1. mapsontheweb:

    Genetic differences among Caucasian peoples

    (Source: mapsontheweb, via geocrusader80)


  2. (Source: 3iraqiya)



  4. (Source: 3iraqiya)


  5. visitheworld:

    Jalil Al Khayat Mosque in Erbil, Iraq (by tj.blackwell).



  7. The news from Iraq has been grim of late. Sectarian killings, political feuding and the flamboyant rise of Islamist fanaticism. Last month, Isis – the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, one of a series of radical Sunni groups – carried out a stunning military advance. Its fighters captured Mosul, Iraq’s second biggest city, and Tikrit, Saddam Hussein’s birthplace. They now control most of Sunni Iraq. Their goal is Baghdad and the overthrow of Iraq’s Shia-dominated government.

    Meanwhile, Isis’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, has declared a new Islamic state, spanning Syria and Iraq. He has proclaimed himself caliph. The international community has expressed support for Iraq’s beleaguered prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki. Maliki has vowed to crush Isis. But with the army in retreat – many divisions ran away last month – he has taken other measures. They include turning off the electricity to Isis-controlled areas and bombing from the sky. Critics say Maliki’s divisive sectarian policies have brought Iraq to disaster.

    One part of Iraq, however, has largely escaped the mayhem engulfing the rest of the country. It is Kurdistan, the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq. Its capital, Irbil, is a haven of religious tolerance and relative safety. The suburb of Ainkawa, for example, is home to a large Christian community: nuns and a Chaldean church. There’s also a pleasant beer garden where crowds gathered over the weekend to drink Efes and to watch the World Cup final on a giant screen.

    Beneath Irbil’s ancient citadel are cafes where those who are not fasting during Ramadan can eat lunch – shielded by a tactful white cloth. The city is predominantly Kurdish, but also home to Arabs who escaped from Baghdad as security deteriorated, and a recent wave of refugees who fled Mosul as Isis arrived. If there is a success story in Iraq, it’s here.

    I first visited Kurdistan in 2003. I arrived in the town of Sulaimaniyah, courtesy of smugglers who drove me across the border from Iran. Sulaimaniyah was a small, charming provincial Kurdish town. Battered cars threaded their way up and down Salim Street. I took a room in the only decent hotel, the Sulaimani Palace. From my window I could see a park; in front of it was a memorial to four Kurdish generals executed in 1948. There was a market; in the distance, green-brown mountains. In those early spring days, I remember greyness and rain.

    My journalistic mission was straightforward: to await the US invasion of Iraq. Nobody knew quite when this would be. But the diplomacy – the meetings in the UN security council, the allegations about weapons of mass destruction, the martial language of Tony Blair and George W Bush – all suggested a war was brewing. Some correspondents figured it was better to embed with US troops massing in Kuwait. Others picked Kurdistan, an autonomous enclave since the Gulf war of 1991, protected by a no-fly zone. Gradually, my hotel filled up.

    I had travelled out via Tehran, taking with me in my rucksack a chemical weapons suit. It sat unused in my cupboard. The previous autumn, I had tottered around in it on a training course deep in the English countryside. (During one exercise, a colleague failed to put on his gas-mask in time; the ex-SAS man in charge told him cheerfully: “You’re fucking dead, mate.”) How I was supposed to work in the suit was a mystery. But apparently it brought down the cost of war insurance.

    The Kurds were convinced, with good reason, that Saddam Hussein did indeed have chemical weapons. Their struggle against central authority had been going on for more than a century – against the Ottomans, the British, and successive governments in Baghdad. But under Saddam’s Ba’athist regime it reached new levels of horror. During the Iran-Iraq war, Iranian forces supported the rebellion by Kurdish fighters in the mountains, the peshmerga. Saddam responded by gassing entire rural communities.

    My young translator, Yereven Saeed, came from Halabja, a handsome town of stone houses and colourful meadows next to the Iranian border. In March 1988, aged eight, he had fled when the Iraqi army bombed the town with chemical gas. More than 5,000 people had been killed. The dead included Saeed’s relatives. Saeed was a brilliant fixer: smart, friendly, resilient. But he was unsuited to frontline work. The sound of shelling plunged him back into that early childhood terror.

    New housing in Irbil, 2013
    The face of modern Irbil: luxury modern housing developments are transforming the city. Photograph: Safin Hamed/AFP/Getty Images
    I would spend nearly three months in Kurdistan. That February, the US secretary of state, Colin Powell, presented “evidence” before the UN security council of a chemical weapons factory in north-eastern Iraq. He showed maps and diagrams. The “factory” was located in an area near Halabja occupied by a radical Kurdish Islamist group, Ansar al-Islam. There was, Powell suggested, a direct link between Baghdad and Ansar, extremist followers of Osama bin Laden.

    Around 500 Ansar fighters had taken over a handful of remote villages. For a year, the Islamists had been at war with the Kurdish secular parties that controlled the rest of the area. Each afternoon, both sides lobbed mortars at each other across a dazzling landscape of green pasture and walnut orchards. This, it seemed, was an obscure and parochial conflict. Suddenly, though, it had become key to the US case for war.

    A few days later, Yereven and I went to Khormal, a nearby town, and clambered into a pick-up driven by bearded Ansar fighters. They had laid on a press tour. We drove to their camp in Serget: a dilapidated collection of concrete outbuildings at the foot of a grassy hill. I found barbed wire, a courtyard strewn with broken rocket parts and a bakery. In the kitchen, the cook had left his Kalashnikov against a wall; there were chopped tomatoes and the smell of vegetable ghee. There was no sign of Powell’s “poisons factory”.

    "We are just a group of Muslims trying to do our duty," Mohammad Hasan, Ansar’s spokesman, told me. "We don’t have any drugs for our fighters. We don’t even have aspirin. How can we produce any weapons of mass destruction?" Hasan said it was unlikely his group would have entered into a deal with Saddam’s government, as Powell had imaginatively claimed. Those in power in Baghdad were enemies, infidels, he said.

    Our trip was one of the first clues that the US-UK rationale for war in Iraq was a fiction – a lie exposed by some basic journalistic prodding. Ansar al-Islam didn’t pose any threat to the international community. What they were was a local menace. Two weeks later, Paul Moran, an Australian journalist staying in Sulaimaniyah, was filming at a checkpoint next to Ansar territory. A suicide car bomb came careering down the hill. It blew up, killing him and others.

    There were further dark moments. The invasion hadn’t even begun, and yet colleagues were dying, victims of bad luck. One of my breakfast companions at the Sulaimani Palace was Kaveh Golestan, a charming Iranian cameraman who worked for the BBC. One morning he was filming on the frontline near the town of Kifri when he stepped on a mine. The Americans accidentally bombed John Simpson, killing his translator. Gaby Rado, Channel 4’s talented foreign affairs correspondent, haunted perhaps by previous demons, jumped off his hotel roof.

    All of us were waiting for the invasion to begin, and the fall of Baghdad. There were low times personally. My wife and two small children were far away in the Indian capital, New Delhi. One evening, I wandered down Salim Street and pointed my chunky Thuraya satellite phone at a starry Iraqi sky. My three-year-old son said bluntly: “Can you come here now?” (He told my wife afterwards: “We lost that Daddy.”) There was nothing to be said by way of reply; the only solution was to stop talking to my kids.

    Car dealership in Irbil
    The economy is flourishing in Kurdistan’s cities, with car salesrooms boasting Jaguars and Range Rovers. Photograph: Sasa Kralj/AP
    In the meantime, there were diverting stories to be told. Everyone wrote the feature about women peshmerga, gritty female soldiers with guns who were preparing to battle Saddam’s conscript army. I tracked down Kurdistan’s most famous comedian, Mahir Hassan Rashid. Rashid made Iraq’s first ever comedy film about Saddam. His friend, Goran Faili, played the role of the dictator, dressed in a green uniform, beret and sunglasses. Saddam wasn’t amused: he sent several assassins to Kurdistan to kill the entire cast. “Fortunately, the guys were all arrested,” Faili told me.

    Revisiting Sulaimaniyah this week, 11 years on, I am pleased to discover the Sulaimani Palace is still there, albeit with a new ground-floor coffee shop. Most of the rest of the town is unrecognisable. Shopping malls, five-star hotels and a strange tower with a flying saucer-shaped restaurant on the top have transformed the once-low skyline. On a gleaming three-lane boulevard, workers plant purple flowers. A Jaguar and Range Rover dealership stands on the waste ground from where I made my forlorn calls home.

    Over a cup of espresso, Mohammad Ali – a lecturer in politics at Sulaimaniyah University – reminisces about the months leading up to the invasion. While I was in Suli, Ali was in London, finishing off a PhD, and arguing with his leftwing British friends. They opposed the war and protested against it; he didn’t, he says. “I supported the war. That didn’t mean I was in favour of US foreign policy or the killing of civilians. I supported it because it meant the end of Saddam.”

    Ali is from Halabja. He fled to Iran in 1988 with his family, aged 13. In the confusion, his mother and father got left behind; one of his brothers was gassed but survived. Ali missed two years of education: when he returned from Iran, it was to discover Saddam had decreed that Halabja’s children weren’t allowed to study. “We grew up with the terror of Saddam, and his institutions,” he says. “It was a kind of nightmare.” Of the invasion: “We were desperate. If the Russians had come, we would have cheered them too.”

    The Kurds were the most enthusiastic supporters of intervention in Iraq; in Kirkuk, I meet a peshmerga who reminds me that not a single western soldier died in Kurdistan. I recall watching two American advisers drive up Salim Street, one wearing dark shades. It was the day the US-led invasion began. A crowd waving US flags threw flowers. (Even now some Kurdish taxi drivers have their vehicles upholstered in the stars and stripes; there are rumours of Kurdish babies, now 11 years old, called George.) What I witnessed, I think, wasn’t support for neo-con politics. It was something simpler: the lifting of fear.

    A decade on, Ali blames Iraq’s current mess – the murders, the sectarian mayhem, the rise of Isis – on his own country’s political elite: “They are 95% responsible,” he says. “They are corrupt, devils.” He says the Kurds have always believed in a cohesive national idea, rather than a religious vision. “I’m not defending Bush or Blair. But they are not responsible for this Shia-Sunni dispute. Both have been killing each other since before the US even existed.”

    Hemin Hawrami, the head of the foreign relations committee of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), one of Kurdistan’s two dynastic political blocs, thinks the invasion was “right”. He is scathing, though, of what happened next – the Pentagon’s failure to hand power to Iraqis; “chaotic mismanagement” by the US’s overlord Paul Bremner; the transformation of foreign troops from liberators to occupiers.

    The US left Iraq in late 2011, and the west largely forgot about the country. Baghdad only became news again when Isis took over Mosul. Kurdish troops, meanwhile, occupied Kirkuk and other disputed areas. The president of Iraqi Kurdistan, Massoud Barzani, announced moves towards Kurdish statehood, starting with a referendum on whether these areas – home to Kurds, but to other groups too – should become a part of Kurdistan. Kurdish leaders now talk openly of independence.

    Shopping mall in Irbil
    All the trappings of western life: a shopping centre in Irbil indicates how the former provincial town has changed. Photograph: Safin Hamed/AFP/Getty Images
    According to Michael Howard, a former journalist who now works for Kurdistan’s natural resources ministry, many Kurds already think they live in a separate country. Howard is based in Irbil, which, when I first visited it in 2003, was a conservative provincial town. Now it is a sprawling mega-city – a sort of dusty version of Houston, with elite apartment blocks and luxury developments with quaint names such as English Village. Despite the heat, sprinklers coax grass from under small ornamental trees.

    In 2003, scarcely anybody had a mobile phone – Saddam banned them; now everyone has one. “Young people in Irbil don’t know what life was like under Saddam Hussein,” Howard says. “They don’t look to Baghdad. A lot of them don’t speak Arabic. Their cultural lives are in the west or Turkey. They kind of assume Kurdistan is an independent country, which it isn’t.” This new generation finds the current political feud between Baghdad and Kurdistan’s regional government “befuddling”, Howard says.

    What has transformed Kurdistan’s fortunes is oil. Saddam deliberately excluded Kurds from the oil industry. In recent years, however, Howard’s boss, natural resources minister Ashti Hawrami, has turned Kurdistan into a major player. He has cut deals with Exxon Mobil, Chevron and other oil companies, persuading them to invest despite uncertainties about the future. The autonomous Kurdish region has the ninth largest oil reserves in the world – more if you include two oil wells near Kirkuk grabbed last week by the government in Irbil.

    Maliki says the Kurds are stealing the nation’s wealth. In February, he stopped payments to Kurdistan from Iraq’s federal budget. The Kurds say it’s their oil and they are entitled to sell it on international markets. In the meantime, petrol tankers fill the roads in all directions, transporting (or smuggling?) crude to Iran and Turkey. Paradoxically, there are big queues outside petrol stations. The jihadists now control Iraq’s main refinery, and supplies have dwindled.

    Some worry that this oil-fuelled boom is pushing Kurdistan in the wrong direction. Kamaran Subhan, a writer based in Sulaimaniyah, wonders if it is becoming not Norway but a rentier Gulf state. A friendly Bangladeshi waiter – there were no Bangladeshis here in 2003 – brings my coffee. “We are becoming lazy,” he says. Subhan worries that culture in Kurdistan has scarcely improved, despite the consumer splurge visible in the shiny new Land Cruisers on the roads.

    The town still has only one art gallery, founded in the 1990s, with a mulberry tree in the courtyard and works by Kurdish artists hanging in a bright upstairs floor. “The government has little interest in art,” owner Dilshad Bahadin says. Nearby is a small cafe where Kurdish men discuss ideas and play backgammon. Subhan’s books enjoy a print run of 500-1,000 copies, he adds – not much in a country, or near-country, of 4.5 million people.

    Meanwhile, Kurdistan’s two tribal families, the Barzanis and the Talibanis, continue to dominate politics – as well as the economy and employment. The Barzanis run Irbil, while the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), headed by Iraq’s former president Jalal Talibani, controls Sulaimaniyah. Critics accuse both of corruption, nepotism and patronage politics, keeping thousands of party workers on the public payroll. In 2007, a breakaway faction of the PUK formed a new, pro-transparency party, the Change Movement or Gorran.

    When the Arab spring erupted in 2011, demonstrators set up their own protest camp in Sulaimaniyah’s Freedom Square, a short walk from my old hotel. The camp lasted a couple of months. The police chief eventually sent in troops. They beat up and arrested demonstrators, including Subhan, who was hit with a stick. “Saddam may have gone, but his mentality sticks in our heads,” he says. Still, Gorran did well in Kurdistan’s last two elections. Last month, it joined the KDP-PUK government.

    I left Kurdistan in April 2003 with the peshmerga, following their excited advance as Saddam’s forces crumbled. First Kirkuk, then Mosul – where looters broke into the city museum and seized its Parthian sculptures – then Tikrit. I reported from Baghdad in month-long stints until the end of 2004. By this time the insurgency had started, westerners were being kidnapped and beheaded, and Iraq was falling into a dark abyss. This week, I fly out from Irbil’s new international airport. Not with the peshmerga, but Austrian Airlines.

    I am still in touch with Yerevan, my wonderful fixer. He did an MA at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy in Boston, and now lives with his wife and two children – aged six and three – in the Washington DC area. I ask him if he’s an American now. “Kurdistan is always in my heart and my mind,” he replies.


  8. Isis fighters have partially withdrawn from Iraq’s second city, Mosul, where another militant group - closely linked to former members of Saddam Hussein’s regime - has taken over large areas, according to the city’s governor.

    In an interview with the Guardian the governor, Atheel Nujaifi, who escaped from Mosul last month, said the Islamic State’s main “strike force” had withdrawn from the city to fight the Iraqi army further south in Tikrit, he said. A smaller number of local Isis supporters remained in Mosul’s western part, known as the right bank, he said.

    Last month Isis staged a stunning advance, seizing Mosul and Tikrit, and raising the spectre of Iraq’s collapse. On Tuesday the Iraqi army was forced to retreat from Tikrit, Saddam Hussein’s birthplace, 100 miles north of Baghdad, after its latest attempt to retake the city met heavy Isis resistance.

    Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, the king of clubs according to the US defence department Photograph: US Department Of Defense/EPA
    But according to Nujaifi, most of the eastern half of Mosul is now dominated by the Naqshbandi Army, a group led by high-ranking Saddam-era Ba’athists including Izzat al-Douri, the king of clubs in the US deck of “wanted Iraqi” playing cards. Naqshbandi militants had taken down Isis flags from “a lot of buildings” and replaced them with their own, he said. Other sources inside Mosul confirmed that Isis fighters began to withdraw from the city about a week ago.

    The lightning Isis offensive, which swept Iraqi government forces from swaths of the country’s north, is thought to have been partially enabled by an alliance with the Naqshbandi group - known in full as the Army of the Men of the Naqshbandi Order which emerged around 2007. The group is believed to be under the control of Douri, the most senior of Saddam’s commanders to evade capture after the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq. His whereabouts is unknown, though many think he is in Syria.

    "They [the Naqshbandi group] have a direct relationship with al-Douri," the governor said. "It’s a Sufi group. Al-Douri is himself a Sufi."

    Nujaifi said the only way out of Iraq’s current violent turmoil was a political solution involving talks not with Isis but with the “six or seven” other Sunni groups fighting in different parts of the country. All are opposed to Iraq’s Shia-led government, and its prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki. “The solution must be without Maliki. Nobody trusts him,” the governor said.

    Residents in Mosul, meanwhile, say Iraqi aircraft are regularly bombarding the city, and on Tuesday night hit its main power plant, next to Mosul University. Water supplies have already been cut. Electricity – previously available for a couple of hours a day – is now down to just a few minutes, forcing people to rely on generators. Prices for basic foodstuffs and petrol have risen dramatically.

    The northern city of around two million is by far the biggest to have fallen into the hands of Isis. When jihadi fighters swept into Mosul on 10 June, many initially welcomed their arrival: the city is predominantly Sunni, and the Shi-dominated Baghdad government and its local police force in Mosul were deeply unpopular. Locals described how Isis militants attempted to win over locals, using army cranes to remove Mosul’s numerous checkpoints, for example. One shopkeeper said that before the militants’ arrival it had taken one hour to cross the city; now it took just 15 minutes.

    Gradually, however, Isis began imposing its own Salafist rules – pulling down municipal statues of Mosul singer Mala Osman and poet Abu Tamam. Fighters asked shops not to stock western-style women’s clothes. They told female public-sector employees – doctors, teachers, nurses – to stay at home. According to residents, Isis promised to give male street cleaners and other workers 30% of their salaries to keep essential services going – but failed to pay anything.

    One resident said most Isis fighters had vanished late last week. They were now largely invisible, with only a few low-key checkpoints inside the city. “They left their houses. You only see them now in on patrol at night, a couple of cars. Before in the same neighbourhoods I saw hundreds of fighters celebrating their victory,” the resident said.

    So far, there has been no conflict between the Naqshbandi Army and Isis, who are now facing off in Mosul on opposite banks of the Tigris river. But the governor said that a struggle was inevitable. “Logically, they will confront each other,” he said. Local Sunni factions in several Iraqi provinces were stronger than Isis, he added. The faultline was between “nationalist” groups and hardline Salafist outfits, he said, which had emerged from a rigid “ideological, Islamic background”.

    Nujaifi said he reluctantly left Mosul on the advice of his security officers on 10 June, as the Iraqi army fled. He initially stayed at his farm outside the city, but left that too as Isis rolled forward.

    His son Abdullah said Isis had stolen the family’s 200 pure breed Arab horses, adding: “One third of them will be dead by now.”

    The governor hinted there could be a deal over control of Mosul in the near future. “With Naqshabdni it’s easier to get a solution,” he said. “The ideological people [from Isis] aren’t interested in the city. They’ve left.”

    For the moment, though, Isis militants are killing about five or six people a day, the governor said, citing sources inside the city’s mortuary.

    The group had also taken prisoners, including two high-ranking Ba’athists: Sayf al-Din al-Mashhadani, a Ba’ath party commander and the three of clubs in the US “most-wanted” deck, and his cousin Fadhil. According to Reuters, Isis militants last week rounded up between 25 and 60 senior ex-military officers and Ba’ath party members in Mosul, taking them away in SUVs for questioning.

    The governor said he believed the man who appeared in a video making a speech from Mosul’s al-Nuri mosque on 5 July was indeed Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, Isis’s leader. In the footage, Baghdadi proclaimed a new Islamic caliphate stretching from Iraq to Syria, with himself as its ruler. “I think he is a simple man,” the governor said. “It wasn’t a high-level speech.”

    Nujaifi said the choice of the 900-year-old mosque, known for its wonky minaret, and elaborate brickwork, was deliberate. It evoked a historical war against the Shia, he said: in the 12th century Nur al-Din set off from the mosque to defeat the Shia Fatamid caliphate in Cairo.

    One former Saddam-era general, now in Kurdish Irbil, said he had shared a cell with Baghdadi back in 2004. Both were imprisoned by the Americans in Abu Ghraib, in camp C, just outside Baghdad, he said. The general said the prison become a training school for Sunni militants who would go on to take part in the growing insurgency against US forces. “I would give lectures on special forces training,” he said wryly.

    He described Baghdadi as an “average guy”. “He was a normal fighter, one of thousands who fought the Americans. He smoked a lot. Strange to think he is now leading Isis.”


  9. Islamist insurgents have issued an ultimatum to northern Iraq’s dwindling Christian population to either convert to Islam, pay a religious levy or face death, according to a statement issued by the Islamic State (Isis) and distributed in the militant-controlled city of Mosul. The al-Qaida offshoot that led last month’s lightning assault to capture swathes of northern Iraq said the ruling would come into effect on Saturday.

    In the statement, Isis said Christians who wanted to remain in the “caliphate” declared earlier this month in parts of Iraq and Syria must agree to abide by terms of a “dhimma” contract – a historic practice under which non-Muslims were protected in Muslim lands in return for a special levy known as “jizya”. “We offer them three choices: Islam; the dhimma contract – involving payment of jizya; if they refuse this they will have nothing but the sword,” the announcement said.

    A resident of Mosul said the statement, issued in the name of the Islamic State in Iraq’s northern province of Nineveh, had been distributed on Thursday and read out in mosques. It said that Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, which the group has now named Caliph Ibrahim, had set a Saturday deadline for Christians who did not want to stay and live under those terms to “leave the borders of the Islamic Caliphate”. “After this date, there is nothing between us and them but the sword,” it said.

    The Nineveh decree echoes one that the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, the former name for the Islamic State, issued in the Syrian city of Raqqa in February, demanding that Christians pay the jizya levy in gold and curb displays of their faith in return for protection.

    The concept of dhimma, governing non-Muslims living under Islamic rule, dates back to the early Islamic era in the seventh century, but was largely abolished during the Ottoman reforms of the mid-19th century.

    Mosul, once home to diverse faiths, had a Christian population of around 100,000 a decade ago, but waves of attacks on Christians since the 2003 US-led invasion to topple Saddam Hussein have seen those numbers collapse.

    The Mosul residents who saw the Islamic State announcement estimated the city’s Christian population before last month’s militant takeover at around 5,000. The vast bulk of those have since fled, leaving perhaps only 200 in the city.