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Posts Tagged ‘Iraq’

Anbar-Insurgency Redux

February 25th, 2014 No comments
Once popularized by media outlets as the "Mother of All Battles" mosque ©2003 Derek Henry Flood

Once popularized by media outlets as the “Mother of All Battles” mosque, the Umm al-Qura mosque complex sat in lush greenery save for the destroyed Soviet-era piece of armor that was likely hit in an airstrike in the “shock and awe days of mid-March a month before this image was taken. I remember trying to enter the mosque’s grounds with my Shia fixer and getting a less than warm reception from some men that I suppose were representing the Association of Muslim Scholars there. Umm a-Qura is situated in western Baghdad between the al-Adel and Ghazaliyah districts on the road to Fallujah. When the situation quickly became hostile, I put my camera down and we roared away in an old rattletrap of a car. ©2003 Derek Henry Flood

New York- I have an article out now for IHS Jane’s Islamic Affairs Analyst on the eruption of violence in Iraq’s sprawling western al-Anbar Governorate that borders the relatively calm governorates of Ma’an, Amman, Mafraq, and the somewhat sketchier Zarqa in Jordan, the war ravaged governorates of Deir ez-Zor, and Homs in Syria and, lastly, Saudi Arabia’s Northern Border Region. Control of Anbar is a security issue for the entire region that surrounds it when considering the war in Syria that is attracting foreign fighters like moths to a flame and the transnational outlook of salafi-jihadi thought in a geographically contiguous KSA.

Screen Shot 2014-02-25 at 4.14.49 PMAnbar became the symbol of anti-American resistance in Iraq so much so that the restive northern town of Hawija in Kirkuk Governorate was referred to as the “Anbar of the North” by the US military at one time. Anbar became almost a catchall term for a place that was difficult to pacify through traditional counterinsurgency doctrine much less purely by means of military hard power. Only through cooperation and co-opting was the Sunni Arab insurgency there quelled for a time with the raising of Sahwa militias.

In the now bloody aftermath of the American troop withdrawal that took place at the tail end of 2011 and was hailed by President Barack Obama as ‘ending’ the Iraq war, Nouri al-Maliki, Iraq’s Da’wa Party die-hard prime minister, has done nothing to tamp down the collective ire of Sunni activists from Fallujah north to Hawija. Maliki’s moves have merely moved the Iraq war into a much more indigenous phase.

From accusing notable Sunni politcos of being involved in terrorism, a crime punishable by death in Iraq’s draconian penal code, to doing nothing to assuage the concerns of angry protestors, Maliki at least partly set the stage for the arrival of ad-Dawlah al-Islamiyyah fi Iraq w’al Sham, know locally by its acronym DAASH, and by its English acronym ISIL, into Fallujah’s city centre and sections of Ramadi and several villages in the respective surrounding areas at the outset of 2014.

The Iraqi elections are approaching quickly on the country’s troubled political horizon on April 30th. How ‘free and fair’ voting will be carried out under such circumstances is entirely unclear.

I’m illustrating this post with the following images because I personally feel much of what is going on in Iraq today can be traced directly back to the elaborately expensive yet incredibly poorly planned Bush/neo-conservative regime decapitation initiative called Operation Iraqi Freedom. That moniker seemed to me to say that 99.9% of all Iraqis were equally oppressed by Hussein’s dreadful Ba’ath Party policies.

By and large, yes, Iraqis were treated terribly by an anti-egalitarian strongman in a nation-state rife with deep tribal, sect, and ethnic division. But the late dictator could not have ruled for decades without a degree of genuine support fostered by patronage networks and adroit imbuing of his own ideology among at least a cadre of willing followers.

An American Humvee gunner holds a makeshift sign that reads "Go" in English and then Arabic at the entrance to a bridge over that Tigris River that has been partially destroyed by American munitions. ©2003 Derek Henry Flood

An American Humvee gunner holds a makeshift sign that reads “Go” in English and then Arabic at the entrance to a bridge over that Tigris River that has been partially destroyed by American munitions.Note the boy staring in wonderment out of the blue minibus on the left. These wars don’t happen in a vacuum and children often abound. Some of them undoubtedly would grow up in the following years to become militants attacking coalition forces and Iraqi federal forces. ©2003 Derek Henry Flood

But it should be noted that not all the Sunnis fighting the state right now are doing so under the black banners of salafi-jihad. Though those banners make for exciting headlines, there is a viable retro or neo-Ba’athist strain of rebellion going on. Though it had been primarily focused more on the Kurds and territorial issues pertaining to the Green Line in terms of strategy and tactics, the Jaish Rijal al-Tariq al-Naqshabandi (JRTN) and Intifada Ahrar al-Iraq which has been described as a political front group for the JRTN–since gone operational, are kind of Ba’athist revivalist groups (or two parts of the same movement depending on perspective).These movements have sought to resuscitate Saddamist symbolism to garner the support of disaffected Iraqis tired of what they perceive as “Safavid” (Iranian)-influenced political primacy in Baghdad. Certainly DAASH/ISIL and JRTN have starkly different ideologies and objectives, but for now they have a common enemy in PM Maliki and those who defend and support him.

Forest of destruction. All that was left of the building after a "surgical strike" were its ornery pillars which refused to topple. ©2003 Derek Henry Flood

Forest of destruction. All that was left of this particular building after a “surgical strike” were its ornery pillars which refused to topple. Upon arrival in Baghdad, what immediately impressed upon me visually was how the American air campaign in Iraq differed from that I’d witnessed in Afghanistan after 9/11. American bombardments there struck mostly unremarkable hillsides as the Taliban had hardly any fixed concrete targets. Iraq was the polar opposite as swaths of brick and mortar cities were leveled in an instant as ignorant Fox television viewers looked on with a non-chalant curiosity. ©2003 Derek Henry Flood

Although the Americans wouldn't yet admit an insurrection against the US-led occupation was already underway from the war's inception, it was pretty obvious walking around Baghdad that things were going to get ugly. Here, I found the upside down chassis of a what appeared to be a car bomb. ©2003 Derek Henry Flood

Although the Americans wouldn’t yet admit an insurrection against the US-led occupation was already underway (we all remember Rumsfeld’s “dead enders”) from the war’s inception, it was pretty obvious walking around Baghdad that things were going to get ugly and fast. Here, I found the upside down chassis of a what appeared to be a car bomb. As I quietly photographed this wreckage atop a traffic median, there was an explosion off in the distance indicated by the rising black plume. ©2003 Derek Henry Flood

I walked all over the Iraqi capital one day looking for a still intact mural of President Saddam Hussein that hadn't been trashed by the Americans or joyous opponents of his wing of the Ba'ath Party. I managed to find this one in a deserted lot littered with construction equipment. ©2003 Derek Henry Flood

I walked all over the Iraqi capital one day looking for a still intact mural of President Saddam Hussein that hadn’t been trashed by the Americans or joyous opponents of his wing of the Ba’ath Party. I managed to find this one in a deserted lot littered with construction equipment. One thing that has always fascinated me about dictatorial regimes is the sheer level of ubiquitousness of ‘big man’ iconography. ©2003 Derek Henry Flood

Though at the time of this posting Fallujah remains under rebel control in a shaky truce mediated by the Anbar Provincial Council, in my view things aren’t likely to improve overnight in terms of Anbar’s overall security in the lead-up this spring’s election.

Categories: 9/11, Afghanistan, Iraq, Uncategorized Tags: ,

Election Eve in Georgia, Festering Instabiliy in Kirkuk

October 24th, 2013 No comments
Posters for Giorgi Margvelashvili running on Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili's Georgian Dream ticket and considered the front runner (or at least he has the most posters up in town) in Sunday's Georgian presidential election. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

Posters in downtown Tbilisi for Giorgi Margvelashvili running on Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili’s Georgian Dream ticket. Margvelashvili is considered the front runner (or at least he has the most posters up in town) in Sunday’s Georgian presidential election. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

TScreen Shot 2013-10-24 at 9.34.41 PMbilisi- The Republic of Georgia is on the cusp of a presidential election that is shaping up to be the country’s first non-ultra dramatic transition of power (think the coup against President Zviad Gamsakhurdia, the Rose Revolution ousting Eduard Shevardnadze). Buzz here around town is that it may well go into a second round. If Margvelashvili does not receive 49.9% of the vote according to Thomas de Waal, the transition of power may be a touch chaotic as the era of the Rose Revolution comes to a close with little fanfare .

Some have said, rather cynically in my view, that the biggest accomplishment of the outgoing president Mikheil Saakashvili will not be the reforms he’s made but stepping down from power in a peaceful and orderly manner.

In the backdrop of the election and the constitutional transformation about to be implemented turning the republic from a presidential to a parliamentary system is the Russian’s beefing up of the Soviet-era border of occupied South Ossetia (from when South Ossetia was an autonomous oblast within the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic) and whether or not Georgia should formally boycott the upcoming Olympics in Sochi. The fact to a Russian pilot from the 2008 war here called Ivan Nechaev was seen being an Olympic torchbearer has not gone over at all well here.

In other news I have an article out this week in the October issue of the CTC Sentinel based on my fieldwork in Kirkuk in August, communications with my fixer afterward and months of following developments along the Green Line that is the de facto internal border between Iraq Kurdistan and Arab Iraq (for lack of a more precise term).

Posters for David Bakradze, presidential candidate from outgoing president Mikheil Saakashvili's United National Movment. Bakradze is considered to be the second place candidate. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

Posters for Davit Bakradze, presidential candidate from outgoing president Mikheil Saakashvili’s United National Movment. Bakradze is considered to be the second place candidate. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

A poster in the Rostaveli metro station for Nino Burjanadze, one-time leader of the Rose Revolution, now out to get Saakashvili and have Georgia's own "reset" with the Kremlin. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

A poster in the Rustaveli metro station for Nino Burjanadze, one-time leader of the Rose Revolution, now out to get Saakashvili and have Georgia’s own “reset” with the Kremlin. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

Categories: Georgia, Iraq Tags: , ,

Along the Morphing Green Line in Iraq

September 9th, 2013 No comments
A portrait of Wahab Mohammed Sharir, a Kurdish martyr portrait in my fixer's living room in Kirkuk. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

A portrait of Wahab Mohammed Sharir, a Kurdish peshmerga fighter in my fixer’s living room in Kirkuk. Shahrir had been fighting the Ba’athist government in the 1960s and 1970s  before the Algiers Accords were ultimately signed in 1975 between Iran and Iraq where the regime of Shah Reza Pahlavi agreed to cease Tehran’s support for armed insurgents in northern Iraq. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

Barcelona- Proud to announce that I have to lead story in this month’s issue of Jane’s Islamic Affairs Analyst (Subscribers only). I travelled along a section of the so-called “Green Line” that divides Iraqi Kurdistan from Arab-majority Iraq.  Iraq’s Green Line was established after the 1990-1991 Gulf War when the northern no-fly zone was implemented.  Run out of Turkey’s Incirlik Air Base,  the no-fly zone enforced above the 36th parallel was known as Operation Provide Comfort and Operation Provide Comfort II (which then became Operation Northern Watch). It allowed for the setting up of a de facto Kurdish administration divided between the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan.

Screen Shot 2013-09-09 at 3.53.19 PMWestern air power in the Clinton years let that harden into what would eventually become the Kurdistan Regional Government run by both of the major Iraqi Kurdish dynastic parties. When the United States military burst through the hulking sand berms separating Iraq from Kuwait on March 19-20 2003, U.S. Special Forces teamed up with Peshmerga fighters to not only tackle Ansar al-Islam’s base along the Iranian border but also to gain a foothold in cities like Mosul and Kirkuk when Turkey’s parliament refused the Pentagon the right to transit Turkish territory to topple the government in Baghdad.

What I found on my exploration along the former Green Line is that the KRG is creating ground realities while the federal government helmed by  Nuri al-Maliki can’t quite get its act together regarding the status of disputed territories along this fluid internal border. Part of why the demarcation of the Green Line matters so much is that when there are oil or gas blocks in these lands and hence potentially great wealth to be attained by whomever controls them, a relict of 1990s political geography is now of utmost importance.

A group of Peshmerga fighters proudly boasted to me that their makeshift little bunker was south of the old Green Line. And with a weak federal security force combined with Kurdish nationalism, this seemed to really mean something. Neither side appears ready to forge a genuine settlement on the disputed territories meanwhile energy multinationals are eager to get their hands on as yet undeveloped resources.

Thus far both Erbil and Baghdad have been fairly intransigent on their respective oil development policies. Both have made stark statements that oil companies shouldn’t work in both Kurdistan and southern Iraq. They should be forced to pick sides. However the exploration by ExxonMobil may alter this tense arrangement.

Along this northwest to southeast line, the Kurds and the Iraqi Army did not seem to be allies but eyeing each other as well as looking for infiltrators from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

A Peshmerga commander gazes into the distance at an old Ba'athist military bunker that was destroyed in an American air strike on March 2003. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

A Peshmerga commander beyond the old Green Line  gazes into the distance at an old Ba’athist military bunker that was destroyed in an American air strike on March 2003. Whether PM Maliki likes it or not, Kurdish military leaders are creating facts on the ground. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

As the United States and France contemplate launching bombing raids to help topple to Ba’athist regime in Damascus, it would behoove leaders in Washington and Paris to look at the legacy of their involvement in Iraq (pre-2003 France was involved in Operation Provide Comfort). Toppling a dictatorship is the relatively easy part of the equation.

Categories: Iran, Iraq, Middle East Tags: , ,

Iraq Then and Now

August 19th, 2013 No comments
A young Shia girl returns to school after the American invasion of her country. Behind her is a mural of Muhammed Al-Dura, a young  boy killed during the second intifada in Palestine. ©2003 Derek Henry Flood

An Iraqi girl returns to school in Karbala after the American invasion of her country. Behind her is a mural of Muhammed al-Dura, a young boy killed during the second intifada in Palestine. ©2003 Derek Henry Flood

Barcelona- I have a new article out in today’s edition of Asia Times Online about the discordant security arrangement in Iraq’s contested Kirkuk Governorate. On October 21, 2011, U.S. President Barack Obama declared: ”After nine years, America’s war in Iraq will be over.” What the president should have said that American large-scale participation on the ground would end but the war in Iraq would continue to painfully grind on.

Screen Shot 2013-08-19 at 11.58.40 AMThough the White House had the audacity of boast in citing the major troop withdrawal as one of many campaign “promises kept,” as it has become loudly clear in 2013, the Iraq war in nowhere near ending–only American leverage over its outcome has mostly ceased. Many Iraqis I spoke to over the course of a week (as well as a number of Syrian refugees) consider Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki a nearly hysterical Iranian client leader who is concerned primarily with the preservation of his own personal power regime. In fact I encountered more people who favored the former American presence than were fans of their own PM.

The frustration over the dire lack of daily security among ordinary Iraqis was both obvious and immense.In between the ongoing horrors in Syria and now Egypt, Iraq has been creeping up into the headlines–and not just because of its proximity to the Syrian war. Al-Qaeda in Iraq is undeniably resurgent. Shia militias like Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq (AAH)–a splinter group from Muqtada al-Sadr’s Jaish-i-Mahdi headed by Qais al-Khazali–are undoubtedly feeding off Sunni militancy to define themselves as communal defense movements. Meanwhile Maliki’s government situated in the closed off “Green Zone” cannot seem to come to an accord with Massoud Barzani’s Erbil over either oil law or the territories disputed in several northern governorates between Baghdad and Erbil.

The Iraq I first encountered in 2003 had the momentary illusory feel of a place filled with possibilities. And I’m not referring to the delusional overnight resuscitation of the oil sector as dreamed up by the neoconservative hawks at the time. Like the Malwiya in Samarra pictured below, my ulterior motive for visiting Iraq was its incredible historic sites that had been largely cut off from the outside world since Saddam Hussein’s ascent to the Iraqi presidency in 1979. The shrines of Imam Ali and Imam Hussein, and the ziggurat of Ur outside Nasiriyyah were fantasies to visit in person. But alas there was no cultural revival to be. Iraq has been steadily in some form of war for all of the last decade. Iraq quickly became much more Syriana than Indiana Jones.

The Malwiya tower from the Great Mosque of Samarra, May 2003. From atop the Malwiya  It was built in the mid-800's by the Abbassid caliph Al-Mutawakkil ʻAlā Allāh Jaʻfar ibn al-Muʻtasim. I could see the golden dome of the ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

The Malwiya tower from the Great Mosque of Samarra, May 2003. It was built in the mid-800′s by the Abbassid caliph Al-Mutawakkil ʻAlā Allāh Jaʻfar ibn al-Muʻtasim. From atop the Malwiya I could see the golden dome of the al-Askari shrine housing the tombs of the 10th and 11th Shia Imams. The al-Askari shrine was later blown up in February 2006 and again in June 2007. ©2003 Derek Henry Flood

At lot of varying interests were at play in 2003 who stood to gain or lose in Iraq in 2003. The most politically palatable meme was that the entire world public–led by the European left–stood in solidarity against the invasion. From absurd Ba’ath apologists to genuine anti-war activists, the more complex pill to swallow was that many Iraqis actually welcomed the Anglo-American invasion which also included  Australia–later to be joined by soldiers from Ukraine to Tonga. I say this not regurgitating some misguided New York Times op-ed column from the time but from my own experience on the ground.

In trying to avoid the expensive media circus in Baghdad, I spent more time in southern Iraq. The majority of Shia I interacted with in Najaf and Karbala back then initially welcomed the invaders-cum-occupiers. Though it wouldn’t last long, there was a brief honeymoon period that seemed full of potential. Of course most of that was more the result of a confluence of mutual ignorance than of a brilliantly architected armed humanitarian intervention.

Police officer Shakawam's Namiti's car after it was it by an IED at 1:30 a.m. in midsummer. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

Police officer Shakawam’s Namiti’s car after it was it by an IED at 1:30 a.m. in midsummer, Dibis, Kirkuk Governorate. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

Oh and Iraq has some fantastic local dishes. But you are more likely to hear about Iraqis dying during their dinner as sectarian warfare escalates. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

Oh and Iraq has some fantastic local dishes. But you are more likely to hear about Iraqis dying during their dinner as sectarian killing escalates. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

Categories: Iraq, Middle East Tags: ,

The Road Somewhat Less Traveled As Seen Through an iPod.

August 10th, 2013 No comments
Crossing the Iraq-Turkey border involved no less than six different vehicles from taxis, the mini vans to full size buses. Each one came decked out with its own motif. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

Crossing the Iraq-Turkey border involved no less than six different vehicles from taxis, the mini vans to full size buses. Each one came decked out with its own motif. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

Barcelona- In terms of collecting images from around the world as a photographer in the last 15 years, beyond the vast adjustment from analog to digital there has been the management of multiple devices that collect images digitally. Aside from having a professional grade camera to capture moments in war zones hither and yon, there becomes the question of how to manage  these other random images that collect on mobile phones. To add to the mess I have an iPod that takes photos and uploads them to my laptop with much more ease than my relatively ancient Blackberry. With some down time here in my most trusted EU port city with its own bitter linguistic separatism and autonomous region flag flying not that different than Iraqi Kurdistan in the most simple analogous terms, I’m posting some random road and air images that stacked up on the mobile devices that now line both my front pockets.

This driver gave me the full white knuckle experience taking curves as fast as possible while looking over at me-and apparent;y not on the road-and screaming "Kurdistan! Good?" He was getting on my nerves so much I repeatedly answered his rabid ethno-patriotism in Arabic. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

This driver gave me the full white knuckle experience taking curves as fast as possible while looking over at me-and apparently not on the road-and screaming “Kurdistan! Good?” He was getting on my nerves so much I repeatedly answered his rabid ethno-patriotism in Arabic. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

Though Ankara has been against Kurdish nationalism since the birth of the modern Turkish republic, Turkish interests in a stable Kurdish administered northern Iraq seems appetizing when compared to the takfiri chaos in central Iraq. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

Though Ankara has been against Kurdish nationalism since the birth of the modern Turkish republic, Turkish interests in a stable Kurdish administered northern Iraq seems appetizing when compared to the takfiri chaos in central Iraq. Iraqi Kurdistan has become a serious market for Turkish corporations like Beko, the white goods powerhouse. In northern Iraq, Turkish pragmatism has prevailed in the name of huge profits. However, Ankara still seeks to stem the creation of a similar Kurdish self-governing region in neighboring Syria despite the success of the “Barzani model.”©2013 Derek Henry Flood

No unnecessarily arduous Middle Eastern road would be complete without lots of stops to talk to random guys like this. Everyone is working a hustle of some form or another to make it worth their while. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

No unnecessarily arduous Middle Eastern road trip would be complete without lots of stops to talk to random guys like this about God knows what. Everyone is working a hustle of some form or another to make it worth their while.  Simply ferrying passengers back and forth doesn’t cut it in this entire region. Marlboro Reds and tea are the smuggler’s choice items. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

China's Great Wall Motors is making a dent in what had traditionally been a Japanese-dominated truck market. These still aren't as common as Toyota but I did see a good many of them on Iraq's roadways. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

China’s Great Wall Motors is making a dent in what had traditionally been a Japanese-dominated truck market. These still aren’t as common as Toyota but I did see a good many of them on Iraq’s roadways. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

A Turkish Jandarma (Gendarmerie) hard car and a host of lookie loos inspect a jackknifed Turkish big rig that was transporting bottled water to Iraq. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

A Turkish Jandarma (Gendarmerie) hard car and a host of lookie loos inspect a jack-knifed Turkish big rig outside Silopi that was transporting bottled water to Iraq…and didn’t quite make it ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

It isn't just Turkish trucking enterprises making their way into Iraq. In the choked queue at Habur-Ibrahim Khalil I spotted a cluster of transporters from Slovenia, Serbia, Bosnia and Bulgaria. Wherever there's money to be made...©2013 Derek Henry Flood

It isn’t just Turkish trucking enterprises making their way into Iraq. In the choked queue at Habur-Ibrahim Khalil I spotted a cluster of transporters from Slovenia, Serbia, Bosnia and Bulgaria. Wherever there’s money to be made…©2013 Derek Henry Flood

"Don't call it Kurdistan! It is Turkey! Kurdistan is in Iraq!" Taking off from Mardin airport-which is really considered to be in Kiziltepe by locals-and soaring over long contested territory. As PKK-Ankar peace talks fail to come to an accord with the PKK leadership s hoped for time frame, renewed insurgency may be just around the corner in the land below. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

“Don’t call it Kurdistan! It is Turkey! Kurdistan is in Iraq!” Taking off from Mardin airport-which is really considered to be in Kiziltepe by locals-and soaring over long contested territory. As PKK-Ankara peace talks fail to come to an accord with the PKK leadership’s pressed for time frame, renewed insurgency may be just around the corner in the land below. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

At journey's end, Istanbul Atatürk Airport. For those curious about obscure passports and equally obscure airlines (from a Western perspective), this place can set the imagination alight. Here a sanctioned Iranian Mahan Air Airbus A300 taxis for takeoff back to the Islamic Republic. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

At journey’s end, Istanbul Atatürk Airport. For those curious about obscure passports and equally obscure airlines (from a Western perspective), this place can set the imagination alight. Here a sanctioned Iranian Mahan Air Airbus A300 taxis for takeoff back to the Islamic Republic. Originally made for the Lufthansa fleet in 1987, Mahan acquired this jet from Kyrgyz Airways in 2009. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

The Mess They Left Behind

August 5th, 2013 No comments

Kirkuk- Here is a quick teaser of images from my recent reporting trip to Iraq’s perennial fault line known as Kirkuk Governorate.

A decade ago the United States poured over the Kuwaiti border to destroy the Ba’ath Party led by President Saddam Hussein. This effort  to remake the country was guided by a wholly unrealistic  vision thought up by men and some women who had no intrinsic understanding (though they would heartily argue otherwise) of either the deep political dynamics or long view history  of the human fabric stretching from the Levant to Iranian Plateau. These so-called “experts” worked to destroy an unsavory despot without regard for human life still living in Iraq as they concocted their “Special Plans.”

Iraq was talked about callously as a “major oil producer” whose massive reserves were underexploited by Western multinationals as if it were virtually a people-less sandscape that just  required some quick political remodeling in order to get its petroleum gushing again.

So here is Kirkuk, a decade on, with virtually every major politcal-territorial question about its future in a federal Iraq unanswered. The United States and its military and business partners smashed Iraq and drove back across the Kuwaiti border leaving behind a vast haven for suicide bombers and unending sectarian violence.

On the way back to Turkey, I shared a minivan with a group of Turkish laborers who were heading home on break. One from Istanbul told me he had been laying sod at football fields being constructed in Samarra and Tikrit. With the knowledge that a good number of Turks had been killed working in Iraq in the early stages of the war, I asked the Istanbuli why he would risk working in the “Sunni triangle” to earn a few dinars. He looked up at the dusk sky, replying: “al-Qaeda does not decide whether I live or die. That is left only for God to decide.” This seemed to me a fairly stark rationale to justify working in a war zone. But then again, what was I doing there?

This Iraqi Army checkpoint in rural Kirkuk Governorate felt isolated and highly vulnerable. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

This Iraqi Army checkpoint in rural Kirkuk Governorate felt isolated and highly vulnerable. Milling around with the soldiers, I felt like a suicide car bomb (a VBIED into the military jargon that has infected the local dialect) could go off at any given moment. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

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In contrast to the nervous vibe at the Iraqi Army outposts, the Kurdish Peshmerga seemed confident and media savvy. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

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Watching Baghdad from Kirkuk. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

An Iraqi Army officer would allow me to shoot a few photos but was hesitant to give a formal interview without approval through the proper chain of command. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

An Iraqi Army officer would allow me to shoot a few photos but was hesitant to give a formal interview without approval through the proper chain of command. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

Categories: Iraq, Middle East Tags: ,

Twenty Long Years

July 29th, 2013 No comments
An Ikhwan (Muslim Brotherhood) rally in the square across from my hotel in Diyarbakir. The speakers expressed outrage at the putsch in Cairo that ended the short lived presidency of Mohammed Morsi and expressed solidarity with the suffering Muslims of S Syria, Iraq, Kashmir and Bahrain. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

An Ikhwan (Muslim Brotherhood) rally in the square across from my hotel in Diyarbakir. The speakers expressed outrage at the putsch in Cairo that ended the short lived presidency of Mohammed Morsi and expressed solidarity with the suffering Muslims of Syria, Iraq, Kashmir and even the Shia of far away Bahrain. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

Diyarbakir- Though I try not to get overly personal with TWD’s posts as it’s more of a news/analysis site, I’ve just arrived in southeastern Turkey (northern Kurdistan to some) and this marks twenty years of my travels in the Middle East. In the summer of 1993 I traveled to Israel/Palestine to be a volunteer worker on a grueling archaeological dig not too far south of the Lebanese border. Lo and behold A short, hot war broke out that summer two decades ago called either the Seven Day War or Operation Accountability depending on whom one asks (as is everything in this zone).

Here I am twenty long years later with both Syria and Iraq just to the south at war and the PKK resurgent in Turkey while in peace talks with the Erdogan government drag onat the same time. The eponymous province of which Diyarbakir is the administrative center is not without occasional political violence either.  In this area there is so much going on seemingly at all times whether in terms in broad brush geopolitics or furious insurgencies being clumsily batted back by traditional military institutions employing awful scorched earth tactics that it just keeps calling me back.

Importantly, at least to me, is that I feel privileged to be here at all after all this time. I’ve met journalists over the years who are no longer still alive to tell these stories. I still think about them.

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The Muslim Brotherhood had a post-Iftaar rally in the square across the street from my hotel. Speakers fired up the crowd about the unjust nature in which Mohammed Morsi was recently deposed in Cairo. This to me symbolizes how much Turkey has changed in the era of the AKP government ruling in Ankara. I couldn’t have imagined this in the 1990s when I first started coming here where it was all about Ataturk and the Ikhwan was spoken of in hushed tones. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

Street scene, downtown Diyarbakir. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

Street scene, downtown Diyarbakir. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

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Çorba (lentil soup) and Vişne Nektarı (Cherry nectar juice)-my two staples in Turkey. Lentil soup is to Turkey what Dal Makhani is to India-available everywhere, cheap, and nourishing. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

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

July 23rd, 2013 No comments
Humvee-web

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