March 09, 2006

Zarqawi Was Here

BIARA, IRAQ – The PUK’s Minister of the Interior ordered 20 heavily armed Peshmerga soldiers to go with me to the borderland mountain village of Biara. For years the village was occupied by Ansar Al Islam, the Kurdish-Arab-Persian branch of Al Qaeda in Northern Iraq. Biara wasn’t the only village seized by the Taliban of Mesopotamia, but it was perhaps the most important. It is there that the Jordanian-born Abu Musab al-Zarqawi had his last stand in Iraqi Kurdistan before the 2003 US-led invasion forced him out.

My Peshmerga weren’t really necessary. I told my translator Alan that I was embarrassed so many military resources were being spent on my account. I probably didn’t need any.

“It’s too much,” Alan said and laughed. He, too, was clearly embarrassed. “It’s too much. The minister is doing this to be nice. He wants you to know that he cares about you.”

I introduced myself to some of my Peshmerga guards. There were so many it wasn’t easy to speak to them all. I had a hard time looking them in the eye. Jesus, I thought. These guys must think I’m the biggest wimp in the world. Biara isn’t actually dangerous. Zarqawi hasn’t been there for years. But it wasn’t my idea to bring them along. When the minister said “I will send guards with you” I thought he meant maybe two guys. I cringed when I saw how many picked me up at my hotel in the morning.

My Peshmerga.jpg

Alan and I left Suleimaniya in a convoy. One truck bristling with Peshmerga led the way. Another truck followed. Heads turned as we drove through the small villages. Who might that be was the look on all the faces. I wanted to bury my own face in my hands. It’s just me! I’m not that important! It turned out, though, to be fun.

Peshmerga Disembarking.jpg

I don’t know if these guys actually thought I was a wimp because they had to come with me. They probably did. If so, they did a terrific job hiding it. Most likely they didn’t care. Driving up the mountains and into Biara surely beat boring checkpoint detail or whatever else they would have been otherwise doing.

Arrival in Biara.jpg

We arrived in Biara and parked near the mosque founded long ago by a Sufi mystic from Turkey. Zarqawi lived in that mosque during the Ansar Al Islam occupation. I could tell most of the Peshmerga guys had never been there. They gawked at the mosque and at the mountains like tourists.

Their disposition had drastically changed since morning. At first they were all business. We will protect you said the look on their no-nonsense faces. Now they looked like boys. Cool! Field trip!

After a few oohs and ahs and the pointing of fingers they found a kebab shop and ordered some lunch. Alan and I went over to join them.

Peshmerga Need Food.jpg

“I don’t have enough food for everybody,” the stunned shop owner said, clearly intimidated by the sheer volume of food he would have to prepare all at once. “Try the tea shop down the street.”

Alan and I went to the tea shop down the street and settled in.

Biara Tea House.jpg

The proprietor happily made us Iraq-style tea (dark brown, overflowing, and packed with a wallop of sugar) and delicious kebabs.

There were a few other patrons in the tea shop and they eyed me, the obvious foreigner, with a mixture of curiosity and shyness.

“Do want to talk to some of these people?” Alan said. “I’ll be happy to translate.”

Of course I wanted to talk. That was the reason I went there in the first place.

“Hello,” I said to two slightly goofy looking gentlemen sitting across the tea shop on the other side of the stove.

Friends in Biara Tea House.jpg

They both stepped across and we firmly shook hands.

“Do you want to know about life in Biara?” the one on the left said. He spoke perfect English and I did not need Alan to translate.

“Yes,” I said. “Did you live here when the village was occupied by Zarqawi?”

“I did,” he said. “Life wasn’t good. We had no freedom. TV was banned. Women couldn’t walk outside without an abaya. There was violence. Anyone not affiliated with them was treated badly. During prayer time everyone was required to go to the mosque. If we didn’t go we were insulted and fined 50 dollars.”

50 dollars may not be a lot of money in the United States, but was a huge amount in a remote village in Iraqi Kurdistan while all of Iraq was under international sanctions. People needed the Oil for Food program just to stay alive.

“Did anyone here actually like Ansar Al Islam?” I asked.

“There were one or two very young people,” he said. “I am from here. We never had anything like that before. I was joking with my friends in this tea shop. We were arrested, chained, blindfolded, and beaten. Laughing was banned.”

“They were like the Taliban,” his friend said.

“Did Ansar kill anyone here?” I asked.

“One person was tortured to death,” he said.

The tea shop owner joined the conversation.

“I was accused of being a member of the PUK,” he said, referring to the left-wing Patriotic Union of Kurdistan political party. “So they put me in prison.”

Ansar Al Islam’s occupation of Biara and surrounding villages ended in 2003 when the Peshmerga launched a ground invasion with U.S. air support. Biara, including the Zarqawi-occupied mosque, was bombed from the air.

“How did you feel when the Americans bombed your village?” I asked the shopkeeper.

“We were waiting to get rid of them,” he said. “We were desperate. They were the worst people ever. Many people had to close their businesses and leave this place.”

Two other men came into the tea shop. One wore a military uniform, the other wore civilian clothes. They kept to themselves at first, then came over to talk.

Chatting in Biara Tea House.jpg

“Did you ever meet Zarqawi?” I asked the man in civilian clothes.

“Few people saw him,” he said. “He covered his face with a cloth. He wasn’t the boss, though. Chafee was their commander. They had three commanders, actually. We are still afraid of them.”

Apparently the threat to this part of Iraqi Kurdistan isn’t quite over. Otherwise the minister of the interior would not have even thought to send Peshmerga guards with me. But the Islamists haven’t been back since the US and the Peshmerga drove them over the border into Iran. It was hard to imagine they would dare try to come back again without getting themselves killed the instant they arrived.

“When the US attacked,” he said, “they escaped to an Iranian village. Then Iran sent them to Kirkuk. One guy was arrested in Kirkuk and sent back to Iran. Then Iran sent him back to Kirkuk again.”

I paid the bill and made my way to the mosque. It was hard to believe the US actually bombed it and destoyed one whole side. It didn’t look like it was ever even damaged. The mosque was being used as a terrorist nest so it was technically a legitimate military target. Still, it’s a mosque and it seemed to me that bombing it wasn’t the best way to “liberate” it. I thought I would go inside and ask local people who prayed there what they thought about that.

Sufi Mosque Biara.jpg

I took my shoes off outside and went in. Some of the Peshmerga guys came in with me.

Peshmerga in Mosque.jpg

The imam wasn’t around, but we met the mosque caretaker Hussein Mahmoud inside. He was happy to show us around and tell us what’s what.

Three Sufi saints are buried under the mosque dome. Most of the people who pray here aren’t Sufis; they are mainstream Sunni Muslims. But they honor and venerate the mystics for whom the mosque was founded.

Sufi Shrine Biara.jpg

“Zarqawi destroyed the tombs,” the caretaker said. “He and his men turned this room into a toilet.” He shook his head in disgust at the filthy Islamists who fouled their Islamic shrine. Muslims who say Al Qaeda is not really Islamic may have a point.

“You see that there in the floor?” he said. “That’s where they began to install plumbing.”

Zarqawi Plumbing.jpg

I braced myself. “How do you feel about the U.S. bombing this mosque?” I said.

“I don’t know,” he said, as if he had never even pondered the question. “It’s okay, I suppose. I am grateful. If they had not done it this place would still be a toilet.”

Five feet past the last house in Biara is the beginning of Iran. The Iranian government actually asked one person to move his house two feet over because one part of the living room was technically outside Iraq. I walked up a long flight of stone steps to the houses, made of slate bricks, that lined the Iranian border to get a view of the village from above.

Biara from Above.jpg

My Peshmerga came with me. They whipped out their cell phones and used the built-in cameras to take photos of the village just as I did.

Peshmerga Taking Photos.jpg

We couldn’t stay long, though. We were at the edge of Iraq. But there was one more place even more on the edge than this one even higher up in the Kurdistan mountains. We had one more place we needed to see. There was one more village to go…


Postscript: Don’t forget to hit the tip jar. And thanks so much to all of you who have donated money already.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at March 9, 2006 11:45 AM
Comments

Great stuff, Michael.

Posted by: Solomon at March 9, 2006 01:01 PM

Great stuff indeed. That's some army you got there!

Always a joy to read, keep it up!

Posted by: paranoid_android at March 9, 2006 01:29 PM

Michael,

US Special Forces led the ground assault on Biara accompanied by peshmerga and US air support.

Great pictures of the peshmerga and the scenery!

Posted by: lebanon.profile at March 9, 2006 02:23 PM

You should make them a "10th Totten Divison" armpatch.

I guess if they can spare that many soldiers to babysit you, there isn't much serious action for them. Either that, or it was punishment detail.

Posted by: TallDave at March 9, 2006 03:32 PM

Second to last picture, the town from above:

Jeez, look at all the satellite dishes! Is there a house that doesn't have one? I looked but didn't see it if it's there.

What kind of programming can they get?

I guess I'm just old. The notion of people in a mountain village on the Iraq-Iran border, a place where most of us would think the only reason you couldn't see the end of the World from there was the mountain in the way, watching live TV from anywhere else on the planet... well, it just boggles the mind. Internet access too. Anybody in Biara reading this?

The people on the other side of the Iranian border are Kurds, too, are they not? How do they get along? Is there border-crossing, surreptitious or open?

Note of caution, Michael; I have a low and nasty mind. You're giving the Kurds a lot of good publicity here, not that they don't deserve it, and I can see a guy in the Government thinking it a good idea to give you special benefits and privileges, either as a reward or as an inducement to more feelgood. It might lead to accusations of favoritism and lack of "journalistic independence" from the people who sit home and reprint press releases.

Never mind. Welcome to civilization, Kurds! Or maybe you're welcoming us. It's cool either way. I think we'll have fun together.

Regards,
Ric

Posted by: Ric Locke at March 9, 2006 06:24 PM

Ric Locke,

They get some very good programming and the best part is its totally free. They probably get around 600 channels. Take a look at this site; ((Hot bird 1, Hot bird 2, Hot bird 3, Hot bird 4 and Hot bird 6)) at 13.0 degrees East is what thy aim there dishes at to get the Kurdish programming and many other channels from around the world.

Here is the site!
http://www.lyngsat.com/tracker/europe.html

Posted by: Dyako at March 9, 2006 07:03 PM

MJT, I'm pleased with this article. However, I admit I'm spending a fair amount of time chuckling.

You appear to have reported accurately, but I'm not sure you understood the import of what was happening! It's the common failing of writers that they think other people think they are important enough to be the center of the universe!

Of course sending twenty men to "guard" you wasn't justified - everybody agreed on that. I doubt they ever pondered the question of you being a "wimp" or not. Try this on for size: you weren't using the PUK. They were using you.

You see, "guarding" you provided an excuse for the PUK to assert its authority. This was a show of force: the PUK demonstrating that it, not Ansar-Al-Islam, was in control of the territory. According to you, people still say they are afraid of Ansar-al-Islam. What better way to allay their fears and assert the PUK's dominance than by escorting one of Zarqawi's "enemy infidels" through the area and making sure that this "target" departs unharmed?

In the future, don't be worried if the Interior Minister sends twenty men to "protect" you. Worry if he only sends five. Chances are he'll be trying to deploy you as a temptation to flush the enemy out into the open.

Hit that tip jar, people!

Posted by: Solomon2 at March 9, 2006 09:34 PM

Solomon2

Man you got some theories in your head. The interior ministry sent those Peshmarga's with Michael because...

1. Michael is a foreigner and there are still people in Byara that might like or feel bad for Ansar Al-Islam.

2. Byara is very close to Iranian Border (did you read the part about someone's living room was actually in Iran?) Him being American, close to the Iranian border is another reason.

3. One might think 20 guards is too much but no one knows fanataic muslim tactics like the PUK does. Ansar killed a high ranking officer of the PUK by tricking him into a meeting so he would surrender then they slaughtered all the PUK's officials and everyone that lived in that house.

They were just trying to protect him because that town was ran by Ansar, it is very close to iran and like Michael himself said they don't see a lot of foreigners woundering around the streets. I'm pretty sure they're just trying to be save then sorry.

Michael,

Great job man what can I say i'm totally addicted to your site. I check up on it everyday and most of my friends who are American, I send them to your side so they'd learn about who the Kurds people are.

Amazing stuff! glad you had fun!

Keep the good work and I hope you're feeling better because I know you were sick.

-Ako

Posted by: Ako Shwani at March 9, 2006 09:58 PM

Ako, I do not PUK's good will. However, the effort to protect MJT was incommensurate with its stated purpose. The story about the PUK officials' assassination would seem to endorse the view that Michael's peshmerga guard served a dual purpose.

If it's any comfort, I don't really think the PUK will ever employ MJT as flypaper. Americans and Kurds just seem to get along really well...

Posted by: Solomon2 at March 9, 2006 10:16 PM

I enjoyed your article very much and now that I have discovered your site I shall return often!!

Posted by: LOKI at March 10, 2006 01:31 AM

Hey Michael.

I love your articles and this is no exception.

Posted by: Anthony at March 10, 2006 01:56 AM

Let me get this straight. None of the liberals are hiting you for saying an Al Quida affiliate organization was in Iraqi territory prior to US invasion and was ejected by US/PUK forces? This is the same leader that leads Al Quida in Iraq - correct.
I thought it was left-wing gosople that there was no Al Quida link to Iraq prior to our arrival.
I love your reporting. More accurate than most news I see.
Ret Intel Spec USN

Posted by: dj elliott at March 10, 2006 06:44 AM

There was no link between the state of Iraq and Al Qaeda, as reported in the 9/11 commission report. Saddamn saw Al Qaeda as a threat. DJ Elliott, kudos on the grammar.

Great stories and pictures Michael.

Posted by: Brian at March 10, 2006 10:55 AM

Michael,

It's very gratifying to see that the Kurds are moving on with their lives and finally coming into their own.

This blog is truly unique among blogs. You've proven that good news doesn't have to be boring. Keep it up.

small donation placed into the tip jar.

Posted by: Carlos at March 10, 2006 11:16 AM

I was intrigued by this off hand comment from the article:

Did you ever meet Zarqawi?” I asked the man in civilian clothes. “Few people saw him,” he said. “He covered his face with a cloth. He wasn’t the boss, though. Chafee was their commander. They had three commanders, actually. We are still afraid of them.”

Who the heck is "Chafee" ? If he was either an Ansar al Islam or an Al Qaeda in Iraq commander... it would be interesting to know more about him. Every Google search I have tried either turns up John or Lincoln Chafee.

Posted by: 8ackgr0und N015e at March 10, 2006 11:36 AM

note to "dj elliot"

No need to be surprised or invoke conspiracies of silence. Informed liberals would not dispute the presence of Ansar al Islam in Northern Iraq prior to the invasion. Their presence was well documented. In fact, they are on the State Dept. list of terrorist organizations. It is also noteworthy that Ansar al Islam's stated goal was to overthrow the secular Baathist regime in Baghdad and replace it with an Islamist state. That's one reason people disputed the claims that Ansar Al Islam's presence was evidence of a coalition between al Qaeda and Saddam. As you probably know, their area of operation was outside Saddam's control during the "no fly zone" years. They were widely reported to have Iranian support. In fact, shortly after the invasion, many fled to Iran and "disarmed". I can't find the link, but I recall there was a skirmish between DOD and State about using them as proxies shortly after the invasion. DOD was for it, State was opposed.

Posted by: 8ackgr0und N015e at March 10, 2006 12:15 PM

"Cool! Field trip!"

heeheehee

Posted by: B. Durbin at March 10, 2006 12:58 PM

Hello Michael, great stuff keep it up! The only thing i wonder is why on earth you did not put on, more photos about the type of accommodations people have in Biara?! in fact that is the most amazing thing about Biara!

Posted by: hiwa at March 10, 2006 03:43 PM

Look at a map - well outside of the no-fly zone.
I used to target the place. If Saddam wanted it closed, it would have been. I also know where MEQ was based (and surrendered) and they worked for Saddam.
The myth is "that there is no connection between terrorists and Saddam" and that Bush lied.
Al Quida is a loose affiliation of like minded groups and they were one of them. And on the primary target list (as was MEQ). Which is why President said that "Iraq harbored terrorists". Look up the speach. This is one of the left-wing claims that he lied.

Posted by: dj elliott at March 10, 2006 05:00 PM

Brian:

If there was no link between the state of Iraq and al Qaeda, why did the Clinton Administration say in their 1998 indictment of bin Laden that Iraq had reached an agreement with al Qaeda and had provided explosives training for al Qaeda operatives?

http://www.fas.org/irp/news/1998/11/98110602_nlt.html

Posted by: Tom W. at March 10, 2006 05:43 PM

Once again:

9/11 Commission co-chairman Democrat Lee Hamilton re al-Qaeda and Iraq:

"There were connections between Al Qaeda and the Saddam Hussein government. We don't disagree with that. What we have said is what the governor (Commission Chairman Thomas Kean) just said, we don't have any evidence of a cooperative, or a corroborative, relationship between Saddam Hussein's government and these Al Qaeda operatives with regard to the attacks on the United States."

We can debate what a "cooperative" relationship was. But what we can't debate is whether Iraq and al-Qaeda had any relationship at all.

Because the evidence shows that they did.

SMG

Posted by: SteveMG at March 10, 2006 05:57 PM

Man, I love your reports, especially the use of photos mixed in with the text. It's just so interesting and nothing like the dripple from the MSN. Even the little details, like the rooftop dishes and cel phone photography, are fascinating. Keep up the great work.

Posted by: Eric in Oregon at March 10, 2006 06:00 PM

Man, I love your reports, especially the use of photos mixed in with the text. It's just so interesting and nothing like the dripple from the MSM. Even the little details, like the rooftop dishes and cel phone photography, are fascinating. Keep up the great work.

Posted by: Eric in Oregon at March 10, 2006 06:00 PM

When you are a dictator like Saddam everyone is seen as a threat, even members of your own family. Of course he saw Zarqawi and Al Qaeda as a threat, and he probably despised their strict islamism, but that doesn't mean he could not also have a strategic alliance/agreement with them if it helped to advance his agenda.

Posted by: Dan at March 10, 2006 06:43 PM

Thanks again for a fascinating perspective on a place I will never be.

I like the little anecdotes about the kebab shop sending you elsewhere because he did not have sufficient food available, and the 'guards' sightseeing along with you.

Politics is politics but you are bringing a sadly neglected 'human' dimension to the story. As others have said earlier, what we need sorely is more you and MUCH less MSM agitprop.

You rock.

Posted by: dougf at March 10, 2006 06:58 PM

I was surprised to see no mention of the fact that the Pentagon proposed an attack to capture or kill Zarqawi before the Iraq war and that the White House vetoed the idea.

Posted by: John Quiggin at March 10, 2006 07:12 PM

The satellite dishes are becoming ubiquitous in the Middle East: the rooftops of Damscus are even more densely covered with parabolas than is Biara.

As talentd as OBL has been in using Western communications technology to present his views, these forests of dishes are going to be his undoing...unless a Muslim bullet catches him first.

Posted by: a Duoist at March 11, 2006 01:29 AM

The real story here is that the people of Biara are so grateful to have been bombed by the U.S. One wouldn't think there are many things worse than being shelled. As a pro-Iraq war journalist, it must have been quite a happy coincidence indeed to find this and like-minded attitudes wherever you went.

Posted by: Ethan at March 11, 2006 02:58 AM

Another great piece Michael! Had to hit the tip jar, because I want to read a lot more of what you are writting.

Posted by: jeff at March 11, 2006 03:12 AM

Ethan,

If you think it was a coincidence that I met people like this, go there yourself and see if you can experience an opposite sort of happy coincidence from the point of view of an anti-war person. Go on, try it. Find me an Iraqi Kurd who thinks differently than the ones I have quoted. See if you can pull that one off. And best of luck. It will take you a while.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at March 11, 2006 04:01 AM

the minister jst wanted to show him his respect by srendind 20 men alongside him
they were needed really
because is biara is now secured
thanks to america

Posted by: kurdo at March 11, 2006 06:26 AM

Ethan,

My wife recently fell into the hands of people who slashed her open from neck to navel. Needless to say she did not enjoy the experience. But she's grateful to the ones who did it.

Why? Well, she had a heart attack. Now she has a triple bypass and can live pretty normally. Sometimes bad things aren't the worst thing.

Solomon2, Ako Shwani:

Peshmerga are good soldiers. Soldiers are noticeable, and their behavior sends a powerful message to onlookers. Good soldiers who are gawking and rubbernecking, and enjoying lunch at the kebab shop, are soldiers who are at ease in a place where they don't expect danger. I have no doubt that the Minister thought Michael might need protection in Biara, but the important thing is the "field trip" aspect. That purpose was almost certainly secondary, but that doesn't make it unimportant.

Also: Biara is remote, even by Iraqi/Kurdistan standards, and probably not many Kurds and even fewer Iraqi Arabs have ever visited there. The Minister now has twenty troopers who have visited Biara and enjoyed the experience, and later on, if something happens there it'll be, Oh, yeah, I've been there. Nice place. We had great kebab at Mustafa Arani's place, and the crazy American we were with wandered all over and took pictures. If you don't think promoting attitudes like that in the military is important you don't understand the military, or politics.

Multitasking, so to speak. Politicians think differently, or at least good (=skilled) ones do. They have to.

Regards,
Ric

Posted by: Ric Locke at March 11, 2006 08:32 AM

Michael, you're reading too much into my comment (though perhaps not without reason, as I read my comment to someone else and they thought I was being sarcastic too). It's a big war. You visited a part of it that can be considered a success. So, by your accounting, war still = good, right? That is all I am saying.

Posted by: Ethan at March 11, 2006 08:49 AM

Also, Michael, I wouldn't presume to say that you are misrepresenting the facts here, having never been to Kurdistan myself. I'll save that for when you start writing about Lebanon again. :)

Posted by: Ethan at March 11, 2006 08:53 AM

I was surprised to see no mention of the fact that the Pentagon proposed an attack to capture or kill Zarqawi before the Iraq war and that the White House vetoed the idea.

The Pentagon proposes a list of targets numbering in the hundreds and perhaps thousands, and the White House greenlights the ones they consider the highest priority. At the time, Zarqawi was a nobody, and low priority, and there were other more important targets to eliminate. Zarqawi only seems like an obvious choice now because all the other MORE obvious choices were eliminated. Hindsight isn't wisdom and second-guessing isn't a plan.

Posted by: Carlos at March 11, 2006 09:58 AM

If you don't think promoting attitudes like that in the military is important you don't understand the military, or politics.--RL

I almost always learn 'something', big or small. when visitng here. I hadn't really thought too much about this aspect, but it's true. 'Friendly' soldiers arriving from another area of Kurdistan probably help tie the place together as well.

In that light, 20 troopers is a pretty small investment, considering they were going to be doing 'something' anyway.

ps--- Ethan, your first comment WAS 'sarcastic'. Your 'explanation' was marginally better, but you need to work on the agenda quotient when you post. Wars are never really 'good'; just sometimes 'better' than the available alternatives. But, MJT was describing his personal visit to a village in Kurdistan from his perspective. No need to go pointing those rhetorical fingers at EVERY opportunity.

Posted by: dougf at March 11, 2006 10:00 AM

Excellent post.

Posted by: Fabian at March 11, 2006 10:03 AM

MJT,
Thanks for the wonderful series of blog posts. They cause me to recall the wonderful era of the "foreign correspondent" traveling to the far away places that once were the standard of large newspapers. Reporting on the country and people they meet in a factual way.

Further comments about the lives of the residents would be interesting to read. Who do they trade with, what crops do they raise, what is the difference between the Islam of the Sufi saints and other versions of Islam??? Lots of interesting things to inform us about from your travels and study of the locals.

I would also be very much interested in knowing who the "Chafee" is that you mention as the regional boss. And thanks to the people who have made the interesting analysis of why the number of troops was so large. Right or wrong - it is still an interesting way to think of it.

Posted by: Charley at March 11, 2006 02:47 PM

Ric:

MJT isn't crazy. Or at the very least, I think everybody agrees that he is less crazy than I am! :)

Posted by: Solomon2 at March 11, 2006 06:08 PM

Again, an absolutely fabulous post. Impressive and detailed...and fun to read. Those kabobs sounded yummy. :)

Keep up the GREAT work!

Oh...and hope you're feeling better. A nasty flu took my boss out for awhile this week. ;)

Posted by: Megs at March 11, 2006 07:20 PM

Solomon2,

Have you ever watched someone whose customs are seriously divergent from your own moving around in a place you know well?

The things such a person finds remarkable or interesting are very often (to the observer) humdrum and ordinary, and frequently the things the observer thinks are remarkable are hardly noticed by the stranger. It's just a tea shop, by the beard of the Prophet! Why would anybody care what a tea shop looks like? Enough to photograph it? The man's nuts, I tell you! :-)

Regards,
Ric

Posted by: Ric Locke at March 11, 2006 10:08 PM

Thanks for the wonderful report and pix Michael.

600 TV channels in Kurdistan means a lot of modern and enlightened culture is going to get infused there.

Can you give us an idea what people watch?

Posted by: hamidreza at March 11, 2006 11:16 PM

I like the little anecdotes about the kebab shop sending you elsewhere because he did not have sufficient food available, and the 'guards' sightseeing along with you.

The thought occurs that I've seen it mentioned that in Baghdad when the locals know a terrorist attack is lined up on visiting American soldiers, they will suddenly close down shop and shoo everyone out and away. And I'm wondering if this shop-keeper wasn't sending Totten and his keepers someplace else not because he didn't have enough food, but because he knew something or someone and wanted to be outside the explosive radius.

I'm sure I'm wrong, however, and Michael is right ... I'm just saying ...

Posted by: NahnCee at March 12, 2006 11:13 AM

I also noticed the Chaffee comment, and that there were three commanders. Be interesting to know who/what they were. Maybe if we can ever pry those Saddam documents out of Negroponte's cold, clutching fingers there would be a clue in them.

Posted by: NahnCee at March 12, 2006 11:15 AM

Dear Michael:

Thank you for the great report.

Posted by: Iranian Woman at March 12, 2006 12:35 PM

Hamidreza

Yes go to the site below and you can see all the channels they get. They aim their Satellite Dishes at 13 Degrees East, so they get all the HotBird Satellites. Click all the HotBird Links in the page and it will give you a list of all the channels they get.

Here is the Site to see what Channels are available in Kurdistan.

http://www.lyngsat.com/europe.html

Remember they have 5 Satellites in orbit at 13 degrees East, so each one has about a couple of hundred channels. I did the math and found out that they get 947 channels, I was off by a little last time. LOL!!!!

Posted by: Dyako at March 12, 2006 02:26 PM

negroponte,negroponte,is justice reduced to the number 1 so many persons in the world,so many ideas ,points of view ,why we only see the same names up in lights,,,,,,,

Posted by: sirrom at March 12, 2006 02:42 PM

Prophet Mohammed, peace be upon Her, was a woman

There is a growing amount of evidence that The Prophet Mohammed, peace be upon Her, was a woman. I recall talking to my young niece, a strong believer in the Prophet, peace be upon Her. My niece became very excited and exclaimed, “You mean that the Prophet, peace be upon Her, is a chick?” Yes I replied. I also said that the Prophet, peace be upon Her, would probably prefer being called a woman, not a chick.

http://mohammedpeacebeuponherisawoman.blogspot.com/

Posted by: mohammed is a woman at March 12, 2006 04:25 PM

did you ask where the guys in the shop learned English

Posted by: Gclement at March 12, 2006 07:25 PM

Greetings and Salam,

Do not feel like a wimp with 20 Peshmerga...I went alone with women, on a 3 shrine pilgrimage including Biyara. Sometimes it is better to go quietly…depending who you are and why you are going to visit. There are sleeper cells there and a handful of sympathizers. The PUK and the tribes in the region know this, even though the beloved Peshmerga have checkpoints and stations throughout the Jaf region. It is not as safe as you might think, but we were protected by the saints. Here is another picture of the Shrine, in the sunshine, http://photos1.blogger.com/blogger/1111/1424/1600/Naqshbandiyya%20shrines.jpg

There are 3 different shrines in this region that were desecrated by Ansar Al Islam who was trained by Al-Qaeda, and allegedly still maintains connections with Jaish Ansar al-Sunna or Army of the Protectors of the Sunna. The shrines are those of the Naqshbandi Order of the Khalidiyya-Mujaddidiyya, which was introduced into the region by Mawlana Khalid. The Shrines are those of the Siraj ad-Dini Shaikhs, a Naqshbandiya tariqa which is prevalent both in Iraq and Iran, and later, in Istanbul by Shaykh Muhammed Othman Siraj Al-Din Althani Al Naqshbandy. There are two main large al tariqas, the Naqshbandiyya and the Qadiriyya.

Some say that Ansar Al Islam was a link between Al Qaeda and Saddam but in fact this was not true if we look at the facts. First, these terrorists groups did exist before 2003 and were a thorn in Saddam’s side. Saddam used, and I stress used, the Sufis and other groups across Iraq as a network against extremists, the eyes and ears. At one time, many Kurds and Iraqis all the way down to Baghdad were part of a tariqa. The Sufis did not like being used this way, nor did others in Iraq, but let’s say it was a forced coalition of all Iraqi people with one shared interest, to repel the extremists groups which are causing so many problems today in Iraq. Currently, the KRG and the Iraq Central Government is trying to recapture this shan ba shan, shoulder to shoulder unity against extremists, when only a few years ago, the mechanisms were in place and worked to a degree.

Today, the Sufis are actively promoting Islamic peacebuilding, dialogue and extremist prevention among youth… although they are not acknowledged or assisted by the governments (Central or KRG). They keep a low profile; bother no one, as they have been the target of attacks the past few years. It is our hope to encourage peacebuilding activities and programs to keep this strong barrier and element against radical “Islam,” if one could call these terrorists…Islamic.

If you had gone further up into the mountains, in a mountain crevice is another shrine, some consider the main one. I hope to go back to further research and write about the events of the past 20 years in this region concerning the blessed Shrines and the desecration. It is said, one saint was buried in a shrine and the terrorists tried to remove his body from the tomb (which they had removed some of the others, taking their bodies into Iran. Later these bodies were returned to their appropriate resting places in Iraq). As the terrorists tried to reach for the body, it sank lower and lower and they could not remove him, a true miracle.

There are continued occasional kidnappings, especially of young people and this is an additional barrier to the education the youth need so desperately right now. Furthermore, there are few secondary schools in this region and parents do not send their children out a long distance to school. “Blue Pearl” on my blog is in this region, where we hope to build a school. Sadly, between extremists and the genocide, the region has suffered greatly.

Finally, I am sure each and everyone of those Peshmerga enjoyed the trip out to the mountains with you, the region is beautiful and a welcomed “field trip,” and diversion to an otherwise normal day in the city or in the Peshmerga camps. Thank you for capturing good perspectives in your writings and photos of the areas you have visited.

‘wa-salaam,

Miriam

Posted by: Miriam at March 13, 2006 05:23 AM

Greetings and Salam,

Do not feel like a wimp with 20 Peshmerga...I went alone with women, on a 3 shrine pilgrimage including Biyara. Sometimes it is better to go quietly…depending who you are and why you are going to visit. There are sleeper cells there and a handful of sympathizers. The PUK and the tribes in the region know this, even though the beloved Peshmerga have checkpoints and stations throughout the Jaf region. It is not as safe as you might think, but we were protected by the saints. Here is another picture of the Shrine, in the sunshine, http://photos1.blogger.com/blogger/1111/1424/1600/Naqshbandiyya%20shrines.jpg

There are 3 different shrines in this region that were desecrated by Ansar Al Islam who was trained by Al-Qaeda, and allegedly still maintains connections with Jaish Ansar al-Sunna or Army of the Protectors of the Sunna. The shrines are those of the Naqshbandi Order of the Khalidiyya-Mujaddidiyya, which was introduced into the region by Mawlana Khalid. The Shrines are those of the Siraj ad-Dini Shaikhs, a Naqshbandiya tariqa which is prevalent both in Iraq and Iran, and later, in Istanbul by Shaykh Muhammed Othman Siraj Al-Din Althani Al Naqshbandy. There are two main large al tariqas, the Naqshbandiyya and the Qadiriyya.

Some say that Ansar Al Islam was a link between Al Qaeda and Saddam but in fact this was not true if we look at the facts. First, these terrorists groups did exist before 2003 and were a thorn in Saddam’s side. Saddam used, and I stress used, the Sufis and other groups across Iraq as a network against extremists, the eyes and ears. At one time, many Kurds and Iraqis all the way down to Baghdad were part of a tariqa. The Sufis did not like being used this way, nor did others in Iraq, but let’s say it was a forced coalition of all Iraqi people with one shared interest, to repel the extremists groups which are causing so many problems today in Iraq. Currently, the KRG and the Iraq Central Government is trying to recapture this shan ba shan, shoulder to shoulder unity against extremists, when only a few years ago, the mechanisms were in place and worked to a degree.

Today, the Sufis are actively promoting Islamic peacebuilding, dialogue and extremist prevention among youth… although they are not acknowledged or assisted by the governments (Central or KRG). They keep a low profile; bother no one, as they have been the target of attacks the past few years. It is our hope to encourage peacebuilding activities and programs to keep this strong barrier and element against radical “Islam,” if one could call these terrorists…Islamic.

If you had gone further up into the mountains, in a mountain crevice is another shrine, some consider the main one. I hope to go back to further research and write about the events of the past 20 years in this region concerning the blessed Shrines and the desecration. It is said, one saint was buried in a shrine and the terrorists tried to remove his body from the tomb (which they had removed some of the others, taking their bodies into Iran. Later these bodies were returned to their appropriate resting places in Iraq). As the terrorists tried to reach for the body, it sank lower and lower and they could not remove him, a true miracle.

There are continued occasional kidnappings, especially of young people and this is an additional barrier to the education the youth need so desperately right now. Furthermore, there are few secondary schools in this region and parents do not send their children out a long distance to school. “Blue Pearl” on my blog is in this region, where we hope to build a school. Sadly, between extremists and the genocide, the region has suffered greatly.

Finally, I am sure each and everyone of those Peshmerga enjoyed the trip out to the mountains with you, the region is beautiful and a welcomed “field trip,” and diversion to an otherwise normal day in the city or in the Peshmerga camps. Thank you for capturing good perspectives in your writings and photos of the areas you have visited.

‘wa-salaam,

Miriam

Posted by: Miriam at March 13, 2006 05:23 AM

Are those satellite dishes on top of the houses in the picture of the shrine and village in the background?

Posted by: Brian at March 13, 2006 09:32 AM

Very interesting Michael!! Keep it up!

Posted by: Cedar-Guardian at March 13, 2006 10:22 AM

They have many satellites dishes and get many stations, including Seinfeld

Posted by: Miriam at March 13, 2006 02:20 PM

Miriam says: "As the terrorists tried to reach for the body, it sank lower and lower and they could not remove him, a true miracle. "

What irony. Has it ever occured to you Miriam that the root cause of such strife and sectarianism is "believer drivel" like that you spew here? Your defence of Sufi cultists who act as informer and enforcers when necessary, and who do not subscribe to open and civil society based on human reason, and who wish to install Islamist rule of their own color - is one of the root causes of the backwardness and conflicts in the Middle East and Islamic lands.

Sufis are a reactionary cult who attack seculars at any opportune moment. I have had my run ins with them. They are no better than Salafi fundamentalists. Sufis are themselves fundamentalists who BRAINWASH their own children.

Get a life Miriam. I am from the middle east and I have escaped such narrowmindedness and intolerance that you are pushing here.

The very fact that Sufis believe society should be ruled by their own kind, instead of a secular and democratic and open order, I find revolting.

Sufism is an offshoot of Islam that accepts Islam and Muhammed as the true source of knowledge and laws for all of humanity and until eternity. What stupidity. Subjective feelings of transcendence is now imposed on society as a system of justice and immutable knowledge. Sufis need to get a life. Look at one of their chiefs, by the name of Kianfar in Berkeley, who has been charged with accessory to murder of an 85 year old woman. This is the level of morality for this cult.

Posted by: mandra at March 16, 2006 01:06 PM

Regarding the 20 Peshmerga:

It might seem excessive, but its probably not.

Note that:
1) ordinary soldiers arent trained specifically in personal security detail. Personal security (body guarding) is a very specialist skill - usually undertaken by special forces or specially trained operators. You might only need 2-4 trained men to protect 1 person, but I wouldnt count on ordinary soldiers for the task other than a pure deterrance.

2) It was a long distance to travel there and home. It would only take 1 phone call to set up an ambush on their way home. Five men wouldnt be considered enough of a deterrance - it would still be considered "doable" in an ambush situation. Twenty men sends a signal "dont even try" - ie its a no-argument deterrance.

3) Given the above, the minister wouldnt want to be deemed to be uncaring or not generous or unimportant enough to command it. John Simpson of the BBC got similar treatment when he was in Kurdistan. The pesh general sent 2 car-loads of soldiers with him with orders not to come back alive if anything happened to Simpson. A mans word carries a different weight in that part of the world.

-Nigel

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