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OpEdNews Op Eds    H1'ed 10/21/19

Pity the Kurds

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I stood on the wind-swept Kalowa Hill in the northern Iraqi city of Sulaimaniya as Pershan Hassan, a stocky 53-year-old woman, clambered quickly up the dirt track leading to where a mass grave was being excavated. She clutched a framed black-and-white picture of a boy. She pushed her way through the crowd that was looking down at the unearthed remains of dozens of bodies. Suddenly, she let out a gasp of pain and recognition as she saw the skeletal remains of her 13-year-old son, Shafiq. A faded blue blindfold was wrapped tightly around his skull. The casings from spent bullets were scattered around his dark brown bones.

"I know him by his clothes," she whispered, her voice breaking as she lifted the garments and kissed them. "I raised him without a father."

It was December 1991, after the first Iraq war. Saddam Hussein had ruthlessly crushed a Kurdish revolt in the aftermath of Iraq's defeat that spring by the United States and its allies. Two million refugees had fled toward Turkey and Iran in April 1991. Many froze to death in the snow-covered mountain passes as they tried to escape. The international community, responding to the heartbreaking images, created havens for their return in northern Iraq, forcing Baghdad to withdraw its troops.

I spent months with the Kurds as a reporter for The New York Times after the Iraqi withdrawal, including living and sleeping with seven Kurdish, or peshmerga, bodyguards after Baghdad offered bounties of $1,000 for the murder of Western reporters and aid workers in the Kurdish region. Several of my colleagues were killed or badly wounded.

Kurdistan, "land of the Kurds," is recorded as far back as the 15th century by European visitors. The Kurds, who speak Kurdish and are mostly Sunni Muslims, were promised a state by the victorious allies following World War I and the dismantling of the Ottoman Empire. Instead the Kurdish region was carved up among Turkey, Syria, Iran, Iraq and the Soviet Union. The Kurdish struggle for an independent state, an effort that has included numerous armed insurgencies, has lasted nearly a century. And so have the brutal waves of repression, extermination and betrayal to crush Kurdish aspirations.

President Donald Trump's abandonment of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in northern Syria is another chapter in a sad and heartless game, repeatedly replayed, in which Kurdish forces are armed and used to achieve the strategic aims of rival nation-states and then discarded. An estimated 11,000 Kurdish fighters died battling Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria. They were cannon fodder for the United States.

Turkey's recent incursion into northern Syria is aimed at weakening the ties between the SDF and the rebel Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has carried out an insurgency in southeastern Turkey since 1984. The PKK, whose popular backing has been bolstered by the brutal Turkish repression of the Kurds, has broad support and is a surprisingly effective insurgent force.

When I was with a PKK unit operating along the border between Turkey and Iraq I noted to the commander how well trained his unit appeared to be. "Oh," he said, "we tell our fighters to do their two years of compulsory Turkish army service before they join us."

There are between 25 million and 30 million Kurds who live in the swath of territory that stretches through northern Iraq into Turkey. It is the largest ethnic group in the world without a state of its own. Kurdish groups and clans, to survive, make ever-shifting alliances, including the latest decision by the SDF to unite with Damascus. Kurds have forged temporary alliances throughout their history with the U.S., the Soviet Union, Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey. These alliances have always disintegrated, usually when the Kurds were no longer considered useful.

Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and the United States' then-Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger, for example, armed the Kurds in northern Iraq as a way to destabilize Baghdad. But the shah, in a secret deal with Baghdad, sold out his Kurdish allies, allowing Iraq to carry out a scorched-earth policy against the Kurds that created a humanitarian disaster and an exodus of Kurds in 1975 as devastating as the one resulting from the aborted Kurdish rebellion in 1991 after the Gulf War.

The counterinsurgency campaigns against the Kurds, often unseen or ignored by the outside world, have at times reached genocidal levels. Baghdad dropped poison gas on some 60 Kurdish villages in 1988 and razed 4,000 Kurdish villages in what was known as the Anfal campaign, an attempt to annihilate the Kurds in Iraq. As many as 200,000 Kurds were "disappeared," with tens of thousands rounded up and executed. I was present as mass graves, each with more than a thousand bodies in northern Iraq, were excavated, including one with 1,500 Kurdish soldiers in the Iraqi army who had apparently attempted to rebel. I passed village after village in northern Iraq that had been dynamited into rubble. There was no electricity or running water and little food. It was not uncommon to find families living like moles under the collapsed slabs of concrete of their former homes, the land around them littered with land mines.

The withdrawal of Iraq from the northern Kurdish areas following the 1991 Gulf War created a de facto Kurdish state, the third this century. But Turkey remains determined to destroy it once Turkish forces finish with the Kurdish enclave in northern Syria. If history is any guide, the autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq will be as short-lived as the other autonomous enclaves briefly carved out by the Kurds over the last century.

The absence of Iraqi authorities in northern Iraq allowed me to pore through stacks of police files, including photographs and videotapes of torture and executions. I saw the long, typewritten lists that chronicled killing after killing, sometimes for trivial offenses. One man was sentenced to death because he had a picture of a rebel Kurdish leader in his wallet. Eighteen tons of Iraqi intelligence files documenting decades of repression, torture and murder were eventually recovered.

The execution sites were often next to the mass graves. On Kalowa Hill five tires filled with concrete marked the spot where hundreds of people were shot to death. Earthen embankments bordered the site at the back and two sides. Prisoners were blindfolded and their hands were tied at their backs. They were bound to 10-foot poles. I watched videos, left behind in Iraqi detention centers, of many of these executions. I was once shown a picture of three Iraqi officials squatting like big-game hunters next to the slumped body of a man who had been shot to death. One of the Iraqis, wearing a beret, grinned as he held a knife to the corpse's neck.

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Chris Hedges spent nearly two decades as a foreign correspondent in Central America, the Middle East, Africa and the Balkans. He has reported from more than 50 countries and has worked for The Christian Science Monitor, National Public Radio, The Dallas Morning News and The New York Times, for which he was a foreign correspondent for 15 years.

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David William Pear

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The best way to help the Kurds is for the US to get out of the illegal wars in the Middle East, stop causing chaos and so-called humanitarian interventions.

Pity the Palestinians, Yemenis, Afghans, Venezuelans, Hondurans, Syrians and everybody else the US has made into victims in the 21st century.

The US exacerbates religious, ethnic and racial tensions to divide and cause chaos. It uses minority groups as terrorists and paramilitary and then abandons them, over and over again.

When indigenous people get in the way of mining, extraction, monocrops, and settler colonialism the US enables ethnic cleansing.

Send humanitarian aid, not military "aid", help rebuild what the US has destroyed, and not just empty pity.

P.S. It is quite enlightening to go to the waybackmachine and read the articles Hedges wrote for the NYT.

Submitted on Monday, Oct 21, 2019 at 4:37:55 PM

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b. sadie bailey

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This is why I trust and respect Chris Hedges; he covered the illegal US wars on many countries as a war correspondent for decades and has seen it all; he was always empathetic to the plight of the victims of these wars, and he told the truths the mainstream media refused to cover.

Now Trump has unleashed more HELL onto the Kurds and yet, despite the fact that he has already done more bombings than Bush and Obama combined, will be seen as a hero by his minions for pulling out the troops - never mind that he just abandoned our Kurdish allies to more genocide at the hands of Turkey. This is how the US treats its allies after it is done with them; except Israel and Saudi Arabia, who seem to have us firmly by the short-hairs, laughing all the way to the bank while we go deeper into debt with more blood of innocents on our hands at their bidding.

.... we've destroyed too many countries and peoples to list, with Yemen the latest atrocity; now, the Kurds in Syria. And our neighbors to the south fleeing oppressive regimes WE helped put into place - we put them in cages and traffic their children.

True, the U.S. trains paramilitary extremists as so called "freedom fighters," then abandons them - as they did to Bin Laden and others; the US created ISIS and the Taliban and all the rest of the extremist militant cells with these tactics, as Mr. Pear has pointed out. Then the U.S. hires Dick Cheney's Haliburton to "rebuild" before the next bombings start the whole cycle over again and nothing gets rebuilt and more and more gets destroyed and the greedy profiteering pimps profit some more.

And we wonder why our country is hated and feared? This empire is crumbling and the world will rejoice when it does.

Submitted on Monday, Oct 21, 2019 at 5:52:40 PM

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Reply to b. sadie bailey:   New Content

With all due respect you might want to reconsider giving me a thumbs up above, because by "enlightening" I did not mean what I think you thought I meant by Hedges reporting.

Submitted on Monday, Oct 21, 2019 at 7:38:16 PM

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b. sadie bailey

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So what did you mean? Because I'm willing to be educated. I remember reading his reports on the Sandinista wars and El Salvador and was impressed by them; but sure, I'll remove the thumbs up if you want me to, even though that was not why I gave your comment a thumbs up. I gave your comment thumbs-up because of everything else you said before the last paragraph and I still feel your comment deserves one.

Submitted on Monday, Oct 21, 2019 at 8:59:48 PM

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David William Pear

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I am not the one to educate you. I have read almost all of Hedges books and many of his articles with great admiration. However, I am disillusioned by his reporting on the US/NATO bombing of Yugoslavia. Instead of exposing it as another US dirty war, he reported the US narrative. As a reference here is a link to Stephen Karganovic and another to the Srebrenica Historical Project. Still I agree with a lot more of what Hedges reports than not. Call me a purist. Best regards.

Submitted on Monday, Oct 21, 2019 at 9:39:37 PM

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Lois Gagnon

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Unfortunately, Hedges still likes to reference his reporting on Yugoslavia comparing the Yoguslav government before the US intervention as akin to the neoliberal cabal that is running the US centralized empire. I don't know why he feels the need to continue the imperialist narrative about that country since he left the NYTs. Human ego is a persistent problem. Like you, I am still a fan of his work. I just wish he'd lose the excuse making for past incorrect reporting.

Submitted on Monday, Oct 21, 2019 at 11:33:56 PM

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They don't teach humility in seminary school.

Submitted on Tuesday, Oct 22, 2019 at 12:10:24 AM

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shad williams

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You made me laugh..thanks.

Submitted on Tuesday, Oct 22, 2019 at 9:14:20 AM

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I will send you a link once I find it again from a recent The Last American Vagabond. It concerns a US general speaking at a workshop for the Aspen Institute who was asked, how was the US able to figure out who to work with in Syria...a dangerous question as it turned out. The general responded that they (US) looked around to see who was "available". When the PKK and their motley group of al quaeda and ISIS murderers made themselves available, the general told them that they needed to rebrand themselves, which they apparently did, calling themselves the Syrian Democratic Forces. He marveled at their ingenuity of throwing the word Democratic into their new name as a brilliant stroke. The audience laughed just as the crowd at Texas A&M laughed when Pompeo admitted that the CIA teaches its operatives to lie, cheat and steal.

Except the dishonest bastard failed to mention that the CIA also teaches its operatives how to murder.

The powers that shouldn't be are grooming a bunch of young morally decrepit individuals for a role in their continuing saga for world domination.

Submitted on Tuesday, Oct 22, 2019 at 9:41:14 AM

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Excellent! I wish I could give you more than one thumb up.

Submitted on Tuesday, Oct 22, 2019 at 1:23:46 PM

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Thanks David William Pear for your knowledge and understanding.

I will write a few sentences and prove that Chris Hedges is WRONG in pitying Kurds.

As David Pear correctly mentioned we should pity people in Yemen, Afghanistan, and Syria.

Kurds are a branch of Persian who I understand most of their words. Kurds have celebrated Persian New Year (Nowruz) and other rituals since the beginning of history going back to 7000 years ago. Kurds and Persian have been together for most of 7000 yers.

Persian Empire included Iraq or most of Iraq. The reason Iraq is NOT a part of Iran is because of Kurds siding with Osman Turkish Empire in defeating Iranian army.

Growing up, I remember Kurds causing many problems in Iran, killing its people and soldiers.

In the past 400 years, Kurds have sided with Turks of Turkey to attack other groups or countries.

Recently, one could see Kurds waving flags of several countries thinking these countries will come to their aid. Kurds have NOT learned from history to know who is their friends.

More than half of Kurds have lived in Iran peacefully. Kurds have been abused by Americans, British, and Turks to attack other countries. Turks of Turkey have used Kurds to defeat Armenians even killing them (Arminian killings by Turks in which some Kurds were used).

Mr. Hedges does not know history of Kurds. This article will be among several of his misunderstanding events another being 911.

Kurds will continue to suffer if they do not learn from their history.

Submitted on Tuesday, Oct 22, 2019 at 1:58:39 PM

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Once in a transformative dream conversation with the logos of The Elohim, the dream voice guided me saying the peace process requires seeking forgiveness, which is too often overlooked, leaving humanity repeating our same patterns.

Which begs the question, perhaps confronting evil requires great compassion as a starting point.

The world is reshaped for you as your karma judges you.

Submitted on Tuesday, Oct 22, 2019 at 2:30:07 PM

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