March 27, 2007

The Iranian Revolution in Iraq

KOMALAH COMPOUND, NORTHERN IRAQ – They were supposed to be social democrats, the people Patrick Lasswell and I met yesterday in a compound outside the city of Suleimaniya, the cultural capital of Northern Iraqi Kurdistan. We had it all set up. We were to meet Abu Bakr Mudarisy and his associates for lunch at 11:00 A.M. and learn what we could about the anti-government resistance a few miles away in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Our driver Yusef misunderstood and took us to the wrong place. He did drop us off where we met left-wing dissidents from Iran. But these weren’t the moderate English-speaking leftist intellectuals we were looking for. Instead we found ourselves in an armed camp of the military wing of the Iranian Communist Party.

Guard Komalah Mountain.jpg

They call themselves the Komalah Party, which is some kind of acronym for the Kurdish Organization of the Iranian Communist Party. Patrick and I were deposited, along with our translator Aso, at the guard house at the gate on the way into the camp.

Aso introduced us to the man whom we later would know as Kamal. Kamal dutifully logged our names in the guest book and said we were welcome to talk to the party leaders. We hadn’t yet figured out we were in the wrong place. That would take us a while. But apparently it’s perfectly normal, or at least acceptable, to show up unannounced and without an appointment even at this kind of place around here. Unreformed Communists may not be our cup of tea – and bourgeoisies citizens of the American Empire may not be theirs – but this is the Middle East at the end of the day. Pretty much everyone except the violent jihadists takes the cultural requirement for hospitality seriously.

Marx and Engels hung on the wall of the guard house, and I asked Kamal if I could take a picture.

“Of course, of course,” he said. So I took a picture.

Marx and Engels Komalah.jpg

In the corner was a photograph of the founder of the party who was assassinated by Iranian Revolutionary Guards. I took his picture too.

Komalah Party Chief.jpg

I noticed the not-so-vague resemblance to Josef Stalin (it’s the moustache, I guess), and I did wonder why supposedly moderate leftists hadn’t junked Marx yet. But hey, I thought. Maybe they just simply honored the man who inspired them in the first place. No big thing.

Kamal set up a plastic table and chairs in a pleasant courtyard surrounded by a high wall across the road from a small mosque. I asked if I could tape our conversation, and he said no problem. It wasn’t much of a conversation, however. Kamal was all about the pre-prepared boilerplate monologue.

“We are the opposition to the Iranian government party,” he said without being prompted. “Our goal is to save, or liberate, all the Iranian people. We are a Communist party, an international party. Our action is for those people who are toilers and workers in Iran.”

An armed guard sat down behind me and Patrick. He did not say a word, and he shrugged when I asked if I could take his picture.

Guard Komalah Patio.jpg
The Silent Armed Guard

I wondered where our English-speaking guy Abu Bakr Mudarisy was, but I didn’t mind a briefing by Kamal about who we were dealing with.

“We announced our hostility to the Iranian regime 28 years ago,” he continued. “Before that we didn’t announce our party. We saw that many people were persecuted under the Iranian regime so we began our struggle against that regime in order to liberate the people. At that time Khomeini was in power and he waged a campaign against Kurdistan – a jihadi campaign. The Iranian regime said Kurdish people are blasphemous and deserve to be killed.”

“Is this because the Kurdish people are Sunni and not Shia?” I said. The fitna, or civil war within Islam, between Sunni and Shia Muslims is so ancient and fierce it makes the Arab-Israeli conflict look like a recent and passing phenomenon. The Iranian theocracy is Shia, and the overwhelming majority of Kurds are Sunni Muslims.

“That is part of it,” Kamal said. “There were many violations of human rights at the time.” He spoke more intensely now, and with a fast staccato voice. “Our party did not want to see people under torture and persecution, so we started struggling against the government. We bear our arms in order to defend ourselves, our human rights and other rights in Iran. We don’t want to kill people. We just want to defend ourselves. The Iranian regime waged a campaign against the Kurdish people, including arresting us and burning the villages and houses of our people and bringing our people under torture. There are many internally displaced people in Iran, people who were involved in political parties, opposition. The Iranian government sent them into exile. They became internally displaced people in Iran.”

Neither Patrick nor I needed to ask him anything to get him to talk.

“There are many many sectors of the government that persecute people in Iran,” he continued, “like the intelligence agents. They spy on people. There is no freedom of speech or freedom of the press. Many of the newspapers have been closed. If you go to Iran now, they will not take you to the places where people are persecuted. They will show you their own parties and their own places. Would you like some tea?”

“Yes, please,” both Patrick and I said. Everyone offers us tea in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Buildings Komalah.jpg
Some buildings in the Komalah Party compound

“Many of the people in Kurdistan especially have been deprived of education because of the regime,” Kamal continued. “All the people are under the rule of the Islamic Republic. If someone wants to go abroad from Iran, everything they do will be spied on. If you are a political man in Iran, what frightens you is the prison. Taking drugs is a widespread phenomenon. The one who is responsible is the Iranian regime. They want people to not care about anything, just to take drugs and things like that. It’s a part of the story. It’s a small part of the story.”

Two women sat down at the table. I assumed they wanted to join the conversation. I offered them cigarettes, the only vaguely hospitable gesture a guest is really allowed in the Middle East.

“No,” said the first. She wore a floral print shirt, the kind you might expect to see in the tropics. She looked like everyone’s mom.

“Merci,” said the second as she declined. She actually looked a bit like a communist, and she had the French to go with it.

Iranian Woman Komalah.jpg

Her short hair, drab gray clothes, and vaguely masculine demeanor set her a ways apart from most women in Iraqi Kurdistan who tend to be submissive and quiet.

“Our struggle has been announced internationally,” Kamal went on. “We don’t only want to work for the Kurdish people in Iran. We work for all the country in order to get their rights and in order to make the regime stop persecuting people and torturing people. We don’t bear arms in order to kill people. We only want to defend ourselves. Again, you are very welcome. I am happy to see you here.”

I had only asked one single question. Patrick hadn’t said anything yet. Kamal didn’t know the first thing about us. He larded his speech with more arcane information about when and where his party was founded. I wanted to get to something more interesting.

Komalah Compound from Above.jpg
The Komalah Party compound.

“Some of the Communists in Iran were a part of the 1979 revolution,” I said. “Were you a part of that revolution?”

“Yes,” Kamal said. “We were. We were supported by people who were workers and poor people. You should remember that the Komalah Party was the first party that brought women equality. Komalah still wants women to have the same rights that men do.”

“How long did your Party have good relations with the government after the revolution?” I said.

I’m not sure if he dodged my question or if it was lost in translation.

“We have 3,000 martyrs,” he said. “We have hope and we have struggled for many years. We have activities everywhere.”

The problem with the 1979 revolution in Iran is that it, like so many others, devoured its children. It was broad-based and popular at the beginning. Liberals allied with leftists, and leftists allied with Islamists. It wasn’t a cocktail for fascism, but that’s what they got. The Islamists came out on top and then they liquidated the liberals and leftists. Kamal didn’t get a chance to talk about any of that because another man showed up at the table and abruptly dismissed him.

Hassan Rahman Panah.jpg

The new guy’s name was Hassan Rahman Panah, and he is a member of the party’s Central Committee. He told me we weren’t allowed to publish anything Kamal had just told us even though Kamal gave me permission to quote him. I like Hassan Rahman as a person, and I sincerely appreciate his hospitality. But I can’t let a Communist Party Commissar tell me I can’t publish quotes that were given to me on the record. Hassan did not even know what Kamal had said. He was asserting his authority and reaching for information control.

“How long have you been here in Northern Iraq?” I said.

“Since 1988,” Hassan said.

“Are you here because it’s safer, or because the Iranian regime exiled you?” I said.

“We are in opposition to the Iranian regime,” he said. “We are political men.”

If I were working in Iran I would have a hell of time finding someone like him to interview. People like him exist, of course, but the regime tightly controls who journalists can talk to and what the interview subjects can say. It is extraordinarily difficult to file reports from Iran that don’t mirror the state’s propaganda. There is a violent insurgency against the Revolutionary Guards in Iranian Kurdistan, but journalists in Iran can’t get any details.

“I know there is an insurgency in Iran, in the Kurdistan region of Iran,” I said. “What do you know about it?”

“We have details about the events that happen every day in Iranian Kurdistan,” Hassan said.

“Events happen every day?” I said.

“The struggle is going on,” he said. “It’s not every day, but it’s going on.”

“What kind of action is taken against the regime in Iran?” I said.

“Our activities include political and civil activities,” he said. “Struggles for women and workers and education. There are also struggles inside the education system.”

“How do you feel about Iran getting nuclear weapons?” Patrick said.

Aso translated the question and I whispered to Patrick: I want to steer him back to the insurgency. The diversion may have been for the best, though. Neither of us wanted Hassan to feel like we were too aggressively pumping him for information.

“It is a dangerous thing,” Hassan said, regarding Iranian nuclear weapons. “We see that it is not in favor of the people in Iran in general. We see two goals behind that phenomenon. The first is to better rule the Iranian people. The second goal is they want themselves to be known as a strong nation in the Middle East. Before, when the Shah was in power, Iran was a strong country in the Middle East. Now they want such power again.”

Mosque Komalah.jpg

The muezzin sang the call to prayer from the minaret of the small local mosque.

No one paid any attention to the call to prayer. No one ever does in Iraqi Kurdistan unless they are already in the mosque, nor does anyone in any other Muslim country I’ve been to. Many Westerners I know assume Muslims stop what they are doing and pray five times a day. The Koran may tell them to do this, but that’s not even remotely how Muslims live in the real world – especially not in an armed Communist camp.

The cows, however, wasted little time before they started mooing in annoyance at the muezzin’s call to prayer.

Cows Komalah.jpg

Apparently they are Communist cows who are no more religious than I am.

“Do you think that if the mullahs get nuclear weapons they will further oppress their own people?” Patrick said.

“Sure,” Hassan said. “Of course. They will have a stronger authority. People think that if the state has nuclear power, struggling against it will be more difficult. Making a coup d’etat against it will be difficult. So it spreads fear and panic among the people of Iran.”

“[Iranian President] Achmadinejad says that he wants to use – well, sometimes he says this and sometimes he doesn’t – that he wants to use a nuclear weapon against Israel,” I said. “Do you think he is serious, or is he just trying to gain political support from the Arabs?”

“They want to use the Palestine issue as a tool to get support from the Arab countries,” Hassan said. “Achmadinejad knows that Israel has nuclear weapons. It’s not a realistic threat. If they want to attack Israel with a nuclear weapon they know very well that Americans will attack them with a nuclear weapon. American and Israeli governments want to use the issue to strengthen themselves in the region. Mr. Bush’s administration wants to make some trouble outside America to cover or oppress the issues that exist inside the country.”

“Inside America?” I said.

“Yes, inside America,” he said. Hassan Rahman Panah may sound like a neoconservative on the question of the Iranian mullahs, but he can’t seem to resist the coffeeshop foreign policy analysis.

“So do you think American foreign policy is wrong?” I said.

“Yes, it is,” he said.

“What do you think it should be then?” I said.

“The best thing is for America not to interfere with the situation in the world,” he said. “Wherever they meddle they spoil the region – from Afghanistan to Iraq.”

“Was Afghanistan better off under the Taliban?” Patrick said.

“I don’t think it was better,” Hassan said. “But the Taliban was a party established by Americans. They helped them against the Soviet Union at that time.”

Lord only knows how long it will take for this leftist canard to die. The Taliban didn’t exist until long after the Americans left Afghanistan and forgot all about it. Serious analysts of the Middle East know the Taliban was created with Saudi money by Pakistan’s ISI – its intelligence agency – and from the very beginning was an enemy of the United States. But this was an interview, not an argument, so I left him alone about it.

“Ok, so what do you think of the Soviet Union?” I said. I thought perhaps he was angry about the American support for the mujahadeen (not the Taliban) against Soviet imperialism. Maybe he liked the Soviet Union. He is a Communist, after all.

“The Soviet Union was an imperialist country. We were never in favor of the Soviet Union.”

“If the United States wanted to help the people of Iran struggle against the dictatorship,” I said, “would you welcome that assistance, or would you rather the Americans stay out?”

“We think meddling in Iranian affairs is a bad thing,” he said. “There is already the reality of a struggle against the regime. There are many people who are already against the Iranian regime. Let them do what they want to do.”

“Do you think the Iranian people are strong enough to change the regime by themselves?” I said.

“If the other countries in the world stop supporting the Iranian regime,” he said, “it will be very easy for people to topple or oust the regime. All the weapons the Iranian regime uses against the people, where did those weapons come from?”

“The Iranian regime is an enemy of the United States,” I said. “The Iranian regime is also your enemy. Do you really think it would be better for us not to work together since we have the same enemy?”

“We have different interests in such a conflict,” I said.

“Yes, I agree,” I said.

“We are in a struggle for the Iranian people,” Hassan said. “There is nothing which brings us together. There will be a kind of compromise between America and the Iranian regime. If the Iranians accept the demands of the Americans, Americans will no longer have a struggle against them. We have problems with all the systems that exist in Iran – the education, the Islamic system.”

He does, I think, correctly understand the limits of renascent American “realism,” the foreign policy school both Republicans and Democrats (especially Democrats) are swooning over again. Regime-change is no longer what moves most of us, but that is what the Iranian dissidents want. Hassan seems to fear that if the regime capitulates the American government might give it the diplomatic cover it needs to survive.

“We want to have a revolution like the revolution that happened in 1979.”

Red Flag Komalah.jpg
The red Communist flag flies over the Komalah compound

“So you want armed revolution,” I said. “Is that right?”

“We want the ordinary people to rise up against the government,” he said. “But in a situation where everyone has a gun, you have to have a gun to defend yourself. We want protests inside factories and a closing of the market. We want a general strike against the regime in universities, in the market, everywhere.”

“Do you see signs of a collapse similar to the Shah’s government happening now to the mullahs?” Patrick said.

“Yes, I think so,” Hassan said. “In Iran things are going in that direction.”

It was time to steer him back to the insurgency.

“I know that in Iranian Kurdistan,” I said, “and in the areas where the Azeris live, there is a violent insurgency against the government. Which groups are behind this?”

“There are many armed groups in Kurdistan,” he said. “We are an armed force. And there are other groups and forces in Iranian Kurdistan which are armed. One of the Kurdish groups is responsible.”

“Which group?” I said.

“PJAK,” he said. “It belongs to the PKK.

The PKK (or Kurdistan Worker’s Party) was established in the 1980s as a Marxist-Leninist party and militia in Eastern Turkey. A terrible civil war raged in Turkish Kurdistan for many years until PKK founder Abdullah Öcalan was captured in 1999 in Nairobi, Kenya. Since then the war in the Kurdish region of Turkey has been reduced to a simmer.

According to an Iraqi Kurdish friend, the PKK says they are now more moderate “social democrats,” rather than Marxist totalitarians, but they still carry out campaigns of terrorism against Kurdish and Turkish civilians, as well as the Turkish army, in Turkish Kurdistan. Recently they created a new branch of the party in Iran – PJAK, which is an acronym for the Kurdistan Restoration and Freedom Party. If indeed PJAK is the only group behind the anti-regime insurgency in Iranian Kurdistan, it doesn’t bode well for the liberals and moderates in that region.

“Do you have any idea where they are getting money?” Patrick said.

“PJAK cooperates with PKK,” Hassan said, “and PKK is a rich party.”

“Is your party friends with PJAK?” I said.

“We have a relationship with all the Kurdish groups in Iran, he said, “except the Islamic groups.”

“You mean like Ansar Al Islam?” I said.

“Ansar as of a few days ago started calling themselves Al Qaeda in Kurdistan,” Patrick said.

“Even if they didn’t announce that,” Hassan said, “we know they are part of Al Qaeda. They have a close relationship with Iran. After the Americans attacked them in Biara and Tawela [in Northern Iraq], they went to Iran. Now they have camps there. We know where they are, around the town of Mariwan. The Iranian government hires them as mercenaries. I would like to invite you for lunch.”

“That would be lovely,” I said. “Thank you so much.”

Lunch Komalah.jpg
Our translator Aso prepares to enjoy his meal of soup, chicken, and rice.

The young woman with the earrings brought us food. She looked like a strong-willed woman when Hassan, her boss, wasn’t around. Now that he sat at the table she reverted to the usual subservient role women tend to assume in this part of the world. This supposedly leftist secular party didn’t live up to its ideals as much as it could. Hassan did not, for example, invite our driver to eat with us. Yusef – the only working class man around – sat on the curb next to his car the whole time.

Aso’s phone rang and he spoke to the caller in Kurdish.

“It is Abu Bakr Mudarisy,” he said. “He said he has been waiting for us for over an hour. We came to the wrong place.”

So that explained why these leftists weren’t as moderate as I expected. Yusef drove Patrick, Aso, and I to the wrong leftist compound. There are two Iranian “Komalah” parties in Iraqi Kurdistan – the moderate splinter faction and the unreconstructed Communists. We ended up with the old school.

I laughed to myself and was abstractly relieved. Finding ourselves in the armed camp of the wrong Communist party is a lot less iffy than finding ourselves in the armed camp of the wrong Islamist party. Say what you will about Stalin (and you’re probably right). I’m a lot more comfortable around the armed radical left in the Middle East than I am around the armed radical right.

“How do you know about Mudarisy!” Hassan said.

“From Aso,” I said.

“Not from me,” Aso said and held up his open hands.

“Oh, that’s right,” I said. “We know about him from Aso’s friend Alan. Do you have good relations with Mudarisy?”

“No,” Hassan said. “We do not speak to each other.”

Sigh. Radical left parties all over the world follow the same pattern, it seems. Even in Iraq and Iran they fracture and retreat to mutually loathing camps. The moderates are always hated by the radicals as sellouts, capitalist roaders, neoconservatives, or what have you. So it turns out Hassan wasn’t being completely straight with us when he said his party has relations with every Kurdish group in Iran except the Islamists. The moderate leftists are shunned just the same.

“He will send a car and pick you up at your hotel next week,” Aso said, referring to Mudarisy from the Komalah party splinter faction. That was convenient. And of course Mudarisy would do this. The moderates can’t let their ideological foes be the only ones who get to speak on the record to journalists. I didn’t mind being used as a tool in a sectarian leftist squabble if it would get me information and access.

We ate our chicken, socialized amiably, and I asked a few more questions while I had the chance.

“Do you get any support from the Kurdistan Regional Government [of Iraq]?” I said. It would be news to me if the Iraqi Kurdistan government has any connection to armed groups opposed to the state in Iran.

“Yes,” Hassan said. “From the PUK.

The PUK is the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, the secular leftist political party in charge of Suleimaniya Province.

“Only PUK,” Hassan added.

Iraqi Kurdistan’s other major political party, the Kurdistan Democratic Party, is more conservative, tribal, and has no interest in leftism, international or otherwise.

“What kind of support do you get from the PUK?” I said. “Is it political support, or also financial support?”

“Financial support,” Hassan said.

It may not be strictly accurate to say armed Iranian Communists are supported by the [Iraqi] Kurdistan Regional Government, but they are (according to Hassan Rahman Panah) supported by at least part of that government.

We finished our lunch and Hassan offered to show Patrick and I around their armed camp. He told us we were welcome to take pictures, so of course we did.


Kurds in this part of the world have nicknames for all major vehicles. Land Cruisers are “Monicas” because (supposedly, but I am not seeing it) they somewhat resemble Monica Lewinsky.

“We will bring a car,” Hassan said. “We can’t go up to the mountain in your car.”

“We would have brought a Monica,” Patrick said, “but it seemed inappropriate to bring a Monica to a Communist Compound.”

“We have Monicas,” Hassan said and laughed. “Capitalism is not bad in every way.”

So we hopped in a Communist Monica and drove up the mountain behind the compound.

Monica Komalah.jpg

I was slightly surprised they showed us around. Patrick, Aso, and I could have been anyone, really. They obviously trusted us, or at least their abilities to defend themselves if we decided to try something – which, of course, we would not. They are apparently secure, as well, with photographs of their camp being published. I clicked away at will and no one said boo.

We drove past a watch tower on the left inside the compound.

Watchtower Komalah.jpg

Beyond the compound was a moderately rough road that branched into two. One road winded its way up a valley and the other forged straight ahead to the top of a mountain.

Mountains Looking Up Komalah.jpg

The view on the road up the mountain was spectacular. The mountain inside the camp was shorter than the others, but it was high enough that it provided the illusion of looking evenly across to the tops of the other mountains.

Kurdistan Mountains from Komalah Bunker.jpg

Near the top of the mountain is a bunker. You would not want to try to take that bunker and mountain by force. The Komalah Party can hurl some real pain down on anybody who tries.

Machine Gun Komalah.jpg

Just below the top of the mountain in an area beyond a barbed wire fence lay a mine field.

Minefield Komalah.jpg

“Who are you protecting yourselves from, exactly?” I said. “Islamists?”

“Iranian regime,” Hassan said. I was thinking of the Iraqi Islamists, but of course the Iranians are much stronger and more serious enemies.

Hassan Rahman Panah Mountain Bunker.jpg

“Recently one of our men was killed on the road down below by Iranian intelligence agents,” he said. “They are always coming after us. We need weapons to protect ourselves.”

The area did not look like a camp used to train guerillas for a military aggression, but Hassan did not take us on the road that led up the valley. The party controls that area, too, and just about anything could be up and back there.

A gaggle of young Iranian Communists came out of the bunker when they heard some Americans had arrived. These guys are politically anti-American, yet the looks on their faces made me think of teenagers meeting rock stars. I guess they don’t get too many visitors at the fort.

When they posed for the photo below, most forced themselves to stop smiling and look stern like good Communists should.

Group Photo Komalah.jpg

Whatever they think of our politics, they know very well that we are not enemies. Their enemies rule in Tehran, as do ours. 3,000 members of the Komalah Party are “martyrs,” as Kamal had earlier put it, and not one of them was killed by an American.

These unreconstructed Communists are among the least pro-American of the Iranian opposition. They do not want and will not accept American help in the ouster of the totalitarian Islamist regime. I have little doubt, though, that if at some time in the future they become a part of a post-Khomeinist coalition government in Tehran it will be orders of magnitude easier to work with them civilly and diplomatically than it is right now with the murderous fascists of the Islamic Republic.

Post-script: See my colleague Patrick Lasswell’s blog Moderate Risk. He wrote about the same experience in a different way and from another angle.

Post-post-script: I met with the moderate left "splitters" up the road yesterday, and wrote about them here. The moderates are far and away the intellectual and political superiors of the Communists.

Also, please support independent writing and journalism by donating through Pay Pal. These trips to far away places don’t pay for themselves.

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All photos copyright Michael J. Totten

Posted by Michael J. Totten at March 27, 2007 11:14 AM


Maybe they just simply honored the man who inspired them in the first place.

Uh, hell no. Social Democracy isn't inspired by Marx.

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at March 27, 2007 12:06 PM


There are ex-communists. The ones we were supposed to meet, that is.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at March 27, 2007 12:10 PM

Ah, okay then.

I have to say that ending up in an armed communist camp in Iraq by accident has quite a Bing Crosby/Bob Hope quality to it. Road to Kurdistan, perhaps?

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at March 27, 2007 12:16 PM

"Mersi" is a colloquial form of thank you in Farsi so perhaps she wasn't actually speaking to you in French..?

Posted by: Neil at March 27, 2007 12:43 PM

Trackbacked by The Thunder Run - Web Reconnaissance for 03/27/2007
A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention.

Posted by: David M at March 27, 2007 12:44 PM

Did anyone else think of Life of Brian as they read the interview?

Brian: Excuse me. Are you the Judean People's Front?
Reg: Fuck off!
Brian: What?
Reg: Judean People's Front! We're the People's Front of Judea! Judean People's Front! Cuh!
Francis: Splitters.
Brian: Can I... join your group?
Reg: Nah, piss off.
Brian: I didn't want to sell this stuff, it's only a job. I hate the Romans as much as anybody!
Judith: Are you sure?
Brian: Oh, dead sure! I hate the Romans already!
Reg: Listen. If you really wanted to join the P.F.J., you'd have to really hate the Romans.
Brian: I do!
Reg: Oh, yeah, how much?
Brian: A lot!
Reg: [brief pause] Right. You're in. Listen. The only people we hate more than the Romans are the fucking Judean People's Front.
Stan: Yeah, the Judean People's Front.
Reg: Yeah. Splitters.
Stan: And the Popular Front of Judea.
Reg: Yeah. Splitters.
Stan: And the People's Front of Judea.
Reg: Yea... what?
Stan: The People's Front of Judea. Splitters.
Reg: We're the People's Front of Judea!
Stan: Oh. I thought we were the Popular Front.
Reg: People's Front!
Francis: Whatever happened to the Popular Front, Reg?
Reg: He's over there. [points to a lone man]
Reg, Stan, Francis, Judith: SPLITTER!

Posted by: RK at March 27, 2007 01:26 PM

I think the 'trust' was there for a couple reasons.

-Nothing about their activities or location is (apparently) a secret to Iran, which is the only group that has any interest in fighting them
-Iranian agents tend not to be caucasian

The central-Iraqi militants don't have any desire to mess with an armed group in the hinterlands, so they aren't even thought of. And they wouldn't use caucasians either.

More stellar work, Michael. Thank you.

Posted by: David Ditch at March 27, 2007 02:05 PM

“How long did your Party have good relations with the government after the revolution?” I said.

I’m not sure if he dodged my question or if it was lost in translation...

He told me we weren’t allowed to publish anything Kamal had just told us even though Kamal gave me permission to quote him.

I had to chuckle a bit. Your conversation with Kamal was stopped at just the point it started to get really interesting, how these commies supported the mullahs only to have many of their followers captured and executed afterwards - though I'd guess those who agreed to spy for the mullahs were spared, and a few of these may have attained senior leadership posts, along with those responsible for the doomed mullah-communist alliance in the first place. A very sensitive topic, so it's not surprising that Panah interrupted and wanted you to forget the whole thing.

Posted by: Solomon2 at March 27, 2007 03:43 PM

For your information, America destroyed the "Iranian democracy in the past. CIA supported the coup by Shah's. From a democracy Iran turned into a monarchy, from a monarchy it turned into an Islamic regime.

There were two revolutions: 1. By all opposition movements against the Shah, Kurdish parties eventually took over most of the Kurdish regions. The Shah fled eventually.

2.The Islamic revolution. The Islamists took over the power and crushed all other opposition groups. There was a war between Kurds and the Islamic pashdarans (regime troops) afterwards.

Posted by: Vladimir van Wilgenburg at March 27, 2007 03:56 PM

Land Cruisers are “Monicas” because (supposedly, but I am not seeing it) they somewhat resemble Monica Lewinsky.

Because they suck a lot of gas? Or because they can make their way to inaccessible places? Crude jokes for a conservative place like Kurdistan, but they're the only explanations that I can think of.

Interesting reporting work, as usual. I think these guys are a little starry-eyed when it comes to the short-term prospects for another Iranian revolution, but I'd love to be proven wrong here.

Posted by: Eric at March 27, 2007 03:59 PM

Firstly, a quibble, the paragraphs:
“The Iranian regime is an enemy of the United States,” I said. “The Iranian regime is also your enemy. Do you really think it would be better for us not to work together since we have the same enemy?”

“We have different interests in such a conflict,” I said.

“Yes, I agree,” I said.

The pronouns seem amiss; I assumed the middle "I" was in fact "Hassan" or "he".

The timeline of USA (NOT American) interference in Iranian government reminded me of a historical sequence: many revolutions release tensions which allow a counterrevolution to hijack the revolution. France, Iran, Russia, Mexico, the list goes on; the race often goes to the meanest SOB. That's why Saddam won; he was both revolting and ruthless.

Posted by: Charlie Green at March 27, 2007 05:43 PM

The real question is how do people like this support themselves? Drug running? Gov't handouts to keep them peaceful? From the PUK? Someone supports their "efforts". Or does Hassan Rahman Passan put down his SKS and go to work everyday as a pharmacist in the nearest town? Or does he hold the locals as thralls as these types are wont to? I believe the latter is probably true. The produce nothing besides noise, most likely.

My acid test for these types is exactly what I have asked here. What do they produce that is useful?

The answer is usually plain, nothing.

The Hobo

Posted by: Robohobo at March 27, 2007 06:56 PM

Another interesting, and very different, perspective. Thank you.

Posted by: Zvi at March 27, 2007 09:58 PM

’m a lot more comfortable around the armed radical left in the Middle East than I am around the armed radical right.

IMO, trying to apply the western left/right classification onto political groups in non-western cultures is questionable.

Posted by: rosignol at March 27, 2007 10:31 PM


Good point. It's funny because we were talking to a Peshmerga Colonel yesterday and he noted that the the US had betrayed the Kurds eight times, but all that was forgiven in 2003 when we removed Saddam for good.

Posted by: Patrick S Lasswell at March 27, 2007 10:49 PM

From what I am told from my Kurdish friends here is that the Landcruiser is named Monica from a deep sense admiration. Just as Kurds admire the Toyota vehicles for their comfort, power and presence, the Kurds admire Monica Lewinsky for her cunning, strength and womanly attributes. Go figure...

Posted by: Phil Ammar at March 27, 2007 10:50 PM


If true, that's a pretty interesting view of things. I guess the Kurds see Monica as a wily "femme fatale" type, and that's one archetype that seems to transcend cultural boundaries.

Posted by: Eric at March 28, 2007 04:24 AM

Another great, insightful piece as usual.

The Monica thing is just mind-boggling to me. I hadn't thought of it, but Phil's insider explanation of it actually being meant as a compliment seems reasonable. Either way, it's just incredible to consider the worldwide reverberations and infamy that she has wrought from what started with banal flirting with Bubba. Not only is your name now a recognizable synonym for oral sex, but middle eastern communists name their vehicles after you! Unreal.

Posted by: Andy at March 28, 2007 05:42 AM

On a blind date aren't you supposed to wear a white carnation not the red one?

Posted by: Pat Patterson at March 28, 2007 06:06 AM

I'm pretty sure that the one standing up and mooing is a bull...

Posted by: David Ross at March 28, 2007 06:14 AM

Great/interesting article, of course. I was curious, though:

According to an Iraqi Kurdish friend, the PKK says they are now more moderate “social democrats,” rather than Marxist totalitarians, but they still carry out campaigns of terrorism against Kurdish and Turkish civilians, as well as the Turkish army, in Turkish Kurdistan. Recently they created a new branch of the party in Iran – PJAK, which is an acronym for the Kurdistan Restoration and Freedom Party.

So, the guys trying to create revolutions in Turkey are described as murderous terrorists, but the guys described as trying to create revolution in Iran... aren't?

You know, Turkey committed massive human rights violations of a scope and ferocity probably exceeding anything Iran was doing that decade, during the 1990's?

Of course, I'm not well educated on the last decade in Iran, but there have been some bombings in Iran recently. It might have been a more interesting interview if you'd asked about where these Communists fell in relation to those.
Are these guys reallllllly conducting only non-violent 'revolution' methods? I recall hearing that others in Iran Kurdistan weren't quite stopping at that.

A second question is, how come you didn't asked about these guys' relation to the Muhadejin-A-Khalq? The most famous Islamist/Communist (simultaneously!) group on record, it's curious to know who they hang out with these days.

Posted by: glasnost at March 28, 2007 06:15 AM

On second thought, Mike, rereading your passage again, you did say this:

If indeed PJAK is the only group behind the anti-regime insurgency in Iranian Kurdistan, it doesn’t bode well for the liberals and moderates in that region.

I guess you felt that you asked all the questions you could ask about this?

Either way, I think it's funny that you like the Iraqi Kurds so much, but seem to have surprisingly negative attitudes towards the Turkish Kurds. I mean, one would expect them to be culturally and ethically similar, no? For me, it's an example of how opinions are affected by filters. Turkey's our friend, so anti-Turks are bad guys. Iran and Iraq are our enemies, so anti-Saddamn and anti-mullah kurds are good guys. The same behavior that looks good when it's being done to Iran, doesn't look so good when it's being done to Turkey.

Perhaps. Or perhaps there are qualitative differences I'm not taking into account.

Posted by: glasnost at March 28, 2007 06:30 AM

It was broad-based and popular at the beginning. Liberals allied with leftists, and leftists allied with Islamists. It wasn’t a ######## for fascism, but that’s what they got. The Islamists came out on top and then they liquidated the liberals and leftists.

It's true. Still, I wonder sometimes how it would have worked out if not for the counter-coup plots, the bombings, and of course Saddamn's invasion. Maybe the same, since Khomeini was a tyrant by instinct. But maybe not, because the moderates weren't well and truly squeezed out until two years into the Iran-Iraq war.

Kind of similar to the Russian Revolution - is it the revolution actors themselves that bring tyranny, or is it the massive anti-revolution destabilization campaign immediately following?

Posted by: glasnost at March 28, 2007 06:47 AM

Just a point of fact: Mossadegh was not a democrat. He had dissolved the Majlis and the courts and assumed dictatorial power. The US contributed to his downfall but in a way that has been blown way out of proportion. The coup was executed by Iranians, by the military, and by the business classes which supported them.

In the end, an agreement was reached with the British oil companies that kept the oil cartel intact, which was of far greater benefit to the Iranian people than Mossadegh's plan to nationalize the oil fields and break the cartel. And, the Soviets were denied a client state potentially commanding the strategically invaluable warm waters of the Persian Gulf. Had Mossadegh triumphed, we might well not be in a position now to regret Iran's failed experiment in Hugo Chavez' type of "democracy".

Posted by: Bart at March 28, 2007 06:49 AM

Eight? Correct me if I'm wrong, but I count only six:

1) Permitting Saddam to invade Kurdistan in the 1990s, when Saddam temporarily allied with one of the Kurdish political groups.

2) Allowing Saddam to use attack helicopters against the Kurds after the 1991 war. (Led to the establishment of the UN-administered "protected area".)

3) Failing to overthrow Saddam in 1991 after urging Iraqis to rise up in Operation Desert Storm.

4) Ignoring the Kurdish resistance after the 1979 revolution.

5) Implicit support of the 1970 Iran-Iraq deal to crush the Kurdish resistance.

6) Arming the Shah against the Kurds.

Perhaps the Peshmerga Colonel is lumping the U.S. together with the Brits? It's like Winston Churchill said, "Americans can be trusted to do the right thing, after they have tried everything else." Had I been GWB, after overthrowing Saddam I might still have boasted, "mission accomplished", but I would have said to the Iraqis, "I'm sorry we didn't do it sooner. Please forgive us; we are trying to do the right thing this time."

Posted by: Solomon2 at March 28, 2007 07:12 AM

Just a Correction. Komalah in Kurdish means the Masses, it is not an acronym.

Posted by: Hozan Kapri at March 28, 2007 07:45 AM

She actually looked a bit like a communist, and she had the French to go with it. Please, this is silly. Michael, your writing is so much better when you don't resort to obvious right-wing cliches. French is hardly the language of international Communism - Spanish maybe. Whatever else you want to say about them, the French have never produced credible Communists - certainly not like the Italians or Latin Americans. And, to make you look really foolish, as another commentator pointed out "Mersi" is also the common Farsi word for "thanks".

Posted by: vanya at March 28, 2007 09:06 AM

Michael,while you are in sulaimaniyah be my guest for some junk food in FOODLAND,I am the owner,go their my brother is runing the restaurant and say I am your guest.Please post a picture of the restaurant for me.Thank you for the great job you are doing up there.

Posted by: bokany at March 28, 2007 09:09 AM


She looked just like a classic, 1920s issue, intellectual communist...until she broke out her MP3 player. You weren't there, you didn't see her. I've been around revolutionary types all my life and I know them when I see them.

As for French not being the language of communism, from the wikipedia: The Internationale (L'Internationale in French) is the most famous socialist (also anarchist, communist and social democratic) song and one of the most widely recognized songs in the world. The original French words were written in 1870 by Eugène Pottier (1816–1887, later a member of the Paris Commune) and were originally intended to be sung to the tune of La Marseillaise. Pierre Degeyter (1848–1932) set the poem to music in 1888 and his melody became widely used soon after.

By the way, what are your standards for "credible communists"? How have those standards been met?

Posted by: Patrick S Lasswell at March 28, 2007 11:25 AM

Yes, she does have that french-speaking intellectual look to her. But I think the "merci" has more to do with a Farsi culture, itself imbibed with much French words, particularly the "merci" and "bonjour".

There are also many "mixed" expressions in Farsi that borrow loosely from french, and are used alongside other words. In Lebanon, we use many such "imported" french expression in Lebanon, have a few "mixed" expression , like "Dhar" , "mafi doumari", "sanferlo"...etc. and a adaptation of the French word for "Charming" to describe ladies of ill-repute...

More on-topic, a great peice. You are doing a great job showing the clay feet of the Iranian Mullah regime. Stay safe, "Allah yehmikon"...

Posted by: Jeha at March 28, 2007 01:20 PM

Nice reporting, Micheal. Very informative. You wrote:

The problem with the 1979 revolution in Iran is that it, like so many others, devoured its children. It was broad-based and popular at the beginning. Liberals allied with leftists, and leftists allied with Islamists. It wasn’t a cocktail for fascism, but that’s what they got. The Islamists came out on top and then they liquidated the liberals and leftists.

Whoa, what an important historical observation! Alas, history seems to be attempting to repeat itself, on a much grander scale, a single generation later. Here's to hoping liberals wakeup this time and smell the coffee, eh?

Posted by: Marc S. Lamb at March 28, 2007 02:15 PM

Geez, Vanya. What Patrick said.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at March 28, 2007 02:53 PM

Leon Blum always called himself a Marxist, does that count as a famous French communist. Plus I just finished watching The Wages of Fear, starrring probably the most known French Communist in the world, Yves Montand.

Posted by: Pat Patterson at March 28, 2007 04:38 PM

I must confess I'm both surprised and confused at the (supposedly?) negative references to communism in this piece.

Aren't you Michael politically a neocon?

And isn't neoconservatism in fact a misnomer, which instead of what it implies in its name, factually denotes followers of communism, more precisely trotskyism, but outwardly pretending to not?

So why turn against your own?

Posted by: Strabo at March 28, 2007 06:07 PM

An absolutely cool report - accidentally visiting the wrong group of revolutionaries and then pulling the whole thing of as if it had been planned. I swear I'll drop you some dough as soon as I can get hold of my credit card!

A couple of points where I'm a bit confused though, I always thought that Tudeh was the main Iranian communist group, but there's no mention of them here. I know they were one of the groups who collaborated with the Islamists until the government turned on them, and that they then went into exile, but do they still exist?

As for French being the language of international communism, I always figured that that was Russian or German. If international revolutionaries used to use French in their discourse then so did practically everyone who engaged in discussion with people who did not speak their own language. I suspect nowadays communists, radicals and revolutionaries use English to talk to each other just like everybody else.

Posted by: Gilman at March 28, 2007 07:00 PM

So Paul Wolfowitz, that ersatz conservative, actually become a Trotskyite at Cornell. The Quill and Dagger Society has now been revealed as a Communist front organization. Watch out the chairman of that other notorious communist front, Goldman Sachs, is also headed by a Cornell graduate and a member of Quill and Dagger.

Where was Herbert Philbrick when this infiltration of communists into the upper reachs of government and business was going on? I blame flouridation.

Posted by: Pat Patterson at March 28, 2007 07:38 PM

Geez, Michael, Patrick's completely missing the point. 1920's Communist types were mostly Americans, Mexicans, Russians and Germans - not French. Socialists and anarchists are not Communists. When people think of revolutionary Communists they think of Che Guevara, Castro, Rosa Luxembourg, Lenin, Trotsky, Mao, Chou En-Lai, Ho Chi Minh, Togliatti, La Pasionaria, etc. Not a lot of French names on that list. I know for a fact that in Russia, where, let's say, people are a little better acquainted with Communism than in the US, no-one ever trusted the French dedication to the cause. It is an old rhetorical trick of the Right, and of European fascist parties, to equate "intellectual" with "Communist." You're a good writer, if you want to be a better one, be careful of resorting to tired cliches - and French-bashing is one of the tiredest.

Posted by: Vanya at March 29, 2007 12:36 AM


I did not bash the French in any way whatsoever -- I like France a lot, ask Patrick who hears me gush about France on a regular basis. Nor am I saying this woman is a Communist because she's an intellectual. She IS a Communist, and self-identifies as such.

I also never said French is the international language of Communism. I made a minor joke at no one's expense in reference to the number of revolutionaries -- including Iranian revolutionaries -- who spent a lot of their time in Paris.


I am not a Communist, nor am I a neoconservative, nor are Communists neoconservatives, nor are neoconservatives Communists.

I am politically independent, Communists are Communists, and neoconservatives are neoconservatives.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at March 29, 2007 02:08 AM

Also, Vanya, for God's sake. I was not dabbling in some "fascist" rhetorical trick by saying a woman in an armed Communist camp that flies the red flag is a Communist.

Sometimes a Communist is really a Communist. If I'm a "fascist" for labeling her the way she labels herself, then "fascist" has no meaning in your lexicon whatsoever.

I think you need to get out more.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at March 29, 2007 02:30 AM


I had to listen to Michael gush about France all through the glories that are Vienna in early spring, he's such a freaking snob. He's completely willing to ignore the gulag that surrounds Paris to extol the virtues of the old city. My teeth ache after he's been going on about it for more than three minutes from the excess sugar.

I suppose that we are simpletons because we call someone an intellectual communist revolutionary simply because they proclaim themselves communist revolutionaries and we can tell from their conversations that they are intellectuals.

Come to Iraq. Have tea with the nice Marxists. Then tell us we're wrong.

If you just want to armchair quarterback from Manhattan, put a sock in it.

Here we are reporting, there you are bloviating. We are expert witnesses on what we observed.

Posted by: Patrick S Lasswell at March 29, 2007 02:33 AM

You're a good writer, if you want to be a better one, be careful of resorting to tired cliches - and French-bashing is one of the tiredest.

I must confess I'm both surprised and confused at the (supposedly?) negative references to communism in this piece.

In the states, Communism has devolved into us-against-the-world identity-politics Leftism. Michael violated one of the primary rules of identity-politics Leftism - he made a joke.

Q: How many communists does it take to fix a lightbulb?

A: Ceci n'est pas drôle!

Posted by: mary at March 29, 2007 06:28 AM

Actually I don't know a lot of Mossadegh. Someone told that to me. That Mossadegh gave Kurds more rights. Anyway, Kurds gave themselves the most rights in Iran, when they had a shortlived autonomy in Mahabad and after the fall of the pro-American nationalist Shah.

And about the "American betrayel of the Kurds".

Point 7th/8th probable has to do with Turkey.

Posted by: Vladimir van Wilgenburg at March 29, 2007 09:19 AM

"And isn't neoconservatism in fact a misnomer, which instead of what it implies in its name, factually denotes followers of communism, more precisely trotskyism, but outwardly pretending to not?"


Posted by: Knemon at March 29, 2007 07:58 PM

Keep digging yourselves a hole guys. It's pretty obvious to me as well she's a Communist, it ain't at all obvious this woman is an "intellectual." I guess you forgot to mention that she reads Baudrillard for kicks. Look, you can dance around all you want, let me cut through the b/s - 1. she wasn't speaking French, and you thought she was 2. Associating "French" with Communism, which you clearly did, strikes me, a person with a long and painful history of interaction with real USSR style Communists (most of whom are not intellectual nor good looking), as bizarre and Rush Limbaugh-like, I'm sorry. Yes, the fascist rhetoric comparision was a little over the top, but it's not easy to whip these comments out in under 2 minutes so sometimes one has to take the easy route. That's really all I'm saying. If you disagree fine, it's a minor issue, but don't lecture me about "Communists" or the history of the Internationale, you're out of your league there. And don't talk about "getting out more", I've been working in 6 different countries over the last 4 months, and spent about 10 days at home during that time. Using ad hominem arguments against people you don't know is not a good rhetorical trick. Which goes double for Mary, the kind of person who just loves a good strawman, but probably can't get a real one.

Posted by: vanya at March 30, 2007 06:14 AM

Using ad hominem arguments against people you don't know is not a good rhetorical trick. Which goes double for Mary, the kind of person who just loves a good strawman, but probably can't get a real one.

Spoken like an intellectual and a gentleman

Posted by: mary at March 30, 2007 09:22 AM

Thanks for the report! It must be a hard job to go to the mountains to talk to an "opposition" to the dictators in Iran. But it was done in good intensions I suppose. If asking Iranians in the US and Europe, they will tell you of a simple equation in Iranian pragmatic politics: Blackmailing, and demonizing its opposition, first key to stay a float. Which opposition??!! Well guess what? Which one is the most ignored, and the most talked of, and the most discussed in critical dialogues, and the most labeled, and the most active and the most publicized by the Iranian secret police propaganda machines, and the most...? I wonder? October 21, 2004, AFP published the "Preparatory text for European proposals on Iranian nuclear program.” In that proposal one item reads as such: "We would cooperate in the prevention and suppression of terrorist acts in accordance with respective legislation and regulations. We would continue to regard the MEK (Iranian resistance group) as a terrorist organization."
(MEK is another translation for PMOI)
So I think there is a long way left for us to really understand the complicated political scene in Iran, unless we have enough facts and research on the history of events and reasons and structure of the whole lot. THIS I am afraid is affecting our lives, thousands of miles away from that region. So I think it’s about time we all understand what’s happening in depth. I hope we all help to reveal the "behind the scene" facts/

Posted by: summer at March 31, 2007 02:27 AM

Summer, we can study Iran in depth later, for the moment, let*s go with the informed like Hewitt and Steyn...

Hewitt and Mark Steyn chat. . .

The Hewitt piece is lengthy and you may not have time to read it all ..
Isn*t this the best real meat of anything you may have seen by informed and respected columnists?

==== **
MS: But all the people who complain and whine about Gitmo all day long don’t care about countries like Iran violating the Geneva Conventions. Iran can violate them with impunity, and so will continue to do so. And I’m very concerned.
Iran, you talk about the chronology, Iran respects far fewer of the basic courtesies between states than the Soviet Union, or the Chinese Communists, or any other traditional enemy of the United States has ever done. And the fact of the matter is that we respond weakly every time this happens.
[Appeasement = TG ]

The absolute low point of the Cold War was nothing to do with America’s relations with the Soviet Union, but was Jimmy Carter’s completely disastrous behavior, vis-à-vis Iran in 1979. And the British are in effect reenacting a Carter strategy, 28 years later.

HH: Do you…I noted that you quoted at, Speaker Gingrich’s suggestion on this program yesterday, Rush even played it today, that first, blow the gasoline refinery, and then stop the tankers. Do you think there’s a chance in the world the Brits will adopt such a strategy?

MS: No, and I think the thing about it is that if you were to propose that either in the House of Commons, or in the United States Congress, people would regard you as an extremist. You would be accused of escalating the situation.

Now I think you could make the case that in fact, you don’t even need to do as Newt was talking about with you, which is to threaten them privately with it for a week. I mean, you could make the case that they should just do it.

I mean, Iran surprises us all the time. It seizes sailors, it takes out hit contracts on British subjects like Salman Rushdie, it blows up community centers in Argentina, it seizes the U.S. Embassy.

Iran doesn’t threaten to do that, it just gets on with it and does it. And maybe there’s a case to be said for well, maybe we should just do something against Iran.

Maybe we should just take out that refinery, and they can wake up to it, and see it smoking when it happens, and then they’ll realize we’re serious.

Amen and Amen, [Non- Appeasement.] = TG

PS. These are professional people who have valued careers at risk, yet they speak the unspeakable.

How is it that we bloggers, with nothing to lose speak so timidly for fear of being called a war-monger? = TG

Posted by: TonyGuitar at March 31, 2007 10:25 AM

Marc.S.Lamb @ 2:15 above.. Agreed! Cliche but a perfect fit all the same. = TG

Posted by: TonyGuitar at March 31, 2007 12:48 PM
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