By our own efforts, we have been able to build an administration. We held
elections. We made responsible an accountable government. The press is totally
free. We even have a satellite station. So it has been done by the efforts of
our people. For this to happen, hundreds of thousands of people sacrificed
their lives, starting in 1961 until 1991. The final act was a big exodus of
most of the population of Kurdistan to Iran and Turkey because they feared
another chemical war. International public opinion came to the rescue of the
Kurdish people; there was the governments and the resolution of the Security
Council on saving the Kurdish people.
Can you remember the first time you met Saddam Hussein and what your
personal impressions were at that time?
When first time I met him it was 1970. I had already heard that he is a rising
strong man in the Ba'ath Party and the government. And that he wants to solve
the Kurdish problem. He was a smart elegant young man, who talked very
logically and in strong but friendly terms. So the impression all of us got
about him was a very positive impression. Indeed it was the most positive
impression compared with all the other members of the Ba'ath leadership.
Describe what he was like personally.
He would study the person who wanted to meet him. He would try to know
beforehand what this person is visiting him for. And he would meet them in very
proper way. Politely also. But also, always showing an aura of power and
strength. But with no arrogance. And, as I said, he would study what are the
requests to be made in this meeting? And sometimes he would make the offers
before the request was mentioned. Which of course would delight the person who
has come for the interview.
The impression people have of him today is of an educated thug. But what
you're describing is somebody who is also intelligent, clever, a good tactician
and politician. How do you reconcile the different images of Saddam?
If somebody wants to take Saddam just as a simple and straightforward person,
he would make a wrong judgement. He is not only a double personality, He has
several personalities. In one respect he can be very polite, he can be very
nice. But certainly he is very very cruel, and crimes done against the
Kurdish people and the rest of the Iraqi people under his regime, are unlike
any other time in Iraqi history--which has generally been unfortunately a
After the 1970 agreement--in which you were part of the negotiating team
with the Kurds--you entered the Iraqi government as part of that agreement. At
the time Saddam was vice president. What was your impression of his power at
When the Ba'ath came to power, 1968, to my knowledge he first took three things
into his hands. The security forces. The media. He couldn't take the army,
obviously, he was a young civilian. But he controlled the Ba'ath Committee in
the army. And certainly he has also his hand on the finances to spend on these
This was his first act of of taking power. In 1970 when we made the agreement
he was a rising star in the Ba'ath Party but there were other strong men.
Within a year and a half he removed every possible rival. So only Bakr was
left, the president.
And he tried to kill General Barzani, your leader. How was it possible for
you to continue serving in the Iraqi Government after that?
You are talking about the attempt on General Barzani's life on the 29th of
September 1971. The team certainly was sent by the Baghdad security. And we in
the leadership thought the man behind it was Saddam Hussein.
So, after...I told General Barzani I think it's very inappropriate that we go
on working in a Government that has been trying to assassinate our leader. He
told me privately, 'if you leave the Government there will be fighting soon.
Who is with us?' And also he said publicly, I don't want to stop
But this sad event was the end of confidence in the Ba'ath regime and in
Saddam Hussein specifically. And from then on everybody I think knew, at least
the K D P leadership knew, that an attack from the central government would
come whether sooner or later, or rather sooner. And both sides began to look
for friends and allies and I think that was the prerequisite that prepared the
ground for the relationship between Mustafa Barzani and the United States.
And what do you think America wanted out of its relationship that it had
with the Kurds at that time?
Many surrounding countries didn't like the Ba'ath regime. Some of them were
afraid of the Ba'ath regime, including the Iranian regime under the Shah. Also
the Ba'ath regime ... generally worked against the interests of the United
States. So I believe America wanted from that relationship a lever inside Iraq
to be able to pressure the Iraqi government.
When the Algiers agreement was signed [between the Shah of Iran and Saddam
Hussein in 1975] and American support of the Kurds ended, did you feel
It was the most cruel betrayal in our history--which is full of betrayals.
Kissinger was instrumental in this betrayal. And it was totally unfair to
promise the Kurdish people help and support and to give the impression that if
the Iraqi government attacks we will help you--which they did at the beginning.
Then in the middle of the road, to drop you.
In the 1980s, during the Iran-Iraq war, the Kurds endured terrible suffering
at the hands of the Iraqi government. At that time, were you trying to make
official contact with the American government? And what was the
We were trying, but there was no response whatsoever. I used to write
memoranda in the name of the Kurdistan Front which included all the political
parties who were in the fight against the regime. Writing to the United Nations
and members of the Security Council. And I made one request only, please send
us a fact-finding committee to see for itself. But there was no response
whatsoever. And there was no response from the American government whatsoever.
How did you interpret this silence that you were getting from
We have learned through our history that governments take their interests first
and foremost and not really the principles that are talked about.
At that time, what were American interests in Iraq?
Well, Iraq is an important country. It was, I think. the second country in
terms of OPEC oil production. Iraq has always been a very important country,
especially at that period. The Iraq-Iran war was coming on fast. The West
generally supported the Iraqi government.
What's your opinion of the message that George Bush was sending at the end
of the war in 1991? Did he encourage an uprising?
Well, right from the time the Iraqi forces occupied Kuwait the Western media
in general and the American media in particular were calling on the Iraqi
people to rise. And they were showing so many aspects of the cruelty of the
I remember I appeared on over a hundred programs during that year. And during
the war also the call for the Iraqi people to rise was continuing. So it was
very very disappointing when the Iraqi people rose and the Kurdish people rose.
Again, unfortunately, they were let down.
Who let them down?
Well, I'm sorry to say the United States government at the time. And I
remember when the fighting was going on, two million people were already on the
run, and President Bush said 'I haven't given any promises to the Kurds.' And
Mr Cheney, the Minister of Defence, said 'we don't know on whose side is the
opposition--on ours or the government.' I heard it myself. So I was one of
those who thought we have to talk to the Iraqi government, otherwise our people
But, let me say, to be fair, the United States government made up for much of
this negative attitude which we saw in the middle 1970s and 1980s and even
1991, after that. The whole world was ready to help the Kurdish people. But
when the United States government came in, then armies came and help came.
Then the no-fly zone was declared. The safe haven was declared. So the people
began returning home.
After the uprising was finished you went to Baghdad with your leadership and
met Saddam again. What were your impressions of him, at that time, as compared
to the man you'd last met in 1974?
Well, obviously he looked very tired, and anybody who'd gone through such a war
would have been tired. He couldn't actually raise his eyelids properly. During
this time, the negotiations went on for four months in the name of the
Kurdistan Front. I found him far less flexible than when I used to know him in
the early 1970s.
Going forward acouple of years. I want to ask about the American involvement
in this region, in 1993-1994, when CIA people up were here at the same time
that they were working to try to have a coup in Baghdad. What was your opinion
in the months running up to that, of what was going on and what the American
agenda was here? Were you optimistic or skeptical?
The I N C congress in October 1992 was the biggest Iraqi political gathering
maybe in decades. But that great gathering was not for a person or a special
leader. People gathered, they thought that there was an American plan for the
Kurds, for a democratic, federal, pluralistic Iraq. That's why people gather.
But that great energy was squandered. The United States government at the
time is not blameless in squandering that great strength.
All the actions of the US agencies at that time, all the people who came to
Kurdistan--we met them all. We made friendship with them. But the plans, the
actions were certainly far far below the level of what they needed to achieve.
Far below. And that should be a great lesson.
Do you think the Americans were really serious?
I don't know, maybe you know better. I thought they were not the plans and
actions at the level of what they are talking about. And when we came to
March 1995, it was like child's play. Imagine--a few hundred armed people with
the Kalishnikovs taking on Iraqi army outposts, one after another, from here to
Baghdad. This is unbelievable. So of course, we wouldn't take part in such
little silly things.
In 1996, after the coup attempt that they had tried and failed, the CIA
agents within Baghdad were arrested. Saddam comes up into Kurdish area in the
north and the INC is defeated, the CIA people leave. What's your opinion of
what was happening then? The fighting between the two Kurdish groups--that is
awfully confusing to Americans. They don't understand why the two Kurdish
groups would have been fighting at that time. What's your opinion about what
The main things going on in Kurdistan had nothing to do with what the Americans
were doing secretly with the Iraqi regime. Nothing whatsoever. On
17th August the PUK made a major attack on KDP. The same night, we
were celebrating the anniversary of KDP. ...
The Americans were the peacebrokers between us and PUK. We appealed to the
Americans to stop this aggression, or at least to condemn it, pressure PUK to
stop the fighting and to withdraw from the lands they occupied. Actually they
were not prepared to do anything serious because I think the elections of the
So we asked the Iraqi government--look there is an outside aggressor. True,
we have problems with you. Are you ready to help us? They said yes. So they
came, actually stayed, two days or only a day and a half. And everything was
Chalabi attacks the Americans very strongly for not intervening...
I think he wants to cover his failure and his weakness.
After 1996, we had a period where the CIA felt burned, and didn't want to
get too involved--that is my understanding. And then last year, 1998, with the
Iraqi Liberation Act, we now have official U.S. government policy that wants a
change of government in Iraq. How realistic do you think the Iraqi Liberation
Act is as a means for changing the government in Baghdad?
I don't think it's very realistic. I think one important thing that the
United States government did when they invited Mr Talabani to Washington, made
peace between the two sides, and made the 17th September Washington
Agreement between the KDP and PUK for peace and reconciliation--also
emphasising democracy and pularism for the future Iraq. And the readiness of
the United States to respect the will of the Kurdish people for federalism--I
think that was a very important step. And, of course, the United States is
involved openly and directly. Also, if there is any hope for an Iraqi
opposition gathering, the unity of the Kurdish forces is really the mainstay
for such a gathering.
So why is it unlikely that any Iraqi National Congress or any opposition
group meeting is going to take place in Kurdistan? Why can't you have a meeting
here in Kurdistan?
When we were in Washington the United States gave some security guarantees to
Kurdistan. If a congress of the Iraqi opposition was held in a place like
Salaheddine now, with a declared policy of the United States Government of its
will to change the Iraqi regime, that would be open provocation to the Iraqi
Government. It's really tantamount to an invitation to a fight or an invasion.
That demands more open, clear-cut security guarantees. There isn't such a
thing on the ground currently.
So America has yet to give a clear guarantee that they would--
--if they want such a meeting of the Iraqi opposition to take place here.
So the Iraqi Liberation Act (ILA) is an effective means, but perhaps not the
only means, to remove Saddam. What other policies might America be perusing
to try to remove him? Or are they in fact, as some people say, happy to see
him remain in power because he serves their purpose?
I think you should ask this questions of the United States officials.
I will ask them, but what is your opinion?
Well, I don't know, because I think things have not crystallized yet totally.
The will is there, the mechanisms are doubtful. This is my impressiion. I
might be wrong. The will is there, but as I said the mechanisms are not. Or
we don't see them, perhaps there are things that we don't know.
Knowing Saddam, not well, but knowing him over the years, what is your
opinion of his grip on power? Do you think he feels secure now? Or, do you
think he--as we hear--feels that he's up against the wall?
Well, certainly the regime is weakening, slowly though. But I think also
And Saddam himself?
Well, the regime equals Saddam. And Saddam equals the regime.
Can you talk about any possible congruity of interests between America and
Iran with regard to changing the regime in Baghdad. Any sense that the
interests of Iran and the interests of the U.S. might be somehow reconciled?
I can't tell you much about this, from what we follow and see, the United
States wants a change in the Baghdad regime. The Iranian government and the
Iraqi government are not on the best of terms; on the contrary, their relations
are deteriorating. Also. the historical animosity of two thousand years
hasn't been forgotten. And the Iraq-Iran war hasn't been forgotten.
There are many signs that the Iranian government also wants a change of regime
in Baghdad. But I don't think that they are able to make a change in Iraq.
The Iraqis are proud people. They would not accept being second in the Middle
East. So I don't think that's possible. Perhaps the United States government
would like the Iranian government to be a partner in change. But the Iranian
government refuses to do that. Perhaps someone can play the role of broker to
help the two governments work in tandem, I don't know. I don't say anything is
impossible in politics.
Who would that broker be?
Somebody who can talk to both. But don't ask me to name anybody.
You know, we talked about negative aspects of the US government towards the
Kurdish people--in the 1975 Algiers Agreement, the fact that they were silent
when the chemical war went on against the Kurdish people. And at the beginning
of the uprising they were quiet--said 'we haven't given promises to the Kurds.'
But as I said a bit earlier, I think the United States government has made up a
lot for that loss which we suffered in the past. And the specifically since
the Washington agreement when the Kurdish leader was invited there and was met
at the highest level. ... I must say on behalf of my party and on behalf of the
Kurdish people, we are grateful to the American government, to the Congress and
to the great American people.
Security guarantees. What do you think the response would be of the
American government if Saddam Hussein were to cross over the frontlines and
come up here with his troops or with a bomb?
They have said publicly that they will respond. But the time and place will be
of their own choosing.
What does that mean?
Well that is, that's why when it comes to some serious matter like holding an
INC Congress or an Iraqi position congress in Kurdistan, people think that
more security guarantees are needed. Not something of time and place of their
choosing. But something immediate and to the level of the acts that are going
Personally, do you want Saddam Hussein to leave power?
For the American government, maybe that's fine. For us what is very important
is--what comes after Saddam Hussein? Because now with the presence of Saddam
Hussein, under present conditions, we are running our own affairs. We have
freedom, we have democracy, we have pluralism. Even the living conditions of
our people are better than much of our history.
It's not because the Iraqi government is so generous towards the Kurdish
people. But if there is a change of government we don't want to lose the
rights of our people which have been gained through decades of bloodshed and
tears. So what is important is-- what comes after him? A democratic federal
regime? Well, I think everybody would welcome it.
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