photo: Eddy van Wessel


Sunday, March 27, 2016

Cutting Iraq’s excessive fat is not enough

Iraq is like a fat man who desperately needs to lose weight - was the image the Iraqi minister of Oil, Adil Abdulmahdi painted during the recent Sulaimani Forum of the American University (AUIS).

It was an image that stuck, in relation to what the economic world calls the Dutch disease, or how a country that earns big on oil, neglects to work on incentives to build a strong private sector. A disease that has brought Iraq into serious problems when the oil prices went down to an all-time low.

The fat is made up by the 7 million employees of the Iraqi state, gone up from a mere 850,000 in 2004, said the Iraqi minister. “Fat people have less energy and more health problems. If we do not get rid of this fat, we will go down a bad road.”

He was calling for major reforms, repeating what has been said by many: that now is the correct moment to do so. Meaning that if the painful task of cutting government jobs is not conducted at a time that the state is suffering from budget deficits, it will never happen once the oil price goes up again and the need for reform becomes less pressing. Read more here

Sulaimani Forum unites leaders on ISIS threat -- but not its causes

At the Sulaimani Forum when US columnist Thomas Friedman made a comparison between the Islamic State (ISIS) and presidential candidate Donald Trump – to illustrate how propaganda can successfully energize large crowds -- he connected two main subjects that had been engaging many of guests and participants at the annual meeting in the Kurdish city.

“They both validate grievances,” Friedman said about the two, speaking to a packed hall at the American University of Iraq, Sulaimani (AUIS), which organised and hosted the two-day conference on “ISIS and beyond.”

Earlier, panelists had already decided that the next American president will be Hillary Clinton, because Trump is “too racist and too authoritarian.”

Friedman was the guest of honor at the conference and featured prominently in a live TV-interview conducted by AUIS chairman and politician Barham Salih during dinner at the Shari Jwan hotel, the most prominent hotel in Sulaimani, Kurdistan’s second city.
Read all here

ISIS’ chemical weapons: a mix of Saddam, Assad and the West

The recent capture of one of the main ISIS operatives on its chemical weapons program has not only provided the Americans with details about ISIS’ production and storage of chemicals for warfare, but also once and for all confirmed that the radical group actually has such a program.

Up till now, some twenty chemical attacks by ISIS have been reported in Iraq and Syria, but only a few have been independently confirmed as such.

The Islamic group is suspected to have deployed two kinds of chemical weapons up till now: crude chlorine and mustard agent, and mostly the latter.

According to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, it used mustard gas on three fronts in August 2015: in an attack on the city of Marea in the Syrian Aleppo province and in two attacks in Iraq, on the Makhmour front near the Kurdish capital of Erbil.

Recently, an attack has been reported on the village of Taza, near Kirkuk, hitting mainly civilians who sustained skin burns and breathing problems.

The question is: where did ISIS get these chemicals from? Read more here

Equality starts with mothers

The organizers in the Dutch capital Amsterdam had chosen the picture of a female Kurdish Peshmerga fighter killed fighting the Islamic group ISIS in Syria for the debate on ‘Women in conflict and refugee situations’.

The hall mirrored the situation in the Netherlands; women of all colors and ages had come to watch and join in. Amongst them also a delegation of young Kurdish men, who pointed to the epic role of Kurdish women fighting against ISIS.

Their struggle – not only against the Islamic radicals but also for their personal freedom in a conservative society – has become the symbol of the struggle of all women worldwide.

Because of the 1,5 million refugees who use the Balkan route to find refuge in Europa, 55 percent are women and children. That number is up from 27 percent last year, as many European countries are making it more difficult for spouse to join their husbands.
Read all here...

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Of animals and man

The story of Kunkush, the white agora cat from Iraq who was reunited with his family after having got separated when they fled from Iraq to Norway, was a big hit.

Many newspapers published it, and some media even posted the video of the tearful reunion on internet, collecting many hundreds of thousands of hits.

Kunkush’s fate touched many hearts, starting with those who found him, those who searched for his owners and reunited them, and finally those who heard the story.

Even though it was an emotional story, of getting lost and being found, it still raises a general question: why do stories about animals have this effect, whilst those about people are often ignored?
Read more here

Friday, March 11, 2016

Jewish delegation receives warm welcome in Kurdistan

I still savour the moment I witnessed earlier this year, which was also symbolic for the short visit of a small Jewish delegation I guided around in Iraqi Kurdistan.

It was their first visit, meant to establish what is the state of Judaism in a region that has a rich and long Jewish heritage, but lost most of the Jews after they left mainly in the fifties and seventies.

I was asked to show them the visible remains of 3000 years of Jewish life in Kurdistan, and we visited amongst others the tomb of some prophets, a synagogue that badly needs to be reconstructed and the old hamam in the Erbil citadel that bears something that looks like the Star of David.

It is amazing how little is left, of such a rich past. But that is not counting the people, nor the feeling of connection that became apparent during the two days the three Israelis spent in Kurdistan.
Read more here

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Indian families searching for loved ones missing in Mosul

No ransom demand was made, no video has surfaced, no grave has been found. That is why almost two years on, family members of 39 Indian workers kidnapped in Mosul by the Islamic group ISIS, are still searching for their loved ones – even though one of their companions says they were all killed.

When ISIS took over Mosul in June, 2014, around one hundred foreign workers were trapped at the construction site of University Lake Towers in Mosul. The 40 Indians and 52 Bangladeshis had been contracted for the work by the Tariq Noor al-Huda firm in Baghdad, and were building 1,000 flats, a mosque, schools, roads and a sports stadium in the Jamia district of the city.

The Iraqi workers had left the site when ISIS started attacking the city a few days earlier, telling the foreign workers to lay low. They expected the danger would only last a couple of days. “You are from another country, they will not touch you,” they told them.
Read more here

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

The caliph runs a bandit state

When ISIS-leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi announced his Islamic state in June 2014, the only thing that was clear about it was that it would be run according to the Sharia law, and based on the reign of the first caliphs after the death of the Prophet Mohammed.

Yet when you build a state in the 21st century, with all the knowledge of the centuries in between, you will have to adapt your concept accordingly.

And so did Al-Baghdadi, who was joined by many former administrators and officials of Saddam Hussein’s Baath party. They must have known that in order to convince civilians to join them, they would have to offer them more than security and services.
Read more here