photo: Eddy van Wessel


Sunday, August 30, 2015

Departing Dutch ambassador: Make Iraq a country where people want to stay

Iraq is responsible for the safety and protection of its civilians, and the outside world should stimulate both Baghdad and the Kurdish government to take that responsibility, says Jeannette Seppen, until very recently ambassador for the Netherlands in Iraq. After two years in Baghdad, she has left for the same position in Pakistan.

After ISIS entered the arena halfway through her term in Iraq, Seppen’s work changed enormously, with more emphasis on humanitarian aid. She spoke in admiration about victims of ISIS for the resilience they have shown.

In this exclusive interview, Rudaw spoke to Seppen about her years in Iraq, where she visited the Kurdistan region often as the Netherlands upgraded its embassy office in Erbil into a consulate.

Read the interview here

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Europe: paradise lost for refugees

“Send us only the Christians, we do not want Moslems,” the Slovak government has told the European Union in reaction to the influx of thousands of refugees from Iraq, Syria, Libya and Africa who want to start a new life in Europe.

This statement speaks to the scene of migrants drowning in the Mediterranean Sea when smugglers sink their dinghies and European coast guards and commercial ships rush to save them.

The Greek island of Kos is struggling to register them, Macedonian riot police are using tear gas to hold them back, and in Calais thousands storm the Channel tunnel to reach Britain and the message from Germany is that by the end of the year the number of asylum seekers there could reach 800,000.

It all makes good stories, and good pictures. Fathers with small children crying from desperation after making it safely to Greek soil, children getting caught up between riot police and refugees, people pulling down fences that keep them from reaching their destination.

Read the whole story here

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Summer in the city

Summer in Iraq is, that when you open the cold tap, warm water comes out. It is like living inside a huge hair dryer, as a friend described it. Power shortage, and lots of sweating, said another. A friend who really suffered spoke of a ‘prep class for hell’

“AC on and it becomes too cold. Turn off AC, wait 30 seconds and turn it back on for 1 minute, then off again. Luxury problems are not unknown in this country,” yet another friend who recently settled in the Kurdistan Region told her Facebook friends. Which reminds me of the fights I witnessed in offices and homes for the remote control, in order to turn the temperature down to 18 degrees Celsius – or back up to something more comfortable.

The heat in Iraq and Kurdistan this year has reached new heights, with 58 degrees in Basra, and even the Kurdistan capital Erbil sweltering at times in 50 degrees. As parts of Iraq suffer from lack of services, the problems were huge; I really wonder how people survive that heat without any cooling, and expect those who own deep, cool cellars under their houses must feel privileged.

No wonder Iraqi people took to the streets, to demand that finally, over 12 years after the damage done by the American invasion the electricity situation is improved.

In Iraqi Kurdistan, even the relatively good government electricity suffers from the heat, and even more from the habit of many people to turn on all the cooling equipment they have at the same time and leave it on when they leave the house. As a result the grid gets overloaded many times a day.

In compounds, generators kick in, but elsewhere the neighborhood generators do not fill the time gap completely, leaving long hours of heat without any electricity. And even if they run, the generators do not offer enough amps to turn on the AC, so people have to resort to ventilators or water-coolers.

Badly hit are the around two million refugees and IDP’s in Iraq, many of whom live in tents. They have been given ventilators, working on batteries, and sometimes even water-coolers. But many cannot use the coolers, as they use at least a 100 liters of water a day.

As in the camps people are mostly dependent on water tankers that drive in daily to fill their individual tanks, many do not have enough water to spare to run a water-cooler. The heat leads to major health problems, partly because there is no cool place to store food safely.

Like most summers, the region is also hit by a lack of water, with some residential areas being served only a couple of times a week to fill the aluminum tanks on the roofs.

Water has become precious, even though the Kurdistan region is sitting on underground lakes and usually enjoys plentiful rainfall in the winter. But bad management, leaks and lack of planning every summer lead to problems, which are worsened by the habits of civilians. The water consumption in Iraq is many times higher than elsewhere.

Even though water is scarce, some habits are hard to beat. Showering with a lot of water, keeping the tap running when brushing your teeth, throwing away half full bottles of drinking water - and I still see people wasting water on cleaning the street with a hose.

This street cleaning has become a national game, played both by men and women, of chasing sand and particles with the water from a hose – at the same time keeping an eye on the neighbors and the movement in the street. I guess for many women it is a relieve from the chores inside the house.

When I make an issue of this water being wasted, people tell me they need to wet the dust that comes down with the summer heat - complaining about the government that neglects to do this.

Indeed, before 1991 the Iraqi government would use cleaning trucks for the streets, spraying them at the same time. Those trucks have disappeared in present day Kurdistan, with only some sweepers to clean away the rubbish.

In some Kurdish cities the local government has prohibited the washing of cars and streets, and anyone who is caught gets fined. I think it’s badly needed that this ruling is introduced nationally, both in Kurdistan and Iraq.

To make the game with the hose obsolete, the government needs to bring back the cleaning trucks and start using them regularly. But that will only solve part of the problems that hit us every year when the summer comes to the city. 

What is needed first and foremost is that both government and people learn the value of water. Then civilians, both grown-ups and children, should be educated to stop wasting it. And let’s we start now, whilst the heat is still on.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Wars and censorship: we all lose

There is a saying about wars, that the truth is always their first victim. And for the war against the Islamic State, this is certainly true.

Mainly so, because independent journalists are not allowed to report from the ISIS frontlines, nor from inside the self-declared caliphate. They can only report from the side of ISIS enemies and they depend on news about the battle from them. How ISIS fights the battle, we only know through its own propaganda, mainly in social media, and propaganda often is disinformation.

Not being able to visit the areas under occupation means we do not have firsthand eyewitness accounts on what goes on there. We are dependent on what people who escaped from ISIS-land tell us—which almost per definition has to be a negative story.

Read more here

Monday, August 17, 2015

‘Tailor-made’ plan to give minorities political voice in Kurdistan

To give minorities in the Kurdistan region more influence, they should get their own special councils of representatives to function within the Kurdish parliament and governing institutions.

That is the essence of a plan presented to the Constitutional Commission of the Kurdistan Parliament by Middle East Research Institute (MERI) President and former Minister Dlawer Ala’Aldeen.

Inspired by Eastern European bodies for minorities but adjusted to the Kurdish situation, two new councils will ensure the active participation of the different ethnic and religious elements in legislation, decision-making, implementation and monitoring, he predicted.

Read more here

Sunday, August 16, 2015

New book by Yezidi author aims to teach Arabs of ISIS brutality

It is because he owes it to the dozens of Kurdish Yezidi women he has spoken to regularly who were captives of the Islamic State that Kurdish journalist Khidher Domle says he wrote down their stories into a book.

His book, The Black Death, has been published to coincide with the first anniversary of the occupation of the Yezidi region of Shingal by ISIS on August 3, 2014. It paints the “tragedy of Yezidi women in the grip of ISIS,” according to its subtitle.

Among journalists in the Kurdistan Region, Domle is one of the most active on the issue. He is a Yezidi himself, and offered shelter to thousands of his people who fled ISIS from the Sinjar region last year. He set up a team to organize and manage a relief initiative in his village Sharya near Duhok.

Read more here

Friday, August 14, 2015

Read me a story in the park

“Mummy, I want a storybook,” the little girl kept asking. She was walking with her mother in one of the parks of Kurdistan’s capital Erbil. The mother answered that she did not need it, and from the way she was talking it was clear she did not really understand what her daughter wanted or why.

That little scene is so abnormal in the Kurdistan Region that it keeps popping up in my mind. A little girl, asking for a book to read whilst walking in a park. In a country where reading is in no way promoted at school, where most schools hardly even have libraries, and where many mothers, like the little girl’s, have not learned to understand the value of books.

In this case, the girl must have seen the book shop outside the park’s gate, another abnormality in a country where most people buy their books at book fairs—the main place for publishers to sell.

A country also where most publishers ask the author to pay for the publishing of his book, as I found out when I tried to get one of mine published recently. Or where in the best possible case, the translator will be paid, but not the writer.

Read the whole story here

One year is too long: free the Yezidis!

It’s now a year after the Islamic State, or ISIS, kidnapped thousands of Yezidi men, women and children, and most of those abducted still remain in the grip of the extremists.

Even now, the exact number of the Yezidi men killed in August 2014 still is not known because only a few of the mass graves ISIS buried them in have been found.

A year after the tragedy of August 3, hundreds of thousands of Yezidis who fled their homes in the Shingal region are still internally displaced, living in tents, camps and unfinished buildings in the Kurdistan region of Iraq.

Read the whole story here