Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Kurds and Hersh

Here is an thought provoking piece by Seymour Hersh which is getting some attention here in Iraq. The article is somewhat sprawling, and runs in many directions, but the brunt of the argument is that the Israelis have infiltrated the Kurds and are using them to, inter alia, spy on Iran, and that the result will be instability in the region. While it offers a number of issues to consider, much of the article is too glib, fails to address the nuances of the questions, and in the end is of questionable credibility because it offers with little question the opinions of interested observers.

The article begins by pointing out that Israel allegedly warned the US to seal off the Iranian border to prevent the influx of insurgents. Hersh suggests that the increase in violence was a direct result of the failure to heed Israel’s advice. This is partially true, but woefully incomplete. The increase in violence was also fueled by the porous Syrian border, and by elements already on the ground. If the US had chosen to lock down the Iranian border as recommended, it would have functionally closed off the Shia Arba’een religious festivals in Najaf and Karbala, which could have led to more rather than less violence. When the US finally did decide to reduce the number of border crossings to Iran, the move met with resistance from a large segment of Iraqis, who recognize that they will have to deal with Iran for years to come. And finally, shutting down a 900 mile border from foreign fighters who are known to use camels to make their way across in the middle of the night is easier said than done. But to read Hersh, you might think that this could have been accomplished as easily as turning off a spigot.

Furthermore, many of Hersh’s arguments have pretty flimsy or self-serving support. Take for instance his argument that the June 30 transition date was chosen in panic, and that the UN was brought in to share the blame. His source: an unnamed UN consultant. Well, who better to explain the back room processes at the White House. One wonders why he didn’t get the real scoop by asking a well-placed Kerry campaign staffer. At other times, his observations are so banal you wonder why he includes them. Take this sentence: “The Israeli operatives include members of the Mossad, Israel’s clandestine foreign-intelligence service, who work undercover in Kurdistan as businessmen and, in some cases, do not carry Israeli passports.” Really? How shocking! In a region in which simply having an Israeli stamp on your passport is enough to get you detained as a spy, the real spies don’t carry passports or wear “Hi, I’m Mossad” name badges. This is groundbreaking reporting.

But the biggest problem is that one of his major themes appears to be flawed. He portrays the Kurds as pawns being used by the Israelis against Iran, but fails to mention the ties that Iran has substantial ties of its own with the Kurds. Indeed, as Michael Ledeen noted in a recent article on NRO:

Then there are the Kurds, most of whom are actively engaged in commerce with Iran, including arms, explosives, and alcohol. [Kurdish leader] Jalal Talabani is closely linked to the Revolutionary Guards and the Iranian Intelligence Service, and reported to Tehran on U.S. activities in 1996 during the failed uprising against Saddam. His deputy reports directly to Iranian intelligence. Massoud Barzani, the other prime Kurdish leader, uses his cousin as a conduit to Iran, and the cousin is the head of Kurdish Hezbollah, an Iranian creation. Barzani meets regularly in Baghdad with the Iranians’ top man, who was a guest in Barzani’s house just two weeks ago. Barzani and Talabani both get funding from Iran.


The Kurdish role in the new Iraq is an interesting one, and it is one I will be writing more about in the coming days. But in the meantime, let me simply suggest that while it is interesting (albeit unsurprising) that Israel is taking an interest in Kurdistan, to treat the Kurds merely as pawns of the Israelis is a vast miscalculation.

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