"Evil is powerless if the good are unafraid" - Ronald Reagan

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Youth leave, imported crops invade villages

From Voices of Iraq.

This article writes about how life is changing in the Kurdistan region of Iraq. It focuses on agriculture in and around the town of Arbil.

“Agriculture is no longer a core activity for the population because the youth, as is the case with most villages in Kurdistan region, left to the city in search of clean jobs,” Hussein explained to Aswat al-Iraq - Voices of Iraq - (VOI).

The 40 year- old villager noted, “We are unable to meet our needs from cultivation and we started to rely on imported crops.”

Derbaz, 21, who left his village to Arbil, capital of Kurdistan region, said “our village Sablakh lacks basic services, a matter that makes life there impossible.”

“Working as a farmer is no longer enough to feed my family of eight,” the young man who is working now in Arbil explained.

What this article fails to write about is why things have changed. The why is not obvious unless one examines the current context.

Prior to 2003, Iraq was a agrarian society in many respects prevented from importing many food stuffs due to sanctions. Northern Iraq has now changed and is a bustling metropolis. As a metropolis, farmers were unable to keep up with the needs of people with now more wealth. Imports started coming in. Imports were in fact cheaper allowing less and less folks to work the fields and move to the cities for higher paying jobs, better schools, etc.

Nowhere in this article does it express people are suffering for lack of food. Instead, food is abundant, it just is not any longer locally grown. Later down in the article, the truth is finally written.

Hassan, 52, notes “we used to spend months in cultivation until we got the harvest, but now we only sit down in coffee houses and depend on our sons who earn higher salaries from their new jobs.”

“Even old men now depend on subsidies from the government and no one is willing to work as a farmer any more,” he ironically said.

A local governmental official attributed the tendency among the youth to leave their villages for the big cities to the lack of basic services, absence of good schools, and non-existence of amusement centers in the villages.

These villagers are not suffering. They are sitting down at coffee houses and depending on their son's higher salaries they get from the cities. The older generation is apparently getting subsidies from the government and no longer need to work. They no longer toil for months in fields.

Far from pain and suffering. What is happening in Kurdistan region of Iraq is progress from a free, democratic system.

Notice, the article says nothing about violence from the war in this region.

For a full read, click here.

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So Who Really Won Iraqi Offensive Against Shiite Militias? (HINT: Not al-Maliki)

From Andrew Cochran at Counterterrorism Blog.

Contradictory signals abound in asymmetric conflicts like the Iraqi offensive. An Iranian general who is a designated terrorist played some significant role in the ceasefire, thus vaildating my prognosis. Sadr's backers in Baghdad are claiming victory today, even as U.S. troops patrol their streets. The British are now freezing plans to withdraw more troops from that city, signaling a lack of confidence that the Iraqis will secure the area anytime this year. But an admission from a U.S. Army general in Iraq is telling:

I stated before in this blog that Basra was a test for Maliki. It was his attempt to consolidate his power and weaken Sadr. The Kurds have kept peace in the north. The Americans are defeating Al Qaeda wholesale in the center. Maliki was supposed to defeat Sadr in the south.

According to reports, Sadr's forces were not defeated. I have to concur with Andrew Cochran that Maliki is weakened now since his forces were unable to defeat Sadr's militia in the south. However, the Iraqi Army forces in the south are predominantly made up of Hakim's old Badr Corp. So, not only is Maliki weakened, but so is Hakim. Furthermore, so is Sadr's forces as they have undoubtedly taken a pounding in this battle for control of the south. Politically, this tells me the struggle for Shiite dominance in provincial elections is now up in the air.

This is where I disagree with Andrew Cochran and other commentators about the endstate which is now being forecasted. Maliki is weakened politically, but is not out. Maliki before entered into a memorandum of understanding with Kurdish and Sunni leadership. Maliki's weakened status, as a result of the Basra operation, will cause him to lean more towards respecting this memorandum of understanding, possibly giving a larger voice to Kurdish and Sunni demands.

While it would have been better if Maliki's forces had defeated Sadr's militia wholesale, politics bring together strange bed fellows. This "unvictory" may cause Maliki to honor his memorandum of understanding to maintain political clout. Since Hakim's forces in the south were unable to defeat Sadr's forces, the two main Shiite parties will now split the Shiite vote, possibly giving more influence to Sunni and Kurds as a result of upcoming provincial elections.

The results in Basra politically are not unlike the current American presidential primaries with the Democratic party being split giving McCain a unique advantage in the upcoming general elections. Similarly, the Shiites are split now offering the Sunni and Kurds the ability to get more influence after this round of provincial elections and quite possibly in upcoming national elections in 2009. Both Hakim's SIIC and Sadr's militia are supported by Iran, which may explain why a Revolutionary Guard General from the Iranian Army stepped in to establish a truce.

In effect, the results of Basra has created four primary blocks instead of three. We now have the Sunni block, the Kurdish block, the Sadr block, and the Hakim block. No love has ever been lost between Hakim and Sadr. It was Sadr's hate for Hakim which forced him to throw in his 30 parliamentary seats to back Maliki for PM. With neither block will have a majority in upcoming general elections in 2009. The Sadr block will have to forge a coalition with the Sunni/Kurdish block if they hope to gain influence at the national level. I do not see this coalition happening due to his militia's past activities in sectarian killings. In addition, another coalition between the Sadr block and the Hakim block is now very remote as we saw in the first general election where both parties participated in a unified block. Therefore, the Hakim block will now have to actively negotiate with the Sunni/Kurdish block in any future national government, resulting in a forced reconciliation due to political factors present in a democratic Iraq.

Provincial elections in October 2008 will ensure provincial governments now speak for the people and allow the provinces to pass laws to regulate their provinces. Up until this time, it was apparent only the Sunni voice would be better represented. Now, both Shiite voices will also be represented, just not united. Nation elections in 2009 will ensure the national government is more representative of all Iraqis due to the possible forced reconciliation this "unvictory" in the south may bring about.

There is a silver lining in all clouds. This "unvictory" of Maliki's may very well be that silver lining that continues the process of reconciliation in Iraq.

Finally, Hakim's forces in southern Iraq which make up the Iraqi Army in this region will definitely be re-examined for loyalty and fitness for duty. This fact is not a bad thing. It is in fact a good thing because the loyalty and dependability of these forces have always been an issue. This battle just brings these factors to the forefront. Integration of Iraqi Army forces has happened all over the country minus the south. This battle may very well force more integration.

In addition, it has caused the Brits to postpone their withdraw and may actually get them actively engaged again in Southern Iraq. It has once again bloodied the nose of Sadr's forces which will cause his forces to once again regroup and retrain buying time for American forces to continue to battle Al Qaeda in Iraq. It has exposed the militia-type mentality of Hakim-dominated forces in the south which the military command can now reform.

What now waits to be seen is if Maliki can understand this "unvictory" was not an outright defeat for him and will seek to solidify partnerships in the "memorandum of understanding" he has been publicly avoiding to solidify his base of support. Only time will tell; however, this "unvictory" in southern Iraq does open new prospects for Iraq's democratic future.

This is just another political possibility as a result of the military operations in southern Iraq.

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10,000 Syrian troops deploy in Kurdish region

From the Jerusalem Post.

The Syrian army has moved some 10,000 soldiers into five cities in the country's northern, Kurdish-dominated region, following violence over the weekend, which left three people dead. The killing occurred during celebration of the Kurdish New Year - Nowruz - in the city Qameshli close to the border with Turkey, according to several local news sources.

This situation is worth watching closely.

For a full read, click here.

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A Military Analysis of Turkey’s Incursion into Northern Iraq

From the Jamestown Foundation.

The recently concluded eight-day Turkish military incursion into northern Iraq marks the beginning of a new phase in Turkey’s nearly 24 year-old struggle against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Despite the Turkish military’s claims to have inflicted high casualties and severe damage to the PKK’s infrastructure in the region, in the medium term the greatest impact of the operation is likely to be psychological.

The incursion was the first major Turkish ground operation into northern Iraq in over a decade and followed over two months of aerial bombardments of PKK camps and bases in the region. By launching a ground operation in winter, when most of the mountainous terrain was still deep in snow, the Turkish military forced the PKK onto the defensive by demonstrating that organization’s presence in northern Iraq is no longer immune to attack—whether by land or from the air—at any time of the year.

While it was initially believed Turkey entered Iraq with two heavy brigades composed of 10,000 troops, this was a diversion to confuse the PKK. The Turkish military diverted attention from the coming attack on the Zap region by bombing PKK positions around Avasin. Instead 1400 commandos were airlifted to Zap. Operations were extremely sussessful.

Buyukanit said that intelligence reports indicated that around 300 PKK militants were located in the Zap region immediately prior to the incursion. He claimed that during the eight days of the operation the Turkish military had killed 240 of the militants, mostly during night attacks. On the Turkish side, 24 soldiers and three members of the Village Guards militia are reported to have died. Buyukanit also said that, in addition to the element of surprise, one of the reasons for the TGS’s decision to launch the attack in winter was that the snow made it very difficult for the PKK to use its stocks of explosives. According to the general, ground and air attacks resulted in the partial or total destruction of 126 caves, 290 shelters, 12 command centers, six training centers, 23 logistical facilities, 29 signals and communications facilities, 40 trenches and 59 anti-aircraft emplacements (Hurriyet, Sabah, Milliyet, Radikal, March 4); the figures have not been independently confirmed. The TGS has not released information on the quantities of arms and logistical supplies seized or destroyed during the operation.

For a full read, click here.

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Dozens killed as Turkish army pursues Kurdish rebels in Iraq

From Yahoo at AFP.

Turkish troops pursued Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq on the third day of a major ground operation Saturday as the military put the initial death toll from the clashes at around 50....

At least 24 members of the separatist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) and five soldiers were killed in the clashes, the military said overnight.

It estimated that at least 20 other rebels were killed by artillery and helicopter fire, but said the exact toll would not be known until troops reach the targeted area.

For a full read, click here.

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Turkey Says It Has Sent Ground Troops Into Iraq

From the New York Times.

Turkey's military said it had sent ground troops into northern Iraq Thursday night in an operation aimed at weakening Kurdish militants there, the first confirmed ground incursion since the United States invaded Iraq in 2003.

The story continues with,

A Turkish analyst, commenting on NTV, said the attack appeared aimed at dealing the Kurdish militants, the Kurdistan Worker's Party, a surprise blow before the snow melts and the guerillas make their traditional spring advance into Turkey to attack Turkish troops. The analyst said the operation would likely last between three and four days.

For a full read, click here.

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Iraq new national unity government debated

From Alsumaria.

It seems that the meeting held by the Islamic Party political councils and the Islamic Supreme Council headed by Sayyed Abdul Aziz Al Hakim and Vice President Tarek Al Hashemi have reached an agreement upon which the Islamic Party would join the alliance of Kurdish parties and Al Daawa Party and would lead to form a small government headed by Prime Minister Nuri Al Maliki. Informed sources affirmed that governmental changes would draw down the number of ministries to 23 and change the number of ministers. Sources have linked between this step and the Islamic Party accord with the quartet alliance after resolving disputes inside the Accordance Front in favor of the party, despite his front’s willingness to return to government if their demands are met. The Islamic Council and Al Daawa Party seek to assure votes of 80 MPs while the Islamic Party is working to convince its allies in the Accordance Front to vote for the new alliance by persuading 30 MPs while Kurds represent about 55 votes, which assures more than half voices in the parliament.

So, it seems that the "memorandum of understanding" between the Sunnis and Kurds will join forces with Hakim's Islamic Council and the Daawa Party, ensuring Maliki a majority in Parliment.

The significance of this national unity government is critical for continued political progress in Iraq.

1. It forms a government representative of Iraqis - Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds.

2. It drops Maliki's need for support from Sadr, who is against continued US presence in Iraq and still maintains a militia against the government.

3. It will allow for further reconciliation with Sunnis.

4. It gives the Kurds a voice in future oil laws and federalism.

All and all, if successful, this national unity government could well ensure the survival of this young democracy.

For a full read, click here.

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PM receives IAF delegation, stresses reconciliation

From Aswat Aliraq.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki received a delegation from the Sunni Iraqi Accordance Front (IAF) on Saturday, stressing that reconciliation among all groups of the Iraqi people "has become a fait accompli".

"Reconciliation is not a decision issued by high-level officials. Politicians of all blocs have to realize what is actually taking place on the ground and to contribute seriously and effectively to cementing national reconciliation," the prime minister's office quoted Maliki in a statement received by Aswat al-Iraq – Voices of Iraq – (VOI).

PM Maliki is moving closer to sealing the "memorandum of understanding" with Sunnis and Kurds as he attempts to lessen the influence of Sadr and his Mahdi Army.

For a full read, click here.

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