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The Kurds gained nothing with their vote for independence

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Back in June, the president of the Kurdish region of Iraq, Massoud Barzani, scheduled a referendum for Kurdish independence. This was the fulfillment of various stillborn attempts to advance the cause of Kurdish independence. They held the vote on September 25, and unsurprisingly, the result was 93 percent “yes” to independence.

They thought it would buy them a place at the table with the Baghdad government, but they were sold the Brooklyn Bridge by the Barzanis, who have autocratically ruled the region for several years.

Now, Iranian tanks have rolled up to the Iraqi border, as Iraq’s government puts a stranglehold on the region. And its people suffer. These are some of the U.S.’s best friends in the war against ISIS. We warned them that any vote would not be recognized, and exactly as we said, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson declared that the U.S. finds the vote illegal and illegitimate.

All the vote has done is bring Hezbollah, Iran, and Iraq more into alignment as the power players in the region, able to get the United States to do their bidding, while Iran thumbs its nose from behind a Russian shield on IAEA inspections. It’s complicated in the Middle East.

Perspectives

KRP: Kurdistan people disappointed by Tillerson’s statement on referendum

“The people of Kurdistan, who have consistently and enthusiastically supported the United States, especially more recently in its fight against ISIS and Saddam Hussein, are deeply disappointed in the statement by Secretary Tillerson on Friday,” read a statement from the Presidency.

Hezbollah says Kurdish vote a step toward wider Mideast partition | Reuters

http://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-kurds-referendum-hezbo/hezbollah-says-kurdish-vote-a-step-toward-wider-mideast-partition-idUSKCN1C50RKBEIRUT (Reuters) – The powerful Lebanese group Hezbollah said on Saturday that an Iraqi Kurdish independence vote marked a first step toward the partition of the Middle East, warning that this would lead to “internal wars” and must be opposed.

Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, head of the Iran-backed group, said events in northern Iraq, where Kurds overwhelmingly voted for independence on Monday, were a threat to the whole region and not just Iraq and neighboring states with Kurdish populations.

“It will open the door to partition, partition, partition,” Nasrallah said. He added that “partition means taking the region to internal wars whose end and time frame is known only to God”.

Iranian Tanks Roll Up to The Iraqi Border As Embargo of Kurds Expands – The Drive

http://www.thedrive.com/the-war-zone/14798/iranian-tanks-roll-up-to-the-iraqi-border-as-embargo-of-kurds-expandsIran has moved tanks and artillery up to the border with Iraqi Kurdistan, close enough to the boundary that they are visible from the other side. The move is the latest in a string of increasingly threatening responses to the semi-autonomous region’s decision to vote in favor of independence, which has drawn widespread condemnation from national governments in the region and failed to win unequivocal support from many of the Kurd’s powerful western allies, including the United States.

On Oct. 2, 2017, the Iranian forces appeared along the Iran-Iraq border, reportedly as part of a previously announced combined drill with Iraqi national forces and militia in retaliation for the independence vote. Authorities in Tehran had already kicked off military exercises near the boundary on Sept. 24, 2017 a day ahead of the poll in Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region, ostensibly as part of the annual Sacred Defense Week to commemorate the Iran-Iraq War. More than 3.3 million people there, more than 70 percent of registered voters, turned out on Sept. 25, 2017 to cast their ballots, with more than 90 percent voting in favor an independent Kurdistan.

After the Vote, Does the Kurdish Dream of Independence Have a Chance?

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/30/world/middleeast/kurds-iraq-independence.html?mcubz=0&_r=0A healthy democratic government might weather the storm. “We don’€™t have rule of law,€” we have a monarchy,” said Rabbon Marof, a member of the Kurdish Parliament and a leader of the “No for Now”€ movement that opposed the vote. The region’€™s president, Massoud Barzani, remains in power two years after his term expired.

Final thoughts

Independence is a wonderful concept, but the Kurdish people would be far from free as an independent state. They would be under the thumb of the Barzanis, who have ruled like kings or dictators. The U.S. was correct in rejecting the legitimacy of this vote. However, we should recognize what the vote accomplished. The Kurdish people deserve self-determination. Right now, their choice is between the Barzanis and the Iraqis.

The U.S. should be doing the yeoman’s work in bringing the Kurds to the table, but that isn’t likely to happen with the Barzanis in control. Then again, it’s not America’s role to dictate who should run other nations. This was a very difficult situation–again we warned the Barzanis what would happen, but they went ahead anyway.

All this vote did was make America’s work harder to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear state. When that happens, the Kurds will have lost any chance of freedom. They never should have taken this vote.

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Foreign Affairs

As Venezuela implodes, Trump administration recognizes Juan Guaidó as President

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As Venezuela implodes Trump administration recognizes Juan Guaid as President

The destruction of Venezuela by socialism and corruption is practically complete, but hope is on the horizon. A new President has been recognized by the United States, making Nicolas Maduro’s presidency nearly finished.

Juan Guaidó has been serving as the President of the National Assembly of Venezuela since earlier this month and assumed the role of interim President earlier today. The United States joins Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, and Puerto Rico in recognizing his claim as legitimate.

People have filled the streets of Caracas in an amazing display of solidarity against Maduro, who held an “inauguration” on January 11 despite clear indicators the May 2018 elections were rigged. Now, the streets of Caracas are full.

President Trump confirmed the move following multiple news outlets quoting White House officials.

Ironically, Guaidó’s rallying cry happens to be “Sí, se puede!”, Spanish for “Yes we can.”

My Take

This is the only viable move given the circumstances. As I posted on Facebook:

It may not be possible for Guaidó to turn around the failing nation without a lot of outside assistance, but one thing is certain: Maduro had zero chance of making anything better for his starving people.


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Four Republicans Senators ask the President to transfer ISIS prisoners in Syria

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Four Republicans Senators ask the President to transfer ISIS prisoners in Syria

As the United States military prepares for a full withdrawal from Syria, some are concerned that Islamic State fighters currently being held by Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) will be released or others be allowed to rejoin ISIS. Four Republican stalwarts in the Senate are calling on President Trump transfer the worst of these prisoners to Guantanamo Bay.

Senators Tom Cotton, John Cornyn, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio all signed the letter to the President requesting this action.

The President announced the move to pull out of Syria on Twitter last month following a phone call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. This prompted the resignation of former Secretary of Defense James Mattis and drew condemnation from people on the left and right who felt the President was abandoning our allies in the war against ISIS.

Turkey has long wanted the United States out of Syria so they could deal with the Kurdish forces that they consider to be terrorists.

My Take

This is a smart move to do before the withdrawal, but this letter was also a not-so-subtle reminder to the President that pulling out of Syria quickly will have repercussions. Both National Security Adviser John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have tempered the President’s remarks by saying the United States will pull out just as soon as ISIS is fully defeated.

One thing is certain: if these terrorists and militants are not moved to Guantanamo Bay, many if not all of them will eventually return to the Islamic State to continue their mission against the the rest of the world.


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Venezuela’s invigorated opposition take streets in key test

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Venezuelas invigorated opposition take streets in key test

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Venezuela’s re-invigorated opposition faces a crucial test Wednesday as it seeks to fill streets nationwide with protesters in an appeal to the military and the poor to shift loyalties that until recently looked solidly behind President Nicolas Maduro’s socialist government.

The protests have been called to coincide with a historic date for Venezuelans — the anniversary of the 1958 coup that overthrew military dictator Marcos Perez Jimenez. Government supporters are also expected to march in downtown Caracas in a rival show of strength.

The competing demonstrations will come after a whirlwind week that saw an uprising by a tiny military unit, fires set during protests in poor neighborhoods and the brief detention by security forces of the newly installed head of the opposition-controlled congress.

For much of the past two years, following a deadly crackdown on protests in 2017 and the failure of negotiations ahead of last May’s boycotted presidential election, the coalition of opposition parties has been badly divided by strategy and ego battles as millions of desperate Venezuelans fled the country’s hyperinflation and widespread food shortages. But buoyed by unprecedented international criticism of Maduro, anti-government forces have put aside their differences and are projecting a united front.

Their leader this time, taking the reins from a long list of better-known predecessors who have been exiled, outlawed or jailed, is Juan Guaido, the new president of the National Assembly who was dragged from an SUV just over a week ago by intelligence agents but quickly released amid an international outcry.

In the run-up to Wednesday’s actions, the defiant 35-year-old lawmaker has crisscrossed Caracas attending outdoor assemblies known as “Open Cabildos” — for the revolutionary citizen councils held against Spanish colonial rule — pumping up crowds by arguing that Maduro must go for democracy to be restored.

Speaking on Monday from the roof of a college building, Guaido proclaimed with fist raised: “We are tired of this disaster. We know this isn’t a fight of a single day but one that requires lots of resistance.”

An enthusiastic crowd of students answered with shouts of “Freedom!” and “Get out, Maduro!”

Driving the crisis has been Maduro’s decision to plow ahead in the face of international condemnation and take the presidential oath Jan. 10 for a second term widely considered illegitimate after his main opponents were banned from running against him.

Guaido has been targeting his message to Venezuela’s military, the traditional arbiter of political disputes.

Maduro, who lacks the military pedigree of his mentor and predecessor, the late Hugo Chavez, has sought to shore up support from the armed forces by doling out key posts to top generals, including heading the PDVSA oil monopoly that is the source of virtually all of Venezuela’s export earnings. He has also been playing commander in chief, appearing last week at a military command meeting wearing camouflage fatigues and receiving the blessing of the defense minister, Gen. Vladimir Padrino Lopez.

But beyond the public displays of loyalty from the top brass, a number of cracks have started to appear.

On Monday, Venezuelans awoke to news that a few dozen national guardsmen had taken captive a loyalist officer and seized a stockpile of assault rifles in a pre-dawn raid. The government quickly quelled the uprising, but residents in a nearby slum took to the streets to show their support for the mutineers by burning cars and throwing stones at security forces, who fired back with tear gas.

Distubrances continued into Tuesday, with small pockets of unrest in a few working-class neighborhoods where the government has traditionally enjoyed strong support. More violence was reported Tuesday night.

“People are tired of so much misery,” said Carmen Marcano, holding up her shirt to show seven buckshot wounds suffered during the clashes in the Cotiza slum next to where the rebellious guardsmen were captured.

Retired Maj. Gen. Cliver Alcala, a one-time aide to Chavez and now in exile, said the opposition’s newfound momentum has reverberated with the military’s lower ranks, many of whom are suffering the same hardships as regular Venezuelan families.

“I am absolutely certain that right now, especially younger troops are asking themselves whether Maduro is their commander in chief or a usurper,” Alcala said. “As we say in the barracks, hunger is the only thing that can devour fear of the government.”

The government has accused the opposition of inciting violence with the aim of provoking a bloodbath. Top socialist leaders have threatened to unleash on demonstrators menacing motorcycle gangs of pro-government die-hards known as “colectivos.”

“I demand the full rigor of the law against the fascists,” Maduro said Tuesday night while blaming “terrorists” allegedly linked to Guaido’s Popular Will party for a fire at a cultural center named for a pro-government lawmaker murdered in 2014.

He also accused U.S. Vice President Mike Pence of trying to foment unrest after Pence released a video pledging support, in Spanish, for the planned demonstrations.

Though intimidation has worked for the government in the past, it may not this time, said Dimitris Pantoulas, a Caracas-based political analyst. Discontent now appears to be more widespread and the ranks of security forces and government-allied groups have been thinned by the mass exodus of mostly young Venezuelans, he said.

“The government is resorting to its old tricks, but the people no longer believe them,” Pantoulas said.

___

Associated Press writer Fabiola Sanchez contributed to this report.

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Joshua Goodman on Twitter: https://twitter.com/APjoshgoodman


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