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[LINK] “Prospects for a future Kurdistan”

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Open Democracy’s Gary Kent writes about the issues likely to face a separatist Kurdistan.

Baghdad’s obstinacy is also driving independence but Kurdistan is landlocked and many are wary of putting all their eggs in the Turkish basket, which once prompted former KRG Prime Minister Barham Salih to argue for three export routes through Iraq, Turkey and Iran (and, conceivably, Syria one day.) A unilateral declaration of independence could cut off imports, exports, passports, and airports. Independence would have to be negotiated with Baghdad through complex agreements on assets and liabilities, water, energy and security. Crucially, the KRG’s southern boundaries including Kirkuk must to be finalised to avoid the province becoming a flashpoint for Arab revanchism for decades to come.

The commonsense view is that ISIS should first be defeated before independence but given, as a senior security adviser told me, “Humpty Dumpty fell off the wall and definitely won’t be put back together,” maybe the way to defeat ISIS is to recognise that Sunnis and Kurds will never again accept unalloyed Baghdad rule.

Before ISIS, Sunni provinces neighbouring Kurdistan had begun to think that the dynamic Kurds could assist their economic salvation, especially in reliable electricity supplies. Shia Basra in the south, about the same size, population and economic weight as Kurdistan but with much more oil, had been champing at the bit for greater decentralisation. A much looser arrangement, perhaps one day a confederation, could be a bigger incentive for Sunnis to overthrow ISIS in Sunnistan than centralised and sectarian Shia rule from Baghdad. Every day that ISIS keeps Mosul makes it harder to reinstate the old Iraq.

Kurdistan has to be match fit for any possibility including independence and escape the sovietesque legacy of the old Iraq. The state employs most people, which suffocates the private sector and also undermines citizenship because, as one senior party official told me, “people who are employed by the state have to listen to the state.”

The rentier economy is almost wholly dependent on energy although the Kurdistan parliament has just passed a law allowing the KRG to borrow on international markets and is establishing a sovereign wealth fund for when energy revenues dry up. A mineral extraction law is also before Parliament and minerals could become a major money-spinner. Once the bread basket of Iraq, Kurdistan could achieve food self-sufficiency and export surplus wheat, apples and pomegranates.

Written by Randy McDonald

June 30, 2015 at 10:41 pm

[LINK] “Intra-Arab discrimination in Dearborn”

I’ve been sitting on Banen Al-Sheemary’s Open Democracy essay from March, talking about conflict and prejudice in the very diverse Arab community in the Michigan city of Dearborn, for some time. Conflicts between different groups, like the Lebanese who have accumulated the most social capital and various refugee groups which fare poorly, are sad but also sadly predictable.

There is a complete and intentional disregard for the power dynamics at play between Arab communities. The dominant narrative on Iraqi refugees makes no mention of the unequal power structure framing this unbalanced conversation. We fall into the same culture and religion blaming that we see on major news outlets.

The process of acculturation for Iraqis and building a home in Southeast Michigan is ongoing. This is difficult enough if you are deemed a problem by the majority of white America; it is made even more difficult when members of your own community accuse you of tainting the image of middle-class respectability that the Lebanese have worked so hard to cultivate, and undermining their progress in assimilating into the larger white American community.

Lebanese immigration starkly contrasts to that of other Arab groups, particularly Iraqis that have populated and rewritten the history of Michigan. Irai refugees didn’t come here for economic stability or to find a home of their own free will. They were violently uprooted and forced from their homes. They lived within refugee camps for years, have suffered extreme psychological trauma, and were left to try and piece their lives back together. Many of these refugees actually came from economically stable homes and positions of status in Iraq.

This article was written six months ago, but my experiences lead back to my first day in Michigan. It is with hesitation, and some tactful warnings from my friends and academic colleagues, that I share this piece. This is a humble attempt to express views and experiences forged from a system that we as a community have partially created and perpetuated.

It is a conversation that must happen because of the incoming Syrian refugees into Southeast Michigan and the problem of politicized sectarianism and nationalism that they will be facing, due to the polarizing conversation regarding the uprising in Syria. One can foresee the parallels between the experiences of incoming Iraqi and Syrian refugees, due to this selfsame hierarchy.

Written by Randy McDonald

June 5, 2015 at 10:56 pm

[LINK] Two notes on migration into Detroit

An interesting discussion on Facebook was started when someone shared a New York Times op-ed, “Let Syrians Settle Detroit” by David D. Laitin and Marc Jahrmay. The idea is provocative, but–I think–sound.

Detroit, a once great city, has become an urban vacuum. Its population has fallen to around 700,000 from nearly 1.9 million in 1950. The city is estimated to have more than 70,000 abandoned buildings and 90,000 vacant lots. Meanwhile, desperate Syrians, victims of an unfathomable civil war, are fleeing to neighboring countries, with some 1.8 million in Turkey and 600,000 in Jordan.

[. . .]

Syrian refugees would be an ideal community to realize this goal [of repopulation], as Arab-Americans are already a vibrant and successful presence in the Detroit metropolitan area. A 2003 survey by the University of Michigan of 1,016 members of this community (58 percent of whom were Christian, and 42 percent Muslim) found that 19 percent were entrepreneurs and that the median household income was $50,000 to $75,000 per year.

What confidence can we have that traumatized war refugees can be transformed into budding American entrepreneurs? We cannot know for sure. But recent evidence of recaptured children from the clutches of the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda and victims of violent crime across five continents reveals that they become more active citizens than similar compatriots who have not suffered from these traumatic events. In the Zaatari Refugee Camp in Jordan, Syrians, despite psychological scars and limited resources, have set up 3,500 shops, stores and other businesses.

Refugees resettled from a single war zone have helped revitalize several American communities, notably Hmong in previously neglected neighborhoods in Minneapolis, Bosnians in Utica, N.Y., and Somalis in Lewiston, Me.

Resettling Syrians in Detroit would require commitment and cooperation across different branches and levels of our government, but it is eminently feasible. President Obama and Congress would have to agree to lift this year’s refugee ceiling by 50,000. The State Department, which handles overseas processing of refugees, would need to open offices at the camps in Jordan and Turkey, determine eligibility and administer a lottery for resettlement. Homeland Security, which controls the borders, would have to carry out accelerated security checks, as has been done in the past for Vietnamese and for Iranian religious minorities. Health and Human Services would need an expansion in the $1.5 billion it budgets for refugee resettlement.

Someone in the comments linked to a Detroit Free Press article noting that rents are starting to rise substantially in that city.

Rental rates in downtown Detroit-area buildings have risen so high, some young professionals who breathed new life into the city core just a few years ago are now being priced out of the market and forced to move — a type of middle-class gentrification that has some developers eager to build new residential projects.

Development experts say demand far exceeds existing rental units in choice areas, such as Midtown, Corktown and the Detroit riverfront, where influxes of mostly young, well-paid professionals drove rental rates to new heights in new, existing and soon-to-open apartment buildings.

In many cases, landlords are asking $200 to $400 more a month for apartment leases than they were just a year or two ago because of the high demand and almost nonexistent new supply.

The phenomenon cannot be captured by the traditional definition of “gentrification,” when low-income households are displaced by the yuppie class. Rather, renters already in the middle class and enjoying professional careers now are being displaced by those even farther up the income scale who can afford the higher rents.

“Our office routinely turns down probably two people a day, letting them know we just can’t help them find something to rent,” said Ryan Cooley, owner of O’Connor Real Estate and Development in Corktown. “There’s just a lot of 20-year-olds wanting to live in the city.”

Written by Randy McDonald

May 15, 2015 at 11:37 pm

[BLOG] Some Tuesday links

  • blogTO examines the nature of Toronto’s abundant consumption of electricity.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze links to a study of the atmosphere of Wasp 80b.
  • The Dragon’s Tales notes that Russian rocket manufacturer Energomash may go out of business as a result not of sanctions but of threatened sanctions.
  • Lawyers, Guns and Money does not approve of Kenya’s plan to deport Somali refugees.
  • Mark MacKinnon shares an old 2003 article of his from Iraq.
  • The Planetary Society Blog looks at the new Vulcan rocket.
  • pollotenchegg maps, by province, the proportion of Ukrainians claiming Russian as their mother language.
  • Registan argues that NATO and Russia might be misinterpreting
  • Spacing Toronto shares a screed on cyclists.
  • Towleroad notes that Chile now has same-sex civil unions.
  • Transit Toronto notes that the TTC has hired an external corporation to manage the problematic Spadina subway extension.
  • The Volokh Conspiracy argues that libertarians do exist as a distinguishable political demographic.
  • Window on Eurasia examines turmoil in Karelia and terrorism in Dagestan.

[LINK] On the impending war of Canada in Syria

CBC reported that Canada will be extending its participation in the multinational campaign against ISIS.

Canadian fighter jets will soon be launching airstrikes in Syria now that the House of Commons has approved the federal government’s plan to expand and extend its military mission in Iraq.​

Federal MPs voted 142-129 in favour of a motion extending the mission for up to a full year and authorizing bombing runs in Syria against targets belonging to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

A senior government source told CBC News that Canada could begin airstrikes on Syrian targets within a day or two.

The original mission deployed six CF-18 fighter jets, one CC-150 Polaris air-to-air refuelling aircraft, two CP-140 Aurora surveillance aircraft. Some 600 aircrew and other personnel are currently deployed.

Up to 69 special forces advisers will also remain in the region to advise and assist Kurdish peshmerga forces in their efforts to beat back the advance of ISIS militants.

Written by Randy McDonald

April 2, 2015 at 1:00 am

Posted in Canada, Politics

Tagged with , , , , , ,

[LINK] “The crisis in Iraq: Was the rise of ISIL a surprise?”

At Al Jazeera, Miroslav Zafirov makes the reasonable point that ISIS exists substantially because of support lent to Sunni Islamic radicals under Saddam Hussein’s regime. (Substantially, not entirely, not mostly.)

In 1986, at a meeting with representatives of the pan-Arab national command – the supreme ideological body of the Baath Party – Saddam Hussein offered a ceasefire, or even an alliance, between the party and the Muslim Brotherhood movement in Egypt and Sudan. In practice, for the first time in its history the militant and secular Baath party declared its readiness to cooperate with representatives of the so-called political Islam.

In the same year, the Iraqi president also defined the difference between the “democratic, national, pan-Arab state” and the “religious state” proclaimed by the Muslim Brotherhood. Following in the footsteps of the founding father of Arab nationalism and of the pan-Arab Baath party Michel Aflaq, Saddam clearly declared that he was not an atheist, but warned against any attempt to establish a religious party with an either Sunni or Shia bias. Saddam’s warning at the time was probably addressed at the Islamic Dawa party, which had a dominant role among the Shia community and was regarded as the main competitor of the Baath party.

[. . .]

It was only after 1990s that Saddam decided to focus on relations with Islamic movements and publications dedicated to the topic began to appear in the media. The conditions could not have been more favourable because the war with Iran had ended and the propaganda machine was busy painting a picture of Saddam as the indisputable victor, despite the enormous war-related losses.

In 1991, Iraq launched a new campaign, which Saddam described as “the mother of all battles” against the United States and its allies. The president was yet again depicted as a hero in the confrontation between Muslims and western forces; the inscription “God is Great” was added to the Iraqi flag, and the president promised that he would free Jerusalem. An attempt was made to play down the failure of the campaign in Kuwait and the sanctions imposed by stepping up an openly pro-Islamic propaganda.

[. . .]

The goal was to gain control over religious sentiment among the Iraqi population, which was barely coping with the consequences of the two wars and the stringent sanctions. Last but not least, an attempt was made to reinvent and soften the image of the Baghdad regime as one that is pro-Islamic and, therefore, in conflict with the “forces of Islam’s enemies”.

Written by Randy McDonald

December 29, 2014 at 7:49 pm

[CAT] “For Leopards in Iran and Iraq, Land Mines Are a Surprising Refuge”

National Geographic‘s Peter Schwartzstein reports about the dwindling isolation of the Iran-Iraq frontier, often reinforced by landmines, that helped the Persian leopard survive in this border area.

Laced with land mines and roamed by packs of dedicated poachers, it’s an environment seemingly calculated to imperil even the most fleet-footed animal. Yet this is the place the world’s largest leopard calls home.

Once spread across the Caucasus region, Persian leopards now are relegated to this former war zone, along with a few isolated pockets of rural Iran. Here, hundreds of thousands of Iranian and Iraqi soldiers bludgeoned one another to death in some of the late 20th century’s most brutal battles. Even today, border guards patrol the once fiercely contested high ground.
Map of Persian leopard range.

But through it all the leopard has endured, and oddly enough, the region’s violent past has contributed to its survival. As part of the decade-long conflict, Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein and his Iranian counterparts planted an estimated 20 million to 30 million land mines in the 1980s. Two decades after the last of the big minefields were laid, the explosives continue to maim and kill local residents.

But the mines also have become accidental protection for the leopards, discouraging poachers from entering certain areas.

And now interest in clearing the land mines throws into sharp relief the conflict between human and wildlife interests. Iraq’s semiautonomous Kurdistan region is developing swiftly, and along with that comes hot pursuit of oil and gas deposits—many of which lie in leopard-heavy highlands—to fuel its likely bid for independence.

Conservation efforts have struggled to gain traction in large swaths of the Middle East. As in many developing regions, the welfare of the environment is a distant consideration amid economic peril and political flux. But the emergence of the Islamic State jihadist group, which now controls swathes of Syria and Iraq and which was recently camped on Iran’s doorstep, has pushed the plight of the Persian leopard even further from local decision-makers’ thoughts.

Written by Randy McDonald

December 21, 2014 at 4:41 am

Posted in Popular Culture, Science

Tagged with , , , ,

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