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Contrary to media myth, Trump did not betray the Kurds

A bit of common sense and clear thinking amid the current hysteria, from Caroline Glick.

“Trump did not betray the Kurds,” by Caroline B. Glick, Israel Hayom, October 11, 2019:

The near-consensus view of US President Donald Trump’s decision to remove American special forces from the Syrian border with Turkey is that Trump is enabling a Turkish invasion and double-crossing the Syrian Kurds who have fought with the Americans for five years against the Islamic State group. Trump’s move, the thinking goes, harms US credibility and undermines US power in the region and throughout the world.

There are several problems with this narrative. The first is that it assumes that until this week, the US had power and influence in Syria when in fact, by design, the US went to great lengths to limit its ability to influence events there.

The war in Syria broke out in 2011 as a popular insurrection by Syrian Sunnis against the Iranian-sponsored regime of President Bashar Assad. The Obama administration responded by declaring US support for Assad’s overthrow. But the declaration was empty. The administration sat on its thumbs as the regime’s atrocities mounted. It supported a feckless Turkish effort to raise a resistance army dominated by jihadist elements aligned with the Muslim Brotherhood.

President Barack Obama infamously issued his “red line” regarding the use of chemical weapons against civilians by Assad, which he repudiated the moment it was crossed.

As ISIS forces gathered in Iraq and Syria, Obama shrugged them off as a “JV squad.” When the JVs in ISIS took over a third of Iraqi and Syrian territory, Obama did nothing.

As Lee Smith recalled in January in The New York Post, Obama only decided to do something about ISIS in late 2014 after the group beheaded a number of American journalists and posted their decapitations on social media.

The timing was problematic for Obama.

In 2014 Obama was negotiating his nuclear deal with Iran. The deal, falsely presented as a nonproliferation pact, actually enabled Iran – the world’s greatest state sponsor of terrorism – to develop both nuclear weapons and the missile systems required to deliver them. The true purpose of the deal was not to block Iran’s nuclear aspirations but to realign US Middle East policy away from the Sunnis and Israel and toward Iran.

Given its goal of embracing Iran, the Obama administration had no interest in harming Assad, Iran’s Syrian factotum. It had no interest in blocking Iran’s ally Russia from using the war in Syria as a means to reassert Moscow’s power in the Middle East.

As both Michael Doran, a former national security adviser in the George W. Bush administration and Smith argue, when Obama was finally compelled to act against ISIS, he structured the US campaign in a manner that would align it with Iran’s interests.

Obama’s decision to work with the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia in northern Syria because it was the only significant armed force outside the Iranian axis that enjoyed congenial relations with both Assad and Iran.

Obama deployed around a thousand forces to Syria. Their limited numbers and radically constrained mandate made it impossible for the Americans to have a major effect on events in the country. They weren’t allowed to act against Assad or Iran. They were tasked solely with fighting ISIS. Obama instituted draconian rules of engagement that made achieving even that limited goal all but impossible.

During his tenure as Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton hoped to revise the US mandate to enable US forces to be used against Iran in Syria. Bolton’s plan was strategically sound. Trump rejected it largely because it was a recipe for widening US involvement in Syria far beyond what the American public – and Trump himself – were willing to countenance.

In other words, the claim that the US has major influence in Syria is wrong. It does not have such influence and is unwilling to pay the price of developing such influence.

This brings us to the second flaw in the narrative about Trump’s removal of US forces from the Syrian border with Turkey.

The underlying assumption of the criticism is that America has an interest in confronting Turkey to protect the Kurds.

This misconception, like the misconception regarding US power and influence in Syria, is borne of a misunderstanding of Obama’s Middle East policies. Aside from ISIS’s direct victims, the major casualty of Obama’s deliberately feckless anti-ISIS campaign was the US alliance with Turkey. Whereas the US chose to work with the Kurds because they were supportive of Assad and Iran, the Turks view the Syrian Kurdish YPG as a sister militia to the Turkish Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The Marxist PKK has been fighting a guerilla war against Turkey for decades. The State Department designates the PKK as a terrorist organization responsible for the death of thousands of Turkish nationals. Not surprisingly then, the Turks viewed the US-Kurdish collaboration against ISIS as an anti-Turkish campaign.

Throughout the years of US-Kurdish cooperation, many have made the case that the Kurds are a better ally to the US than Turkey. The case is compelling not merely because the Kurds have fought well.

Under President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey has stood against the US and its interests far more often than it has stood with it. Across a spectrum of issues, from Israel to human rights, Hamas and ISIS to Turkish aggression against Cyprus, Greece, and Israel in the Eastern Mediterranean, to upholding US economic sanctions against Iran and beyond, for nearly 20 years, Erdoğan’s Turkey has distinguished itself as a strategic threat to America’s core interests and policies and those of its closest allies in the Middle East.

Despite the compelling, ever-growing body of evidence that the time has come to reassess US-Turkish ties, the Pentagon refuses to engage the issue. The Pentagon has rejected the suggestion that the US remove its nuclear weapons from Incirlik airbase in Turkey or diminish Incirlik’s centrality to US air operations in Central Asia and the Middle East. The same is true of US dependence on Turkish naval bases.

Given the Pentagon’s position, there is no chance that the US would consider entering an armed conflict with Turkey on behalf of the Kurds.

The Kurds are a tragic people. The Kurds, who live as persecuted minorities in Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Iran, have been denied the right of self-determination for the past hundred years. But then, the Kurds have squandered every opportunity they have had to assert independence. The closest they came to achieving self-determination was in Iraq in 2017. In Iraqi Kurdistan, the Kurds have governed themselves effectively since 1992. In 2017, they overwhelmingly passed a referendum calling for Iraqi Kurdistan to secede from Iraq and form an independent state. Instead of joining forces to achieve their long-held dream, the Kurdish leaders in Iraq worked against one another. One faction, in alliance with Iran, blocked implementation of the referendum and then did nothing as Kurdish-controlled Kirkuk was overrun by Iraqi government forces.

The Kurds in Iraq are far more capable of defending themselves than the Kurds of Syria. Taking on the defense of Syria’s Kurds would commit the US to an open-ended presence in Syria and justify Turkish antagonism. America’s interests would not be advanced. They would be harmed, particularly in light of the YPG’s selling trait for Obama – its warm ties to Assad and Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps….

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EDITORS NOTE: This Jihad Watch column is republished with permission. © All rights reserved.

ABC Documentary: The Rescue of Iraqi Christians

The ABC 20/20 documentary graphically portrayed how these Iraqi Christians threatened with genocide fled from their millennia old community of Qaragosh, Iraq, after a mortar attack by ISIS.  The Christian community they fled was one of the oldest in the Middle East and was violently desecrated by ISIS.  They were told by rampaging ISIS jihadis they had three choices; to flee, remain as virtual slaves or be killed. They were among the more than 170,000 internally displaced Christians in Iraqi Kurdistan threatened by barbaric apocalyptic ISIS less than 30 miles away.

The Qaragosh Christian community fled and became locked in a virtually immoveable massive traffic jam. They abandoned their vehicles fled on foot to Erbil. There they found  sanctuary in the courtyard of Mar Elia Chaldean Catholic Church presided over by resourceful Father Douglas Bazi.  At first housed in tents, the 560 refugees were subsequently housed in caravans, with space heaters, limited sanitary facilities and communal kitchens.  They were Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) who dared not enter UN High Commission for Refugees reception centers in Kurdistan, that already house 1.8 million largely Muslim refugees, for fear of retaliation. They lived in fear of any future as they lack residency.


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Iraqi Christian Grandfather Nissan and his grandchildren Mar Elia Church Compound, Erbil, Kurdistan December 14, 2015. Source: ABC 20/20.

That is when a remarkable alliance came to their aid. The ABC 20/20 documentary, narrated by Elizabeth Vargas, outlined who were prime actors:

Glenn Beck‘s charity, Mercury One’s Nazarene Fund, raised more than $12 million for the evacuation and resettlement efforts of the refugees. Contracted by the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom, former U.S. counter-terrorism officers Joseph and Michele Assad have spent the past four months forging a close partnership with Father Douglas Bazi at Mar Elia. The Assads were managing the risky plan of getting the refugees out of Iraq and finding a country that would grant them asylum so they can start their lives over.

Slovakia, a predominantly Catholic country, agreed to open its doors to at least 25 Iraqi Christian refugee families — 149 people in total — on the condition that no terrorists would pass through the Assads’ security check.

The Hudson Institute Center for Religious Freedom in a press release about the ABC 20/20 documentary provided the time line and key actors involved in this dramatic rescue:

In summer 2015, Hudson Center for Religious Freedom director Nina Shea initiated a project  to resettle Iraq’s most vulnerable minorities in countries where they would have residency rights (denied them in Kurdistan), practice their religion freely, and be safe. On August 17, Chaldean Catholic priest Douglas Bazi, who operates the Mar Elia camp, met with Shea at her office and asked her help to resettle his refugees out of the region. Shea immediately agreed.

With the encouragement and support of Hollywood producer Mark Burnett, Hudson brought on as an advisor evangelical leader and author Johnnie Moore and contracted security expert Joseph Assad. For three months, the team carried out extensive research, vetting, planning, logistical support, advocacy and preparatory travel under this project.

During this period, Shea met with the Syriac Catholic Patriarch Younan, several other Iraqi bishops, Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vice President of Slovakia, and diplomats, legislators and officials from dozens of countries in North and South America, Western and Central Europe, Australia, Armenia, and Kurdistan, as well as those of the United States.

It was the small Central European country of Slovakia that finally agreed to accept the Iraqi Christians, after being urged to do so by a key Vatican official who is Slovakian. On December 10, the Hudson team took these Iraqi Christian refugees to Slovakia in a plane chartered by Mercury One, the charity of media personality Glenn Beck, supported with [$12 Million in] funds donated by thousands of American citizens.

“While the world is focused on Syrian refugees, we never forget that tens of thousands of vulnerable Iraqi Christians who’ve escaped ISIS remain stranded in camps in Kurdistan and throughout the region with dim prospects of ever returning home,” said Nina Shea. “We hope our efforts will prompt other countries – especially the United States – to take them in.”

Slovakia is the first country to accept a large group of displaced “IDP” Iraqi Christians who survived ISIS and are displaced inside Iraq. Four days after Slovakia opened its doors, on December 14, and after closely observing the Center’s project, the neighboring Czech Republic announced it too would admit Iraqi Christian IDPs, beginning in January, 2016.

The United States does not accept Iraqi Christian IDPs for resettlement. Last summer, the State Department had even withheld two-week tourist visas from some of the same Christian children evacuated through the Center project last week; they had been awarded scholarships by a New Hampshire sports camp.

We have written about the plight of Assyrian and Chaldean Christians in Kurdistan and Syria and the refusal by our State Department to admit them under the Refugee Resettlement Program. We have published articles and conducted interviews about the genocidal threat towards Iraqi Christian with Canon Andrew White, the Vicar of Baghdad and Joseph T. Kassab of the Iraqi Christian Advocacy and Empowerment Institute (ICAEI) in both the New English Review and interviewed them on The Lisa Benson Show.  The Lisa Benson Show has established the Queen Esther Project to assist in funding efforts for the rescue of Yazidis, Christians and other non-Muslim religious minorities faced with extinction by ISIS.

One of the suggestions made by Kassab of the ICAEI, is an emergency airlift akin to that used to evacuate 130,000 Vietnamese in the closing days of the Vietnam War.  That was the first wave of Vietnamese refugees that ultimately numbered over 1.2 million. Our State Department had the temerity to suggest that these threatened Christians were excluded when they are covered by one of the priorities in our Refugee Admissions Program, fear of religious persecution.  Moreover, as Shea of the Hudson Institute has written, Christians were apparently excluded from a proposed State Departmernt genocide ruling that only covered Yazidis.

Those Vietnamese refugees were brought to Gulf Coast and created a vibrant community engaged in shrimping and other economic enterprises.  There is a large Vietnamese Catholic Church, Our Lady of Martyrs, in our community.  Instead of admitting these threatened Christians, the Administration is granting admissions to Syrian and other Muslim refugees, despite concerns about possible ISIS terrorist infiltrators among them.  Iraqi and Syrian Christians would be easily vetted and would likely be admitted under Family Reunification Visa Programs. The question is will Americans who took time out from holiday preparation to watch the ABC 20/20 documentary  be aroused to contact the White House and Congressional Representatives to open this country to admit Iraqi Christians as productive citizens, as they did Vietnamese four decades ago.

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared in the New English Review.

Commemorating the 1951 Jewish Expulsion from Iraq

Yesterday in Erbil, the Kurdistan Regional Government commemorated the expulsion of 25,000 Jewish Kurds by the Iraqi National government in April 1951.  They were among an estimated 125,000 Iraqi Jews who walked or flew on the Biblical wings of eagles in a massive airlift to Israel in Operation Ezra and Nehemiah.  Their properties, assets, funds were expropriated by the Iraqi government that some estimate were worth several billion in current dollars of account.

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Sherzad Omar Mamsani, Jewish Representative at Kurdistan Regional Religious Affairs Ministry.

The largest contingent were the Baghdadi or Babylonian Jews, while Kurdish Jews were the smallest contingent of the mass expulsion after having resided more than 2,700 years in both the Assyrian and  Babylonian captivities.  The Babylonian Jews produced the great rabbinic commentaries in the Talmud and other works that are studied daily in Yeshivas in Israel and the Jewish Diaspora.

Iraqi Jewish emigrants to Israel and the West have made major contributions to the establishment and growth of the modern State of Israel.  While initially opposed to Zionism, following The Farhud, the Arab Nazi-inspired  pogrom in June 1941, and especially, after the invasion by Iraq of the embryonic State of Israel in the 1948 1949 War of Independence and issuance of expropriations and expulsion orders, Iraq’s Jews  realized that Israel was the only sanctuary and made arrangements to leave en mass.   We have written of that in our NER interviews with Dr. Harold Rhode, whom we dubbed “the savior “of the Babylonian Jewish archives.

During the preparation for our NER interview  with US Army  Brig. Gen. (ret.)  Ernie Audino published in the December 2015 NER, he recommended  reading  a remarkable memoir of one Kurdish Jewish family from Zakho in Kurdistan  near the Turkish border, My Father’s Paradise: A Son’s Search  for his Father’s Past  by Ariel Sabar.  Saber’s book discusses his family’s integration in Israel. Noteworthy is the chronicle of  Saber’s father  who earned  degrees at both Hebrew and Yale Universities becoming a  full professor at UCLA and world recognized expert in the lingua franca spoken by Kurdish Jews, neo-Aramaic.

While heretofore little was known about the Kurdish Jews who arrived in Israel in 1951, more became known as the descendants of this wave of enforced emigration after arriving in Israel. It is estimated that Israel has more than 200,000 citizens of Kurdish Jewish origins, with 100,000 living in greater Jerusalem, alone.

Yesterday’s commemoration in Erbil was reported by AFP/ Arutz Israel National News and the RUDAW Kurdish news agency.   The AFP/ Arutz Sheva National News  article ,”Jewish Kurds hold groundbreaking Iraq commemoration:”

In the Kurdish autonomous, region in northern Iraq, a ceremony was held on Monday to mark the deportation of Jews from Iraq seven decades ago, AFP reports.

The event also marked the beginning of Jewish representation at Kurdistan region’s Religious Affairs Ministry, which is the result of a law passed in May to promote minority rights. “The law says that if there was one person from the followers of any religion, his rights are preserved,” said Sherzad Omar Mamsani, the Jewish representative at the Kurdish Regional Ministry.

The ceremony in the regional capital Erbil was attended by Kurds of Jewish origin and officials who also visited an exhibition of old photographs and records documenting Iraqi Jewry.

According to Mamsani, the ceremony is the first of its kind and marks what is known as theFarhud, the dispossession that led to the exodus and deportation of Jews from Iraq.

Mamsani, who has Jewish origins, said he estimated that the families who self-identify as Jews in Kurdistan but are still officially registered to as Muslims numbered around 400. He added that the number of families who converted to Islam but “are Jews in origin” was in the thousands.

Zach Huff, an American researcher living in Israel and specializing in Kurdish affairs, said he hoped Monday’s ceremony was the start of a Jewish revival in the Iraqi region of Kurdistan. “There are about 200,000 Kurds living in Israel and close to 100,000 living in and around Jerusalem,” he toldAFP.

“They do actually long to connect with their roots in Kurdistan even if they’re second or third generation,” Huff said. “They see that Kurdistan is open and welcoming them with open arms.”

“I do predict that there will be a lot more business, tourism and a closer relationship in the near future between Jewish Kurds and the people of Kurdistan,” Huff said.

There is no active synagogue in the region but Mamsani has said he hoped that would change soon.

Watch this RUDAW news video of the Kurdistan commemoration, Kurdistan celebrates Kurdish Jews.

The following is an excerpt from Saber’s  My Father’s Paradise pp. 104-105 describing the family’s experience on the day of expulsion, April 16, 1951 for Iraq’s Jews:

The end arrived suddenly. A line of motor coaches rolled into town early one April [1951] morning, and word went out that the time had come. Under a sky still full of stars , Jewish families , anxious and bleary, dragged suitcases and children out front doors and into the cramped  alleys that led to the main street.  As they crossed the bridge to the bus stop, they saw that another crowd had gotten there first: Hundreds of Muslims had lined the streets to bid their neighbors farewell.  Old women raised cries of li-li-li-li-li, ululating as if a loved one had died. One beggar –beloved of the townspeople, though he was slightly mad- pounded his head had against a newly erected electric pole. “Where  are my brothers going!” he shrieked, until people crowded in to console him. “Why are they forsaking us?” Buses carried the [Zakho’s]Jews to Mosul, and trains carried them to Baghdad. At the airport, angry mobs pressed against the barricades hurling curses. “Die kilab yahud!” “Rot in Hell” “Be gone!”  It was April 16, 1951. Miryam flinched at the ugly words and pulled her children against her skirt as crowds of departing Jews pressed in from all sides. A few hours later, the Bah Saba has reached the checkpoint where guards searched bodies and luggage for contraband”.

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared in the New English Review.

Kurds: Friends, Foes, Fighters?

We interview Dr. Sherkoh Abbas, Kurdistan National Assembly, about the Kurds, Kurdistan, Islam, geopolitics, war, Israel and a host of other important issues related to the West and the United States. Dr. Abbas makes the very strong point that most of the Kurds are pro-America and pro-Israel, want to fight with America against the Islamic State in Syria and other theaters of battle BUT, the Obama Administration has no interest in assisting the Kurds.

Also, a LIVE report from our correspondent in Israel, Jerusalem Jane!

RELATED ARTICLE: Kurds in Kobani say Victory over ISIS in Siege is Near

EDITORS NOTE: The featured image was  taken on August 21, 2014 and shows a woman Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) fighter guarding a post on the front line in the Makhmur area, near Mosul. Photo courtesy Ahmad al-Rubaye (AFP).