U.S. policy, in my opinion committed three big mistakes. First, George Bush
when he stopped and didn't do anything [at the end of the Gulf War]. They
[U.S.] showed the Iraqi people that they want Saddam in power. They don't
want to interfere in the general affairs of the Iraqi. The second big mistake
was in April 1995, when there was preparation--the INC,some army officers, to
change Iraq. But at the last moment the American administration said 'we are
not encouraging it.' Not only they didn't help but they said some comments
which helped the regime. The third mistake was August 31, 1996 when Iraqi
army invaded. That was a very good chance to help us, to strike those forces.
... These three big mistakes helped the regime to stay. |
Another mistake I think is American policy is thinking a military coup in
Iraq. But it is impossible. A military coup needs a sacrifice and courage that
you can't find in an army without morale. We are a poor army, an army which
... Second, the Iraqi army is now a big army--tens of divisions. Third
reason--every Iraqi military unit has four commanders. To move any unit you
must have the permission of the military commander, the party official, the
intelligence service and the special security force responsible. And when the
units are transferring from a place to place in Iraq they are without real
arms. Without bullets at least. The regime always has very strong measures to
protect itself. So I think, to depend only on the hope of military coup, a
palace coup, is suseless.
You knew Saddam Hussein some, and negotiated with him some. What was your
impression of him and his importance within the Ba'ath Party?
I had some friends within the Party. They told me that the most important man
in the party after Bakr is Saddam. Saddam was young, active and brave and he
was playing the role of defending party. ... For that the majority of party
gathered around him.
Second, he tried to show himself as a progressive, as a man making development
and progress for Iraqi people. Third, he showed himself as the man of unity
for Iraq. He had in his office Arab Sunnis, Arab Shias, Kurds. ... .Many
people were thinking that Saddam is representing a new generation. Myself
included. I was thinking in 1969-70 that Saddam represents a new generation of
When you met him at that time, we've heard that he was, particularly with
the Kurds, conciliatory, offering things and very polite.
Yes. He was always talking about the rights of Kurdish people to autonomy, to
have democratic rights.
1972. Can you talk about the change then in U.S. policy towards the
When President Nixon came back from Moscow he stopped in Tehran and met the
Shah of Iran, and the Shah raised this problem of the Kurds with him. And
asked him to support Kurds. Because Mr. Barzani was always insisting and
trying to convince and persuade the Shah to ask Americans to support him.
...Mr Barzani was trying too much to have good relations with the United States
of America. The Shah got a promise from President Nixon to help the Kurds.
When I met President Nixon later in United States he told me, 'Mr. Talabani,
you are the first Kurd I am meeting in my library.'
Mr. Nixon promised to help the Kurds and he gave money, arms, etc. Then the
Algiers agreement came, and if you go back to the history you will see that
the Americans were encouraging this Algiers agreement. When I met Doctor Henry
Kissinger I asked him about this. He said we were at that time obliged to do
it, because first of all the relation with the Kurds was practical.
But, we must understand this reality--the leadership of any people is
responsible for their own policy, and must not put responsibility on the
shoulders of others. The United States of America is not the lawyer of the
Kurdish people, it is a big state, with its own policy, and it has its own
national interest. We must be ready to understand the differences and to know
where we are and where our international interests are and where this is
similar to the Americans and where there are differences.
Unlike others, I am not blaming the United States that they betrayed the
Kurds. The United States didn't say that we are going to help you having a
state. ... We must blame ourself, why were we deceived by the Shah of Iran.
It's our responsibility, not the American responsibility. Of course,
regarding American responsibility, we can blame it in other ways.
President Woodrow Wilson, when he drafted the League of Nations, he said that
Kurdistan, Arabia and Armenia must not go back to the yoke of the Turks. ...
He was the first American president who gave his promise to the Kurdish
I think one of the big mistakes of the Kurdish leadership in the 1970s was to
have relationships only on the level of covert action with the CIA. ... To have
only relationship through the CIA with the United States. I think it's not a
wise policy. We must have overt policy relationships and covert
relationships. It wasn't possible at that time to get a lot of support from
Congressmen, from Senators, House of Representatives. The Kurdish leadership
paid attention only to talking to CIA secretly and this covert action.
Publicity was necessary for us to have friends among journalists, in
institutions, in parliament, in Congress, everywhere. This is our
responsibility, the Kurdish responsibility.
What about the change in Kurdish policy towards Baghdad during the early
part of Iran-Iraq war
We changed our policy, we accepted the offer from Iraqi regime to start to
negotiate with them, to stop fighting with them. We stopped fighting with
them, we had two years of negotiation with them, and it failed because they
were not ready to change anything. They were insisting in the deportation of
the Kurds and neglecting the rights of the Kurdish people.
And how was Saddam at that time?
When we went to Baghdad at the end of 1983, he received us and he was very
kind to us. He said that by coming here you have done some historical
achievements. First of all your homeland is in danger, you are coming to
protect it from Iranian invasion. Second, he said, 'you came to co-operate
with us while our party is in a weak position.' Third, he said that, you are
not supporting invaders, you are supporting your government, your people. And
he said, 'you have done historical favors and we are owed to you,' he said. He
told me, 'Jalal, I will give you something, some Kurdish demand that will
raise you not only in the eyes of Iraqi Kurds but with Iranian Kurds and
Turkish Kurds.' And he looked to Tariq A ziz and he said, ''this
nationalistic political position of PUK must be studied in Iraqi history and
in the schools.'
At what point did you become convinced that Saddam was not somebody you
could deal with?
It depends on the time. When he is in need of us, he will be ready to deal
with us. When he is in a strong position, he is not ready to listen to us. In
1991 when he was defeated in the Gulf, he asked us to come, and when I went
there he kissed, etc.and said, 'you are very much welcomed and you have come
again, you proved that you are patriots.' ... That time he needed us.
If Saddam is weak he will be ready to talk to us. For example, sometimes he
will be weak, but he is not in need to us. We cannot solve his problems. ...
in his heart he is not ready to recognize the Kurdish national rights or
democracy and this is the main problem. He is not ready to accept a democratic
system in Iraq, and while there is not democratic regime there will be no
solution for Kurdish problem or other problems. I always say that democracy is
the panacea for all problems of Iraq, including Kurdish problem.
Regarding the American policy in the early 1990s, there was a presidential
finding to try to change the government of Iraq. And the CIA became involved
through the Iraqi National Congress (INC). What did you think of that
involvement and how did it develop?
CIA and others were coming here, for co-operating and co-ordinating with INC
Sometimes they are coming to visit us, but they mainly were there in Salahadin
where the headquarter of INC was. Americans were there and their relation was
mainly with INC.
To what extent did you believe that the American government actually
supported an INC co-ordinated attack?
I always believed that we must depend on ourself, we must prepare our plans
according to our forces, our relation with the army and with other groups.
And we must not expect that America will send their sons to fight for us here.
What we want from America is to not obstruct our work. Second, help us
morally. Third politically. That time the man who was in touch with us was
very frank and he said that they would help us, by all means--but not
militarily. They didn't promise at all military. In the dawn of the day which
we decided to start, I received a letter from National Security Council. They
said that we are not responsible for what you are doing. Your plan is known by
Iraq government. We don't advise you to have any kind of risk, and we are not
responsible for anything you are doing.
I answered them that we are doing it according to our forces and we know that
you are not responsible. They were very much afraid that Saddam will hit us.
... But when they said openly and officially that they are not supporting this
revolt and this is not co-ordination with the United States of America, it
harmed us too much, this statement. Because many officers in the army who are
promising to co-operate with us and thinking that America is behind us, when
they heard that America is not with us, they changed. I am always blaming
American friends, that they are not taking into consideration the impact of
this inside the army, inside the Iraqi people.
For example General Zinni [Commander of the U.S. Southern Command, in charge of
the Gulf region], when he is talking about humiliating the Iraqi opposition, he
is indirectly supporting Saddam. People of Iraq will think this American's
telling us that the opposition are nothing and why should we go with them.
It is discouraging people to side with us; it is making the regime strong and
saying to people, yes, there is no opposition. ...
So if America was not going to actually support that operation in March
1995, why do you believe that they had the CIA, beforehand, helping to
I think in the beginning they decided to support us, but they changed later,
and I think there were differences between the White House and CIA, and I
think that the Americans were afraid of failure--like in the Cuban invasion.
They were afraid that this will be repeated. ... They were not ready to send
arms to support us. They were afraid.
Later they came and said, 'ah, we are sorry.' And Margaret Thatcher after
she was out of parliament told me that 'if I was in power I would not be
accepting this from Saddam until he was giving me his pistol and raising up
What about the Iraqi Liberation Act and the implementation of it by the
administration? To what extent is the Act helpful and to what extent do you
think the administration is serious about using it as a way to change the
regime in Iraq?
I think the Iraqi Liberation Act, is useful, very important, it's for the first
time assuring Iraqi people that America wants to end dictatorship and replace
it with a democratic system. It's important because many Iraqis were confused
that America doesn't want to remove and replace the regime with a democratic
system. And everyone is now confident because it became a law after that and
Clinton signed it.
Second, because if there are promises to support Iraqi opposition by materials,
of course military training.
Third, it's important because there are promises that when Iraq will be
democratic, America will help Iraqi people to end sanctions and these debts.
But I don't think the administration is enthusiastic in implementing it, or
perhaps they don't know how to do it, because they were not participating in
preparing it. It was imposed by Congress. I'm not satisfied with the way they
are trying to implement it. About nine months have passed and still there is no
sign of implementation.
And the Iraqi National Congress would like to hold a meeting?
Iraqi National Congressand also another group ...they are now co-operating with
Iraqi National Congress for having a new body, to develop INC, to reach a new
cooperation among all Iraqi forces.
That is a good step forward. But I still think that those who are outside
cannot change inside. The real opposition forces are those who are inside
working among the people, among the army, in the towns and rural areas. There
must be a kind of co-ordination and co-operation between those who are outside
and those who are inside. We think that American policy must be to defend and
to help those who are inside.
I've heard two theories about American policy now. One is that the
administration is telling people in the region that yes, the Iraqi Liberation
Act is useful, the opposition outside is useful for certain propaganda
purposes. But in fact, they are working through other secret means and they do
want a change of regime. The other theory is that the events of 1995-96 made
the CIA and others tired, they've had their fingers burned. And nothing is
happening and the situation as it is now could continue indefinitely.
I'm supporting the first theory. That there are American covert plans,
contacts with others, preparing others outside this Iraqi opposition, or behind
them, for this change.
Because they are still wrong-headedly thinking that the military coup is the
only one available and it can keep the structure of the system and hierarchy
of Iraq and will not disturb neighboring [states].
You understand American politics well. What do you think the political
realities are in America and would it help Vice President Gore in the
I don't claim that I understand American policy very well. I think the most
important thing which could help Al Gore in the election will be a plan of
action to remove the Iraqi dictatorship. Otherwise the Republicans will come
and tell him that--we could defeat the Iraqi military; we could liberate Kuwait
in just months. Why couldn't you remove him from power these past eight
years? ... There are some foreign policy points that Republicans can use,
and one is regarding Iraq.
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