Kurds – Another key ally Obama is about to throw under the bus?

The Other Iraq

Kurds – Another key ally Obama is about to throw under the bus?

Redacted from an article By DAVID DEVOSS
The Weekly Standard, March 2013

In Iraq, more than 50 people a week continue to die violently, while the Shia government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki grows more authoritarian by the day. As America approaches the tenth anniversary of Operation Iraqi Freedom on March 20, however, Washington, under Presidents H W and G W Bush, can take pride in one shining success: Iraqi Kurdistan.

Northern Iraq’s three Kurdish provinces—Dahuk, Erbil, and Sulaymaniyah—are the country’s safest and most prosperous. The semiautonomous area has an economy growing 12 percent a year and a per capita GDP that is 50 percent higher than the rest of the country. In a clear sign of its growing importance, the region now hosts 25 consulates and foreign representations, seven universities and two international airports. Some 1,500 Turkish companies already have taken advantage of the stable business environment, along with 50 multinationals including Exxon, Total, Chevron, Hunt Oil, and John Deere.

Compared with Baghdad, where security concerns adversely impact private investment, Kurdistan’s financial capital of Erbil (home to 1.5 million) is developing rapidly. The city adds a new five-star hotel nearly every year. Modern shopping malls are full of families who indulge children in game arcades and snack at American fast-food restaurants. These establishments would be targeted as anti-Islamic if they existed in Arab cities to the south.

Passenger traffic at the city’s $550 million airport has increased 37 percent between 2011 and 2012. New arrivals have plenty of choices when it comes to residential housing. Lebanese contractors are building Dream City, a 1,200-unit development that boasts a New York-style steakhouse. Another Turkish company is selling modern condominiums in an area called Naz City. Three new satellite suburbs contain schools, supermarkets, and police stations. English Village has 400 homes ranging in price from $130,000 to $160,000, all of which sold more than a year before completion. Tree-lined streets meander through Italian Village close to the airport. American Village is an $80 million development where a 3,500-square-foot home sells for $160,000 and $585,000 will buy an 8,600-square-foot palace.

Erbil’s newest neighborhood is The Atlantic Villas & Apartments, a $160 million mixed-use development by the Claremont Group, a New York construction company. It is scheduled for completion this fall, and more than a third of the 1,543 townhouses and apartments have already sold. “Erbil is an excellent place to build because the Kurds really want U.S. investment,” says Stephen Lari, Claremont’s head of overseas relations, who also has approval to build a 196-room Hilton Doubletree Suites costing $35 million.

“The Kurds believe the more foreign investment they attract, the less likely Baghdad will be to interfere,” Lari explains. “They want Kurdistan to become too big to fail.”

That Iraq even has a Kurdish population is due largely to the efforts of President George H.W. Bush, who launched Operation Provide Comfort in 1991 to halt Saddam Hussein’s genocidal attacks on the Kurds. Saddam’s war of extermination began three years before, when he sent his cousin, Gen. Ali Hassan al-Majid, to destroy the town of Halabja. Ali blanketed the area with deadly Sarin gas, which killed 5,000 Kurds and enfeebled 6,000 others. To make the devastation complete, he then systematically reduced Halabja to rubble and forced survivors to walk north to a barren settlement whose newly bulldozed streets were shaped to resemble Saddam’s initials. The genocidal attack earned him the nickname “Chemical Ali.”

Coming in the wake of Bush’s Desert Storm victory in Kuwait, Operation Provide Comfort prevented the Kurds’ annihilation by supplying humanitarian assistance and establishing a “no fly zone” for Iraqi aircraft. Bush’s intervention, reinforced six years later by President Bill Clinton’s Operation Northern Watch, kept Saddam’s air force out of Kurdistan for 12 years and effectively made the region autonomous from the rest of Iraq.

But America’s involvement was not limited to military activity and humanitarian aid. Washington urged northern Iraq’s two leading political parties to stop fighting each other, and in 1998 the Kurdistan Democratic party in Erbil and the Sulaymaniyah-based Patriotic Union of Kurdistan laid down their weapons and agreed to share power in a unified Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) opposed to Saddam. This alliance remains intact. In the Kurdish cabinet, each minister has a deputy from the other party.

Iraq’s Kurds have a rich history. Saladin, the great Islamic commander who dealt the European Crusaders a decisive defeat in 1187, was a Kurd. But under Baath party rule, Kurdish culture was reviled. All books in Kurdish were removed from the libraries of northern Iraq and burned. Arabic became the language of instruction in Kurdish schools. The burial monuments of famous Kurds were plastered over and re-engraved in Arabic script. When Saddam’s Republican Guard retreated from the region in 2003 it poured cement in water wells as it went..

Indeed, the Kurds were so thankful for the assistance received from the George W. Bush administration that they paid for a massive “Thank you, America” campaign in 2006. The videos from that campaign still are posted on the Internet (youtu.be/NyrStaIoh-w).

“America makes mistakes, but it’s important for Americans to know that we can do a lot of things right,” says Douglas Layton, a 62-year-old entrepreneur who is writing a book called When America Gets It Right: The Kurdish Miracle. Back in 1991 Layton helped resettle Kurdish refugees in Nashville. Today he operates The Other Iraq Tours, a company that takes adventurous travelers to places like Gaugamela, the site of the 331 b.c. battle where Alexander the Great defeated Persian emperor Darius III.

“The Kurds are just different,” he says. “They are pro-American and have no antagonism against Israel. I think it’s because the United States protected them for more than a decade. It was an opportunity southern Iraqis didn’t have.”

There was no protection for the Kurds at the end of World War I when Europe carved up the Ottoman Empire and denied them a nation. Today the region’s 35 million Kurds are scattered. Approximately 18 million live in Turkey, with some 2 million in Syria, 8 million in Iran, and 7 million in Iraq.

Because of its stability and growing prosperity, Iraqi Kurdistan now serves as both a homeland for the Kurdish diaspora and a refuge for persecuted Christians. Since 2003, some 15,000 Christian families have been forced to flee central and southern Iraq. Though some went to Europe, most reside in Iraqi Kurdistan, where they are joined by a growing flow of Kurds from Iran.

But, no longer is Baghdad’s Shiite government willing to negotiate the fate of disputed lands outside Kurdistan’s three home provinces. Neither will it cede control of the oil under the areas the Kurds control. According to the 2005 constitution, 17 percent of Iraq’s federal budget should be directed to the Kurds. Baghdad wants to unilaterally lower that share to 12 percent. In the past, the United States helped mediate disputes, but now Baghdad no longer wants Americans present during bilateral negotiations.

Despite the snub, the Obama administration appears to support Baghdad in the hope Maliki’s Shiite administration will restrain Iran’s ayatollahs. Given Iraq’s Shiite revival and the support Maliki already has extended to Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, it appears the Obama administration may be willing to sacrifice Kurdish autonomy in return for illusory strategic leverage.

The Iraqi prime minister is in no mood to compromise. Three months ago, Maliki moved part of Iraq’s army into Kirkuk, a disputed province widely regarded as part of the Kurdish homeland. With two armies in artillery range of each other, the Kurds are seeking a diplomatic solution. “We have studied the question of independence and concluded that the Kurdish region is best served as a loyal part of Iraq,” former Kurdish prime minister Barham Salih told a group of Western aid workers early last year. In contrast, Nuri al-Maliki seems to be preparing for war.

Last year, Iraq took final delivery of 140 American M1A1 Abrams tanks. The total cost of the tanks was $860 million, but Washington discounted the price so that Baghdad only had to pay $800 million. The savings helped Baghdad initiate a second purchase of 36 F-16 fighters, each costing $126 million. As part of the deal, Iraq will receive 100 Sidewinder heat-seeking air-to-air missiles, 150 Sparrow radar homing missiles, and 40,000 rounds of 20mm auto cannon ammo.

For more than two decades, America nurtured the Kurdish revival. Is it today inadvertently planting seeds of future instability? That’s what some Kurds are starting to fear.

A quarter-century ago, Iraq’s Kurds faced extermination at the hands of a more heavily armed Iraqi Army. Today, the KRG’s Peshmerga is better equipped, but it still is no match for a sophisticated 1.2 million-man army from Baghdad.

(David DeVoss recently returned from four years in Iraq, where he served as communications director on a $192 million provincial economic growth program.)

What you didn’t know about Chanukah

Chanukah 2012 Guide for the Perplexed

By Ambassador (ret.) Yoram Ettinger


1. Chanukah is the only Jewish holiday which commemorates a Land of Israel national liberation struggle, unlike Passover (the Exodus from Egypt), Sukkot/Tabernacles & Shavouot/Pentacost (on the way from Egypt to the Land of Israel), Purim (deliverance of Jews in Persia), etc. Chanukah is the longest Jewish holiday (8 days) with the most intense level of Light (8 consecutive nights of candle lighting).

2. The key Chanukah developments occurred, mostly, in Judea and Samaria: Mitzpah (also Prophet Samuel’s burial site), Beth El mountains (Judah’s first headquarters), Beth Horon (Judah’s victory over Seron), Hadashah (Judah’s victory over Nicanor), Beth Zur (Judah’s victory over Lysias), Ma’aleh Levona (Judah’s victory over Apolonius), Adora’yim (a Maccabees’ fortress), Elazar & Beit Zachariya (Judah’s first defeat), Ba’al Hatzor (Judah defeated and killed), the Judean Desert, etc. Unified JerUSAlem was the Capital of the Maccabees. Chanukah is not a holiday of “occupation.” Chanukah highlights the moral-high-ground of Jews in their ancestral land.

3. Shimon the Maccabee – who succeeded Judah and Yonatan the Maccabees – defied an ultimatum by the Syrian emperor, Antiochus (Book of Maccabees A, Chapter 15, verse 33), who demanded an end to the “occupation” of Jerusalem, Jaffa, Gaza, Gezer and Ekron, Shimon declared: “We have not occupied a foreign land; we have not ruled a foreign land; we have liberated the land of our forefathers from foreign occupation.”
(Sound familiar?)
4. Chanukah’s historical context (Books of the Maccabees and the Scroll of Antiochus)

Alexander The Great -who held Judaism in high esteem and whose Egyptian heir, Ptolemy II, translated the Torah to Greek – died in 323 BCE following 12 glorious years. Consequently, the Greek Empire disintegrated into five, and thirty years later into three, kingdoms: Macedonia, Syria and Egypt.

The Land of Israel was militarily contested by Syria and Egypt. In 198 BCE, Israel was conquered by the Syrian Antiochus III, who considered the Jewish State as an ally. In 175 BCE, a new king assumed power in Syria, Antiochus (IV) Epiphanies, who wished to replace Judaism with Hellenic values and assumed that Jews were allies of Egypt. In 169 BC, upon his return to Syria from a war against Egypt, he devastated Jerusalem, massacred the Jews, forbade the practice of Judaism (including the Sabbath, circumcision, etc.) and desecrated Jerusalem and the Temple.

The 167BCE-launched rebellion against the Syrian (Seleucid) kingdom featured the Hasmonean (Maccabee) family: Mattityahu, a priest from the town of Modi’in, and his five sons, Yochanan, Judah, Shimon, Yonatan and Elazar. The heroic (and tactically creative) battles conducted by the Maccabees, were consistent with the reputation of Jews as superb warriors, who were hired frequently as mercenaries by Egypt, Syria, Rome and other global and regional powers.

5. The Hasmonean dynasty

*Mattityahu son of Yochanan; the priest-led rebellion – 166/7 BCE

*Judah the Maccabee, son of Mattityahu – 166-161 BCE

*Yonatan the Maccabee, son of Mattityahu – 161-143 BCE

*Shimon the Maccabee, son of Mattityahu – 143-135 BCE

*Yochanan Hyrcanus son of Shimon – 135-104 BCE

*Mattityahu Antigonus – 40-37BCE

6. The name Maccabee (מכבי or מקבי) is a derivative of the Hebrew word Makevet (מקבת), Power Hammer, which described Judah’s tenacious and decisive fighting capabilities. It could be a derivative of the Hebrew verb Cabeh (כבה), to extinguish, which described the fate of Judah’s adversaries. Another source of the name suggests that Maccabee, מכבי, is the Hebrew acronym of “Who could resemble you among Gods, Jehovah” (“Mi Camokha Ba’elim Adonai” מי כמוך באלים י).

7. The origin of the term – Chanukah – is education-oriented.

According to the first book of Maccabees, Judah instituted an eight day holiday on the 25th day of the Jewish month of Kislev, 165 BCE, in order to commemorate the inauguration (Chanukah, חנוכה, in Hebrew) of the holy altar and the Temple, following Syrian desecration. A key feature of Chanukah is the education/mentoring of the family (Chinuch חינוך and Chonech חונך in Hebrew), commemorating Jewish history. The Hebrew word, Chanukah, consists of two words, Chanu חנו in Hebrew (they rested/stationed) and Kah כה in Hebrew (which is equal to 25, (referring to the Maccabees’ re-consecration of the Temple on the 25th day of Kislev. Some have suggested that the timing of Christmas (December 25th) and the celebration of the New Year 8 days later (January 1) have their origin in Chanukah, which always “accompanies” December.

8. Chanukah is the holiday of light, commemoration, optimism and liberty. Chanukah celebrates the liberation of JerUSAlem. The first day of Chanukah is celebrated when daylight is balanced with darkness, ushering in optimism for brighter future. Chanukah is celebrated in Kislev (כסלו), the month of miracles (e.g., Noah’s Rainbow appeared in Kislev) and the month of security/safety (the Hebrew word Kesel-כסל means security). The first and last Hebrew letters of Kislev (כסלו – כו) equal 26 (in Jewish Gimatriya) – the total numerical value of the Hebrew spelling of Jehovah – יהוה. Moses completed the construction of the Holy Ark on the 25th day of Kislev, as was the date of the laying the foundation of the Second Temple by Nehemiah. The 25th (Hebrew) word in Genesis is Light (OR, אור), which is a Jewish metaphor for the Torah. The word which precedes “light” is יהי (“let there be” in Hebrew) – 25 in Gimatriya. The 25th stop during the Exodus was Hashmona (same root as Hasmonean in Hebrew). Chanukah commemorates one of the early Clashes of Civilizations: the victory of light (Maccabees) over darkness, the few over the many (scarce light can penetrate darkness), liberty over slavery and remembrance over forgetfulness. The Hebrew spelling of darkness – חשכה – employs the same letters as forgetfulness – שכחה.

9. The thirty six Chanukah candles (without the constant candle – the Shamash) represent the 36 hidden righteous persons, whose virtue safeguards human-kind. (Lamed Vavnik) There were 36 hours of divine light, welcoming Adam during the creation, lasting until the end of the Sabbath. Various forms of light, and candles, are mentioned 36 times in the Torah. There are 36 parts in the Talmud. Chanukah is celebrated during the Hebrew month of Kislev, whose spelling consists of two Hebrew words: Throne (כס) and 36 (לו). Candles are lit outside the home, or at the window, in order to spread light. Unlike the Shabbat candles, which are lit inside since they target the family, the message of the Chanukah candles targets the world at large.

10. Eight days of Chanukah represent divine capabilities and optimism. The ancient Temple Menorah consisted of seven branches, which commemorated the seven days of creation. The Chanukah Menorah has eight branches, reflecting the additional level of divine capabilities. The eight day celebration could be intended to make up for the holiday of Tabernacles, which could not be celebrated due to the war of liberation. The shape of the digit 8 represents infinity: no end to divine capabilities, as evidenced by the survival of the Jewish People against all odds. The root of the Hebrew word for 8 (Shmoneh, שמונה) is “oil” (Shemen, שמנ), which is also the root of “Hasmonean” (Hashmonayim, חשמונאים). The Aramaic name of the month of Kislev is Kislimo, which is “heavy” in Hebrew. The spelling of “heavy” is identical to the spelling of “oil” – שמן.

11. The statue of the head of Judah the Maccabee is displayed at the West Point Military Academy, along with the statues of Joshua, David, Alexander the Great, Hector, Julius Caesar, King Arthur, Charlemagne and Godfrey of Bouillon – “the Nine Worthies.”

12. “In God We Trust” is similar to the Maccabees’ battle cry, which adopted Moses’ battle cry against the builders of the Golden Calf. A literal translation of Moses’ battle cry: “Whoever trusts G-D; join me!”

13. Patrick Henry’s “Give me liberty or give me death,” and New Hampshire’s “Live Free or Die,” followed the legacy of the Maccabees’ sacrifice and political-incorrectness. The Maccabees followed in the footsteps of Abraham, Phineas the High Priest, Joshua & Caleb, King David and Elijah the Prophet, who knew that swimming against the stream gets one closer to the source!

14. “Rebellion against Tyrants is obedience to God” was proposed, as the US seal, by John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin. It reflected the legacy of the Maccabees who were a tiny minority of “rebels” – condemned by the “loyalists/pragmatists” – rising against an oppressive super-power. They demonstrated the victory of the few over the many, right over wrong, moral over immoral, truth over lies, faith over cynicism and opportunism. Paul Revere’s nickname was the “modern day Maccabee.”

15. “Chanukah has a special significance in Montana these days. In Billings in 1993, vandals broke windows in homes that were displaying menorahs. In a response organized by local church leaders, more than 10,000 of the city’s residents and shopkeepers put make-shift menorahs in their own windows, to protect the city’s three dozen or so Jewish families. The vandalism stopped” (New York Times, Dec. 4, 2009, Eric Stern, senior counselor to Gov. Brian Schweitzer).

Shavua tov, Happy Chanukah