2020 / 12 / 28
Author: Massoud Barzani
Reviewed by: Nemat Sharif
Language: Kurdish (Third Edition/November 2020)
"For History..." is the title of a new book by Massoud Barzani, the Kurdish leader who fought from a young age. At the age of 16 he began as a Peshmerga fighter in the Kurdish liberation movement led by his father in the 1960s. I remember from his first book, "Barzani and the Kurdish Liberation Movement", he wrote about his father and the revolution he led (1961-1970), complained that much of Kurdish history has been written by foreigners, especially European Orientalists. Despite their valuable contributions, their views remain theirs, and not those of freedom loving Kurds. The Kurds have a long history not only of uprisings against the occupiers of Kurdistan, but also have important contributions to world civilization including the Islamic one. In this book, Barzani writes in an appealing style that blends narrative and memoir styles. At a time that he is struggling with various forces to carry out his political agenda, he is also implementing his historical project. That is to write historical events from his point of view, the point of view of a Kurdish leader who spent most of his life fighting for the dignity and legitimate rights of his people and to find a place for them among the nations.
Barzani begins his book in an introduction to state his frustration in dealing with the Government in Baghdad. The Kurds contributed immensely to the reconstruction of the new Iraqi state in the aftermath of the fall of the regime of Saddam Hussein in 2003. The Iraqi constitution was written on the basis of the separation of powers, and the principles of consensus, balance and true partnership in the Iraqi state. He recounts the history of the last 100 years of the Kurdish people. Kurdistan was divided and a part of it annexed to form today’s Iraq. Consequentially, scourges and wars of genocide ensued.
After more than a decade in the new Iraq, instead of feeling and treatment as second and third class citizenship is gone forever, the Kurds today feel that they have reached a dead end. They are looking for a way out, and to confront the Arab Chauvinist mentality that refuses to change vis a vie the Kurds. After 100 years of bloodshed and calamities, the Kurds do not accept annexation as a second class minority. The alternative is that there must be a real partnership of governance in Baghdad. Thus, the understanding of the ruling political class in Baghdad of federalism is deficient. We see "federalism as a fair division of power (governance) and wealth of the country, as it is the case in many of the world s multi-cultural and multi-ethnic countries." (P65) Since 2015, the search for a way out has taken the bulk of the Kurdish leader s time and concern.
On his visit to Washington, Barzani and the Kurdistan delegation met with President Obama on May 5, 2015. He made it clear priority is given to the war on ISIS. Then he told the US President "We are moving to hold a referendum ... Baghdad does not accept our partnership and we cannot accept annexation as a minority. If Baghdad continues with this policy, we cannot continue with them." In response President Obama said that he knows of the Kurds. However, the Kurdish and Iraqi issue is in the hands of Vice President Joseph Biden, and they should talk to him about it. Indeed, on the following day, they were invited by the Vice President for breakfast, and they talked for several hours about the details of the Middle East issues and the case of Kurdistan independence. At the end of his speech, Mr. Biden told Barzani, "You and I, both of us in our life times shall see with our own eyes the independence of Kurdistan," (P. 68) Barzani continues to tell that after returning home, he held an expanded meeting to include all Kurdistan political groups. In that meeting Ali Babir, the Emir of the Islamic Group, said, "Mr. Barzani, sir, it seems that you have returned to Kurdistan with full hands. This is a very big job, and a great responsibility. Are you ready to accept this responsibility"? "Yes, sir, it is a great and historic responsibility and I am prepared to accept it, provided that no one spoils it for us from within" Said Barzani (P.69)
There is no doubt that relations with Baghdad were going through a difficult phase, especially since the war against ISIS had shed light on what Baghdad was up to. Thanks to the Allied air power-;- the Kurds fought ISIS successfully while Iraq did not help with a single bullet. “We paid a high price. The Peshmerga forces suffered 1,921 martyrs, 10,757 wounded and 63 MIA and POW’s….ISIS was a weapon in the hands of chauvinist forces in the region to stop the development and independence of Kurdistan.” (P.55) As Baghdad continued its siege on Kurdistan-;- the Peshmerga heroically defeated ISIS, an achievement we are proud of. We did not hide our position from the Abadi government. I met with him while attending the Munshen Conference in Germany on February 2, 2015, and I also met with a number of heads of state including the German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and then US Vice President Joseph Biden.
To continue his efforts Mr. Barzani led a Kurdistan delegation to visit Baghdad on September 29, 2016. After deliberations with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and the heads of political blocs and parties, it was decided "to form a special committee in Baghdad to discuss and study future relations between us, as to remain partners´-or-become good neighbors-;- but in any case we must have a common understanding.” (P. 72) Thus, Barzani began preparing for the referendum through meetings with all representatives of the political parties, religious and ethnic groups in Kurdistan and the disputed areas. In a meeting on Wednesday, June 7, 2017 a historic decision was issued to set the day of referendum on September 25, 2017. Special committees were set up.
Mr. Barzani visited the European Parliament and gave a speech explaining his position, and asked everyone, especially those who did not show any objection at the beginning, not to stand against it if not supporting it. International and regional countries had accumulated such pressures at a time when "the referendum had moved from a political issue into becoming a national and patriotic one. Then, it was in the hands of the people of Kurdistan. No political group´-or-person could have decided not to hold the referendum easily." (P.91)
“The Kurdish leader documents his meeting in Saheila with the UN delegation, which was comprised of Brett McGurk, US President’s special envoy, and Já-;-n Kubiš-;- (2015–2019), UN secretary’s special envoy, and the US and UK Ambassadors Douglas A. Silliman and Frank Baker respectively. They requested that the referendum be postponed based on a letter from the US State Department. The letter wasn’t signed, and it wasn’t clear whether the minister would approve of it. It stated "Should negotiations with Baghdad fail, then the referendum can be held and the United States will respect its results" In response "I asked the US government to replace the word "respect" with the word "support" in that letter. But Americans apologized. They said that they could not use the word "support." Then, I said, "If you can t change a word, how do you expect us to be able to convince the people of Kurdistan not to hold the referendum!" (P.90)
The referendum was held on September 25, 2017. Two days later, 92.73% had voted for independence. In Baghdad, it was as if the world came to an end. Contrary to the law, the Iraqi parliament considered the referendum a crime and demanded to punish the KRG leaders and approved collective punishments to be imposed on the people of Kurdistan. With support from neighboring countries, and the silence of the international community, Iraq, contrary to the constitution, -dir-ected its army to punish the people of Kurdistan. On October 15, 2017, the political bureaus of both KDP and PUK met in an expanded meeting. Then it was clear that the danger is imminent from the Iraqi army. The meeting delegated the President of Iraq to return to Baghdad immediately and work with the government of Abadi to prevent bloodshed. No one responded to his request for meeting. On the following day, the King of Jordan called me to meet with the Iraqi Premier in Amman-;- again Haider al-Abadi refused to do so and asked for the referendum to be cancelled! How the will of people could’ve been revoked after the vote! On October 17, it was clear that a number of PUK leaders have betrayed the people of Kurdistan. They had agreed to hand over Kirkuk. They had ordered the withdrawal of Peshmerga and the handover of the city and other disputed areas.
It is worth mentioning here that the roles of the ambassadors of the United States and Britain were negative. They knew of the plot against Kurdistan. Barzani continues to say, on the same day, “the US ambassador sent me a message, ‘the world has changed, today is not like yesterday, it is necessary for you to reassess yourselves’" (P.117). In the mean time the Iraqi army was advancing to undermine the Kurdish administration altogether. Therefore, it was decided to resist on all fronts. In Pirde and Saheila (two locations where heavy fighting occurred) the Peshmerga heroically defended the will and dignity of the people of Kurdistan and forced the aggressors to retreat. He continues “I said to tell his honor the ambassador, "Today is not like yesterday and tomorrow will not be like today” (P.117).
In the first round of negotiations with the Iraq, representatives from Iran and Lebanon s Hezbollah attended the meeting. Iraqis were following their orders. This was a -dir-ect insult to the will and sovereignty of the Iraqi people. “I decided that our negotiation team would not meet with them any more.” Mr. Barzani Said. (P.117)
Despite the difficulties faced by the region from the blockade, cutting salaries and the war on ISIS, the plunge of oil prices, in addition to sheltering more than one and a half million refugees and internally displaced, Barzani stressed that the referendum did not fail and achieved a significant success, because the people of Kurdistan succeeded in affirming their will to the world. "If the people would have voted (no) at a higher rate and did not ask for independence, we would consider that the referendum failed to achieve its goal. Thus, the only way to reach peace and achieve progress is to relinquish the chauvinist mentality and to pursue a culture of tolerance and accepting others."(P.112). The Iraqi constitution, in its preamble, clearly states that adherence to the constitution is a prerequisite for Iraq to remain united, which was the reason for the Kurds vote. The referendum was not a crime, it is a legitimate and constitutional right exercised by the people of Kurdistan. The Iraqi government, instead of addressing the problems, we see that it is driving a wedge deeper between the Arab and Kurdish peoples by inciting the Arab population against Kurdistan and its peaceful people.
In this brief presentation, we have only two questions left that have not been answered explicitly and clearly as we followed the main themes of this book. The first is that when speaking of ISIS suddenly changing the -dir-ection of war towards Kurdistan. The book suggests that as if it were inspired by Turkey and elsewhere as if it were inspired by the Government of Iraq. Iraq did not provide any assistance and was not concerned as if Kurdistan was not a part of Iraq. The second is Iran s relationship with the PUK and their role in handing over Kirkuk to the Iraqi army and Popular Mobilization forces. It was mentioned that PUK leaders and by prior agreement played a treasonous role in the fall of Kirkuk on October 17, 2017, and mentioned in the first round of negotiations between Baghdad and Erbil representatives of Iran and The Lebanese Hezbollah were at the meeting, and the Iraqis were following their instructions. The connection may be obvious to the people of Kurdistan, but it is not necessarily so for others.
This book comes in 353 medium-size pages-;- 124 pages of text and the rest 182 pages of important documents, maps and supplements. It is an excellent read for academics, politicians and for any one who is interested in Kurdish affairs. We hope that translations of this book will appear soon in other languages, especially English and Arabic.