FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

"Perhaps They’re Not Invincible"

by PATRICK COCKBURN

 

General Nasrudin Mustafa, commander of the Kurdish forces north of Kirkuk, was just finishing a sentence, saying: “There is nothing new happening on my front.” But as he spoke the last word there a thunderous roar, his headquarters building shook and the door of his office rattled on its hinges.

A US aircraft had just bombed the long, dark ridge on the Iraqi side of the front line which protects the city of Kirkuk and its oilfields. General Mustafa, who usually plays down the significance of skirmishing between his men and the Iraqi army, looked briefly impressed, saying: “Well, I haven’t seen that before.”

War is slowly coming to northern Iraq and is likely to be hastened by the setbacks to the US-led coalition in the south of the country.

Major-General Henry Osman of the US Marines arrived yesterday, the first openly visible sign of the several hundred American troops who have been landing under cover of darkness for the past three days. Kurdish officials reported bombing near the city of Mosul, and a Reuters television crew heard a powerful explosion near Arbil. So far the Kurds ? Iraqis themselves and with decades of experience of warfare against Baghdad behind them–are singularly unimpressed by the US and British coalition assault.

Struggling to say something polite about Allied strategy, Hoshyar Zebari, a veteran Kurdish leader, said: “People in Iraq are beginning to think that they [the US and Britain] are not invincible. There have been no major victories: Umm Qasr and Basra have not fallen as was announced.”

He criticised the Allies for making a headlong dash for Baghdad without securing the cities on the Tigris and Euphrates rivers or trying to use the support of local people opposed to President Saddam Hussein.

He said: “The impression Iraqis are getting is that there are no Iraqis involved in this campaign, but this is an occupation.”

The criticism is somewhat self-serving. The Kurds, with perhaps 70,000 peshmerga under their command, believe the longer the war goes on the more likely that the US will have to call on them, along with small numbers of US troops, to open a northern front against President Saddam.

This would help the Kurds to return to the provinces of Kirkuk and Mosul, from which 300,000 of them were ethnically cleansed by President Saddam, and give them a strong hand to play in post-war settlement.

So far, the war has been very unlike the triumph of the US-led forces in 1991, Kurdish leaders point out. Iraq has had a string of little successes such as the downing of a helicopter, the capture of US ground troops, and there has been no uprising of Kurds and Shia Muslims as there was after the Gulf War.

The latter has not happened because the US did not want it and Iraqi security has been much tighter than it was 12 years ago.

Disappointment with Allied performance so far is wide-spread among Kurds and not confined to their leaders. In Sifaya, a village of smugglers and farmers on the Zaab river, a mile from Iraqi government-controlled territory, people watch every step of the war on local television.

These days, they have suspended smuggling to Mosul because it is too dangerous and they have drawn up their boats on the bank of the Zaab.

But they think President Saddam is a long way from falling. Khalil Ibrahim, a local leader, said: “The war is too cold. It is not warm enough yet.”

Even in Kurdistan, where the US is popular and where President Saddam committed some of his worst atrocities, there are flickers of Iraqi patriotism. A Kurdish official, who has devoted years to opposing the government in Baghdad, admitted: “It would have been better if the invasion had been with the mandate of the UN and not just by the US and Britain.

“Iraqis won’t like to see American soldiers ripping down posters of Saddam Hussein though they might like to do it themselves. They didn’t enjoy watching the Stars and Stripes being raised near Umm Qasr.”

So far, the northern front has been a fiasco. A month ago the US was expected to land 62,000 troops, their armour and transport and 310 aircraft and helicopters in Turkey.

This would be the northern pincer of a two-pronged attack on Baghdad with the other pincer advancing from Kuwait in the south.

But the refusal of the Turkish parliament to sanction US use of Turkish bases lopped off the northern pincer.

But the sudden appearance of General Osman at a press conference in the headquarters of the Kurdistan Democratic Party in Salahudin yesterday marked an escalation of US involvement in northern Iraq.

He announced, in a statement written in peculiarly lumbering prose, that he was there to establish the military co-ordination and liaison command. This will “synchronise humanitarian support operations, assist in the deconfliction of humanitarian and military activities, and co-ordinate relief in northern Iraq”. It will operate in south-east Turkey and northern Iraq.

In reality, General Osman is here to prevent the Turks fighting the Kurds, and vice versa. The Turkish government has said it wants to send troops into Iraqi Kurdistan to stop an outflow of refugees into Turkey. There is no sign of such refugees, but the presence of General Osman, based in Salahudin and Silopi in Turkey, will, the Kurds hope, make it more difficult for the Turkish army to invade them. There are thousands of Turkish troops already massed on the border.

 

Today’s Features

Gary Leupp
What Democracy Looks Like: the Streets of Cairo

Bill and Kathleen Christison
An Interview with Hanan Ashrawi

Bruce Jackson
Why Protest? Why Write?

Uri Avnery
Bitter Rice: Thoughts and Warnings on the War

Jason Leopold
Blood Indicator: Casualties and the Stock Market

Jeffrey St. Clair
Life During Wartime

Gilad Atzmon
Strategic Blunders by American Generals

Ralph Nader
A Pre-emptive War on a Defenseless Country

Website of the War
Iraq Body Count

Keep CounterPunch Alive:
Make a Tax-Deductible Donation Today Online!

home / subscribe / about us / books / archives / search / links /

Patrick Cockburn is the author of  The Rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution.

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
June 24, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Pilger
A Blow for Peace and Democracy: Why the British Said No to Europe
Pepe Escobar
Goodbye to All That: Why the UK Left the EU
Michael Hudson
Revolts of the Debtors: From Socrates to Ibn Khaldun
Andrew Levine
Summer Spectaculars: Prelude to a Tea Party?
Kshama Sawant
Beyond Bernie: Still Not With Her
Mike Whitney
¡Basta Ya, Brussels! British Voters Reject EU Corporate Slavestate
Tariq Ali
Panic in the House: Brexit as Revolt Against the Political Establishment
Paul Street
Miranda, Obama, and Hamilton: an Orwellian Ménage à Trois for the Neoliberal Age
Ellen Brown
The War on Weed is Winding Down, But Will Monsanto Emerge the Winner?
Gary Leupp
Why God Created the Two-Party System
Conn Hallinan
Brexit Vote: a Very British Affair (But Spain May Rock the Continent)
Ruth Fowler
England, My England
Jeffrey St. Clair
Lines Written on the Occasion of Bernie Sanders’ Announcement of His Intention to Vote for Hillary Clinton
Norman Pollack
Fissures in World Capitalism: the British Vote
Paul Bentley
Mercenary Logic: 12 Dead in Kabul
Binoy Kampmark
Parting Is Such Sweet Joy: Brexit Prevails!
Elliot Sperber
Show Me Your Papers: Supreme Court Legalizes Arbitrary Searches
Jan Oberg
The Brexit Shock: Now It’s All Up in the Air
Nauman Sadiq
Brexit: a Victory for Britain’s Working Class
Brian Cloughley
Murder by Drone: Killing Taxi Drivers in the Name of Freedom
Ramzy Baroud
How Israel Uses Water as a Weapon of War
Brad Evans – Henry Giroux
The Violence of Forgetting
Ben Debney
Homophobia and the Conservative Victim Complex
Margaret Kimberley
The Orlando Massacre and US Foreign Policy
David Rosen
Americans Work Too Long for Too Little
Murray Dobbin
Do We Really Want a War With Russia?
Kathy Kelly
What’s at Stake
Louis Yako
I Have Nothing “Newsworthy” to Report this Week
Pete Dolack
Killing Ourselves With Technology
David Krieger
The 10 Worst Acts of the Nuclear Age
Lamont Lilly
Movement for Black Lives Yields New Targets of the State
Martha Rosenberg
A Hated Industry Fights Back
Robert Fantina
Hillary, Gloria and Jill: a Brief Look at Alternatives
Chris Doyle
No Fireworks: Bicentennial Summer and the Decline of American Ideals
Michael Doliner
Beyond Dangerous: the Politics of Climate
Colin Todhunter
Modi, Monsanto, Bayer and Cargill: Doing Business or Corporate Imperialism?
Steve Church
Brexit: a Rush for the Exits!
Matthew Koehler
Mega Corporation Gobbles Up Slightly Less-Mega Corporation; Chops Jobs to Increase Profits; Blames Enviros. Film at 11.
David Green
Rape Culture, The Hunting Ground, and Amy Goodman: a Critical Perspective
Ed Kemmick
Truckin’: Pro Driver Dispenses Wisdom, Rules of the Road
Alessandro Bianchi
“China Will React if Provoked Again: You Risk the War”: Interview with Andre Vltchek
Christy Rodgers
Biophilia as Extreme Sport
Missy Comley Beattie
At Liberty
Ron Jacobs
Is Everything Permitted?
Cesar Chelala
The Sad Truth About Messi
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail