Remove Sudan from the Terror List
David L.
Friday, February 14, 2020

By David L. Phillips

Khartoum – Sudanese deserve to be rewarded for overthrowing the dictator Omar al-Bashir. Without a peace dividend, the economy will remain stagnant and shadowy forces from the old regime may foment violence in a bid to restore their power and privileges. The Trump administration should lift sanctions and remove Sudan from the list of state sponsors of terrorism (SST).

US sanctions, imposed in 1993, did not deter Bashir from his evil deeds. Rather, sanctions allowed Bashir and leaders of his National Congress Party (NPC) to enrich themselves. Sanctions fueled corruption, while impoverishing the Sudanese people who chafed under Bashir’s rule.

Protests peaked in the spring of 2019 when the Forces of Freedom and Change took to the streets. Bashir ordered a crackdown, instructing his generals to kill one-third of the protesters. Two hundred and eighty people died and at least forty disappeared. As violence escalated, forces loyal to current Vice President Hemeti refused to participate in the carnage, protecting the protesters.

Bashir sits in a Khartoum prison pending trial by the International Criminal Court (ICC). He is accused of genocide in Darfur where more than a half million people were killed and millions displaced. The decision to send Bashir to the ICC is courageous and praiseworthy.

So is the decision by Prime Minister Hamdok to pay reparations to the families of US service members who were killed or injured when the USS Cole was attacked in October 2000. Sudan is renouncing Bashir’s terror ties. During Bashir’s rule, Sudan harbored Osama bin Laden from 1991 to 1996. Sudan was also implicated in bombings of the US embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salam in August 1998. Addressing allegations of support for terrorism is prerequisite to being removed from the SST list.

The “new Sudan” is also taking decisive steps to repudiate Bashir’s dictatorship. After Bashir’s arrest, the interim government adopted a “transitional document” on 20 August 2019. It called for the creation of a Transitional Justice Commission and interim governing structures to guide Sudan from dictatorship to more democratic and accountable governance.

To date, however, the Supreme Council and the Council of Ministers have delayed launching the Transitional Justice Commission. People are impatient. Not only do they want trials for Bashir and his cronies, but they are also demanding jobs and economic development. Sudanese rightly expect benefits from the transition.

US officials share this hope. Some sanctions were removed in 2017 and steps are underway for the two countries to exchange ambassadors for the first time in twenty-three years.  

Washington wants Sudan to entrench the rule of law and realize its economic potential. Flood plains of the Nile River could make Sudan the breadbasket of East Africa. Sudan is a resource-rich country with vast reserves of gold and minerals. Sudan can also play an important moderating role in the dispute between Ethiopia and Egypt over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.

Not only is the “new Sudan” an opportunity for US businesses. Sudan is also emerging as an important security partner of the United States. Its counter-terrorism activities are gaining momentum and it has taken meaningful steps to prevent violent extremism on its territory. Sudan has also cracked-down on human trafficking.  

Washington should proceed cautiously. US officials should learn from experience in Myanmar, where the Obama administration moved too quickly to lift sanctions and the Burmese junta was resurgent.

Removing Sudan from the SST list is a process to be measured by benchmarks. While negotiations for Sudan’s democratic transition are underway, the US should begin the delisting process.

To keep delisting on track, Sudan should adopt confidence building measures (CBMs). CBMs include the enforcement of money-laundering restrictions and banking reforms; establishing control over the gold sector that has been a major source of corruption; and, concluding peace talks with armed rebel groups that would involve security sector reform (SSR) and the disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR) of non-state militias.

Beyond sending Bashir to the ICC, transitional justice will require dismantling the NPC’s corrupt system. If Sudan’s national courts lack the capacity for accountability, the government should invite hybrid courts with international judges and prosecutors to work alongside Sudanese counterparts.

Sudan has suffered decades of dictatorship. It is time for the country to emerge from this dark period; stabilize conflict conditions; and normalize its international relations. Carefully calibrated steps lifting US sanctions and removing Sudan from the US list of state sponsors of terrorism are critical to peace and progress.

Mr. Phillips is Director of the Program on Peace-building and Rights at Columbia University’s Institute for the Study of Human Rights. He served as a Senior Adviser and Foreign Affairs Expert at the State Department during the Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations.

This article was originally published in the Sudan Tribune:

Kurds in Iran: Current Conditions and Future Prospects
Friday, January 31, 2020

By: Christine Caldera

The Program on Peace-building and Human Rights (PBHR) at the Institute for the Study of Human Rights convened a roundtable on “Kurds in Iran: Current Conditions and Future Prospects” on January 27. The meeting was co-sponsored with the Washington Kurdish Institute (WKI).

Participants from both factions of the Kurdistan Democratic Party-Iran (KDPI) and the Komala Party discussed security, political and economic challenges of Kurds in Iran who number between 10 and 12 million. The Iranian government violates the human rights of several minority ethnic and religious groups, including Kurds, Azeris, and Baluch. The Iranian government discriminates against Iranian Kurds with gaining access to university studies, employment, business licenses and economic aid, getting permission to publish books and exercising their civil and political rights.

The state restricts the political activities and targets the Kurdish population. For example, Iranian forces carried out an attack on the KDPI headquarters in Koya, killing at least a dozen individuals. Other reports confirm violations of international law, including torture, due process violations, indiscriminate killings, intimidation against human rights defenders, and executions. Kurdish political prisoners represent almost half of the total number of political prisoners in Iran.

Despite the presence of the oil and gas industries, the Kurdish provinces in Iranian Kurdistan have some of the highest unemployment rates in all of Iran at 16.3 percent. According to the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the 1995 Selection Law based on Religious and Ethical Standards, known as the gozinesh process, hinders equal opportunity or treatment in employment for persons belonging to ethnic and religious minorities in Iran. There is employment discrimination based upon political opinion, previous political affiliation, and religious affiliation such as followers of the Baha’I faith. Landmines and other explosive remnants from the Iran-Iraq War (1980-88) hinder farmers, nomads, shepherds and traders. Due to the lack of formal economic opportunities, some have turned to smuggling commodities such as tea, tobacco and fuel. Suicide rates have been on the rise in Iranian Kurdistan, which has highlighted the growing economic crisis in the region.

The lack of respect for the physical integrity rights of Kurds coupled with systematic discrimination in cultural and economic spheres limits the right to self-determination for Iranian Kurds. Despite these obstacles, Kurdish parties are determined to improve the conditions for Iranian Kurds and work towards the establishment of a federal, democratic republic in Iran. Participants discussed (i) constitutional arrangements, (ii) collective and minority rights, and (iii) decentralization issues/power-sharing.

PBHR offered to assist dialogue between Iranian Kurdish political parties, between Iranian Kurds and other ethnic and religious minorities in Iran, and to raise the profile of issues effecting Iranian Kurds and policy-makers and opinion-leaders in Washington, D.C.

Eliminating Iranian-Backed Militias in Iraq
David L.
Monday, January 27, 2020

By David L. Phillips

In the wake of the U.S. drone strike that killed Iranian General Qassem Soleimani, the United States faces the issue of what to do with the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) of Iraq. The PMF are a veritable deep state in Iraq destabilizing the country and threatening US forces.

The PMF includes dozens of Iraqi Shia militias that worked with Qasem Soleimani, the head of the Iranian Quds Force, a branch of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Abu Mehdi al Muhandis, a prominent PMF member of the Kata’ib Hezbollah militias, was also killed in the attack. Khata’ib Hezbollah, which the US government considers a terror group, vows revenge.

The PMF are deeply embedded in Iraqi society and security structures. They arose during Iraq’s sectarian civil war, beginning in 2006. The PMF killed hundreds of American soldiers and civilians, using explosively formed penetrator devices provided by Iran. The PMF are also responsible for systematic and widespread war crimes against Iraq’s Sunni population.

When the Islamic State invaded Iraq in June 2014, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the most revered Shia cleric in Iraq, issued a fatwa summoning the faithful to defend holy shrines. The PMF played a leading role in the fight to drive ISIS out of Iraq. Along the way, they evolved from a militia into an army — trained, equipped and financed by Iran. The PMF endure, though the caliphate has been defeated.

The Iraqi constitution stipulates that militias are illegal, but the government has been unable to demobilize them. Instead, Baghdad has sought to co opt the PMF by bringing them under the nominal control of the prime minister’s office and appointing their leaders to government positions.

Iran claims the PMF act independently, outside of its control. While Iran pledged to de-escalate after launching ballistic missiles against US bases in Iraq on January 8, the PMF’s vow of revenge is a serious threat.

On January 12, the PMF launched rocket attacks against Balad Air Base that killed four Iraqi service men. Though no American trainers were injured at Balad, the attack is a harbinger of future conflict.

PMF leaders such as Falih Alfayyadh (Chairman of Popular Mobilization Committee), Hadi al-Amiri (Commander of the Badr Brigade), Ali al-Yasiri (Khorosan), and Qais al-Khazali (Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq) threaten US forces in Iraq. After Soleimani and Muhandis were killed, Khazali ordered his fighters to prepare for an upcoming battle against the US. He vowed that America’s military presence in Iraq would end soon.

The PMF are proven adversaries targeting US interests, as well as America’s Kurdish allies. For example, Muhandis and other PMF leaders were involved in seizing Kirkuk in October 2017, and trying to kill the pro-American Kirkuk Governor Najmaldin Karim.

After Soleimani’s killing, 170 Iraqi lawmakers approved a resolution asking the Iraqi government to end the agreement under which Washington sent forces to Iraq more than four years ago to help in the fight against ISIS. The resolution barely garnered a majority, with Sunni and Kurdish legislators boycotting the vote. The Trump administration dismissed the vote, concerned that pulling out 5,200 U.S. troops could cripple counter-terrorism efforts and allow the resurgence of ISIS.

Washington’s Options

The United States could withdraw its forces from Iraq. However, President Trump is adamant about maintaining the American military presence, despite the Iraqi parliament’s request that US forces leave the country and demands by Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi.   

The US could ignore the PMF and hope they go away. This is unlikely given their integration into Iraqi security structures and base of popular support with Iraq’s Shia majority.

Washington could urge Baghdad to control the PMF. To date, however, the Iraqi government has shown little willingness or capacity to rein them in.  

Not acting is not an option. The leaders of the PMF–Falih Alfayyadh, Hadi al-Amiri, Ali al-Yasiri, and Qais al-Khazali — have been identified as terrorists by the United States. The bombing of the Balad Base is the first salvo in a campaign to avenge the killing of Soleimani and Muhandis.

The PMF represent an imminent threat, plotting more attacks to drive the US out of Iraq. Under such circumstances, targeted killings are allowed under international law. 

The US government faces a credibility gap, created by President Trump’s claim that Soleimani was killed to prevent an imminent threat. Targeted killings in the future must be based on verifiable evidence that an attack is imminent. The after action report should be transparent and detailed.

Iraq’s Sunnis and Kurds would welcome the removal of Shia extremists, and some Shia politicians would also approve. The removal of Shia extremists would open more space for moderate Shia groups, reducing sectarian polarization. There is no love lost between the PMF and Iraqi politicians, who are struggling to stabilize the country and form a new government.

Iraq can never be secure with the PMF unfettered. Getting rid of the PMF would catalyze an Iraqi-owned process to stabilize the country, enhance national sovereignty, and eventually rid the country of foreign forces. It would also professionalize the Iraqi army, as the first line of defense against violent extremism.

Iraqis resent Iran’s control of their country. They know the PMF are gangsters who run a parallel state. Iraqis crave stability and effective governance, which will not be achieved with the PMF at-large.

Phillips is Director of the Program on Peace-building and Rights at Columbia University’s Institute for the Study of Human Rights. He worked on “The Future of Iraq Project” as a Senior Adviser and Foreign Affairs Expert to the State Department during the Bush administration. Phillips is the author of Losing Iraq: Inside the Post-War Reconstruction Fiasco.

Purvaja S.
Menstrual Health and Gender Justice Working Group
Thursday, January 23, 2020

In November 2019, Kenya adopted the world’s first stand-alone policy on menstrual hygiene. India has been integrating menstrual hygiene efforts in its sanitation policies for more than 10 years. And in the United States, we are counting down the States that still tax menstrual products. – These are just some of the policy developments in the menstrual health space.

Over the next year, the Institute for the Study of Human Rights will conduct a review of policies on menstrual hygiene and health policy in India, Kenya, Senegal and the United States. Purvaja S. Kavattur, the project researcher explains: “We are excited to work alongside in-country stakeholders to learn from their expertise and compile lessons learnt to address the marginalization of menstruating bodies. We hope to explore what’s happening in terms of policy development and who benefits: Do policies matter for the lives of menstruating individuals? And do they matter for all people?” 
Over the past ten years there have been significant developments in the nascent field of menstrual health. Increasingly, countries are adopting legislative and policy frameworks on menstrual hygiene and health. Policies cover different aspects such as menstrual hygiene, de-taxing menstrual products, or ensuring provision of menstrual products to specific population groups. South Asia and Eastern Africa house two hubs for menstrual health policy action and our selected countries are at the forefront of these developments. It is therefore an opportune time to reflect on recent policy developments. 
However, amidst growing momentum, there are risks of adopting policies that are narrow in scope and that focus on hygiene needs, infrastructure and access to products. Menstrual health also affects education, economic security, empowerment and self-confidence. As such, there is a need for a more comprehensive understanding of menstrual health as it is shaped by menstrual stigma, healthcare access, educational attainment, as well as civic and public life, which should be addressed through policies. A more comprehensive approach that examines the social determinants of menstrual health is needed to better identify causes of marginalization, substantive foci beyond menstrual hygiene, and the subsequent policy gaps.
Inga Winkler, the project’s PI, explains: “We are at a critical point. We want to move along with this momentum and continue building off the work already happening on the ground. But in doing so we want to ensure that policy developments in this emerging field are grounded in human rights principles of non-discrimination and equality, participation, and accountability. We hope to identify what levers forward policies grounded in human rights considerations to alleviate the marginalization of menstruating bodies.”
Through this review we seek to explore whose voices, interests and needs are centered and whose are marginalized in these policies and the processes leading to their adoption, and how this influences the framing of policies both in terms of their scope and the targeted populations. We will therefore conduct a process-oriented review informed by human rights principles as well as substantive human rights guarantees in the four countries.
The project is funded through a grant from the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council, which has been active in supporting governments in developing policies and programs on menstrual hygiene for years.
We hope that in conducting this review, we will uncover ways policies normalize and destigmatize menstruation, shape budget allocations and service provision, and create mechanisms for accountability. We hope that our review will highlight areas of success, areas of improvements, and gaps to help create a roadmap for other governments looking into expanding their menstrual health and hygiene policies.
David L.
Monday, January 13, 2020

Turkey is facing a perfect storm brought on by its ineffective governance, social discontent, and regional conflict. Investors should be wary.

By: David L. Phillips

Human rights, democracy, and good neighborly relations create a favorable climate for doing business. When it comes to Turkey, the canary in the coal mine is nearly dead. Investors should be wary.

Volkswagen recently delayed plans to invest $1.4 billion in an assembly plant in Turkey. Existing facilities, where VW produces commercial vehicles for its MAN subsidiary, may also be on the chopping block.

VW invoked corporate social responsibility to justify its decision to suspend the assembly plant. VW was reacting to Turkey’s unprovoked cross-border attack against the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), allies of the global coalition against the Islamic State. Since invading northern Syria on October 9, Turkish forces and their Islamist mercenaries have killed up to seven hundred SDF members and displaced three hundred thousand people.

German chancellor Angela Merkel chastised Turkey’s President Recep Erdogan, citing humanitarian issues and the resurgence of ISIS. France, Norway, Finland and the Netherlands joined Germany in suspending military equipment sales to Turkey.

The Turkish and German economies are closely connected; Germany is a major market for Turkish goods. Turkey’s economy would suffer serious consequences if VW’s action has a knock-off effect, discouraging other businesses to invest.

The VW decision comes at an uncertain moment for Turkey’s economy. Macroeconomic stability is wobbly and Turkish banks have high foreign indebtedness levels. The Turkish Lira was trading at 1.5 to the U.S. dollar when Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power in 2003. Today’s exchange rate is 5.5 Lira to the dollar. While a weaker Lira boosts exports, it has a dramatic impact on the cost of supplies needed for manufacturing. Turkey’s manufacturing sector is heavily reliant on imported inputs, which are now much more expensive.

The Lira crashed again in August 2018, increasing inflation by more than 25 percent, which makes debt servicing more expensive. Despite reduced interest rates, bank lending remained weak throughout the first three quarters of 2019. Elevated inflation and lira uncertainty are curtailing the purchasing power of consumers and hurting retail activity, which contracted significantly from September 2018 to August 2019. Turkey’s treasury and finance minister, Berat Albayrak, tried to rein in fiscal policy but reducing interest rates is a short-term fix that merely masks endemic structural problems. 

Concerns about the banking sector were exacerbated when the Southern District of New York convicted the state-owned Halkbank of money laundering in a scheme to circumvent US sanctions on Iran. The U.S. prosecutor called Halkbank a “fugitive” when it failed to appear in court in the criminal case last month. Sanctions will prevent other banks from doing business with Halkbank and could lead to a run on hard currency. Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) has the potential to staunch financial hemorrhaging but FDI requires investor confidence. Erdogan blames “Jewish” bankers for Turkey’s currency and credit crisis.

Turkey’s disdain for the rule of law not only discourages FDI. It also contributes to conflict and injustice in society.

The dismal state of democracy in Turkey is marked by rigged elections and the arbitrary arrest of oppositionists. Kurdish political leaders have been prosecuted on bogus “terrorism” charges. Article 140 of the penal code, which makes it a crime to denigrate “Turkishness” is used to suppress dissent and silence critics. The results of recent local elections in Kurdish-majority regions were suspended and local mayors were replaced by government-appointed “trustees.”

Erdogan turned Turkey into a giant gulag after the so-called coup in 2016. About fifty thousand people face politically motivated charges and more than one hundred thousand civil servants were dismissed. Turkey has imprisoned more journalists than any other country.

Turkey is turning to International Financial Institutions to remedy its woes. However, Turkey’s invasion and atrocities in northern Syria have alienated the international community.

In response to Turkey’s criminal conduct in Syria, the House of Representatives recently passed a sanctions bill overwhelmingly by 403 to 16. Turkey may also be subject to additional sanctions through the “Countering America's Adversaries through Sanctions Act” (CAATSA), which should kick in after Turkey activates the S-400 missiles it bought from Russia for $3 billion.

Turkey is facing a perfect storm brought on by its ineffective governance, social discontent, and regional conflict. Investors should be wary. The political risk is too high and returns too modest. If current trends continue, then banks and businesses will be running for the exits. VW’s withdrawal is a warning about the risk of doing business in Turkey.

David L. Phillips is director of the Program on Peace-building and Rights at Columbia University’s Institute for the Study of Human Rights. He worked on U.S.-Turkey relations as a senior adviser and foreign affairs expert at the State Department during the Bush administration. His recent book is The Great Betrayal: How America Abandoned the Kurds and Lost the Middle East.

Image: Reuters

An Imminent Threat?
David L.
Wednesday, January 8, 2020

By David L. Phillips

General Qasem Soleimani, head of the Quds Force, a branch of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), was killed by a US air strike on January 3, 2020. President Donald J. Trump justifies killing Soleimani, asserting that his intervention prevented an imminent attack. Congress demands information on the operation amidst a furor over whether the hit was legal, justified, and judicious.

Testimony will hinge on the distinction between a “targeted killing” and “political assassination”. Both political assassination and extrajudicial execution are forbidden under international and US law. 

Not only are extrajudicial executions and assassinations illegal. Both are counter-productive to peace and security. While extrajudicial execution or assassination may eliminate an individual, they rarely neutralize the cause he championed. To the contrary, they lead to intensified zealotry, fervor, and commitment to the cause. Others always stand ready to replace those who have fallen.

Targeted killings are, however, legally permissible under some circumstances. The Fourth Geneva Convention and the 1977 First Additional Protocol allow targeted killings when all reasonable alternatives have been exhausted. The Convention and Protocol support the argument that targeted killings fall into a separate legal category when they are used for self-defense or to prevent the killing of civilians. The Laws of War legitimize targeted killings when there is no chance to prevent attack by, for example, arresting the perpetrator. If someone dons a suicide vest and enters a public market, law enforcement is not an option.

Millions of Iranians joined Soleimani’s funeral procession in a gesture of mass martyrdom. Their mourning demonstrates the broad popular support for Soleimani. Iranians revere him for opposing the US invasion and occupation of Iraq. They support Soleimani’s assistance to proxy groups committed to destroying Israel. Soleimani also championed the struggle of Shiites against Sunnis, defending Iran and Shiite shrines in Iraq from the Islamic State.

A range of factors well beyond obligations under international law would have bearing on the decision to kill Soleimani. Trump and his advisers must have considered whether short-term benefits enhanced overall security, or whether killing Soleimani would be counterproductive, resulting in a cycle of violence and revenge. Targeted killings may prevent an immediate threat, but they also increase the number of one’s enemies and their desire to do harm.

Why did Trump order Soleimani’s killing now? What motivated Trump to take action? Is the US safer with Soleimani dead?

US intelligence agencies should provide analysis about the imminent threat. Was Soleimani plotting an act of sensational violence or were his actions just business as usual?

Was Trump deliberate and dispassionate when ordering the attack? Soleimani had recently made a series of derogatory statements that ridiculed Trump, irking the President.

If US officials are so confident that killing Soleimani makes Americans safer, why are all Americans advised to leave Iraq?

Iran’s Supreme Leader vowed a harsh response. True to his word, Iran launched ballistic missiles against the al-Asad air base and at the Erbil air field. Did Trump thoughtfully consider how Iran might respond?

The US military performed flawlessly, carrying out its tactical mission without a hitch. There are important questions, however, about the strategic coherence behind Trump’s decision to pull the trigger, as well as legal implications.

Last week, Iraqis were protesting Iran’s violations of Iraq’s national sovereignty. Today, they are chanting “death to America”, having ransacked the US Embassy in Baghdad.

The Iraqi parliament passed a resolution 170 to 0, demanding that US forces leave the country. Trump threatened harsh sanctions and demanded compensation from Iraq for the US air base. America’s standing in Iraq has been destroyed and Iraq is on the verge of renewed civil war.

The Iranian opposition is cowed by recent events. No one dares question the Great Leader, while he weeps over Soleimani’s coffin and millions are marching in solidarity.

Iran has resumed its nuclear enrichment activities. A breakout could mean that Iran will have a nuclear weapon in a matter of months.

Killing Soleimani does not mean that Iran’s malign activities will stop. The IRGC immediately appointed a new head of the Quds Force. Another round of attacks could be undertaken by Iran or its proxies at any time, targeting US citizens or cities such as Haifa or Dubai. Khataib Hezbollah and other Popular Mobilization Units are threatening action against US interests.

Meanwhile, the fight against ISIS has been suspended. After the US abandoned the Syrian Defense Forces, betraying our Kurdish allies, the Global Coalition against ISIS was further fractured by the killing of Soleimani.   

America’s credibility worldwide was already in decline before Soleimani’s killing. A cloud hangs over President Trump. Many surmise that he ordered the strike to distract the public from his impeachment.

Until more information is provided about the decision to kill Qasem Soleimani, America’s credibility is further in doubt. It will take generations for the United States to recover its standing.

Mr. Phillips is Director of the Program on Peace-building and Human Rights at Columbia University’s Institute for the Study of Human Rights. He served as a Senior Adviser and Foreign Affairs Expert working on Iraq at the State Department under President George W. Bush.

David L.
Monday, January 6, 2020

By Ken Blackwell and David L. Phillips

The killing of Qasem Soleimani is a seismic event with huge ramifications across the Middle East and worldwide. It underscores the need for a new approach in Iraq and the region. To salvage something from its invasion and occupation of Iraq, the U.S. should focus on the Kurds.

The Shiite-led Government of Iraq (GoI) has strongly protested the assassination of Qasem Soleimani. Iraqi rage will intensify, putting U.S. troops and personnel at risk. The Iraqi parliament will debate a resolution to evict U.S. troops.

The spasm of violence is a reality check: Iraq is a failed state under Iran’s control. Iraqis are only unified by their hatred of America. The Kurds are the only friends we have.

How did Iraq get to this point? America’s failure to stand with the Iraqi Kurds created a gap that Iran has filled.

The U.S. brokered Iraq’s constitution in 2005. However, Baghdad refused to implement articles favorable to the Kurds. The Obama administration demurred when it should have pushed harder to uphold Kurdish interests. Baghdad’s failure, and America’s acquiescence, left the Kurds little choice but to initiate a process putting Iraqi Kurdistan on the path to independence.

Though 93% voted to disassociate from Baghdad in September 2017, the U.S. failed to support the national aspirations of Iraqi Kurds. It turned a blind eye when Iranian-backed militias, the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMUs), occupied the oil-rich region of Kirkuk and evicted the Kurdish governor. The current crisis arose when PMUs, the same Khataib Hezb’allah militias who seized Kirkuk and stomped on the Kurdistan flag, attacked U.S. bases in Iraq and Syria last week.

After repeated provocations, the U.S. responded with air strikes that killed 24 militia members. Tensions intensified with the killing of Qasem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, head of Kataib Hezb’allah.

The U.S. has a big stake in Iraq, having sacrificed thousands of lives and spent trillions. In light of volatile conditions that exist today, how can Washington preserve its position and interests?

A direct line can be drawn between U.S. policy towards Iraq and Iran’s aggression. Previous policies under successive administrations have marginalized the U.S. and made Iran ascendant.

Qasem Soleimani was testing U.S. resolve. In 2019, the Quds Force seized oil tankers in the Persian Gulf; shot down a U.S. surveillance drone over the Strait of Hormuz; and bombed Abqaiq, a major Saudi oil processing plant. Khataib Hezb’allah’s recent aggression was intended to provoke a response. Qasem Soleimani sought to turn popular protests over Iran’s role in the country, during which more than 500 people were killed, into anti-American demonstrations. Protesters chanted “death to America” and demanded that U.S. forces leave the country. Rage and popular protests are likely to intensify after the killing of Soleimani and Muhandis.

America should reconsider its strategically flawed and morally defunct “one Iraq policy.” Recent events affirm America’s military superiority. At the same time, they underscore America’s irrelevance and diminished influence. In light of recent developments, the U.S. should pivot and support Kurdish national aspirations.

In Iraq and other countries where Kurds reside, Kurds are critical to peace and stability. A regional approach, focusing on the Kurds, would secure U.S. interests in Iraq and the region.

Candidate Trump pledged to withdraw from “endless wars” of the Middle East. He focused on bringing home U.S. troops from Iraq and Syria. However, his plan was delayed by the rise of ISIS.

Kurdish valor helped defeat the caliphate. Iraqi Kurds helped liberate Mosul. In Syria, 11,000 Kurds died and 23,000 were wounded fighting ISIS at America’s behest. When President Trump announced the withdrawal of U.S. forces, Iran responded by ratcheting up operations against the U.S.

U.S. influence is diminished without boots on-the-ground. Iran, Russia, and Turkey shaped a UN-sponsored constitutional committee to kick-start negotiations on ending Syria’s civil war. Kurdish political parties, whose armed forces gained control over more than 30 percent of Syria’s territory fighting ISIS, were excluded. Sustainable peace is impossible without the Kurds, rendering the committee an exercise in futility.

Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan also took advantage of U.S. ambivalence. Erdogan views the Syrian Kurds as an extension of the PKK, an armed rebel group fighting for greater political and cultural rights for Kurds in Turkey, resulting in 40,000 deaths and millions displaced since the 1980s. The PKK wants U.S. mediation, but Erdogan rejects the participation of third parties.

Erdogan uses the conflict to justify draconian policies towards the Kurds and other oppositionists. His course has marginalized America’s influence, undermined Turkey’s democracy, and directed Turkey into Russia’s embrace.

Blood knows no borders. Just as conflict is transnational, peacemaking requires a regional approach.

James Jeffrey serves as Trump’s Special Envoy to Syria. Though Jeffrey is skilled and experienced, he is working with one hand tied behind his back. Current U.S. policy limits his ability to maneuver diplomatically. The killing of Soleimani and Muhandis will make his job even harder.

The Iraqi Parliament is on the verge of censuring the Trump administration and evicting U.S. forces. As the U.S. redeploys to Iraqi Kurdistan, it will need a legal basis for basing troops there. As Iraq becomes more violent, the U.S. might need to recognize Iraqi Kurdistan and an independent and sovereign state.

To manage the intricacies of U.S. policy towards the Kurds in Iraq and the region, President Trump should appoint a “Special Envoy for Kurdish Issues”. The envoy’s activities would be based on the recognition that Kurdish and U.S. interests align. Instead of placating our adversaries, the U.S. should support its friends.

Ken Blackwell is the former award-winning United States Ambassador to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. He is a member of the Council On Foreign Relations.

David L. Phillips is Director of the Program on Peace-building and Rights at Columbia University’s Institute for the Study of Human Rights. Her served as a Senior Adviser working on Kurdish issues at the State Department during the Bush administration. His recent book is The Great Betrayal: How America Abandoned the Kurds and Lost the Middle East.

Evangelicals for Justice
David L.
Thursday, January 2, 2020

By David L. Phillips

Devotion and sacrifice are fundamental to faith. As Evangelicals gather in Miami on January 3 to launch “Evangelicals for Trump”, we reflect on these values and their current relevance.

The engagement of Syrian Kurds against the Islamic State exemplified devotion and sacrifice. At America’s behest, more than 11,000 Kurds died and 23,000 were wounded vanquishing the ISIS caliphate, the epicenter of evil in the world today. After the Kurds helped destroy the caliphate, President Donald J. Trump gave Turkey and its Islamist mercenaries a green light to invade and occupy the historic Kurdish and Christian homeland in Syria.

The betrayal of Kurds recalls Matthew 26:47-56

“While he was still speaking, Judas came, one of the twelve, and with him a great crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the elders of the people.  Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, ‘The one I will kiss is the man; seize him.’ And he came up to Jesus at once and said, ‘Greetings, Rabbi!’ And he kissed him.  Jesus said to him, ‘Friend, do what you came to do.’ Then they came up and laid hands on Jesus and seized him.”

Trump’s embrace of the Kurds was the kiss of death. Trump also turned a blind eye on Turkey's killing of Christians in Syria -- Armenians, Syriacs, and Chaldeans.

Shame upon him who betrays the faithful.

While the First Amendment guarantees the right to debate Trump’s suitability for office, there can be no debate that his actions in Syria caused hundreds to die and thousands to suffer.

Mr. Phillips served as Senior Adviser and Foreign Affairs Expert at the Near Eastern Affairs Bureau of the State Department during the Bush administration. He is currently Director of the Program on Peace-building and Rights at Columba University’s Institute for the Study of Human Rights. His recent book is The Great Betrayal: How America Abandoned the Kurds and Lost the Middle East.

The Grotesque Savagery of Turkey's Mercenaries
David L.
Tuesday, November 12, 2019

By David L. Phillips

A Kurdish woman fled Turkish troops and their Islamist mercenaries when Turkey launched an unprovoked attack on the City of Afrin, a Kurdish community in northern Syria, on Jan. 20, 2018. The woman was running hand-in-hand with her young daughter when a missile obliterated the girl. The mother held onto her arm — all that was left of her child.

Afrin’s Kurdish defenders were no match for Turkish warplanes and Syrian Arab mercenaries with the Free Syrian Army. Hundreds of Kurds, Christians and Yezidis were killed in Afrin and more than 300,000 people were displaced. Many of the victims were women and children. 

With grotesque savagery, the FSA mutilated the bodies of Kurdish female fighters by cutting off their breasts and posing for selfies with their body parts. A report from the UN’s Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria found that armed groups under Turkey’s control “committed the war crimes of hostage-taking, cruel treatment, torture, and pillage.”

Now Turkey has launched a new spasm of violence in north and east Syria, invading on Oct. 9. President Donald Trump has blood on his hands. He gave Turkey's president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a green light to attack and withdrew U.S. Special Forces from the border that had been effectively deployed to stop Turkey’s aggression.

At least 250 civilians were killed, hundreds disappeared, and more than a quarter million were displaced last month. Kurds have been targeted as part of Turkey’s ethnic cleansing campaign. Trump essentially endorsed Turkey’s pogrom to “cleanse” Kurds for their villages and historic homeland.

Evidence of war crimes is indisputable. According to Amnesty International, Turkey and its militias carried out, "serious violations and war crimes, including attacking a school with displaced families inside." They displayed “a shameful disregard for civilian life, including through summary killings and unlawful attacks that have killed and injured civilians”.

Mobile phone recordings show Islamists shouting "Allahu Akbar” besides a pile of Kurdish corpses. In one video, jihadis are kicking the body of a female fighter and calling her a “whore." A masked jihadi shouts "pig," warning: "We have come to behead you infidels and apostates!"

These killings are not random. The FSA is responsible for a pattern of summary executions. A video shows the assassination of Hevrin Khalaf, a Kurdish politician, her driver and nine colleagues. They were shot with their hands tied behind their backs.

Turkey systematically violates international humanitarian law, bombing hospitals and schools. After shelling Ras al-Ayn, Turkey prevented the evacuation of wounded civilians. Turkey used white phosphorus and napalm in heavily populated civilian areas.

Trump invited Erdogan to visit the White House on Wednesday. Trump will roll out the red carpet in a bid to make nice with Erdogan. Trump is either ignorant or turning a blind eye to Turkey’s crimes. Instead of kow-towing, the United States must hold Erdogan accountable. If Trump won’t take action, Congress must.

The House recently voted overwhelmingly to sanction senior Turkish officials, and to prohibit the transfer of U.S. military technology to Turkish units involved in the Syria campaign. The Senate should act to authorize sanctions.

Russia blocks the referral of war crimes to the International Criminal Court. However, the UN Special Rapporteur on Summary Executions can still act to investigate the killing of Hevrin Khalaf, as pattern involving Turkish sponsored jihadists.

Americans are sickened by Turkey’s slaughter of our allies the Kurds. At America’s behest, 11,000 Syrian Kurds were killed and 23,000 were seriously wounded fighting the Islamic State. ISIS prisoners escaped when Turkey attacked the Kurds and joined their FSA brethren. Many U.S. soldiers who fought with the Kurds against the ISIS caliphate are appalled.

Turkey can be held accountable for war crimes and crimes against humanity through sanctions. In addition, it may also be liable for civil penalties now that Congress has affirmed the Armenian Genocide.

Trump’s acquiescence to Erdogan is disgraceful. Erdogan is a war-monger and despot. He should be in handcuffs, not the White House.

David L. Phillips is director of the Program on Peace-building and Rights at Columbia University’s Institute for the Study of Human Rights. He served as a senior adviser and foreign affairs expert at the State Department under President Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama. He is the author of "The Great Betrayal: How America Abandoned the Kurds and Lost the Middle East.

Click here to read the article at Newsday.


Turkey’s Erdoğan protected ISIS leader Baghdadi
David L.
Monday, November 4, 2019

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan protected Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi - and U.S. President Donald Trump should have known.

In his national address announcing that U.S. Special Forces killed Baghdadi, Trump commended Turkey while turning a blind eye to Turkey’s collusion with ISIS.

While Trump thanked “the Syrian Kurds for certain support they were able to give us,” he downplayed the importance of intelligence provided by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). But the SDF’s information was critical to the mission.

There is a long list questions over Turkey’s relationship with ISIS.

Turkey increased support for jihadists after Syrian President Bashar Assad launched a chemical weapons attack on Ghouta, on the outskirts of Damascus, in September 2013.

Turkey’s National Intelligence Agency (MIT) is reported to have provided weapons, money, and logistical support to extremist groups that evolved into ISIS. Wounded ISIS warriors regularly showed up at Turkish hospitals in Gaziantep to receive medical care. 

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi founded ISIS in the spring of 2014. ISIS attacked Mosul and Sinjar in June, terrorising Yezidis and Kurds. Over five years, the so-called ISIS caliphate grew to the size of Great Britain, with eight million people under its control.

According to the SDF, “Turkey provides all kinds of support to the terrorist groups. These forces, trained and funded by Turkey are engaged in a planned ethnic cleansing against our people.” Turkish-backed jihadists commit crimes on a daily basis in Turkish occupied areas in Syria such as Afrin, Azzaz, al-Bab, Jarablus and Idlib.

In March 2019, the SDF drove ISIS out of its last redoubt in the eastern Syrian village of Baghouz. From its interrogation of hardcore ISIS fighters, the SDF learned that Baghdadi had moved to Idlib in northwest Syria. Discovering Baghdadi in Idlib was a surprise to everyone who believed he was hiding in eastern Syria or western Iraq, near his ancestral village.

Baghdadi ended up at a compound in Barisha just 5 km from the Turkish border. The area around Barisha is controlled by Turkish-backed forces. Dozens of Turkish military outposts are located near the border and security is tight.

There was a network of tunnels beneath Baghdadi’s Barisha compounded. All the tunnels were sealed except for one. Since the tunnel network was destroyed by a U.S. air strike, we do not know if the tunnel was an escape route leading to a nearby Turkish military base, or to Turkey itself.

In contrast to mounting evidence that Turkey protected Baghdadi, the Kurds were indispensable to the Baghdadi operation. U.S. helicopters took off from Hareer Air Force Base outside Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan. Incirlik Air Force base is much closer, but the Pentagon evidently did not trust the Turkish government to make them a partner.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu exaggerated Turkey’s role. “Turkey and our U.S. counterparts shared information, exchanged opinions before the operation to kill Daesh leader started. That’s why Trump thanked Turkey in his speech,” the minister said, using an Arabic name for ISIS.

In fact, Turkey played no active role. According to a U.S. official, “Turkey did not provide any assistance in this operation. [Baghdadi] was located right next to its border … That shows you how little they do on countering ISIS.” An Iraqi official indicated that Baghdadi was killed “after his hiding place was discovered when he tried to get his family out of Idlib toward the Turkish border”.

The SDF provided critical information. Mazloum Kobani, the SDF commander, heralded the “joint effort over more than fives months between military intelligence of the SDF and U.S. Forces.”

He explained how the SDF “documented over the past months the presence of high ranking ISIS leaders, including Baghdadi, in areas under control of the Turkish state.” According to Kobani, “the operation was delayed for more than a month due to Turkish aggression in our region.”

The U.S. after-action report will reveal how Turkey, a NATO ally, colluded with Baghdadi over many years and protected him from capture. Turkey’s present leadership cannot be trusted. The SDF is America’s real friend in Syria - not Turkey.

Click here to read the article at Ahval.