Autumn of the Iraqi Map

On the way from Erbil to Kirkuk, strange feelings haunted me. For the first time in my life, I wish I were a foreign correspondent, who writes with neutrality and sangfroid and looks for a stark title for his article. When he leaves the country, he turns the page and searches for another sick country to write an interesting report.

But I am an Arab journalist.

It is not simple, dear reader, to be an Arab journalist who is tasked with pursuing these successive collapses in the region, and counting the results of mud and blood hurricanes. It is not simple to have known these capitals; to have stayed in them in different eras; and to have listened to their decision-makers only to discover that the sole constant in their stories is the tendency towards downfall.

I am an Arab; I love Iraq, and this has nothing to do with the identity of its ruler. As many people, I thought that this country, where various kinds of wealth are gathered, would be the lever in the way towards the Arab future. I was almost certain a decade ago that the fall of the tyrant would lead to the emergence of a civil democratic state that would serve as a model for a successful coexistence between Arabs and Kurds on one hand and Sunnis and Shi’ites on the other. I was hoping to write an optimistic article, even once, about an open window and a promising future. I was not lucky.

I love Baghdad. I went there during the rule of the “Glorious Leader”. Later, I went to the Green Zone and Nuri al-Maliki told me: “The Sunnis are our partners and we will give them what reassures them.” Then, I met Haidar al-Abadi and found him interested in mending fences between the Iraqi components; however, ISIS was overshadowing Mosul, the country and the people. I also met President Jalal Talbani, who was trying to convince me that the conditions of civil war were not available in Iraq.

I have regularly met with Masoud Barzani, the President of the Kurdistan region of Iraq, to measure the degree of tension of the Kurdish partner in this marriage undermined by doubts and bitterness.

All this talk is from the past; the Iraqi map is bleeding.

After being preoccupied with the Iraqi story for two decades, here I am on the road to Kirkuk, feeling the smell of the Iraqi Autumn, while the summer flame is still burning.

The winds of autumn blew early in the air. Since the announcement of the date of the independence referendum in Iraq’s Kurdistan, scheduled for the 25th of this month, Iraq seemed to be rushing towards the hour of truth and it will probably be the hour of divorce between Baghdad and Erbil.

I do not want to go far in my feelings as if I write that the Arabic year consisted originally of a single season that is autumn. Nonetheless, it is obvious that the Iraqi map is now in the throes of its fall; as if divorce was the inevitable end of the failed marriage concluded by the Sykes-Picot Agreement.

The Arab-Kurdish tango on the Iraqi map was rickety and bloody, and now the Kurds are preparing to announce the end of the costly dance.

A short dream caught me in the way. I dreamt that Haider al-Abadi would go to the leaders of the “Shi’ite House” and tell them that time was running out; and that saving the map of Iraq needed a historic pause… Tell them that avoiding divorce required a bold historic decision that would give the Kurds full rights and tranquility in exchange for keeping the map without official and public divisions… Such as a definite agreement on a confederate regime that enables the Kurds to exercise the right to self-determination… along with an agreement on the fate of the disputed areas, including Kirkuk, for which a temporary solution is reached to maintain relations with Erbil and Baghdad, so that its residents will later decide in a calm atmosphere, on their future and destiny.

I also dreamt that those present would agree on a real solution that Abadi would bring to Erbil and then Barzani would not have the choice but to adopt it.

I soon woke up from this dream. The atmosphere in Baghdad is not favorable for compromises of this magnitude. The hawks insist on policies that have brought this fall. The Kurds, for their part, have despaired of staying in the current map and consider that the cost of divorce today is lower than that in the future.

Neither Baghdad nor neighboring counties accept the independence of the Kurds, especially those states where “Kurdish bombs” sleep within their territories, including Turkey, Iran and Syria.

Arabs tend to reject any change in the map of an Arab country. Washington, for its part, advises to postpone the referendum to maintain focus on the fight against ISIS.

But what if the Kurds said they wanted independence? Are neighboring countries entitled to close their borders to suffocate them? Are the “Popular Mobilization Forces” entitled to punish them? Does the region tolerate the outbreak of a Shi’ite-Kurdish conflict in addition to the current Shi’ite-Sunni conflict?

A journalist should not be satisfied with what he hears from the sources of decision-makers. So I went to talk with Kurds in the streets, cafes, cars and hotels. They are unanimous in supporting the independence even if some of them fear the consequences.

A number of them said they did not want to stay in Iraq, whose prime minister can “cut the salaries of the people of the province and the milk of its children”, in reference to what Nuri al-Maliki did.

Many noted that the agreement on the establishment of a civil state after the ousting of Saddam has perished, and that Baghdad was moving towards a religious and sectarian state, in which Kurds have no room.

They have also noticed that the PMF were not subjected to the authority of the prime minister, but to “an authority outside the Constitution and the borders of Iraq”, in reference to Iran.

The Kurdish situation is unique in each of the four countries in which Kurds are distributed. Kurds originally suffer from bitter divisions among their ranks. What Iraq’s Kurds consider as a solution to their situation cannot be generalized.

Seeing Iraq’s Kurds opt for independence would be a resounding event. Change is very dangerous in a region with fragile maps. Coexistence in the terrible Middle East is not in its best days. Velvet divorce similar to that of Czechoslovakia is not an option. Our culture does not produce velvet. The picture is really vague. But it is certain that the autumn has invaded the Iraqi map, and the country will not be the same after this fall season.

ISIS Members from Iraq, Syria Tell their Stories

Erbil- I had a strange sensation while I was sitting in the counter-terrorism headquarters in Erbil, amidst hundreds of ISIS men distributed in the prison chambers and cells. In the morning I discussed with Kurdistan Democratic Party leader Masoud Barzani the future of Kurds, Iraq and regional affiliates, and in the evening I interviewed detainees over their motives to join ISIS. 

In the headquarters, there are hundreds of detainees from Syrian, Iraqi and other nationalities. There were French and Swedish citizens who were handed over to their governments and there are still three American ISIS members with wide knowledge in the electronic field. 

The detainees are questioned then sent to their countries when possible. However, if they have committed crimes on the territory, then they are referred to trial. Regular visits from the International Committee of the Red Cross and humanitarian organizations are made to provide them with medical care.

The detainees’ confessions contributed in revealing several matters on the way ISIS works, mobilizes, intimidates and executes rules. They also unveiled plans for several groups to act in case the ISIS strongholds collapsed. Therefore, some expect that the group will continue to carry out terrorist attacks in the region and the world.

In the headquarters, I interviewed two ISIS men, a Syrian and an Iraqi, in the presence of two guards.

N.A., born in 1990, received his education in Raqqa and enrolled in a technical institution after acquiring his baccalaureate. “I have four brothers and four sisters. At the onset of the revolution I stopped my studies and participated in peaceful protests in the hope that the regime would change,” he said.

He fought in Raqqa with the Free Syrian Army when the confrontation turned into military action. “My uncle was my supervisor. Then the FSA was forced out of the region so I joined ISIS. I did so because I wanted to fight the regime and because ISIS presented itself as the Sunni defender against the regime’s barbarism. My monthly salary was USD50,” he added. 

N.A. continued that, “last year, me and four others were asked to sneak to Iraqi Kurdistan in a security mission. My role was to build ties with Peshmerga forces, gain their confidence and promise them to provide information about Raqqa so that I become a double agent … We were ambushed at a border region and were arrested in August 2016.”

Before leaving, he said: “Neither ISIS nor the regime have mercy.”

The ISIS Member from Tal Afar

J.W entered the office with a surprised look on his face. “I live in Baghdad but am originally from Tal Afar. I was born in 1986. I received my intermediate studies, then worked with my father in an electronic devices company. We witnessed the discrimination, assassination and marginalization that the Sunnis were facing in Baghdad especially during the term of Nuri al-Maliki.”

He joined ISIS in 2015 and was a soldier before becoming an administrator in a battalion. 

“I feel the regret because like many others I was deceived. We considered that the Sunnis are being threatened and ISIS will defend them … Later on, we discovered that ISIS is the most dangerous method to destroy the Sunnis,” he added.

He handed himself over to the authorities 50 days ago, revealing that his mother visited him and conveyed a threat from his uncle – who belongs to ISIS – that he will kill him at the first opportunity.

Barzani: Maliki’s Crime against Kurdish Region Worse than Saddam’s Anfal Operation

Barzani

Irbil – President of the Kurdish Iraqi Region Masoud Barzani expressed his disappointment and “bitterness” towards former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and Baghdad’s treatment of Kurds during his time in office.

Barzani told Asharq Al-Awsat on Wednesday that Maliki’s term deepened the Kurdish desire for independence from Iraq, accusing the former PM of “committing a crime against the Region that was worse than Saddam Hussein’s Anfal operation” that left more than 180,000 Kurds dead.

He therefore reiterated his commitment to holding the Kurdish independence referendum as scheduled on September 25, saying: “The vote is decisive and it is the choice of the people and the majority of political forces in Kurdistan.”

The referendum must be held on time “unless there is a better alternative”.

Asked if this alternative exists, he replied that “this is just an opinion as there is a higher referendum council in Kurdistan that takes decisions unanimously.”

“We have heard from several sides that the timing of the vote was not appropriate and that it should be postponed for six months or a year…. Such an alternative would require guarantees from the Iraqi government and parliament, the United States, International Coalition, European Union and United Nations,” Barzani explained.

He noted however that such guarantees seem unlikely at the moment, which means that the referendum will be held on time.

Moreover, the Kurdish leader stressed that he will respect the will of the people if they rejected the independence, revealing that he would resign if such a result emerged and possibly quit political life.

He remarked however that it seems that the people are prepared and excited to hold the referendum, predicting that the majority will vote in favor of independence, “but all options are still on the table”.

Commenting on a meeting he held around a month ago with an Iranian delegation, Barzani revealed that it had relayed to him Tehran’s call for cooperation and coordination, but its reservations on the vote.

Iran said that the timing of the referendum was “not appropriate” and that it was better for Irbil and Baghdad to resolve their disputes and return to the constitution. He added that he did not receive any threat from the delegation over the vote, revealing that some Iranian threats were later made through the media, but he did not go into details.

The Kurdish leader also received at a later date Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, who reiterated Iran’s stance on the referendum. The Turkish official noted that the war against ISIS was not over yet and that “the referendum may affect the security and stability in the region.”

“Cavusoglu acknowledged that the Kurds have been wronged, that the constitution was not properly implemented and that the region has the right to demand these rights, but hoped that this may take place within Iraq,” continued Barzani.

“We explained to him our perspective and our frustration after all efforts to establish real partnership with Baghdad failed. We did agree on maintaining contacts,” he said.

This is the same stance that he relayed to US Secretary of Defense James Mattis, who echoed Ankara and Tehran’s concerns over the referendum.

Barzani did not rule out the possibility that the Kurdish region may end up being “besieged by Iran, Turkey and Syria,” adding: “We may be harmed by this, by they will be harmed even more if they resort to such a step.”

On the post-Saddam period after 2003, he expressed his “huge” frustration over the failure to establish a diversified and democratic Iraq.

“Everyone knows that we exerted great efforts to prepare for the overthrow of the regime in 2002 and we took part in the military operations. We have no regrets, but we were hoping for a greater opportunity and a chance for a new Iraq, based on fraternity and a federal democracy. We tried hard to achieve this goal, including the drafting of and voting on the constitution. Had it not been for the Kurdish people, the constitution would not have been a success,” he stressed.

“We initially agreed to establish a democratic civil state, but day after day it became very clear that the state shifted to become a religious sectarian one in Baghdad,” he lamented.

“They mobilized armies against us and cut the Kurdish region’s budget. Even if there are disputes between the region and Baghdad, how is this acceptable? Let us assume that we are in the wrong, how could a prime minister dare, with a stroke of a pen, cut the livelihood of an entire people? This is another form of the Anfal operation,” he declared.

“Yes, Maliki committed another version of the Anfal operation, but in another uglier way. We did not hear single voice of protest by any religious leadership or Shi’ite political parties in Iraq. We sought to establish a democratic federal Iraq, but Baghdad refused and we reached a conviction that we are not wanted there.”

He also accused the former Iraqi premier of withholding arms dedicated to the Kurdish Peshmerga forces that were allotted to it by the constitution. These same weapons eventually landed in the hands of ISIS, he revealed.

“Even in the war against ISIS, they did not offer to help us. We are the ones who helped the Iraqi army and allowed it to come to Mosul. We destroyed ISIS’ first line of defense and opened the way for the army… Even up to this moment, violations were committed, not by the army, but the Popular Mobilization Forces,” Barzani said.

In fact, he stated that he was surprised by the close cooperation between the Peshmerga and Iraqi army, despite the 50 to 60 years of war between them.

Asked if current Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi’s arrival to office improved ties between Irbil and Baghdad, Barzani replied: “He wanted to resolve these problems and he is different from others, but there are several obstacles ahead of him. I enjoy good ties with him and we are in constant contact, but I have reached a conclusion that Abadi cannot fulfill his pledges to us due to reasons out of his control.”

This reality and “the failure of Arab-Kurdish coexistence” in Iraq prompted Kurdistan to push for independence, he stressed.

Victory and Questions on the ISIS Hurricane

Iraqi forces make a "V" sign and display an Iraqi flag as part of a victory celebration after defeating ISIS militants and retaking the Grand al-Nuri Mosque in the Old City in Mosul.

Anyone who defeats ISIS has the right to celebrate. This dangerous organization is an existential threat that can’t be tamed or lived with. The choice is clear: you either eradicate it or it eradicates you.

ISIS surfaced with a hurricane of blood, mud, and darkness. It tore maps and destroyed cities near or far.

Swiftly, ISIS topped the list of threatening dangers. Destroying it became a national, regional, international and humanitarian need.

Defeating ISIS became inevitable, especially as it inhabited a well-known location.

Those who underestimate ISIS or defeating it are mistaken. Also, wrong are those who believe that the terrorist organization is the only problem and its military defeat will make it easy to return to life before its existence.

This is not a storm that blew into a city and it suffices to fix the windows after it subsided. This is an unprecedented hurricane. It blew into our region, killing, destroying and enslaving until erasing the Iraqi-Syrian border. It then began expanding in every direction.

It is a mistake as well to blame ISIS for all the piling dead bodies. Surely, it was the worst murderer whether it killed or gave others the reasons to take it too far.

There is no need for numbers and statistics.

We are talking about hundreds of thousands of deaths and millions of refugees and displaced citizens of several wars that mixed with ISIS’ wars.

Losses are estimated to be in hundreds of millions and a similar amount will be needed for reconstruction.

We stand before a large number of orphans, widows, and handicapped.

ISIS killed who it claimed it was avenging and it granted an even larger legitimacy for those who claimed they were fighting it.

ISIS’ defeaters have the right to celebrate. But at the same time, it is their duty to remember that fighters couldn’t have exploited a country unless its nationalism was deeply fractured.

This obscurant organization couldn’t have found refuge if there weren’t marginalized groups so desperate, that they would work with the devil.

Roaming fighters can’t violate a natural state that welcomes all its components with a just constitution and legitimate normal institutions.

Terrorism can seep into a strong state and disturb its security, but it can’t create safe havens and training camps to recruit new generations of suicide bombers and killers.

Takfirist ideology can’t reside in any country unless it is going through a crisis and its components are exchanging hatred waiting for a chance to attack one another.

To make things clearer, we can pose the question of whether ISIS would have been able to control Mosul in Iraq if the Shiite-Sunni relations had been normal and the partnership had been secured on basis of nationalism.

Could the army have surrendered to ISIS this quickly had it felt that residents of the city were also against the attackers?

There is a great difference between winning a battle against a terrorist organization and defeating terrorism.

Great victory means setting the foundations for stability and that is achieved through a modern state; that is, a country of national partnership, institutions and equality.

Luckily for Iraq, the army that was affected by Mosul’s falling under ISIS’ control, managed due to the enormous sacrifices, to eradicate ISIS from Mosul and is now heading towards defeating it in Tal Afar.

Iraq must have a strong army even if other forces helped in combating ISIS. The terrorist organization couldn’t have been able to do what it did on Iraqi territories had the Iraqi politicians took the battle of building a state after the toppling of Saddam Hussein’s regime.

This is a decade lost in Iraq’s history that ended in falling into ISIS’ trap.

Despite its numerous lessons, we should leave the past behind. Iraq received international and regional support in its war on ISIS.

I once asked a source involved in the war, he informed me that it would have lasted for years hadn’t it been for the US raids.

Today, we are required to invest this international and regional support and Arab sympathy and convert the victory into a chance for stability.

The only solution is to return to the state and leave behind old methods of revenge and settling the scores.

Iraq won’t be able to cross over into the desired stability unless the majority considered the national partnership that dictates full respect of Sunnis rights, aside from the politics of assigning Sunni representatives who are neither respected in their towns nor their areas.

The Sunni component should be realistic enough to turn the page and let go of the past.

To be able to move from victory to stability, one must face the questions that surfaced when the now-receding hurricane blew our way.

Iraq is to face another milestone in September: the independence referendum of Kurdistan region. I for one believe that Kurds will choose to remain within the Iraqi map if they received their rights, freedom and enough reassurances.

If Haidar al-Abadi played the exceptional role of creating the circumstances that enabled defeating ISIS, avoiding separation with Kurdistan is worth another shot. Success is only guaranteed if Abadi is fully authorized to offer Kurds anything that convinces them their future is better guaranteed as they remain part of Iraq rather than separating from it.

Military victory is not enough. There must be a project to ensure stability and stability won’t have a chance without a battle for a modern, fair state.

Any other thing being said will waste people’s sacrifices and might open the door for a hurricane to blow.

A stable Iraq is an Iraqi, Arab, and international need.

It pains Arabs to see Baghdad wounded or broken.

Why do We Attack the World?

Whenever an explosion shakes a city, the same scene is repeated. I see eyes fastened to the breaking news on the screens. I hear the whispers of my colleagues: let’s hope the perpetrator is not an Arab; let’s hope he’s not a Muslim; we don’t need more…

I hear them and share their hopes; but the events quickly contest our wishes. It is no longer a secret that the attack on the world is an appalling specialty that we are unique in.

I know quite well that the man who ran over the tourists here or there does not represent his country or the confession to which he belongs; that he did not obtain official permission to commit his crime; that he was wanted in his country before being included in international lists of wanted individuals; and that the threat he represents to his hometown is more dangerous than his threat to the distant crime scene.

I know that intolerance is not confined to a certain people, a sect or a country; and that frenetic persons are sons of many different springs. But we have to admit unequivocally that we are the record holders of world aggressions. And we have booked ourselves an invincible position in the Guinness Book.

I do not exaggerate dear reader. The sight of tourists bleeding to death as a result of an attack perpetrated by a person coming from our region hits me in great confusion. I don’t know why I feel the duty to apologize to a Chinese family, who happened to be in Barcelona, or a Japanese man who was strolling in Nice, or a German who was on a visit to Luxor. This is awful.

Who gave us the right to violate maps, states and cities? Who gave us the right to assassinate young people celebrating life in Istanbul? Who gave us the right to assassinate the residents of the twin towers in New York?

The invocation of injustice here or there is just a curtain to hide a deep desire to kill the other; a deep desire to eliminate those whose features and affiliations do not match ours. Let’s suppose that injustice was done; do we respond to it by inflicting even greater injustice on innocent people? Talks about the world’s hatred of us are not true.

One cannot deny limited harming practices that can occur sometimes in the West in response to our rude performances, but they certainly do not rise to the level of death banquets that we organize at different and far-flung theaters.

Those, who know the West, are aware that the law there has sovereignty and priority that benefits even the advocates of hatred. Many know that Arab and Muslim communities enjoy freedom in Europe often lacking in their homeland.

Why do we attack the world? Is it because it chose to sail towards the future, while we are determined to sail back to the past? Is it because it invented the plane in which we travel? The car we ride? And the cancer medicine we use in our hospitals?
Then what is the validity of this hatred towards the West when we wish to see our children and grandchildren graduate from its universities?

Why do we attack the world? Is it because we have failed to build modern states… to achieve development… to provide employment… to guarantee freedoms and consolidate the rule of law?

Do we see in the progress of the other a defeat to us and a threat to our existence?
Does the solution lie in detonating ourselves or instead coming out of the tunnels in which we have long chosen to reside?

Is it true that we are horrified by the multiplicity of colors, choices and opportunities and we seek to preserve the one-color world that we perceive as the guarantee of our existence and the continuity of our identity far from any interaction or enrichment?

Is it true that we are alarmed whenever we hear the bells of the new era ringing? The bells of science, technology, medicine, ideas, culture, education and music…

Why do we attack the world? From where did we bring this huge amount of hatred? Why are we tempted to collide with the world instead of living with and within it?

Why do we favor explosions over dialogue? Death over interaction and settlement? Rubble over accommodation in common homes? Ashes over multiplicity? Why do we prefer to retreat instead of extending our hands to peace? Why do we choose the recipe of murder rather than dialogue and recognition?

We cannot continue to attack the world. This policy means destroying our societies before destroying a cafe, museum or a tower in other people’s world.

Roving killers assassinate their homeland while they have the illusion of attacking other countries.

Those countries, which seem fragile, are able to live with the danger, because they are states and institutions that commit mistakes, correct them, reconsider their calculations and promote their capabilities.

It is time to put the war on extremism as a first priority in our life. It is imperative to eradicate the extremism dictionary from homes, neighborhoods, schools and the different curricula. The flow of hatred feelings on the screens and social media must be stopped.

We must ask ourselves about the culture that promotes the rise of this tendency to attack the world. In the absence of a daring rational confrontation, we will sink even further in mud and blood and we will produce more roving killers.

A European Cure for the Arab Patient

Europe

For years, he used to sit at the cafe near his home. He would sit with his book, newspaper and coffee cup before leaving. In the early 1980s, all that remained was eluding time, being wary of weather changes, wisely spending his pension, listening to doctors’ orders and counting the number of friends he has left.

He does not like to delve into politics. He believes that it requires a great knowledge of the details, but this does not eliminate the fact that he harbors bad feelings towards former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. He said that Britain had committed enough mistakes throughout history and it does not need another one, like when it invaded Iraq. He stressed that his country does not have the right to topple a leader and appoint another. Perhaps the United Nations could play such a role in times of great need. Britain does not have the right to overthrow a regime and then withdraw, leaving behind a war that does not spare any human or building from its destruction.

Recently a new woe was added to the old ones. The man participated in the referendum on leaving the European Union. He cast a vote for remaining part of Europe. It never occurred to him that the majority of Britons would choose divorce. The result devastated him.

He said that the Britons committed great treason against the major dream called the European house. He noted that the dream was stabbed by people who do not have a memory and who have forgotten that this dream came true after a horrific tragedy that the continent witnessed and bloodied the whole world with it.

He said that this is a very serious issue, asking: Can such a major accomplishment be placed in the hands of a generation whose feelings can be manipulated through social media? He warned that the manipulation by populists, who are chanting flashy slogans, could lead the world on adventures that were long thought to be history.

He stressed that he is an honest Briton, who is proud of his roots. This loyalty is not directed against others, but it is European as much as it is British. He said that he is happy because he has a grandson working in Spain and another working in Belgium. He considers that the presence of other Europeans in Britain is natural and a source of prosperity and stability. He revealed that the European dream enriched him and offered him opportunities of cooperation to resolve problems. The decision to exit Europe diminished this dream and the room for maneuvering. It also restored the fear of returning to cages where bruised nationalism and old hatred thrive.

He recounted to me how, when he was young, German planes had pounced on Britain, how cities after the war looked like fields of orphans, widows, rubble and sad stories. He said that the beasts of history were awakened in that period and maps were ripped up, capitals were destroyed and nothing remained but the stench of fear, death, defiance, sweat and tears.

The European dream was born out of these horrors. The Europeans decided that the time had come to bury the hatred of history and its knives. They took a major decision whose essence was thinking of the future of their grandchildren instead of continuing in waging the wars of their ancestors. British-French and grueling German-French wars were now subjects left to historians. The Europeans decided to save their children and grandchildren from Hitler and his kind.

Institutions are the secret of the European house. These institutions guarantee, punish, plan and preempt. They have an independent judiciary, modern management and freedom of expression. These institutions prevent Europe from falling into wars similar to the ones of the past. The Yugoslavian explosion was an exception. The European institutions allowed the continent to contain the world war-like fallout of the collapse of Soviet empire.

I listened to my British friend and thought about the terrible Middle East, specifically the position of the Arabs and the many human and financial losses that the Arab countries have suffered that are equal to a world war. The storms have exposed us. He have countries that are prone to fragmentation, peoples ready for displacement, intifadas that can be aborted and armies with weakening loyalty We have women who are ready to be widowed and children who are destined to be orphaned. Only the institutions can save us from this long stay in hell.

When will our people wake up? Where are our universities? Where are our writers and pioneers? It is as if we enjoy living in the dark like bats. We want development, progress and dignity. We want cities, universities and job opportunities. We want institutions that plan and hold accountability. We are fed up with standing on the margins of history, We want to forge ahead into the future and save our grandchildren from the fate of our ancestors.

We will not be able to leave the terrible Middle East if we keep holding on to the daggers, spite and intolerance of our ancestors. We want other ideas that are open to this age and open to tomorrow. We want to be a normal and respectable nation. We will not be able to leave the age of Arab ruin unless we learn from out catastrophe as Europe learned from its own. It is not enough to take off the clothes of your grandfather, but you should put the thoughts you inherited to the test of the age. You will not head to the future if you do not ease the weight of intolerance and darkness.

Coexistence or ISIS

A member loyal to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) waves an ISIL flag in Raqqa

The ISIS terrorist organization was established after the collapse of a series of coexistence trials. It changed maps and tore borders apart, and maps are like buildings, they always need maintenance. Negligence speeds up their demise with walls cracking and doors breaking down. Factionalism policies rattle their core and peace.

This gives “black winds” the chance to infiltrate into them. Songs and armies are not enough to protect the borders. Based on experiences, borders fall from within before they are violated from the outside.

Today, the region rejoices the series of strikes against ISIS, and it is within its right to celebrate. ISIS is a storm of blood and mud and a heavy chapter of injustice and darkness in the story of time. Stories of those captivated or orphaned by ISIS are both heartbreaking and terrifying.

But, what is more important than victorious celebrations are the lessons learned.

This terrible organization wasn’t dropped over our societies but rather penetrated through cracks and supported by experienced fighters driven by their grudges. ISIS couldn’t have violated borders hadn’t they were already suffering and it couldn’t have settled in the region hadn’t the national will been torn apart.

War on ISIS seems a difficult one with suicide bombers, tunnels, explosives, and young men brainwashed until they became bombs searching for a chance to detonate themselves.

Yet despite its importance, this war should be part of a more comprehensive war. Real victory is overcoming the idea of ISIS and the circumstances that facilitated the birth of the organization and its infiltration into one country or another.

Without an encompassing confrontation against ISIS on the streets, in the club or school books, media and mosques, the war on the terrorist organization remains incomplete and the results are endangered.

ISIS militants can escape and live as lone wolves waiting for the right moment to explode anywhere.

The most important thing about a broad confrontation is taking a difficult and probably painful decision to coexist. This doesn’t mean returning to the fake coexistence on television that failed its first test. The point is to have people within countries and countries live together.

One must admit that ISIS leader Abu Baker al-Baghdadi couldn’t have emerged in Mosul, Iraq and open the door on this costly tragedy had the relations between Iraqi components been healthy and normal.

ISIS wouldn’t have been able to infiltrate into Syrian territories and take over the popular revolution causing its failure if relations between Syrian components had been natural within a normal state.

We must make the decision to coexist with the world and the different various beliefs, ethnicities, and colors without thinking that we should impose our beliefs on the world or otherwise destroy it.

Believing that we have to subjugate the world into becoming like us is the shortest way towards becoming a ticking bomb in this world. We enter into a crushing clash more than we can handle if we fail to admit to one’s right to be different.

Considering anyone different from us as an enemy or someone who strayed from the right path consolidates demarcation which blocks any cooperation we need to achieve progress reached by other countries.

Those countries went through their own costly experiences and survived with the belief that being different can enrich them and is a right that should be respected. Thinking that it is our duty to salvage humanity based on a single concept that can’t be interpreted or even without considering any other forms puts us in front of a wall and pushes us towards disaster.

Before making the decision to coexist with other people outside our region, living with others within the region must be determined. Considering every different idea a crime and a threat is the first step towards civil wars, identities terminations, and massacres. We must admit to other people’s right in a building, or a village, or a city to be different, and it is within their right to be equal and feel safe in a state based on citizenship and not on a majority, regardless of demographic percentages and modifications.

There is no way out of this hellhole that created hundreds of thousands of casualties and millions of refugees unless we coexist. Without deciding that, every victory is threatened of becoming another round in a war that settles and rekindles.

Without a true determination, torn societies will be the perfect opportunities for ISIS and similar organizations to resurface again.

Final triumph over ISIS can’t happen without the mission to build a truly modern state with rights and duties. It is not possible without citizenship in a country that respects the right to be different and a country of opportunities, comprehensive development, welcoming curriculum, and open and responsible media.

There is no way out of this hellhole if interventions and coups continue and if elimination and hatred policies are still used. For ages now, we tried these vindictive futile policies and retaliations that took us out of the race for the future, poisoned our states, capitals, and colleges. We can’t keep swimming in these turbid waters.

Determination doesn’t mean that we are personally turning our children and their children into fuel for upcoming wars, nor does it mean we allow our countries to become pools of blood struggling with poverty and unemployment.

Our problem didn’t begin with ISIS’ existence to end with a military victory over it. Our real issue is failing the test of time to follow up development and modern age. Our problem is that we don’t want to pay for the train ticket heading towards the future.

Swimming in the Big Chaos

When Kim Jong-Un makes an appearance surrounded by his generals, the world should expect an interesting news. Then, he laughs out loud and you know that his country’s missile arsenal has a new and more terrifying addition.

In this case, South Korea should be careful and Japan must review its safety conditions.

Evidently, all countries will shift attention towards the master of the White House, the only one capable of restraining the North Korean leader, if he intended to carry on his threats.

Kim Jong-Un might sometimes appear as a reckless young man playing at the edge of the abyss. He is tempted to play with the famous US boxer.

Missile and nuclear blackmail has already provided his country with revenues and aid. The current chaos in the big league provokes him to take over the big screen and escalate provocations.

Kim believes in the doctrine of his father and grandfather. He is a ruler undeterred by poverty rates or number of people dead due to famine. Criticism by organizations or newspapers is not welcomed in his country.

Collision with the outside world is beneficial for his regime’s unity. The beloved leader doesn’t fear UN Resolutions or pleas made by its members. There is no need to be worried about the Council unless the big powers agreed and a US-General sponsored execution began, which is unlikely and inconceivable currently.

This time, Kim went too far. He said that all of the US territories are within the missile range, any time and any place, adding that Washington’s war threat justifies North Korea’s desire to develop nuclear weapons. He disregarded US threats and criticism, and Chinese and Russian advice.

The North Korean leader probably realizes the club of great powers is in crisis, which is preventing it from issuing a unified resolution to halt his capabilities of disturbing his neighbors and the world.

The North Korean defiance bothered US President Donald Trump. This is a new challenge to his country’s image and blatant test to his personal image. Trump surpassed his previous reservations and directly criticized China for not doing anything concerning North Korea’s violations, despite being the country most capable of pressuring Kim and his regime.

There is no sign of anything good happening.

The following day, Chinese President Xi Jinping exhibited the troops participating in a military parade organized by People’s Liberation Army soldiers. This is the first parade of its kind since 1949, and the president made sure to attend the ceremony, sending more than a message.

Many linked this to a possible escalation in the Korean file and the tensions in the South China Sea.

Such a scene could have not been a source of concern had relations between Washington and Moscow been normal or semi-normal.

Truth is that these relations have been witnessing a new deterioration which suggests that any bridge-building is unlikely on the short run.

The US Senate imposed new sanctions on Russia, to which Moscow responded by asking Washington to reduce its diplomatic representation, hinting it would take stronger measures if the US proceeded with its current policy.

Prior to entering the White House, Trump dreamt of reestablishing relations with Russia. Vladimir Putin was looking forward to normalizing ties, which technically mean ending sanctions issued after Russia took Crimea and destabilized Ukraine, in addition to admitting Russia’s new international position especially after its military intervention that changed the course of developments in Syria.

The US Senate didn’t settle with the new sanctions, it was as if it had tied the President’s hands to lift off the sanctions. The sanctions are highly welcomed especially after security agencies confirmed that Russian hackers intervened in the US elections.

The deterioration of US-Russian relations is not good news for Middle Eastern countries, which are witnessing a bloodshed that is more alarming than the international political tension.

Before such deterioration, an assumption prevailed that the Syrian crisis might consolidate Russian-US cooperation in countering terrorism and containing the spread of the fire raging in Syria.

Washington recently conveyed a message that it is no longer concerned with the departure of President Bashar al-Assad, not for the time being at least. The US is wiling to accept a Russian Syria if it guarantees that Iranian Syria wouldn’t be established.

After the recent deterioration in US-Russia relations, countries in the Middle East should wonder how it will reflect on the region and the Syrian crisis. Some even believe that with more tension, Moscow would enhance its relations with Iran, making it more difficult to curb new Iranian missile tests, in addition to its policy of (committing) violations in the region.

Such deterioration could create additional complications in other areas especially if the current crisis in Venezuela became a bloody mess.

Sanctions are damaging Russia’s economy, which are already affected by oil prices. Some believe that Moscow will not hesitate to bring up the Ukrainian issue again to heighten European fears from US sanctions.

This is a difficult strain in relations among the club of great powers. A bloody and deadly crisis in the Middle East. There isn’t a new international system within reach or a regional system in the making.

Countries of the Middle East will have to swim across its old and current crises as well as the huge international chaos.

Seals and Delusions

OP

Rulers need someone to protect them from excessive dreaming that leads to falling into delusions. The need for that doubles if the ruler of a certain country is wealthy.

With the absence of institutions and guarantees, no minister or adviser dares to trouble the leader with a report about how hard things are or about the actual dangers. Usually, the commander would hear what makes him happy apart from facts and reality.

The truth is that unnatural roles coming out of illusions soon become a burden. The circumstances of the “Arab Spring” allowed Qatar to play a role founded on the expenses of others and sovereignty of other states.

This is a role that Qatar can’t maintain or even manage, especially that it increased the winds of instability in more than one place.

The only way out is to end this role play and abandon what led to it.

The leader has the right to dream and put his country’s capabilities to serve those dreams. But dreams should take into consideration the country’s map and its ability to withstand the adventures.

Who even said that a ruler can achieve his dreams on others’ lands, like deciding who rules them or what regime to govern them?

Take my country for example. Is it right for Lebanon to decide who rules Syria? If we assume it is just, does this mean that Syria can determine who leads Lebanon, too? We can not reject the second assumption without refusing the first.

In the same context, we ask ourselves if, taking advantage of its resources, can Qatar determine the fate of Egypt?

There is a huge difference for Qatar to have a saying in the current situation in Egypt and support groups that are trying to change the regime by force. If Doha assumes it has the right to intervene in Egypt, why shouldn’t Cairo treat it the same way?

By using its ability to attract people or factions in a dismantled country as Libya, can Qatar, for instance, decide who should be its president or minister of defense? Why should Doha deny others the same right it granted itself?

For example, is it acceptable for Doha to back groups infiltrating into countries they don’t belong to and kill and bomb there?

Countries have the right to dream and to be motivated by revolution. But it is not within its right to cross over from the land of dreams to fantasies.

Only natural roles last. If not compatible with international law and conventions, major roles implode in small states. Countries that are relatively small can’t digest grand roles gained through maneuvers and under-the-table plots. Roles yanked in a haste and against nature, can’t survive long at the expense of natural roles.

States, like individuals, are tempted by roles of announced and secret mediation or direct or proxy interventions. The situation becomes dangerous that the person is so convinced he can re-form powers in conflict zones and is capable of shifting historical balances.

Middle East’s arenas are tempting for intervention. Countries always find an excuse to cross over borders and settle the scores. But these arenas are risky and it is hard for a new leader without any basis to rule it for a long time.

The only way out of the current crisis is through returning from the times of delusions. Qatar, like any other country, has the right to have a saying in what’s going on in the region and the world. But, it doesn’t have the right to devote its different capabilities in an agenda to create chaos in the region.

This chaos only serves non-Arab powers in the region.

Despite differences of countries, sizes, and eras, lessons should be learned.

Hasn’t Kuwait invasion been the fruit of holder of seals in Iraq changing from dreams to delusions? Didn’t Saddam believe he was capable of changing things and that the region will bow down to what he has done and the world would have to deal with it?

The results don’t need further explanations or comments.

Also, Muammar Gadhafi crossed over from the land of dreams to trap of illusions. He secretly sent money to armed groups in more than one continent. He wasn’t hesitant to use the embassies of his country to send bombs and mess with nearby and far away states.

Gadhafi received British Prime Minister Toni Blair and sat pointing the sole of his shoes at him. Where is Gadhafi now? Where is Blair? What about Libya and UK?

During his ruling, Gadhafi rejoiced that Silvio Berlusconi kissed him on the hand. But what happened to Gadhafi and Berlusconi?

A leader should be careful of excessive praise. It is pure poison. It leads to a trap of delusions and that is where the disaster begins.

It is so hard when delusions take over the ruler.​ ​

Liberation of Mosul, Return of Iraq

The state of ISIS was not expected to live long. Neither Iraq can bear a cancerous tumor of this kind, nor the Kurdistan region can accept such a dangerous neighbor.

The countries of the region cannot be lenient towards it. The world cannot tolerate it. Al-Baghdadi’s state raised everyone’s concerns. It had to be eradicated, and this is what happened.

From the very beginning, experts said that the terrorist state’s fall would be inevitable. Terrorism makes a fatal mistake when it has a well-known location that can be prayed. Terrorism is powerful when it is concealed and unpredicted, and when it does not have a specific “billing” address to hold it accountable for its doings.

Iraqi authorities have the right to celebrate the victory. ISIS’ control over Mosul was a serious threat to the country’s stability and existence. It was a project of an open massacre and a permanent sedition.

One does not exaggerate when saying that the achieved victory has erased a painful memory three years ago, when entire divisions of the Iraqi Army surrendered to ISIS and enabled the terrorist group to seize a full arsenal of modern American weapons.

The Iraqi Army made great sacrifices to wipe out that image and save the city and the country. The Peshmerga forces, in turn, paid a heavy price to thwart ISIS’ dream of consolidating its presence in the region and across the borders with Iran, Turkey and Syria.

Haider al-Abadi had the right to salute the forces celebrating victory. He is the Prime Minister and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces. His tenure and his experience were certainly dangled on the outcome of the Mosul battle. Today, he can say that the army was defeated under his predecessor, but won under his reign. Mosul fell in the era of Maliki and was restored in the era of Abadi.

The victory of Mosul has uplifted his legitimacy within his own party and at the national level. This is not a small matter for anyone who knows the story of the thorny relationship between the current prime minister and his predecessor, who remained dominant in political life despite leaving the office in the wake of the Mosul disaster.

When talking about defeating ISIS, it is necessary to pay attention to developments that preceded the invasion of Mosul. The truth is that the terrorist group was practically the result of a number of mistakes, factional politics and regional intervention that have accompanied the rift in the Iraqi structure and the relations between the country’s components.

ISIS was born on a scene that has witnessed wrong decisions and provocative policies. One must not forget the decision of Paul Bremer to dissolve the Iraqi army followed by a decision to uproot the Baath party, which has led the soldiers of Saddam Hussein’s army into the wings of the resistance, then into the hands of “jihadist” organizations, and to Baghdadi’s terrorist group.

ISIS also emerged because the winning team, which was Shi’ite, did not rush to place its victory at the disposal of a state-for-all project. Part of that team has dealt with victory as a means to settle a historical account, which paved the way for the establishment of a new injustice based on the revenge of a previous discrimination.

Neither the winning team has well managed its victory nor the defeated team has used the best policy to reduce its losses.

There is a striking fact in this context. Following the fall of Saddam Hussein, a delegation of Sunni Arab activists visited Kurdistan Region President Masoud Barzani to discuss the future of Iraq. During the meeting, Barzani advised the members of the delegation to form a body to speak in their name and express their concerns and fears to other components.

Barzani stressed before the delegation that it was important to spare Iraq a bloody clash between its constituents. He said Sunni Arabs should consider their position in the new Iraq because returning to the past was impossible.

He noted that the Iraqi Constitution provides for the right to establish regions that keep Iraq unified but reduce the causes of rift and collision between the country’s factions. He also said that the Arab Sunnis should think about their future because they would have to pay the price for any divisions among them.

Arab Sunni leaders failed to agree. Some of them were drifted by the new situation and were tempted by the gains, while others were attached to the dream of turning the clock back.

As the Sunni presence in the military and security institutions and decision-making circles has dropped, and as Iran bolstered its role in managing Iraq, part of the Sunni public opinion was attracted to suicide options and ISIS found a window to infiltrate into the country.

This is not meant to underestimate the victory that has sparked an Arab, Islamic and international relief. What is meant to say is that the defeat of ISIS militants does not imply the end of the terrorist group, which might become more dangerous when it loses its known address. The victory over an ISIS militant may be easier than the victory of the idea of ISIS itself.

The permanent triumph over the conditions that facilitated the birth of ISIS necessitates reforms, reevaluation of policies and the building of a state of institutions in Iraq. This means the adoption of the principle of citizenship and national partnership and respect for the Constitution, as well as reinstating the state authority and its ability to make decisions in Baghdad.

In order to prevent the reemergence of “ISIS” and to deter the birth of a similar or more dangerous group, Abadi must turn the Mosul victory into an opportunity to build an Iraqi state on the basis of reconciliation and partnership – a basis that transcends sectarian and confessional considerations.

Haider al-Abadi should pay attention to his watch. Difficulties are colossal and the pressure is great. But turning the Mosul battle into an imminent return of Iraq deserves this journey: the return of Iraq as a normal state after the restoration of relations between all of its components.

If this spirit prevails in Baghdad, it will certainly be possible to find a formula to keep the Kurdistan region part of Iraq, even if the Kurdish component said its word in the referendum.

The return of Iraq is an urgent Iraqi necessity and an Arab and regional requisite. The rift in the Iraqi society has unleashed the appetite of non-Arab countries in the region. Moreover, conflicts within the Arab Sunni community have led to disintegration and fragmentation and transformed the country into an arena for local and foreign militias.

Latest statements by the authorities over the necessity to treat all Iraqis equally before the law should encourage Abadi to go further in this attempt.

Mosul’s liberation is not enough. Iraq must return to its unity and institutions, freedom of decision and respect for its borders. Iraq is not a peripheral country, neither in geography nor in history. It is only through the vigilance of the Iraqi spirit, away from feelings of intolerance and narrowness that the Iraqi entity is preserved and the return of ISIS is prevented.