photo: Eddy van Wessel

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Saturday, May 21, 2016

Life goes on in Baghdad mindless of government and bombing threats

The world hardly notices it anymore, but daily bombs still explode in the Iraqi capital Baghdad. Only when the number of casualties is high the attack gets mentioned; like the three explosions that recently caused over a hundred deaths in different parts of the city.

Not only has the international media gotten used to the violence in Iraq, Iraqis themselves too leave their homes daily and go about their business, almost as if they want to block out the reality of the dangers that engulf them.

While in Europe every bomb attack shakes a whole nation, and even those around it, leading to people making monuments with flowers and toys for the victims, in Baghdad traders and civilians go back to the targeted market as soon as the blood is washed away.

In Europe the media give the victims names and faces, while in Baghdad only the exceptional ones get some attention. Even though they are labelled as martyrs, and should therefore be revered, most are soon forgotten in the news of the next attack.

When I was in Baghdad recently people complained about this, as they expected the government not only to do more to remember their beloved ones, but also to prevent the attacks.
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What’s a sofa, compared to the real damage done?

Pictures of people looking worriedly at sofas have been going viral on the Internet in Iraq. A man looking at an orange three-seater, a girl at a brown canapĂ© – all poking fun at the pictures that Iraqi Prime Minister Abadi posted after demonstrators stormed the Green Zone in Baghdad.

About 100,000 people breached the walls around Baghdad’s most secured area which houses the national parliament, Prime Minister Abadi’s office, foreign embassies, the homes of high officials and some hotels.

The protesters demanded that the parliament would finally make the change possible they had been calling to combat corruption and nepotism, and approve a cabinet of technocrats.

But members of parliament were not in favour of the change, as it would decrease the power of the parties and the flow of money into their pockets.
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Holocaust remembered in Kurdistan for the first time

In a historic ceremony in the Kurdistan capital Erbil, Kurds with Jewish roots together with Kurdish officials and foreign dignitaries remembered for the first time in the Kurdistan Region the six million Jews who died in the Holocaust.

The first Jewish Remembrance Day for Victims of the Holocaust in Kurdistan was organised by the Jewish representative in the Kurdistan Ministry of Religion, Sherzad Mamsani, who also led the ceremony.

The event ended with the lighting of six candles, one for every million Jews killed by the Nazi regime in the 30s and 40s of the last century. A minute of silence was also observed.
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Dutch MPs visiting Kurdistan assess Netherlands’ part in ISIS war

A Dutch parliamentary delegation visited Erbil, the Kurdish capital this week where they saw the Netherland’s contribution to the war against the Islamic State (ISIS) through helping the Peshmerga forces and whether to decide later this year to extend the mission.

“It is great to see how Dutch military are contributing directly to the fight of the Peshmerga against ISIS,” said Social Democrat parliamentarian Michiel Servaes. “We know that explosives cause most of the victims, so it’s great that in this way you can literally save lives.”

The Netherlands has trained Peshmerga troops and supplied equipment such as radios, bomb disposal equipment, helmets and vests.

Currently Dutch military trainers are training a group of female Kurdish combatants who impressed the MPs on their visit.

Part of the training includes first aid administration. “Again we contribute to save lives, as we hear that too many die for lack of knowledge how to treat the wounded,” Servaes said.
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Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The Kurds in the cyber warfare against ISIS

A friend sends you the link to a National Geographic video about the Kurdish Peshmerga fighting the Islamic State (ISIS), but when you try to watch it, you find it has been removed from YouTube.


You post a picture about Kurdish fighters who battle ISIS in Syria on Facebook, and find it gets removed. The same can happen on Twitter.


That is the fallout of the ISIS war that is not only fought on the battlefield, but also on the Internet. Because of the endless stream of propaganda ISIS is posting and its use of social media both as a recruitment tool and for communication between its members, social media companies are blocking ISIS content and accounts.


For that reason, ISIS sympathisers are hard to follow on Twitter, as their accounts get closed constantly, and ISIS movies are now mainly found through organisations following the group for research purposes and posting them on their own sites, away from the blocking policies of YouTube and others.
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Lack of Kurdish unity endangers future disputed territories

Unity between the Kurdish parties is essential for the future of the disputed areas, says Nasreddin Saeed, the minister heading the General Board for Kurdistani Areas Outside the Kurdistan Region. These are generally known as the disputed areas that both the Kurds and Baghdad claim.

Saeed warns that Sinjar, the disputed Iraqi province that was for the most part liberated from the Islamic group ISIS in December, could fall apart.

Sinjar (or Shingal) was until the occupation by ISIS in August 2014 administrated mainly by Baghdad. Here ISIS murdered almost 2,000 members of the Yezidi population and kidnapped over 6,000 when it overran the area.

After the liberation, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has put in its own local government and police, but forces that were involved in the liberation have not yet left. Amongst them are not only Peshmerga troops of the main Iraqi Kurdish parties KDP and PUK, but also fighters of the Turkish Kurdish PKK and some Yezidi militias.

Saeed sees this as a major obstacle why Yezidis are hardly returning home to Sinjar – whilst in a comparable situation in Ramadi inhabitants have -- stressing that “after liberating the place, the forces should go and leave it to the people. Because of them, people are afraid of a new conflict.”
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Saturday, April 16, 2016

Don’t make refugees completely dependent on aid

“Many people here don’t even have money to buy bread,” the manager of the camp at the outskirts of Ainkawa, the Christian neighbourhood of Erbil, told me, as some inhabitants forced themselves into his office to see who had come to visit and what she had brought for them.


The camp with its caravans holds Christians who fled for ISIS from Mosul and the Christian towns and villages near to it, many of whom have been stuck here for over eighteen months waiting to be able to return.


In the beginning their camp was one of the best supplied in the region, as NGO’s and a local church were happy to look after the inhabitants and brought them what they needed.


But when I visited the camp recently, most of that was past. The former NGO darlings no longer had anyone regularly supplying them, apart from the food aid offered by the UN-organisation UNHCR, next to a bit of money collected during church service. 
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