Kurds remain biggest winners from US-led invasion of Iraq

Kurds remain biggest winners from US-led invasion of Iraq
Irbil quickly grew into an oil-fueled boom town in the wake of the American-led invasion of Iraq. (AP)
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Updated 22 March 2023
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Kurds remain biggest winners from US-led invasion of Iraq

Kurds remain biggest winners from US-led invasion of Iraq
  • Irbil, the seat of the semi-autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq, was once a backwater provincial capital
  • That rapidly changed after the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq that toppled Saddam Hussein

IRBIL, Iraq: Complexes of McMansions, fast food restaurants, real estate offices and half-constructed high-rises line wide highways in Irbil, the seat of the semi-autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq.
Many members of the political and business elite live in a suburban gated community dubbed the American Village, where homes sell for as much as $5 million, with lush gardens consuming more than a million liters of water a day in the summer.
The visible opulence is a far cry from 20 years ago. Back then, Irbil was a backwater provincial capital without even an airport.
That rapidly changed after the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq that toppled Saddam Hussein. Analysts say that Iraqi Kurds – and particularly the Kurdish political class – were the biggest beneficiaries in a conflict that had few winners.
That’s despite the fact that for ordinary Kurds, the benefits of the new order have been tempered by corruption and power struggles between the two major Kurdish parties and between Irbil and Baghdad, the Iraqi capital.
In the wake of the invasion, much of Iraq fell into chaos, as occupying American forces fought an insurgency and as multiple political and sectarian communities vied to fill the power vacuum left in Baghdad. But the Kurds, seen as staunch allies of the Americans, strengthened their political position and courted foreign investments.
Irbil quickly grew into an oil-fueled boom town. Two years later, in 2005, the city opened a new commercial airport, constructed with Turkish funds, and followed a few years after that by an expanded international airport.
Traditionally, the “Kurdish narrative is one of victimhood and one of grievances,” said Bilal Wahab, a fellow at the Washington Institute think tank. But in Iraq since 2003, “that is not the Kurdish story. The story is one of power and empowerment.”
With the Ottoman Empire’s collapse after World War I, the Kurds were promised an independent homeland in the 1920 Treaty of Sevres. But the treaty was never ratified, and “Kurdistan” was carved up. Since then, there have been Kurdish rebellions in Iran, Iraq and Turkey, while in Syria, Kurds have clashed with Turkish-backed forces.
In Iraq, the Kurdish region won de facto self-rule in 1991, when the United States imposed a no-fly zone over it in response to Saddam’s brutal repression of Kurdish uprisings.
“We had built our own institutions, the parliament, the government,” said Hoshyar Zebari, a top official with the Kurdistan Democratic Party who served as foreign minister in Iraq’s first post-Saddam government. “Also, we had our own civil war. But we overcame that,” he said, referring to fighting between rival Kurdish factions in the mid-1990s.
Speaking in an interview at his palatial home in Masif, a former resort town in the mountains above Irbil that is now home to much of the KDP leadership, Zabari added, “The regime change in Baghdad has brought a lot of benefits to this region.”
Iraqi President Abdul Latif Rashid, from the rival Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, also gave a glowing assessment of the post-2003 developments. The Kurds, he said, had aimed for “a democratic Iraq, and at the same time some sort of … self-determination for the Kurdish people.”
With the US overthrow of Saddam, he said, “We achieved that ... We became a strong group in Baghdad.”
The post-invasion constitution codified the Kurdish region’s semi-independent status, while an informal power-sharing arrangement now stipulates that Iraq’s president is always a Kurd, the prime minister a Shiite and the parliament speaker a Sunni.
But even in the Kurdish region, the legacy of the invasion is complicated. The two major Kurdish parties have jockeyed for power, while Irbil and Baghdad have been at odds over territory and the sharing of oil revenues.
Meanwhile, Arabs in the Kurdish region and minorities, including the Turkmen and Yazidis, feel sidelined in the new order, as do Kurds without ties to one of the two key parties that serve as gatekeepers to opportunities in the Kurdish region.
As the economic boom has stagnated in recent years, due to both domestic issues and global economic trends, an increasing number of Kurdish youths are leaving the country in search of better opportunities. According to the International Labor Organization, 19.2 percent of men and 38 percent of women aged 15-24 were unemployed and out of school in Irbil province in 2021.
Wahab said Irbil’s post-2003 economic success has also been qualified by widespread waste and patronage in the public sector.
“The corruption in the system is really undermining the potential,” he said.
In Kirkuk, an oil-rich city inhabited by a mixed population of Kurds, Turkmen and Sunni Arabs where Baghdad and Irbil have vied for control, Kahtan Vendavi, local head of the Iraqi Turkmen Front party, complained that the American forces’ “support was very clear for the Kurdish parties” after the 2003 invasion.
Turkmen are the third largest ethnic group in Iraq, with an estimated 3 million people, but hold no high government positions and only a handful of parliamentary seats.
In Kirkuk, the Americans “appointed a governor of Kurdish nationality to manage the province. Important departments and security agencies were handed over to Kurdish parties,” Vendavi said.
Some Kurdish groups also lost out in the post-2003 order, which consolidated the power of the two major parties.
Ali Bapir, head of the Kurdistan Justice Group, a Kurdish Islamist party, said the two ruling parties “treat people who do not belong to (them) as third- and fourth-class citizens.”
Bapir has other reasons to resent the US incursion. Although he had fought against the rule of Saddam’s Baath Party, the US forces who arrived in 2003 accused him and his party of ties to extremist groups. Soon after the invasion, the US bombed his party’s compound and then arrested Bapir and imprisoned him for two years.
Kurds not involved in the political sphere have other, mainly economic, concerns.
Picnicking with her mother and sister and a pair of friends at the sprawling Sami Abdul Rahman Park, built on what was once a military base under Saddam, 40-year-old Tara Chalabi acknowledged that the “security and safety situation is excellent here.”
But she ticked off a list of other grievances, including high unemployment, the end of subsidies from the regional government for heating fuel and frequent delays and cuts in the salaries of public employees like her.
“Now there is uncertainty if they will pay this month,” she said.
Nearby, a group of university students said they are hoping to emigrate.
“Working hard, before, was enough for you to succeed in life,” said a 22-year-old who gave only her first name, Gala. “If you studied well and you got good grades … you would have a good opportunity, a good job. But now it’s very different. You must have connections.”
In 2021, hundreds of Iraqi Kurds rushed to Belarus in hopes of crossing into Poland or other neighboring EU countries. Belarus at the time was readily handing out tourist visas in an apparent attempt to pressure the European Union by creating a wave of migrants.
Those who went, Wahab said, were from the middle class, able to afford plane tickets and smuggler fees.
“To me, it’s a sign that it’s not about poverty,” he said. “It’s basically about the younger generation of Kurds who don’t really see a future for themselves in this region anymore.”


Health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza says war death toll at 29,313

Health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza says war death toll at 29,313
Updated 21 February 2024
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Health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza says war death toll at 29,313

Health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza says war death toll at 29,313
  • Ministry statement: A total of 118 people died in the past 24 hours

GAZA STRIP, Palestinian Territories: The health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza said Wednesday that at least 29,313 people have been killed in the Palestinian territory during the war between Hamas-led militants and Israel.
A ministry statement said a total of 118 people died in the past 24 hours, while another 69,333 have been wounded since the war erupted on October 7.


Iran dismisses plan by UN nuclear watchdog head to visit next month

Iran dismisses plan by UN nuclear watchdog head to visit next month
Updated 21 February 2024
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Iran dismisses plan by UN nuclear watchdog head to visit next month

Iran dismisses plan by UN nuclear watchdog head to visit next month
  • IAEA’s Rafael Grossi: Iran continuing to enrich uranium well beyond the needs for commercial nuclear use
  • Under a defunct 2015 agreement with world powers, Iran can enrich uranium only to 3.67 percent

DUBAI: Iran’s nuclear chief on Wednesday dismissed a suggestion that the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Rafael Grossi would visit Iran next month but instead invited Grossi to a conference in Tehran in May.
Grossi said this week Iran was continuing to enrich uranium well beyond the needs for commercial nuclear use and said he planned to visit Tehran next month to tackle “drifting apart” relations between the IAEA and the Islamic Republic.
But Mohammad Eslami said a visit next month was unlikely due to a “busy schedule” without giving further clarification. “Iran’s interactions with the IAEA continue as normal and discussions are held to resolve ambiguities and develop cooperation,” he said at a weekly press conference in Tehran.
Eslami said Grossi had been invited to attend Iran’s first international nuclear energy conference in May.
Speaking to Reuters on Monday, Grossi said while the pace of uranium enrichment had slowed slightly since the end of last year, Iran was still enriching at an elevated rate of around 7kg of uranium per month to 60 percent purity.
Enrichment to 60 percent brings uranium close to weapons grade, and is not necessary for commercial use in nuclear power production. Iran denies seeking nuclear weapons but no other state has enriched to that level without producing them.
Under a defunct 2015 agreement with world powers, Iran can enrich uranium only to 3.67 percent. After then-President Donald Trump pulled the US out of that deal in 2018 and re-imposed sanctions, Iran breached and moved well beyond the deal’s nuclear restrictions.
The UN nuclear watchdog said the 2015 nuclear deal “is all but disintegrated.”


Day 3 of ICJ hearings: US says Israel should not be legally obligated to withdraw from the Occupied Territories immediately

Day 3 of ICJ hearings: US says Israel should not be legally obligated to withdraw from the Occupied Territories immediately
Updated 28 sec ago
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Day 3 of ICJ hearings: US says Israel should not be legally obligated to withdraw from the Occupied Territories immediately

Day 3 of ICJ hearings: US says Israel should not be legally obligated to withdraw from the Occupied Territories immediately
  • More than 50 states will present arguments until February 26
  • Current hearings could increase political pressure over Israel’s war in Gaza

THE HAGUE: Egypt wants the establishment of a viable Palestinian state on the pre-1967 borders, said Egypt’s legal counselor Jasmine Moussa at the International Criminal Court of Justice (ICJ) on Wednesday.

In the third day of hearings at the ICJ, also known as the World Court, in the Hague, Moussa said Israel’s ongoing ‘onslaught’ on Gaza killed over 29,000 Palestinians and displaced 2.3 million people in violation of international law.
 
“It is shocking that some states do not want the court to render its legal opinion. What message does this send on their respect for international justice and the rule of law?” asked  Moussa.

Egypt’s Jasmine Moussa said the Middle East “yearns for peace and stability” and a “comprehensive and lasting resolution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict”.

Legal Advisor of the Cabinet of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Jasmine Moussa attends ICJ public hearing to allow parties to give their views on the legal consequences of Israel's occupation of the Palestinian territories. (Reuters)

UAE representative Lana Nusseibeh said the viability of peace and an independent Palestinian state are imperiled by Israel’s violations which have risen sharply recently.

The UAE is confident that the court will determine the legal consequences of Israel's violations of international law against the Palestinian people in Gaza and the West Bank.

“According to the United Nations, 2023 has been the deadliest year for Palestinians in the West Bank,” said Nusseibeh.

Nuseibeh said Israel must cease all policies and practices that impede the exercise of Palestinian right to self determination.

Israel must ensure freedom of access to holy places and respect the legal and historic status quo of these areas, added Nusseibeh.

The UAE concluded their statement by calling for a ceasefire in Gaza and criticized the UN’s Security Council’s failure to adopt a peace resolution.

The United States and Russia will also present arguments on Wednesday in proceedings at the UN’s highest court examining the legality of Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories.
The ICJ, also known as the World Court, was asked in 2022 by the UN General Assembly to issue a non-binding opinion on the legal consequences of the occupation.
Israel, which is not taking part, said in written comments that the court’s involvement could be harmful to achieving a negotiated settlement. Washington in 2022 opposed the court issuing an opinion and is expected to argue on Wednesday that it cannot rule on the occupation’s lawfulness.
More than 50 states will present arguments until Feb. 26. Egypt and France were also scheduled to speak on Wednesday.
On Monday, Palestinian representatives asked the judges to declare Israel’s occupation of their territory illegal and said its opinion could help reach a two-state solution.
On Tuesday, 10 states including South Africa were overwhelmingly critically of Israel’s conduct in the occupied territories, with many urging the court to declare the occupation illegal.
The latest surge of violence in Gaza that followed Hamas’ Oct. 7 attacks in Israel has complicated already deeply-rooted grievances in the Middle East and damaged efforts toward finding a path to peace.
The ICJ’s 15-judge panel has been asked to review Israel’s “occupation, settlement and annexation ... including measures aimed at altering the demographic composition, character and status of the Holy City of Jerusalem, and from its adoption of related discriminatory legislation and measures.”
The judges are expected to take roughly six months to issue their opinion on the request, which also asks them to consider the legal status of the occupation and its consequences for states.
Israel ignored a World Court opinion in 2004 when it found that Israel’s separation wall in the West Bank violated international law and should be dismantled. Instead, it has been extended.
The current hearings could increase political pressure over Israel’s war in Gaza, which has killed about 29,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza health officials, since Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7.
Israel captured the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem — areas of historic Palestine which the Palestinians want for a state — in the 1967 conflict. It withdrew from Gaza in 2005, but, along with neighboring Egypt, still controls its borders.
Israeli leaders have long disputed that the territories are formally occupied on the basis that they were captured from Jordan and Egypt during the 1967 war rather than from a sovereign Palestine.


GCC regrets failure of UN to adopt Gaza ceasefire resolution

GCC regrets failure of UN to adopt Gaza ceasefire resolution
Updated 21 February 2024
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GCC regrets failure of UN to adopt Gaza ceasefire resolution

GCC regrets failure of UN to adopt Gaza ceasefire resolution
  • US vetoed the Algeria proposal seeking immediate ceasefire
  • Need to ‘spare the blood’ of Palestinians, says GCC spokeswoman

DUBAI: The GCC has expressed its “regret” over the failure of the UN Security Council to adopt a resolution seeking a ceasefire in Gaza.

Alya Ahmed Saif Al-Thani, the GCC’s spokeswoman and Qatar’s permanent envoy at the UN, said the resolution was aimed at ending the war on Gaza, ensure the protection of Palestinians, and was consistent with international humanitarian law.

The resolution was proposed by Algeria and supported by Arab nations and most members of the council, said Al-Thani on Tuesday.

“We regret the failure of the security council to adopt the resolution submitted by Algeria,” she said.

“Our countries will continue their efforts along with partners to ensure reaching a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip, in order to spare the blood of our Palestinian brothers and to ensure the arrival of more humanitarian and relief aid to the Strip and to protect civilians,” Al-Thani said.

The draft resolution condemned the forced displacement of Palestinian civilians, urged all parties to comply with their obligations under international law, and called for the release all hostages.

The US vetoed the resolution demanding an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and proposed its own draft urging a temporary ceasefire.

Washington said the Algeria-proposed resolution would “jeopardize” talks to end the war.


Israeli strike hits Damascus residential area, killing at least 2

Israeli strike hits Damascus residential area, killing at least 2
Updated 21 February 2024
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Israeli strike hits Damascus residential area, killing at least 2

Israeli strike hits Damascus residential area, killing at least 2
  • Strike hit a building near an Iranian school and caused casualties: Pro-government Sham FM radio
  • Israel had no comment

DAMASCUS: Israeli strikes hit a neighborhood of the Syrian capital on Wednesday morning, killing two people and causing material damage, Syria’s state TV said. There was no confirmation of the strikes from Israel.
The Syrian state TV reported that several missiles hit the western neighborhood of Kfar Sousseh but did not elaborate or say who were the people killed. The pro-government Sham FM radio station said the strike hit a building near an Iranian school.
Rami Abdurrahman, who heads the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based opposition war monitor, said the two killed were inside an apartment but did not give any clues about their identities.
He added that the strike was similar to last month’s killing in Beirut of Saleh Arouri, a top official with the militant Palestinian Hamas group.
The strike damaged the fourth floor of a 10-story building, shattered window glass on nearby buildings and also damaged dozens of cars parked in the area. An empty parked bus for the nearby Al-Bawader Private School was also damaged and people were seen rushing to the school to take their children.
Israel has carried out hundreds of strikes on targets inside government-controlled parts of war-torn Syria in recent years.
Israel rarely acknowledges its actions in Syria, but it has said that it targets bases of Iran-allied militant groups, such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah, which has sent thousands of fighters to support Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces.
Last month, an Israeli strike on the Syrian capital’s western neighborhood of Mazzeh destroyed a building used by the Iranian paramilitary Revolutionary Guard, killing at least five Iranians.
In December, an Israeli airstrike on a suburb of Damascus killed Iranian general Seyed Razi Mousavi, a longtime adviser of the Iranian paramilitary Revolutionary Guard in Syria. Israel has also targeted Palestinian and Lebanese operatives in Syria over the past years.