Peshmerga: ‘Those Who Face Death’

DATE: 6:00 pm – 7:00 pm 16 July
VENUE: Committee Room 8, House of Commons
SPEAKER: Dr Simon Ross Valentine

Joan Ryan, MP: Good evening ladies and gentlemen and welcome. My name’s Joan Ryan. I am the Member of Parliament for Enfield North. That is the most northerly London constituency. I am delighted to be chairing this evening’s Henry Jackson Society event. Alongside me is our special guest and keynote speaker, Dr. Simon Ross Valentine.

Dr. Simon Valentine: Thank you

Joan Ryan, MP: We just had a debate is it ‘Valentino’ or ‘Valentine’? It is Valentine. Dr. Valentine was previously an associate lecturer at Bradford University and works as a freelance religious consultant specializing in Islamic studies particularly Muslim Minority groups and political Islam. He is currently linked to the institute of Islamic and strategic affairs and the Pakistani Security and Research Unit at the University of Durham. Tonight Dr. Valentine will be discussing his recent book on Peshmerga and how the Peshmerga developed from tribal militancy to their current position as the guardians of stability in post ISIS Iraq. Before the invasion of northern Iraq by ISIS in 2014 it is fair to say few people in the west knew about Kurdistan as a region and fewer have heard of the Peshmerga as a fighting force. This has now changed with the appearance of ISIS. The Peshmerga were catapulted on to the world stage as a courageous and capable military force and the main contributor of the downfall of the Islamic state. At regular intervals in the past few years, Simon has lived with Peshmerga in the front life in Iraq observing Kurdish strategy and weapons and evaluating their needs. When undertaking this fieldwork Dr. Valentine interviewed hundreds of Peshmerga including foot soldiers to leading commanders and generals, he examined the Kurdish struggle for independence and western promises of support only then having to believe in betrayal and disappointment. This research culminated in the publication of his work this year. Following Dr. Valentine’s speech and presentation there will be opportunity for questions on the floor. We are going to move straight on because there is another group at 7 o’clock and I guess they are going to chase us out just like we did the last group and there is nothing we can do about it. So I am delighted to ask Dr. Valentine to address us.

Dr. Simon Valentine: Thank you Joan for that kind introduction. And thank you to the Henry Jackson Society for hosting this event and inviting me to speak. And of course many thanks to you for coming and showing interest in Peshmerga and the Kurds.

I’ve got to ask you don’t laugh tonight because I usually have my laptop and I click for each side. But I don’t tonight. So I have to click my fingers and Jordan will kindly change the slides for me. So if you see me click my fingers you will know why.

Before the invasion of northern Iraq by ISIS in 2014 few people in the West knew where Kurdistan was as a country, — and even fewer had heard of Peshmerga. Just two years ago, on one of my occasional return visits from Iraq to my home in Yorkshire I told a neighbour I was writing a book on Peshmerga – it was the look on his face, total confusion, he stared at me as though Peshmerga was a centre forward for Real Madrid or Barcelona [laughter]. To a great extent that has now changed. With the appearance of ISIS, in 2014, Peshmerga – the Kurdish Army of the semi-autonomous country of Kurdistan – was suddenly brought onto the world stage. People in the West came to see it for what it was; as a courageous and capable military force, one of the main contributors to the downfall of the Islamic State.

Living in Kurdistan, which I did for three years during most of the war with ISIS, I was greatly surprised how, in both Kurdish, as well as English, very little had been written about the Kurdish army. Of course Peshmerga had been referred to in histories of Kurdistan, in footnotes or references, but amazingly there is no official history of Peshmerga, – no standard work informing the general reader of the history, development, and role of the Kurdish Army. And so – knowing Peshmerga well and greatly respecting Kurdish tenacity and courage – I decided to write a comprehensive account of Peshmerga, to fill that gap.

For three years, while I taught and lived in the Kurdish city of Soran and other places I occasionally lived on the front line, occasionally facing mortar attacks, sniper fire, hearing the supersonic boom of coalition planes flying overhead before dropping their payload on ISIS positions. I visited Mosul, Kirkuk, Sinjar, Hawija and other sectors of the front line. I met with hundreds of Peshmerga from top commanders and generals to ordinary foot soldiers – both male and female. I slept in the same accommodation, ate the same food and, most importantly, I heard their stories.

In all that time Peshmerga would say to me “the West does not know our needs – our struggle for independence and freedom- the west is not aware of how we fight ISIS, a well-equipped army, but we fight without the weapons to do the job”. “Dr Simon”, they said, “Be a voice for us in the west”. That is why I wrote the book, Peshmerga: Those Who Face Death, it was published as an ebook in April, and as a paperback just last week – I think publicity flyers are available afterwards for those who are interested. But that is why I’m here tonight. Hopefully, to be a voice for Peshmerga!!

The term Peshmerga by the way is a combination of two Kurdish words meaning ‘those who face death’ – I think you’ll agree, a most apt title for the book.

For arguments sake, Peshmerga, as an organised fighting force, dates from the short-lived Kurdish Republic of Mahabad in Iran 1946-47.During that time, as the story goes, Qazi Muhammad, the President of the Republic, impressed by the bravery of the Kurds under his command fighting for their freedom against the vastly superior Iranian army, asked his commanders what name shall we give our soldiers. Silence fell on the gathered group. But the Chai-chi, the man serving chai, hot sugary tea, nervously suggested to the Kurdish leader “call them Peshmerga, as they face death with courage”. The name Peshmerga has been used ever since.

The Kurdish warrior tradition however, – of which Peshmerga is the most recent example, has existed for thousands of years. Xenophon, the professional Greek soldier and writer, refers to the Kurds as ‘fierce mountain-dwellers’ who constantly harassed the retreating Greek army. The Kurds developed as a warrior race during their struggles under Islamic rulers and against later regimes, particularly the Ottoman and British Empires. Various Kurds have achieved fame as warriors. Kurds look with pride at Saladin, who was Kurdish, and his role as defender of the Islamic world during the Crusades.

A central theme of my book is the development of Peshmerga from separate tribal militias in the 19th century; to a mountain based Guerrilla force in the 1960s 70s and 80s – a force which could hold its own often against the much larger, and better equipped, Iraqi armies sent against it. This partisan guerrilla force – previously tribal in nature – later became the modern “national”, western-trained army of today.

The guerrilla tactics adopted by Peshmerga, proved to be highly effective against the army of Saddam Hussein. Reliable accounts exist today telling how small units of Peshmerga – hiding in the cliffs and crags of the Kurdish mountains – cut to pieces the Iraqi battalions sent against them. Iraqi General Ali Hassan Al-Majid, a cousin of Saddam, known to millions of people in the West as ‘Chemical Ali’, – lectured his commanders about the previous three decades fighting the Kurds, emphasizing the failure of the Iraqi army to defeat Peshmerga,- he apparently yelled at them stating: ‘All those years and the saboteurs – the name given to the Kurds – still exist, at a time when we had this huge military might!’ This cannot be happening! ‘Now you can’t go from Kirkuk to Erbil any more without an armoured vehicle’.

In my chapter on Peshmerga and Saddam, mention is made of the Anfal, Saddam’s campaign of genocide against the Kurds in 1988 involving, amongst other atrocities, the chemical attack on Halabja. I visited Halabja, where chemical weapons in retaliation for Peshmerga successes killed 5000 Kurds, men, women and children, I spoke with several survivors of that attack. The words of one old Kurdish woman were deeply poignant. “It was pure cowardice”, she said, “The Iraqis were no match for brave Peshmerga so they killed defenceless women and children instead”.

The story of Peshmerga is inevitably linked with the Kurdish struggle for independence – sadly in the face of ongoing western promises of hope, then betrayal and disappointment – going back to Sykes-Picot 1916 when although promised independence after the First World War, Kurdistan was split up into the four Kurdish regions of today. Many Kurds today still remember with bitterness the Treaty of Algiers 1975 when the US government ceased providing them with military and financial aid when an agreement was made between Iran and Iraq, brokered mainly by Henry Kissinger. With no US, or Iranian support, the Kurds were inevitably brutally crushed by Saddam Hussein’s modern army.As many Kurds have stated to me, this is why we Kurds often say “only the mountains are our friends”.

Yes, the story of Peshmerga is one of tragedy, but also honour and achievement. Few people know that Peshmerga played a significant role in the two Gulf Wars even providing crucial information leading to the arrest of Saddam Hussein.

Bringing things up to date, in the post-Saddam era, my book looks at the fight by Peshmerga against the militant Islamic group Ansar al Islam, which gave the Kurds and Iraqis a foretaste, – albeit much smaller – of the devastating brutality of the so called Islamic State.

We were all shocked in June 2014 when Mosul, the second-largest city in Iraq, fell to ISIS fighters. The Iraqi army based at Mosul, about 30,000 soldiers, when faced with a small ISIS force, estimates say about 900 jihadis, simply fled leaving all their military equipment behind for ISIS to use. With the start of Operation Inherent Resolve a few weeks later – and the formation of an international coalition to defeat ISIS – Peshmerga, working with the Iraqis and aided by the Coalition air-strikes, was deeply involved in all aspects of the war.

Peshmerga was the main force liberating many towns from ISIS control including – Zumar, Sinjar, Ramadi, the outlying districts of Kirkuk, Hawija and eventually Mosul. The liberation of Sinjar had great significance for the Kurdish people. At the time of its recapture, I was living in Soran, about 70 miles northeast of the Kurdish capital Erbil. I had gone shopping at the Town Centre Supermarket. The scene of joy that I witnessed will stay with me forever. Shoppers stopped and cheered, some danced as images of Peshmerga fighters retaking Sinjar flashed on the TV screens placed above the checkouts. Several men came over to me smiling and, shaking my hand vigorously, shouted, ‘Bizhy Kurdistan, bizhy Peshmerga’, long live Kurdistan, long live Peshmerga’.

The war with ISIS was in every way a dirty war. Most of the Peshmerga casualties died due to suicide bombers; IEDs (improvised explosive devices); and sniper fire, not in actual battlefield fighting. In 2016, the jihadi started using chemical weapons. Most Kurdish fighters at that time had little protection from such attacks, not even gas masks. In an interview I had with Dr Zangana Muhsin, the Director of Peshmerga Medical Affairs, he stated, “we had a great shortage of medicines and equipment. But in chemical attacks we were totally defenceless. The best we can do with those harmed by chemical weapons is use towels soaked in cold water’. It’s as drastic as that’.

At a Peshmerga base about twenty-five miles from Kirkuk, I met with Rawo Mahmud, known to his men as ‘Dr Rawo’ because he did everything a doctor does and more, yet he was only a qualified nurse. ‘I’m the closest they’ll get to a medic, there is not a fully qualified doctor anywhere near here for many kilometres along the battle front’, he stated grimly. Rawo showed me his office and what; euphemistically he called his ‘operating room’, an almost bare storeroom with empty cupboards. Like so many other medical practitioners, I met and interviewed in Iraq his list of needs was endless, including the most basic medical equipment. ‘We need first-aid kits, basic medicines, plasters, cortisone, even paracetamol’, he explained. Rawo told me how on one occasion a Peshmerga had been shot in the leg. Losing a lot of blood, he needed medical treatment quickly. Rawo cleaned the wound and tried to stop the bleeding. However the leg, by this time badly infected, had to be removed. So without anaesthetic, or any type of pain-killer, Rawo carried out the amputation.

From 2014 to mid-2017 Peshmerga guarded a 650-mile front line across northern Iraq, divided into ten sectors, with obsolete and basic weapons, I had several lengthy interviews with Major General Sirwan Barzani, nephew of the former Kurdish President Masoud Barzani and commander of the elite Black Tiger battalion. He explained the issue of weapons to me.

“Da’esh (ISIS, Islamic State) is [like] a real State, they have a government, and the best weapons. They captured the weapons of four Iraqi divisions, which dropped their weapons and fled. And two police federal divisions that also fled. So Da’esh has the weapons from six army divisions. “In contrast to this 70% of OUR weapons’, Barzani said with an ironic chuckle, ‘should be sent to the museum’.

I asked the General to explain the needs of Peshmerga if the Kurds were to complete the task of defeating ISIS. “As a Peshmerga, believe me we need everything”, he said. “We have some tanks, but without ammunition. They work one day but not the next. They are very old, dating from the Iran-Iraq war. And of course guns need ammunition, we have very little. We need anti-tank missiles such as Milan’.

Kamal, a Peshmerga infantryman I spoke to at Sinjar told me how he, like other Peshmerga, ‘with no pay and little help coming from Baghdad’, had bought, not only his own uniform, but also his own weapon. Many Peshmerga he said ‘use the rifle that their father, or grandfather had used fighting Saddam’. Smiling profusely, and chuckling in Kurdish, he held out his firearm, an old but well maintained Kalashnikov assault rifle. I used this fighting the Ansar al-Islam ten years ago’, before that my father used it fighting the Iraqis’.

Under international law, as Kurdistan is only a semi-autonomous region of federal Iraq, supplies of weapons had to go through the Federal Iraqi capital, Baghdad. Worried that arming Peshmerga directly could later aid the Kurds in establishing their own independent Kurdish state, the Iraqis made sure that little of any military value got through to the Kurds.

Morale is one of the most important factors involved in warfare. You can have the most well equipped army but if morale is low, or training is poor – as seen with the Iraqis in 2014 – then an army will disintegrate at the first sign of battle and hardship. Lt Colonel Nahida Ahmad Rashid, commander of the all-female 2nd Peshmerga battalion, explained to me that morale was high with Peshmerga because ‘We are all very proud to be Peshmerga. We know what to do. We fight to protect our country, to protect humanity. Weapons do not make an army, it is self belief. We Kurds believe in what we do’.

To understand the role of Peshmerga it is important to remember that the Kurdish army involves, to a lesser or greater extent, every member of Kurdish society. Every family in Kurdistan, almost without exception, has a father, brother, son, nephew, cousin, aunt or other relative serving as Peshmerga. Every household possesses at least one Kalashnikov, firearms passed down by aging parents and grandparents, to be used by the next generation to fight if needed to defend their homes. As such Peshmerga, are ready to fight almost immediately when the need arises.

There has been a long tradition of women as fighters and political activists in Kurdistan. During the Aylul revolution, the conflict against the Iraqi army in the 1960s, and against Saddam Hussein in the 1970s and ‘80’s, many Kurdish women, joined their husbands and other male relatives in the mountains. These Peshmerga women were honoured with the title ‘Zhinni Shakh’ (‘women of the mountains)’, some fought as Peshmerga, participating in partizani, the guerrilla warfare that characterised Peshmerga military strategy at that time. Others helped the war effort in other, more traditional roles, such as cooking, nursing and camp maintenance. Aisha Omer Dargalaye, joined her husband in the mountains during the fight against Saddam in the 1960s. ‘In the mountains and the caves’, she said, ‘I would sit and repair the men’s clothes. I was the only woman in my village with a sewing machine’. Laughing heartily she declared: ‘My sewing machine was my Kalashnikov’.

With the arrival of ISIS, women have been trained, and now officially serve, in most areas of the Kurdish army. Mention has already been made to the all-female 2nd battalion, these ‘angels of death’, as The Mirror newspaper called them, made a significant contribution fighting with distinction against ISIS in the Kirkuk region. I spent several days with the 2nd battle – me and 600 women – I was in paradise!!!! [laughter]. Col. Nahida Rashid, commander of the battalion, spoke to me of the morale of her unit. ‘Today the training is the same for both men and women. We are being trained by the British Army. The training is hard’. Through an interpreter she stated adamantly. ‘We train like men, we fight like men and we are prepared to die like men’.

Why do these women fight? I spoke with women soldiers, mainly Yazidis, members of the YPJ, the Women’s Protection Units at the Yazidi centre of Lalish. Fatima, one of the soldiers, told me how her sisters had been taken by ISIS in 2014, and nothing had been heard of them since. ‘I fight to find them’, she said earnestly. There are an estimated 5,000 Yazidi women still missing, their whereabouts unknown, believed to have been sold as slaves within the so-called Islamic State Caliphate. ‘I will not be at peace’, Fatima said with repressed anger, ‘till I know what has happened to my sisters, I want to kill the bastards who took them, the monsters who are killing my people’. Driven by deep psychological scars and fears, Yazidi women – and other Kurdish female soldiers – fight for revenge for lost loved ones and to ensure that such horrors never re-occur.

The British media has stated that ISIS is afraid of women fighters. This is not correct. But ISIS fighters firmly believe that they will not enter paradise if they are killed by a woman. Lt. Colonel Rashid shared with me how ‘this fear ISIS has of being killed by a women makes them more determined to kill us’. She added the comment: ‘It is a common practice of women Peshmerga to carry one extra bullet for themselves’, as it would be a terrible thing to be captured by the jihadists’.

A deciding moment in the history of Peshmerga and Kurdistan was the referendum of 25 September 2017. 93% of voters voted for independence from Iraq. However, instead of respecting their decision, Baghdad took punitive action against the Kurds resulting in the humiliating loss of about 30% of their territory, including Kirkuk, and the resignation of Masoud Barzani as Kurdish President. Al Abadi, the Iraqi Prime Minister, armed with the latest American weaponry, grew confident in his actions against the Kurds as the west ignored Kurdish pleas for help. Two months later, on 6 December 2017 Abadi announced the defeat of ISIS. In his ‘victory comment’ he declared, due mainly to the heroic effort of the Iraqi army – no mention of Peshmerga by the way – the war against ISIS had ended’. However, no one seemed to have informed ISIS of their defeat! Within hours of this ‘victory comment’ both Peshmerga and the Iraqi army had confronted ISIS fighters in different areas of both Iraq and Syria– as we see regularly on our TV screens ISIS today is still a strong force in Iraq.

The Kurds have paid a heavy price in terms of bloodshed in the three years of fighting ISIS with the loss of more than 1,846 shaheed or martyrs and another 10,000 wounded. 63 Peshmerga are still missing, their whereabouts or condition unknown.

There is considerable tension between Baghdad and Erbil. The Kurds desperately want their freedom, to exist as an independent sovereign state. Baghdad doesn’t want to recognise Kurdish independence. Similarly in Turkey and Iran. If Iraqi Kurds gain their independence this will encourage Kurds in Turkey and Iran to want theirs. Much to the chagrin of the Iraqis, the Kurds in 2007 entered into oil exploration and production with Turkey and various multinational oil companies. Baghdad, in 2014, responded to such independent actions, by blocking the 17% share of the annual budget that, according to the Iraqi Constitution, should have been given to the Kurds – Consequently Kurdistan is facing a severe economic crisis.

Another cause of tension between Baghdad and Erbil concerned the so-called ‘disputed territories’, areas claimed by both the Kurds and the Iraqis. The disputed areas cover the entire Kirkuk province, and several parts of Ninewa, Diyala and Salahaddin provinces. Kirkuk in particular is regarded by the Kurds as their city, traditionally depicted as the ‘Kurdish Jerusalem’. Considerable tension exists particularly between Peshmerga and the Hashd Al-Sha’abi , a Shia militia which, according to some reports, has as many as 100,000 fighters in Iraq. Iran, determined to extend its influence and strengthen the Shia faith in the Middle East, supports Hashd Al-Sha’abi and other Shia militias in the region. With the Iraqi army appearing too weak to defeat ISIS on its own, Iraqi Prime Minister al-Abadi, legalised Hashid al Ahabi in October 2016 to aid Iraq in the war against the jihadists.

With these points in mind, Kurdistan faces an uncertain future. Peshmerga will play a vital role in that future. It is generally acknowledged worldwide that Peshmerga is already ‘one of the world’s most capable paramilitary forces’. However, although now western trained, and equipped, all Kurdish commanders would agree, reform is needed to fully develop Peshmerga into a modern, conventional army. In 2017, the Coalition partners prepared a comprehensive long term and strategic 35-point reform plan calling for – amongst other things – the unification of Kurdish forces, and the emphasis on national rather than tribal, party loyalties. Western support is need if these reforms can be fulfilled. As I have argued in different newspapers, and in my book, the Kurds are the most reliable ally we have in that part of the Middle East.

If we are to defeat ISIS completely; prevent the destabilizing influence of Iran in Iraq and in the Middle East generally and control and contain the fanatical aims of Hashd al Shaabi then Peshmerga will be one of the best allies we have in that region. The Daily Telegraph claimed in 2017 that “the Kurds are a beacon of freedom and democracy in the Middle East” a light rarely seen in that part of the Arab world. I think there is a lot of truth in that claim. I personally have visited towns like Alqosh on the Ninevah plain – there I saw churches and Christians worshiping freely. In other towns, Christians and Muslims worshipped peacefully together. In Kurdistan, I found Yazidis, Shabaks, Zoroastrians and members of other minority faiths practicing their religions. In early November 2016 Peshmerga, forces liberated Bashiqa, a mainly Christian town about eight miles northeast of Mosul. In an act, which I think clearly illustrates the Kurd’s tolerance towards other races and faiths, Peshmerga helped to construct a large wooden cross, and place it on top of the main church, to replace the original cross-destroyed by ISIS.

The society I found in Kurdistan is unlike most other countries in the Middle East. It is progressive, religion is practiced yet it is not fanatical or extreme. There is considerable equality, especially amongst the young, educated Kurds. – When I was teaching the students in Soran, men and women study together. I found the men and women very respectful of each other. There was not the tension that I’m used to seeing in the Muslim world, for instance, in countries like Saudi Arabia where I lived for four years. During the war with ISIS, the KRG (Kurdistan Regional Government) and Peshmerga have provided safety and security for nearly 1.5 million IDPs and refugees fleeing the threat of persecution and genocide at the hands of the extremists. As we all know these included members of the Yazidi religion, which ISIS regards with contempt. As seen in the War with ISIS the Kurds are militarily reliable and their secular and religiously moderate politics make them a powerful antidote to extremism. Democratic and tolerant – these are reasons why, in my opinion, the West should support Kurdistan as much as it can. But Some of my many Kurdish friends – especially in the light of western indifference to Baghdad’s punitive actions against the Kurds following last year’s referendum – tell me how they again feel betrayed, let down by the west and stand alone. They say again the old shibboleth “only the mountains are our friends”.

We often forget here in the UK – miles away from the war zone – that Peshmerga fights ISIS for the entire world and not just Kurdistan. Talking by email with Major General Sirwan Barzani last Friday night, he wished me well with this lecture and said he would like “great England to support us in military and political terms because we did our best to knock out ISIS”. With that comment, I finish. You’ve been a great audience. Thank you so much for listening. (Applause).

Joan Ryan, MP: Thank you Dr. Valentine. I think everyone would agree that that was a very well informed and interesting, and illuminating talk and you could only talk like you have on the front line with the Peshmerga, in Iraq. So can I open it now we have a few minutes not very long. So if anyone has a question I am sure Dr. Valentine would like to hear it. Yes, yes the lady in the back.

Hardin: Hi, My name is [inaudible] Hardin, I am a Jewish Kurd. As you have briefly mentioned in your talk that you don’t see Kurdistan on the map because my land is divided into four parts and my land is in the north, the Turkish part. It was an amazing talk, your observations were really engaging, I am excited to read your book. The importance of Peshmerga in the history of Kurds, Kurdistan we wouldn’t question that. I think there is still a lot to do, a big role to do to connect all the other Kurdish freedom fighters together as being very experienced, as very trustworthy, as very respectable force.

Joan Ryan, MP: Do you have a question?

Hardin: However, there are some criticisms of that Peshmerga has received recently. Although I am not here to criticize them. Maybe we should talk about those criticisms. I will now voice them. For example, some people think Peshmerga has lost a part of its passion as being the freedom fighters of Kurdistan, like the fact that Kurdistan would not exist or survive without them. However, people think that recently Peshmerga have become a paid army who’s not very happy with their delayed pay check.

Joan Ryan, MP: OK, I am going to interrupt you. I think that Simon has got the jist. Thank you for your question. No no, it is a very good point

Dr. Simon Valentine: It is a good point

Joan Ryan, MP: If there are criticism, we need to open them up. I am going to take two more points if there are more questions before I ask him to respond.

Tony Currom: Tony Corrum. I was going to ask how the Peshmerga in a semi-autonomous region of northern Iraq how they fit into the wider Kurdish struggle, with the Kurds in Turkey, of course I met Kurds in Turkey, you can meet Kurdish people all over the world in fact. So how are they seen? How are they seen in the broad struggle, represent themselves as a nation and a whole territory?

Joan Ryan, MP: And one more point

Dr. Simon Valentine: I am going to forget the questions you will have to remind me.

Joan Ryan, MP: I have written them down. Yes the lady in the back.

[inaudible]: I would like to understand a bit more about the role of oil in Kurdistan. Has there been any extracting there? [inaudible]

Dr. Simon Valentine: Can I start with the last question because that is fresh in my mind. I am an old man. Mercy, mercy. Please—[laughter]. It is a very good point you make, oil. I think it is fair to say that oil has been a great curse to the Kurdish people. I think it is because of oil you have Sykes-Picot. Western Powers, mainly France and Britain in that situation. Drawing, literally drawing straight lines in the sand so one empire could get this oil and Baba Gurga, you know the great oil field and so on in the 1920s, 30s. And I think in that case it has been a great curse to the Kurds. Even so, I mentioned 2007 when the Kurds sold oil to Turkey. Oh and why not! I think why not! But I think that is bringing the wrath of Iraq down upon them. The thing is a game of chess is going on. Oil can be a great asset for the Kurds we want them to gain their independence. Oil, wow! They can build their economy and so on. But with the caveat don’t have all your eggs in one basket. Not just oil. I said to various Kurdish leaders I met. “Diversify, develop your economy”. Oil is good and can be good for the Kurds despite what happened in the past. But when we look to the future. Oil can be one, not the only one, but one asset that can set Kurdistan on its feet. I could talk for hours on this but I think the good lady will tell me off

Joan Ryan, MP: (Laughing) ok our first question with the lady is about the criticism

Hardin: [inaudible] asking whether if you think Peshmerga should revisit its values or principles because it is receiving a lot of criticism

Joan Ryan, MP: Yes.

Hardin: [inaudible] or for example leaving Kirkuk without any resistance.

Joan Ryan, MP: OK, I am going to tell Dr. Valentine to address that.

Dr. Simon Valentine: OK. first of all, it is a very good question that you are asking, thanks for raising it. There are criticisms of Peshmerga. My book is objective by the way; I cover criticisms. I cover criticisms or it wouldn’t be a valid book. The Kurds I talk to I rarely here this criticism. I come across the odd journalist, in the odd newspaper, but it is not with respect raised by many people, you mentioned the way they let Kirkuk be recaptured. To present a fair picturen to show what took place, the Kurds didn’t really stand a chance. Still poorly equipped. The Iraqis had American Abrams tanks, American technology and Abadi knew this, and I think he was being very cocky. I say this very respectfully. He was relying on the west ignoring what was going on and sadly, we did. Peshmerga did fight back but what chance do you stand in that situation. They were demoralized and so on. I think Peshmerga, in terms of being a paid army, there their morale is very, very, high indeed. This is why I want to be fully there. I want to be back to Iraq where history is taking place. Peshmerga is confident, morale is high; it is better trained now. And with greater western support, mark my words, you read your newspapers and so on, Peshmerga is going to make its mark in the Middle East. Thank you.

Joan Ryan, MP: Now we will take our third question.

Tony Currom: You haven’t taken my question.

Dr. Simon Valentine: You are number three.

Joan Ryan, MP: We have already answered you are number three, but they are out of order, sorry. If I understand it: how do Peshmerga and Kurds in Iraq fit into the wider Kurdish struggle?

Dr. Simon Valentine: That is a good question. How many hours do we have? I do touch upon this in my book, briefly, to get a holistic picture of Peshmerga. I would like you to read my book and give me comments about it. But when you look at Peshmerga and the Kurds in Kurdistan it is a delicate game they have to play. Most Kurds I speak to at grassroots, fully support PKK. But officially politics are politics. The KRG cannot openly support a group that is regarded as a terrorist group by Western Europe, the US and so on without losing the support you desire. It is a game of chess, its politics, its realpolitik. The Kurds do support what is going in KDPI in Iraq, in Turkey, in Syria. We have seen that during the last three or four years. The Peshmerga were supporting Kurdish militia in Syria. But it is difficult with Turkey because if Kurdistan is going to be independent which I believe will be soon they need Turkey as an ally. Kurdistan does not have a coast. If you look at Israel. I always say there are great parallels between the Kurds and Israel. In 1948 Israel created their own nation against overwhelming odds. There are direct parallels with the Kurds. But they had an advantage; they have a coast. You know Kurdistan is completely landlocked. Your biggest neighbour, or most important neighbour is Turkey. So what are you supposed to do, support the so call terrorist group, which is causing Turkey so much trouble. It is a delicate political game which the Kurds have to play in that situation. Am I making sense in what I am saying? It is a good question you raised. Thank you. Again, I think there is solidarity amongst Kurds. But for political reasons, it is not a criticism, they have got to do this, you can’t openly support certain factions in certain situations.

Joan Ryan, MP: I am sorry to say we have come to the end of our time and I know there is another group waiting but they have not come and interrupted us yet. They are not as pushy as we are.

Dr. Simon Valentine: Are we past the hour?

Joan Ryan, MP: You have been a great audience, many great questions. Absolutely wonderful talk; so illuminating we both learned a lot and we have a new appreciation for the role of the Peshmerga. It is a very lively topic as well in parliament, we have two Select Committee Reports in just this session so far on the Kurdish region of Iraq and many questions and debates and Jack Lopresti who was going to chair – Conservative MP who is very well versed in this topic and very supportive of the Iraqi Kurds – we have his apologies he couldn’t make it. He had a debate last year on this matter. It is a very lively issue and we thank you for what you had to do tonight thank you so much. Can we thank Dr. Valentine? (Applause).

Dr. Simon Valentine: Thank you. Please get in touch with me anyone who wants to continue the debate, it would be a pleasure.


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