Delivering the Kurdish Voice to Washington 
In Memoriam Dr. Najmaldin Karim (1949-2020)
Najmaldin Karim, ‘one-man lobby’ for Kurdish interests on Capitol Hill, dies at 71
Najmaldin Karim, a Kurdish neurosurgeon and political activist who served as a bridge between the United States and his native Iraq, promoting Kurdish interests on Capitol Hill before returning to his war-ravaged hometown as provincial governor of Kirkuk, died Oct. 30 at a hospital in Olney, Md. He was 71.
Kurdistan's Weekly Brief, October 26, 2021
A weekly brief of events occurred in the Kurdistan regions of Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey.
  • The Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran (KDP-I) released three reports claiming the Iranian regime is attempting to change the demography of Iranian Kurdistan. Among other things, the reports outlined the resettlement of dozens of Turkish families in Mehabad. At the same time, the KDP-I reported Azeris have recently purchased large amounts of agricultural land from Kurds for above-market prices in Bokan and Piranshahr, which raised fears among residents of a regime-funded project to dilute the area’s Kurdish majority. 
  • Iranian security forces arrested several Kurdish activists and citizens last week, including 66-year-old Abdullah Shadab in Shinno (Oshnavieh), a labor activist named Osman Ismaeli in Saqqez, a female activist named Marim Sadeqi in Sanandaj, and two Kurds from Piranshahr and Bokan named Salah Alizadeh and Diako Lutfi. Moreover, the Hengaw Organization for Human Rights reported the fate of a female Kurd named Metra Taqi and her four-year-old son, Mehirsam Rasouli, remains unknown after they were arrested one month ago after returning to Iran from Iraqi Kurdistan. Lastly, Sanandaj’s Islamic Revolutionary Court imposed a suspended sentence of two years in prison on a female activist named Roya Jalali for “membership in the Kurdistan Free Life Party (PJAK).”
  • Three Kurdish border porters (kolbars) were killed, and three were injured when their vehicle flipped over between Nowdeshah and Marivan on Saturday. Separately, two mines from the Iran-Iraq War injured two Kurdish civilians outside of Mehabad and Harsin. Many of the mines from that conflict were planted by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), who, unlike the Iranian Army (Artesh), made little effort to recover the mines or record their locations.  
  • Iraq’s Iranian-backed parties continued to dispute the election results announced by the Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) and held protests in Baghdad and several other governorates last week. On Sunday, Iraqi security forces prevented hundreds of pro-Iran protesters from assaulting the Green Zone. Concomitantly, the Iranian-backed Fatah Coalition, along with former prime ministers Haider al Abadi and Noori al Maliki, Shi’a cleric Ammar al Hakim, and former head of the Iranian-backed Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) Falih al Fayyad, formed the Coordination Framework to organize efforts to dispute the election results and plan future political campaigns. Maliki, who sided with the Iranian-backed parties because his chances of becoming prime minister again are very small, hosted a meeting of the Framework’s members at his home on Sunday. That said, the meeting was not attended by any of Iraq’s Kurdish parties, and disputes remain between the Kurdish parties, primarily the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and Democratic Party of Kurdistan (KDP), and the Iraqi government regarding who will serve as Iraq’s president and governor of Kirkuk. 
  • Turkey claimed its National Intelligence Organization (MIT) assassinated three Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) members in Kirkuk. Moreover, the PKK accused Turkey of using chemical weapons 323 times during the past six months of its incursion into Iraqi Kurdistan. Turkish airstrikes also struck several locations near Peshmerga positions in Erbil Governorate’s Soran District. 
  • US Senators Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) introduced a concurrent resolution commemorating the 30th anniversary of Operation Provide Comfort, which implemented a no-fly zone in 1991 that protected Iraq’s Kurds from Saddam Hussein’s regime. The resolution reaffirms “the strong partnership between the United States and the Iraqi Kurds” and “the enduring respect and support of Congress for America’s Kurdish friends.”
  • Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al Kadhimi gave in to pressure from the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and annulled a plan to establish an Iraqi military base on a site used by the former regime to massacre Kurds in Kirkuk Governorate’s Tobzawa. Iraq’s Ba’athist government held 55,000 Kurdish detainees at the Tobzawa camp who were later killed or buried alive in mass graves in southern Iraq. 
  • The latest round of talks aimed at drafting a new Syrian constitution failed after four days of negotiations between the Assad regime and the Turkish-backed opposition in Geneva. The UN’s chief mediator and Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Syria, Geir O. Pedersen, described the most recent round of talks as a “big disappointment.“ The Kurdish-led Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES) was excluded from the latest round of talks and prior summits due to Turkey’s veto. 
  • Turkish forces acted on President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s most recent threats to initiate a new military campaign in northeastern Syria by launching several probing attacks on AANES-controlled territories. Simultaneously, the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) announced a Turkish drone strike killed three SDF personnel, Huzan Qamishli, Kali Halab, and Amed Afrin, who were returning to Sarin from Kobani after receiving medical treatment on Saturday for wounds suffered in previous clashes with Turkish forces. The SDF also rejected Turkey’s claim it killed nine SDF personnel near Afrin. That said, Turkish proxies shelled two Christian villages northwest of al Hasakah and an area near Tal Rifaat. Finally, Kurdish activists in Amuda protested Russia’s ongoing failure to enforce a ceasefire it agreed to with Turkey in northeastern Syria. 
  • The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) reported Turkish proxies imposed new taxes on residents in occupied Afrin’s Kurdish-majority Soho District. The “new levies” are for protection and will be imposed on local farmers and every vehicle that passes through the town. Meanwhile, another SOHR report claimed at least one fighter from the Turkish-backed al Sham Corps was killed in clashes with another Turkish-backed group known as the al Sharqia faction. 
  • On Thursday, the Turkish police arrested 17 Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) members in Izmer for criticizing the government in social media posts. The Turkish government continues to put immense pressure on the HDP and its supporters, resulting in thousands of arrests alone in 2021. 
  • After the demand of ten embassies in Turkey to release the Turkish philanthropist Osman Kavala from prison, President Erdogan bashed the appeal and declared the ambassadors as persona non grata. On Monday, the US embassy in Ankara said “the United States notes that it maintains compliance with Article 41 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic relations,” a sign of withdrawing their appeal in regards to Kavala’s case. Erdogan’s reaction was criticized by the HDP leaders Pervin Buldan and Mithat Sancar. “For a country that conflicts with all its neighboring states, whose currency is constantly losing value, whose foreign debt has exceeded 400 billion, and an important part of whose resources goes to war and armaments, new enemies are what it least needs.” read the HDP statement. Further, the European Commission also released a report about Turkey’s “democratic backsliding” and “very worrying” situation in the Kurdish region. The report criticized the government for jailing 4,000 HDP members and the crackdown on the elected mayors. Additionally, the report covered Turkey’s domestic issues, including corruption, which the government failed to counter, and civil society’s challenges.

Iraq’s Elections: Gloomy but Promising Outcomes
  • Kurds must demand their constitutional rights as a united front
  • If al Kadhimi, al Halbousi, and Saleh all remain in power, then why did Iraq hold elections in the first place, and what has changed? 
  • Although al Maliki won the second most seats among the Shia powers he is communicating with the Iranian-backed blocs for a better chance to be a “compromise" candidate.
  • Iranian and Turkish proxies performed poorly
Washington Kurdish Institute 
October 26, 2021

With the lowest voter turnout since 2003, Iranian and Turkish proxies lost, and the country will get into a darker era if election winners don’t work together, mainly Baghdad and Erbil. 

Two years ago in the month of October, thousands of Iraqi youth across the country, mainly in Baghdad, rose against the political system that had created poor living conditions, unemployment, lack of primary services, and above all, maintained the most corrupt government worldwide. The far majority of the protesters were non-partisan and unsupported by any political party; nor did they accept adoption by any party. But they were faced with brutal attacks by various forces. Many young demonstrators were killed and shot by Iranian-backed militias; ideological Iraqi Shia proxies created by Iran and funded by the Iraqi government known as “Popular Mobilization Units” or “PMUs.” However, the powerful presence of the protestors led to some concessions and change in the government, including the resignation of the cabinet in 2019, reforming election laws, and holding snap elections. But little had changed since the interim government led by Mustafa al Kadhimi, who is not part of Iran’s circle but faced regional and internal challenges and was not efficient enough to heed the entire demands of the protestors. After two years of a status quo, inclusive government, the snap election took place on October 10, 2021. The results were announced by the Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC), but the outcome was both disappointing and promising. 

According to the IHEC, the voter turnout was 43 percent, which is the lowest since Iraq’s liberation from the dictatorship of Saddam Hussien in 2003. The disappointment and the loss of confidence in both the political elite and the government since 2003 have significantly laid their shadows in the recent election turnout. Major issues facing Iraq include essential services such as electricity, water, unemployment, infrastructure, and above all, the security threats by both ISIS (Da’esh) and some factions of the Iranian-backed PMUs. The results somewhat mirrored constituents’ frustrations toward the Iranian militias, political entities, and politicians for the destruction they caused to the country. For example, the Iranian-backed blocs lost dramatically in the elections, a sign of punishment by voters for the violent behaviors they practiced across the country since their official formation in 2014. 

Among the biggest losers from the election is the Fateh bloc led by Hadi al Ameri, the Iranian-backed successor of Abu Mahdi al Muhandis, who was killed alongside Iranian General Qasem Soleimani. The Fateh bloc lost two-thirds of parliamentary seats, from 48 seats in 2018 to 15 in 2021. Ameri has long been accused of assassinating Sunnis since 2003, and his faction is frequently accused of destroying Sunni areas after the liberation from Da’esh, as well as oil smuggling. The Fateh bloc also includes Qais al-Khazali, an infamous extremist leader involved in numerous attacks, including attacks against civilians. Moreover, significant losers included Falih al-Fayyadh, the most senior Iraqi government official that was sanctioned by the US for human rights abuses. Al-Fayyadh was sacked by Prime Minister al Kadhimi and could only win four seats in the elections. Former Prime Minister Haider al Abadi, who was backed by the US from 2016 to 2018, was also among the losers with his new partner, the Shia clerk Ammar al Hakim. The two leaders won four seats in comparison to the 60 seats they had in 2018. 
Likewise, Turkish-backed blocs also performed poorly, including the Turkmen Front, which used to enjoy the support of Turkmen minorities, especially in Kirkuk. Instead, The Turkmen Front decreased in votes and lost a seat in Kirkuk. Ankara also supported a Sunni bloc backed by Khamis al Khanjar, a controversial businessman involved in corruption and close ties with Turkey’s authoritarian President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Al Khanjar could only win 13 seats in the Sunni region and significantly lost to his Sunni opponent Mohamed Al-Halbousi, who is the current parliament speaker and won most of the Sunni votes at 37 seats. 

Despite the low turnout, the winners had unsurprisingly good results due to the discipline among their constituents, with the Shia Cleric Muqtada al Sadr winning 72 seats, and the Democratic Party of Kurdistan (KDP) winning 33 seats in the Kurdistan Region. Both KDP and Sadr supporters remain loyal to their ideologies, helping them to be non-competitive. For example, in the second Shia bloc, the unexpected winner was the former Iraqi Prime Minister, Noori al Maliki. Maliki won 35 seats, which is two seats less than half of what Sadr had won. The KDP won more than half of what the second place winner, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), won with 16 seats. Additionally, the Amtidad (Expansion) bloc, which enjoyed support from the 2019 protestors, gained 9 seats, which is a good performance for a newly established political party. The Amtidad movement also announced “understandings” with many of the independent winners, who are mostly secular Shias and are not backed by any political entity. 

The majority of the Iraqis celebrated the loss of Iranian proxies since suffering the atrocities by the Iran-backed militias. However, the losers of the election, under the pact “Coordinating Framework”, rejected the results. They held protests across the country on October 18, accusing “foreign powers” of intervening and rigging the election. The “Coordinating Framework ” parties are mainly Iranian-backed groups, armed factions, and includes al Maliki, despite their surprising gain of 37 seats. Although al Maliki won the second most seats among the Shia powers, he has no hope in facing al Sadr to gain a majority control in the next cabinet election or to be selected as prime minister. Instead, communicating with the Iranian-backed blocs will grant him a better chance to be a “compromise” candidate between al Sadr’s nominee and the Iranian-backed candidate. The third option for Maliki is to stay as an opposition power and attack the next cabinet’s performance until a future election. 

Will we see the same people running the country? 

Though real dialogue has yet to form, the next government has not started its term, as the IHEC needs to confirm the results. The competition, as always, will primarily be on the prime ministership, the speaker, and the presidency. The current Prime Minister al Kadhimi, enjoys western and regional backing, and aims to be reelected to the post, especially after not running in the elections due to promises by al Sadr to retain him for another four years. But al Sadr’s position on al Kadhimi is not clear, and he might change his opinion as he has done with others in the past. The current Speaker, al Halbusi, is also aiming to stay in his position after his de facto win in the Sunni region. Meanwhile, the President Barham Saleh, a Kurd of the PUK, has less of a chance to retain his position despite western backing for many reasons, including KDP’s major wins in the election and the party’s aim to win the presidency, especially after failing in that regard in 2018. 
Logical questions have been circulating among activists: if al Kadhimi, al Halbousi, and Saleh all remain in power, then why did Iraq hold elections in the first place, and what has changed? How far can the same people push against Iranian proxies, especially after being tested and failing in that regard? Additionally, can Sadr be trusted to stand against Iranian proxies given that he has vacillated on the issue so many times in the past? 

The election results are indeed gloomy given its low voter turnout, but it could be promising if the winners deliver on what the people have demanded. But for the Kurds, it will be the same question, will the new Iraqi Government be the same old story? The answer is most likely yes, unless the Kurds demand their constitutional rights as a united front. Those rights include liberating and normalizing the disputed territories from material laws imposed by Baghdad, delivering the allocated budgets for the Kurdistan Region, and solving the outstanding issues outlined in the constitution that every elected cabinet has failed to do since 2005. 

The threats against the US by Iranian proxies and the uncertainty of Sadr should only make the US support the Kurdistan region more in the upcoming talks to form the elected government. The US policymakers should make up for the failed policies on the Kurds, including the October 16, 2017 betrayal, when Washington turned a blind eye to Baghdad, Tehran, and Ankara attacking the Kurds. The change of US policy toward the Kurds would be quite easy, given that the US support of all previous prime ministers has backfired, including support for Abdai and al Maliki.
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