Jack Serle

It hits the fan, staying objective

In Kurdistan on December 22, 2011 at 3:16 PM

This post was written before the true extent of the day’s events in Baghdad became clear. I will return to these terrible events when the dust has cleared.

Hour by hour the situation changes, seemingly ever escalating. Everyone I spoke to assumed things were going to get interesting once the Americans left Iraq. I was working under the impression that the overt US military presence would have left by 22 December.

It came as a bit of a surprise that they disappeared in the night of 18 December. What was more surprising was the dust had barely had time to settle on the convoy tracks before the Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shia, started to bust his political opponents.

A head shot of al-Hashemi wearing a grey suit with blue shirt and tie.

Vice President al-Hashemi

An arrest warrant was issued for Sunni vice president Tareq al-Hashemi the morning after the Americans left. Hashemi is accused of running death squads out of his Green Zone compound using his protection detail as assassins.

Three of his bodyguards’ taped confessions were denounced by Hashemi’s party, leading opposition group Iraqiya List, as obtained by torture. Hashemi has fled up north to Erbil, evading arrest in Baghdad airport only when Iraqi president Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, ordered Baghdad’s security forces let him go.

Maliki is demanding the Kurds return him to face trial in Baghdad. Kurds do not like being ordered around by Baghdadi politicians.

Reports have circulated that the deputy PM Saleh Mutlag, a Sunni from Iraqiya List, has either been fired by Maliki or will face a vote of no confidence in parliament.

The relationship between Maliki and his leading opponent, Iraqiya List leader and former PM, Ayad Allawi is approaching a nadir. The foreign minister is warning of meddling by powerful neighbours Iran – friend of Maliki – and Saudi Arabia – friend of the Sunnis.


With turmoil in Syria and Iran’s economy hitting the skids what happens next is anyone’s guess. My boss believes two options lie open for Iraq. One is a civil war followed by Balkanization into a Kurdish north, Shia south and Sunnis in the middle.

Turkey will be deeply opposed to any independent Kurdish state, despite being the leading proponent and trading partner with the semi-autonomous Kurdish region.

The prospect of a unilateral Turkish intervention, were Kurdistan to become a state, should not be ruled out. Ankara is keen to bludgeon Kurdish nationalism among their own Kurds even while they are thrilled to invest in Kurdistan Region with all its lovely oil and gas.

To cut up Iraq would be a poor show for the Sunnis who would be left with the areas north of Baghdad, devoid of the country’s major oil reserves in the Shia south around Basra.

But there is little to no trust left between the Shia and Sunni in the country. Despite the horrific bombing attack on Baghdad, this remains a moot point.

President George W Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki shake hands in front of U.S. and Iraqi flags as they seal the Status of Forces Agreement in Baghdad in 2008

President Bush and Prime Minister Maliki

The second scenario is Maliki stamps his authority on the faces of all opposition and institutes a new dictatorship in Iraq. A supine fiefdom of Tehran or an independent totalitarian state I do not know which.

I think what Hashemi has been accused of is telling. Terrorism, specifically, running assassination death squads targeting Baghdad’s political and military elite. This speaks to the central concern of Iraqis and shows how Maliki could throttle this nascent democracy.

Security is number one on the list of problems in Iraq. From security flows prosperity and infrastructures the people yearn for – clean water, sewerage, electricity for more than four hours a day. This is what the Kurds have and it stems from having a secure grip on their land.

If Maliki can promise and ensure security, eroding his people’s liberty and self-determination as he goes, he will be loved and feared. And in control.


Among all this intrigue and bloodshed I am editing and publishing stories. What is surprising is all but one of the pieces I run have not affected me a bit. Fascinating maybe but not distressing.

The one exception is not much of a report. A constant battle I have is with the poor quality of the reports I receive.

But this little fragment of a tale set my mind off on a path that I found distressing and disturbing. I have paraphrased the piece below.

Two girls have set themselves on fire in the space of two days in Kirkuk.

Police say they could find no reason for the self-burning.

One of the girls died in hospital, the other died in the bathroom of her house where she had reportedly locked the door form the inside.

The families of both victims are unaware of the reasons behind their daughters’ suicides.

What could drive two young women to self-immolation? Setting light to oneself is the action of someone with absolutely nothing to lose. It is the final act of desperation by someone so oppressed, hopeless and voiceless they must turn themselves into a beacon to draw the world’s gaze to their plight.

Why would two young women burn themselves to death in the privacy of their own home?


There is an appalling scourge of honour killings in this country. It stretches its vicious fingers across the world to the UK – following the Kurdish diaspora. Horrible cases make the press but a report by a Kurdish women’s rights organisation show the extent of it in Britain – nearly 3000 cases in 2010, a conservative estimate to be sure.

This New York Times report from Kurdistan has a particularly poignant passage that spells out the situation. The effect of and extent of honour killings are a mystery to me. That someone will say this is truly horrific in my mind:

The couple should never have married without permission.

“The girl and boy should be killed,” he [the girl’s uncle] said. “It’s about honor. Honor is more important for us than religion.”

The Times piece goes on to say more than 12,000 women died in the name of honour in Kurdistan between 1991 and 2007. Again, a conservative estimate.


The two girls in Kirkuk may not have been killed for looking at the wrong guy, for binging shame on the family. They could have put fire in their flesh because they were to be forced into a marriage with a man three times their age.

Here is an extract from a local news report:

Mohammed Rweid (56), one of the elders of the Sawaed tribe told AKnews: “I married an 18 year old girl three months ago and I am very happy with her.”

“There are no differences between us and we got married with her consent without being forced by her parents. She feels happy in her marriage. Marrying a young girl is better because she will help the man when he grows old and bring him children that carry his name.”

The truth could be far removed from instances of forced marriage or murder for honour. Perhaps the girls had deep seated psychological problems that had gone undiagnosed in a country with the barest minimum of healthcare.

The truth will always elude me.


The problems that beset Iraq stretch beyond the immediate fears of civil war or a return to totalitarian brutality.

Stability, openness and freedom are needed if this place is to have any hope of happiness and prosperity that may in turn give people strength to confront such abominations as honour killings.

As things stand now, this is a distant dream for this war torn land.

Images by the US Federal Government and Glance2002


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