The War Diaries

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Archive for the ‘Kurdistan’ Category

Ten Years On, Militant Salafism and Millenarian Shi’ism Conflating Iraq and Syria Wars

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On the road outside Nasiriyah following an American Humvee, May 2003. The gulf in understanding between Iraqis and their newly arrived American interlopers was visibly evident in the differences in driving styles and bizarre hand gestures made toward locals by the U.S. soldiers. From the very beginning, the Office of Special Plans ambitious Iraq project appeared doomed, at least in my personal observations. ©2003 Derek Henry Flood

New York- I have a new article out on how the ongoing war in Syria is helping stoke sectarian tensions in Iraq that are manifesting themselves in the form of daily suicide bombings, shootings, and dual massive AQ jailbreaks. My article examines how the unrelenting carnage in Syria has not only taken the place of Iraq in the global media spotlight, but is also directly fueling renewed conflict in Iraq itself. The Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), sometimes referred to as al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) has now added “ash-Sham” (“the Levant”-i.e. Syria and perhaps they’re including Lebanon as well). So the ISI is now the ISIS. Sunni Salafism has only expanded in Syria as the fractious umbrella of the Free Syrian Army is simply a much less efficient fighting force than their jihadi counterparts.

Screen shot 2013-07-23 at 2.36.27 PM At the same time, Hezbollah from Lebanon and Shia groups from Iraq are officially sending in fighters to both the front line in places like al-Qusayr and to protect Shia holy places like the shrine of Sayyida Zaynab on the outskirts of Damascus and When the Sayyida Zainab site is perceived as threatened, it makes for a an easily rallying call for Shia on either side of Syria to mobilize to protect and defend not only the religious pilgrimage site, but also the Assad regime that controls the territory such a site rests on.

Both Salafi-jihadis and more Qom-oriented activist Shia have been working to unite Syria and Iraq as a single battleground. Though there are important schisms within the Shia perspective such as Najaf vs. Qom and creating a Sunni Islamic state within borders of a finite post-colonial nation-state vs. an idealized borderless caliphate, it cannot be denied or played down that the wars in Syria and Iraq are now inextricably linked. And Lebanon has been drawn in in full view in terms of sub-state or non-state groups protecting what the believe are their interests in Syria.

Najaf Iraq 2003 from Derek Flood on Vimeo.

This is not at all to suggest there aren’t very local contexts underlying the individual decisions of specific militant movements on when to act and how to pursue their goals. Within the two respective wars there has been for some time been speculation about whether the more dominant phenomena is competition between groups or cooperation between them based on clearly drawn ideological lines. But when one goes to the trouble (or risk) of taking an on the ground look, the old adage tends to ring true that the situations are neither black nor white.

A pre-World War II atlas map of Iraq from my personnel collection. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

A pre-World War II atlas map of Iraq from my personnal collection. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

Many Western analysts believe in taking stands based on what stands for empirical data in what are quite confusing battle fronts in reality and then sticking by said positions, perhaps engaging in a passive-agressive tête-à-tête via social media rather than admit they made need to adjust their stance in the face of a new ground reality. Iraq and Syria are deeply complex places plagued by schism upon schism whether in the realms of theology or politics. These dynamics are fluid and will remain so with even the most nimble global shuttle diplomat having neither the knowledge nor the resources to quell them. The United States may have pulled nearly all of its troops out of Iraq in December 2011 but the war is far from over.

Najaf poster-web

Outside the shrine of Imam Ali in Najaf, a young Shia hoists a poster of Imam Hussein cradling his infant son on a white horse during the battle of Karbala in 680 A.D. ©2003 Derek Henry Flood

Mic man-web

Groups from all over Iraq (and Iran) came to celebrate Mawlid un-Nabi (the Prophet’s birthday). Each one seemed to have a megaphone rocking chant leader urging his followers to pious elation. ©2003 Derek Henry Flood

iraqi boys play atop a destroyed Soviet BTR armored personnel carrier on the road between Nasiriyah and Najaf. ©2003 Derek Henry Flood

iraqi boys play atop a destroyed Soviet BTR armored personnel carrier on the road between Nasiriyah and Najaf. I sometimes reflect back and wonder what became of the people I photographed a decade ago. I fear to think what may have happened to some of them. ©2003 Derek Henry Flood

Written by derekhenryflood

July 23rd, 2013 at 2:50 pm

A Decade of War and Peace

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Barcelona- Partly out of boredom and partly out of the itch to simply create something new out of old, I threw together this photo montage over the weekend. In this era of digital photography where one shoots thousands of frames rather than analog hundreds, I was reflecting on how almost all of the images I make will never see the light of day in this regard. I put this video together in a largely random fashion with images that have been just sitting in my laptop for years. I put the photos in the order they came to me as I grabbed them one by one from various folders containing my view of many of the biggest news events of the last 10 years.

Interspersed with them are much more sublime moments of everyday life around the world. An elephant in Thailand, an aged priest in Ethiopia, a glitzy office tower in Manhattan. This has been my reality and is our collective reality. Globalization and social networking simultaneously accelerate worldwide travel and technological integration while hyper compartmentalizing our lives. We speak more so to only those who we want to and listen to those with whom we already agree.

Dr. Abdullah Abdullah preparing to depart for Ghazni province with the Afghan airforce to campaign in remote ethnic Hazara villages. Abdullah was the leading opposition candidate challenging President Hamid Karzai in the August 2009 elections. On the right stands a Shi’ite Seyyid accompanying him to Shia population centers for campaign credibility. ©2009 Derek Henry Flood

No one knows just where any of this is going. Billionaire fraudsters suddenly imprisoned, social revolutions springing up from seemingly nowhere (though not quite), calcified dictatorships counted on for decades in the interests of “stability” suddenly crumbling to pieces, it seems as if the entire world order is in question.

No grand conspiracy here, just plain, old awful war. On August 15, 2006, a Lebanese ambulance lay destroyed by what appeared to be an Israeli missile strike (quite possibly a drone strike or SPIKE anti-tank missile) outside of Sidon in southern Lebanon, an irrefutable violation of the Geneva Conventions on war crimes. Pro-Likud right-wing bloggers would dare say scenes like these were part of elaborate false flag operations by Hezbollah or photoshop masterpieces by left-wing or pro-Hezbollah journalists meant to demonize the Israel Defense Forces. This ambulance was not part of the so-called “ambulance controversy” nor am I aware that this particular wreckage appeared anywhere in the international media at the time.  ©2006 Derek Henry Flood

Lost and Found

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Antakya- Doing some googling to see where some of my recent Syria work might have ended up, I stumbled upon some references to my work from close to a year ago that I missed in the chaos of the time. I put them on my blog in part to create a living catalogue of my work so that I can keep track of it (and possibly add it to my CV). On March 1 of last year while I was in the Libya war, my colleague Chris Zambelis had an article in the March 2011 edition of the CTC SentinelThe Factors Behind the Rebellion in Iranian Kurdistan” (endnote #8). I was also cited by colleague Peter Lee at Asia Times Online on April 9, 2011 in “China under pressure over Saudi rise.” Love to find these little nuggets after the fact.

Written by derekhenryflood

February 1st, 2012 at 3:06 am

On New Year’s Day

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New York- And so begins a new year and an as yet unnamed new decade (the twenty teens?). Old conflicts from the disaster that was the last decade will irreversibly spill into this new one and nightmares from the 1990s and 1980s continue to haunt the Sykes-Picots of our memory. In today’s Times, there is an interview with the PKK’s acting commander, Murat Karaylian in Iraq’s/Kurdistan’s Qandil mountains. I was psyched to see that Namo Abdullah, a young Kurdish journalist who’s assistance was essential in my trip out that area in 2009, had a credit in the article by Steven Lee Meyers. There was also a quote from Roj Welat, whom the piece describes as the PKK’s spokesman, who arranged for my interview with a PJAK leader (as well as providing translation), stating poignantly: “For the first time in history, the Kurds have a breathing space” in regard to both the area controlled by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) as well as that out of the KRG’s control effectively controlled by PKK/PJAK commanders. Let’s hope this next decade brings more such breathing space, albeit in a more sustainable manner, to the oppressed and stateless people throughout the world. In the meantime, enjoy U2 singing in 1982 rural Sweden mixed with footage of an advancing Soviet tank regiment.

Written by derekhenryflood

January 1st, 2011 at 5:33 pm

Event: The Iraqi Elections & the Changing Politico-Security Environment in Iraq

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"All Done, Go Home." Baghdad, Iraq, April, 2003. ©2003 Derek Henry Flood

Washington D.C.- The Jamestown Foundation is hosting a conference on Thursday, March 4th at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (at 1779 Massachusetts Avenue Northwest; Metro Dupont Circle) on the country-wide elections to be held on March 7th and the future of the country’s stability and security. The lunch hour will feature keynote speakers Zalmay Khalilzad & Dr. Colin Kahl.

The topics will include:

•The Iraqi Elections and the Shifting Political Landscape

•Iraq’s Changing Security Environment

•Foreign Relations & Energy Policy

•Future Challenges to Iraqi Stability

To register for the conference, please click HERE.

Written by derekhenryflood

February 25th, 2010 at 1:07 pm

The Curious Case of Chemical Ali

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New York- My former editor and colleague at Asia Times Online, Charles McDermid, has an article today with local Suleimani-based reporter Rebaz Mahmood on the fourth and perhaps ultimate death sentence for “Chemical” Ali Hassan al-Majid, the most brutal enforcer of the al-Anfal campaign in northern Iraq in 1988. Charles is now working in Iraqi Kurdistan for the Institute for War & Peace Reporting and is gearing up for coverage of the Iraqi general elections to be held on March 7th by the Independent High Electoral Commission of Iraq (which is meant to coincide with the “Status of Forces Agreement” referendum on the future of U.S. troops in the Republic of Iraq). Almost seven years after the United States military and its allies tried to erase the legacy of Saddam Hussein by destroying Iraq in order to try and save it, or remake it into a pro-Israel, emasculated Arab client state of neoconservative folly, the legacy of Ba’athism and Halabja continue to haunt the politics of this shattered post-Ottoman successor state.


Written by derekhenryflood

January 21st, 2010 at 10:03 am

New Jamestown Article!

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JT grab for TWDI have a new piece in this week’s edition of Terrorism Monitor on the Jamestown Foundation site that can be read here. It is the first long form interview with PJAK leadership that I’m aware of.

Written by derekhenryflood

October 24th, 2009 at 3:11 am

Back in the Deep State

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A PJAK graveyard in the Qandil region along the Iraq-Iran border. ©2009 Derek Henry Flood

A joint PKK/PJAK martyrs graveyard in the Qandil region along the Iraq-Iran border. ©2009 Derek Henry Flood

Mardin, Turkey- After a long two weeks in Iraq, I’ve returned to northern Kurdistan a.k.a. southeast Turkey. I wasn’t able to update the site much while in Iraq as the poorly named Hawler Palace Hotel did not have an internet connection. I finally after much networking and sweating it out in said depressing hotel room was able to meet members of the Partiya Jiyana Azad a Kurdistanê (PJAK), Iran’s counterpart to the Partiya Karkerên Kurdistan (PKK)in Turkey. While the PKK may describe itself as a Kurdish national liberation movement, the PJAK considers itself an armed democratization movement. Many skeptical media accounts describe the PJAK as nothing more than an “offshoot” of the PKK but from the standpoint of the PJAK, this is simply the work of state propaganda meant to divert attention away from the Islamic Republic of Iran’s own internal “Kurdish Question.” Roj, a Kurd originally from Turkey, was a representative of the Koma Civakên Kurdistan (KCK-a Kurdish rebel umbrella congress that includes the PKK and PJAK) who had lived in the West at some stage, mentioned the concept of the “Deep State” in reference to Kurdish oppression while interpreting for me with a PJAK commander. The idea of the Deep State, which may be the Middle East’s penultimate conspiracy theory, stems from an idea that no matter how far democracy advances within Turkish society, there will always be a hidden, radical Kemalist agenda that will steer the country away from ultimate freedom to dissent. The Deep State is a highly cynical concept in and of itself an is seen often as anti-Kurdish by those affected by Ankara’s pogroms in the 1980’s and 1990’s during violent uprisings in Turkish-controlled Kurdistan. The Treaty of Sèvres was meant to implement a Kurdish state in the northern Middle East (though not to include all of “greater” Kurdistan) two years after hostilities concluded in the Great War (WWI). “Ataturk” Mustafa Kemal, a brilliant German-allied Ottoman military commander turned Turkish nationalist politician, founded the Republic of Turkey three years after Sèvres in 1923. With the abolishment of the Ottoman caliphate, Ataturk was under no obligation whatsoever to grant the Kurds an independent state. As the crumbling empire was partitioned, the Kurds were left in the cold and Sèvres was replaced by the Treaty of Lausanne. The rest, rather than being history, is in fact the very volatile present. The de facto state held by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in Iraq confounds Ankara. On one hand, Turkey profits greatly from the massive influx of goods and services in northern Iraq. As much as the Turkish parliament rejected Colin Powell’s advances during the first wildly disastrous Bush term, Turkey stood to profit greatly from such an American misadventure in the Middle East. One only has to see the queue of hulking Turkish trucks headed into Iraq at a border open 24-hours a day to get a glimpse of how much the political limbo in which the KRG exists greatly benefits Turkey.

A dated photo of a female shaheed, or martyr, at the PKK cemetary. Roj informed me that this woman was actually an ethnic Turk fighting against her own ethno-nationalist government. ©2009 Derek Henry Flood

A dated photo of a female shaheed, or martyr, at the PKK cemetary. Roj informed me that this woman was actually an ethnic Turk fighting against her own ethno-nationalist government. ©2009 Derek Henry Flood

On the other, if the KRG were to eventually form the basis for a sovereign Kurdish state, many in Turkey fear that the Turkish “Deep State” (if such a nebulous concept in fact exists) would be forced to act in a way that can’t yet be foretold. Some observers believe that Iraq’s January 2010 General Elections may pave the way for Joseph Biden’s poorly thought out “Soft Partition” of Iraq and the eventual formal secession of the three KRG-held governorates. However, the creation of a landlocked Kurdish state in northern Iraq poses a problem for groups like the PKK and PJAK that may believe the KRG would have to sell them out in order to survive amongst neighbors hostile to the idea of a State of Kurdistan as a geopolitical reality.

The latest empire to roll through the region is none other than the United States. The problem for the Americans is that they are neither from the region, nor are they soldier-scholars (with a few notable exceptions). Upon entering Zakho, the frontier town in the KRG’s Duhok Governorate, next to the taxi stand while waiting for a car to fill up sufficiently to ride to Erbil. I spotted a Rhino Runner armored bus in an adjacent lot like the one I saw in Kabul’s Green Zone in August but dared not photograph. Behind the Rhino where a huge column of Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles which I couldn’t tell whether they were headed into or out of Iraq. Two weeks later on the way out, to drive from Erbil to Zakho, the taxis pass through a contested, apocalyptic string of mixed Arab and Kurdish villages in Ninewa Governorate on Iraq’s ethnic fault line. A foreboding sandstorm began to whip up into a blinding fury all around us and suddenly we were in a traffic jam as a convoy of the above mentioned MRAPs bulldozed their way through traffic with the lead vehicle announcing “Get out of the way or I will shoot you. Repeat: I will shoot you.” The three Kurdish men in the taxi, having no clue what the man in the lead car in the convoy was saying, looked at me as if for some kind of commentary on seeing my own countrymen in one of Iraq’s deadliest areas. “Jaish-e-Amriki” (American soldiers) I said dryly in Arabic. Perhaps the MRAPs were being delivered to Mosul, I can’t be sure. I find it fascinating seeing these massive occupations through civilian eyes, which is the only way I see them since I deplore the notion of embedding. I had the same experience in Kabul recently when I saw MRAPs plowing through Shahr-e-Naw, snarling traffic for miles. After we left dry, trash strewn, suicide bombed Ninewa, we enter the rainy, rolling hills of Duhok with it’s freshly paved roads, trash collection and undulating calm. It was as if Mosul was a world away.

A Rhino Runner bus parked quietly on the Turkish-Iraqi border. Note the Turkish license plate. ©2009 Derek Henry Flood

A Rhino Runner bus parked quietly on the Turkish-Iraqi border. Note the Turkish license plate. Was this the one that brought Saddam Huseein to the gallows or a khaki-booted Don Rumsfeld on a tour of the Green Zone? ©2009 Derek Henry Flood

Written by derekhenryflood

October 8th, 2009 at 1:44 pm

Posted in Iran,Iraq,Kurdistan,Turkey

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