April 05, 2007

An Army, Not a Militia


SULEIMANIYA, IRAQ – Iraq is a country with three armies and I’m-not-sure-how-many militias and death squads. The Iraqi Army is nominally the national army, but it’s still being trained, supplied, and augmented by the coalition forces, which is to say the Americans. It’s also not allowed to operate in the north. The third army is the Kurdish Peshmerga, the liberators and protectors of the only part of Iraq – the three northern governates – that may be salvaged from insurgency, terrorism, ethnic cleansing, and war. Do not confuse the Peshmerga with the ragtag ethnic and sectarian militias running rampant in Iraq’s center and south. The Kurdish armed forces are a real professional army and are recognized as such in Iraq’s constitution and by the so-called central government in Baghdad.

My colleague Patrick Lasswell and I spent a couple of days with officers and soldiers at the Ministry of Peshmerga in the northern city of Suleimaniya. I knew already that the Kurds bristled at charges that their Peshmerga was yet another of Iraq’s many militias, and I have to agree now that I’ve seen and interviewed them myself.

Colonel Mudhafer Hasan Rauf arranged our visit and hosted us in his office. He was, I believe, the only officer we met who did not wear a uniform.

Colonel Mudhafer Hasan Rauf

The fact that the Peshmerga can dress nicely and have formal offices where journalists can meet them does not in and of itself make them an army and not a militia. Hezbollah has offices south of Beirut where journalists can go – if, unlike me, they haven’t been threatened and blacklisted. Unlike Hezbollah, though, the Peshmerga take their orders from the locally elected and centrally sanctioned civilian authorities.

“The word Peshmerga is a holy word among Kurds,” Colonel Mudhafer said. “It means those who face death. We are the outcome of the oppression and torture of the central government in the past. Peshmergas value their lives less than the liberation of their people. We are not a militia as some people in Iraq say. We are not a militia at all. The political leadership gives us orders, and we are an organized army.”

It may appear odd to Western readers that I refer to Colonel Mudhafer by his rank and first name, rather than by his rank and last name. This, though, is how the Kurds refer to themselves and to others. I am never Mr. Totten. Here I am always Mr. Michael. Jalal Talabani, Iraq’s Kurdish president, is never called Mr. Talabani or President Talabani. They call him Mam (which is a term of affection like “uncle”) Jalal. Uncle Jalal. The informality in this part of the world, even in the offices of the elite and in the military, is refreshing and agreeable to someone like me from the Pacific Northwest in United States were formality never really took hold.

The Kurdish armed forces don’t take their orders from civilian officials in Baghdad. They are treated by the central government as something like a regional or “national” guard. Only the civilian officials in the Kurdish northern governates are allowed to give them their orders, which makes official Iraqi Kurdistan’s status as de-facto independent or, if you prefer, a state within a state.

Patrick and I were served small cups of Turkish coffee and locally bottled water. The colonel and I traded cigarettes – he gave me a Marlboro, and I gave him a Sobranie Black Russian.

Military wall art in the Ministry of Peshmerga

“You should know that Kurds are the main friends of the Americans in the Middle East,” he said. “In the past we had only God and the mountains as friends. But now we want Americans to support us in all matters, to be another mountain. Our Minister of Peshmerga has great relations with the American forces. We are in the same trench and we are fighting the terrorists just like Americans are. It will be in the future this way, also. Not one American person has been wounded in this area. We have a real alliance with America. We are proud of this relationship. We want the American nation to know we are real friends.”

The colonel supplied us with an escort who took us around to shake hands with apparently every important person in the ministry, and many who were not so important: officers, generals, clerks, computer operators, uniform tailors, accountants, cooks. You name ‘em, Patrick and I met ‘em.

Two of the countless Peshmerga officers Patrick and I met during our visits

“We will introduce you to everyone and show you everything,” he said. “You may write whatever you like. Whatever is your impression is your impression.”

The soldiers and officers wore clean and crisp uniforms. Those in the lower ranks sharply saluted their officers. When entering the office of a person of higher rank, lower ranking officers and soldiers raise up their right knees and loudly stomped the floor with their boots.

It did, indeed, look and feel like we were being introduced to the real army of an independent state. The contrast between the professional and accountable Peshmerga and the death squads and militias running amok in the south while wearing black ski masks was unmistakable.

Yet another Peshmerga officer I met for a couple of seconds and shook hands with

I was slightly surprised to see some women around. But only slightly. The Peshmerga famously included women in their ranks during the fight against Saddam Hussein in the mountains of Kurdistan, which culminated into victory during the 1991 uprising.


Nearly every province in Iraq was liberated from Saddam’s rule after the first President Bush asked Iraqis to rise up and destroy him. The Kurds were protected by no-fly zones imposed by the United States and Great Britain while, for whatever reason, Saddam Hussein was allowed to smash the Shia Arabs who rose up in the South and reconsolidate his rule over most of Iraq.

The Kurds, though, earned their freedom and kept it. Civilians evacuated the cities of Erbil, Dohuk, and Suleimaniya and cleared the urban areas for the final epic battle in the north against Saddam’s genocidal army. The Peshmerga emerged from the mountains and fought the Baath to the death in the streets mano a mano.

One of the officers Patrick and I briefly met

The Kurds are serious fighters. I would not want to mess with them. For hundreds of years the Arabs and Persians and Ottomans have known them as good warriors. Fortunately for them and – especially – for the Arabs, the Kurds of Iraq are uncorrupted by terrorism. Not once during the fight against the Baath did the Peshmerga or any other Iraqi Kurdish guerilla force attack Arab civilians in Kurdistan or anywhere else.

Our escort showed us the parade grounds where Peshmerga soldiers train and, well, parade around in a square.


After the June War of 1967, Israeli General Moshe Dayan was asked how the Israeli Defense Forces beat three armies in six days. What was their secret? His answer: Fight Arabs. In other words, the Israelis aren’t necessarily that good at war. Arab armies in the modern Middle East don’t have a professional military culture, so they’re fairly easy to push over. Lebanon’s Hezbollah, which has been trained by the Persians, is a lot tougher. Nothing prevents Arabs as Arabs from being good fighters. It is, rather, a matter of their weak and unprofessional military culture which is changeable and possibly temporary.

The Kurds likewise fought well against Saddam’s mostly Arab army. Saddam’s regime was thoroughly totalitarian, and his soldiers were slaves who were forced to fight at the point of a gun. Their weapons were poor. They slept on the ground and drank water from ditches. Successful generals were purged from the army so they wouldn’t be able to mount a coup against the regime. The Kurds fought to free themselves from genocidal oppression, for their land, for their homes, and for the lives of their children. Once the Peshmerga became fairly well organized, it was no contest.


It’s hard to say, then, how well the Peshmerga would stack up against other professional militaries in the region, like those of the Turks or Israelis for instance. The Kurds will likely never fight the Israelis: they not-so-secretly view the Jewish state as a quiet ally against Arab Nationalism and jihadi terrorism. The Turks, though, are another story. The Peshmerga’s next war may be fought against a regional superpower with a large professional mechanized army that won’t be so easy to knock down or push out. That is what they are preparing for now: not to launch an invasion of Turkey, but to defend their homeland in case the generals in Ankara decide to invade Kurdish Iraq to secure the Kurdistan region in their own country which is still wracked with violence from the (Turkish, not Iraqi) Marxist-Leninist Kurdistan Worker’s Party, or PKK.


The Peshmerga Club is not what Patrick or I expected. I don’t remember what we expected, exactly, but I figured it might be something along the lines of a place where grizzled Kurdish officers smoked cigars, drank scotch, and swapped war stories with hardy bravado. It might be a cool place to hang out, I thought, and hear the gritty details of mountain guerilla warfare before the Peshmerga became the professional soldiers they are today.

So I was slightly surprised to see that the Peshmerga Club is Iraqi Kurdistan’s military equivalent of the YMCA – and without any gender segregation.


It’s a sports club, not a club club, and young men and women go there to play volleyball and basketball, run, lift weights, and exercise.


None of the young women wore hijabs (Islamic headscarves), and there didn’t appear to be any squeamishness whatsoever about the mixing of young good-looking women and men.

Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army doesn’t have anything like this down south, I thought. What’s often most striking about the Kurdistan region of Iraq is how blessedly normal it often is, not just compared with the rest of the Middle East (and especially the rest of Iraq), but with much of the modern world as well.


The Kurds don’t merely have the outward appearance of normalcy and modernity. General Baram Sadi of the Peshmerga’s military police wanted to make sure we understood their political ethics and values also mesh well with those of the West.

“After the 1991 uprising we had elections,” General Baram Sadi said. “We built a parliament. The Kurdistan government in this region created the Ministry of Peshmerga, and the minister is part of the government. We follow the ministry council. We are not involved in any other political things. We do not belong to any political party, but to the Kurdistan Regional Government. We obey the orders of the government and the Ministry of Peshmerga. We do not belong to any other side or special party.”

Military Police General Baram Sadi

General Baram joined us as we were shown the chow hall and the barracks.

A Peshmerga chow hall

Inside a Peshmerga barracks

“It is very tidy, yes?” said our escort as he showed us the barracks. He said it with a noticeable uncertainty in his voice, as though he wasn’t sure the standards of the Kurdish military were what Americans would expect or accept. I wasn’t inspecting the barracks, but I felt slightly like that’s what they wanted me and Patrick to do. I am not now and have never been a military person. Inspecting a barracks isn’t my job.

“Yes, it’s very tidy,” Patrick said, which hopefully put them at ease. He, unlike me, is a military person, a Navy reservist to be specific.

“It’s a lot more tidy than my room,” I said, which was the truth. I’m not a slob, but Spartan is not the word I would use to describe where I live.

General Baram showed us to his office and asked us to sit. Coffee and bananas were served in little cups with dainty spoon and on small plates.

“Do you accept recruits from all of Kurdistan?” Patrick said.

“Yes, of course,” said General Baram. “If they meet all the conditions, such as age, health, and education.”

“What about religion and ethnicity?” I said.

“We have Catholics, Christians, Muslims, Yezidis, Sunnis,” he said. “It doesn’t matter.” The Yezidis are fire-worshipping pagans. They adhere to the original religion of the Kurds, and are the remnants of this ethnic group who refused to convert to Islam when the Arabs conquered them long ago. The Kurdistan flag displays a yellow sun at its center in honor of the Kurds’ Yezidi heritage.

General Karzan Mahmoud Ahmed sits in front of a map of Iraqi Kurdistan

“If Arabs who move here from the South want to join the Peshmerga,” I said, “are they allowed?”

“Before the uprising in 1991, many Arabs joined us,” the general said. “They were interested, they wanted to join. And now because of the safety of Kurdistan, so many families want to come here. You know, it is so safe here. Some Arab people do join, here, now. Those friends who want to join us, we welcome them. Arab, Shia, we don’t care. We are secular.”

“What do you think about the British sailors captured by the Iranians?” Patrick said.

“I think Iran took them as hostages to trade for the five Iranians taken from the consul in Erbil,” General Baram said. “Kurdish people have been suffering from Iranian terrorism for a long time. Now you are seeing with your own eyes how they treat their neighbors.”

“What does Iran do here?” I said.

“They do everything,” the general said. “Terrorism. They do everything that is bad. They had a terrorist base for Ansar Al Islam in Iraqi Kurdistan in the mountains near Halabja, in Biara and Tawela, before the Americans drove them out. Terrorists did terrible things to the Kurdish people, not just to Americans on September 11.”

An aid to General Baram Sadi points at the village of Biara in the region occupied by the Iranian-backed terrorist group Ansar Al Islam before the Peshmerga and American Special Forces drove them out at the same time they toppled Saddam Hussein’s government in 2003

Ansar Al Islam attacked an Iraqi Kurdistan checkpoint north of Suleimaniya a week before. No one was killed, but at least three people were hurt. The border area is reasonably safe around here, but not completely.

“After we attacked them they went back into Iran,” said General Baram. “They reorganized themselves and try to come from the other border in the southern Iraq. Iran supports them directly. Everyone knows. And it’s not just in Iraq. In Lebanon, too. They killed Rafik Hariri. They support Hezbollah. You know what is happening in Lebanon right now? Beirut used to be a very nice city. Even in Afghanistan they support terrorists. As Kurdish people we want Americans to stay in our region, to protect us, and to deepen the relationship between us.”

Our tour of the ministry and attached military base continued. Three years ago nothing there was nothing at this location. Now there is a vast complex of buildings, offices, barracks, and camps.

A Red Crescent (the Muslim branch of the Red Cross) tent

There is no mosque on the ministry grounds, but there is a small outdoor area where the devout can wash themselves before praying on a small carpet

Most Kurds say equally nice things about the Democratic and Republican parties. They make little or no distinction between them. George W. Bush gets credit for liberating them from Saddam, but the Democrats – as Americans – get de facto credit as well.

One of the officers we met had nice things to say about Hillary Clinton. Apparently she said something recently about American troops remaining in Kurdistan no matter what happens in the rest of Iraq, but no one here had the exact quote for me.

General Karam is less sanguine and a little more partisan. He didn’t single out the Democrats by name, but he clearly isn’t happy with what they are up to right now.

General Karam

“As a military person, I am disturbed by what is going on in America now,” he said and jabbed his finger in the air. “They want to withdraw their troops.” He banged his fist on his desk. “We want the Americans to stay. Why are people thinking like this?”

“America is divided,” I said. “We argue amongst ourselves about this.”

“Some of the politicians in Congress believe it will get them elected,” Patrick said, “if they say they’re going to withdraw from Iraq. But many of them know that the resolution that just passed…President Bush will kill it dead.”

“Yes,” General Karam said. “President Bush insisted.”

“The resolution is vetoed on arrival,” Patrick said.

“I want you, as a reporter, as a journalist,” the general said to me, “to get our Kurdish voice to the American people so they know about Kurdish suffering in Iraq. We don’t want the American army to leave this area. The terrorists are excited about what is going on in the Congress.”

“They are playing to cable television in the U.S.” Patrick said.

“That’s why we want you to pass this on to the American people,” said the general.

“Of course,” I said. “It is my job.”

The general angrily answered his phone, yelled into it, and hung up.

“American people don’t know what’s going on in Kurdistan,” he said. “The public doesn’t even know what’s going on.”

“What do the Kurdish people think of George W. Bush?” Patrick said.

“He is a friend,” said General Karam. “He has done everything for the Kurdish people, for our rights. He is a friend. And he is not going to leave us.”

“What do you think will happen,” I said, “if the United States withdraws from Iraq next year?”

“It will be easier for terrorists to attack us,” the general said. “We are surrounded by enemies. They will attack Kurdistan from everywhere. We believe, as Kurds, it is not honorable for Americans to withdraw. It will be bad for Americans, too. They will be killing themselves. If Americans leave us we expect terrorists will reach the American country very soon.”

“If the three northern provinces of Iraqi Kurdistan are safe even without American troops here,” I said, “why will you be in more danger if American troops leave Baghdad? You are already taking good care of yourselves.”

“As Kurdish forces, we can’t compare our power to Americans,” he said. “We are a small power. We cannot defend ourselves from Turkey and Iran.”

“Who are you more worried about if the Americans leave next year?” I said. “Are you more worried about the Arab terrorists in the South, or Turkey and Iran?”

“All of them equally,” he said. “You know there are Kurdish cities in Turkey, Iran, and Syria. We are worried about all of them. Arab terrorism is the worst right now because they are inside Iraq. They are part of the government.”

I wasn’t completely satisfied with the answer General Karam gave me about Kurdish security in the wake of an American withdrawal. It was a little too vague. Yes, the Kurds are surrounded by enemies. But that’s true if the Americans stay or if the Americans go. American forces aren’t protecting Kurdistan now, at least not directly. So what, exactly, would change if the Americans left? I didn’t have a chance to drill down into the answer because the general had to get back to work. We were taken to see Colonel Mudhafer again, though, and he had a more detailed answer for us.

We joined the colonel and some of his aids in his office for lunch. They served us the same military meal the soldiers and officers ate: rice, lamb on the bone, tomato-squash soup, some bread, and locally bottled mineral water. The food wasn’t great, but it was acceptable.

Our Peshmerga military meal

“We Peshmerga eat fast,” Colonel Mudhafer said. “We learned that in the mountains. But you take your time.”

I ripped off a hunk of bread with my hands and rolled lamb into it which I had picked off the bone with my fork.

“What will happen to the security of Iraqi Kurdistan if the Americans leave?” I said. “Most Americans who know something about Kurdistan – many Americans don’t know anything about it – they know it is safe and that there are almost no American troops here at all. So why does it matter if American troops leave Baghdad if you are already taking care of your own security by yourselves? Americans aren’t here anyway. Terrorists already can’t physically get here.”

“Ok,” Colonel Mudhafer said. “Every single person in Kurdistan dreams about an independent Kurdistan. We want to make our state.”


“The problem is our neighbors,” he continued. “They are making trouble for us because they don’t want a Kurdish state. The neighbors help terrorists come across the border, from Iran, from Syria, from Iraq, from everywhere. They are trying to demolish all we have done here. They hate us. They don’t like the friendship between us and America. It’s like what Hitler did to the Jewish people. We are in the same situation. They treat us like we are Jews.”

“There is some talk in the United States of moving American troops out of Baghdad and the surrounding areas into Kurdistan instead,” I said. “What would you think if that’s what happens next year instead of withdrawing American troops to the United States?”

“The main strategy for us is to bring American troops to Kurdistan,” he said. “That what we want in the future.”

He opened the refrigerator next to his desk and pulled out a box of sweets that are specialties in Suleimaniya province. In the center is hard sap scraped off tree branches that was left there some kind of insect. Wrapped around the sap center is white nougat made hard and brittle from freezing. The hard-as-rock candy is then rolled in powdered sugar. It takes sharp teeth and serious jaw strength to bite into.

“What do you think will happen in Baghdad if American troops leave?” I said.

“We believe if the Americans withdraw from this country there will be many more problems,” he said. “The Sunni and Shia want total control of Iraq. We are going to get involved in that. Iran is going to be involved in that. Turkey is going to be involved in that. Syria is going to be involved in that. The Sunni and Shia fighting in Baghdad will pull us in. We are going to be involved. Turkey and Iran will make problems for us. It is not going to be safe. All the American martyrs will have died for nothing, and there will be more problems in the future. Americans should build big bases here.”

“In the American experience, when we surrender or give up the fighting stops,” Patrick said. “What is your experience as Kurds? What happens to you when you surrender or give up?”

“All the problems will start,” the colonel said. “We don’t want to be involved in that fighting between Sunni and Shia. But we’re going to get involved if the Americans leave. We are going to be pulled into that. It’s not going to be like the Arabs and Al Jazeera say. They say when the Americans leave, all the problems will be solved. No. It is not going to be like that.”

He seemed despondent now, as if his best friends in the world were about to throw him under the bus.

“There are two kinds of love,” he said. “The kind between a man and a woman. And the kind between people and nations. Americans are beheaded in Baghdad. But they are welcome in Kurdistan.”


The colonel drove Patrick and I back to our hotel in a white “Monica” (the Kurdish nickname for a Toyota Land Cruiser) under heavily armed guard.

“If you come back in ten years you won’t recognize Suleimaniya,” he said as we drove through the city. His optimism seemed to be back. “We are building so many things. Suli will be amazing. It has always been the capital of our national culture. So many writers and intellectuals and poets live here.”

We drove past a massive concrete construction site the size of a sports stadium.

“What’s this building?” Patrick said.

“This will be our National Theater,” the colonel said.

He dropped us off at our hotel, stepped out of the vehicle, and dramatically kissed us both on our cheeks. Perhaps he was just being nice. He might have been sucking up for good press. Something else occurred to Patrick and me, as well, however. It’s possible – who can say? – that he was showing anyone who might be spying on us that we have powerful friends with guns who are not to be messed with.

Sometimes I don’t know how I’m supposed to feel about this place and these people. They are wondeful, to be sure, and they are doing good work. But if feels precarious sometimes, as though they are building a nation on the rim of a volcano.

Near the entrance to downtown is a series of posters glued to bomb blast walls surrounding the Suli Palace Hotel.


Inside the outline of the country of Iraq – including both the Kurdish and Arabic regions – are more than one hundred small and large lights. “The Light of Iraq Will Not Go Out,” the poster says.

I am not sure about that.

Post-script: See also Patrick Lasswell’s blog Moderate Risk for more coverage from Northern Iraq. And don’t forget to hit my Pay Pal button. My consulting work here is finished, and I’m paying expenses out of my own pocket to stay longer so I can give you these reports. I would do this for free if I could, but I can’t, so please help me pay for hotels and translators. This place is expensive.

(Email address for Pay Pal is michaeltotten001 at gmail dot com)

If you would like to donate money for travel and equipment expenses and you don't want to use Pay Pal, please consider sending a check or money order to:

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Many thanks in advance.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at April 5, 2007 07:07 AM

Long one MJT, and the Peshmergas look very well organized. Too bad you fail to inform us on the organiztion from your favorite M-E country who is actually training them. The Kurds themselves are not shy about bragging about it. I have a hard time believing you missed it. Anything more you would like to share with us?

Posted by: MsLevantine at April 5, 2007 09:17 AM

Sigh. The Israelis aren't training the Peshmerga, Ms Levantine. The Americans are.

There's no "bragging" about your dreaded Zionist Entity here. There is no hatred for it either, however, nor should there be.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at April 5, 2007 09:20 AM

The Kurds are at least nominally and officially in support of a united Iraq, correct? (Although to a man they seem to talk of independence.) Are the Peshmerga operating at all in Southern Iraq? Are they offering training to the Iraqi army? Or are Sunnis and Shiites not going to accept training from Kurds?

It just seems to me that if the National Government isn't going to accept help from the Peshmerga to fight terrorists in the rest of Iraq, and the Peshmerga aren't going to offer it, then they should start working on a partition plan now.

Posted by: Eric J at April 5, 2007 09:22 AM


Nice to see some contrast from you, Mike, re withdrawal. The Kurds are great people, but they're also trying to manipulate the U.S. for their own maximum advantage, not that I blame them for this.

They're right about the possibility of other states in the region wanting to monkey with them, but it's not clear that we'd do anything about such events in any case, whether we have troops around or not. If we did want to discourage such behavior, there are plenty of ways to do that other than with troops in Baghdad.

Frankly, the Sunni and Shia in Iraq are going to have their hands full with each other for a long, long time. Neither of them will have much in the way of spare manpower to make a serious, organized threat to the Kurds.

Actually, though, this pro-withdrawal democrat wouldn't have any problem at all with keeping some U.S. troops in Kurdistan, where they do indeed seem to be wanted.

They should be careful what they wish for though, as our presence in Kurdistan will be a magnet for every thug with a screw loose in six time zones.

Posted by: glasnost at April 5, 2007 09:25 AM

Are you going to show us Kirkuk or Mosul, or the edgier parts of Kurdistan?

Posted by: glasnost at April 5, 2007 09:25 AM

Where else can I read interviews like these? Michael, Thank you! Nobody does it better, seriously. I love the Kurds, and the Peshmerga, and I love to read about them. I had never even heard of them before I found your blog awhile back. There are so many Americans who don't have any idea about what is going on in Iraq, and Iraqi Kurdistan. I support keeping our Troops in Iraq until they are ready for us to leave.

I knew that the Kurds allowed Christians to move into Iraqi Kurdistan, but I wasn't aware that Christians could be part of the Peshmerga, that's good. I am impressed with their army!!

And General Baram was right on the money when he spoke of Iran. One can easily see what Iran is up to by stepping back and looking at Iraq and Lebanon together. Two sides of the same coin that Iran wants to carry in her pocket. Iran wants to control all the coins including ours. This is one of the main reasons WHY this war is so important. I don't undestand how some folks can't see this, sigh.

Michael, I'm gonna have to send another check in the mail. I want you to stay in Iraq as long as you can. I am dead serious when I say, NOBODY writes like you do. God bless you and Patrick. Is he going to stay too? Above all, stay safe over there.

Posted by: Renée C. at April 5, 2007 09:33 AM

Eric J, some of the troops that Iraq is using in the Surge are Kurds. So there are Kurds protecting Iraqi Kurdistan, and Kurds in the regular Iraqi Army.

Posted by: Renée C. at April 5, 2007 09:39 AM

MJT, the Americans are officially in Iraq. If they are training the Peshmergas, you should have posted a photo of a US trainer, or interviewed him. He could have given you more insight about them.

I know a many individuals that have been to Erbil, Suleymaniyya and Kirkuk lately. They are not reporting seeing a lot of US personnel. Mossad is a word that keeps coming back.

Posted by: MsLevantine. at April 5, 2007 10:12 AM


If you would support leaving our troops in Kurdistan, where they are wanted, as you note, then why not in Baghdad? As time goes by, most of the general population seems to increasingly want us to stay. Unless you think the Iraqis are incapable of forming a competent police force and army, it's only a matter of time until they are able to handle things on their own. Why risk losing the entire country by pulling out now? Quiting seems like a knee-jerk loser position.

Posted by: cb at April 5, 2007 10:16 AM

Ms Levantine,

I have not seen any Americans or Israelis with the Peshmerga. Believe me, if I saw Israelis here especially I would interview them and write about it. But they are very well hidden, if they are here at all.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at April 5, 2007 10:47 AM


How do you tell an Iraqi Kurd whose citizenship is Israeli from one whose citizenship is Iraqi? We did not choose to cover the story that closely.

Posted by: Patrick S Lasswell at April 5, 2007 10:52 AM

I suspect that the Kurds train themselves now. They have had the time to make their own drill sargeants and boot camps (16 years). They also have the military experience. If the Americans did anything it would be cross training exercises to see that the armies can work together.

Posted by: david at April 5, 2007 11:23 AM


You say you "know a many individuals who have been" to the area lately and haven't seen any US forces, but keep mentioning Mossad.

Okay. Who are these individuals?

Mr. Totten and Mr. Lasswell say you're wrong. The IDF isn't there.

You see the problem I have with your statements? We've got two named guys, who's previous work can be looked at. They've got interviews, pictures, etc. All of which can be looked at as a body of evidence.

You've got, it seems, "I know these guys". That's an F for uncited statements by my grading system.

Cite your sources, or I'm sticking with the assesment of the guy who's work I've been reading for a while and can a)actually show he's there (and not just writing from New York) and b)has a bunch of evidence to back up his credibility.

Man, I hate uncited work.

Not to mention having the Mossad training Kurdish forces in Northern Iraq doesn't make any damn sense from a military or political perspective.

Posted by: Spade at April 5, 2007 11:51 AM

Why would it matter if the Israelis were training the Pershmega anyway? The Israelis train with the Turkish military for goodness sake.

Posted by: SGT Jeff (USAR) at April 5, 2007 12:00 PM

Mr. Totten,
I've read about the potential conflict between the kurds and the turkmen. I have also read about ethnic cleansing of Turkmen by the kurds in kirkuk(along with attacks on kurds by turkmen. Is this a real problem or are the reports overblown?
I have to take some issue with your friend Patricks comments about democrats. The war in America is genuinely unpopular, over 3,000 soldiers have died and over 20,000 have been seriously wounded, and seems to have no end in sight, over extended military etc. and has been plagued by collosal mistakes made by the Bush administration. Several democratic proposals are hardly cheap ploys to get elected and even if Bsh vetoes any democratic bill, the war's and Bush's lack of popular support is likely to force American withdrawl in a year or two.

Posted by: Frydek-Mistek at April 5, 2007 12:06 PM


How do you tell an Iraqi Kurd whose citizenship is Israeli from one whose citizenship is Iraqi? We did not choose to cover the story that closely. }

I suspect she would look for the horns. Or maybe matzoh crumbs?

The Israelis are rumored to be around, but I get the idea its a small number of SF types and a good number of Kurdish Israeli civilians doing non-military stuff.

Posted by: DG at April 5, 2007 12:52 PM

F-M, all wars are unpopular in the U.S.. We haven't had a "popular" war sine 1945.

Use your head--listen to the candidates. How many are advocating a complete pullout? Who's running on that plank?

Bush is unpopular, slightly more so than most second-term presidents, but many of the guys seeking to replace him--and polling with a good shot to succeed--are as determined as he has been.

During primary season, the Democrat candidates need to appeal to their hard-core leftist peacenik wing, who have a lot invested in the defeat of Bush and any of his policies. Unfortunately, this has the effect of breathing hope into our enemies. It appears the Democrats are willing to risk this.

It is by no means a stretch to characterize that as a "cheap ploy".

Posted by: spongeworthy at April 5, 2007 01:12 PM

Ahoj do Frydku-Mistku,

I think that people in the USA are rather tired from the leadership of the previous command under general Casey. They may change their attitude if general Petraeus changes the course and momentum.

Posted by: Ostrava at April 5, 2007 01:58 PM

Why would it matter if the Israelis were training the Pershmega anyway? The Israelis train with the Turkish military for goodness sake.
Posted by: SGT Jeff (USAR) at April 5, 2007 12:00 PM

Actually, isn't it an open secret within the Middle East that Israel and Turkey have what amounts to a Mutual Defense Treaty against Syria and Iran?

Posted by: Michael in Colorado at April 5, 2007 02:00 PM

Do American Soldiers go to Kurdistan for R & R?

Posted by: bman at April 5, 2007 02:20 PM


At no point in this article am I quoted saying anything about Democrats, I only mention politicians. I was raised a Democrat, I hope someday there will be a party worthy of supporting that will be called Democrat. Instead, today we have politicians who play according to exact demographic rules and analytical ploys. I see a dearth of responsible behavior coming from party initiatives. If I did not think this damaged the country and the world, I would not speak against it.

Please do not quote casualty statistics at me. I am a serving member of the active reserve and have volunteered to risk becoming those statistics. When you roger up to risk all for your country, when you find a country in all the world that does more to protect and care for its troops, when you honestly assess the consequences of running from barbarians, then give me a call.

Patrick S Lasswell
Suliamaniya, Iraq

Posted by: Patrick S Lasswell at April 5, 2007 02:26 PM

Michael Totten,

Amazing reporting.

But I have to quibble with this statement, "The Yezidis are fire-worshipping pagans."

From my understanding the Yezidis believe in angels and other intermediary beings but are strict monotheists. They believe there is only one God who is the souce of all creation.

Posted by: Jimmy at April 5, 2007 03:12 PM

Maybe all those IDF trainers are hiding in Burkas like the brave Jihadist. If Michael says they are not there, then why keep kicking a dead horse? Excellent reporting Michael. I enjoyed this.

Posted by: Rod at April 5, 2007 03:24 PM

Mr. Lasswell,
My point isn't to defend democrats, but to point out that Americans may grow so tired of the war that they may demand withdrawl regardless of what party has power. If politicians are able to be elected on an anti-war platform(whethor a ploy or not), its important the kurds are able to make their case so that neither side abandons them. I simply cited Bush's unpopularity as eveidence that the kurds shouldn't put all their eggs in the republican basket.
I didn't cite the casualty statistics to make some cheesy anti-war statement, I was simply trying to give evidence as to why Americans may demand the troops leave Iraq. I am an initial supporter of the war and hope America builds a permanent base in Kurdistan. That being said, I also served in my county's army(drafted into the peoples army of czechoslovakia)I attended highly illegal religious and political meetings that would have led to my imprisonment by the STB, I passed out petitions supporting the velvet revolutuion before it was clear what was going to happen etc. Does that mean there are statistics off-limits for you to cite to me. Get off your high horse and give me a break.
P.S. Pozdravy do Ostravy

Posted by: Frydek-Mistek at April 5, 2007 03:58 PM

Any estimate on the size of the Peshmerga?
I have seen numbers claimed from 50k-170k.

On the subject of Baghdad deployers,
the following IA Battalions are Kurdish (or predominatly Kurdish) and are deployed to Baghdad at this time:
- 3-4 Bde Special Troops Bn-W Baghdad (Kadhimiyah); Due to rotate back to Sulmaniyah Mid-Apr07
- 1-3-4 Infantry Bn-W Baghdad (Kadhimiyah); Due to rotate back to Sulmaniyah Mid-Apr07
- 1-2 Bde Special Troops Bn-E Baghdad; Rotate back to Irbil Mid-May07
- 1-1-2 Infantry Bn-NE Baghdad; Rotate back to Irbil Mid-May07
- 2-1-2 Infantry Bn-NE Baghdad; Rotate back to Irbil Mid-May07
- 3-1-2 Infantry Bn-NE Baghdad; Rotate back to Irbil Mid-May07
- 10-1-2 Strategic Infrastructure Bn-E Baghdad; Rotate back to Irbil Mid-May07
- 4-2 Bde Special Troops Bn-E Baghdad; Rotate back to Dohuk end-May07
- 1-4-2 Infantry Bn-E Baghdad; Rotate back to Dohuk end-May07
- 2-4-2 Infantry Bn-E Baghdad; Rotate back to Dohuk end-May07
- 3-2-2 Infantry Bn-E Baghdad (Adhamayah/Shaab-Ur); Rotate back to Mosul end-Jun07
- 3-2-4 Infantry Bn-Baghdad; Rotate Back to Salahdin early-Jul07

Posted by: DJ Elliott at April 5, 2007 04:06 PM

Great stuff, Amazing you the MSM with all their money can't put together anything close to the quality of this post.

You're the only blogger/journalist that I've donated my money to in my life, and after reading this one, you'll be the only one I've donated to twice :)

Posted by: Jim at April 5, 2007 04:11 PM

The quote the Kurdish officer was referring to was from an interview that Sen. Clinton gave to the NYT last month(3/15/07). If I was Kurdish I would probably hear in the following quote a guarantee of Kurdish autonomy and support regardless of any changes in the overall US position in Iraq.

Senator Clinton said, "I think we have a vital national security interest and obligation to try to help the Kurds manage their various problems in the north so that one of our allies, Turkey, is not inflamed and they[the Kurds] are able to continue their autonomy."

Posted by: Pat Patterson at April 5, 2007 05:48 PM

If there are any Israeli there I am sure both the Israeli and the Kurds do not want it to be public. At this point anyone trying to raise this issue i am sure is not in eather countries interest. I wish the Kurdish people well and for more reasons than just the old middleastern carnard of the 'enemy of the enemy is my friend'. I for one support the Kurds because they have for a lot of reasons earned there rights to a country. for a lot of reasons some of them personal.

Posted by: yochanan at April 5, 2007 06:06 PM

Kurdistan is land-locked. Even if we wanted to station American forces in Kurdistan, how could we supply them without consent of Turkey, Syria, Iran or whoever eventually controls southern Iraq? I wish President Bush would visit Kurdistan and walk out in the open and enjoy shouts of joy from the masses to demonstrate the good that has been done by the invasion. However, Turkey would probably cancel our stay at Incirlik Air base the next day. Geography sucks.

Posted by: David at April 5, 2007 06:21 PM

MsL: "I know a many individuals that have been to Erbil, Suleymaniyya and Kirkuk lately. They are not reporting seeing a lot of US personnel. Mossad is a word that keeps coming back."

Do the Mossad guys flash their zionist babykiller badges to weasel out of parking tickets or something? How the hell do your friends know who is (or isn't) a Mossad agent?

Besides, as people pointed out above, the Kurds have no reason to piss of Arab Iraqis unnecessarily, nor does Israel want to get under Turkey's skin. Any relationship should therefore be very discreet.

Mossad conspirazoid stuff aside, Ms. L's blog well written and very informative, I think.

Posted by: Bruno Mota at April 5, 2007 08:24 PM

MJT and Patrick -- great, great stuff.

I just got back from 2 wks in Israel, and your words made the hair stand up on the back of my neck:

Sometimes I don’t know how I’m supposed to feel about this place and these people. They are wonderful, to be sure, and they are doing good work. But it feels precarious sometimes, as though they are building a nation on the rim of a volcano.

More than a few places in this article the experiential/existential link between the two countries and peoples is evident. (Right down to MsL's paranoid accusations that they conspire together.) The research indicating that Kurds and Israelis have extremely close genetic ties just makes it more curious. Intelligent, ambitious, stubborn, independent, and no one wants them in the neighborhood -- any neighborhood.

Posted by: Pam at April 5, 2007 08:59 PM

I'll tell you all why Iran and Iraq - especially iran - don't want the Kurdish to have their own state. I believe it has nothing with ethnicity or hatred or w.e. you think it is. I thought about it and the only plausible answer i could come up with was the following:
Iraq, and iran to a higher extent, are very multi-cultural and to a certain extent multi-confessional. In Iraq you have more of a religion mix and in Iran you have more of a racial mix. Iraq = Sunni, Shi'a, Druze, Christians and even some jews and ofcourse the Armenian christians and Kurds (both shia and sunni). In Iran you have persians, arabs, Pamiri's, pashtos, avestanian, sogdian, scythian, judeo-tat, farsi, luri and woooow the list goes on.

Now, if the governments of iraq and iran agree on these kurds having their share of land, the rest will look and say, hang on a sec, these people get land because they are kurds, and we don't gt shit? As soon as this happens BYE BYE any country called IRAN OR IRAQ. This is the only reason America is pushing for federalism, because they know the nation of Iraq and Iran will crumble as soon as it happens.

Posted by: you know at April 5, 2007 09:03 PM

Yes, US soldiers would go to Kurdistan on R&R. I don't know if they still do, but some did when I was there.

Posted by: Sgt James at April 5, 2007 09:39 PM

“I want you, as a reporter, as a journalist,” the general said to me, “to get our Kurdish voice to the American people so they know about Kurdish suffering in Iraq. We don’t want the American army to leave this area. The terrorists are excited about what is going on in the Congress.”


The terrorists are keeping a close eye on what's going on in DC. That a withdrawal date was included gives them hope, because it tells the terrorists when they will win.

How can anyone not realize that doing such things gives comfort to the enemy? How much must be done before it is acceptable to tell them what they're doing? How many times will those of us who understand have to tell the fools before we are no longer obliged to attribute their actions to stupidity?

"American forces aren’t protecting Kurdistan now, at least not directly. So what, exactly, would change if the Americans left?"

It would be taken as a sign that the Americans don't care about the Kurds, and that the other governments in the region, which have no love for the Kurds, may do as they wish to solve their "Kurd problem".

Do you know what happened to the Hmong in Viet Nam after the US pulled out?

[...] He seemed despondent now, as if his best friends in the world were about to throw him under the bus. [...]

The youngsters running around probably don't know that bit of history. But I bet General Karam does.

Posted by: rosignol at April 5, 2007 11:18 PM


I don't think the terrorists will take over Iraq when we pull our troops out.

I don't think the Kurds believe that either.

Posted by: alphie at April 6, 2007 02:22 AM

Very nice article. The Kurds appear to be the only modern society in the entire middle east, other than Israel. I can see why the US Democratic Party would want to abandon them.

Posted by: Al Fin at April 6, 2007 02:56 AM

Excellent reporting as always, Michael. Somehow, when I read this, I kept hearing the soundtrack to 300 in the background.

Posted by: Wagner James Au at April 6, 2007 03:30 AM

>>"I don't think the terrorists will take over Iraq when we pull our troops out.

I don't think the Kurds believe that either."<<

On your map, look directly East of Iraq. Notice anything interesting? Throughout history, power vacuums have had detrimental, costly, and bloody ways of being filled. In a region where it seems all important to gain some semblance of allies; it would not be wise to help furnish such a vacuum. Especially when considering our commitment thus far.

Posted by: anuts at April 6, 2007 05:28 AM


Hey Michael, looky here:

Welcome to Hizbullahland

Posted by: Renée C. at April 6, 2007 05:35 AM

Mike, Pat,

Very nice work. Thank you so much for posting this. I am very impressed with the Kurds and think that their example might be one of the few ways to get many Muslim-loathing people to see that not all Muslims are neck-hacking, children-killing homicidal maniacs. Of course, people trying to get that message across have an uphill battle after Beslan and 9/11. Still, it's got to start somewhere.

Again, thanks for posting this.

Posted by: Mac at April 6, 2007 06:30 AM


I apologize, but disagree. I was particularly starchy last night after deleting a troll's post on my own blog where he compared Saddam's security regime with the idiot felons who besmirched our honor at Abu Ghraib.

The Americans demanding a retreat are not in favor of a US victory anywhere, anytime. There are a considerable number of people in the US opposed to any war for any reason. They never take responsibility for the genocides they ignore.

The politicians in America slouching towards retreat are doing so because they value their own power over the national good.

The majority of Americans are opposed to retreat when it is posed to them honestly: Should we leave Iraq if doing so means an increased likelihood of attack in the United States?

Instead we get inane and dishonest variations of the following: Is it good that terrorists are killing our troops? The answer to this question is triumphed as dissatisfaction with the progress of the war.

Posted by: Patrick S Lasswell at April 6, 2007 06:57 AM

Trackbacked by The Thunder Run - Web Reconnaissance for 04/06/2007
A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention.

Posted by: David M at April 6, 2007 07:21 AM
The majority of Americans are opposed to retreat when it is posed to them honestly: Should we leave Iraq if doing so means an increased likelihood of attack in the United States?

How on earth is it that variations of "Is it good that terrorists are killing our troops?" is dishonest, yet variations of "Should we leave Irag if doing so means ?" is honest?

It would seem to me that the only "honest" way of asking the question would be: "Should the U.S. leave Iraq?"

Posted by: Naha at April 6, 2007 07:56 AM

"{Kurdistan is land-locked. Even if we wanted to station American forces in Kurdistan, how could we supply them without consent of Turkey, Syria, Iran or whoever eventually controls southern Iraq? I wish President Bush would visit Kurdistan and walk out in the open and enjoy shouts of joy from the masses to demonstrate the good that has been done by the invasion. However, Turkey would probably cancel our stay at Incirlik Air base the next day. Geography sucks.
Posted by David at April 5, 2007 06:21 PM}"

Well that air force base is part of greater Kurdistan territory. If Turkey closes it, then we can finally take from them. So it is not up to Turkey to close Incirlik base.

Posted by: hawraman at April 6, 2007 07:57 AM

By your description, the Yezidis sound like Zoroastrians who are scattered all over that part of the world, particularly in Iran. They are monotheists who "worship" fire in the same way that Catholics "worship" statues, i.e. they are monotheists with a supreme being, Ahura Mazda and a devil, Algol. There are a lot of them in India, particularly Bombay called Parsees who's ancestors fled from the Muslims when they invaded Persia.

Despite this minor nit, this was great reporting.

Considering that a reporter in Kurdistan could operate a whole lot cheaper if based in Kurdistan without the need for so much in the way of expensive body guards, it would be surprising that the news networks don't base a few reporters there instead of bunkered down in the Green Zone if I thought that news networks actually wanted to report news rather than provide illustration to the narrative that they had already written before they left home.

They could travel down to get their blood and gore video from time to time and report human interest from Kurdistan in the mean time. I guess that most journalists would rather hunker down in the Green Zone and pass through propaganda from partisan stringers.

Posted by: Mark in Texas at April 6, 2007 08:14 AM

Thank you for another great article. One of the things that too many journalists do is pretend that they are "objective" all the while trying to impose a narrative on the situation. I appreciate the fact that you tell your story, let others tell theirs in full, and try as best you can to distinguish fact from opinion- both in those you interview and in your own attitudes.

I was one of those who opposed the Iraq war from the start, because I didn't trust our politicians to have the sophistication to operate in the Middle East. I'm glad that at least something good has come out of it in Kurdistan. Stay safe.

Posted by: Anand at April 6, 2007 08:20 AM

Patrick: Glenn Greenwald repeatedly brings up that a solid majority of Americans favor a timetable for withdrawal even with the qualifications about the stability of Iraq.

From The Washington Post-ABC News poll, February 23-25, 2007:

7. Do you think the United States should keep its military forces in Iraq until civil order is restored there, even if that means continued U.S. military casualties; OR, do you think the United States should withdraw its military forces from Iraq in order to avoid further U.S. military casualties, even if that means civil order is not restored there?

Keep forces - 42%
Withdraw forces - 56%

I don't see how the "even if it means more attacks" is honest when it's arguable our presence is reducing the probability of attack. I still have yet to hear any explanation about how we can possibly hope to resolve the situation. I agree most with General Odom.

Posted by: mikkel at April 6, 2007 11:03 AM

Michael, how do the Kurds in Northern Iraq feel about the Turks? I don't understand the Turkish mentality as it seems like Kurdistan would be an increasingly important ally since it has similar ideals.

It's so counter-productive that Turkey and the Kurds are worrying more about each other than about the Islamists. Do you think that the US should try to help broker a deal so they have a similar relationship as the one between Turkey and Israel?

I personally think those three places (and hopefully we'll be able to include Lebanon at some point) are critical for the future of the region and we should help protect and mediate between them.

Posted by: mikkel at April 6, 2007 11:11 AM

Thanks Michael for the blog.

Regarding the part where you mention the officer who had something to say about Hillary Clinton:
He probably was talking about Hillary's interview with NY Times on the 14th of March.

"I think we have a vital national security interest and obligation to try to help the Kurds manage their various problems in the north so that one of our allies, Turkey, is not inflamed, and they are able to continue with their autonomy."


Posted by: X-Dream at April 6, 2007 03:41 PM


The stakes are not "failure to restore civil order" as your question notes. The stakes are "establishment of a new intolerant dictatorship after a genocidal civil war". The question is misleadingly optimistic.

Things look different from over here. Thank God I'm among the Kurds.

Posted by: Patrick S Lasswell at April 7, 2007 06:03 AM


My husband and I are scheduled to return to Iraq next month for a six month stay continuing the relief and development projects his team began last year. If you and Patrick are still hopping around town, maybe we can meet up for dinner...

Posted by: AngieO at April 7, 2007 06:51 AM

I am in the U.S. Army and just served an OIF 05-07 Iraq rotation (late 2005 - late 2006). While I was there I knew a Kurdish civilian contractor interpreter who stated he was not allowed to visit Kurdistan during his R&R leave. I also never heard of any soldiers visiting Kurdistan for R&R, either.

Posted by: eka at April 7, 2007 11:02 AM

A brief clarification; as I read comments on Mike’s report, I came cross many questions might be hard for him to answer. I’d like, however, as a Kurdish journalist, help him in answering some comments; especially about:

A- Whether the Israelis training Kurdish Army or there are Jews in Kurdistan: 1- If Mike or the Kurds say there are no Israelis in Kurdistan, they’re right. They might say no to keep the Jews safe from being attached by extremist Islamic groups. But I say yes, there are Jews. And if not, there must be. 2- There were tens of thousands of Kurdish-Jews who lived in Kurdistan (still are) but the Iraqi regimes expelled thousand of them to Israel in 1940s-1960s. Many of these Kurdish-Jews are now politicians and high military officers in Israel. These Kurdish-Jews still have at least social relations with their relatives in Kurdistan. So, they’re not Israelis and even if they were, it is absolutely ok for Kurdish Army to be trained by these Jews if it’s necessary. But the Kurds, who have battled their enemies for centuries and are known for being tough warriors, don’t need anyone to train them.

B- It’s only those anti-Kurd countries’ propaganda to toughen the Islamic attitude against Kurds; while it is justified for them to have military treaty and diplomatic relationship with Israel, while they don’t have Jews, or ashamed to say have ”Turkish-Jews” or “Arab-Jews” etc. (Mike please, visit Jewish neighborhood in Sulamani city to have more info.)

C- To know the number of Peshmarga forces, no one will ever know. 1- It is a military secret so the neighboring countries (which are not friendly to Kurds) won’t be able to elaborate the Kurdish arm ability. 2- Since 1992, there’re at least 2 Military Academy Colleges in Kurdistan from which countless soldiers have been graduated and being based in camps outside of the cities. 3- Most of the veteran Peshmerga receive their salaries and holding their weapons at home, but ready for “tough battles” upon request.

C-Whether Yezidis worshipping fire: indeed, as Zoroastrians of origin, despite be coming Muslims for centuries, still all Kurds worshipping fire. Just look at their New Years Celebrations (Newroz). Everywhere you see fire.

p.s. in these regard, there might be more questions for Mike; I’d glad to answer them if they will be hard for him.

Posted by: Aram Azez at April 7, 2007 11:11 AM

Quoting Glenn Greenwald about the troops is like quoting Madonna about the Catholic church, heh.

Considering how uninformed Americans are about what exactly is going on in Iraq--the majority of Americans will get no more than 3 minutes worth of news about Iraq and the lede invariably includes casualties--polls on Iraq SHOULD be ignored.

Michael, thank you for the impressive article, as always.

Posted by: Tom at April 7, 2007 12:04 PM


I'm wondering about the Kurdish-Iranian connection here.

As I'm sure you know, the PUK (Jalal Talabani's party) has a relatively long history of cooperating with the Iranians, so I was far from surprised when the Iranian soldiers were captured in Irbil... but your interviewee's comment that "Kurdish people have been suffering from Iranian terrorism for a long time" would seem to indicate the opposite.

Care to comment? Thanks for your impressive journalism as always!

Posted by: zellmad at April 7, 2007 05:23 PM
“In the American experience, when we surrender or give up the fighting stops,” Patrick said. “What is your experience as Kurds? What happens to you when you surrender or give up?”
This is not true. What happens is the news media will quit reporting the war. The killing did not stop in Vietnam, Somalia or even Haiti when we left. It just disappeared from the evening news reports. If we leave Iraq the killing won't stop but the reporting will. Posted by: John D at April 7, 2007 10:55 PM

Aram Azez,

Where is the Jewish neighborhood in Suli? I haven't heard of it, but will ask around. I won't be in this city much longer, though, so I can't promise I'll get to it.

I wish I knew about it sooner!

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at April 8, 2007 02:15 AM

Michael, thanks for the great amount of information about Suli. My son is stationed at the patrol base in the city and even though he tells me about the people and the city and the mountains, his reports pale to your pictures and interviews(and Patrick's). I feel like the distance between us is lessened a little with each picture and article. Thanks from a grateful soldier's dad on this Easter Sunday

Posted by: Fred K. at April 8, 2007 07:39 AM

The Americans demanding a retreat are not in favor of a US victory anywhere, anytime.

60% of the country wants it buddy, so think twice.
I'm sorry, but this cheesed me off. I was all in favor of staying in Afghanistan - a war that America, for once, did not start on trumped up-pretexts, a war on the home grounds of an enemy that killed the most Americans on our soil since Pearl Harbor, - a war that could serve as a much better demonstration effect than Iraq, because it had a fig's chance of success, while simultaneously helping to neutralize the only enemy on the ballpark that actually dares to play offense against us, Al-Quieda.

Why? Because the balances of forces, the origin of the conflict, the local environment, the impoverishment and remoteness of the place all gave us a shot at staying on top, if we concentrated on it. And because Osama is next door in Pakistan.

But no. We had to strip Afghanistan - thus contributing to the Pakistan scenario moving steadily towards the boiling point - and try to dig out an one Baathist dictator from amongst a landslide of them, attempt to remake a posioned society from scratch with political hacks from the RNC, paint a giant target on our back for every nutcase cause in the region to feed off of - Al-Quieda gets stronger by finding situations where it can lure national populations into general military conflict with US on MidEast soil

And then, because we want to withdraw from a ludicrously obviously un-effing winnable counterinsurgency after four years of seeing the country, the army, and our strategic position deteriorate further year after year,

some people- not any people in particular of course - blinded by an overly messianic view of the significance of any given engagement - especially one drawn from a hopelessly stacked deck - accuse us of 'rooting for defeat'.

We're trying to rescue the country's long-term struggle of Mideastern reform and ultimately, war against islamic extremism, from a disasterous error.

You may disagree with our choice of tactics, but we won't stand to be cast aside as anti-American hippie peaceniks.

Posted by: glasnost at April 8, 2007 04:19 PM

where they are wanted, as you note, then why not in Baghdad? As time goes by, most of the general population seems to increasingly want us to stay.

Cb, more than half the population of Iraq supports attacks on US forces - and the Kurds most of the other 40%. The reason they're okay to stay in Kurdistan is because they are, in fact, wanted there. That's a precondition for success that we cannot, have not, and will not create in Sunni or Shiite areas.

Posted by: glasnost at April 8, 2007 04:30 PM

Glasnost, I have a small problem with what you've said about our forces being "wanted."

Did the Germans or the Japanese "want" us around after WWII? No more so than the Sunni and Shi'a populations of Iraq do today.

However, by staying the course--and yes, I may have used that expression just to get your goat--we not only prevailed, but in time a good many Germans and Japanese came to realize the error of their ways.

It can happen.

Posted by: Pete (Alois) at April 8, 2007 08:13 PM

Anyone who tries to compare the scenario in Iraq with our occupations of Japan and Germany shows a stunning ignorance of modern history -- cultural, military, and political and economic. God help us if the guys at the top are snorting that nonsense too.

Recipe to replicate Japan-Germany: FIRST the military cuts the heart out of a country which had a uniform and well-developed cultural and religious identity and a high level of cultural arrogance; we bomb it into the Jurassic and again for good measure. That is called 'seeing the error of their ways."
Next we eliminate and replace its military and political leadership and WE carefully select the first generation of players; meanwhile our permanent military presence enforces OUR martial law, WE write their damned constitution, WE control the educational system, the economy, law enforcement, and we even tinker with the religion if need be. We let the leash out very, very slowly. We fund development with at least as much of an eye to rebuilding the place as re-raping it. Voila: a couple very civilized and 'well-socialized' modern nations some 25 years later.

We haven't even come within sniffing distance of step one in Iraq. You may notice that 'democratization' wasn't even a gleam in the occupier's eye in Japan and Germany until well along in the remodeling process. (And what an idiotic idea THAT is for most of the ME.)

Posted by: Pam at April 8, 2007 08:51 PM


You make a good point about Afghanistan and I respect your energy in your arguments
for an Iraqi pull-out, but you and 60% of Americans are wrong.

You and 60% of Americans, [includes Canadians], are suggesting we sacrifice the lives of men, women and children in the tens of thousands.

Many of whom voted in the hope of a peacefully governed Iraq.

You and 60% of North Americans are OK with the Idea of giving up Iraq to Acmahdinejad, Muqtada al Sadr, across to Syria and including Lebanon.

How can you and 60% of North Americans be so near-sighted, so stupid? This is a threat far worse than Hitler that we are dealing with here. Many died then. Expect more to die this time.

Pardon me. I didn*t mean to be rude. Of course you have a carefully thought out plan.

I looked for that Democrat pull-out plan and stupid me, I could not find it anywhere.

I am ex-military. Volunteered in the Canadian Navy and in my stint, if Russian submarine caps* had not been level-headed, none of us would be here today.

My sympathy and respect goes to lost military and their families, yet most of those families do not want us to leave in the middle of a fight for our lives. That makes their losses pointless.

Don*t waste time being heated or emotional, just let me in on your plan of retreat with victory. = TG

Posted by: TonyGuitar at April 9, 2007 12:16 AM

Mr. Totten - For you to claim that the pesh did not kill civilians during their insurgency defies logic. The pesh of the two major Kurdish factions certainly have not hesitated to murder or expel civs when it suited them, including fellow Kurds during the civil war from 1994-98, when the KDP invited Saddam's army into Kurdistan to expel Talabani and the PUK from Irbil - tens of thousands were killed.

The claim that the pesh could defeat Saddam's army is also silly. If so, there would have been no reason for Operation Provide Comfort, nor for most of the Kurdish population to flee into Iran or Turkey after 1991.

The Iranian presence in Kurdistan is well known and welcomed by the Kurds, who could always use more friends. The Kurdish soldier's declamation against the Iranians is pretty funny --- a classic case of "tell the gullible foreigner what he wants to hear." Hoshyr Zebari to this day is asking for the release of the 5 Iranians detained in Irbil. The peshmerga Totten swoons over almost opened fire on American soldiers in defense of said 5 Iranians.

As for the PKK - they have not hesitated to commit terrorist atrocities against the Turks, including suicide bombing. Only a true naif could not know this.


Posted by: tequila at April 9, 2007 09:59 AM

Hi Mike,
If you're no longer staying in Sulaimani city, but eager to meet Jews-Kurds, you can meet them in every city of Kurdistan--in Koye(Koy Sinjaq) Erbil, Akre(Aqra) Duhok, Zakho etc. Still in some cities of Kurdistan people use the old name as the “Jewish neighborhood.”

However, as you know, the vast majority of Kurdish respect and identify more with their Kurdish nationality than with their religious faith. And, the local people don’t identify individuals as Kurdish “Jews” or Kurdish "Christians."

Posted by: Aram Azez at April 9, 2007 10:10 AM

Thank you michael for your wonderful blog.

as for mr/ms tequila

1. The peshmerga never killed civillians, in 1994 they only fought armed groups not defenseless civllians.

2. The Peshmerga did not want the americans to arrest the iranians coz it would undermine kurdistan's soverinty. Mr Barzani said he would have arrested them himself if america had asked nicely.

3. Kurdistan welcomes all kinds of peopel and nations not just iranians, we are looking for friends, but on the otherhand you are just looking for trouble.

clearly you are against the kurds and the progess we have made on the road to indepdence. I just visited your blog and all i see is anti american news and properganda, it clearly defies your position, i dont think i need to say more.

Posted by: Shvan at April 9, 2007 12:12 PM

Dear Shvan,

Please don't burst Tequila's bubble. For after all, he/she is an insular, protected American leftist who must certainly know more about the plight of the Kurds than you would as a Kurd.

Posted by: Pete (Alois) at April 9, 2007 01:33 PM

You and 60% of Americans, [includes Canadians], are suggesting we sacrifice the lives of men, women and children in the tens of thousands.

There are no realistic policy options anywhere that do not offer substantial risk of additional hundreds of thousands of Iraqi deaths. This includes all publicly discussed withdrawal, continued presence and escalation plans. I think US withdrawal leads to the fewest Iraqi deaths in the medium/long run. You're free to disagree, but it's an opinion, not a fact.

This is a threat far worse than Hitler that we are dealing with here. Many died then.

This is a nonsensical statement by any imaginable comparative statistic.

Don*t waste time being heated or emotional, just let me in on your plan of retreat with victory.

The victory is keeping Americans safe. 170,000 troops in Iraq does not accomplish this, as should be pretty self-evident: we can't reliably stop freelance terrorists with higher international ambitions there at 100% anymore than we can pre-empt the 300 IED attacks per day on our troops. All the armed networks and intensified activity actually helps to obscure serious international plots.

What America's security requires is isolation of the genuine diehards, and pacification of their national environment, to the point where they can be neutralized without blowback and regeneration. US withdrawal is a neccesary element of that process. There's your Iraq plan. As for a global plan, what's yours, Tony Guitar? There are Muslims in 125 other countries, all of which Al-Quieda can infiltrate. Is this your global blueprint? We should all hope not.

Posted by: glasnost at April 9, 2007 03:13 PM

Fist, let*s diffuse your misconception that there needs to be a global plan because there are hundreds of millions of Muslims world wide.

The vast majority of Muslims are good peace loving people as are the majority of any population.

Nice try, but you know as well as anyone that the focus must be narrowed to power hungry leaders like Mutada.

That essential focus is not achieved by abandoning the innocent to Shiia and Sunni death squads.

Forgive me, but your plan, specifically..

What America's security requires is isolation of the genuine diehards, and pacification of their national environment, to the point where they can be neutralized without blowback and regeneration. US withdrawal is a neccesary element of that process.

is not crystal clear to me. Seems like you want to achieve great things, while being absent.

Please, no offence, but that seems a bit like double talk. Someone with clearer perception will likely draw me a picture. = TG

Posted by: TonyGuitar at April 9, 2007 07:12 PM

Wait *til you see this YouTube bit.

Scroll down 4 to Easter Break.


and here*s the missing Q in Muqtada = TG

Posted by: TonyGuitar at April 9, 2007 08:18 PM

dear Pete (Alois)

I know way alot more than he/she does regardings the kurds. all the information stated by his/her post was wrong. I was in kurdistan in 1994 and why was I not attacked? i was a cillian sitting at my house and and no one asked a thing.

Please don't tell me what I know and What I do not know since you guys were 30000 miles away when this happend, and I was there right in the middle of it.

You are just simply against the war, what you do not understand is that if Bush had not gone to war you would have to pay 10 times more than you pay now for the petrol you put in your car. the reason you make such a fine living is because of bush. If i was american I would pray for him every day.


Posted by: shvan at April 10, 2007 07:47 AM

Afterall no hard feelings, there are just opinions flowing around. I hope I have caused no offence.


Posted by: Shvan at April 10, 2007 07:49 AM

Dear Shvan,

I know that English is not your first language so please bear with me.

I was trying to be ironic with Tequila. I supported the war to rid the world of Saddam and Islamic terrorism. My point was that Tequila pretends to know more about the situation in Kurdistan than you do--which is, of course, ridiculous.

Sorry for any misunderstanding.

Posted by: Pete (Alois) at April 10, 2007 11:33 AM

Shvan - All I can say is that if the peshmerga never killed civilians during their civil war, they are the first army in history ever to do so. Congratulations.

I wonder if Mr. Barzani was so willing to arrest Iranians, why did he not do so? Why does Hoshyr Zebari today still beg for their release?

Also thank you for your remarkable insights about our domestic oil price situation, they are higher than ever. Have you gone over the latest Iraqi oil export figures? Yes, they're still below prewar levels.

Pete - Where's your latest LES? I've got mine. I may be insular, but I'm doing the protecting - not the other way around.

Posted by: tequila at April 11, 2007 03:31 AM

Dear Pete (Alois) Please accept my apologize. I misunderstood you, am deeply sorry.

Dear tequila

The american soliders in kurdistan addmited, even they didnt know an arrest was going to take place. the special force units that took the iranians landed in arbil afew hours before the operation took place.

why do you think the peshmerga forces surrounded and blocked the airport? the americans wanted to go throught but had no clearence to do so.

Barzani had no idea this was going to take place, like i noted earlier even the americans soliders on the ground had no idea about this.

until you go and visit Arbil, baghdad and basra, u need to stop reporting news and making harsh judgments on places u never been to.

some ppl are so closed minded that nothing new ever gets to their head.

like i said, pray for bush every day, right after u pray for god otherwise u wud have to walk to work every day coz of high petrol prices.

am iraqi but i like bush, i know he did this war partly because of oil, but atleast we benefited from that. having 50% of somthin is better than %100 of nothing.

what condition do u think kwait and saudi be in right now if they hadnt cooperated with america in 1991? they would be part of iraq and the cities probably looked worse than the deserts in afghanistan. no offence to aghanis or anything.


Posted by: Shvan at April 11, 2007 05:43 AM

Michael, question: The view you have of the Kurds - which I'm glad you're presenting, as I've found none of what you're saying elsewhere, and I'm glad to read of something positive in that region - has not normally been shared by Arabs. They view Kurds as strongmen and terrorists, at least in the admittedly limited reading I've done. Your reportage shows otherwise, though; their society seems to just have it together, especially compared to the devastation and unrest in other areas (many cities south of them, the parts of Southern Lebanon that you've reported on, etc.). What is the current view among Arabs about Kurds? Is it still hostile? And if so, why haven't many tried to gain the perspective you've shown? I get no sense of the history of Kurds and other Arabs, so I'm not certain what the basis for the traditional hostility is; I only know it's there. And because I'm missing out on all but the broadest brush-strokes of the Arab/Kurdish history, I just don't understand the hostility, especially in light of the societal stability and forward-reaching attitudes you've reported.


Posted by: ElMondoHummus at April 11, 2007 08:43 AM

I just don't understand the hostility, especially in light of the societal stability and forward-reaching attitudes you've reported.

Well, right there you have part of your answer, I suspect. Arabs traditionally respect strongmen and terrorists, generally, so that can't be it. But I think it's genetic. Arab-incompatible Pheromones or something.(Only half-kidding.)

Posted by: Pam at April 12, 2007 12:08 AM

Ref. Kurds and the Mossad connection, the link below offers an interesting perspective:


Posted by: MsLevantine. at April 12, 2007 01:18 PM


Thanks for the debate. We have opposite views, yet you bring up many good points.

Especially interesting is your mention ** of all this intense activity covering obscure international plots.

Indeed, those plots are many and very complex.

China securing oil supply with pan Pakistan oil pipelines. Russia asking Iran to tone it down, worried about hundreds of million$ of debt for nuclear tech, subs and weaponry.

Wonder what plots you had in mind. = TG

Posted by: TonyGuitar at April 12, 2007 01:58 PM

Ms. Levantine--

From your nic, I'm assuming that you're not an American. And if that is the case, I suppose you can be forgiven for knowing that the only Americans who quote "Mother Jones" are rabid conspiracy theorists and people who have taken way, way too much LSD.

This just made your "Mossad" theory look that much more absurd.

Posted by: Pete (Alois) at April 12, 2007 04:06 PM

looks like MsLevantine is getting paid by someone to do this. this is not a unfamiliar case, as we have seen many other writers and bloggesrs turn against kurdistan all of a sudden, and the fact was they were getting paid by turkish intelegence agencies. latest case was michael rubin.

they call themselves people of freedom and justice but yet they sell everything they have for money, even honor, dignity and expression which are the most valuable things in life.

Posted by: Shvan at April 13, 2007 03:25 AM

Your reporting is good MJT, but it borders on propaganda. It must be nice to see the world in black vs white, good vs evil.

Too bad you did not talk to any Christians.


"An unidentified Islamic group placed flyers at the Student Union at Mosul University; the flyers contained messages directed at Assyrian (also known as Chaldean and Syriac) students and were placed in areas where Assyrian students congregate. Witnesses report that University security men observed the men placing the flyers but did not intervene. The flyers warned the Christian Assyrian students that "in cases where non-Muslims do not conform to wearing the Hijab [head cover for women] and are not conservative with their attire in accordance with the Islamic way, the violators will have the Sharia and the Islamic Law applied to them."

Reminds me of the Taliban

"Fr. Mundhir al-Dayr of the Protestant Church in Mosul was found dead with a bullet in his head, reported AsiaNews today. Fr. Al-Dayr was abducted November 26, 2006 and was found dead four days later. A message from the abductors demanded one million dollars as ransom or they will "kill all Christians starting with Fr. Al-Dayr." Source: AsiaNews"

Profiteering with the threat of genocide, not good.

"A group from the Kurdish militia belonging to the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) attacked the Nineveh headquarters of the Assyrian Democratic Movement's TV station, Ashur TV. The KDP militia forced the TV station staff, including two female news anchors, out of the building and forcibly confined them in their vehicle outside of the Bakhdeda (Hamdaniya) TV station. The Ashur TV station staff driver was severely beaten by the KDP militia and was hospitalized.

No freedom of speech either?.

"The church of the Holy Spirit in Mosul appears to have become the target of a terror campaign. After attacks that took place at the end of September, a group of men opened fire on the place of worship on October 4 and 5, injuring one of the guards who is currently in hospital.

Once again the Chaldean Church of the Holy Spirit was the target of terrorist attacks in Mosul, Iraq. On the morning of September 26, a group of men fired rockets against the building, whilst an explosive devise was detonated outside a usually unused entrance door, this according to local sources. No one was killed or hurt in the incident. They also suggested that the attackers might be the same people who on Sunday fired some 80 shots against the church breaking some windows and causing minor damage."

Terrorist attacks on Churches too?

"According to Aswat al-Iraq (Voices of Iraq), 30 Christian families have received threats on Friday September 29 to leave Mosul in 72 hours or be killed."

Ethnic cleansing anyone?

"Dohuk, North Iraq (AINA) -- Kurdish authorities are preventing Assyrian businesses from using Assyrian names or putting up signs using the Assyrian language on the front of their stores, according to the Assyrian website assyrian4all.net . Kurdish authorities have informed businesses that they may use Kurdish or English only. An Assyrian businessman observed that this policy is no different from that under Saddam's regime, when Assyrians were forced to use Arabic instead of Assyrian names"

So it is no different than under Saddam, that is ok then.

These are only some of the reports over the last 6 months from Kurdish areas. It is open season on Christians through out Iraq.

Posted by: Paul Todd at April 16, 2007 12:21 AM

Dear Paul Todd

I suggest you go and read name of the ministers of the Kurdistan Regional Government, afew of them are assyrians. then go to Kurdistan and visit the assyrian schools. Until then keep quite about things and places you have only seen on TV.

Maybe you are on Turkey's payrol just like the assyrian website which has no link with the assyrians in Kurdistan whatso ever. bring me pictures and full proof and i will believe you, until then you are just another liar to me and to the rest of the world.

Kurditan is not 100% democratic (i strongly agree), but atleast its the second most democratic region in the middle east after israel.

We have had our own government for only 16 years, so I would appriciate it alot if you did not compare us to countries which have had their own government for 100s of years.

Instead of supporting us and help us in spreading democracy you are just making matters worse.

keep showing your true colours by reporting more of your made up stories. Just for your knowledge in kurdish we call people like you "those who sleep in Bull's ears". it means you have no idea what's going on, and only repeat what others are saying.

Posted by: Shvan at April 16, 2007 04:21 AM

Paul Todd, don't accuse me of propaganda and then post ridiculous crap like that. Seriously. I'm sure you're not on Turkish payroll, but the KDP is absolutley not genocidal against Christians. The KDP pays Christians to move to the Kurdistan region from the Arabic regions.

There are attacks against Christians in Mosul, but Mosul isn't in Kurdistan. Mosul is a very dangerous place wracked with violence from Arab Islamists and Baathists.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at April 16, 2007 09:11 AM

I don't mean to whine, but my question sort of got deflected by Ms. Levantine's and Paul Todd's posts. What is the Arab world's view - or if that's too broad, how about just the other Iraqis view - of the Kurds, currently? How has it changed from the past? And can anyone out there (not just Michael; although I'd appreciate a response from him, he's busy, and I understand that) give me any historical sense of the grievances between the Arabs and the Kurds? I can get general, superficial, and brief-to-the-point-of-sterile info online (like for example, this timeline here), but I'm hoping to get someone who's studied the region, or who has personal experience with the region, to expound (or at least, briefly comment) on the Kurdish/Arab relationship.


Posted by: elmondohummus at April 16, 2007 01:43 PM

Dear Michael

Please accept my deepest apology if i have discussed and said inappropriate things here.

Dear Paul Todd like I have mentioned before, these are just opinions and please don't feel insulted. But please do have the decentecy of saying the truth not what benefits you, or atleast state them as opinions not facts.

These days people make facts out of their very own opinions which I think is very sad,

Thanks All.

Posted by: Shvan at April 16, 2007 03:06 PM

Dext xosh, Shivan.

Paul Todd, unless you have been to Kurdistan, please refrain from posting such accusations. They are all bullshit and anyone who has been there knows this. Too bad you don't know the basic facts and you think Mosul is governed by the KRG. Jackass.

Posted by: Baghdad Badass in Exile at April 16, 2007 04:22 PM

Dext xosh, Shivan.

Paul Todd, unless you have been to Kurdistan, please refrain from posting such accusations. They are all bullshit and anyone who has been there knows this. Too bad you don't know the basic facts and you think Mosul is governed by the KRG. Jackass.

Posted by: Baghdad Badass in Exile at April 16, 2007 04:22 PM

dear elmondohummus

go to http://www.theotheriraq.com/ and go to the links named: Who Are The Kurds?, Relationship With The West, Economic Enviroment. That should give you some help.


Posted by: Shvan at April 17, 2007 03:22 AM

Michael and Patrick and various commentors,

I don't know the history of mslevintine's posts, but a considerable Peshmerga-Mossad relationship is a big part of the story.

Someone asked for sources -- as if this was a tin foil theory. Please read haaretz, the Jpost, or for that matter the general histories of Kurdistan.

People are asking for cites and it makes me wonder if they know the basics - this angle it has been a part of the story for 40 years.

Here is a good BBC notice:

Also see Sy Hersh's June or July 2004 take in the New Yorker.

If you want primary stuff look at the following:
Eliezer Tzafrir's "Ana Kurdi"; Shlomo Nakdimon's
"Broken Hope," and Yaakov Nimrodi's, "My Life's Journey." These are all former Mossad.

For goodness sakes the even the AIPAC spying scandal references this, see:

Some of that had directly to do with Israeli interests and activities with the Pesmerga.

Did you expect to see IDF uniforms? Please! Do you have any descent contacts with US intell, civilian or military up there? Are you saying that you asked this on background and were told it wasn't so? If so your contacts are spinning you.

Israel is denying it because of Ankara. Otherwise it is about the most poorly kept secret it the entire Middle East. It is not a conspiracy theory, it is an obviously fact.

Posted by: Dave at April 17, 2007 08:04 PM
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