Iraq: Twice Displaced


by Bob Holmes

It's called Kani Spi, after the white spring that flows from the cliff below the snow-capped mountains in Iraqi Kurdistan near the border with Iran. Mahmoud and his two sons, standing by the gushing spring, pointed to the meadow below and the ruins of a mill where they used to grind their wheat for bread before 1977-the year Saddam Hussein destroyed their village.

Mahmoud returned to Kani Spi in 1991, only to have his foot blown off by a land mine placed by Saddam's forces to deter the enemy advance during the Iraq/Iran war. The Mines Action Group working with the United Nations undertook de-mining operations and fifty-three families moved back and rebuilt their lives. They are farmers and shepherds who make the best of the warmer months and retreat in winter to the town of Choman fourteen km away.

Mahmoud and his family live in Choman year-round now because for the past two summers, Iran has fired rockets at Kani Spi. Ostensibly they are aimed at rebel forces in the mountains-none of whom, Mahmoud assured us, live in Kani Spi. He and his sons showed us the bomb craters near his house. We collected shrapnel and saw where one unexploded bomb lay buried in a furrow it created on impact. The de-miners say they will come and remove it and the remaining landmines but not until they can safely do so. No one from the village has suffered death or injury, but the cost in lost produce and livestock has devastated the twice-displaced villagers. The Kurdish Regional Government has not followed through on its promise of material relief for the villagers.

Choman has received displaced people from six villages, some of them more devastated than Kani Spi, having suffered direct hits on homes and out-of-control fires. The villagers' land is fertile and they can live normal lives if they can go back. They just need the bombing to stop. But until those in power sit down and negotiate with the Kurdish rebels in the mountains-from Turkey, Iran and Iraq-no one will live safely in Kani Spi or the other villages

When we speak to Kurdish authorities about the bombings and shelling along the borders of Turkey and Iran, they say they feel powerless to do anything to stop it: the U.S. is really in charge here and the U.S. has given Turkey both the go-ahead and the satellite intelligence information to pursue the rebels into the mountains of Iraqi Kurdistan. That Iran, a declared enemy of the U.S., is doing the same adds a wildcard to the game.

Meanwhile villages are bombed, forcing displacement of civilian populations. This is classic counter-insurgency as practiced by US client-states in Central and South America and southeast Asia: "drying up the water so the fish can't swim"; if no supportive villages exist to supply insurgents, they will be starved out.