and how much I enjoyed my time in Kurdistan.

Obama’s War

 

603935_10151250061666749_609734208_nOur Commander-in-Chief is belatedly learning a lesson that every infantryman knows his first year. You don’t “end” wars; you win them or you lose them.

Thanks to our valiant armed forces and the Petraeus/Bush surge, we defeated the militants in Iraq and were ready for a gradual, organized hand-off to the newly elected civilian government.

But President Obama, through political calculation or diplomatic ineptness, failed to secure a simple Status of Forces Agreement with Prime Minister Maliki. This led to an abrupt removal of American troops and American influence on the fledgling state. As expected, the Iraq security vacuum was filled soon enough.

Breaking: President Obama Announces (Limited) Air Campaign In Iraq

 

Today I authorized two operations in Iraq — targeted airstrikes to protect our American personnel, and a humanitarian effort to help save thousands of Iraqi civilians who are trapped on a mountain without food and water and facing almost certain death.  Let me explain the actions we’re taking and why.    

First, I said in June — as the terrorist group ISIL began an advance across Iraq — that the United States would be prepared to take targeted military action in Iraq if and when we determined that the situation required it.  In recent days, these terrorists have continued to move across Iraq, and have neared the city of Erbil, where American diplomats and civilians serve at our consulate and American military personnel advise Iraqi forces. 

Member Post

 

Well after 10 years we finally pulled out of Iraq. That horrible, misguided war waged by those wicked neocons is behind us. All of those Bushitler fearmongerers who warned us that pulling our troops out of Iraq prematurely was just cover for Halliburton profits. Celebrate the freedom of the Iraqi people! Preview Open

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The Lesson(s) of Iraq

 

Iraq-Mp2 Though the situation is still very fluid, there’s a real chance that our efforts at nation building in Iraq will soon come to naught. Given our investment of time, treasure, and blood in the country — to say nothing of the prospect of a wicked and hostile Islamic state taking its place — this is deeply depressing. It’s bad enough for those of us who are simply patriots. I can only imagine how those who fought there must feel.

On the assumption that things don’t turn around, it’s important that we figure out what led to this. As I see it, our failure is likely attributable to one of three causes: 1) That we left too early because we were insufficiently committed; 2) That our humanitarian scruples prevented us from fighting with sufficient violence; or 3) That Iraqis never had it in them to transition to a modern, small-l liberal state.

The first possibility has merit, especially in light of President Obama’s promise to leave as soon as soon as possible. At the very least, it made things worse. That said, this narrative is remarkably convenient for those of us who supported the war. Self-serving claims always warrant scrutiny, especially when they point blame at one’s political enemies. It might be true — or part of the truth — but it shouldn’t be accepted without considering other options.

Just Enough to Fail

 

ISILWhat is the moral, intellectual, and policy terrain on which Barack Obama will decide whether we turn over Iraq to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant? Is it the national interest of the United States? The potential consequences of Iraq’s collapse? The stability (or lack thereof) of our allies in the region? Existential threats to Israel? Fundamental human rights concerns over the bloody fate guaranteed apostates, unbelievers, and women? The answer is as shallow, disappointing, and vile as you can possibly imagine. Barack Obama’s only concern is his political legacy, which is why he’ll do just enough in Iraq to fail.

Our policy toward ISIL has become about the Obama brand, as every decision by this White House always has. You can predict Obama’s behavior by asking how it effects his image. Policy is just a means to an end for the profound, gnawing narcissism that fuels him. Ask not what you can do for your country. Ask what you can do for the Obama legacy.

President Obama’s every thought is turned to the long march ahead, where generations of liberal pundits will craft and polish his reputation as the Greatest President Since Washington. He knows the media’s 50-year investment in the Kennedy myth is waning, and he’s wants them to play the same role for him, without the messy ending. If you thought the slobbering, tween-girl media squeefest that has characterized his media coverage for the last six years was insufferable, just wait. He understands celebrity, and because of that, he’s playing to his cheerleaders, not to the doubters.

Actions Have Their Consequences in the Middle East

 

shutterstock_169881086About a decade ago, most of my time was occupied with editing literature and teaching aspiring writers how to craft essays that didn’t put readers to sleep. For a short time, I had two students that were of Middle Eastern descent. I was working with one of them and asked why she didn’t associate with the other student from the same region. Her reply was simple and to the point: “My family hasn’t associated with anyone from that family in generations.”

I’m guessing that she chose the word “family” because she had been in America long enough to pick up the local vernacular. If we had been somewhere else in the world, maybe she would have used the term “tribe” or “clan.” The point remains the same, and it is an issue that makes dealing with political issues in the Middle East so difficult for Westerners. The arguments, battles, and wars in that region often have histories that stretch back hundreds of years.

The current situation in Iraq is not just about what has happened in that region in the past 20 years, just like the invasion of Kuwait by Saddam Hussein dated back to when a map was arbitrarily drawn by the British. Beyond the history that is driving the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), there are current religious and political issues in play that are intertwined throughout the Middle East and North Africa. The lines on the map are near meaningless to anyone except Westerners.

Explanatory Journalism at its Finest

 

VoxVox continues to do God’s work by providing crucial context explaining current events and helping to create an informed citizenry able to understand the complex world in which we live. With ISIS militants at the gates of Bagdad, Dylan Matthews has cut to the heart of this multifaceted issue and provided crucial insight which will enable readers to make informed judgments about what America’s response to this situation should be. His article, “17 Reasons not to trust Dick Cheney,” is truly the key to understanding the shifting dynamics of war-torn Mesopotamia.

Politician, Heal Thyself

 

ObamaMaliki“I think the test is before Obama and other American leaders as we speak. Right now they can make a series of decisions. Regardless of what’s happened in the past, right now is a moment where the fate of the United States hangs in the balance. And the test for all of them is going to be where they can overcome the mistrust, the deep ideological divisions, in some cases just political opportunism and say, this is bigger than any one of us, and we’ve got to make sure that we do what’s right for the American people. And that’s a challenge. That’s not something that another country can do for us.”

President Obama held a press conference today outlining his response to the growing unrest in Iraq. Like his other statements on the region, Obama insisted the problem is more political than military. That’s a convenient rhetorical stance, but meaningless in the real world. War is the continuation of politics by other means, a fact we learned in the blood and fire of our own Civil War. Lincoln could have rightly claimed that the core problem was political, but he didn’t withdraw the Union Army from the field.

As many experts have noted, Iraq’s modern borders are but lines in the shifting sands drawn by the British Foreign Office, combining three former provinces of the Ottoman Empire. Obviously the Kurds and Sunni chafe under the boot of Maliki’s Iran-backed Shiite government. And when years of argument don’t achieve the desired end, force is often the result.

Member Post

 

I mean, of course not, right?  He’s Joe Biden.  Infamous for being wrong on every foreign policy issue in the last 30 years.  Aggressively wrong.  Wrong more often than someone simply flipping a coin.  Argued against killing Bin Laden! But isn’t Kurdistan, Shiite Iraq and Sunni Iraq sounding pretty good right now? Preview Open

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Member Post

 

Hundreds of young Iraqis join fight against surging militants BAGHDAD – Hundreds of young Iraqi men gripped by religious and nationalistic fervour streamed into volunteer centres Saturday across Baghdad, answering a call by the country’s top Shiite cleric to join the fight against Sunni militants advancing in the north. Preview Open

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ISIS Publishes New Rules for Islamic Caliphate

 

Bp7Uw_xCIAA0wTMISIS, last seen rolling across Iraq, has published new rules for the recently captured province of Nineveh. Reporter Jenan Moussa of Dubai-based Al Aan TV took to Twitter this morning to translate some lowlights from the document:

  • For those asking “who are you?”: We are soldiers of Islam and took our responsibility to bring back the glory of the Islamic Caliphate.
  • Money we took from the Safavid government is now public. Only Imam of Muslims can spend it. Anyone who steals, hand will be cut off.
  • We ask all Muslims to perform prayers on time in the mosques.
  • We warn tribal leaders and sheiks not to “work with government and be traitors.”
  • No drugs, no alcohol and no cigarettes allowed.
  • For the police, soldiers and other kafir institutions, you can repent. We opened special places that will allow you to repent.
  • Gatherings, carrying flags (other than that of the Islamic state) and carrying guns are not allowed. God ordered us to stay united.
  • Our position on shrines and graves is clear. All are to be destroyed.
  • For women, dress decently and wear wide clothes. Only go out if needed.
  • People, you tried secular rulings (Republic, Baathist, Safavides) and it pained you. Now is the time for an Islamic state.

And here I thought America was the only country Obama was going to ruin.

Decisions and Consequences in Iraq

 

Following the apparent capture of Mosul, rumor has it that the Iraqi government is quietly asking for American air support against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. Rumor further has it that President Obama has denied this request.

I don’t know what we should do about Iraq’s apparent slide into al-Qaeda-dominated anarchy (I lean toward doing nothing, but am open to persuasion). In their different ways, all the options seem terrible, be they leaving the Iraqis to their fate or re-involving ourselves in their country. There’s likely no good solution, only a series of bad ones, some of which may be marginally less awful than others.

Strategika Podcast: Kimberly Kagan on The Perils of Abandoning Afghanistan

 

In the latest installment of the Strategika podcast for the Hoover Institution, I spoke with Kimberly Kagan, founder and president of the Institute for the Study of War, about how the situation in Afghanistan will play out once America leaves.

Dr. Kagan, who spent 15 months in Kabul working with General David Petraeus and General John Allen, is concerned that America runs the risk of throwing Afghanistan into chaos after our departure, repeating many of the same mistakes we made in Iraq. Listen here for her diagnosis of the situation and her recommendations for an alternative approach.