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« Cold Calling the Communists in Iraq | Main | Sanity for Iran from Iraq »

March 27, 2007

Interview with Peshmerga Colonel Salahdin Part One

-Patrick S Lasswell

Today Michael Totten and I had the unique honor of being the first journalists to videotape Peshmerga Colonel Salahdin Ahmad Kareem. Col. Salahdin has been fighting against Iraqi dictators since the 1960s and is currently serving as a liaison to the Coalition in Sulaymani, Iraq. Captured by the Baath in 1977 he was tortured for over two months and then sent to Abu Ghraib prison where he was greeted by a gauntlet of other prisoners beating him severely. For over two years in Abu Ghraib he was repeatedly beaten and tortured by the guards. The Colonel taught himself English while fighting from the mountains and participated in every mission by the 10th US Special Forces Group to liberate Iraq in 2003. Clear eyed and still genial after decades of hard campaigning, this guy is the real deal.

Col Salahdin 4.jpg
Col. Salahdin Ahmad Kareem

Colonel Salahdin started our interview with a prepared statement that is the most concise personal history of the people of Iraqi Kurdistan I have ever seen. After his prepared statement we had an extensive unscripted conversation with the Colonel covering many aspects of Peshmerga operations and the Kurdish situation. As time allows, I will be transcribing the unscripted remainder of his interview with Michael Totten and myself.

Peshmerga Colonel Salahdin's Statement

This is a transcript of Colonel Salahdin's statement read to us today by the Colonel in his office using his notes. I have slightly changed the spelling, punctuation, and wording used by the Colonel in his notes in the interest of readability. I have endeavored to keep the Colonel's intention clear.

I am Col. Salahdin Ahmad Kareem, working as a liaison officer between the Ministry of Peshmarga and the coalition forces in Sulaymani Province.

Born in 1949 in Sulaymani city.

I am grown up amid of many historical turning points and dramatic events.

I am trying to recall in [brief] some of the tragic events which happened to my people and made me and my fellow Peshmarga to join Peshmarga forces to fight against the consecutive regimes of Iraq and dedicated our lives to protect our people from obliteration and genocide.

In 1958 when I was 9 years old the kingdom of Iraq overthrew by a number of high rank officers. Gen Qasim whom he was the commander of the coup d'etat became the prime minster of the Republic of Iraq. [I]n his first two years of ruling Iraq he was a good guy and he [achieved] many good things for the people. [H]e allowed studying Kurdish language in primary schools, permitted KDP to work as a Kurdish political party and promised the Kurdish people to gain all their right[s] as Iraqi Citizens.

But after that the Arab nationalists manipulated him and made him to rescind all his promises and declared a war against our people which obliged our people to establish Peshmarga forces under the command of KDP to defend our rights from the attacks of Iraqi army.

The war between Peshmarga and Iraqi army started in Sept. 1961. The war made the foothold of Gen Qasim weakened. The chauvinist Baath party saw it a good opportunity to conduct a coup d'etat against him. After they killed him they took power and started their first age of tyranny in Feb. 1963. They were very brutal against the Kurdistan people especially against the people of Sulaymani which they were calling it “The Head of the Snake.” For example, from time to time they call for a curfew in the city and round up thousands of youths and put them in prisons without food and water for many days after they torture and kill some of them, releasing them sometimes after two or three months. In one of their round ups my father was one of the detainees. When they released him after tow months I never recognized him because what remained of him was only bones and skin.

At that time I was fourteen years old, a student of intermediate school and the idea of joining into the Peshmarga forces was strongly in my mind. For that I joined Students Union of KDP which was working underground to support Peshmarga forces.

The first age of Baath party ended by another coup conducted by a number of high rank officers and Gen. Abdulsalam became prime minister. [He was] later killed in a plane crash and his brother Gen. Abdulrahman took power in his place. Both of them ruled Iraq until 1968 as two tyrants, though they admitted some kind of autonomy to the Kurdish people. When their foothold became weak they called for a [cease] fire and negotiation. But when they gained again they started with their brutality toward our people again.

In 1968 the Baath party came back again throwing another coup. After tow years of hard war the Baath party obliged to call for a negotiation and in March 1970 an agreement had been signed between Saddam [Hussein] and [Mullah Moustafa] Barzani which according to it Kurdistan became an autonomous region.

In 1970 I graduated from preparatory school and the same year I [was] conscripted into the army. In the Iraqi army the Kurdish soldiers were prohibited to train on [heavy] weapons. The only weapon I trained on was AK-47.

In 1974 the Iraqi government rescinded the agreement and the war started again and the time came for me to join the Peshmarga forces. We fought against the Iraqi regime for one year supported by the USA through the Shah of Iran. In March 1975 there was an agreement between the Shah of Iran and Saddam in Algeria by the mediation of the US State Department. According to it they cut all the supplies and support from the Kurdish movement and so the movement toppled. Half of the Peshmarga migrated to Iran and the other half came back to Iraq in the amnesty which was one of the conditions of the agreement.

After that the way became paved in front of Saddam and the Baath party to apply their hellish plan against the Kurdistan. They started with displacing the Kurdish people from the border area, destroying their villages, collecting them in concentration camps, started also with Arabization of Kurdish cities and they tried hard to subjugate the Kurdish people. But we didn't give up our struggle and the Kurdish people started reorganizing in the PUK. I joined the PUK in 1976 and worked in its underground organization until May 1977 when my activities [were] compromised by the regime's intelligence. After two months of interrogation and torture in Sulaymani and Kirkuk Intelligence [offices] they sentenced me for 15 years. I spent 2 years and 3 months in jail and [was] released on Aug. 20th 1979 after Saddam gave a general amnesty to the political prisoners when he kicked out Ahmad Hasan Bakir from power and declared himself President of Iraq.

In 1980 I joined again the PUK Peshmarga forces and fought Saddam's regime in unequal war when Saddam used chemical weapons against our people and destroyed thousands of our villages and towns and put our people in guarded concentration camps.

Our war was a desperate struggle because we knew that we cannot overthrow Saddam from our mountains without the help of the oppressed Arabs in the middle and Southern Iraq. But they were also subjugated by Saddam and they couldn't do anything against Saddam.

When Saddam made his big mistake and invaded Kuwait and when President Bush instigated the people of Iraq for uprising was a good help for us to attack the Iraqi forces and capture all their bases and liberated our area.

After the mass migration of the Kurdish people to Iran and Turkey and when the Iraqi army returned to Kurdistan, the decision of Mr. Bush by imposing the No-Fly Zone on Saddam was a good help for us to kick out Saddam's army again.

Since 1991 our area was out of Saddam's authority but all the time we were afraid that Saddam will come back and occupy our country again. But when Mr. Bush in 2003 declared his war against Saddam and Ansar Al-Islam, the news came down on us like a gift from heaven. We waited for the 101st Division to come through Turkey to Kurdistan but they refused to allow them to come in an attempt [by] Turkey to save Saddam's regime.

But our Peshmarga fought on behalf of the 101st division by the help of the 10th Group US Special Forces whom they flew from Jordan and landed here in Sulaymani. After the defeat of Ansar Al-Islam [with] the help of the 10th Group USSF we turn back toward Saddam's forces in Chamchanel and Kirkuk. I was one of the Peshmarga who participated in all the missions of Special Forces and I witnessed their bravery and courage and I [will] never forget them, especially 083 team which I was with them during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

More of Colonel Salahdin's Interview Soon

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Jeez, Patrick, You are right in the middle of it, doing a bang up job.

I'm sure your having a blast too. Stay safe.

Papa Ray

i hope one day all 4 part of kurdistan going to be free and im sure it will because kurds are not considering themself as iraqis, iranian, syrai and turky long live peshmarga .
keep up fighting till kurdistan going to be free


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