General Sirwan Barzani is the Commander of Pesmerge Special Forces – the Black Tigers – battling the terror group, Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISL), alongside allied forces. In e-mailed interview with Sunday Vanguard, Barzani speaks on the reason for the successes recorded so far by the group against the terrorists, adding that they have no problem of saboteurs because Pesmerge is not just any type of army but a liberator of Kurdisitan.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I am General Sirwan Barzani, the Commander of Pêsmerge Special Forces – the Black Tigers – in frontline of South of Erbil and East of Mosul. At the same time, I have been one of the leading businessmen in Kurdistan including founding Chairman of Korek Telecom in Iraq. Because of this war, I had to return to the frontline to defend my country against terrorist Islamic State assault. I was a Pêsmerge and Commander during the liberation war and the 2003 war that removed the Saddam Hussein dictatorship.
Do you think the removal of Saddam Hussein led to the state of things in Iraq today?
No, Saddam had killed or caused the killing of more Iraqis than any foreign power and any other Iraqi regime. Unfortunately, the international community had been silent on Saddam’s crimes particularly during the 1980s; therefore, there is some misconception about Saddam’s era of terror and genocide. Furthermore, since the removal of Saddam, those who have been igniting sectarian and ethnic conflicts are mostly Saddam’s followers, including many leading members of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Note: Levant includes Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Palestine and Jordan.
For example, in the 1980s, 182,000 Kurds were killed under the pretext of Islam in Arabic it called Anfal, a reference to a Quranic verse. During that period, 4,500 villages among 5,000 Kurdish villages were vacated or burned. Saddam systematically used chemical weapons including infamous attack against the Kurdish city of Halbja.
Is it true that many of the Pêsmerge soldiers are women because ISIL terrorists fear them?
Some of the Pêsmerge units are women and historically, women have always participated in the Pêsmerge movement. We are very proud of Kurdish/Kurdistan women’s participation in liberation and freedom for all people in Kurdistan. The Kurdish women in Kobani are a great example of their engagement in Kurdistan liberation and freedom movement.
The Kurdish Pêsmerge seems to have been successful in the fight against ISIL. What lessons do you think Nigeria could learn from them in the fight against Boko Haram?
You are right about Pêsmerge success in this war but every country’s condition is different. However, there are very serious similarities between Boko Haram and ISIL. For example, both of them are against women, the minorities, diversity and basic freedoms. We certainly wouldn’t mind to share our experience and knowledge with other countries that have been subject to this kind of terror.
Some people believe that terrorism is as a result of poverty. Do you think that is true?
This is a simplistic approach. Even in some cases, poverty could be abused and used for these kinds of things but most poor people around the world are decent people. Often, these kinds of movements have multiple social, political, and economical causes but I will leave these to the academic to discuss.
Many would want to know if the USA and its allies really cannot decisively deal with ISIL or is it about diplomacy or collateral damage?
As is known, USA estimated this war will take at least three years back in July. What is important for us is that we have to defend our people against ISIL. It is very important that USA and allied forces are helping us with their air force. ISIL has much more advanced weapons than Pêsmerge forces but, despite this, Pêsmerge has defeated them in most territories in Kurdistan and still defending it. We certainly need advanced weapons for the final defeat of ISIL.
To what extent is the claim that ISIL is more about prostitution ring, drug business and crude oil than politics and religion, true?
The ISIL ideology is the source of its criminal activities and behaviours, there is no other way around. That is why they have been able to spread fear all over the world because it strives for a global empire and willing to do everything to reach this goal. ISIL already occupies territories of three countries namely: Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and their political map shows their desire to become the global power.
What attributes do you think have helped the Kurds in this war, vis-a-vis, unity of purpose?
Having a visionary leadership and well organised and disciplined Pêsmerge force that is committed to protect freedom and diversity of Kurdistan is very important. These attributes contributed to international communities’ cooperation and support against ISIL.
How have you been able to keep your soldiers motivated and focused?
Kurdistan Pêsmerge has a long history of defending its land against foreign invaders and oppressors. Pêsmerge knows very well why it is fighting and for what. They know the entire Kurdistan support them. President of Kurdistan even before the war, always said he is proud to be a Pêsmerge.
Do you have the problem of saboteurs within the army, if yes, how have you been able to handle it?
Until now, we have never encountered anything like that in our forces and we do not expect any among Pêsmerge because Pêsmerge is not just any type of army but it has been a liberator of Kurdistan.