photo: Eddy van Wessel

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Thursday, August 4, 2016

Keeping terrorist faces out of the papers does not prevent new attacks

The French paper Le Monde has decided to stop publishing pictures of terrorists so as to deprive them of a hero status. The idea being, terrorists gloat on getting exposure and to be known as martyrs after their departure to paradise.

Other French papers are considering whether to follow the example, and elsewhere in the West the discussion has started on the subject too.

At the same time, people have for some time been warning each other not to share videos of the Islamic group ISIS on Twitter and Facebook, especially those of executions and of foreigners in the group's captivity.

This is to make sure the exposure is limited, and propaganda will not reach those who might be vulnerable to the message of radical Islamic groups like ISIS.

The question is whether it works that way. Can you really limit the exposure, when a group like ISIS and others too have an active PR policy?
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Departing British Consul: Kurdistan matters to Britain

The Kurdish economy will recover, partly with the help of Britain, says Angus McKee, who after two years as the British Consul General in Kurdistan has left for London. Just as the security of the Kurdistan Region matters for the security of Great Britain, so does its prosperity to the economic wellbeing, he believes. The collective interest of defeating ISIS, says McKee, has widened and deepened the relationship between Britain and Kurdistan Region. Looking back at his time in the Kurdish capital Erbil, he praises the developments of the past decade.

How do you look at your time in Kurdistan?

Angus McKee: I arrived in June 2014, at a difficult time, as Daesh (the Islamic State- ISIS) had just captured Mosul, and was threatening the Nineveh Plain and the Kurdistan Region. A time of conflict and atrocities. Daesh is still a threat, but my time here has been defined by the counter attack. We’ve seen the Peshmerga, the Iraqi security forces and the coalition forces pushing Daesh back. Daesh is a failing state, as it is losing territory. It is a terrorist threat whether you are in the streets of Baghdad, Erbil or London. We have a collective interest of defeating it. As a result of this, the relationship between Britain and Kurdistan Region has widened and deepened.
 
So you must have seen security measures being strengthened here too?

I was with Erbil governor Nawzad Hadi, who’s a good friend, remembering the attack on Ainkawa in April 2014. It’s to the credit of the security authorities across the Kurdistan Region that they have been largely successful in counterterrorism operations.

What are the main changes you saw during your time here?

History proves that resettling others in Kurdish land will not work

It is a policy used by dictators over the centuries: settling outsiders in areas where one ethnic group has a clear majority.

The Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein did it, and so did his neighbour Hafez al-Assad in Syria. And now the Turkish president Erdogan has decided to use the tool. And all employed it against their Kurdish minorities.

During his rule, Saddam offered Arabs from the south of Iraq all kinds of incentives to move to the disputed oil city of Kirkuk that the Kurds consider as their Jerusalem.

The prospect of a good job, with a good salary and a house attracted many, while at the same time Kurds were evicted from the city.

Assad also was able to send thousands from his Arab population to the Kurdish region, like Saddam did next door, in order to further marginalize the Kurds through Arabization.
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Banning the magic wand is not enough, heads must roll

Finally, the device that caused thousands of deaths in Iraq has been banned from the streets.


As Prime Minister Haider Abadi finally bans the device that Iraqi guards were using at checkpoints and was supposed to detect explosives, it will end up where it should have been long before: in the garbage.


The tragedy is that all of Iraq has known for years that the device, the ADE-651, which is shorthand for Advanced Detection Equipment, and that is internationally and cynically known as the ‘magic wand’, does not work.


British businessman James McCormick was convicted in Britain for fraud last year, after he sold for as much as $85 million of the devices to Iraq, receiving around $8,000 per piece, and now is serving a ten-year jail service.


Yet in 1996 the American security agency FBI had already ruled that the empty box with a short antenna was fake, and after a British Home Office scientist tested it in 2001, he issued a strong warning against its use.


But to no avail, as the BBC recently uncovered, that for years the device has been sold by different fraudsters for different purposes – to find golf balls, to find drugs, to detect explosives, and most recently even to detect HIV and hepatitis – and all are equally bogus. 
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Resilience in the face of adversity: Hardship brings out the strength of the Yezidi community

Through the ages the Kurds have been subject to attacks time and again. The Yezidi history counts over seventy attacks, some of them clear cases of genocides. The Kurds in general were the victim of dictatorships, persecution and genocide.

And through the times, often the victims of these atrocities, who survived, came out stronger. However terrible the suffering or the crimes committed, people have the talent to survive by holding on to the stick held out to them not to drown.

That goes in particular for the Yezidis and the Kurds. When their land was split over four nations, they put up a fight not to be crushed completely. When Arab regimes tried to Arabize them, their identity only became stronger.

The former Iraqi ruler Saddam Hussein tried to beat the resistance out of the Kurds, by gassing the Kurdish town of Halabja in 1988 which killed more than 5,000 people. And by destroying thousands of Kurdish villages and killing 180,000 in the Anfal campaign, he tried to destroy their urge for autonomy and independence.

Yet the opposite happened. The Kurds rose against Saddam when he was weak in 1991, and were able to turn the tables and get their autonomy.
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Saturday, June 11, 2016

Two years on: How does Mosul resist its ISIS occupiers?

Two years after militants of the Islamic State (ISIS) captured Iraq’s second largest city, most people in Mosul are still waiting to be freed from the rule of the extremist group. People who are in touch with relatives in the city testify to this reality.


One piece of news reaching outside tells of peaceful resistance by civilians in Mosul. Even though all resistance is punishable by death, people have found ways to show their anger.


They paint on walls the letter ‘M’ the short for Muqawama, or resistance in Arabic. They also write the letter on pieces of paper and photograph it in parts of the city before posting it on social media.


The letter also gets sprayed on houses where ISIS fighters or leaders live, who often flee once they discover it, fearing it might means they are going to be targeted by coalition air strikes.


Possibly the most striking act of resistance is when civilians spray on public walls words such as ‘your days are numbered’ or ‘leave us alone’.
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Tikrit University brings life back to Saddam’s hometown

The re-opening of the University of Tikrit in December 2015 was the main reason many civilians decided to return home before there was even a council to handle the city’s daily administration, says Waad Raoof, the university’s president.

“Some 20,000 families came back with the students, and even at a time that Tikrit did not yet have a working council,” said Raoof.

The university campus was badly damaged in the fight for the city’s liberation from the Islamic State (ISIS) in April 2015.

ISIS briefly occupied the campus and when the Iraqi army recaptured months later and turned it into a base, the radical group made the place the target of its daily attacks.

Not much of the ruin is visible now, though some buildings are still partly destroyed and others show bullet holes and bomb scars. Most have been reconstructed, repaired, cleaned and painted.
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