VICE (2013) s06e13 Episode Script

A Kurdish State & Out of Space

1 SHANE SMITH: This week on Vice: the dream of a Kurdish state suffers a devastating blow.
(MASOUD BARZANI SPEAKS FOREIGN LANGUAGE) It's crazy that two American allies, within days of beating ISIS, are fighting each other.
SHANE: And then, the race to control outer space.
TAYLOR WILSON: Do you think there is a possibility that if you created enough debris in a certain orbit, you could make it unusable? HEATHER WILSON: Not everyone who is in space is there for peaceful, benign purposes.
(THEME MUSIC PLAYING) (CROWD SHOUTING) They're saying that right now, it's time for change.
(SHOUTING) The Kurds are one of the largest ethnic groups in the world without a state of their own.
They exist on the borderlands between Syria, Iraq, Iran, and Turkey.
who are all vehemently opposed to any Kurdish state.
But despite playing a pivotal role in the defeat of ISIS, the Kurds now appear further away than they ever have from gaining independence.
In an effort to rectify this, the Iraqi Kurds recently held a referendum, voting to separate from Iraq and sparking new conflict in one of the most chaotic and volatile regions in the world.
Ben Anderson returns to report on the fight for a Kurdish state.
BEN: So roughly two years ago I was with another group of Peshmerga, not that far from here, in an almost identical trench, even with dark smoke rising not far away.
And then, they were pointing out the black flags of ISIS, just 600, 700 meters away.
But today, it's the Iraqi flag they're pointing at.
How far away are the Iraqi forces now? (SPEAKS FOREIGN LANGUAGE) BEN: The Iraqi army and its allies, the Iranian-backed, Shia militias, or PMUs, have just attacked the Kurds, one of the US's most dependable partners in the region.
This is now the border between Iraq and Kurdistan.
Do you think this is now a permanent border? (MAN SHOUTS) BEN: The Iraqi Army took the disputed city of Kirkuk which had been in Kurdish hands since they defeated ISIS there in 2014.
The Iraqi advance was halted here in Prde after a bloody day-long battle.
(GUNFIRE) (SALAR SPEAKING) And the Golden Division were involved as well, so the special forces that were trained by the Americans specifically to take on ISIS are now are now attacking you? BEN: To me, it's crazy that two American allies, within days of beating ISIS, are fighting each other, but but to you, it seems like its no surprise at all.
BEN: Surprise or not, it's a catastrophic setback after the recent victory over ISIS, a victory that the Peshmerga played a vital role in.
(RIZGAR SALIH SPEAKS FOREIGN LANGUAGE) (INDISTINCT CHATTERING) BEN: Well, right now, are you fighting for your survival? Or are you fighting for the realistic possibility of of an independent Kurdish state? BEN: The attack was in response to a referendum the Kurds held, voting on independence from Iraq.
This is probably a stupid question, but everybody here voted for independence? (RIZGAR SPEAKS) - BEN: It passed with a 93% majority - (CRYING) in favor of independence, effectively giving up on the US vision for a new non-sectarian representative, post-Saddam Iraq.
That vision for a new Iraq fell apart soon after the invasion.
We spoke to Masoud Barzani, president of the Kurdistan regional government from 2005 to 2017 and a long-time ally of the US.
(SPEAKS FOREIGN LANGUAGE) Many Western leaders privately will agree with the moral case for a Kurdish state, but they always say that, for pragmatic reasons, the timing is not right.
You know, it will anger regional players, it might lead to military confrontations.
BEN: The Kurds have been treated savagely for decades, culminating in the Anfal campaign, when Saddam Hussein tried to expel or exterminate Iraq's Kurds, in one of the few attempted genocides since the Holocaust.
(MASOUD SPEAKS) BEN: There were many attacks with chemical weapons, the most notorious happened in 1988 in Halabja.
Saddam's jets used mustard gas, killing at least 5,000 Kurds.
(LUQMAN ABDULQADIR SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE) BEN: And how long were you married? BEN: Did did you ever think after 2003 when Saddam was toppled that you would see the Iraqi government and the Kurds at war again? (LUQMAN SPEAKS) BEN: Following Saddam's defeat in the Gulf War, George H.
Bush called for an uprising.
- (SHOUTS IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE) - BEN: The Kurds responded, but the US had a change of heart and allowed Saddam to suppress the movement, killing thousands.
Saddam was allowed to stay in power, but no-fly zones were established to protect his victims.
The Kurds used this protection to create a modern democratic and secular proto-state, flying their own flag and relying solely on their own military.
- Then came the US invasion.
- (CROWD CHEERS) In 2003, the US invaded and overthrew Saddam, and they said they were gonna create a new Iraq which represented all Iraqis.
And you worked with them to try and to try and make that succeed.
Did you genuinely believe then that it that it could work and that that all minorities, including the Kurds, could be fairly represented? So, what made you go ahead with the referendum? And and given the costs, are you still proud that you held the referendum? BEN: This, despite the fact that the referendum led to the loss of Kirkuk.
Najmaldin Karim was the governor.
He tried to rally a defense of the city but had to flee when US special forces told him his life was in danger.
NAJMALDIN: They didn't give any details.
They just thought that I should be careful and, you know I was a target, and probably my life was not safe to stay where I was.
But just that, you know, that that situation.
You're the elected governor of Kirkuk, and Iraqi forces and the PMUs with American training, with American weapons are coming into the city, and then you have to flee for your life.
It's It's so far from what was promised after the invasion.
Maybe you should ask the American officials or the ambassador or whoever.
Unofficially, what has been the US reaction to what happened in Kirkuk? Their reaction was indifference.
Completely indifference, nothing else.
Do you regret the decision to go ahead with the referendum? Absolutely not.
I think that's something that stays on the books forever.
There are 22 other Arab countries.
Why not the Kurds? BEN: The referendum had many critics, including Dr.
Bilal Wahab, a Fulbright scholar who focuses on governance in Iraq and Iraqi Kurdistan.
I voted yes.
I knew it was a mistake, but I voted yes, because that question is not a logical question.
It's an emotional question.
It is every Kurdish person's dream to have independence.
Therefore it goes without saying that if you put the people in a position where you ask them, "Do you want a state of your own?" that they're going to say yes.
But it's the responsibility of the leadership not to risk the achievements, the livelihood, the prosperity of the Kurdish people by asking them an obvious question.
From a short-term perspective, the backlash has been brutal, the impact has been totally negative, so now we know that the region and the international community is not ready for a Kurdish state.
(INDISTINCT CHATTER) BEN: Within days of the Kirkuk attack, Iraqi forces and PMUs also attacked the Kurds from the east.
We met with Babaker Zebari, the first chief of staff of the new Iraqi Army from 2003 to 2015.
Having a Kurd in such a senior position was symbolically huge.
You were the first chief of staff for the new Iraqi Army, and you helped build the new Iraqi Army.
Just personally, how does it feel now that you're having to defend against attacks from them? (SPEAKS FOREIGN LANGUAGE) BEN: Do you think, now that ISIS is gone and you've become less useful to the rest of the world, they they care less about about you and any chance of Kurdish self-determination? BEN: What would you say to Kurdish leaders who said since the 1920s, the US has been saying "Now is not the right time, but one day we'll support self-determination.
" What could the US do in defending Kurdistan if the Iraqi government was willing to roll tanks in? Would the US fly airplanes to go and attack the Iraqi tanks? What if Turkey sent in troops? What if Iran sent in troops? They were all threatening with using violence against Kurdistan.
It wasn't because it was morally wrong, but because of these realities.
The opposition of the regional governments against changing the maps and against an independent Kurdistan was much larger for the United States to oppose.
In other words, Kurdish independence simply wasn't worth it.
What did you expect the US to do? BEN: How has this changed your relationship with the US? (MASOUD SPEAKS) War in space seems like the kind of thing that happens in movies, but science fiction is now becoming reality.
We are going to have the Air Force, and we are going to have the Space Force, separate but equal.
There's a real battle taking place in the space above Earth, a battle for who controls the real estate in our planet's orbit.
As Taylor Wilson found out the reasons behind this aggression could be our biggest security threat yet.
- OD.
- SE.
- SE.
- Slip.
- Slip.
(OVER RADIO): "O," provide weather status.
MAN (OVER RADIO): Weather is green, working with no issues.
MAN 2 (OVER RADIO): 10, nine, eight, seven, six, five, - four, three, two, one.
- (RUMBLING) Liftoff for the Falcon 9.
Look at that plume.
Advancements in rocket technology have dramatically reduced the cost of launching spacecraft into orbit.
And as more and more nations around the world enter the space race, hundreds of new satellites have been added to an increasingly crowded low-Earth orbit.
These satellites are critical for communications, GPS, commerce, and even the Internet.
But with more than a half a million objects now circling the Earth at incredible speeds, the risk of collision in space is rapidly growing.
The threat of debris in key orbits around the Earth is a very real and serious issue.
The focus of this hearing is how to prevent a real-life Gravity.
TAYLOR: The blockbuster movie Gravity brought onto the public radar the threat of debris to satellites and even space shuttles in orbit.
And while the plot was science fiction, the threat it depicted is very real, and now one of the Air Force's most important missions.
David Hardy has seen just how hard that mission is after decades of experience designing satellite technology, and overseeing the military's space capabilities.
Could you just put kind of in perspective how much energy the space debris has? HARDY: Well, if you take a ball-bearing a standard ball-bearing about that size and if it's going at an orbital velocity of 17,500 miles per hour, that has as much energy as an SUV going 70 miles per hour.
- Wow.
- So if you think of something that small having that much energy, think how much something like this would have, Think of what happens when it collides with something at those velocities.
- Thousands of pieces.
- Thousands of pieces of debris.
TAYLOR: And because of the dire threat each piece of space debris poses, the Air Force needs to know exactly where each object is.
So, what is this facility's kind of main purpose? HARDY: This is one of the Air Force's main research facilities.
We want to know where everything is we want to have some idea of what it does, and we want to be able to track it if it changes what it does.
So, this is a large telescope facility which allows us to do very unique research in all of those areas.
(CHUCKLES) Oh wow.
That is a beautiful-looking telescope, isn't it? Telescope has to move pretty fast in order to track objects in Earth orbit much more quickly.
We actively track some tens of thousands of objects right now, from a centimeter or a few centimeters up.
There are quite a few present objects that we track on a daily basis, and the reason for that is to make sure we knew whether or not it was going to collide with something.
We've actually had collisions.
There's the case of Cosmos colliding with an Iridium, neither of which knew that was going to happen, which produced tens of thousands pieces of debris.
There are examples of relatively small pieces of debris that have impacted the Space Station that have produced worrisome amounts of damage.
Do you think there is a possibility that if you created enough debris in a certain orbit, you could make it unusable? One could calculate how much that is.
TAYLOR: This catastrophic chain reaction could create a debris field so massive that it would destroy the satellite constellations critical to our digital way of life and block new space missions from even entering orbit, effectively locking humanity out of space.
Yet at the same time, major nations are pushing for space dominance and developing specialized weapons for a whole new theater of war.
This is leading some scientists to sound the alarm that when space junk strikes a military satellite, it could be mistaken for something far worse an intentional, offensive strike and an act of war.
HARDY: We've had, sort of, unbridled use of space for a long time, and our adversaries - are very aware of that.
- TAYLOR: Yes.
And they seek to equalize, you know, for the future.
Yup, and they're playing catch-up and They're playing catch-up, and they're they're being quite quite determined about that catch-up.
TAYLOR: For countries like Russia and China, playing catch-up to American dominance in orbit actually means preparing for a war in space.
(SPEAKING CHINESE) TAYLOR: And at the Pentagon, the head of the United States Air Force, Heather Wilson, warns that such attacks are already being tested.
You would definitely say space is becoming, if it's not already, a contested environment? Not everyone who is in space is there for peaceful, benign purposes.
In 2007, the Chinese launched an anti-satellite weapon and destroyed one of its own dead weather satellites and put about 3,000 pieces of debris into orbit.
That was a pretty significant message to the world.
Last year, the Russians announced that they had launched a satellite to be able to repair satellites on orbit.
Well, if you've got an arm on there that can "repair" a satellite on orbit, the question is, whose satellite are you seeking to "repair"? It means you're maneuvering something to come into close proximity with someone else and touch it.
That's a concern.
TAYLOR: The development of satellite killers like these could jeopardize America's ability to engage in a new conflict.
It would be very hard to fight a modern war - without space assets, right? - Yes.
You talk about early warning for ballistic missile launches, you talk about communications, precision guidance all those things require space.
I can't think of certainly a military mission that isn't enabled by space today.
And likewise, so much of our commerce is now enabled by space.
The little blue dot on your phone is provided by the United States Air Force.
GPS was developed and is operated by the United States Air Force for the world.
So, a billion people use that every day - for the whole financial system - Uh-huh.
for the stock market, so it's extremely important that it be protected, and to make very clear to someone who would wish us harm that that we have the capability to defend ourselves.
TAYLOR: The United States military is training for the opening shots of the next potential war by learning how to block enemies from trying to jam satellites and knock out America's space advantage.
So, we're at the 527th Space Aggressor Squadron basically, professional bad guys.
They're training the US military on how our adversaries would attack US space assets.
- MAN: Two megs.
- MAN 2: Okay.
- Outstanding.
- They're basically looking for satellite communication links.
They want to jam those signals, so that we cannot talk to, for example, our commander on the battlefield.
MAN: All right, we're effective jamming on signals one through five, no comms can get past.
MAN 2: All right, we have jammed all signals.
Thank you.
What is the point of doing exercise like this? The purpose is, we use a lot of satellite communication in the military, and we like to train our forces our friendly forces to deal with jamming, and what better way to learn than to go through it yourself live fire, in an exercise environment? That way it doesn't harm anybody, and they can learn to create tactics and procedures to work around the jamming.
Have we seen examples of adversaries using these kind of jamming techniques? One that comes to mind first is Saddam Hussein using GPS jamming.
They protected his palace from incoming GPS-aided munitions.
This is really kind of the idea of, you know, fighting a war in space, so to speak, - but from the ground.
- Yeah.
Yeah, and who knows? I mean, it could go into space in the future.
TAYLOR: And if a war in space were to break out, the highly classified command, JSPOC, or the Joint Space Operations Center is a first line of defense.
So, this is JSPOC? DAVID BUCK: This is the Joint Space Operations Center.
TAYLOR: After some of the more sensitive workstations were powered down, Lieutenant General David J.
Buck invited us inside to see a readiness drill.
We have indications of possible imminent anti-satellite missile launch.
BUCK: All right, what are we thinking? Test or exercise? No, sir, it looks like real world.
All right, crew, listen up! We got indications of a pending anti-satellite missile launch.
DDO, run a risk analysis, get me a list of potential targets.
WOMAN: Currently, two blue targets are at risk.
WOMAN 2: Sir, at 1456 Zulu sensors are reporting possible impact of detonation.
We have Intel analysts and specialists who are watching the world all the time.
Now, our sources and means of how we do that are classified, but along that spectrum of threats, if you will, we see the jamming, you can see things like the kinetic anti-satellite test that we just demonstrated for you.
We see things like co-orbital threats, things that are in space in the same orbit as some of our assets.
We're tracking them very closely.
Let me give you an example, if I could.
2014 a launch occurred, and we were tracking one satellite, it was supposed to be on that particular launch.
Our professionals here in the JSPOC, they were monitoring three actions one was the satellite, one was a booster, and one was a piece of debris.
Well, lo and behold, that piece of "debris" - started to maneuver.
- Mmm.
- Debris doesn't have power.
- No.
Debris is not supposed to maneuver.
For what purpose? We don't know.
We're keeping a close eye on it.
If potential adversaries create a contested or degraded or operational-limited environment in space, it could have a negative impact on them as well.
TAYLOR: That means a war in space could create enough debris to threaten all nations' space assets, including those firing the shots.
It'd be a bad day to go to war in space.
We don't want that.
That'd be horrible.
When you create a debris field in space, it's gonna last for decades.
TAYLOR: And so, to keep space open to everyone, the US regularly notifies friends and even potential adversaries when it projects a possible collision in space.
We notify companies and countries if a piece of debris is likely to interfere with one of their satellites.
So, we have this ironic situation where the debris cloud - that China created - TAYLOR: Mm-hmm.
HEATHER: we're in this now odd situation where we actually notify the Chinese when a piece of their debris is going to hit one of their satellites.
HARDY: Space as a common domain of human endeavor, it never quite developed that way.
And I think now we might be on the verge of that that changing.
TAYLOR: And as space gets more crowded, what do we, as a nation and as a species, have to do to ensure that it stays accessible? If everybody recognizes that that debris is going to be bad for how we use space and its for all uses of space civil, commercial, military and people have a greater dependence, it'll make them think twice about doing actions in space that will increase debris, 'cause it'll hurt everybody.
TAYLOR: And if space is turned into a new battleground, every nation stands to lose.