In the first part of his interview with AVA Diplomatic, the representative of the Kurdistan Region in Iran not only explained the process of his fights against the Baath regime of Iraq, but he also cleared the air about the formation of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan in Iraq and its role in 8 years of war between Iran and Iraq which you may find below.
AVA Diplomatic’s Exclusive Interview with Nazim Omar Dabbagh,
Representative of the Kurdistan Region in Iran
Interview by Mohammadreza Nazari
How and why was the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan established?
After the 1975 Algiers Agreement and the huge failure caused for the Kurdish uprising, the order was faced with a malfunction and as a result, the Baath regime boosted pressures and cruelties against the people of Kurdistan. Alongside with the implementation of the agreement, a group of political leaders and officials led by Jalal Talabani established a new organization in Syria on June 1, 1975 named “the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan” and one year after that on June 1, 1976, the armed uprising against the Baath regime initiated. The directing board of the fledgling organization consisted of Mam Jalal, Dr. Kamal Fouad, Dr. Fuad Masum, Nawshirwan Mustafa, Abdul Razaq Feili and Adel Murad, and their objective was to give a new life to the rise and defense of the Kurdish people independently relying solely on the help and support of the Kurds.
Why was this union formed basically?
The truth is they were after continuing the battle and defending the Kurdish people and standing up against the fascist Baath regime of Iraq.
Did power fall into the hands of Saddam Husain after the Baath coup in Iraq?
In my opinion, although Saddam Hussein succeeded the then President, Ahmed Hassan el-Bakr since the very beginning, he was powerful and a man of vast potentials in politics.
When did you join the Union?
I made links with the Patriotic Union since it was first established. My connection with the freedom movement of the Kurdish people, however, started in September, 1961 as a proponent and a member of the Democratic Party of Kurdistan. Later on in 1964 when the talks began with Abdul Salam Arif under the Barzani leadership and after the coup that targeted Abd al-Karim Qasim, the party divided into two thought wings which included the pro-Barzanis and the proponents of the political office. We were part of the students union who supported the political office and belonged to Jalal Talabani’s side and that went on up to when the Patriotic Union was established. Soon as the September Uprising began in March, 1974, I joined them and the Peshmerga forces. After that, I went to Iran and found asylum at a refugee camp.
What were you doing back then?
After finishing high school in 1966, I entered the teachers institute center and graduated in spring of 1970. In October, 1970, I became a teacher in the Barzan and Mirga-Sur regions, and since September, 1961, I was constantly active in student and party gatherings. In 1974, I joined the Peshmerga forces and later, taught in the Qulti and Rabt camps in Sardasht. I returned to Kurdistan in Iraq after the Algiers agreement.
Did you cooperate with the Marxist, Leninist Komalah Party of the Iraqi Kurdistan?
Not directly. Before the formation of Komalah in 1970, there was an elite group which we participated in. In the early days of 1970, we used to be raising our awareness by studying Mao Zedong, Marx and Lenin. We used to go to the Chinese embassy in Baghdad and when we introduced ourselves on behalf of Jalal Talabani, they lent us books and papers.
Had the Marxist mindset already left an impact on the armed activities of Kurds?
Mam Jalal had a Maoist thinking style, and ideologically, that was more compatible with the Kurdish status. The Maoism movement geared toward farmers, not labors. The Kurdish society was based on agriculture, too, not labor.
When did you first meet Mr. Talabani?
The first time goes back to the time after the coup of Abdul Salam Arif against Abd al-Karim Qasem in 1964, when Mam Jalal, as a commander of Peshmerga forces who resided close to Koy Sanjaq, took the road to the Faqih Khedr-Kanileh Cemetery and entered the city. We, as the youth and students, followed them. He was being accompanied by 25 Peshmerga soldiers; they entered Mahmoud Aqa Mosque which was located downtown, gave a speech and we listened. That was the first time I was seeing Jalal Talabani from that close an angle and the picture of that day is enclosed in the first chapter of Mam Jalal’s diary book.
Did you gear toward him that day?
In the early breaths of the September uprising in 1961, Mam Jalal had bases around the city of Koy Sanjaq in the Razan River and Haji Qal’e region under his command as a Peshmerga commander of Kurdistan. His name was repeated regularly among people and we, too, as the youth of Koy Sanjaq felt proud of it and were influenced by his thoughts; a path we have continued to follow up to now. Back then, we work in the party’s bureau.
Where were you when the Algiers agreement was signed?
As I said earlier, back then, I was a teacher and lived with part of my family in the camp of Rabt.
How did you become a member of the leading board of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan in 1980?
Since April 8 to August 17, 1979, I was in jail by the official decree of Saddam Husain and when I was released, I received a letter from the party and Mam Jalal to attend extensive meetings of the Patriotic Union in the mountains which aimed at reinvigorating the organizations of the socialistic movement of Kurdistan there which Kak Rasoul Momand and others sought separation from and a majority of them left. Another crowd including Dr. Khaled Saeed, Ali Askari and Hussein Baba Sheikh Yazidi were martyred or dispersed by the temporary army during the Hakari tragedy where they were tagged along by some 600 Peshmerga soldiers.
On January 2, 1980, I arrived in Nawzang where the political and private offices of Mam Jalal were located. I had made up my mind not to return and to stay with the Peshmerga forces. The reason was that I had just been released from Saddam’s imprisonment and if I had been caught once again, our execution would have been categorical. Mam Jalal became very happy about my decision and welcomed it.
What happened after that?
In March 1980, the union session was held and I was elected as a member of the leading board of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, the Central Association and the Leading Council of the Socialistic Movement. Later on, from June, 1980 until the first congress in 1991 after the uprising in Sulaymaniyah, I was a member of the political office and in charge of the ministerial and financial sector. Then, I did not nominate for any leading position and in 1991, I was the administrative director of the political office and after that, served for three years as the deputy minister of education. After what happened on August 31, I sought asylum in the Netherlands and was later appointed representative of the Patriotic Union and Mam Jalal in the sector for organizing and the affairs related to the national Kurd congress in Brussels until when the Washington Agreement was inked between the Union and the Party, I took a path though Iran and returned to Kurdistan at Mam Jalal’s behest. Mam Jalal was in Tehran back then and wanted for me to be his special representative in Iran and so, I am officially in Iran since September 18, 1999.
You were active in Dahuk in the process of liberating Kurdistan in 1991. Tell us more about your mission.
This goes back to an agenda and operation set by the leadership of the union and the Kurdish front at that time.
Kurdistan had been categorized into four main parts; provincially, the governor general, Kak Nawshirwan Mustafa, governor of Erbil, Kak Kosrat Rasoul, governor of Sulaymaniyah, Kak Omar Abdullah, governor of Kirkuk, Fereydoun Abdulghader and me, as the governor of Dahuk. Of course, we were all union forces, but for each governorate, a committee was formed which included all Kurdish Front forces. We summoned all Peshmerga officials of each region and coordinated ourselves with the forces inside the cities and the Peshmerga forces all through the axis of Dahuk, Sulaymaniyah, Kirkuk and Erbil. As a Patriotic union force, I, too, moved to the governorate of Dahuk on March 10, 1991 and arrived in Aqrah on March 13, 1991. After the liberation on March 14, 1991, we entered the liberated city of Dahuk which was the fruit of the people’s uprising and the organization and the liberty flag was raised in the city.
Did the liberation of Dahuk come with bloodshed and conflicts?
The liberation definitely came at the cost of martyrdom and losses. The pro-regime forces who resisted were killed and the proportion of martyrs and the injured was small compared to the victory and liberating the city. Many Iraqi officers and soldiers gave up or were held captive who we later released, and that was what we prided on; not only didn’t we kill any captives, but we also freed them which was an addition to the public remission issued earlier.
The liberation of the Kurdistan Region coincided with Saddam Hussein’s assault against Kuwait.
The liberation of Kurdistan happened after the attacks of the Allies against Kuwait and expelling the Iraqi Army from the country. I would like to make a reference to historical moment. In July, 1990, I was in Paris with Mam Jalal and attended most of his meetings with French officials such as Bernard Kushner, Ms. Mitterrand and other FM figures. There were talks about the state of Iraq and the region and Mam Jalal said, “In my opinion, after the war comes to a halt, Saddam Hussein has plans to launch assaults against the Gulf States, including Kuwait,” and in response, the French officials at the Foreign Ministry stated, “This is simply a dream, Mam Jalal. How will Saddam ever do this?” Mam Jalal replied, “It is logically impossible, I agree. But considering our familiarity and information we have with and of Saddam’s thinking style, he will do it!”
Well, on August 2, 1990, Saddam attacked Kuwait and the Guardian and Lomond wrote the first to anticipate this was Jalal Talabani. However, I think during a speech in London on July 11, 1990, Mam Jalal had offered his prediction, too. After the invasion of Kuwait, the French FM officials sent a message to Mam Jalal through the Union’s representative in Paris, who was then Ahmad Bamerni. I went there and they asked if Mam Jalal knew what would take place after the invasion of Kuwait. On August 5, 1990, I returned to Syria through Damascus and met Mam Jalal to deliver to message. He said to me, “You should’ve told them they can wait for me to have another dream; maybe then I would tell!” Mam Jalal’s prediction, of course, was that the invasion of Kuwait would not be tolerated for long, as Kuwait and Saudi Arabia were redlines and the Iraqi Army would be sent out and taken action against. A letter was sent to the political bureau and Kak Nawshirwan from me saying, “At the time of assaulting and liberating Kuwait, the Iraqi Army would face a great defeat. Therefore it is of the essence that the Kurdish front be alarmed, be prepared to rise and deploy armed troops inside cities and Peshmerga fighters around them to be at the ready for whatever that could possible come their way.” After Mam Jalal’s letter was delivered, the political bureau convened a session under Kak Nawshirwan and plans for forming armed groups and Peshmerga forces along with setting agendas in coordination with the Kurdish front to rise and liberate Kurdistan were prepared in which all parties of the Union, socialists, democrats, communists, etc. would take part.
Based on what reasoning did Saddam Hussein attack Kuwait?
Saddam Hussein was after taking reprisals. Iraqis claim Kuwait had once been part of Iraq and was then separated; they were not happy with Kuwait’s cooperation with Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war, either.
What was the operational plans of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan to control the circumstances after Saddam Hussein was weakened?
Mam Jalal believed we had to prepare ourselves to launch the public uprising through the Kurdish front and liberate the regions of Kurdistan when the Allies attack and defeat the Iraqi Army. According to the response to his letter, forces and officials divided into the four governorates of Kirkuk, Erbil, Sulaymaniyah and Dahuk. The union forces that had been in Iran were called on and given the mission objectives.
Did you have military camps or garrisons in Iran?
No, we did not.
But you just said some of these forces came from Iran.
I was referring to the camps of people in Iran which included refugees from villages or families of the Peshmerga forces who had been forced into displacement, like my own family that lived in Mahabad. We took these people close to borders and dispatched them at our office which was located on the Iraqi soil. But all of the PDK forces were in Iran. It should be mentioned, of course, that Iran made substantial logistic, arm and health contributions to the Kurdish people.
Did Iran provide the Peshmerga forces with weaponry?
Iran helped the Kurds in every way. Iran provided whatever the Kurds asked for. It was not like Kurds had bases in the Iraqi Kurdistan, but the forces came to Iran to rest and recover. All of our garrisons were inside Iraq and forces were allowed to come to Iran only when dismissed temporarily or having families in the country. They could also travel to Iran to cure themselves if they had been injured or sick. Even once I was injured in 1980, came to Iran for treatment and stayed at Pars Hotel on Nejatollahi St. in Tehran. Back then, the Islamic Revolution had just come to fruition and ideological disagreements were intense. At that time, each school of thought had some voice it on the street and another would respond to it, and whoever could reason more strongly would gain more popularity, and afterwards, there were demonstrations and protests out there.
Would you please elaborate on how the Peshmerga and Kurdish forces aided Iranian forces during the Iran-Iraq war?
The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan in Iraq participated in the operations Valfajr 1, 2, 3, Fath-el-Mobin 1, 2, 3 and 4 during the Iran-Iraq war. I was once the coordinating director for supplying ammo and logistics from the Kurdish forces during the Fath-el-Mobin operation. At the time, I had offices both in the Iranian village of Kani Zard which is close to the Iraqi border and in the Dulah Kuke which is now in the hands of PJAK. I was in charge of receiving logistic contributions from the I. R. Iran which were delivered in Sardasht, Naqadeh and Kermanshah. Then, Gen. Mohammad Bagher Zolqadr was the chief commander of the Ramazan Headquarter and Mr. Hashemi Rafsanjani, the chief commander of the Khatam-al-Anbia Headquarter. I went to Mr. Rafsanjani’s office a few times and met with his chief of staff, Mr. Ali Agha Mohammadi. Let me tell you a memory of Mr. Agha Mohamadi. I think it was 1994 when he made a trip to the Kurdistan Region and it was neither time nor the season to rain. But soon as he set foot in the Region, it strangely began to rain and that is why people nicknamed him “Ayatollah Matari” (Ayatollah of the Rain).
Why did you decide to take refuge to the Netherlands?
After what happened on August 31, 1996 and parts of the Kurdish lands fell into the hands of the Baath allies, I stayed in the Kurdistan Region and in cooperation with Iran, we managed to win some of them back. Once again I was the coordinating director between Iran and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan in Naqadeh in Iran in order to keep military and logistic cooperation going. My mission came to an end once they told us that in spite of how farther we could advance and take back all parts of the Iraqi Kurdistan, the liberation operations had gone enough. When August 31 occurred, I resided in Erbil and announced, “I do not intend to occupy the house of a member of another party in Sulaymaniah just like my own house that has been occupied by another party in Erbil!” I used to live in Paris then, but did not go there, for my family had to be with me. Even when I was in the village, one room was allocated to my child and wife and another was my office.
When those things happened, I told Mr. Talabani that my family and I would leave the Iraqi Kurdistan and he agreed. To do so, I went to the Netherlands and registered myself as a refugee. In fact, whenever a war breaks out, many deviations happen; if that statement weren’t true, then Mr. Barzani would not become allies with Saddam to attack us. After entering the Netherlands, I said, “I would stop armed battles, come to your country, and if you allow me, I would continue my political activities and whenever everything subsided in my own country, I’d go back and proceed there.”
After two weeks, my refuge application was processed in the Netherlands, and even though I wanted to return to Iraq, Mr. Talabani designated me as a member of the Representative Committee of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan in Europe which was headed by the current President of Iraq, Dr. Fuad Masum. After that, Mr. Talabani appointed me his special representative in Brussels for National and Kurdish activities until the Washington agreement came to exist between the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and the PDK.
When I moved back to Tehran, Mr. Talabani was there, too and we both stayed at Esteghlal Hotel. He told me, “I have an offer for you. Would you like to be my special representative in Iran?” I said, “As you please,” and ever since I have been Mr. Talabani’s special representative in Iran. After 2003, I officially became the representative of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and as of 2007, I am serving as the representative of the government of the Kurdistan Region in Iran.