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PESHMERGA: ‘THOSE WHO FACE DEATH’
16th July 2018 @ 6:00 pm - 7:00 pmFree
SPEAKER: Dr Simon Ross Valentine, author, Peshmerga: ‘Those Who Face Death’
Before the invasion of northern Iraq by ISIS in 2014 few people in the West knew where Kurdistan was as a region, and even fewer had heard of the Peshmerga as a fighting force. This has now changed.
With the appearance of ISIS, the Peshmerga were catapulted onto the world stage as a courageous and capable military force and the main contributor to the downfall of Islamic State.
At regular intervals over the past three years, Dr Simon Valentine has lived with Peshmerga on the front line in Iraq, observing Kurdish strategy and weapons, and evaluating their needs. When undertaking this fieldwork, Dr Valentine interviewed hundreds of Peshmerga – including foot soldiers, leading commanders and generals. He examined the Kurdish struggle for independence as they had Western promises of hope – only then to have to deal with betrayal and disappointment. This research culminated in the publication of his fourth book ‘Peshmerga, Those Who Face Death’ in April this year.
By kind invitation of the Rt Hon. Joan Ryan MP, The Henry Jackson Society is proud to invite you to an event with Dr Simon Ross Valentine, who will discuss how the Peshmerga developed from tribal militancy to their current position as the guardians of stability in post-ISIS Iraq.
Dr Simon Ross Valentine, previously an associate lecturer at Bradford University, works as a freelance religious consultant specialising in Islamic Studies, particularly Muslim minority groups and political Islam. He is currently a researcher linked with the Institute of Islamic & Strategic Affairs [IISA] and the Pakistan Security & Research Unit [PSRU], University of Durham writing papers on militant Islam in the Asian sub-continent. His field work, carried out in India, Pakistan and Kashmir, culminated in the publication of Islam and the Ahmadiyya Jama’at: History, Belief and Practice in 2008. Research carried out in Saudi Arabia culminated in the publication of Force & Fanaticism: Wahhabism in Saudi Arabia and Beyond (2015). His other main interest, counter-terrorism, has involved seminar work with the West Yorkshire Police Force.
On the 16th of July the Henry Jackson Society were pleased to host Dr Simon Ross Valentine, a professor and expert on the Kurds in Iraq, and author of Peshmerga: ‘Those Who Face Death’. By kind invitation of Joan Ryan MP, Dr Valentine spoke on the Iraqi-Kurd’s struggle for security and independence followed by insightful discussion.
Dr Valentine began by outlining the history of the Peshmerga, the army of the semi-autonomous region of Kurdistan in Northern Iraq, whose development in recent decades from individual mountain tribes to a centralised, unified force has made them a spectacular regional ally for the West. Dr Valentine detailed the Peshmerga’s many assets, including its guerrilla style tactics and its high morale and determination. In the 1980s, to the great dismay of Saddam Hussein, the Peshmerga, proved to be a formidable foe against the Iraqi army. Their passion and ability in mountain warfare made them far superior to Saddam’s forces, leading to his use of chemical weapons on the innocent Kurds at Halabja and other places, who could not protect themselves from such an unconventional attack. Their involvement in both Gulf wars as well as in fighting the Islamist militant group Ansar al-Islam, and now having spent several years fighting ISIS, have earned the Peshmerga a great deal of respect from the West, culminating in aid and assistance. Due to their solid character and great capability, their ranks of male and female fighters receive Western-style training from the US, Britain and many other western countries, furthering and modernising Peshmerga competence.
Despite their many achievements, however, Dr Valentine insisted that the Peshmerga are in dire need continuing support from the West. The Kurds in Iraq have been suffocated by Baghdad, because of their legal status as a semi-autonomous province of Federal Iraq, throughout most of the war with ISIS, much of the military aid provided by the west never reached Peshmerga but was detained by Baghdad. For the Peshmerga, this resulted in only the most outdated and limited weapons being granted and not even supplies such as basic pain medication or bandages being available for the wounded. One Kurdish doctor interviewed by Dr Valentine told that when he had to amputate a soldier’s leg because they lacked the supplies to stop an infection, they also didn’t have any anaesthetics for the pain of the procedure.
Dr Valentine, who lived with the Kurds in northern Iraq for several years, illustrated how dismal the Peshmerga’s situation is. The guns they use, for example, are decades old, having originally been used to fight Saddam Hussein. Passed down through generations, they “should be sent to the museum” as one general reported. By contrast, ISIS, who the Peshmerga continue to fight, have very good, very new weapons. The Peshmerga, passionate as they are, without western support are unable to sustain fighting against the well-armed extremists.
Dr. Valentine expressed how betrayed the Kurds feel when Western countries do not live up to their promises and commitments to help. He talked about how the Kurds, who are progressive for the region in terms of their gender equality, religious toleration and moderate style of governance, and having proven themselves reliable allies, are very much aligned with Western principles and interests. Their desperate hope is that they will receive more commitment and support from the West; will be able to better help defeat ISIS; protect themselves against a hostile Iraqi government; and eventually gain their full independence and sovereignty.